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Prompted in part by trade rumors surrounding Cole Hamels and also by the recent release of multiple top prospects lists, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs/FOX Sports examined the reasons behind the perceived over-valuing of prospects. As Cameron notes, roughly 70 percent of all prospects to have appeared in Baseball America’s Top 100 lists over the years have failed to produce meaningful careers (that isn’t a knock on BA — rather, just an illustration of the difficulty in projecting minor leaguers). Despite that high failure rate, teams have been reluctant to part with two premium prospects to acquire Cole Hamels. However, Cameron theorizes that the unwillingness to part with prospects isn’t due to overvaluing prospects, but rather to teams looking past the longstanding narrative of “proven veterans” to realize that veteran players carry significant risk as well. Cameron studied the 100 best players from 2009-11 (weighting recent performance more heavily) and looked at the output of those players from 2012-14. Even some of the game’s best talents from that period — Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Mark Teixeira, B.J. Upton and many more — have quickly seen their skills erode or, in Halladay’s case, been forced out of the game. Twenty-five of the 100 players Cameron looked at have failed to outproduce the same line that Cameron set to determine a busted prospect in his study, while another 34 were merely average Major Leaguers.
While Cameron’s piece is only loosely tied to the Phillies, here are a few more items focused directly on the team…
- Hamels’ candid words to Bob Nightengale of USA Today earlier this afternoon — the left-hander stated that he wanted to pitch for a winning club and knows that won’t happen in Philadelphia — have hurt the Phillies’ bargaining power in trade talks, opines Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Beyond that, however, they’ve made the job of manager Ryne Sandberg more difficult and sent a poor message to his teammates, with whom he may still share a locker room for at least several more months. Between Hamels’ words and Jonathan Papelbon‘s infamous 2013 quote, “I definitely didn’t come here for this,” Sandberg has multiple veterans on the roster who may prefer to be elsewhere, Brookover notes.
- Brookover’s colleague, Jake Kaplan, also spoke to Sandberg and was told that Ryan Howard is ticketed to be the team’s first baseman and had a “very positive” talk with the manager one month ago. Sandberg did leave open the possibility that Howard will be unseated, but it seems clear that the Phillies recognize that there’s little hope of trading the 35-year-old and won’t release him with $60MM remaining on his contract. Kaplan notes that Howard’s 10-and-5 rights will kick in on May 2 of this year, though he already has a 20-team no-trade clause in his contract as it is, and that certainly hasn’t been the reason that Philadelphia hasn’t been able to find a match.
- The Phillies obviously will face many questions this spring, and MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki took an early look with Sandberg as the club gears up for camp. Per Sandberg, veteran lefty Cliff Lee — a possible summer trade candidate — has been on schedule except for a delay caused by a mild illness. “He’s got no complaints and he’s pretty much where he usually is,” said Sandberg. Fellow starter Chad Billingsley, himself at least a theoretical mid-season flip, has “looked very good,” per the skipper (though Kaplan noted in the piece above that it’s no guarantee that Billingsley will be ready for Opening Day). And Sandberg says that second baseman Chase Utley, who has been surprisingly absent from any significant trade chatter, may get additional rest over the course of the season.
Phillies lefty Cole Hamels would prefer to be dealt to a contender, he tells Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “I want to go to a place where I can win again,” said Hamels. Though he made clear he was not demanding a trade, Hamels did indicate that he wants to play for a winning ballclub, saying “I know it’s not going to happen here.”
Hamels, 31, has represented perhaps the biggest unconsummated trade story of the offseason. With all major arms now signed off of the free agent market, and most teams presumably set to enter camp with their rotations intact, he may well be the only achievable prize left for clubs looking to add an impact starter.
According to Nightengale, the Phillies have continued to work hard to find an acceptable deal. The Padres have dangled a package of Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges, but that was not deemed sufficient by the Philadelphia front office. And the Phils have been unsuccessful in prying their key targets from teams like the Red Sox (who won’t include Blake Swihart), Dodgers (who haven’t offered any of the team’s top four prospects), and Cardinals (who have not agreed to move Carlos Martinez).
Hamels says that he will do his best to prepare for the season in the normal course, and gave no indication that he will do anything other than honor his contract, particularly with camp set to open. “Now that I’m here, I plan on being here for the next six weeks,” said Hamels, explaining that he had kept an eye on rumors over the winter. “I think it would be pretty chaotic if that’s not the case. But it’s out of my control.”
The veteran southpaw says that he crafted his no-trade list by identifying the nine teams he would most want to play for and leaving himself unprotected from those clubs. Only the Yankees and Rangers can deal for him without approval among American League teams, though Hamels notes that he would be “all ears” to the possibility of waiving his no-trade protection were the Red Sox to work out an agreement to acquire him. (He did not address the idea, advanced in some earlier reports, that he might seek inducements, such as a guarantee of his fifth-year option, from a team over which he possesses veto power.)
ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark polled league executives for their takes on the offseason, and some of the strongest opinions related to the game’s eastern divisions. Collectively, that group liked the Blue Jays’ signing of Russell Martin, but was skeptical of the contracts given to players like Max Scherzer (Nationals) and Hanley Ramirez (Red Sox). Check out the piece for the results on a number of other questions.
- Regarding the oft-discussed possibility of the Red Sox dealing for Cole Hamels of the Phillies, Peter Gammons of Gammons Daily suggests that circumstances may need to change to force a deal. Any changes to Boston’s internal pitching dynamics could, of course, push it toward a deal. Or, with the Sox uninterested in taking on all of Hamels’s salary, a new willingness by the Phils to eat cash to increase the prospect return could move the needle.
- One other factor in driving trade possibilities for the Red Sox is the club’s overflowing cup of outfielders. Before deciding how to proceed, the club will look to see where things stand, says Gammons, especially in terms of health.
- Of note is that the Braves have made clear to Boston that they have “strong interest” in young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. This is not necessarily an active matter, however: Gammons notes that any possible action on that front would occur in the late spring, at the earliest, and David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets his understanding that the expression of interest was made earlier in the offseason, before other moves occurred.
- Lefty Mike Minor will face a hearing with the Braves tomorrow, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman notes on Twitter. $500K remains at stake between the sides ($5.6MM versus $5.1MM).
- Rays outfielder David DeJesus tells Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that he has prepared for the possibility of being dealt but hopes to remain with Tampa. DeJesus says he is refreshed and ready after a “long, grueling” go of things last year, though as Topkin writes there appears to be a logjam in front of him in the outfield.
- Alfredo Aceves, a seven-year veteran of the Red Sox and Yankees, will throw for teams this afternoon, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets. Among those expected to be in attendance are the Giants, Padres, Royals, Brewers, and Reds.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Alfredo Aceves | Atlanta Braves | Boston Red Sox | Cincinnati Reds | Cole Hamels | David DeJesus | Jackie Bradley Jr. | Kansas City Royals | Mike Minor | Milwaukee Brewers | New York Yankees | Philadelphia Phillies | San Diego Padres | San Francisco Giants | Tampa Bay Rays | Toronto Blue Jays | Washington Nationals
In a fascinating piece for FOX Sports, former big leaguer C.J. Nitkowski discusses his experiences looking for minor league deals. Nitkowski says that he often took it upon himself to look for the best opportunity, considering all aspects of the possibilities he could unearth to get the best shot at making it onto an active roster.
Here are some more notes from around the game:
- Agency Sosnick Cobbe Sports has announced the addition of agent and general counsel Adam Karon to its nameplate. The firm, which represents big leaguers such as Josh Johnson and Jay Bruce, will now be called Sosnick, Cobbe & Karon.
- In another announcement, the Phillies say they have promoted Michael Stiles to the position of executive VP and CEO. Per the release, Stiles will operate in the business and general administration realm. Stiles had already been said to be in charge of the day-to-day business affairs of the organization back when Pat Gillick had yet to have the interim label removed from his title of president.
- Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has released his list of the game’s top 200 prospects, along with worthwhile breakdowns of the players that made it. Working from that list and applying valuations to the ranked players, colleague Dave Cameron presents a ranking of the most valuable farm systems in the game. Baseball Prospectus has also issued its own organizational rankings in recent days, so be sure to check those out as well. Both sites agree on the top four teams — the Cubs, Twins, Rangers, and Dodgers – though Fangraphs ranks them in that order while BP prefers the Los Angeles farm to that of Texas.
Though many have argued to the contrary, the Diamondbacks are internally optimistic that their club can ride its young pitching to a surprising campaign, as Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. Piecoro discusses the club’s acquisitions, including a turnaround candidate in Jeremy Hellickson and advanced-level prospects Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, and Robbie Ray. “It’s our belief that with the young pitching we’ve got, we think it’s the right time,” said GM Dave Stewart. “Young pitching doesn’t normally start to show itself until the age that these guys are approaching — they’re not even there yet, they’re just approaching. The scouting reports that we have on each and every last one of the guys we acquired are good reports. Now, it’s just a matter of if they’re ready to move forward.”
Here’s more from the National League:
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that the club has made “pretty decent progress” in turning over its club into a “younger and more athletic” unit, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. “We didn’t necessarily expect to make a full transition in a two- or three-month period of time,” said Amaro. “The process doesn’t start on October 1 and it doesn’t end on February 15. It continues. … There’s still a lot of work to be done.” Amaro rejected the idea that his club had set unrealistic price tags on its veterans: “Everybody has an idea of how they should evaluate. We have certain ways we evaluate our players and other players and what’s right for the organization. I think we’re in a better position to make those decisions than others.”
- Most of the criticism, of course, has targeted the Phillies‘ inability to date to work out a deal for lefty Cole Hamels. Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer opines that Amaro ought to make the best deal he can, now, rather than risking an injury or ineffectiveness.
- Speaking of Hamels, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs has put together another fascinating study of pitch comps. In this one, he notes the incredible similarities between the offerings of Hamels and fellow southpaw (and former Phillies hurler) J.A. Happ. As Sullivan explains, Hamels has vastly outperformed Happ not because he has better stuff, but likely through some combination of superior control, deception, and the like.
- The division-rival Braves, meanwhile, have not drawn the same kind of widespread scrutiny as have the Phils, even after stating that they were not interested in dealing star closer Craig Kimbrel. The outstanding righty remains entrenched in the ninth, and tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he still expects the team to compete for a championship and has a personal goal of converting every save chance he is given. As O’Brien notes, skeptics have suggested that the club may still hold out some possibility of trading Kimbrel if a truly massive package were dangled, but there have been virtually no reports suggesting any action. It is at least somewhat notable that Atlanta added two former closers in Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, but at this point a hypothetical deal involving Kimbrel seems a topic that — at most — may be worth re-visiting at the trade deadline.
Over the weekend, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote that the Red Sox were one of the previously unnamed teams to have made a “real” offer (to use Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s term) for Cole Hamels, though Rob Bradford of WEEI.com writes that there’s nothing close between the two sides.
The Red Sox have made the Phillies aware of the parameters of what they’re willing to part with in order to acquire Hamels, a source tells Bradford. Per Cafardo’s weekend writing, the most recent offer consisted largely of Major League assets rather than the elite prospects that the Phillies are known to be seeking (specifically, Philadelphia is said to have its eye on top catching prospect Blake Swihart).
It’s unclear exactly what the Sox have expressed comfort in trading, though two completely speculative names with big league experience that could appeal to the rebuilding Phillies would be Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Vazquez. (Though I’d assume any package including those names would also contain further minor league talent.) The Sox have a notable outfield surplus, and Ryan Hanigan‘s excellent glove could bridge the gap from Opening Day to Swihart’s Major League debut. It stands to reason that Boston hasn’t mentioned the name Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts in those talks, as either would figure to grab Amaro’s attention immediately.
Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com agrees that Betts’ name likely hasn’t been mentioned, as he feels the inclusion of Betts would likely persuade the Phils to accept a deal. In Mastrodonato’s eyes, the Red Sox have been wise to exercise patience in regards to Hamels, as he could be one of a number of possible front-line starters available this summer. Beyond Hamels, names like Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, David Price, Jordan Zimmermann and Zack Greinke could be available this summer (the latter three pitch for likely contenders, though injuries routinely lead to unexpected deadline sellers), and the cost of acquiring a big-ticket rotation upgrade could decline by July.
As Mastrodonato points out, Hamels’ remaining $96MM commitment — which would very likely jump to $110MM, as Hamels could ask that his fifth-year vesting option be guaranteed as compensation for waiving his no-trade clause — is something Boston would have had to plan around adding, and there’s no indication that’s the case at this point. Indeed, general manager Ben Cherington again said today that he’s not expecting a roster addition before pitchers and catchers reports, tweets the Globe’s Peter Abraham.
One item worth noting on Hamels’ contract would be that guaranteeing his 2019 option, an acquiring team would actually lessen the luxury tax hit it would be taking on. Luxury tax is calculated by average annual value of a contract, and the deal’s AAV would actually drop, as guaranteeing the $20MM option is essentially adding one year and $14MM to the deal, as $6MM of that year’s value is already guaranteed in the form of a buyout.
The Nationals‘ signing of Max Scherzer dropped righty Tanner Roark — one of the most effective starters in baseball in 2014 — to the bullpen, and Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com examines what the best role for Roark is in 2015. As Zuckerman notes, Roark ranks sixth or better in ERA, WHIP and opponents’ OPS dating back to Aug. 7, 2013, when he made his big league debut. One could make a case, therefore, that he is deserving of a high-leverage spot in what will be a new-look Nationals bullpen, but reducing him to a one-inning role complicates matters if he needs to be stretched out due to an injury to another starter. However, if he’s used in a long relief role, that will limit his usage, particularly given how strong the starting five project to be. The way in which Roark will be deployed figures to be a fascinating storyline for Nats fans, and I should note that there could be longer-reaching ramifications. Pitching in a high-leverage setup role for a year would likely be better for Roark’s first arbitration case as opposed to being used as a long man; accumulating holds and possibly the occasional save would likely be better for his financial future than pitching in blowout games, as many long relievers end up doing. Of course, Roark isn’t arb-eligible until the 2016-17 offseason, so he should still have another season of starting duty to add to his first arbitration platform.
Some more NL East items as Spring Training games draw near…
- Previous reports have indicated that the Phillies may add veteran depth at shortstop and catcher during Spring Training, but MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki clarifies that the team will only make a move if it is first determined that younger options such as Freddy Galvis and Cameron Rupp aren’t able to fill those roles. Non-roster alternatives are in place at each position, such as Andres Blanco and Chase d’Arnaud at short and Koyie Hill and John Hester behind the dish. However, none of those players has much of a big league track record.
- Matt Reynolds feels comfortable at shortstop and tells Kevin Kernan of the New York Post that he thinks he can help the team at the position in 2015. Kernan notes that Mets‘ officials consistently praise Reynolds’ focus and determination, and the .343/.405/.454 batting line he compiled between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014 doesn’t do anything to hurt his chances, of course. Reynolds says he is close with Wilmer Flores and hopes to see Flores succeed, adding that the situation “will play itself out.” Reynolds also spoke glowingly of the benefit he’s received from David Wright‘s down-to-Earth nature and willingness to share his wisdom as he’s risen through the ranks. Flores is expected to open the season at shortstop for the Mets, but Reynolds could challenge for time if Flores struggles.
- The lofty goals publicly expressed by several members of the Mets organization could have harsh ramifications among the fan base should the team struggle, writes Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Matt Harvey is the latest to join the big talk — telling reporters over the weekend (in unprompted fashion) that it was “very realistic” that the team could find itself in the World Series. That the Mets’ offseason has been largely uneventful aside from the addition of Michael Cuddyer is a well-documented fact, and I’d imagine the quiet offseason could expedite a negative reaction to stated expectations should the team struggle in the early-going.
The big fish are off the market, but the Marlins are still looking to pick up a couple of notable relievers. Miami is interested in signing Phil Coke to a minor league deal and they’re still open to inking Francisco Rodriguez. Signing Coke to a minor league deal might not be a reality, however. The 32-year-old is seeking a $2MM guarantee and is getting interest for a major league deal, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. More from the AL and NL East..
- Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee won’t be winning any championships in Philadelphia this season, but they could help the Phillies win one down the road, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes. Both players have been involved in trade rumors, of course, but it’s likely that they’ll start the season with the team and get moved sometime before the July 31st trade deadline. “Sometimes trades take two years to do, sometimes they take seven minutes,” GM Ruben Amaro said recently. Amaro recently indicated that as many as eight teams have kicked the tires on Hamels and four have made “real” offers.
- With five years and $74MM left on the contract extension he signed in 2012, Ryan Zimmerman may no longer be the face of the Nationals‘ franchise, but he’s still one of the team’s most important players, as Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider writes. This season, his ability to make a permanent position switch at the age of 30 may go a long way towards determining how far the Nats can go in 2015 and beyond.
- Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald looked at Rick Porcello, who has the unique opportunity of becoming a free agent before his 27th birthday. Boston is still without a true ace and the right-hander is being counted on by many to fill that role.
- On Saturday, our own Mark Polishuk looked at Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro as a trade candidate.
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe ranked every manager in baseball. Giants skipper Bruce Bochy took the top spot for his ability to get great production of of good, but not great, talent. After that, Bochy, Buck Showalter, Joe Maddon, Terry Francona, and Bob Melvin round out Cafardo’s top five. The bottom of the list doesn’t necessarily feature baseball’s “worst” managers as the first-timers are automatically the lowest ranked. More from today’s column..
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said last week that four teams made real offers for Cole Hamels and Cafardo hears from a major league source that one of those clubs was the Red Sox. From talking with various sources, Cafardo senses that the package Boston offered was heavy on the major league side, trying to avoid giving up any of their top prospects. Of course, the Phillies are insistent on prospects, and if they don’t get them now they’ll wait until the deadline when teams are a little more desperate.
- There may be a mystery team out there kicking the tires on Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. The Phillies are still optimistic that they make a deal happen somewhere, even though the Brewers talks haven’t unfolded as expected.
- The Twins and Indians are looking for a right-handed bat and Cafardo wonders if Red Sox first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig could be a fit. With Shane Victorino in the fold and Bryce Brentz in the minors, Cafardo wonders when Boston will try and clear up the logjam.
- Chad Billingsley could also be trade bait for the Phillies if he gets off to a good start. A couple of scouts tell Cafardo that they see Billingsley as an effective 150-160-inning guy at the back end of a rotation.
The Phillies are in for an uncomfortable spring training, writes Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. As Brookover puts it, the club could contend for the “Most Awkward Spring Training in franchise history.” At issue are the number of returning veterans who were shopped extensively over the offseason. The most notable include Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, and Ryan Howard.
With Hamels, the potential for drama is limited. The club has asked for a king’s ransom in return for the left-handed ace, and he’s well compensated. Hamels seemingly understands the Phillies’ need to rebuild. His 20-team no-trade list does not include nine of the clubs most likely to acquire his services. He’ll continue to audition for a trade to a contender.
Strife is more likely with Papelbon. He has a reputation for honest comments to the media, and he appears to let frustration boil over publicly at times. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. assured Papelbon that the club meant to contend this season as recently as the 2014 trade deadline. Club representatives, including President Pat Gillick, have since been very forward about their intention to rebuild.
Brookover suggests that Papelbon may feel misled. Even if Papelbon takes a pragmatic approach to the rebuild, it’s clear the club intends to move him elsewhere. Papelbon has a 17-team no-trade clause, but he’s expressed a willingness to waive it. Rumor suggests he would ask for his 2016 option to be guaranteed as a condition to waiving the no trade clause.
While Papelbon could produce headlines this spring, the return of Howard is the most uncomfortable situation. While Amaro has loudly praised Howard’s character, he also told the former star first baseman that the club was better off without him. A market for Howard’s services never developed. It was rumored that the Phillies would eat a large portion of his contract to facilitate a trade. Howard’s continued presence may delay opportunities for prospects like Maikel Franco and Kelly Dugan.