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- Quick Hits: Int’l Scouting, Morales, Olt, Taveras, Pitching Tandems
- NL West Notes: Trumbo, Hundley, Guerrero
- Minor Moves: McGrady, Gonzalez, Robertson, Wade
- Josh Johnson To Undergo Tommy John Surgery
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San Diego Padres Rumors
Hall of Famer and longtime Padres stalwart Tony Gwynn is taking a leave of absence from his position as head coach of San Diego State’s baseball program, the AP reports (via the New York Times). The 53-year-old, who has battled mouth cancer in recent years, is said to be recovering from undisclosed health issues. Needless to say, MLBTR extends its best wishes to the all-time great and his family.
Here’s more from the NL West:
- The Diamondbacks announced today that outfielder Mark Trumbo underwent an MRI that showed an apparent stress fracture in his left foot. He is set to seek a second opinion. As Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic notes on Twitter, Trumbo said a previous stress fracture in his other foot required 5 1/2 months to heal, though he noted that this one was not as bad. The 28-year-old, the team’s key offseason acquisition, is leading the league with seven home runs, though he has just a .264 OBP. There is currently no timetable for Trumbo to return.
- With yesterday’s news that the Padres are talking with multiple other teams about a trade of catcher Nick Hundley, Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune names some theoretical landing spots. He mentions four clubs that have had significant injuries — the Rangers, Yankees, Dodgers, and Nationals — though it’s not clear that any of those organizations would look to add Hundley. Several other teams have received scant production from their backup options, including the division-rival Diamondbacks (Tuffy Gosewisch) and Giants (Hector Sanchez). (Of course, Sanchez just hit two resounding home runs today for San Francisco.) The Royals could conceivably be interested in upgrading Brett Hayes, though he has seen only one plate appearance with Salvador Perez playing just about every day. Likewise, the White Sox could make sense, though they have Josh Phegley in the minors and would have to part with Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto if he lost his active roster spot. Of course, all of these clubs are merely hypothetical possibilities, as no reports have emerged about specific teams in discussions.
- The Dodgers‘ biggest offseason splash was the signing of infielder Alex Guerrero, who proved unable to crack the big league lineup out of the spring. But Guerrero, who signed for four years and $28MM out of Cuba, is off to a big start at Triple-A. Through 37 plate appearances, he has hit a robust .467/.568/.900 with two home runs and five walks against just one strikeout. Nevertheless, manager Don Mattingly says that the club wants him to spend time learning to play second, as MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reported yesterday. “This kind of stuff doesn’t happen overnight,” said Mattingly. “Eight games, you’re not going to see much difference in that amount of time.” Of course, Dee Gordon has been outstanding in the season’s early going — he is slashing .369/.408/.492 with a league-leading 12 steals — and figures to have earned a good deal of leash at the keystone.
- In other news today from the division, injured Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is now set to begin a rehab assignment, as Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Padres starter Josh Johnson is headed in the other direction, as he will be out for the season after it was decided that he will undergo Tommy John surgery. The question now becomes whether the team will pick up its $4MM option for 2015, though that may be a difficult cost to take on given that Johnson has already had one TJ procedure and would presumably not be ready until some time in the middle of next season. Meanwhile, we heard that the Diamondbacks could be getting closer to a shake-up involving GM Kevin Towers and/or manager Kirk Gibson. Arizona did show some life in a late comeback today against the Cubs.
Former NBA star Tracy McGrady has made the independent Sugar Land Skeeters roster, Chris Cotillo tweeted earlier today. The club confirmed that the swingman-turned-hurler has been inked, as Mark Berman of FOX 26 Sports Houston reports. “He showed enough progress,” said manager (and 20-year MLB veteran) Gary Gaetti. “He showed enough ability and we’re going to see where this goes.”
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
- Infielder Alberto Gonzalez was released by the Padres, according to MLB.com’s Corey Brock (via Twitter). The 31-year-old had been working in Triple-A, but presumably was supplanted by the just-acquired Tyler Greene at Tucson. Gonzalez, who has seen action in seven MLB seasons, was off to a tough .208/.218/.264 start in 56 plate appearances.
- The Rangers announced that they have acquired outfielder Dan Robertson from the Padres in exchange for cash considerations. Texas has purchased Robertson’s contract and will bring the 28-year-old to Oakland, where he will be available to play today. The move likely comes as an unexpected thrill for Robertson, who was a 33rd-round pick in 2008 and has spent the past two-plus seasons in Triple-A, where he has compiled a triple-slash line of .295/.371/.394 with six homers and 41 steals in 270 games. Texas had an open spot on its 40-man roster and placed Pedro Figueroa on the 15-day disabled list in order to clear a 25-man roster spot for Robertson.
- The Royals have released right-hander Cory Wade from Triple-A Omaha, reports Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star (on Twitter). The 31-year-old Wade posted a 6.57 ERA in 12 1/3 innings for Omaha this year, with just four strikeouts against four walks in that short time. Wade was a solid relief option for the Dodgers in his 2008 rookie campaign (2.27 ERA in 71 1/3 innings) and again for the Yankees in 2011 (2.04 ERA in 39 2/3 innings). He last appeared in the Majors with the Yanks in 2012, posting a 6.46 ERA in 39 innings of work. Wade inked a minor league deal with Kansas City back in November.
It’s a blow to a Padres pitching staff that was hoping for big things in a rebound campaign for Johnson, though the injury does trigger a $4MM club option that the Padres will now be able to exercise. Due to his extensive injury history, Johnson’s contract — a one-year, $8MM pact — contained language that gave the Padres a $4MM club option were he to make fewer than seven starts in 2014.
Johnson didn’t take the mound for the Padres after signing the deal, as he opened the year on the disabled list with a strained flexor muscle in his right arm, which, upon further examination by Dr. James Andrews, led to the recommendation to undergo the Tommy John operation. Johnson becomes the latest in a long line of injured hurlers to undergo the procedure this year, as he is now incredibly the 16th Major League starter to need the operation in 2014 alone.
Despite the loss of Johnson (and fellow Tommy John victim Cory Luebke), San Diego’s rotation has been excellent this season. The quintet of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, Eric Stults and Robbie Erlin have combined for a 3.12 ERA (ninth in the Majors) and a 3.26 FIP (fifth in the Majors).
Hundley is in the final year of his three-year, $9MM extension, which comes with a $5MM club option for 2015 (no buyout). He has lost playing time to both 25-year-old Yasmani Grandal and journeyman Rene Rivera. With the club facing a looming active roster crunch, it appears that it is testing the market for a player who once was the team’s primary backstop.
Hundley’s best year came in 2011, when he posted a .288/.347/.477 line with 9 home runs in 308 plate appearances. He signed his extension before the following season, but has compiled only a .211/.267/.348 line since. He is, however, off to a solid start in just 21 plate appearances in 2014, with a .333/.333/.619 line.
Several teams could conceivably be interested in adding Hundley, who makes a relatively modest $4MM this year. The fact that he has a risk-free option for next year is also attractive, as it conveys upside if he turns things around. Of course, his recent track record is such that San Diego could need to contribute cash in a trade, if they hope to receive much value in return, as Lin notes.
Greene, 30, was playing at Triple-A for the Atlanta organization. He has seen action at the MLB level in each of the last five seasons, though never more than the 116 games he appeared in over the 2012 campaign. For his career, Greene has a .224.289/.356 triple-slash in 746 plate appearances. He has appeared mostly at short and second, but has seen time at every other position on the diamond except the battery.
The Padres have sold the contract of Triple-A right-hander Anthony Carter to the Nippon Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball, MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports (via Twitter). The 28-year-old Carter appeared in just three games for Triple-A El Paso this season, allowing a pair of runs in three innings of work. The former 26th-round draft pick (White Sox) has punched out more than a batter per inning in his minor league career and owns a 4.93 ERA with a 2.51 K/BB ratio in 680 1/3 innings. In addition to the Sox and Padres, he spent the 2013 season — arguably his best year — with the Red Sox’ Triple-A affiliate. In Pawtucket, he posted a 3.47 ERA with 11.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 62 1/3 innings. Here are the rest of today’s minor moves from around the league…
- The Padres have inked righty Billy Buckner to a minor league deal, tweets Corey Brock of MLB.com. Buckner, 30, has tossed 155 2/3 MLB innings in parts of five MLB seasons, splitting his appearances about evenly between starting and relieving. His lifetime ERA stands at 6.07, and he has averaged 6.4 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 with a 44.7% ground-ball rate.
- Two former big leaguers decided to hang up their spikes rather than continue on at the Triple-A level, according to the PCL transactions page. Joe Martinez of the Angels and Steve Edlefsen of the Dodgers both retired today. The right-handed relievers had both seen relatively minimal MLB action over their professional careers, and were off to rough starts in the season’s early going.
- The Reds have signed right-hander Elvin Ramirez, per Cincinnati’s official transactions page. The 26-year-old struggled in 61 innings with the Angels’ minor league affiliates last season but had a strong 2.13 ERA in 55 innings with the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates for the Mets in 2012. In 422 2/3 career innings in the minors, the Dominican native has a 4.02 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9.
- Right-hander Matt Hauser has signed a minor league deal with the Orioles, according to the team’s transactions page. A former seventh-round pick of the Twins (2010), Hauser enjoyed strong minor league numbers until posting a 5.09 ERA between Double-A and Class-A Advanced last year. The 25-year-old has a career 2.95 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.
- The Royals have inked outfielder Cory Scammell to a minor league contract (also via the club’s transactions page). The 20-year-old Canadian was a 35th-round pick of the Mariners in the 2011 draft and spent two seasons with the team’s Rookie-level affiliate, slashing a solid .274/.349/.355 in 358 plate appearances.
The Padres made two substantial free-agent additions while otherwise mostly tinkering at the margins of the roster, and will look to their young core to move the team forward in 2014.
Major League Signings
- Joaquin Benoit, RHP. Two years, $15.5MM.
- Josh Johnson, RHP: One year, $8MM. Conditional $4MM club option.
- Total Spend: $23.5MM
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
- Acquired OF Seth Smith from Athletics for RHP Luke Gregerson.
- Acquired LHP Alex Torres and RHP Jesse Hahn from Rays in exchange for IF Logan Forsythe, RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Matt Andriese, RHP Matt Lollis, and 2B Maxx Tissenbaum.
- Acquired IF Ryan Jackson from Astros in exchange for OF/1B Jesus Guzman.
- Acquired RHP Ben Paullus from Yankees in exchange for IF Dean Anna.
- Acquired OF Alex Dickerson from Pirates in exchange for OF Jaff Decker and RHP Miles Mikolas.
- Acquired LHP Patrick Schuster (Rule 5 pick) from Astros in exchange for RHP Anthony Bass.
- Acquired RHP Devin Jones from Orioles for RHP Brad Brach.
- Claimed OF Alex Castellanos from Rangers.
- Clayton Richard, Ronny Cedeno, Jose De Paula, Colt Hynes, Mark Kotsay, Jason Marquis (still unsigned)
Sitting here today, one year ago, did anyone think that Benoit would get nearly double the guarantee of Johnson? Nevertheless, that's what happened, and both righties are now Padres. Benoit, of course, will plug into the setup role vacated by Gregerson, and could ultimately supplant Huston Street in the closer's role with the latter coming up on an option year. In a sense, this was a need of GM Josh Byrnes' own making, though Benoit does represent an interesting choice as a closer-in-waiting who has spent most of his career as a setup man. It remains to be seen how the gambit will turn out, of course; though Benoit has been quite good in recent seasons, he is already 36 years of age.
Johnson, meanwhile, represents the last major piece of a re-worked rotation. After moving on from former key arms Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard, and adding something of a reclamation project by trading for Ian Kennedy last July, the club had room for another arm to put alongside Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Eric Stults. With younger pitchers like Joe Wieland, Robbie Erlin, and Burch Smith in the organization, GM Josh Byrnes could have stood pat or waited to land a cheap deal with a veteran, innings-eating arm. Instead, he went for upside.
Otherwise, the 2014 roster had no significant, pressing needs. That did not mean that Byrnes and company would sit on their hands, however, particularly with a host of somewhat marginal MLB players occupying valuable 40-man spots. What ensued was a re-working at the edges of the roster seemingly designed to capture some value for surplus parts.
There were many moves, but their net impact is relatively minor. San Diego purged its bullpen of a series of players who threw for the big club last year, led by Gregerson but also including Bass, Boxberger, Brach, Hynes, and Mikolas. Likewise, the Pads moved on from a variety of reserve types, led by Forsythe and including Anna, Guzman, and Decker.
The return for this big group, and the prospects that accompanied them, will have some impact on the MLB roster. Torres is the team's only sure southpaw in the bullpen, while Smith will see plenty of plate appearances from the corner outfield. Schuster is currently battling minor-league signee Sipp for a spot in the 'pen as a second lefty, while Jackson and Castellanos are in the mix for bench roles. Meanwhile, Hahn and Dickerson are both top-thirty organizational prospects (though so was Andriese).
On the whole, the Pads' front office put out a lot of effort that may not make a huge difference. Looking at the two main trades involving MLB players, it is fair to ask whether Torres and Smith are a better combination than Gregerson and Forsythe? San Diego had dealt its primary lefty, Joe Thatcher, in the Kennedy trade, so adding Torres bypassed the need to purchase a new southpaw. But moving Forsythe still left the club with ample outfield options, and does little to make sense of the earlier Gregerson-for-Smith swap.
By sending out Gregerson for an equivalently-priced platoon outfielder, San Diego not only failed to free up salary space but created a need to book an even more expensive replacement in Benoit. Smith, at least, offers a different skillset than Forsythe, who was perhaps redundant with Alexi Amarista. But his power has declined since leaving Coors Field, and defensive metrics are not fans of his outfield work. While it made some sense to bring in a righty-masher, San Diego never moved any of its other corner bats, leaving it with five outfielders deserving of a roster spot (at least until Cameron Maybin suffered his most recent injury). And it is far from clear that Smith was fair value for Gregerson, who has been consistently effective over all five of his MLB seasons.
The biggest questions in San Diego relate to the fulfillment of potential. The club features many important young players, two of whom — shortstop Everth Cabrera and catcher Yasmani Grandal — are coming off of PED suspensions arising out of the Biogenesis investigation. While the roster arguably features an over-abundance of right-handed-hitting corner outfielders, one (Maybin) will be out to start the year and another (Carlos Quentin) has really never been consistently healthy. The steady Chris Denorfia is also available, though he lacks the talent of the other two. And in the rotation, in addition to a return to form from Johnson, the club will hope for a bounceback from Kennedy and continued development from Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross. Getting the answers to these questions is simply a matter of waiting and watching.
On the transactional side, speculation on a Chase Headley extension has undergone a roller-coaster ride ever since he broke out in 2012. It has appeared at times that San Diego was set to make the third baseman the long-term face of its franchise, but at present that seems unlikely. "This has been a topic for a couple years. There's been dialogue. Both sides have tried. We just haven't been able to agree to the essential deal parameters," said Byrnes. "There are no active discussions. But the door's always open." As Headley himself has made clear, the gap between his healthy and productive 2013 and his injury-plagued, less-excellent 2013 campaigns posed a major obstacle.
So, all signs point towards Headley playing out the 2014 season without a new deal, allowing both sides — and the rest of the league — to assess his actual value. The open question, then, is somewhat different at this point: If Headley performs, but the Padres are not within shouting distance of a post-season bid at the trade deadline, will he be dealt?
Deal Of Note
Of course, the Pads are surely hoping that dealing Headley is not an option due to the team's performance on the field. If Byrnes did not feel there was a legitimate chance at a post-season run, it is unlikely that he would have participated in a competitive auction for the towering Johnson. Taking advantage of Petco Park's reputation for suppressing the long ball, San Diego was able to beat out several other teams — including the Pirates, who instead brought in Volquez — for a roll of the dice on Johnson returning to form.
Looking past his misleading ERA totals from last year (he suffered from high BABIP and HR/FB rates with a low strand rate), Johnson has an impeccable track record — when healthy. His SIERA and xFIP marks, for instance, have not strayed above the 4.00 level since 2007. His swinging strike percentage last year was right at his career mark, and he punched out hitters at a career-best rate of 9.18 K/9.
The issue, of course, is durability: Johnson has endured a string of health issues. In fact, he has exceeded 200 innings in just one season and has made it to triple-digit inning tallies in only four MLB campaigns. San Diego bought itself some protection by negotiating a conditional $4MM club option for 2015 that will be available to the club if Johnson fails to make seven starts. While that provides some benefit to the club in the event of a catastrophic injury, the fact remains that Johnson's signing is a roll of the dice.
Johnson's signing, ultimately, makes a lot of sense for both parties. For Johnson, a pillow contract in a pitcher-friendly situation made San Diego a natural fit. The Padres wanted a pitcher of his talent level to supplement their excellent group of younger players, but they did not want to pay the premium needed to get a more established option. There's risk sure, but at one-third the guarantee given to Bronson Arroyo, the potential payoff is worth putting the cash on the line. As Byrnes has explained, "if [Johnson] can pitch like he has for many years in his career, we're a different team."
On the whole, the Padres' moves seem solid enough. Indeed, in a survey conducted by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, the team landed second on the "most improved" list among NL clubs. Of course, as Stark noted, San Diego's additions (like those of most of the National League) paled in comparison to what some AL clubs did in terms of impact. But given the organization's solid group of younger players, and limited overall payroll capacity, Byrnes and his staff have put the team in a position to make a run like that of the Pirates last year — if some things break in San Diego's favor.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
It still appears unlikely that the Padres will sign Chase Headley to an extension, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports. "This has been a topic for a couple years. There's been dialogue. Both sides have tried. We just haven't been able to agree to the essential deal parameters," says GM Josh Byrnes. "There are no active discussions. But the door's always open."
Heyman notes that both Headley and the Padres agree that they aren't likely to find common ground on an extension. Last month, Headley told reporters that it would be "not fair" to his teammates if extension talks distracted the team from its goals, and that it seemed likely that the two sides would hold off on extension talks until after the season, at which point Headley will be a free agent.
Headley hit .250/.347/.400 in 600 plate appearances in 2013, significantly worse than his banner 2012 season. Headley noted last month that the large difference between the two seasons made it tough to negotiate a deal. Headley is represented by Excel Sports Management.
The Braves suffered a scare this afternoon when Kris Medlen, likely the team's Opening Day starter, left his start against the Mets (video link) with what is being diagnosed as a forearm strain. He will be evaluated further tomorrow morning. Manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters, including David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (video link), he's hopeful. "Keep our fingers crossed. But I feel a lot better after talking to our medical people. We might be OK." Medlen, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010, has been dominant for the Braves. O'Brien notes the right-hander's ERA since the 2012 All-Star break is second only to Clayton Kershaw among pitchers with at least 250 innings pitched in that period and he's won three of the past eight NL Pitcher of the Month awards while no other pitcher in baseball has won more than one over the same span. O'Brien opines losing Medlen for any significant amount of time could be a blow to the Braves' chances of defending their division title, unless they make a move to acquire another proven top-of-the-rotation type of starter mentioning Ervin Santana. If Medlen is sidelined, the Braves could stay in-house and insert both veteran Freddy Garcia and left-hander Alex Wood into the rotation with Gavin Floyd, who has received good reports on his rehab from his own Tommy John surgery, expected to be ready in May.
Elsewhere in the National League on the first day of Daylight Savings Time (except in Arizona):
- New Cubs manager Rick Renteria does not see competing in the NL Central "as a daunting task" despite being the only division to send three teams to the playoffs and his own club coming off four consecutive losing seasons, writes the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. Renteria also sees similarities between the NL Central and the much-praised AL East. "So my thing is, quite frankly, we have a body of players that we’re trying to help form into a team, and that if we can do certain things and take certain actions that we have just as good a chance of competing in our division as some of those teams in the [AL] East have done in the past."
- Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Times examines the players on the bubble of making the Padres' 25-man roster, including recent waiver claim Alex Castellanos.
- The Rockies have renewed the contracts of all their pre-arbitration eligible players, according to the Denver Post's Troy E. Renck (via Sulia). Last month, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes reported agents were unhappy with the Rockies' salary formula for these pre-arb players, which spawned a feature article by Zach Links detailing how teams determine salaries for such players.
It's been a tumultuous offseason for Alex Castellanos of the Padres, MLB.com's Corey Brock writes. In late October, the Dodgers traded Castellanos to the Red Sox. Two months later, the Rangers claimed him off waivers. Then, the Rangers designated him for assignment in order to make room for Joe Saunders, and the Padres claimed him. "Don't take any pictures with any jerseys on," Castellanos said when asked the offseason had taught him. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- A year after joining the Royals as part of the James Shields / Wil Myers trade, Wade Davis is now a reliever, writes Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. The move is a response to the Royals' loss of Luke Hochevar to Tommy John surgery. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Davis isn't thrilled about the move. "What are you going to do? Say no?" he says. Davis struggled as a starter last season, though, posting a 5.67 ERA in 24 starts, and he's gotten good results as a reliever in the past. The decision could impact Davis' future earnings — if the Royals don't pick up his $7MM option for 2015, he can become a free agent after the season.
- 2011 Astros third-round draft pick Jack Armstrong Jr. is switching from pitching to first base, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports. The Astros paid Armstrong a $750K bonus, but he has not pitched competitively since being drafted, dealing with elbow and shoulder injuries along the way. Now, at 24, he'll try to make the big leagues as a hitter. "The moment I got cleared in September, I started swinging immediately. It's been a good five or six months of hard work," says Armstrong. "It's good I was a two-way guy in college so I was always swinging." Armstrong is the son of former big-league starting pitcher Jack Armstrong.