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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.
Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are the last two members of MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list who are still looking to find a new team. It comes as little surprise that both pitchers are represented by the Boras Corporation, as one of Scott Boras’ signature tactics is his willingness to wait deep into the offseason to find an acceptable deal for his clients. As the agent memorably put it two years ago, “People call me all the time and say, ‘Man, your players aren’t signed yet.’ Well, it doesn’t really matter what time dinner is when you’re the steak.”
According to MLBTR’s Transactions Tracker, 69 Boras clients have signed free agent contracts since the 2008-09 offseason, and 29 of them have signed on or after January 14. I chose that date as it’s roughly a month before the opening of Spring Training camps, and while you could argue that Jan. 14 isn’t that late for major signings, consider that only nine contracts worth more than $30MM have been signed after that date during each of the last seven offseasons — and seven of those deals went to Boras Corporation clients.
Not even Boras client, of course, waits to sign a contract. Jayson Werth and Jacoby Ellsbury are notable examples of Boras clients who signed mega-deals in early December. In several other cases, however, Boras instead waits for the first rush of signings to take place and then surveys the market to see which (usually deep-pocketed) teams still have key positions to fill. While this strategy inevitably thins out the number of suitors for a free agent, the teams that are left are theoretically more motivated to sign the player due to the scarcity on the market.
Waiting also has the upside of potentially creating a market where none existed. The best example of Boras’ patience paying off was Prince Fielder, who wasn’t generating as much attention as expected when he hit free agency following the 2011 season. After Victor Martinez tore his left ACL, however, Boras suddenly had the perfect storm of circumstance — he already had a strong relationship with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, and the club was now in sore need of a big bat. Little over a week after news of Martinez’s ACL tear broke on January 17, Fielder signed a nine-year/$214MM contract with Detroit that was, at the time, the fourth-biggest contract in baseball history.
This isn’t to say that waiting always works for Boras and his clients, as the new free agent rules put in place prior to the 2012-13 offseason have forced some Boras clients to suffer through longer-than-expected free agent stints. While Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse still found healthy multiyear deals in the 2012-13 offseason despite respectively waiting until February 11 and March 25 to sign, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales weren’t as fortunate last winter. Drew had to wait until May to re-sign with the Red Sox, while Morales had to wait until after the June amateur draft to escape the draft pick compensation tied to his services and subsequently sign with the Twins. In those cases, a market simply didn’t emerge, and the lack of a proper Spring Training for Drew and Morales undoubtedly contributed to those players’ struggles in 2014.
Needless to say, Boras only wants his clients to wait out the market on their own terms, not on the qualifying offer’s terms. The agent has harshly criticized the QO system, arguing that it acts as a roadblock to a truly open market and “penalizes premium performance.” Defenders of the qualifying offer might counter that Boras is exaggerating by describing mid-tier free agents like Drew or Morales as “premium.” Indeed, most top free agents who reject the QO have still found major contracts, including Boras Corporation client Max Scherzer just a few weeks ago.
Rodriguez and Soriano, of course, don’t have qualifying offers hanging over them, though both veteran relievers face other concerns about their ages (Soriano is 35, K-Rod 33), declining fastballs and whether either is a reliable option for a team looking for a closer. Despite these question marks, Boras’ track record makes it a good bet that both pitchers will end up with a comfortable one-year deal. Four teams are known to be interested in Rodriguez, while Soriano would seem to be a logical fit for those same clubs as a possible Plan-B option.
Then again, maybe I’m thinking too small for Soriano given how Boras has twice found larger-than-expected contracts from unlikely sources during the righty’s two previous turns in free agency. Any team’s plans can unexpectedly change all the way up until Opening Day (or even beyond), and more often than not, Boras has managed to squeeze every bit of value out of every minute of his clients’ free agent status.
The price tag on James Shields may be dropping to the point where it makes too much sense for the Yankees to ignore, opines Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com. Shields has never made sense for the Yankees at or in the vicinity of $100MM, Castrovince writes, but if his price tag is trending closer to that of Ervin Santana (four years, $55MM) than that $100MM plateau, the uncertainty and lack of stability in New York’s rotation makes them a logical destination. As Castrovince notes, the Yanks dished out four years and $52MM to Chase Headley shows that the team is still willing to spend on veterans at a price level with which they are comfortable, and Shields’ work ethic, leadership and durability make him a desirable rotation candidate in the Bronx.
Here’s more from the AL East…
- The Yankees have a pair of very viable closer candidates in Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, but MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch envisions Betances eventually locking down the closer role, with Miller likely ticketed to be the team’s top setup man. Hoch spoke with manager Joe Girardi, who did say that he’d like to have a set closer by the end of Spring Training. “I think guys like to know their roles, so I think if we can iron it out, I think it would be a good thing to do,” said Girardi. Using Betances in the ninth inning would cause his arbitration price to soar, although arbitration awards holds, strikeouts and ERA as well, so Betances looks like he’ll eventually be an expensive reliever regardless of his role.
- As Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun details, Delmon Young said at the Orioles‘ Fan Festival over the weekend that he entertained the idea of signing elsewhere and had the opportunity to do so, but his desire was always to return to Baltimore. “…my first goal was to come back here just because I like just being in a place where you’re guaranteed to have an opportunity to defend a division title,” said Young. “It could have been cool going to a different place and trying to win another one, but it’s always a lot better to defend what you earned the year before.” Young continued, explaining that he’s excited to have a larger role this year following the departure of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, also adding that he’s much more comfortable in right field than left field.
- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons spoke with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio yesterday and acknowledged that the team has indeed talked about Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano (Twitter link). Gibbons said GM Alex Anthopoulos has been in touch with Scott Boras regarding the two free agents, as well as Philadelphia counterpart Ruben Amaro Jr. regarding Papelbon. However, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet notes (Twitter link), the Jays aim to be thorough in their search, so it makes sense that they’d explore all avenues.
Recent Brewers signee Neal Cotts tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he came close to hanging up his spikes before the Rangers offered him a deal for the 2013 season. After two fairly productive seasons in Texas, Cotts chose Milwaukee in part due to proximity to his home in Chicago.
Here are some notes on still-active bullpen situations around the game:
- The Red Sox have indicated a willingness over the last few days to deal righty Edward Mujica, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Mujica, 30, signed a two-year deal to head to Boston last year after a strong 2013 with the Cardinals, but struggled mightily out of the gate. He rebounded with a big second half, however, throwing 25 1/3 innings of 1.78 ERA ball over the second half. All said, Mujica ended the year having allowed 3.90 earned per nine and having compiled a 3.70 FIP that was nearly identical to his fielding-independent mark from the season prior.
- After adding Cotts, the Brewers will keep looking for a veteran, late-inning arm, potentially one with closing experience, assistant GM Gord Ash tells Haudricourt. The club is “juggling a lot of balls right now,” says Ash, who added that talks with the Phillies on Jonathan Papelbon are not dead even if nothing is imminent. Ash also indicated that the team was considering former closer Francisco Rodriguez, but noted that the club is not in on Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain. Milwaukee also seems to have its eye out for a bargain, with Ash noting that the club is open to doing a minor league deal at any time.
- A few of the other names still on the market do have some interest even though they have yet to ink a contract, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). After a solid 2014, southpaw Joe Beimel has interest from three clubs, including the incumbent Mariners, while fellow lefty Joe Thatcher has drawn attention from a handful of teams.
The Blue Jays are “in contact” with the representatives of multiple top free agent relievers, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. Among them are righties Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Burke Badenhop.
With former Jays closer Casey Janssen now headed to the Nationals, Toronto officially must look elsewhere to build out its pen. The three names listed above are arguably the top three arms remaining, though several other options remain as well.
GM Alex Anthopoulos said earlier today that he is looking for many different ways to add talent to the relief corps, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports. As things stand, Brett Cecil and Aaron Sanchez are perhaps the top two candidates to hold down the ninth inning, and Toronto is not sending signals that it feels an established closer is a necessity.
Payroll may be the driving factor at this point, writes Nicholson-Smith. With perhaps $5MM to $6MM in 2015 spending capacity remaining, that makes trade candidate Jonathan Papelbon a questionable fit. “When you see us linked to a player for days and days and back and forth, I’d say 9.9 times out of 10 there probably isn’t anything to it,” Anthopoulos said. “I can say we’re not going to be in the market for relievers making $10-plus million or more.”
Otherwise, Anthopoulos indicated that the team was in an opportunistic mode after getting a lot of work done earlier in the winter. “Most times the later you get in to the winter there’s potential for the prices to change on some of these guys,” he noted. One internal wild card, catcher Dioner Navarro, remains available in trade but seems destined to remain with the Jays unless a suitable offer comes in.
1:45pm: GM Doug Melvin tells Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio that his club hasn’t made a play for Shields and has not made a phone call to his camp. The team’s priority, according to Melvin, is upgrading the bullpen, where they’d like to add one or two pieces. Should the Brewers add a starter, it won’t be someone of Shields’ caliber, Melvin added (All Twitter links).
1:31pm: Following their trade of Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers are casting a wide net as they consider pitching upgrades, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Although all indications since the deal have pointed to the young Jimmy Nelson stepping into the rotation to fill Gallardo’s slot, Heyman lists James Shields as a potential candidate for Milwaukee. He also notes that Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are considerations for the Brewers, and trades are possible as well.
Looking at next year’s payroll (via Cot’s Contracts), the Brewers project to come in around $97MM (when factoring in league-minimum players needed to round out the roster). That’s lower than their 2014 Opening Day mark of ~$103.7MM, but it seems like they’d be hard-pressed to fit Shields without going well over that mark. Of course, a back-loaded deal could make sense, as about $45MM is coming off the books next winter with Aramis Ramirez, Kyle Lohse, Jonathan Broxton, Gerardo Parra and possibly Adam Lind all due for free agency (and they’ll be free of Gallardo’s commitment — of which they’re still paying $4MM — as well).
Among the club’s guaranteed contracts, only Ryan Braun is due for a substantial ($7MM) raise. And, as far as their arbitration eligible players are concerned, Jean Segura and Wily Peralta represent the only significant cases. Each will be arb-eligible for only the first time. It should also be noted that the Brewers have plenty of precedent for waiting out the starting pitching market, as they agreed to terms with Matt Garza one year ago tomorrow and also added Lohse in Spring Training of 2013.
Still, a Shields addition would likely require a record-setting payroll in Milwaukee, which does make it somewhat of a stretch to envision. Adding an arm like Rodriguez or Soriano to shore up the bullpen, however, would seem to be a much more plausible plan of attack for GM Doug Melvin. While Milwaukee did add a power arm in the Gallardo trade (Corey Knebel), there’s little experience and stability at the back of the relief corps.
- The Nats shouldn’t trade anyone from their loaded rotation, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports writes. Pitchers get hurt frequently, and the Nationals don’t need to deal a pitcher to fix a hole elsewhere — they’re strong all over the diamond and they have a good farm system.
- Scott Boras has said he often negotiates huge deals with owners, not GMs, and it’s unclear whether Nationals owner Ted Lerner was involved in negotiating the Scherzer deal or how GM Mike Rizzo might now plan if he did, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. The Nationals have discussed trades involving Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg throughout the offseason, Rosenthal notes. Now that they’ve added Scherzer, though, they could just keep accumulating talent, perhaps adding another Boras client in Francisco Rodriguez or Rafael Soriano for their bullpen.
- The Nationals might now be a “super-team,” Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs writes. The Nationals’ position players already projected for more WAR than any other NL team, and Scherzer’s signing will move them past the Dodgers for the most projected pitcher WAR as well.
- The Red Sox can still use an ace and would be able to pay the high price necessary to acquire Zimmermann, Strasburg or Doug Fister, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes. It would perhaps be more likely that the Red Sox would acquire Zimmermann or Fister, given that Strasburg has two years of control left and would therefore cost more in a trade.
The market for free agent relievers continues to develop slowly, writes Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Three free agents with over 20 saves last season remain available – Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Casey Janssen. Per Morosi, the Blue Jays, Indians, and Brewers are looking to add a late inning reliever. Obviously, other clubs could get involved at the right price.
Each of the three free agents come with performance concerns. Rodriguez, 33, was the best of the group with 44 saves. However, he’s allowed an above average rate of home runs in his last three seasons – all spent at homer friendly Miller Park. He’s a better fit for a pitcher friendly park, which may be why the Brewers have yet to re-engage his services.
Both Soriano and Janssen lost ninth inning privileges last season. Soriano, 35, actually had a solid season based on his peripherals, but a few costly, late season blow-ups led to Drew Storen taking over as closer. As a command and control pitcher, Janssen has always been an atypical closer.
The trio is unlikely to do much better than the two-year, $15MM deal Sergio Romo signed with the Giants. In some ways, Romo was better last year than any of the remaining free agents, and he’s younger too. Like Soriano and Janssen, Romo lost the closer role mid-season.
With Tyler Clippard moving to Oakland (presumably, GM Billy Beane won’t re-trade him before the season), the most obvious trade candidate is Philadelphia’s Jonathan Papelbon. His contract is an additional impediment to a trade – he’s owed $13MM this season with a $13MM vesting option (48 games finished). While Morosi didn’t mention it, some clubs have reportedly expressed concern about Papelbon’s clubhouse presence. He missed the end of last season after an unusual crotch grabbing incident.
The Padres are still involved in some chatter involving Phillies ace Cole Hamels, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Prior reports had indicated that a hypothetical deal could include recently-acquired, high-upside outfielder Wil Myers, but Heyman says that recently-discussed trade scenarios have been based around San Diego prospects. That being said, the report stresses that nothing is close and that other clubs are still involved. And, of course, GM A.J. Preller said recently that he does not expect any more truly significant deals.
More from the National League West:
- In addition to pursuing free agent starter James Shields, the Diamondbacks are looking at the trade market for a starter and/or catcher, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports. Arizona would be interested in moving an outfield bat, and at least one club (the Orioles) has inquired on David Peralta and Ender Inciarte.
- The Rockies, too, want to add to their rotation, and MLB.com’s Thomas Harding says that the team is increasing its efforts to do so. Mets righty Dillon Gee is said to be a target, of course, though Harding reports that the Rockies have not made an offer. (For what it’s worth, both Harding and Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post suggested the idea of southpaw reliever Boone Logan as a target for the Mets.) Otherwise, Colorado would likely aim for an experienced, back-end right-hander on the free agent market, with Harding saying that names like Ryan Vogelsong, Kyle Kendrick, and Kevin Correia represent the range of pitcher being considered.
- In addition to eyeing the rotation market, the Rockies have several former closers on their radar, per Harding. Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and John Axford are among the late-inning arms that Colorado could make a run at, according to the report.
Here’s the latest from around the league as the evening winds down.
- With Ben Zobrist headed west to the Athletics, the Nationals are still trying to solve second base, writes Bill Ladson of MLB.com. Currently, there are five internal options. The most obvious are Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon. Espinosa has disappointed over the last two seasons while Rendon is expected to start at third base. Prospect Wilmer Difo has yet to play above A-ball, but he’s on the 40-man roster and possesses exciting tools. Other options include veterans Kevin Frandsen and Dan Uggla.
- Free agent John Axford would like to compete for a closer gig, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. As it happens, the Blue Jays have yet to acquire a closer. Left-hander Brett Cecil is penciled into the role. At this point, no offers have been made to Axford, but several teams have shown interest including the Jays. After three consecutive rough seasons, Axford would likely have to earn any high leverage role.
- The market for mid-tier, high leverage relievers has been slow to materialize, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford interviews righty reliever Burke Badenhop who is coming off a career season with a 2.29 ERA in over 70 innings. As Badenhop points out, teams don’t feel any pressure to make the first offer to free agents of his caliber. While five teams may be showing interest, they each know that any firm offer will get passed around to the others for bidding. Relievers like Badenhop, Francisco Rodriguez, and Rafael Soriano have to exercise patience as prospective buyers first gauge the trade market.