Roberto Hernandez Rumors

AL West Notes: Hernandez, Andrus, Crisp, Athletics

Astros righty Roberto Hernandez has finally received his visa an is set to report to spring camp for a physical, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart tweets. Hernandez has a bit of catching up to do if he hopes to make the roster after inking a minor league deal earlier in the offseason.

Here are some notes from the AL West:

  • A rough 2014 season for Elvis Andrus of the Rangers has left some looking askance at his eight-year, $120MM extension, which officially kicks in this season. As the Associated Press reports (via ESPN.com), Andrus says that he is ready for a better campaign after reporting out of shape last year. “This year I took it a thousand times [more] seriously than I did the year before,” he said. “… That was an offseason that I hope never happens again. In spring training I wasn’t ready.” A turnaround from Andrus would go a long way toward restoring the once-promising trajectory of the Rangers, to say nothing of his own. It would also increase his appeal as a trade chip, though Texas no longer has quite the middle infield logjam it once did.
  • Coco Crisp is set to play left field this year for the Athletics, manager Bob Melvin tells reporters including Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). That shift, which was occasioned by a desire to protect the team’s investment in Crisp by reducing the toll on his body, will result in Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld platooning in center. In turn, that probably also puts an end to the notion that Oakland could look to acquire a second baseman and move Ben Zobrist to the outfield.
  • While it is hard to deny (and not entirely surprising) that the Athletics got less back for Jeff Samardzija than they gave to acquire him (along with Jason Hammel), the team feels good about the young players that it picked up from the White Sox, MLB.com’s Phil Rogers writes“Look, both of those deals are difficult,” said assistant GM David Forst. “You never like trading a guy like Addison [Russell], but Jeff and Jason filled a particular need for us at that time. Then to turn around and lose Jason and feel like trading Jeff is the best option is never an easy decision to make. Jeff is a guy who has his best years ahead of him still. He’s right at the age you want to get a pitcher. He knows his game. His stuff is without question. It was not an easy decision to make. It was part of the balancing act we are forced to make.”

Astros Sign Roberto Hernandez

2:45pm: The contract includes an opt-out five days prior to Opening Day, and the Major League side of the deal is worth $2.65MM, MLBTR has learned.

2:08pm: The Astros have signed righty Roberto Hernandez to a minor league deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training, the team announced. Hernandez is represented by DPX Sports.

Hernandez, 34, posted a 4.10 ERA, 5.7 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9, and 49.7% groundball rate for the Phillies and Dodgers last year.  He had signed a $4.5MM free agent deal with the Phillies last offseason.

A legitimate chance to make the Astros’ rotation likely weighed in Hernandez’s decision.  The agreement between the two sides comes after a one-year pact with Ryan Vogelsong fell through in January.  Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh are locks for the Astros’ rotation after breakout 2014 seasons, and veteran Scott Feldman has a spot secured as well.  According to an article from Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle from late January, Brett Oberholtzer is also penciled in.  According to Drellich, new acquisition Dan Straily might be the favorite for the fifth spot, with Brad Peacock not expected to be ready for Opening Day after offseason hip surgery.  Alex White, Asher Wojciechowski and Sam Deduno are other fifth starter candidates to watch, according to Drellich.


Free Agent Faceoff: Back Of Rotation Starters

With another quiet day turning into an even less eventful evening, I thought we’d spice things up with a look at a particularly interesting segment of the free agent market: innings-eating veteran starters.

Sure, I’m joking. Almost by definition, a back-of-the-rotation innings eater is not a very exciting pitcher. But, then again, perhaps there is something to the idea that this corner of the universe has more intrigue than it might seem at first glance.

Targeting top-end players is fairly straightforward, whereas figuring whether to pursue one or another back-end arm involves much more careful parsing to find value. The fact that most such pitchers sign for short-term deals means that clubs must be right on the player in the immediate term; there is no time to fix them for the future. And then there is the fact that the performance of these players matters a great deal; unlike a utility man or reliever, innings-eating arms are expected to occupy full-time roles. Racking up losses because your number 4 and 5 starters are not competitive is a great way to dig a hole in the standings.

The potential impact of this type of player is evidenced by the list of the best durable, veteran starters still available, several of whom played for contenders in 2014 and one of whom even pitched in the World Series. For better or worse, all of the players listed were allowed to throw at least 150 innings last year, creating plenty of opportunity to add or subtract value.

Kevin Correia: The results are not usually that exciting, but Correia has logged at least 100 innings in every season since 2007. He delivered an average of 178 innings of 4.19 ERA pitching over 2012-13 before suffering through a rough 2014.

Aaron Harang: Last year’s shining example of the importance of choosing your innings eaters carefully, Harang put up 204 1/3 frames with a 3.57 ERA. Sure, there’s a lot baked in there other than his pitching, but the bottom line is that Harang rated amongst the game’s fifty best starters in terms of preventing runs and among its 25 best in logging innings.

Roberto Hernandez: The results haven’t been there for Hernandez, and there is not much silver lining given that he has seen a steady decline in fastball velocity. But he is quite a steady groundball inducer, and showed enough that the Dodgers traded for him and gave him nine starts down the stretch.

Kyle Kendrick: At some point, 199 innings is 199 innings, and that’s what Kendrick delivered last season. He is also a fairly youthful 30 years of age, and is not far removed from producing serviceable results.

Ryan Vogelsong: Though his peripherals are somewhat less promising, Vogelsong has posted pretty darned useful bottom-line results in three of the past four seasons. And he had enough in the tank to run his fastball up to the mid-90s in the postseason.

Chris Young: ERA estimators view Young’s 3.65 earned run mark last year as a mirage, but then again he has always outperformed his peripherals. It had been quite some time since the towering righty had handled a full season in a rotation, but Seattle happily converted his 165 innings of work into a 12-9 record in 29 starts.

Before you vote on the player you think will be the best bet for 2015, you might want to check out these custom Fangraphs leaderboards for a sense of their recent statistical achievements: last yearlast three yearslast five years.



Dodgers, Phillies Complete Roberto Hernandez Trade

AUG. 28: The Phillies have announced that they’ve acquired right-hander Victor Arano as the second player in the Hernandez trade. The 19-year-old Arano ranked as the Dodgers’ No. 14 prospect on MLB.com’s midseason Top 20 list.

Arano totaled a 4.08 ERA with 8.7 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 86 innings of work at Class-A Great Lakes this season, making 15 starts and eight relief appearances. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com praise Arano’s 90-91 mph fastball (which tops out at 94 mph) and slider, though they note that his changeup needs more work. Still, Arano is physically mature for a teenager and shows an advanced feel for pitching, per the MLB.com duo, who project him as a starter in the long term despite the fact that he’s presently had more success in the bullpen.

AUG. 16: The Phillies have announced that one of the two players they’re acquiring from the Dodgers is second baseman Jesmuel Valentin, a 2012 first-round pick from Puerto Rico who was hitting .282/.352/.433 for Class A Great Lakes as a 20-year-old. Heading into the season, Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook 2014 listed him as the Dodgers’ 22nd-best prospect, projecting him as a utility player. MLB.com ranked him at No. 13 in the Dodgers’ system and was somewhat more optimistic, suggesting he lacks power but could be the sort of hitter who typically bats second in a team’s batting order. He is the son of former big-league infielder Jose Valentin.

AUG. 7: The Phillies announce that they have traded Roberto Hernandez to the Dodgers for two players to be named later or cash considerations.  The Phillies placed Hernandez, along with a number of other players, on revocable waivers on Saturday.
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The Phillies signed Hernandez to a one-year, $4.5MM deal last winter, and he posted a 3.87 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 in 121 innings for them, with a strong 52.0% ground ball rate. He has gotten good results recently, with a 2.18 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break. Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, has played parts of nine seasons, also spending time with the Indians and Rays.

Hernandez’s role with the Dodgers is unclear. Obviously, they have a strong rotation featuring Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Josh Beckett has, however, struggled in three outings since returning from the disabled list with a hip injury, and Matt Gelb of the Inquirer tweets that Hernandez will start in Beckett’s place Friday.

For the Phillies, the move marks their first trade of a veteran since their very quiet trade deadline. It may have helped them that Hernandez’s contract was a relatively easy one to trade. The Phillies are currently 51-63 and in last place in the NL East.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark first tweeted that the Phillies would get two “lower-level minor leaguers,” and MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki tweeted that the Phillies would select them from a group of players.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Dodgers Not Done Pursuing Pitching Help

The Dodgers swung a trade with the Phillies yesterday and acquired right-hander Roberto Hernandez due to concerns over the health of Josh Beckett, but GM Ned Colletti told reports, including Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times, that he hopes to make at least one more move. “There’s another pitcher out there we’re trying to get,” Colletti said.

Colletti said that the Dodgers would like to add a swingman to replace Paul Maholm, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, and added that the club is also looking at back-of-the-rotation arms and late-inning relievers. Referring to the Hernandez trade, Colletti candidly admitted that the trade talks accelerated quickly, as he hoped to swing a deal before news of Beckett’s injury broke. “Ruben [Amaro Jr.] could hold me up for even more,” he stated.

A number of back-end arms that I mentioned in last month’s look at the trade market for starting pitchers could likely be had for very little return from the Dodgers, including Kyle Kendrick, Kevin Correia and Colby Lewis. Bartolo Colon could represent a potentially more expensive but still effective option, assuming he clears waivers (which is highly likely). MLBTR’s Jeff Todd examined the trade market for right-handed relievers and left-handed relievers, and while some of them have since been dealt (as have some from the list of starters), many of those names could come into play as well.


Quick Hits: Preller, Lester, Hernandez, Manny

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Onto tonight’s links from around the league!

  • New Padres GM A.J. Preller is impressed with the rotation that he’s inheriting in his new post, writes MLB.com’s Corey Brock. Preller’s new team boasts a rotation fronted by Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and Jesse Hahn, and Brock wonders if the team will make a second run at extending Cashner with a new GM in place. Of his new club, Preller said to Padres fans: “I want Padres fans to understand that it’s not going to be smooth sailing from Day 1, But I can promise you we’re going to have the hungriest, hard-working group of employees in the game.”
  • A theoretical return to the Red Sox for Jon Lester could follow the same path as Mike Lowell‘s return following the 2007 season, writes WEEI’s Rob Bradford. Lowell spoke with Bradford at length about his decision to reject a four-year, $48MM offer from the Phillies in favor of a three-year, $38MM offer to return to Boston. Lowell feels that Lester might not feel the need to take something like $150MM over seven years, but he adds that the Red Sox can’t simply offer a four-year deal if the rest of the market is willing to offer five or more years.
  • Uncertainty surrounding Josh Beckett‘s health for the remainder of the season and an unwillingness to part with their top three prospects led to the Dodgers‘ acquisition of Roberto Hernandez earlier today, writes Tim Brow n of Yahoo Sports. Brown feels the decision to hang onto Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Julio Urias was defensible and notes that a team source told him that Beckett could need season-ending surgery.
  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki that the team felt it made sense to flip Hernandez, as they had no plans to make a qualifying offer following the season (Twitter link). While that’s hardly a surprise, the philosophy behind the move could be applied to other current Phillies such as Kyle Kendrick, although that’s just my own speculation.
  • Cubs prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara both offer high praise for Triple-A player/coach Manny Ramirez and the help they received on their swing mechanics from the former MVP candidate, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times“He helped my approach to right-center, [following] his routine every day, going to the cage, the way he works,” said Baez. “He’s always got a bat in his hand doing something, either swinging the bat or just hitting in the cage. He talked to a lot of the guys. A lot of people learned from him.” In his most recent chat with readers, ESPN’s Keith Law wrote that he was a believer in Ramirez’s positive influence on Baez.

Placed On Revocable Waivers: Monday

Now that we’re beyond the July 31st trade deadline, players must pass through revocable trade waivers in order to be dealt to another team.  MLBTR’s Jeff Todd broke down the August trade rules and what it means when you see several major names placed on waivers over the next few weeks.

Here are today’s notable players who have reportedly been placed on revocable waivers…

  • Also going on revocable waivers today were Jason Hammel of the Athletics and Wade Miley of the Diamondbacks, Rosenthal tweets. As Rosenthal notes, it seems likely that clubs will claim Miley, but that he will be pulled back by Arizona. As for Hammel, a deal still seems rather unlikely since Oakland dealt away some important rotation depth in Tommy Milone.
  • Hitting the wire today from the Phillies were Marlon Byrd, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, and Carlos Ruiz, Rosenthal tweets. They will be on waivers until Wednesday.
  • The Phillies placed Antonio Bastardo, A.J. Burnett, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Howard and Kyle Kendrick on revocable waivers, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (via Twitter).  The moves all took place on Saturday, so since the waiver period lasts 47 hours, we could know by today if any of the players were claimed.  I’d expect Bastardo and Burnett to be claimed given that both drew significant interest before the July 31st deadline, and there is virtually no chance any team would claim Howard and risk being stuck with the roughly $68MM remaining on his contract.

Phillies Sign Roberto Hernandez

The Phillies added to their rotation on Wednesday by officially announcing the signing of right-hander Roberto Hernandez to a one-year, $4.5MM contract. In addition to that base salary, Hernandez can earn $1.5MM via incentives. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes has learned that Hernandez will earn $200K for reaching 140 and 155 innings pitched, $300K for reaching 170 and 185 innings pitched, and $500K fo reaching 200 innings pitched. Hernandez is represented by Charisse Espinosa-Dash and Jorge Brito of Draft Pix Sports.

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On the morning that the agreement was reported, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters that he had an agreement in place with a starter but didn't wish to disclose the pitcher's name until a deal was finalized.

Formerly known as Fausto Carmona, the 33-year-old Hernandez pitched to a 4.89 ERA with 6.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a healthy 53.2 percent ground-ball rate in 151 innings, marking his first full season since 2011. Hernandez will join a rotation that is fronted by Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and also figures to include Kyle Kendrick and Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez as well.

Though his ERA wasn't all that impressive, Hernandez was primarily done in by the fact that 20.9 percent of his fly-balls left the park — a rate that is nearly twice as high as his career mark. Assuming that trend was an anomaly, it could be reasonable to expect a 2014 ERA that more closely resembles Hernandez's 3.60 xFIP or 3.66 SIERA — both of which reward him for solid command and a plus ground-ball rate.

Hernandez's best season came in 2007 when he finished fourth in the American League Cy Young voting after posting a 3.06 ERA in 215 innings for the Indians. A hip injury derailed his 2008 campaign and likely impacted his 2009 season as well, but he came back strong with Cleveland in 2010, posting a 3.77 ERA in 210 1/3 innings and earning his first All-Star selection.

A move to the National League for the first time in his career will likely benefit Hernandez, and his career 57.8 percent ground-ball rate will play well in the small dimensions of Citizens Bank Park. Dierkes reports (on Twitter) that the Cubs were also very competitive on Hernandez, but Hernandez really wanted to pitch in Philadelphia.

Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly first reported the agreement with Hernandez (on Twitter). MLBTR's Tim Dierkes was the first to report the terms of the contract and the incentives structure (via Twitter).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Central Notes: Cubs, Hernandez, Tigers, Hart

The latest out of the AL and NL Central..

  • The Cubs are among the teams with interest in Roberto Hernandez, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
  • Brewers GM Doug Melvin says that he'll look for a true first baseman to replace Corey Hart, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (on Twitter). "I'd like to find a first baseman who can play first. We've had so many guys who haven't played first," said the GM.
  • The Brewers topped out around $8MM for Hart, according to Haudricourt (on Twitter).
  • Cubs president Theo Epstein says the club has offers out to a free agent starter, a free agent offer, and a trade offer for a hitter, tweets Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Theo added that he has other trade talks taking place as well.
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski says he's never had a conversation with the Dodgers about Matt Kemp, tweets Jason Beck of MLB.com.  
  • Dombrowski also noted that the Tigers haven't ruled out signing Max Scherzer this offseason, tweets John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press.
  • After initially being caught off guard by the trade, Adam Eaton says he's confident and ready for a fresh start with the White Sox, writes Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com.

Free Agent Profile: Roberto Hernandez

In his first full season in 2007, Indians starter Fausto Carmona finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting.  After some ups and downs, he seemed settled in as a mid-rotation arm with some upside, until he was arrested in January 2012 in the Dominican Republic for using a false identity.  Carmona, now known as Roberto Hernandez, was found to be three years older than originally believed.  After a brief return to the Indians, the Rays swooped in and signed him for a meager $3.25MM guarantee on a one-year deal this past offseason.

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Strengths/Pros

Among qualified pitchers, Hernandez ranks sixth in baseball with a 53.1% groundball rate.  And that's down from Hernandez's groundballing peak, as he was above 63% in 2007-08.  A high groundball rate is almost never a bad thing, but we'll elaborate later in the post.

Hernandez has exhibited strong control this year with a 2.1 BB/9, a career best.  He's also authoring a career-best strikeout rate at 6.8 per nine.  The resulting 3.23 K/BB ratio ranks seventh among free agent starters.

The ERA estimator SIERA suggests the skills Hernandez has displayed this year are good for a 3.58 mark.  Among free agents, only A.J. Burnett and Dan Haren have done better in this regard, and Hernandez bests pitchers such as Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Tim Lincecum, Hiroki Kuroda, Ricky Nolasco, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Bronson Arroyo, who will all receive larger commitments.

It is impossible to picture the Rays extending a qualifying offer to Hernandez, so he won't come with draft pick compensation issues like Santana, Kuroda, and perhaps Lincecum.

Weaknesses/Cons

If you're a believer in the predictive value of ERA, you won't be inspired by Hernandez's 4.89 figure this season.  It's hard to defend a pretty K/BB ratio as a pitcher gets battered — for example, Hernandez allowed four runs on ten hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Tigers on June 6th, and he doesn't get extra credit for striking out six and walking one that day.  Hernandez has allowed nearly ten hits per nine innings this year, which stands out even if we quietly note his slightly elevated .309 batting average on balls in play.

We also have to talk about home runs allowed.  In theory, keeping the ball in the yard should be among Hernandez's biggest strengths, since he gets so many groundballs.  In reality, he's allowed 1.28 home runs per nine innings in 352 frames since 2011.  This year, he's at 1.45 — third worst in the game among qualified starters.  A whopping 21% of Hernandez's flyballs have cleared the fence, twice the MLB average this year.  Nearly a quarter of the flyballs hit against Hernandez by left-handed batters have gone for home runs this year.  While it's fairly safe to assume Hernandez won't reach those heights again in 2014, it's also fair to say he's worse than the average pitcher at keeping flyballs in the yard, and the ERA estimators are giving him too much credit.

Hernandez was a member of one of the game's deepest rotations, and was demoted to the bullpen in September with the Rays having better options.  Even if he might still be in the rotation for many other clubs, it's not a good development for a pitcher heading back into free agency.

Personal

Hernandez has three brothers and three sisters, according to the Rays' media guide, and spent part of the offseason working with the cattle at his family's farm in the Dominican Republic.  He's in touch with nature, doing much of his offseason running in the mountains near the farm.  Hernandez is married, with three children.

Market

It's too early to pin down potential suitors for Hernandez, as there are a large number of teams that could plug him into the back end of their rotation on the cheap.  He reportedly drew interest from at least five teams last offseason.  Hernandez seems like a free agent who could sign in January, after the bigger names are off the board.  For certain clubs with weak rotations, he could be a big fish in a small pond.  From what we've heard, Hernandez has his mind set on returning to a starting role in 2014.  

Expected Contract

Despite his struggles, Hernandez is in better shape than he was a year ago, when he barely pitched due to his identity fraud situation.  Agent Charisse Espinosa-Dash will likely set out seeking two guaranteed years, and I view the two-year, $10MM deals signed by Carlos Villanueva, Kevin Correia, and Chris Capuano as Hernandez's ceiling.  Back in May, when it seemed likely his home run per flyball rate would come down, I pictured a Brandon McCarthy/Joe Blanton-type contract in the two-year, $16MM range.  Ultimately, since Hernandez will pitch at 33 next year and didn't finish strong, I predict a one-year, $5MM contract, plus incentives.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.