Ramon Castro Rumors

L.I. Ducks President On Willis, Guerrero, Castro

Since their inaugural season in 2000, the Long Island Ducks have had a knack for luring notable former major leaguers looking to continue their professional careers and get back to MLB.  Earlier this year, the Atlantic League club signed Dontrelle Willis, Vladimir Guerrero, and Ramon Castro all inside of one week.  I spoke with club President/General Manager Michael Pfaff about the team's operations and the latest on their current big names.

Vladimir Guerrero is still in the Dominican Republic, will he be joining the team this year?

We've been told that he's dealing with some family issues at this time.  He was going to be here from the start of spring training, we signed him, we started the process of getting him here and his representative called and said that he had some family issues to take care of before he left for the summer.  He didn't want to leave a situation that he didn't feel was buttoned up open for the summer.  He wouldn't have felt comfortable here if he didn't have it all taken care of.  We respect that.  Family comes first.  When Vlad gets here we have a spot for him and he's certainly entitled to do that.

Is there a chance that he might not join the team this year?

I really don't know.  I can't speak for him, you'd have to ask him.  I've only been told what I've been told by his agent.  We've put him on the inactive list and we told his agent that when he arrives he'll have a spot waiting for him.

Why are you able to draw in so many big names to your team?

I think the [Atlantic League] in general has proven of the course over its 15-year history that it is the league of choice for players that are interested in continuing their professional careers at a high level and getting back to major league organizations.  They've had the most success here, baseball is a small world, and players discuss amongst each other.  Obviously, the players are teammates at some juncture in their careers and they talk about good places to play and the places that help their careers.  Usually the Atlantic League is the choice for those guys.

It seems like the Ducks have had more success with signing those types of players though.  Is that the case?

We've taken as many chances as any team in the league, I'll put it that way.  We've provided opportunities for more than our share of big name major leaguers.  I think if you look at the rosters of other teams in the league and compare them to the Ducks, you'll see roughly the same amount of former major leaguers over the past five years and 15 years as well, but yes,we've had more than our fair share of the bigger names.  Whether it was guys in our past like Carlos Baerga, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carl Everett, Juan Gonzalez, Danny Graves, John Rocker…those experiences are part of our history and more recently we've had guys like Dontrelle Willis and people like him are utilizing this league as a platform.  I think its been a win win for everyone really, the fans get get a great product at an affordable price and they can continue to do what they love.

What do you do to help draw MLB attention to the players that you have on your roster?

We have open lines of communication with major league ballclubs, the way that player purchases in this league work are that clubs call the league office and I think that is part of what separates us from other leagues that look to sign players that are free agents.  In the Atlantic League, no one from the Yankees is going to call me and say we want your first baseman.  They're going to call [Atlantic League Executive Director and former MLB GM] Joe Klein, they're going to call somebody that has no stake in it – not that the Ducks would stand in the way of it – but there's probably a  team or two in another league that might.  If a team has a vested interest in winning for their own organization, it might be different.  In other leagues, teams kind of control the destination of the player.  

In the Atlantic League, they call the league office, they call [Klein], he completes the purchase transaction of the contract and sometimes I'm the last to find out.  They'll say "go find a new pitcher, or a first baseman, whatever the case may be, so and so got signed."  I think that's probably the biggest challenge from a player personnel perspective, you lose your best players and have to fill them in with free agents; we don't have a feeder system in this league.  

I think in terms of drawing scouts, the scouts watch this league via the internet as much as anything.  When they see teams that are winning and having success, when they're in need of player and over the course of a few weeks they see him having success, they do come out and I think that all of the teams are conveniently located and compared to large major markets, Long Island is as large as it gets.  Being part of the New York metropolitan market doesn't hurt us, we're conveniently located, we have a great facility, big league coaching staff, and over the course of 15 years we've shown that we're a great destination.

What are the advantages of signing with an independent ballclub rather than an affiliated one?

We're very very forthright with everyone who is interested in signing here.  We have two goals from a player personnel perspective.  Number one, we want to win.  This is not a developmental league.  We're not going to let someone throw 100 pitches because they need to get the work in.  If you don't produce, you don't play.  Our manager's job is to win with the best nine names in the lineup.  Number two, we want to help players with their careers, help them continue their careers, and help them get back to the major leagues and want to help them accomplish their goals and objectives as individuals, but it's team first.  We want to win and we also want to make sure that the individuals have success when they perform here.  

It's really simple for us and I think that a lot of players have responded to that in a positive fashion because that's refreshing to a lot of guys.  A lot of guys have been in minor league organizations, Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A, where it is a developmental league and developing talent for the big league teams, its not all about winning…We wont stand in anyone's way, we'll always promote the player and help them achieve their individual goals and objectives too.

When did the Ducks first get into the business of luring in big names?  

The team started in 2000, I think there were major leaguers on that very first team, Chuck Carr was there, he was the center fielder from the Marlins.  In 2001, Carlos Baerga came and he went back to the majors after playing here and was the perfect example.  It was the Ducks' second year, he hit .315 with the Ducks and he was back at the big league level with the Boston Red Sox a year later.  He would have been out of baseball without the Ducks and has always spoken highly of the Atlantic League.  He was one of those guys who utilized the league and we've had those big league names continue to come here throughout our history.

Has the Ducks' reputation gotten to the point where the club doesn't have to recruit and big names just sort of gravitate to the team?

Its a lot different than it was ten years ago.  There's no question  In 2013, agents, players, and managers that are with or work with major league organizations know about the Atlantic League at this point.  We've had more than 600 players signed to major league deals.  

Let's look at it from the perspective of a major league organization.  If you're running player development for a big league club, and you have a player that makes, say, 10K a month, and you want to give a younger guy an opportunity to see if he can perform at that level, you would have to keep that guy at 10K a month in Triple-A or spring training or extending spring to give your young guy a shot.  Now, if he goes to an Atlantic League club, we really only have major league clubs to purchase our contract to repay the integrity of our contact.  It's not to profit from it, its not a big revenue source for us, we make our money from ticket sales and such.  

If you're a major league organization, and you go and you spend 4K to purchase that player, two months into the season, you would have paid that player 20K to have him.  Not only did you give your younger payer an opportunity to prove himself, you've got 16K to spend elsewhere..Economically, we've benefited major league organizations, they see that using the Atlantic League as a place where they can pluck talent from.

Did you anticipate signing Dontrelle Willis, Ramon Castro, and Vladimir Guerrero in the same week?

Well we signed the nucleus of our ballclub and as we were getting closer to spring training, we were waiting on the catching position.  In fact, I got quite a few tweets and emails and inquires like "Hey, are you going to sign a catcher?"…That was by design, we anticipated that a number of very talented catchers would be available late in spring training.  Ralph Henriquez is a perfect example, he became available three or four days before we starting spring training and [Castro] was hot on his heels.  IT happened quickly but its something we anticipated happening.  We know that major league teams were carrying a lot of catchers in spring training and we knew that there would be highly talented catchers out there.  Luckily, our patience paid off and Ramon and Ralph both become available late.  

Castro obviously has a reputation as a very good player, especially in this market thanks to his time with the Mets.  He handles a staff well and is a solid veteran leader but he also can take opposing pitchers deep, which is something that not a lot of catchers do often. So we were excited that he was available and it came together rather quickly once we talked to his representatives. 

Dontrelle, I didn't anticipate [signing him].  His agent reached out to me and we discussed where he was and what he was trying to do.  While that came together quickly, I was surprised that he didn't stick with a big league club.  He's 31, a left-handed pitcher, he's had a tremendous about of success at the major league level. I didn't see him becoming available, but when he did become available, we jumped on it.

As far as [Vladimir Guerrero] goes, that's a situation that I monitored for a couple of months wondering what we he was going to do.  If his desire to play was gone or not, his representatives indicated that it was not so I stayed in touch with them.  The opportunity came to sign him and that's what we did…the timing of it all was a coincidence.

What players are drawing big league attention right now?

I think that Dontrelle has been an excellent teammate and has been vocal in the clubhouse in a big way…Ramon has done very well with the bat and at the plate.  I think any team in need of catching would benefit from either one of our catchers.  Ralph Henriquez, I know I mentioned him, he's a young switch-hitting catcher.  It's very surprising to me that a team doesn't have room for him in their organization.

Our first baseman, Ryan Strieby, he's a 27-year-old with Triple-A experience…he has hit for power at all stops in his career and I'm surprised that he too doesn't have a spot in an organization.  I also think that Dan Lyons is an excellent fielder, has proven himself as a clutch hitter, has a great attitude, and he's guy that goes out there every night and proves himself…I think that all the guys on our club are capable of playing at a high level and playing in affiliated baseball.  Otherwise we wouldn't have signed them.

Minor Moves: Evans, Castro, De La Cruz

We’ll track the latest minor moves here…

  • The Dodgers released Nick Evans, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reports (on Twitter). The utility player last played at the MLB level with the 2011 Mets. Evans spent the 2012 season playing in the Pirates' minor league system.
  • The Dodgers released catcher Ramon Castro, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports (on Twitter). The 37-year-old last appeared at the MLB level in 2011, when he played in 23 games for the White Sox. The Dodgers signed Castro to a minor league deal this past offseason.
  • The Cardinals released corner infielder Robert De La Cruz, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. As Goold explains, the De La Cruz deal was significant for the St. Louis organization. When the Cardinals signed the prospect for $1.1MM in 2008, they stated their intention of increasing their presence in Latin America and pursuing international prospects more seriously. While the team has signed top prospects such as Carlos Martinez and Oscar Taveras, the De La Cruz deal didn’t work out. The 21-year-old posted a .196/.216/.301 batting line in 297 plate appearances for two Class A teams in 2012, when he spent most of the season at first base. De La Cruz, who also has considerable experience at third base, hit 16 home runs in 2011.

Minor Moves: Dodgers, Tolbert, Hernandez, Hill

Here are today's minor league transactions, with the latest at the top of the page…

  • The Dodgers have invited 17 non-roster players to Spring Training, including infielder Brian Barden and catchers Ramon Castro and Eliezer Alfonzo, the club announced.  The trio were signed to minor league contracts within the last two months.
  • The Phillies have signed infielder Matt Tolbert to a minor league contract, Baseball America's Matt Eddy reports (and also recaps the rest of the week's minor league transactions).  Tolbert hit .230/.288/.319 in 680 PA with the Twins from 2008-11 and spent the bulk of his time playing second, third and shortstop.  Tolbert played for the Cubs' Triple-A team in 2012.
  • The Mariners have signed right-hander Moises Hernandez (Felix's older brother) to a new minor league contract, reports Chris Harris, broadcaster for the Mariners' Double-A affiliate (Twitter link).  The elder Hernandez has a 4.83 ERA over eight minor league seasons in the Mariners', Braves' and Orioles' farm systems.
  • The Indians have signed left-hander Rich Hill to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, the club announced.  After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011, Hill returned to action to post a 1.83 ERA, a 9.6 K/9 and a 5.0 BB/9 in 19 2/3 relief innings for the Red Sox last season but was non-tendered in November.  The 32-year-old southpaw has a career 4.59 ERA over eight Major League seasons with the Red Sox, Orioles and Cubs.

Tigers Notes: Ellis, Hill, Molina, Laird

The Tigers had already locked up Brandon Inge, Jhonny Peralta, Joaquin Benoit and Victor Martinez by November 23rd of last year. Here’s the latest on the team as they start the current offseason more quietly… 

  • The Tigers seem to believe they can find help via trades, tweets Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com.  The club has given up a lot in the past but they are willing to deal anyone but their top minor league prospects.
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press that the Tigers didn’t offer contracts to Mark Ellis, Jamey Carroll or Aaron Hill, three middle infielders who recently signed two-year deals. Should the Tigers pursue free agent middle infielders such as Clint Barmes or Kelly Johnson, they’d likely be looking at a two-year commitment given the deals we’ve seen so far and the number of teams with openings at second or short.
  • The Tigers are considering Jose Molina, Matt Treanor, Ramon Castro and former Tiger Gerald Laird as possible backup catchers, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter). All four backstops are free agents who could give Alex Avila an occasional breather while keeping Martinez’s knees fresh so he can contribute on offense.

White Sox Exercise Options On Thornton, Castro

The White Sox exercised their 2011 options on reliever Matt Thornton and catcher Ramon Castro, tweets MLB.com's Scott Merkin.  The Sox also requested release waivers on righty Carlos Torres so he can pursue a job in Asia.

Thornton's $3MM option, which had a $250K buyout, was a given after his dominant 2010 season.  The hard-throwing southpaw posted a 2.67 ERA, 12.0 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9 in 60.6 innings, the only blemish being an August forearm injury.  After Thornton's strong '06 campaign for the Sox, GM Kenny Williams wisely signed him to a three-year deal with club options for 2010 and '11.  Talking to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Thornton said he's confident he can close in 2011 if needed.  Many consider Bobby Jenks a non-tender candidate.

Castro had a $1.2MM option with a $200K buyout, so his option was also an easy choice.  In his second season as A.J. Pierzynski's backup he hit .278/.328/.504 with eight home runs in only 128 plate appearances.

Torres, 28, was ranked 16th among White Sox prospects by Baseball America heading into the season.  He repeated Triple A, posting a 3.42 ERA, 7.9 K/9, and 4.0 BB/9 in 160.3 innings.  BA wrote that Torres "profiles as a long reliever/sixth starter."  His repertoire: "a heavy 90-92 fastball and a plus cutter that frustrates lefthanders."  They described him as an organizational favorite for his fearlessness and durability.

Top Trade Chips: AL Central

Let's continue our look at each club's top trade chips today with the AL Central…

  • Indians: The Tribe have dealt their Opening Day starter in each of the last two seasons, and there's a good chance they'll do it again with Jake Westbrook in 2010. The 32-year-old righty will earn $11MM this season, the last one on his contract. After dumping Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez in cost-cutting moves last year, expect them to shop Westbrook around for prospects this summer.
  • Royals: All four of Kansas City's outfielders come off the books after this season (assuming some options are bought out for six figures), so Rick Ankiel, David DeJesus, Scott Podsednik, and even Jose Guillen could be moved in a deal for a young player. The team would obviously have to eat a lot of money to move Guillen. The contracts of relievers Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth also expire after the season, so there might be some interest in them.
  • Tigers: Detroit isn't going to move any of their young power arms, but if they eat a large chunk of salary like they did with Nate Robertson, there might be interest in Jeremy Bonderman and/or Dontrelle Willis. Young backstop Alex Avila could make Gerald Laird expendable as well. The Tigers have four lefty relievers on their 40-man roster (Phil Coke, Fu-Te Ni, Daniel Schlereth, and Brad Thomas), and that demographic is always in demand.
  • Twins: Minnesota has one of the best trade chips in the league, blocked catching prospect Wilson Ramos. Lefty Glen Perkins is pitching in Triple-A and seems to have fallen out of favor with the club after filing a grievance, so he could be made available as well. He has four years of team control left.
  • White Sox: GM Kenny Williams isn't shy about emptying out the farm system in a trade for an established big leaguer, which has left him with little minor league ammo. Their best young prospects are catcher Tyler Flowers and starter Daniel Hudson, who would seem to have a future with the club, but I'm not going to put anything past Williams. Flowers could make A.J. Pierzynski or Ramon Castro expendable, ditto Hudson and Freddy Garcia. Gordon Beckham should be untouchable, obviously.

White Sox Re-Sign Ramon Castro

The White Sox re-signed catcher Ramon Castro to a one-year, $1MM deal with a club option for 2011, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX SportsMLB.com's Kelly Thesier says the deal pays $800K in 2010 and has a $1.2MM club option/$200K buyout for '11.  She notes that the Sox designated catcher Cole Armstrong for assignment to make room for Castro.

Castro, 34 in March, was traded with cash by the Mets to the White Sox in May of '09 for Lance Broadway.  Castro hit .219/.292/.406 in 171 plate appearances on the season, catching about 400 innings.  A December 14th report that Castro signed with the Blue Jays proved to be inaccurate.  The Padres were another club known to be interested in Castro.  The backup catcher market still includes Brad Ausmus, Jose Molina, and Mike Redmond.

The White Sox have added over $29MM in new contracts this winter, acquiring/re-signing Mark Teahen, Juan Pierre, J.J. Putz, Mark Kotsay, Omar VizquelFreddy Garcia, Castro, Andruw Jones, and others.

Padres Have $5-8MM Left To Spend

A source has indicated that the Padres have about $5-8MM left to spend this offseason, according to Dan Hayes of The North County Times. The team is expected to enter 2010 with a payroll around $40MM. 

"There's no question there's good value out there," said (GM Jed) Hoyer, who declined to comment on which players the Padres have targeted. "Certainly we have money to spend. We're going to spread it around to some of our needs. There's a lot of good players."

Hayes says the club's biggest needs are a veteran pitcher, a righty hitting outfielder, a utility player, and a veteran catcher. We've already seen them connected to Mike Redmond, Ramon Castro, Brad Ausmus, Jerry Hairston Jr., Randy Winn, and Reed Johnson, while Hayes throws Josh Fogg's name into the mix.

Padres Free Agent Targets

As you might expect, new Padres GM Jed Hoyer is searching for bargains on the free agent market.  MLB.com's Corey Brock names names.

The Padres' first goal is to add a veteran catcher to back up Nick HundleyMike Redmond and Ramon Castro are on the radar, Brad Ausmus less so.  Castro has shown pretty good power for a catcher, with a .415 career SLG.

Outfield targets include Jerry Hairston Jr., Randy Winn, and Reed Johnson.  Hairston, of course, can handle the infield as well.  These players figure to land contracts of $2MM or less, in my opinion.

Ramon Castro Remains A Free Agent

Back on December 14th, ESPN's Jorge Arangure Jr. tweeted that the Blue Jays signed catcher Ramon Castro to a one-year deal worth nearly $1MM.  The move seemed unnecessary, with John Buck and Raul Chavez already in the fold.

Today, The Fan 590's Mike Wilner says the Jays never signed Castro:

It turns out that the power-hitting back-up catcher who everyone reported that the Blue Jays had signed earlier this month is still a free agent.  The Jays never did sign him, despite getting involved in negotiations with him.  I’m not sure how or why it fell through, or if it even got close enough to reach the point where one can even accurately say that it 'fell through', but it didn’t happen.

So, Castro heads back to the free agent backup catcher pool, where guys like Toby Hall, Jose Molina, and Mike Redmond continue to wait.