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Ryan Howard Rumors
If a rose by any other name still smells as sweet, does a baseball player by any other name peform better? B.J. Upton will answer that question this season as he will go by his given name of Melvin Upton Jr. and, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, will have “Jr.” on the back of his uniform for the first time in his professional career. Upton has struggled since his arrival in Atlanta after signing a five-year, $75.25MM free agent contract in November 2012 slashing .198/.279/.314 with 21 home runs and 61 RBIs in those two years. John Hart, Braves president of baseball operations, first tipped Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz to the name change (Twitter links). For those wondering, B.J. is short for Bossman Jr., his father’s nickname.
In other news from the NL East:
- Nationals centerfielder Denard Span is one of the team’s seven impending free agents and is looking forward to that opportunity, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. “I’ve worked my whole career to get to this point, to be a free agent,” Span said. “But at the same time, I’m concentrating on trying to do the best that I can to help this ball club win. I feel like if I do my job and we do our jobs collectively I’ll get compensated and everything will fall into place.” Wagner adds the Nationals have not approached Span about a contract extension.
- With the increasing likelihood of Ryan Howard opening the season in Philadelphia, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is making amends for the comments he made about the Phillies being better off without the first baseman, reports Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. “Frankly, I apologized for those comments that I made that were public,” said Amaro. “And I think he appreciated that. Other than that, I want to keep the conversation private. It was a good talk.” Despite a willingness to eat a substantial portion of the $60MM remaining on Howard’s contract, no market has developed for the 35-year-old.
- Speaking publicly for the first time since being dealt from the Yankees in December, recent Marlins addition Martin Prado told reporters, including Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald he “couldn’t be happier when I found out I was going to play with [Giancarlo] Stanton and [Jose] Fernandez and young kids coming up. Very happy to be here. Couldn’t be more excited. They have a good mix of young guys and veteran guys. I hope we can build a team around [Stanton] and take some pressure [off] him.”
- The Marlins believe the signing of Ichiro Suzuki already is paying off and he hasn’t even arrived from his native Japan yet, according to Tom D’Angelo of the Palm Beach Post. Over the weekend, President David Samson said at least 90 Marlins games will be televised in Japan. The 41-year-old won’t be play every day, but the $2MM deal is already paying dividends for Miami.
Prompted in part by trade rumors surrounding Cole Hamels and also by the recent release of multiple top prospects lists, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs/FOX Sports examined the reasons behind the perceived over-valuing of prospects. As Cameron notes, roughly 70 percent of all prospects to have appeared in Baseball America’s Top 100 lists over the years have failed to produce meaningful careers (that isn’t a knock on BA — rather, just an illustration of the difficulty in projecting minor leaguers). Despite that high failure rate, teams have been reluctant to part with two premium prospects to acquire Cole Hamels. However, Cameron theorizes that the unwillingness to part with prospects isn’t due to overvaluing prospects, but rather to teams looking past the longstanding narrative of “proven veterans” to realize that veteran players carry significant risk as well. Cameron studied the 100 best players from 2009-11 (weighting recent performance more heavily) and looked at the output of those players from 2012-14. Even some of the game’s best talents from that period — Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Mark Teixeira, B.J. Upton and many more — have quickly seen their skills erode or, in Halladay’s case, been forced out of the game. Twenty-five of the 100 players Cameron looked at have failed to outproduce the same line that Cameron set to determine a busted prospect in his study, while another 34 were merely average Major Leaguers.
While Cameron’s piece is only loosely tied to the Phillies, here are a few more items focused directly on the team…
- Hamels’ candid words to Bob Nightengale of USA Today earlier this afternoon — the left-hander stated that he wanted to pitch for a winning club and knows that won’t happen in Philadelphia — have hurt the Phillies’ bargaining power in trade talks, opines Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Beyond that, however, they’ve made the job of manager Ryne Sandberg more difficult and sent a poor message to his teammates, with whom he may still share a locker room for at least several more months. Between Hamels’ words and Jonathan Papelbon‘s infamous 2013 quote, “I definitely didn’t come here for this,” Sandberg has multiple veterans on the roster who may prefer to be elsewhere, Brookover notes.
- Brookover’s colleague, Jake Kaplan, also spoke to Sandberg and was told that Ryan Howard is ticketed to be the team’s first baseman and had a “very positive” talk with the manager one month ago. Sandberg did leave open the possibility that Howard will be unseated, but it seems clear that the Phillies recognize that there’s little hope of trading the 35-year-old and won’t release him with $60MM remaining on his contract. Kaplan notes that Howard’s 10-and-5 rights will kick in on May 2 of this year, though he already has a 20-team no-trade clause in his contract as it is, and that certainly hasn’t been the reason that Philadelphia hasn’t been able to find a match.
- The Phillies obviously will face many questions this spring, and MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki took an early look with Sandberg as the club gears up for camp. Per Sandberg, veteran lefty Cliff Lee — a possible summer trade candidate — has been on schedule except for a delay caused by a mild illness. “He’s got no complaints and he’s pretty much where he usually is,” said Sandberg. Fellow starter Chad Billingsley, himself at least a theoretical mid-season flip, has “looked very good,” per the skipper (though Kaplan noted in the piece above that it’s no guarantee that Billingsley will be ready for Opening Day). And Sandberg says that second baseman Chase Utley, who has been surprisingly absent from any significant trade chatter, may get additional rest over the course of the season.
The Phillies are in for an uncomfortable spring training, writes Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. As Brookover puts it, the club could contend for the “Most Awkward Spring Training in franchise history.” At issue are the number of returning veterans who were shopped extensively over the offseason. The most notable include Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, and Ryan Howard.
With Hamels, the potential for drama is limited. The club has asked for a king’s ransom in return for the left-handed ace, and he’s well compensated. Hamels seemingly understands the Phillies’ need to rebuild. His 20-team no-trade list does not include nine of the clubs most likely to acquire his services. He’ll continue to audition for a trade to a contender.
Strife is more likely with Papelbon. He has a reputation for honest comments to the media, and he appears to let frustration boil over publicly at times. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. assured Papelbon that the club meant to contend this season as recently as the 2014 trade deadline. Club representatives, including President Pat Gillick, have since been very forward about their intention to rebuild.
Brookover suggests that Papelbon may feel misled. Even if Papelbon takes a pragmatic approach to the rebuild, it’s clear the club intends to move him elsewhere. Papelbon has a 17-team no-trade clause, but he’s expressed a willingness to waive it. Rumor suggests he would ask for his 2016 option to be guaranteed as a condition to waiving the no trade clause.
While Papelbon could produce headlines this spring, the return of Howard is the most uncomfortable situation. While Amaro has loudly praised Howard’s character, he also told the former star first baseman that the club was better off without him. A market for Howard’s services never developed. It was rumored that the Phillies would eat a large portion of his contract to facilitate a trade. Howard’s continued presence may delay opportunities for prospects like Maikel Franco and Kelly Dugan.
Cole Hamels remains available on the trade market, and as many eight teams have kicked the tires on the ace left-hander, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Asked by Salisbury how many clubs have made offers, Amaro replied, “Real offers? Four.”
Amaro wouldn’t comment on which clubs made those “real” offers, though earlier today it was reported that the Padres made an “aggressive” offer for Hamels prior to signing James Shields. Other teams that have been seriously linked to Hamels include the Cardinals, Rangers and Red Sox. Boston has reportedly balked at Amaro’s insistence on top catching prospect Blake Swihart‘s inclusion in a potential trade package.
Earlier this month, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that “five or six” teams were still trying to swing a trade for Hamels, though the Padres’ signing of Shields may remove them from that race. Padres ownership has said the payroll could land around $100MM, and they’re at roughly $96.5MM right now after adding Shields. However, some reports have indicated that $105MM might be the team’s max limit, so it strikes me as at least plausible — albeit unlikely — that they could attempt to squeeze Hamels into the mix if the Phillies eat some 2015 salary or take a different contract back.
The Phillies are more eager to trade Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon than Hamels, Salisbury writes, and they’re also very willing to trade Cliff Lee. Amaro wouldn’t rule out the possibility of making a trade prior to the onset of Spring Training, Salisbury adds, but moving someone like Lee would likely require him to demonstrate his health in Spring Training. A number of teams have told Amaro they’ll be monitoring the Phillies this spring.
The Phillies’ issues last year were not limited to on-field struggles, skipper Ryne Sandberg told reporters yesterday, including Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. Sandberg said the clubhouse atmosphere was not “conducive to winning,” explaining that there was a “lack of leadership as far as winning a baseball game everyday” and that the club’s “younger players couldn’t be themselves.” He continued: “Sometimes it’s easy to take it for granted, and say, ‘[I] have a veteran club and they know everything and they’ll handle the clubhouse and everything will be fine. I learned that’s not the case.”
- Needless to say, creating the right setting for the team’s rebuild to thrive will be at or near the top of Sandberg’s responsibilities this year and in the years to come. The organization is not shying away from acknowledging the full rebuilding process that lies ahead, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. Interim president Pat Gillick — who says he has no interest in the permanent post — has reiterated a rather distant expected contention timeline. “Yeah, maybe further out,” he said. “Maybe ’18. You need about two or three years.”
- Gillick also said that he expects interest in the team’s remaining trade chips — featuring, most prominently, lefty Cole Hamels — to pick up in the spring. “It’s funny,” said Gillick. “In this game, things change. People are not in the mood to do something, then they go to Spring Training and all of a sudden … they realize they want to be competitive and want to do something.”
- Another of the team’s obvious remaining veteran trade candidates is first baseman Ryan Howard, whose well-documented struggles and well-funded contract make him a tough sell. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince argues that the team could do better if it waits to allow the market to develop and given Howard a chance to produce on the field. I tend to agree: Howard not only has little present appeal as a general matter, but there is little demand for his services. It is not difficult to imagine things looking differently if he puts up a solid first half and injuries or poor performance intervene elsewhere, and that potential benefit probably outweighs the meager return that Philadelphia could achieve right now.
The Phillies might value Cole Hamels too highly, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. An executive from another team tells Rosenthal that GM Ruben Amaro is looking to make the “perfect” trade and wonders if Amaro feels he has to make exactly the right deal in order to avoid being fired. The Red Sox, Cardinals, Rangers and Padres top the list of teams interested in Hamels, although the Red Sox are not urgently trying to acquire Hamels, trade talks with St. Louis haven’t gone far, and Hamels’ contract could be an issue for Texas and San Diego. Here’s more from the NL East.
- Amaro says first baseman Ryan Howard is likely to be with the Phillies when Spring Training arrives, Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. Amaro has made no secret of the Phillies’ desire to be rid of Howard, whose salary ($60MM through 2016) and poor recent performance have made his contract an albatross.
- It remains possible that the Mets could acquire shortstop Ian Desmond from the Nationals, Andy Martino of New York Daily News writes. Talks between the two sides have not progressed recently, however. The Mets had reportedly discussed a three-team deal involving Desmond and Ben Zobrist with the Nationals and Rays, although Martino writes that the Mets pushed harder to acquire Zobrist rather than Desmond.
- Nationals fans have reason to be wary of the team’s trade of Tyler Clippard to the Athletics for Yunel Escobar, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes. Losing Clippard further depletes a Washington bullpen that’s already losing Rafael Soriano and Ross Detwiler, and Escobar is potentially a declining player whose arrival might signal that free-agent-to-be Desmond will soon be playing elsewhere.
The Marlins are taking a cautious approach to their interest in James Shields, writes MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. While the Fish undoubtedly have interest, the team simply won’t go to the $100MM range over five years. Frisaro speculates that something in the five-year, $90MM range could be their limit, and even that would be tricky. The Marlins could afford to pay Shields as much as $20MM on a front-loaded deal, but they have $33MM committed to four players in 2016 with a whopping 14 players eligible for arbitration next winter (of course, some could be non-tendered or traded). The target payroll for 2016 is $80MM, making it difficult to commit a huge salary to Shields. The Marlins, Frisaro writes, want to ensure that nothing similar to their 2012 fire sale happens again; that year, they loaded their payroll up over $100MM with the assumption that a new ball park would send revenues to record levels, but the earnings didn’t reach Miami’s projections. That, coupled with a losing season on the field, led to the dramatic restructuring of the roster.
This is purely speculative on my behalf, but I’d think the idea of trading Steve Cishek, who projects to earn $6.9MM in 2015 (to say nothing of what’s sure to be a sizable 2016 salary), would make things easier on the Fish going forward. Allocating that type of cash to one reliever restricts a club with a limited payroll in a substantial way. Then again, the Marlins have been reluctant to listen to offers for Cishek in the past, and one could argue that paying one starter upwards of $20MM is equally limiting. Previous reports have indicated that Miami could have a new TV deal by 2017, so they could soon have much greater means for an increased payroll.
Moving away from Shields, here are a few more notes from the NL East…
- ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweeted yesterday that he’s heard from clubs in touch with the Phillies that Philadelphia is playing up what a great person Ryan Howard is when pitching him in potential trades. While Stark notes that it’s an accurate point, he adds that (unsurprisingly), it’s done little to help the Phillies’ cause. There still appear to be no takers at this point, says Stark.
- Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com looks at the inactivity of the Mets‘ in addressing their shortstop position and concludes that there really hasn’t been an ideal fit for the club this offseason. Ian Desmond, the most recent name in the mix, would’ve cost them Noah Syndergaard and another prospect and is hitting the open market next season. The top free agent shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, signed as a left fielder, and other free agents like Asdrubal Cabrera and Jed Lowrie have significant defensive question marks. Stephen Drew‘s contract was negligible, but as Castrovince notes, a year of Drew is not a clearly better option than getting a definitive answer as to whether or not Wilmer Flores can handle the position.
- Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com ponders if the combination of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar would be an upgrade over the Nationals‘ expected midddle-infield tandem of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, had the rumored three-team trade with the Mets and Rays gone through. It’s debatable, he writes, and the second year on Escobar’s contract had significant value for Washington, as Trea Turner likely won’t be ready by 2016, but the Nats could still come out ahead by retaining Desmond for 2015 and adding a second base upgrade. Zuckerman points out that the very fact that the trade was discussed indicates that GM Mike Rizzo is still actively pursuing upgrades and could find an alternative just yet.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a market yet for Ryan Howard, but perhaps there should be, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. True, the Phillies would have to pay a large chunk of the $60MM on Howard’s contract, but Howard still has home run power and is healthy this offseason. Howard also revised his limited no-trade clause last fall to accommodate possible trades, and would likely approve deals even to teams on his no-trade list, Rosenthal reports. “If you’re looking for a DH and want some left-handed power – which doesn’t exist out there – and a good quality person who knows how to win and wants to play, this guy is the guy to go get,” says GM Ruben Amaro Jr. “The fact that we’ve been so public makes people think we’ll release him. That won’t happen.” Contract aside, Rosenthal thinks Howard’s market value ought be be something like $7MM to $10MM per season. Even that seems ambitious for a 35-year-old who has been below replacement level in two of the last three seasons, however. Here are more notes from throughout baseball.
- This weekend’s trade of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar could make the Rays a potential bidder for Howard, since the Rays gained payroll flexibility in the deal and have pursued stopgap designated hitters and first basemen in the past, Ryan Lawrence of Philly.com writes. It seems unlikely that the Rays would trade for Howard, however. They acquired John Jaso in the Zobrist deal with the idea that he wouldn’t primarily be a catcher, but rather a left-handed bat who might DH or play first base or outfield. (In fact, Jaso has said the Rays plan for him to play mostly DH.) Jaso’s role would seem to overlap with Howard’s potential spot in Tampa, so if Howard’s performance didn’t rule him out as an option for the Rays, Jaso’s presence probably would.
- The Rockies have had discussions with free agent starter Ryan Vogelsong, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi tweets. The Rockies have been connected to low-cost starting pitchers like Josh Johnson, Aaron Harang, Kevin Correia and Kyle Kendrick, and Vogelsong would seem somewhat similar. Pitchers like Kendrick have shown some ability to get ground balls, however, while Vogelsong is more of a fly ball pitcher, potentially making him an awkward fit for Coors Field. The 37-year-old posted a 4.00 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 184 2/3 innings with the Giants in 2014.
- The Diamondbacks are trying to acquire a catcher, Morosi tweets. After trading Miguel Montero to the Cubs, the Snakes have Tuffy Gosewisch penciled in as their starter. The only other catcher on their 40-man is Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez, who played in Class A last year. They did sign Matt Pagnozzi and re-sign Blake Lalli to minor league deals, but they still appear short on experienced catching.
- The Mets are in active trade discussions involving starting pitcher Dillon Gee, Andy Martino of New York Daily News tweets. Gee’s name came up in the three-team Ian Desmond / Ben Zobrist deal the Mets discussed with the Rays and Nationals, Martino adds. Rumors about Gee have simmered all offseason, with the Rockies, Giants and Twins among the teams connected to the righty. The Mets have reportedly been trying to trade a veteran starter, with Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon as other potential candidates, although Gee appears to be the most likely to be traded.
- The Orioles will get a close look at Rule 5 picks Jason Garcia and Logan Verrett at minicamp this week, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun writes. Garcia (who was originally selected by the Astros before being traded to Baltimore) just turned 22 and has not yet pitched above Class A, but Encina says the righty impressed the Orioles with his performance against their farmhands in instructional league play last fall. Verrett is more experienced, having held his own as a starter for the Mets’ Triple-A team last year as a 24-year-old. He’s more likely to relieve for the Orioles. It seems unlikely that a contending team would keep two Rule 5 picks on its roster for too long, so the amount of time Garcia and Verrett have to prove themselves might be somewhat limited.
That the Phillies are interested in dealing away first baseman Ryan Howard and some portion of his contract is well-known. Howard, of course, is in the middle of a huge extension that still includes two years and a guaranteed $60MM (including a $10MM buyout of a $23MM club option in 2017). That contract includes a “most favored nation” clause that allows Howard to match the no-trade terms in Cliff Lee‘s deal, under which the player is permitted to designate all but nine clubs for no-trade protection.
ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports the details on Howard’s current list of competitors. The nine teams to which Howard cannot prevent a trade are the Tigers, Royals, Angels, Mariners, Yankees, Rangers, Rays, Orioles, and Red Sox. Crasnick suggests that the teams listed are not particularly strong potential suitors for Howard, as most are either small-payroll clubs and/or lack a present need for a player of Howard’s ilk.
The list seems curious from a strategic perspective, in my view, since it includes only American League clubs. The prevailing sentiment around Howard seems to be that he might have some limited trade value as a designated hitter and left-handed bench bat, but it appears exceedingly unlikely that any National League team would have interest in adding him as a regular first baseman. And payroll is not likely to prevent any teams from pursuing Howard, as Philadelphia is expected to eat most or all of his remaining salary regardless of where he is dealt.
If anything, it could be that the list is simply made up of the American League teams that Howard would most like to play for. His money is earned, after all, and it is unlikely that he would be able to exert enough leverage to convince an acquiring team to provide him with some added benefit in exchange for waiving his no-trade protection. (The notion of demanding a guarantee of his option, for instance, seems far-fetched.) Rather than using the NTC as a means of opening the door to extracting concessions, then, the reported list seems to suggest that Howard is open to being dealt to a place where he is wanted and where he would like to play.
Reading the tea leaves for intent is only so possible and so useful, of course. And the bottom line remains the same: nine of the fifteen A.L. clubs can add Howard without receiving his permission.
Reports over the weekend indicated that Dan Haren has informed the Marlins of his desire to pitch for another club, and Jon Morosi of FOX Sports looks at the situation a bit further. Morosi reports that Haren has begun a throwing program and has yet to inform the Marlins that he plans to retire if he’s not traded. While his West Coast preference is very well known, Haren will consider other clubs on a case-by-case basis if the Marlins are able to facilitate a trade elsewhere, he adds. As Morosi notes, the Marlins have little incentive to desperately shop Haren; the Dodgers included $10MM in the trade that Miami will be able to keep even in the event that Haren retires. In a poll conducted by MLBTR’s Brad Johnson, the majority of respondents expect Haren to retire.
Here’s more from the NL East…
- Little has changed on the Mets‘ shortstop front, writes ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin, who hears from team insiders that Wilmer Flores is still likely to have the Opening Day job. The Mets’ remaining offseason additions could simply come in the form of minor league deals for a few more lefty relievers as the club looks to find a complement to southpaw Josh Edgin. The last significant move could be to move a starter, with Dillon Gee being the most likely name to go. Rubin also notes that the Mets believe continued offseason agility training will help make Flores a passable defender at short. Flores hit .322/.365/.556 with six homers in 25 games (90 at-bats) in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason.
- The latest from Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello is an attempt to find a new home for Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Petriello points to previous comments made by GM Ruben Amaro Jr. on 97.5 The Fanatic in Phildelphia in which Amaro admits to having told Howard “it would probably bode better for the organization not with him but without him.” As Petriello notes, Howard has always been a better hitter to the opposite field — never more than in 2014. He concludes that three AL clubs whose parks favor power to left more than to right could conceivably fit him in as a DH: the Orioles, Blue Jays and Rays. I’d personally wager that the Phillies may have to eat as much as $50MM of the remaining $60MM on Howard’s deal to move him.
- The Marlins like James Shields, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, but they (unsurprisingly) aren’t comfortable paying him in the five-year, $110MM range. Last night, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that Shields is fielding offers in that neighborhood.