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The Yankees will welcome Masahiro Tanaka back into the rotation on Wednesday, Bryan Hoch of MLB.com tweets. It remains to be seen whether he can return yet again in top form, but at this point it’s hard to count him out. Tommy John surgery seemed inevitable, and could still be the result, yet Tanaka was excellent in his first four starts of the year before suffering the forearm strain that led to his most recent DL stint.
Here’s more on AL East starting pitching:
- Meanwhile, the Red Sox will hand the ball to rookie Eduardo Rodriguez at least once more, as Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reports on Twitter. While the club will stay with a six-man rotation for now, that certainly indicates that his audition could result in a permanent spot — no surprise after an excellent first outing in which he tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings.
- Of course, the Red Sox rotation still has issues. Rick Porcello‘s struggles are one significant concern, and Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently explained that Porcello has shown little sign of being a top-of-the-rotation starter. Boston owes him $82.5MM over the next four years under his recent extension — not exactly “ace” money, but quite a bit — but Porcello is carrying a 5.37 ERA. The good news is that Porcello, still just 26, is producing an 8.5% swinging strike rate (on the high side for him) and has increased his velocity from last year.
- It has been a breakout year for Jake Odorizzi of the Rays, who owns a 2.31 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .210/.248/.327 batting line. If that sounds impressive, it’s not exactly all that Odorizzi is aiming for, as Matt Stein of Sports Talk Florida reports. “That’s my mindset every time,” he said. “Starts with trying to throw a perfect game, move on to a no-hitter, shutout. Just kind of work your way down the line. That’s the mindset I take into every game to be honest with you.” There’s plenty more value for Tampa Bay to tap into, as Odorizzi had just over one year of service time entering the season. All said, it’s beginning to look like it might be time to re-weigh yet again the deal that brought Odorizzi and Wil Myers to the Rays in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis.
Rick Porcello removed himself from next offseason’s free-agent market by signing a four-year, $82.5MM extension with the Red Sox, but the strong class of starting pitching next offseason (David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto, and so on) did not play a significant role in his decision, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford writes. “I don’t think it factors in that much in regards to my situation because I’m a lot younger than those guys,” Porcello says. “I felt like whatever career numbers they have, I feel confident that I’m going to have a good year this year and if I did that I would have no problem putting myself up against those guys.” Porcello is surely right that his age would have been a significant point in his favor had he become a free agent — he doesn’t turn 27 until December and would have been an exceptionally young player on the open market. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez will have an MRI on his pitching elbow, Clark Spencer of MLB.com tweets. MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro adds (also via Twitter) that the Marlins are worried about Alvarez’s shoulder as well. The 24-year-old is coming off an excellent season in which he posted a 2.65 ERA with 5.3 K/9 and just 1.6 BB/9 in 187 innings. As Spencer suggests, a significant injury to Alvarez would be a big setback for the Marlins, who last year lost another top starter, Jose Fernandez, to an elbow injury.
- The Rays had David DeJesus on the trade market this spring, but now he’s helping them, hitting a three-run homer Sunday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. Fellow lefty John Jaso‘s Opening-Day wrist injury carved out a bit of playing time for DeJesus. “I was taking spring training as my opportunity to go out there and show pretty much all of baseball that I can still play,” says DeJesus. “Now I’m playing for these guys, and it’s great. I’d rather it be this way because you build relationships throughout spring training and throughout the last two-three years.”
The Indians fell two batters shy of a combined no-hitter in today’s 5-1 win over the Astros. Trevor Bauer (six innings), Kyle Crockett and Scott Atchison (one inning each) kept Houston hitless through much of the game, but Nick Hagadone allowed a one-out solo homer to Jed Lowrie in the ninth to end the bid. Cleveland’s last no-hitter came on May 15, 1981 when Len Barker threw a perfect game against the Blue Jays. Here’s some news from around the baseball world…
- Lance Lynn has brought “exceptional value to the Cardinals,” Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes, especially in comparison to what the Red Sox just paid Rick Porcello in an extension; Miklasz considers Porcello an “overrated talent.” While I agree that Lynn has been a good find for the Cards, I’m not sure his three-year, $22MM extension from earlier this winter is a good comparable for Porcello’s four-year, $82MM extension. Lynn’s extension only covered his three arbitration seasons while Porcello’s deal was bound to be more expensive since it covered four free agent years, not to mention the fact that Lynn is over 19 months older than Porcello.
- Ryan Zimmerman thinks the Nationals are well-positioned for long-term success even if they some key players in free agency this winter, he tells MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. “I know a lot of the guys in here know there is a good chance that everyone is not going to be back. If it was up to us, obviously, we want everyone to come back, but that’s not how the business works,” Zimmerman said. “I think [the front office] has a done a really good job of drafting and getting guys up to take [their] place. I think whether it’s all of them, none of them or some of them, I think we are going to be good for a long time no matter what.” Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Jordan Zimmermann can all become free agents after the 2015 season.
- The recent spate of Tommy John surgeries has drawn more attention to the procedure, and ESPN.com’s Stephania Bell delves into the numbers behind these surgeries. Bell’s piece explores such topics as why TJ operations are becoming more frequent, how the surgery impacts pitchers’ future performance and how Major League Baseball is trying to determine if there’s a root cause to this increase in UCL injuries.
Over the past week, we’ve seen multi-year deals signed by Yordano Ventura (five years, $23MM), Carlos Carrasco (four years, $22MM), Corey Kluber (five years, $38.5MM) and Rick Porcello (four years, $82.5MM). As usual, there’s been no shortage of reactions to these contracts, and here are a few reactions/opinions from around the baseball world to each of the deals…
- Signing Ventura to a five-year deal was a necessary risk for the Royals, opines Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards. Ventura has long been seen as a risky commodity due to his smaller stature and a fear that he may be bullpen-bound, and he also produced results that were more good than great in 2014. However, only three Royals starters — Zack Greinke, James Shields and Ervin Santana –have matched Ventura’s modest 2.4 fWAR over the past five seasons. The Royals’ rotation is typically occupied by journeymen starters, and the upside for a mid-rotation or front-line starter at that price makes the risk worth taking, writes Edwards, even if there’s a risk he may not hold up as a starter.
- The Carrasco and Kluber extensions appear to be the latest in a long line of contracts signed with the intent of developing a long-term core. As GM Chris Antonetti said recently on MLB Network Radio (Twitter link): “This nucleus is going to be in place for awhile. Ownership has given us incredible resources.”
- Mutually beneficial extensions have been a key component of successful Indians’ seasons since John Hart began pioneering them in the 1990s, writes MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. Bastian spoke to other members of that growing core — Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes — each of whom has signed extensions of their own in the past year-plus. The Cleveland core expressed excitement about being able to grow and express excitement together in the coming years as they enter their primes.
- Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel looks at the financial implications of the latest pair of Indians extensions, and he also spoke with Antonetti about the decision to offer Carrasco a long-term deal based on a relatively small sample of success. “His mix of pitches has always been a strength from the time we acquired him,” said Antonetti. “But we’ve seen the continued development and maturity and improvement in his routines, his consistency and his focus and we saw it translate to his success as a starting pitcher last year. We believe that now, not only does he have the physical attributes, but the other attributes to be a successful starter.”
- Carrasco’s deal may appear team-friendly, but an irregular heartbeat that required offseason surgery and a newborn baby played a role in Carrasco’s decision to accept the contract, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs and FOX Sports writes that Porcello’s age-23 through age-25 seasons mirror those of Justin Masterson, and Masterson experienced a breakout in his age-26 season — the same that Porcello is currently entering. While that certainly doesn’t guarantee a breakout for Porcello, Cameron notes that the Sox are betting on a breakout or step forward of sorts — one that would’ve launched Porcello’s free agent price considerably beyond the $82.5MM figure upon which he agreed. Judging contracts based on average annual value is all too common a mistake, Cameron notes, as the years accompanying that AAV are a critical factor of any deal. Boston is showing a tendency to pay a premium to keep contracts short in an effort to avoid rostering expensive non-performers down the line, with Porcello’s deal and the Hanley Ramirez contract serving as recent examples, he adds.
- Tim Britton of the Providence Journal offers a similar take, using CC Sabathia as an example of the dangers of signing a pitcher into their 30s. As Britton notes, Sabathia would’ve been one of the best free agent signings in history had the Yankees let him walk after he exercised an opt out clause following the third season of his initial contract. However, they re-signed him through age-36, and Sabathia’s contract has become an albatross on the Yankees. While Porcello isn’t as good as prime Sabathia and likely never will be — a fact Britton acknowledges — his situation still aids the argument that it’s better to pay a premium for a pitcher in his prime than commit exorbitant amounts of money to their decline years.
- I’ll echo my thoughts on the Porcello deal that I tweeted out and included in MLBTR’s write-up of his extension and agree with both Cameron and Britton. While Porcello is not now and may never be a front-of-the-rotation arm, the Red Sox clearly believe that he’s capable of taking a step forward from a career year in 2014, and they’re willing to pay what currently seems to be an above-market annual price in order to secure his prime. It’s commonplace for teams to sign older free agents knowing that the final year or two (and sometimes more) will likely be a sunk cost, and yet as observers we accept that as part of free agency. The Red Sox are taking an opposite approach, seemingly making a strong bet that Porcello’s best years are ahead. Paying for an expected outcome that has yet to take place is risky, to be sure, but it’s no riskier than guaranteeing a pitcher north of $20MM in his age-36 season, as we saw with James Shields, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer this winter. The notion that a player must first “prove” that he is worth upper-market dollars over a long-term implicitly requires that those upper-market dollars will be awarded after or at the tail end of his peak, thereby negating much of the logic in committing such a sizable sum. Whether or not the Porcello deal ultimately looks wise or turns into an albatross, the thinking behind the deal is sound: make projections based on scouting and analytic input, and invest. The alternative — wait and see, then pay for the downswing of a player’s career — is hardly a less risky approach.
What a difference a year makes. In April 2014, many doubted that Rick Porcello could ever meet the lofty expectations set for him roughly twelve years ago when he was mowing down every high school batter in Central Jersey. Today, Porcello inked an extension with the Red Sox that will net him a guaranteed $82.5MM over four seasons. That’s big bucks any way you slice it, but as Steve Adams noted earlier tonight, Porcello is sacrificing some earning potential by signing a deal at this juncture. On a conference call with reporters, I asked the right-hander if he was hesitant to sign a deal just months away from being able to hit the open market at the age of 27.
“I mean obviously I knew the opportunity that was ahead of me in entering free agency, but when I first got to camp and I saw the way the team was run from the ownership to Ben [Cherington] to the coaching staff and the players that were there, I saw that it was run very well from top to bottom,” Porcello said. “The devotion to win was here and it was something that I wanted to be a part of. It wasn’t a very difficult decision for me.”
Porcello went on to explain that he wasn’t thinking about signing an extension upon his arrival to Boston but he was board once that possibility presented itself. As for the Red Sox, Cherington said that he was impressed with Porcello from the get-go. One might think that a deal of this magnitude was hammered out over months of late nights at the office and bad takeout, but the GM explained that the deal actually came together rather quickly. Cherington had “informal” conversations with agent Jim Murray towards the end of Spring Training and negotiations actually didn’t pick up until the last few days.
“When we made the trade we had interest in at least having a conversation about [an extension], but as Rick alluded to, we respected that he was new to the Red Sox and we wanted to give him an opportunity to get to know us a little more and vice versa,” Cherington said. “It gave us a chance to get to know him too…Aside from the pitcher that he is, which we obviously like, getting to know Rick more over the winter and spring we came to learn that he just has a lot of qualities that we really admire and we felt that he was type of guy that we wanted here and we see him as a very important part of our team going forward for many years.”
There’s already plenty of discussion about the deal, with some believing that Porcello wisely locked in after a career year and others feeling that the Red Sox ace should have tried to build off of his 2014 effort and land an even bigger deal next winter. Porcello, for his part, could do without any of the attention.
“If we could have signed it without announcing it, that would have been fine with me. Today was about our season opener and the Red Sox winning.”
The Red Sox announced that they’ve signed right-hander Rick Porcello to a four-year contract extension that covers the 2016-19 seasons. Porcello, a client of Excel Sports Management’s Jim Murray, will reportedly receive $82.5MM over the four-year term of the contract. He’ll first receive a $500K signing bonus before earning $20MM in 2016 and 2017 then $21MM in 2018 and 2019. Porcello was already slated to earn $12.5MM this season after avoiding arbitration this winter, and that salary remains intact.
For the 26-year-old Porcello, there’s certainly risk involved in taking a long-term deal at this juncture, as he was set to hit the open market just six months from now at the age of 27. However, while he’d have had a chance at a lengthier deal, the $20MM+ annual salary is likely one that few would have foreseen a year ago, when the former first-round pick entered the season with a career 4.51 ERA and a career-high of 182 innings.
Last year’s excellent performance turned Porcello’s fortunes, however, as he worked to a career-best 3.43 ERA in a new career-high 204 2/3 innings. Porcello averaged 5.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and posted a 49 percent ground-ball rate in 2014 — a significant step forward for a pitcher that many have believed to have untapped potential prior to last year’s breakout. Porcello will surrender his first four free agent seasons by signing this deal — and perhaps the ability to lock in a $100MM+ contract next offseason — but he’ll retain the right to hit the open market again at the age of 30, setting him up for another significant contract. Beyond that, however, is the fact that Porcello seems genuinely excited to be a member of the Red Sox. In a Players Tribune article that he penned himself, Porcello explains that the dedication to winning he’s seen since the day he joined the Red Sox played a major role in his decision to sign a long-term deal now, thereby forfeiting the exceptionally rare opportunity to be a 27-year-old free agent starting pitcher.
While the Red Sox will certainly hope the early stages of his contract go better than this comparison, the contract isn’t entirely dissimilar, philosophically, from the one signed by Homer Bailey a year ago. Cincinnati paid what most considered to be market value for Bailey, tacking five years and $95MM on top his final arbitration year, despite relatively underwhelming career statistics. The hope in that contract, as is the case with this deal, is that recent steps forward will be sustainable, if not a portent for even further development.
From the Red Sox’ perspective, the deal provides them with additional certainty in their rotation in the long-term. They’ll now have Porcello under control through 2019, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly under team control through 2018, and Clay Buchholz under team control through the 2017 season. It’s also another example of the Red Sox’ preference to avoid investing in pitchers in their 30s and their preference to limit the length of long-term contracts (in this case, likely at the expense of a higher average annual value).
That last item is probably the key to this deal. There will undoubtedly be detractors who focus on the contract’s average annual value as opposed to limiting the risk by minimizing the years and investing in prime seasons rather than potential decline years. It’s certainly possible that the contract will look poor at some point over the life of the deal, but it’s roughly the same figure for which James Shields signed, and Porcello is seven years Shields’ junior. And while Porcello clearly lacks the type of track record that Shields and other veteran free agents will typically sign for, such contracts typically begin at the time Porcello’s current deal will end. It wouldn’t be a surprise for a prime-aged Porcello to outperform an aging veteran that might be more typically expected to sign this size contract, and Boston certainly seems to be of the belief that betting on those prime years, particularly in terms of starting pitchers, is a better route than paying premium prices for potential decline years.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
In negotiations for his recent extension, Corey Kluber was forthright about wanting to continue to pitch for the Indians, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian writes (on Twitter). “Corey was really upfront,” says GM Chris Antonetti. “He said, ‘This is where I want to be. I want to be in Cleveland for a long time. Ideally, I’d like it to be a lifetime contract.‘” Here are more notes on extensions.
- The Orioles will not extend Chris Tillman before Opening Day despite recent discussions between the two sides, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets. As of late last week, it did not appear that the two sides were close, and Tillman does not want to continue extension discussions once the season begins. He has three more years before he’s eligible for free agency, however, so it’s not impossible the two sides could negotiate again next offseason.
- The Reds have discussed a new contract with Johnny Cueto recently, but the two sides are unlikely to strike a deal before the season begins, Heyman writes. It’s looking extremely likely that Cueto will hit the free agent market next winter. Heyman also notes that the Reds have not pursued extension talks with Mike Leake.
- Another free-agent-to-be, Rick Porcello of the Red Sox, reiterates that he will not discuss an extension during the season, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports. “I don’t want any distractions when we start the season,” says Porcello. The two sides did have at least some dialogue in March regarding a possible deal, Bradford writes.
- A Mets representative says Lucas Duda and the team have not discontinued their contract talks, Matt Ehalt of the Record tweets. A previous report had indicated that the two sides had stopped talking as Opening Day approached. The two sides have reportedly discussed an extension in recent weeks.
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe checked in with Max Scherzer, who is missing former teammate Rick Porcello. Scherzer, of course, left the Tigers in free agency to sign with the Nationals in January. Porcello, meanwhile, was shipped from the Tigers to the Red Sox in December. Scherzer still texts a lot with Porcello, and they have had conversations about free agency.
“He understands the business of the game really well and what teams are trying to accomplish,” said Scherzer. “As most players, he’s motivated by winning as well. What works is going out there and having one motivation and that’s winning. And those things will take care of themselves.”
Cafardo has talked with a few baseball executives who believe Porcello will walk from the Red Sox and do exactly what Scherzer did – go to the highest bidder. Here’s more from today’s column..
- The Rockies tried to trade Jhoulys Chacin but couldn’t find a buyer, so they released him last week. The 27-year-old was a victim of Coors Field, where his ERA was 4.21 as opposed to a much more palatable 3.24 on the road. Cafardo writes that the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rays, and Blue Jays have been looking for a veteran starter and may be considering him.
- Braves people insist that they will not entertain a deal for closer Craig Kimbrel, but a few executives expect that Atlanta will be thinking differently if they are out of contention at the trade deadline. The Braves are eyeing 2017 as their relaunch, so Cafardo doesn’t see the need for them to hang on to a top closer like Kimbrel in the interim.
- Dan Uggla has an April 1st opt-out on his minor league deal with the Nationals and his play this spring is giving GM Mike Rizzo something to think about, but roster space is an issue. If Uggla doesn’t make the cut in Washington, Cafardo suggests that the Angels, Braves, Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Padres, and Rays could all justify bringing him aboard.
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The Rangers have an insurance policy on Yu Darvish and could recoup more than half of his $10MM salary if he undergoes Tommy John surgery and misses the year, reports Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. The Rangers could use the insurance proceeds to add payroll. The policy’s total value to the club, however, is dependent on when the clock begins on the deductible. Grant notes the Rangers could make a case that this injury is a recurrence of the elbow problems Darvish suffered last year sidelining him for the final 50 days of the 2014 season.
Elsewhere in the American League:
- Darvish’s injury is not just a blow to the Rangers, but to all of baseball, opines CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman.
- Rick Porcello told reporters, including Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal (via Twitter), he has not had extension talks with the Red Sox this spring and does not expect to have any.
- The Indians and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber have not made any progress in negotiating a contract extension, writes Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. Kluber is a pre-arbitration eligible player and Wednesday is the deadline for signing such players. If a deal cannot be reached, teams can renew the contracts of those players at their discretion, usually for a fraction above the MLB minimum of $507.5K. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently provided a primer on understanding pre-arbitration salaries.
- In a separate article, Hoynes chronicles how the Indians have re-built their farm system through the draft (especially their willingness to select high-upside high schoolers rather than college players), trades, and international free agent signings.
- Royals GM Dayton Moore told reporters, including MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan right-hander Chris Young, who the club signed yesterday, will make the team and pitch out of the bullpen. Flanagan notes, in a second article, the Royals have discussed keeping eight relievers and, if so, will have several contenders battling for just one spot.
- Evan Gattis has had two months to reflect upon his trade to Astros and still has mixed feelings, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The negative is that there’s a good fan base in Atlanta, I felt loved there,” Gattis said. “The positives are that I’m in the American League, I might be a little more durable; I’m going to try to have a healthy season. And I’m in Texas, stoked about that. So yeah, positives and negatives.“
Red Sox starter Rick Porcello figures to present a fascinating free agent case, as Mike Petriello of Fangraphs writes. The righty will enter free agency in advance of his age-27 campaign and remains a candidate to put up a big year in Boston. Even if he ends up with more typical results than a true breakout, and even accounting for robust market supply, his age could make him a $100MM player, in Petriello’s view.
Here are a few notes on some of the few remaining current free agents:
- Reliever David Aardsma pushed his velocity up to 92 mph in a recent showcase in front of eighteen scouts, MLBTR’s Steve Adams reports (Twitter links). The 33-year-old has not seen MLB action since 2013, but worked to a 1.46 ERA with better than a strikeout per inning last year at Triple-A with the Cardinals organization. He is expected to choose a team in the near future.
- Fellow righty Matt Albers also threw for teams recently, as already reported, and the Indians were among those in attendance, as Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports. Cleveland also had a look at lefty Barry Zito, who threw for observers yesterday.
- Speaking of prior reports on Albers and Zito, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle — who broke the news last night — tweets today that Astros owner Jim Crane says the team could bring in Zito with a spring training invite. Drellich cautions that it still seems unlikely that Zito will land with Houston.