Rafael Soriano Rumors

East Notes: Swihart, Howard, Soriano

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.

Quick Hits: Stadium Funding, Service Time, Soriano, Olivera

We’ve discussed recently the ways in which international politics can influence baseball’s player market, and now there’s an important example of domestic politics to consider. As USA Today’s Elaine Povich reports, President Obama’s new federal budget proposal contains a provision that would preclude states and municipalities from issuing tax-exempt bonds as a means of financing professional sports stadiums, including ballparks. This is an issue with widespread implications that go well beyond the game of baseball, of course, but within the MLB (and MiLB) world, the measure could cut off a source for future revenue streams. Taxpayer subsidies of various kinds fueled the last (and still-ongoing) round of ballpark building, which along with TV revenue has helped to drive player spending.

Here are some more notes from around the game:

  • MLBTR readers are no strangers to the idea of service time considerations, which last year focused on players like George Springer of the Astros and Gregory Polanco of the Pirates. Now, Cubs super-prospect Kris Bryant is squarely at issue, and Mike Petriello of Fangraphs opines that the league needs to fix what he calls a broken system. Coming up with a workable (and agreeable) solution is the primary roadblock here, of course. Petriello suggests a change in rules: rather than requiring 172 days of service over a season to reach one full year for purposes of determining free agent eligibility, which allows teams to keep prospects down for a short time to begin the year in order to add a full season of future control, his system would allow a player to accumulate a year of service if they reach 100 days (or some similar number) of MLB active roster time in a given season. That would largely keep the present considerations intact, of course, but would shift the math in favor of calling up players who are truly ready to provide value at the big league level. As Petriello notes, this would function as an obvious boon to players, who would reach free agency sooner, likely requiring significant concessions from the union in other areas. Union chief Tony Clark has indicated that he expects negotiations on the next CBA to ramp up in early 2016, the year in which the present agreement will expire.
  • As we’ve discussed previously, former Nationals closer Rafael Soriano is the most eligible free agent remaining. August Fagerstrom of Fangraphs explores the reasons for his continued availability, explaining that Soriano’s tendency to give up hard contact in the second half — and related questions about his stuff — have hurt his value. Soriano still looks to be a capable big league reliever, of course, and it could be that agent Scott Boras is taking things down to the wire because he is confident in the still-existing market demand, which figures only to increase as injuries arise.
  • Hector Olivera remains the most interesting free agent, of course, though he has only been officially available for less than two weeks to this point. Ben Badler of Baseball America provides an updated scouting report, noting that Olivera’s bat still looks strong but that there are some questions about his range and arm in the infield. While much of this ground has been covered before, the report is well worth a look as it compiles the most recent opinions. For what it’s worth, in a series of polls, MLBTR readers have predicted that Olivera will land a guarantee in the $40MM to $50MM range, with the Braves, Padres, and Dodgers being the likeliest landing spots.

NL Notes: Pence, Marlins, Soriano, Tomas, Lopez

Hunter Pence will be out six to eight weeks after a Corey Black fastball broke his arm in yesterday’s Cactus League contest against the Cubs. However, the Giants are expected to look at their in-house options to replace Pence while he is on the shelf, tweets Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio. That’s not necessarily a huge surprise, considering the fact that six to eight weeks could mean that Pence will miss only a few weeks of in-season action. ESPN’s Buster Olney wondered (on Twitter) last night if the Giants might use Buster Posey at first base more, with Brandon Belt sliding into the outfield, given the team’s need for power.

More notes from around the Senior Circuit…

  • The Marlins missed out on James Shields and Francisco Rodriguez late in the offseason, but the money that would have been allocated to that pair of arms could be reinvested in trade acquisitions midseason, writes MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. President of baseball operations Michael Hill says that owner Jeffrey Loria has made it “abundantly clear” that he will provide the Marlins’ front office with the resources necessary to make trades, should an area of need arise.
  • Frisaro also reports that despite the fact that the Marlins were clearly in the market for a bullpen upgrade (as evidenced by their pursuit of K-Rod), they don’t have interest in free agent right-hander Rafael Soriano.
  • Yasmany Tomas has looked comfortable in early auditions at third base, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. He hasn’t been perfect, particularly with his throws, but if Tomas can iron out the kinks at the hot corner, it would keep the D-Backs‘ outfield logjam from getting out of hand. As it stands, Arizona has David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, Cody Ross, Ender Inciarte and Mark Trumbo all vying for time, and adding Tomas to that mix would further complicate matters. Regardless, it’s possible, in my eyes, that we see Arizona move one of its outfield options later this spring, although Peralta and Inciarte do have minor league options remaining.
  • Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris has some brief video of another highly regarded Cuban inked by the D-Backs this offseason: Yoan Lopez. Sarris captures just a couple of pitches, but his colleague, Kiley McDaniel, provides a more complete breakdown of Lopez in a brief scouting report. Per McDaniel, Lopez has good arm speed on a 92 to 95 mph fastball to go along with an above-average slider and an average changeup. However, the 21-year-old also has some control issues and is likely headed to the minors to begin his career here.

Looking At Landing Spots For Rafael Soriano

The last man standing on Tim Dierkes’s Top Fifty Free Agent list is reliever Rafael Soriano. I predicted that he would land two years and $12MM before the offseason started, though I noted that there was a downside scenario where he could earn less. (Check that link for a full write-up of Soriano’s free agent case.)

With pitchers and catchers already reporting around the game, it is even more difficult now to peg the contract — all the more so with a report that some scouts felt his stuff went downhill late last year. The similarly-situated Rodriguez just got $13MM over two years, so there’s still some money to be spent. But that came from the Brewers, perhaps the last team that was intent on making an investment in the back of the bullpen.

We haven’t heard much on Soriano’s market all offseason, and even more recent reports have focused on him as a possible backup option to Rodriguez. While there are strong arguments against all the teams listed below, they seem at least the most hypothetically plausible.

Blue Jays – The front office has heavily downplayed the possibility of a big league deal with a reliever, but the closer role remains open and the club has at least considered going after Soriano.

DodgersKenley Jansen is out for a while and the overall relief corps is not that exciting, but the team just signed Dustin McGowan and preliminary reports of possible interest in Soriano have been contested.

Marlins – They are said not to be likely suitors, but did reportedly make a multi-year offer to K-Rod so obviously have some free cash that could be put into the pen.

OriolesZach Britton is left-handed and only has half a year of success in the ninth; Dan Duquette has shown a predilection for jumping on late-market deals.

Rangers – After burning through an unbelievable number of arms last year, Texas is leaning on a relatively recent TJ patient in Neftali Feliz — to say nothing of the less-established arms in camp.

Rockies – With John Axford already joining the fold on a minor league deal as a supplement to LaTroy Hawkins, it doesn’t seem likely, but Colorado could look to make a minor splash if the price is right.

Tigers – Detroit may make eminent sense or none at all, depending on one’s perspective; I find it unlikely but not unimaginable after the signing of Joba Chamberlain.

TwinsGlen Perkins could use some back-up after late-2014 elbow issues, and even if he’s healthy he anchors an otherwise uninspiring unit.

Other – There are other major league teams, as you may know, and all are free to sign Soriano. With plenty of earnings already in his pocket, might Soriano wait for an injury need to open the door to a more significant role?

We may as well take a poll while we’re at it. Which of the above seems most plausible to you?

Latest On The Marlins’ Bullpen Search

Even though Francisco Rodriguez is now off the market, the Marlins aren’t likely to pursue Rafael Soriano or Phil Coke on Major League contracts, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports.  The Fish may be done with their bullpen shopping altogether, Frisaro writes, as they’re happy with the number of power arms they already have in camp and the money they intended to spend on Rodriguez could now be saved for in-season upgrades, if necessary.

As previously reported, the Fish had some interest in Coke if he was willing to take a minor league deal.  The lefty has reportedly received minor league offers from multiple teams, however, so the Marlins would have competition if Coke were to give up his search for a big league contract.

As for Soriano, he’s never been linked to the Marlins on the rumor mill this season, despite the fact that he and Rodriguez (a known Miami target) share some on-paper similarities as veteran relievers with closing experience.  The Marlins already have a closer in Steve Cishek but, as Frisaro notes, the team was looking for someone to handle the ninth on days when Cishek wasn’t available.

Despite some concerns from scouts about Soriano’s stuff, the veteran reliever has still drawn some interest this offseason.  Soriano has been linked to the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Rockies and Brewers in rumors, though the latter two clubs have since addressed their bullpen needs.

Relief Market Notes: Joba, Soriano, Rangers, K-Rod

In today’s Insider-only blog on ESPN.com, Buster Olney discusses some of the remaining relief options on the market, noting that right-hander Joba Chamberlain is expected to make a decision on his 2015 club sometime this week. The Dodgers are among the teams with interest, Olney writes, but there are others involved. Olney also notes that part of the reason Rafael Soriano remains unemployed is that scouts feel that his stuff evaporated late in the 2014 season with the Nationals.

A bit more on what’s left of the relief market…

  • The Rangers are still looking for left-handed relievers and are considering both Phil Coke and Joe Beimel, tweets Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. As Wilson notes, the team needn’t worry about a 40-man roster spot, as they can move an injured player to the 60-day disabled list if they accommodate either southpaw with a big league contact.
  • The Brewers and Marlins remain in the mix for Francisco Rodrigueztweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The two teams have been the most commonly linked clubs to Rodriguez’s market, with reports over the weekend indicating that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has discussed K-Rod with agent Scott Boras. Last week, the Marlins were rumored to be interested in the two-year, $10MM range, but Rodriguez is said to be eyeing a $10MM figure for 2015 alone.
  • Right-hander Dustin McGowan, who signed a Major League deal with the Dodgers earlier today, is viewing himself as a reliever at this point in his career, he told reporters (including FOX’s Ken Rosenthal). The Dodgers view McGowan as a relief candidate based on his 95 mph fastball and his splits; McGowan had a 5.08 ERA in the rotation last year compared to a 3.35 mark in the bullpen. His career 3.79 ERA as a reliever is nearly a run lower than his 4.78 mark as a starter.

Latest On The Dodgers’ Bullpen

The Dodgers will be without Kenley Jansen through at least mid-April and possibly mid-May after their elite closer underwent surgery on his left foot this morning, but president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has indicated to MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick that the front office’s initial plan is to evaluate its in-house alternatives at closer (Twitter link).

Though the team may not ultimately take a reactionary approach, the Dodgers will indeed check in on free agents Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Sorianotweets Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times. However, Shaikin adds that he feels it’s more likely the Dodgers will add a middle relief option than a closer, considering Jansen figures to miss a maximum of six weeks (barring setbacks) and is suffering from an injury that is not related to his arm.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports seems to agree with the thought that a reactionary move is unlikely, tweeting that it’d be a “shock” to see the team make a desperation move. Signing K-Rod would only happen if Rodriguez were to sign at the Dodgers’ price, Rosenthal notes, and that seems rather unlikely, considering the fact that Rodriguez and agent Scott Boras have reportedly been holding out for a two-year deal.

The Dodgers’ most experienced options to replace Jansen for the early portion of the season include J.P. Howell, Brandon League and Joel Peralta. Of that trio, only League comes with significant closing experience, though there’s no guarantee that that will play a significant factor in the decision. Paco Rodriguez, Juan Nicasio, Chris Hatcher and Pedro Baez represent 40-man options, while non-roster invitees David Aardsma and Sergio Santos have closing experience as well.

Pitching Notes: Gee, K-Rod, Soriano, Marlins, Uehara, Richards

Right-hander Dillon Gee is likely the odd man out and headed to the Mets‘ bullpen this season, and ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin was among the reporters to speak with him today regarding the move (video link). Gee says he is ready to contribute in whatever role he is asked, even though he obviously prefers to stay in the rotation. Though he did not ever speak with anyone in the front office, he relayed that his agent did, and was seemingly left with the impression that a trade was never quite as likely as was believed in some quarters.

Let’s have a look at a few segments of the pitching market where action still seems open:

  • It would still be unwise to bet against two other well-known closers — Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano — landing substantial contracts, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Notably, both free agents are represented by Scott Boras, who Rosenthal says not to bet against. As Rosenthal rightly points out, it will be interesting to see whether that pair of big-named arms manages to top the guarantees given to names like Pat Neshek ($12.5MM) and Zach Duke ($15MM).
  • As previously reported, Rodriguez has drawn interest from the Marlins, who have also had discussions about fellow free agent righty Joba Chamberlain, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). And those aren’t the only arms still under consideration in Miami, per Heyman. The club is seemingly casting a wide net — waiting for a good value, perhaps — in adding a final piece before camp.
  • Red Sox closer Koji Uehara said today that his mid-season swoon was due in part to injury issues, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald reports. The trouble was related to Uehara’s lower back, GM Ben Cherington said. Obviously, the club believes that he will be able to return without issue, given the contract it gave the veteran relief ace.
  • Breakout Angels starter Garrett Richards threw his first pen session since undergoing knee surgery last year, as Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. Reports were solid on the 26-year-old righty, whose return — and ability to match his outstanding results from last year — will go a long way toward defining the club. Anything close to his 2014 showing would seemingly make Richards a prime extension target.

Pitching Notes: Pen Market, Beimel, Mets, Coke, Stroman

The Blue Jays and Indians appear not to be involved with any of the three best remaining relievers — righties Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Joba Chamberlain — according to ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (Insider link). Other theoretically plausible landing spots seem fairly dried up as well, he notes in assessing the most likely remaining suitors.

Here are a few more pitching notes:

  • Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says that the club spoke with lefty reliever Joe Beimel but that a deal could not be reached, Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN tweets. Beimel had a nice rebound campaign last year in Seattle, and is one of the few southpaws left on the market.
  • The Mets will not be dealing away any pitchers unless circumstances change, Marc Carig of Newsday reports (Twitter links). Dillon Gee generated the most discussion, but New York never found an offer it liked and its prospective trade partners went with other options.
  • We checked in earlier this evening on K-Rod and lefty Phil Coke, each of whom has received some interest from the Marlins. Within that post, we noted a report from Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter) indicating that Coke still has hope of landing a big league pact.
  • Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays is likely not going anywhere any time soon, but I can’t help but link to this interesting piece from Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs, who explains that Stroman’s arsenal of pitches looks like it was assembled from amongst the best offerings of some of the very best arms in the game.

Quick Hits: Luhnow, Coke, Reed, Bridich, Phillies

MLBTR sends our condolences to the family and colleagues of Alison Gordon, who passed away today at age 72.  Gordon covered the Blue Jays for the Toronto Star from 1979 to 1983, becoming the first woman to work as a full-time beat writer covering an MLB club, as well as the first female member of the Baseball Writers Association Of America.  The Star’s Brendan Kennedy has a fuller examination of Gordon’s career and her influence on countless female sportswriters.

Some news items from around the game…

  • GM Jeff Luhnow said the Astros could add “perhaps another reliever but not another starter at this point,” Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports (via Twitter).  The Astros added to their rotation depth earlier today by signing Roberto Hernandez, and the team could be closing in on a deal with left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher.
  • The Rangers are another team with a “strong interest” in Thatcher, as well as another lefty bullpen arm in Phil Coke, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports (Twitter link).  Coke recently threw for Texas.
  • The arbitration hearing between Addison Reed and the Diamondbacks is scheduled for Friday unless the two sides can reach an agreement before then, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports.
  • Rockies GM Jeff Bridich discusses the team’s offseason and his own hiring in an interview with Woody Paige and Les Shapiro of the Denver Post’s Sports Show (video link).
  • Critics may claim the Phillies haven’t done enough to move their high-priced veterans this offseason, though Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News feels the Phils have a right to be cautious given the scope of their rebuild.
  • Patience,” is how a Phillies executive responded when asked by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal if the club was frustrated by the lack of quality offers for Cole Hamels.  Both Rosenthal and the executive feel more trade opportunities could open up as teams’ needs change due to Spring Training injuries.
  • The Blue Jays and Indians don’t appear to be in on any of Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain, ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden writes.  The Tribe has less of a pressing need at the back of their bullpen given Cody Allen‘s emergence last season, while the Jays may also not specifically be looking for closing help, though they are looking at bullpen upgrades.
  • The Dodgers‘ hiring of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi to run the front office is the top transaction of the 2014-15 offseason, Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron opines.  Three other Dodgers moves appear in Cameron’s list of the winter’s top 10 moves, and he calls them “probably the scariest organization in baseball” now that their financial resources have been augmented by Friedman/Zaidi’s creative maneuvers.