Philadelphia Phillies Rumors
Major League Baseball is dealing with several employment issues not relating to big league players. As Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reported yesterday, MLB owners voted in January to permit teams the authority to take away pension plans from any employees that do not wear a uniform. (The effect would be prospective only.) MLB COO Rob Manfred noted that the vote does not require such a course of action and said no team has cut pension benefits, while asserting defined contribution plans are a reasonable alternative retirement structure. Though Rubin reports that some clubs appear primed to make reductions, Manfred disputed that it was inevitable. Meanwhile, as Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs details, MLB is now defending multiple lawsuits filed by interns, volunteers, and, most recently, minor league ballplayers.
Here are some notes from the National League ...
- After today's trade for catcher Jose Lobaton and a pair of prospects, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo explained his reasoning, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post was among those to report. RIzzo said that Lobaton "fit the criteria we were looking for" due to his switch-hitting abilities and solid pitch-framing ratings, the latter of which Rizzo labeled "key" to the deal. "Switch hitting is certainly a bonus," said Rizzo. "Our statistical analysis people rank all the catchers in baseball, and he ranks very well in the framing." Rizzo said that he was particularly high on Felipe Rivero, indicating that he felt like he took the place of fellow 22-year-old southpaw Robbie Ray, who was shipped out in the Doug Fister deal. The Washington GM labeled Rivero a "huge-upside left-handed starter."
- The Pirates' inability to reel back A.J. Burnett is based, at root, in a decision not to allocate all of the club's free payroll space to one arm, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Though Pittsburgh ultimately made a $12MM offer to Burnett, the club went into the off-season hoping to spread approximately $17MM to $19MM among multiple acquisitions, and came close to landing both Josh Johnson and James Loney. That explains much of the team's decision not to make Burnett a qualifying offer, says Sawchik, though he opines that the offer likely would have been declined. "It's always easy to look in hindsight," said GM Neal Huntington. "If [Burnett had] accepted the offer it would have had a significant impact on what we could have done. ... It would have affected our approach on the first base market, the right field market, and bullpen market. If we had [a] crystal ball and seen this is the way it would play out maybe things are different."
- Even after inking Burnett to a $16MM deal that reportedly pushes the Phillies player contract tab right up to (if not over) the $189MM luxury tax line, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said today that the club's payroll remains flexible, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
- Philadelphia reliever Antonio Bastardo will look to return from a 50-game PED suspension last year arising out of the Biogenesis scandal. In addition to expressing contrition today, he said that he faced a 100-game ban had he appealed, tweets Nightengale.
- Reds GM Walt Jocketty explained how his club came to claim Cubs righty Brett Marshall off of waivers, as MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports. "I talked to him and he sounded like a good kid," said Jocketty. "We had good reports on him. He had one of the best changeups in the Yankees organization. He's a sinkerballer with a good slider. He's got a couple of options left."
The Phillies released righty Chad Gaudin this morning when he failed his physical, reports Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter). The 30-year-old swingman signed a minor league deal with a MLB Spring Training invitation back in January, and had been expected to provide a solid pen and rotation depth option. Instead, the Reynolds Sports Management client will return to the open market.
Depending upon the issues that led to the failed physical, Gaudin should still find takers for his services. He put up appealing numbers last year with the Giants. Throwing in his age-30 season, Gaudin put up a 3.06 ERA in 97 innings (including 12 starts). He reached those marks with 8.2 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a 38.4 percent ground-ball rate.
Gaudin has extensive experience working from the rotation and the pen: he made 34 starts with the A's in 2007 and has thrown the first pitch in 87 of his 344 career outings. His career 4.44 ERA does not reflect a significant difference in performance between the two roles: he has allowed a 4.56 ERA and .762 OPS as a starter, and a 4.30 ERA and .776 OPS as a reliever.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. declined to comment on the details, but told reporters, including Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, that the club was disappointed to have to let Gaudin go. "It hurts," said Amaro. "Obviously the roles he can fill as a long guy, a guy who can sit for 10 days and not pitch and then pitch as a starter, all of those things you like to have a veteran guy to be able to do. We have to find out of that guy is in our camp."
Even though most of Alex Rodriguez's 2014 salary will be wiped out by his season-long PED suspension, the controversial slugger's contract is still ranked as the worst in baseball by Grantland's Jonah Keri. Of Keri's list of the 15 worst contracts in the sport, the Dodgers have four, the Yankees, Angels and Braves each have two and the Reds, Rangers, Phillies, Blue Jays and White Sox have one each.
Here are some items from around the baseball world...
- The Reds and Homer Bailey are "still talking" about a multiyear contract, GM Walt Jocketty tells MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. "There has not been a lot of progress, but good conversations anyhow," Jocketty said. Bailey's arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 20 and there is a $2.9MM gap ($11.6MM to $8.7MM) between his demands and the Reds' offer for a 2014 contract. This is Bailey's last season under contract with Cincinnati and the two sides are reportedly far apart on a long-term deal. Sheldon suggests that the Reds will be watching the Indians' case with Justin Masterson, as he and Bailey have posted comparable numbers over the last three years and Masterson is also scheduled to be a free agent next offseason.
- The Pirates offered A.J. Burnett a $12MM contract for 2014, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link). This obviously fell short of the $16MM Burnett received from the Phillies earlier today.
- The Twins aren't one of the teams interested in Emilio Bonifacio, 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson reports (via Twitter). Bonifacio cleared release waivers and became a free agent earlier today. The Orioles are known to be one of at least nine teams interested in the speedy utilityman.
- Also from Wolfson, a Twins official said that the club "had extensive talks" about Erisbel Arruebarruena but he was judged to be too expensive. The Cuban shortstop agreed to a deal with the Dodgers today that could be worth as much as $25MM.
- The Cubs can afford to be patient in trading Jeff Samardzija, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan argues, as teams may be more willing to meet Chicago's large asking price once the free agent pitching market thins out and teams get more desperate once the season begins.
- Right-hander Josh Roenicke is drawing interest from a "handful of teams" and could be signed soon, a source tells MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo (Twitter link). Roenicke posted a 4.35 ERA, 6.5 K/9 and 1.25 K/BB rate in 62 relief innings with the Twins in 2013 before being outrighted off Minnesota's roster in November.
- Also from Cotillo, right-hander Blake Hawksworth has retired. Hawksworth posted a 4.07 ERA and 1.85 K/BB over 124 games (eight as a starter) with the Cardinals and Dodgers from 2009-11 before elbow and shoulder injuries derailed his career. Hawksworth has taken a job with the Boras Corporation, his former agency.
- Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill discussed the club's recent signing of Carlos Marmol with Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
- Luis Ayala chose to sign a minor league deal with the Nationals since they (as the Expos) were the franchise that originally signed him and he still has many friends in the organization, the veteran reliever tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Several teams were linked to Ayala this offseason but the bidding came down to the Nats, Tigers and Phillies.
Today's signing of free agent starter A.J. Burnett by the Phillies (one year, $16MM, plus a mutual option) brings to an end a brief-but-interesting period of a fascinating free agent signing class. Long expected either to re-sign with the Pirates or instead retire, the 37-year-old threw a wrench into an already-straggling pitching market when it was revealed that he would not only return for another year, but would be open to alternative destinations. Having re-established himself as a top-end arm, but being available on a short-term deal, Burnett further downgraded the market outlook for draft-compensation-bound starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. But by signing with the Phils, who had not figured to be in play for Jimenez or Santana, Burnett leaves the market much as he found it -- albeit further slowed, perhaps. (Indeed, with Matt Garza going to another relatively unexpected landing spot with the Brewers, those hurlers may now be in a better position, timing notwithstanding.) Ultimately, the Phillies proved to be every bit the wild card I suggested they might be at the outset of the off-season, but in some respects functioned to restore the rest of the market to expectations.
- Of course, that is not to say that Burnett's signing is of little moment. To the contrary, it has important implications -- in particular, for both of MLB's Pennsylvania-based franchises. As Ben Lindbegh of Baseball Prospectus writes, the Pirates may have learned a difficult lesson by failing to made Burnett a qualifying offer. Rejecting the hypotheses that the club did not want to sign him or was genuinely unable to do so financially, Lindbergh opines that the Pittsburgh likely mistakenly felt it would be readily able to get him back for less than the $14.1MM QO.
- Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington weighed in again on the qualifying offer decision, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports (Twitter links). Huntington acknowledged that such an offer arguably made quite a bit of sense from a "value standpoint." But, he explained, "the reality is in 10-15 markets a qualifying offer, if accepted, becomes a large chunk of payroll." As Huntington has stated previously, the team did not feel that it could take a $14.1MM payroll hit for Burnett.
- According to Huntington (links to Twitter, via Sawchik), Burnett "informed us it was family-based. The player made a decision to be closer to home." Declining to disclose whether the club made a competitive offer -- he said that question was better posed to Burnett and his agent -- Huntington said that "A.J. would have had the biggest single impact of any single move we made this off-season."
- From the Phillies' perspective, the deal runs the club's payroll up to approximately $189MM, a new club record, says Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter). Though the final tally is somewhat unclear, that means that Philadelphia could well approach or exceed MLB's $189MM luxury cap. As WEEI.com's Alex Speier has explained, the impact of going over that mark comes not just in the tax owed on overages, but in sacrificing the ability to participate in revenue-sharing refunds. Even if the Phils remain under the $189MM level on Opening Day, moreover, the cap could play a role in how the club weighs mid-season moves.
- Burnett's substantial salary would hinder his trade value if the Phillies end up looking to move him, tweets ESPN.com's Buster Olney. The newly-reported inclusion of a limited no-trade clause, likewise, represents a barrier to such a possibility and could substantially limit Burnett's market.
- Several commentators have weighed in positively on the deal on the Phillies' end. CSNPhilly.com's Corey Seidman, for instance, argues that the signing makes better sense of the club's earlier moves to sign veterans like Carlos Ruiz, Marlon Byrd, and Roberto Hernandez in a bid to make a playoff push. As Seidman notes, most of those deals have the added benefit of not adding long-term money to the books. MLB.com's Richard Justice offers that Burnett joins a cast of veterans who still have plenty of talent, and could help push the team into contention.
- On the flip side, the deal could be seen as throwing good money after bad given the club's aging roster. In the view of ESPN.com's Keith Law (Insider link), Burnett looks to represent solid value at a one-year commitment of $16MM. But, he says, Philadelphia was the wrong team to take on that big salary. Even assuming that Cole Hamels is mostly healthy -- he is reportedly dealing with shoulder and biceps discomfort and will likely not quite be ready for Opening Day -- Law argues that the club still looks like a .500 outfit. And the Phillies cannot take full advantage of Burnett's ability to induce grounders, says Law, because they field a below-average defensive infield and do not employ an analytics-based infield alignment strategy like that utilized by the Pirates.
MONDAY, 10:17pm: Burnett is in discussions with multiple teams, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
9:41pm: The Phillies are "very much still in the running" to land Burnett, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Though there is no indication that the sides are nearing a deal, says Zolecki, the likelihood has increased since Friday.
FRIDAY: The market for A.J. Burnett could be taking further shape, as Friday reports have indicated that a pair of previously listed suitors aren't likely landing spots. Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes that the Phillies aren't likely to add Burnett at this point in the offseason, and Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that things "don't look good" for the Orioles either.
Salisbury spoke with Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and was told the following:
"I don’t suspect we’ll be doing anything. I think we’ve got what we’ve got. I suspect we’ll go into the season with what we’ve got – or at least spring training with what we’ve got. We’re always looking, always trolling. I know there are guys out there, but I don’t suspect us having anything major coming through."
In his tweet, Kubatko does note that while the Burnett-to-Baltimore scenario isn't completely dead, the sense is that his prerference is to pitch in the National League rather than return to the American League. Kubatko adds that the Orioles are still in the mix on Bronson Arroyo, Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-Min Yoon, however.
Recent reports stated that the D-Backs would have interest in Burnett, but they don't feel he'd want to pitch for a West Coast club. It sounds then, like Burnett's preference is to pitch for a Senior Circuit club on or near the East coast (he is a Maryland resident), which would bode well for the Pirates, especially if the Phillies are truly out of the mix. The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore speculated earlier in the week that the Nationals could make a surprise push for Burnett, and I'd agree that the pairing would make sense, though there's been nothing concrete to connect the two sides to this point.
There isn't much optimism about the Phillies, but their roster has the talent to contend if it can stay healthy, Bob Ford of the Inquirer writes. Their season will turn on Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, all core players in their thirties. "I don't believe all of a sudden that these guys are so old that they've lost all of their bat speed, their quickness, and their abilities," says GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Here's more on the NL East.
- Amaro will be the Phillies employee who faces the heaviest scrutiny this spring, but after that is Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, writes Matt Gelb of the Inquirer. "If I knew more what Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez was, I would feel better about it," says Amaro, referring to the Phillies' starting pitching. "We think he has the potential to be that guy. It's not a slam dunk. We haven't seen him pitch. In some ways, we have to get lucky on that one." Gonzalez and the Phillies initially agreed on a deal worth a minimum of $48MM, but the team ended up signing him for $12MM instead after concerns about Gonzalez's elbow scuttled the original deal.
- The Braves' signings of Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward to extensions likely mean less money on hand to sign Craig Kimbrel. That might be justified given the decline in Kimbrel's deceptiveness last season, Alec Dopp of BaseballAnalytics.org writes. While Kimbrel was still dominant in 2013, his K:BB ratio took a big step backward, and batters made significantly more contact against him. His release point varied more in 2013, Dopp argues, which made it easier for batters to identify his pitches.
Here's the latest on free agent situations around the league:
- Bronson Arroyo's decision came down to the Diamondbacks and the Orioles, ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick tweets, with Arroyo's preference to stay in the National League playing a role in his decision to sign with Arizona. Baltimore's best offer was "competitive" with the two-year, $23.5MM guarantee that Arroyo landed, tweets Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun.
- Reliever Ryan Madson hit 93 mph on the radar gun during an audition today in front of 15 clubs, reports Crasnick (via Twitter). Multiple teams have expressed interest in the one-time relief ace, who is working back after missing each of the last two seasons due to elbow issues. Madson's former club, the Phillies, are one of the teams that planned to watch Madson, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com reported earlier today.
- Another rehabbing pitcher, former ace Johan Santana, tweeted today that he started throwing off of a mound this week. Last we heard, Twins GM Terry Ryan suggested that Santana probably would not be ready to throw competitive pitches until the summer.
- Multiple teams have shown interest in free agent reliever Brandon Lyon, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. The 34-year-old threw 34 1/3 innings of 4.98 ERA ball for the Mets last year, but advanced metrics (3.98 FIP, 4.48 xFIP, 4.38 SIERA) put a somewhat more positive spin on things.
- Free agent outfielder Rick Ankiel told SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (hat tip to Cotillo, on Twitter) that he is still open to playing. But having yet to hear from clubs with interest, Ankiel says he is "in a holding pattern."
Here are the day's minor moves:
- Utilityman Brian Bixler has agreed to a minor league deal with the Phillies, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. The 31-year-old has seen time at the MLB level with the Pirates, Nationals, and Astros, but spent last season with the Mets' Triple-A affiliate. His career big league line is a modest .189/.249/.269 in 356 plate appearances, and he slashed .259/.323/.372 in 345 plate appearances in the upper minors last year. Bixler's calling card is versatility: he has played every field position but pitcher and catcher at the MLB level, and in fact appeared everywhere but the battery and at first during his 2013 stint at Las Vegas.
- The Orioles have signed 29-year-old outfielder Matt LaPorta to a minor league deal that does not include an invite to major league camp, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). LaPorta was the 7th overall pick of the 2007 draft and twice a Baseball America top-30 prospect, but has managed only a .238/.301/.393 line in 1,068 MLB plate appearances between 2009-12. With unfavorable defensive ratings, he graded out as a sub-replacement-level player for most of his time in the bigs. At Triple-A last year with the Indians organization, LaPorta slashed .238/.310/.476 with ten home runs in 185 plate appearances. LaPorta was the key piece in the deal that shipped C.C. Sabathia out of Cleveland, but became a minor league free agent this year.
- Checking in on the MLBTR DFA Tracker, three players sit in DFA limbo: Brett Wallace of the Astros and Emilio Bonifacio and Everett Teaford of the Royals.
Several 2015 free agents will need to play well enough this year to counteract the poison pill of a qualifying offer, writes Buster Olney of ESPN.com (Insider link). Shin-Soo Choo managed the feat last year, putting up a big enough season that the sacrifice of a draft pick did not substantially limit his market. Barring a big setback, Max Scherzer has probably already done the same, according to Olney. Others, however, still have work to do to avoid a potentially heavily constrained market. Among them, in Olney's estimation, are Justin Masterson, Chase Headley, David Ortiz, Asdrubal Cabrera, James Shields, Jed Lowrie, Hanley Ramirez, and Brett Gardner.
Here are some notes from baseball's eastern divisions:
- The Blue Jays are not just the most active buyer on the free agent starting pitching market, but actually hold a "commanding position" in the same, Olney asserts in the same piece. Toronto's beneficial draft-pick situation and cash position have left it in the driver's seat, able to name a price and wait for one of the top remaining starters to accept that it's the best they can do.
- Jays president Paul Beeston discussed his baseball and business philosophies in a wide-ranging interview with Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. Saying that "economics will follow the winning," Beeston said that, though the team is "not in the business to lose money, ... we're not in the business to make money either. We make the money we'll plough it right back in ... ." He also complimented club ownership, saying they greenlighted payroll additions in cases like Aroldis Chapman (as an international free agent) and last year's major trades with the Marlins and Blue Jays. As for GM Alex Anthopoulos, Beeston credited the 36-year-old with pulling off deals last year that everyone in the front office supported and said the experience had been a learning experience for all involved.
- The Nationals could still follow suit on the last two off-seasons and make an unexpected, late free agent splash, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, who looks at the team's current commitments for 2014 and 2015. Washington was willing to pay $12MM over two years to reliever Grant Balfour, and cleared additional cash by backloading the two-year deals of Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond. Though the club could stand to add another catcher, no attractive free agent splashes remain. Kilgore wonders, however, whether a run at A.J. Burnett would make sense, especially given his preference to play near his Maryland home.
- Unless the Phillies elect to utilize Marlon Byrd as the backup center fielder, Darin Ruf does not appear to have a clear shot at a roster spot, writes Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Ruf could still be optioned down to start the year, but he is 27 years old and is not in need of seasoning. Though limited defensively, Ruf carries a .838 career OPS through 330 MLB plate appearances.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe shares a few hot stove items in his latest Sunday column...
- Bronson Arroyo has been looking for a three-year deal or at least a vesting option for a third year, which could be holding up his market. If Arroyo was willing to settle for a flat two-year contract, Cafardo opines, he could find a deal, possibly with the Diamondbacks; Cafardo reported earlier this week that Arizona was "beginning to kick the tires" on the veteran right-hander. Arroyo recently said that he has yet to receive a concrete offer from any team, despite a lot of interest from around the league.
- The Dodgers are another team who "are very interested" in Arroyo but don't want to give him a guaranteed third year.
- Nelson Cruz's market is beginning to heat up, and “there could be up to four or five teams who could take the plunge in the end," a Major League source tells Cafardo. This interest could manifest itself into a multiyear deal for Cruz, though Cafardo notes that the slugger could still have to settle for a one-year contract. We've recently seen the Mariners, Orioles, Rangers and Twins linked to Cruz in rumors, though Texas and Minnesota only seem interested at a greatly reduced price.
- Cafardo thinks the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes is down to the Pirates, Phillies and Orioles, though he wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees were also exploring a reunion with the veteran right-hander. The Rays and Blue Jays have also been connected to Burnett, though it seems more likely that Burnett will choose a team located closer to his home in Maryland.
- The Marlins have "asked a lot" about Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks but there doesn't seem to be a trade fit. Miami is one of several teams who have asked Boston about Middlebrooks' availability, but the Sox don't want to give up on Middlebrooks' power potential. Even if the Red Sox re-signed Stephen Drew to play shortstop and Xander Bogaerts took over at third, Middlebrooks would still receive playing time alternating between third and first base.
- While Jon Lester recently said he would take a hometown discount to remain with the Red Sox, Cafardo points out that it might not be a huge discount, as Lester also noted that "you never want to be the guy that takes the market backward."
- The Red Sox will experiment with Ryan Lavarnway as a first baseman during Spring Training, GM Ben Cherington confirmed. Since Boston is so deep at catcher at both the Triple-A and Major League levels, Lavarnway's only chance at continued playing time may be as a Triple-A first baseman.
- "There’s a feeling that a team like the Yankees may pluck Fernando Rodney, or someone of his ilk, to ensure they have another closer in case David Robertson breaks down or isn’t up to the task," Cafardo writes. Rodney was reportedly drawing interest from four teams, though the Yankees hadn't spoken with him since November and may not have enough remaining payroll space to add to the bullpen.