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In a lengthy and interesting piece, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times looks at the potentially fractured relationship between the Mariners and Michael Saunders following some comments made by GM Jack Zduriencik at an end-of-season press conference. Asked at the time what he felt about Saunders’ future with the team, Zduriencik said, “…It’s up to Michael. … He was playing well, got hurt, came back, got sick, came back again and did some nice things. But I think what Michael has to do and has to answer this to himself, is ‘how do I prepare myself to play as many games through the course of 162 that I can possibly play without being setback by injury.’ … some of these things need to be handled from a maintenance standpoint where he put himself in a position where he’s able to compete through the course of the season.”
Divish spoke to Saunders himself, who declined to comment on the situation. Saunders’ agent, Michael McCann, said it was both “shocking” and “very disappointing.” Said McCann: “These comments don’t reflect Michael Saunders’ work habits. They imply that that he’s lackadaisical.” Part of the trouble, Divish writes, is that Saunders had never before had his work ethic or preparation questioned by the Mariners, and to have that done in a public forum was hurtful. Zduriencik clarified that the comments he made could be applied to any player, and he was adamant to Divish that the organization is not planning on moving on from Saunders. However, he has previously identified corner outfield as a potential area to add some offense. Divish speculates on an offseason trade, though he also notes that even if Saunders is pushed to the role of fourth outfielder, his low salary (he should earn less than $3MM via arbitration) would be an acceptable price for that role, especially given his upside. Over the past three seasons, the former top prospect has batted .248/.320/.423 with 39 homers and 38 steals. I should note that Divish’s entire piece is well worth the read, as this brief write-up doesn’t capture nearly all of the quotes and information he compiled.
Here’s more from baseball’s Western divisions…
- The Diamondbacks should give strong consideration to moving one of their young shortstops if it can bolster the rotation, writes the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro. The Snakes finished the season with Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed all on the roster, but no room to play all three of them with Aaron Hill being owed $24MM through 2016 and prospects Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury both looking like third base options in the near future. (Lamb already received a taste of the Majors in 2014.) The team seems to view Owings as the best of the bunch, given his greater offensive ceiling, but both Gregorius and Ahmed have value to other clubs. Piecoro spoke to rival executives about each shortstop, with one stating that while Gregorius might not bring back “a Matt Harvey or a Jacob deGrom,” he could be worth someone such as Rafael Montero of the Mets. Another evaluator told Piecoro that his club actually prefers Ahmed to Gregorius, so both could seemingly have good trade value.
- Though he’s been a popular managerial candidate this year, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo will not be interviewed by the D’Backs for their own managerial vacancy, reports Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). Lovullo interviewed with the Astros prior to their hiring of A.J. Hinch, he’s already interviewed with the Rangers and will reportedly interview with the Twins as well.
- Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler tells Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune that they have “definitely expanded our international focus under [new GM] A.J. [Preller].” Lin examines whether or not that could mean a legitimate run at Yasmany Tomas, though as he notes, that would be an unprecedented move for the Friars. In fact, last season’s signing of Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5MM contract was the largest free agent expenditure in franchise history, Lin points out. The largest contract in franchise history, he adds, is Jake Peavy‘s old three-year, $52MM deal. Tomas could cost double that amount, but the Padres have just $40.5MM committed to next year’s payroll, and the $90MM Opening Day figure from 2014 could rise, ownership has said.
- After losing hitting coach John Mallee to the Cubs, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow spoke highly about Mallee’s work to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich points out that Mallee deserves some credit for the success of Jose Altuve and Chris Carter in 2014, although skeptics could also point to the strikeout problems some of the other team’s young hitters had. Luhnow said he hopes to have a finalized coaching staff in place by month’s end, and as Drellich notes, only pitching coach Brent Strom is a guarantee to return at this point.
Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas is officially a free agent, but George A. King III of the New York Post reports that the Yankees aren’t likely to show serious interest in the outfielder. Meanwhile, the Padres hosted their second private workout with Tomas in the Dominican Republic yesterday, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler.
The Yankees, according to King, were in attendance for Tomas’ showcase in the Dominican Republic, but rival clubs expect the Yanks to have a similar reaction to Tomas that they did to countryman Rusney Castillo. King adds that New York “showed very little interest” in Castillo after initially watching him. As King notes, the Yankees are hoping that Carlos Beltran can play right field next year in the event that Alex Rodriguez has to spend a lot of time at the DH position. Additionally, King spoke to one official who offered a lukewarm take on Tomas and his rumored price tag of roughly $100MM: “He is a good player, but for $100 million? I don’t know. He is better than [Castillo], but that doesn’t mean he is worth $100 million.”
As for the Padres, Badler reports that newly minted GM A.J. Preller was at yesterday’s private showcase, and he is also known to have attended Tomas’ initial Dominican showcase for all 30 clubs. That would make three times in a three week span that the GM has seen him. Preller is well-known for his prowess on the international scouting front, as Badler notes, and many of the team’s decision-makers have now seen him multiple times as well. Vice president of scouting operations Don Welke and vice president of baseball operations Omar Minaya have both gotten multiple first-hand looks at Tomas.
MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently authored a free agent profile of Tomas, ultimately wagering that Tomas, who will play next season at the age of 24, would land a contract worth $105MM over a seven-year term. As Badler notes, the Rangers have also had a private workout with Tomas, as have the Phillies. Reports this week indicated that the Twins, too, were trying to arrange a private workout.
The Padres have plenty of pitching, writes Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune. However, new GM A.J. Preller must figure out a way to import some offense to San Diego. With a scarcity of affordable talent in free agency, the Padres may need to convert their pitching depth into hitters. Per Preller,”I’m getting the sense already that we have pitchers that are attractive to clubs.” The club could opt to deal established veterans like Ian Kennedy or a prospect like Matt Wisler.
- Also from Sanders, it’s thought that the Padres could increase payroll beyond 2014’s record $90MM opening day figure. Currently, just $41MM is on the books for 2015. While the club is interested in Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, Sanders wonders if a possible nine-figure price tag could scare away the club.
- The Red Sox have bracketed their 2013 World Series championship with two fifth place finishes in the AL East. GM Ben Cherington is looking to improve the year-to-year stability of the franchise, according to Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. Recent seasons have seen more parity in baseball, but some clubs are maintaining year-after-year success. Cherington pins some of the blame on working in young players, saying “we just have to figure out a better way to build teams that allow for young players to integrate successfully.”
- The Yankees aren’t necessarily doomed to fail in the AL East next season, says Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. Madden writes the Yankees “remain an aging team with too many designated hitters, boxed in with too many with immovable contracts and badly in need of young energy.” Despite those issues a potentially strong rotation could help them to recapture the division. After all, the other AL East clubs also have roster issues to solve.
Winning a postseason series might be its own reward, but for players, coaches and team personnel, there are financial rewards as well, David Waldstein of the New York Times notes. Postseason series wins mean bonuses, and while those bonuses aren’t significant for a star like Miguel Cabrera (a full share for a World Series win in 2013 was $307K, compared to Cabrera’s 2014 salary of $22MM), they can make a huge difference for coaches and less highly paid players. “Our coach Brian Butterfield, when he was with the Red Sox, he gave his house to his son and his grandkids and moved into a new house,” says infielder Kelly Johnson, now an Oriole. “It changes lives. Guys are paying off college loans, house payments and cars. You can’t beat that.” Here’s more from around the big leagues.
- The Braves will replace scouting coordinator Tony DeMacio with crosschecker Brian Bridges, John Manuel of Baseball America writes, citing a tweet by Peter Gammons. Former scouting director Roy Clark will return to the organization as a special assistant to the general manager. DeMacio presided over drafts that included players like Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis, but the Braves’ current farm system is not highly regarded. Still, the timing of these changes is somewhat odd, since the Braves don’t have a permanent general manager right now, just an interim GM in John Hart, who stepped up when the Braves fired Frank Wren. Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan tweets that these moves suggest the Braves may simply keep Hart as their GM and have him groom assistant GM John Coppolella to eventually replace him.
- The Padres have hired Chris Kemp as director of international scouting, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune tweets. Kemp had previously been an area scout with the Rangers, for whom new Padres GM A.J. Preller also worked. Preller’s own key interest is international scouting, so it’s not surprising that he would hire someone with whom he’s familiar to direct that department. MLB.com’s Corey Brock notes (via Twitter) that the Padres’ hiring of Kemp does not violate the Padres and Rangers’ agreement that Preller not take staff with him from Texas, because Kemp is being promoted.
A.J. Preller’s rise to GM of the Padres was nearly a lifetime in the making, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes in a long profile. Josh Boyd, the Rangers’ pro scouting director, says he knew Preller would become a GM since meeting him in 1999, when Preller was barely out of college. “He’s gonna be a GM in five years,” Boyd recalls telling his parents. Preller interned with the Phillies while at Cornell, then took a job in MLB’s offices, working with Frank Robinson. He then worked for the Dodgers before joining the Rangers, where his college roommate Jon Daniels was an assistant GM (and later their GM). Preller worked as a scouting director, director of player personnel and assistant GM before being hired by the Padres. Here’s more from the West divisions.
- The Mariners increased spending in 2014, and they’ll need to do it again in 2015, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times writes. The Mariners have missed the postseason every year since 2001, and beyond Kyle Seager, the Mariners lack the sort of cheap young impact players who might justify a low overall payroll. Mariners president Kevin Mather recently said the team’s payroll would increase in 2015.
- With the Rangers‘ release of a list of candidates for their managerial job, it’s clear that their next manager will be a rookie, Evan Grant of Dallas Morning News writes. The new names include interim manager Tim Bogar, Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister, Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash, ESPN analyst (and former infielder) Alex Cora, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo and White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing. Between them, there are plenty of connections to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, Indians manager Terry Francona and Red Sox manager John Farrell, all of whom are known for having the kind of powerful clubhouse presence that makes them strong leaders.
Here are the latest minor moves from around the game.
- 1B Daric Barton (Athletics), OF Tyler Colvin (Giants), OF Justin Maxwell (Royals), SP Jair Jurrjens (Rockies), RP Wilton Lopez (Rockies) and R Troy Patton (Padres) have all elected free agency, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy tweets.
- Seven former Blue Jays have elected free agency, Eddy tweets. Among them is first baseman Dan Johnson, who the Jays outrighted earlier this week. Johnson collected 48 plate appearances in Toronto this season, but spent most of the year with Triple-A Buffalo, hitting .232/.381/.434 in 459 plate appearances there. The others who elected free agency are shortstop Jonathan Diaz, outfielders Cole Gillespie and Darin Mastroianni, and pitchers Bobby Korecky, Brad Mills and Raul Valdes.
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Cardinals GM John Mozeliak tackled a variety of topics in a two-part interview with MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch. Looking back to the last offseason, he said that the team identified Pat Neshek as an option because he offered a different look from the club’s other relievers, and said that the David Freese-for-Peter Bourjos trade would not have been made without the inclusion of prospect Randal Grichuk.
Here’s the latest out of the National League …
- The Mets have, as expected, decided not to bring back hitting coach Lamar Johnson and assistant Luis Natera in those roles, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Johnson stepped in mid-season after his predecessor, Dave Hudgen, was fired. Meanwhile, Triple-A skipper Wally Backman will not be elevated to the big league staff, but will be offered the chance to keep his position.
- As the Braves continue to make their own staff changes, scouting director Tony DeMacio has been re-assigned, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Atlanta is still waiting to hear whether interim GM John Hart will take the job full-time, Nightengale adds.
- If the Pirates are unable to bring back catcher Russell Martin, another impactful transaction that could have PR benefits would be a Neil Walker extension, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. With a $5.75MM arbitration salary to build off of over his next two seasons of eligibility, and coming off of a .271/.342/.467 slash with 23 home runs, he will not be cheap.
- The Padres had a private workout today with Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Tomas officially hit the open market yesterday.
With the regular season in the books, it’s worth assessing how things ultimately shook out from last winter’s Rule 5 draft. Only nine players were taken in this year’s draft. Here’s where things stand:
Remember, players are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if they aren’t on the 40-man roster four or five years after signing, depending on the age at which they signed. If a team makes a selection, it pays the former team $50K and must keep that player on the Major League roster all season or offer him back to his original team for $25K. (Note that Rule 5 selections can change hands like any other player, with an acquiring team stepping into the shoes of the original selecting club. Click here for more details.)
- Patrick Schuster, LHP (taken first overall by the Astros from the Diamondbacks): Returned to Arizona. But not before a somewhat eventful tour. He was first dealt to the Padres, then placed on waivers and claimed by the Royals before finally being sent back. He never ended up throwing a big league inning, and ultimately struggled to 4.50 ERA in 18 frames at Triple-A once back with the D’backs.
- Adrian Nieto, C (taken third overall by the White Sox from the Nationals): Retained by Chicago. The switch-hitting, 24-year-old backstop hung on all year, posting a .236/.296/.340 line in his first 118 MLB plate appearances. He is now White Sox property.
- Kevin Munson, RHP (taken fourth overall by the Phillies from the Diamondbacks): Returned to Arizona. Munson never made it onto the active roster, and was sent back in mid-March. Though he never saw MLB action this year, he did post a rather dominant campaign at Triple-A: 2.60 ERA, 11.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9.
- Tommy Kahnle, RHP (taken eighth overall by the Rockies from the Yankees): Retained by Colorado. The 25-year-old was an oft-used bullpen piece for the Rockies, posting a 4.19 ERA in 68 2/3 frames with 8.3 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9. Colorado owns his rights moving forward.
- Brian Moran, LHP (taken ninth overall by the Blue Jays from the Mariners): Still in limbo after season-ending surgery. Moran was dealt by Toronto to the Angels on the day of the draft, and opened the season DL’ed on the active roster. But his left elbow ultimately required Tommy John surgery, meaning that he ended up on the 60-day DL. The Halos do not yet own Moran’s rights permanently: to keep him, the club will need to carry him on the active roster without a DL stay for at least 90 days.
- Seth Rosin, RHP (taken tenth overall by the Mets from the Phillies): Returned to Philadelphia. Dealt immediately after the draft to the Dodgers, Rosin was claimed by the Rangers late in the spring and made three appearances before his roster spot was needed and he was returned. Back at Triple-A with the Phillies, he worked to a 3.86 ERA over 58 1/3 rames.
- Wei-Chung Wang, LHP (taken eleventh overall by the Brewers from the Pirates): Retained by Milwaukee. It took some doing, but a contending Brewers club was able to hold onto Wang for the entirety of the season. Though he did miss 45 games with a DL stint, Wang ultimately made only 14 appearances for the club. The 22-year-old will presumably be stretched out as a starter again as he returns to his development track in the lower minors.
- Marcos Mateo, RHP (taken fifteenth overall by the Diamondbacks from the Cubs): Returned to Chicago. Mateo was the first player to be returned, heading back in mid-March. The 30-year-old threw to a 3.86 ERA in 37 1/3 innings upon his return to Triple-A with his original team.
- Michael Almanzar, 3B (taken sixteenth overall by the Orioles from the Red Sox): Returned to Boston … but ultimately traded back to Baltimore. Shelved with injury for much of the year, Almanzar was returned to the Red Sox in the middle of the summer after a rehab stint. But the O’s obviously wanted him back, and added him as part of the Kelly Johnson deal. Over 233 minor league plate appearances on the year, Almanzar posted a .245/.322/.389 slash.
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Here’s the latest from the National League:
- Phillies starter A.J. Burnett seems more likely to retire (and forgo his $12.75MM player option) than many people believe, observes Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com in an offseason preview piece. Meanwhile, the club will listen on Cole Hamels but continue to demand a ransom in return, while Philadelphia could be more open to dealing not only veteran Marlon Byrd but also arb-eligible outfielders Domonic Brown and Ben Revere. As Salisbury notes, the rotation has plenty of question marks and openings.
- While Salisbury says he believes the Phillies will ultimately hang onto the 30-year-old Hamels, for better or worse, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki argues that the organization must view Hamels (and his fellow core veterans) from a pure baseball perspective. Attendance is plummeting in spite of the continued presence of numerous pieces of the team’s run of success, he notes, and the only way to rebuild the fan base is through winning.
- Neutral talent evaluators believe that lefty Jon Niese is the Mets‘ best trade chip among the club’s veteran starters, tweets Marc Carig of Newsday. Niese, 27, threw to a 3.40 ERA over 187 2/3 frames in 2014. He is owed $16MM over the next two seasons and has a pair of options ($10MM and $11MM, with respective $500K buyouts) thereafter.
- The Mets are expected to replace hitting coach Lamar Johnson, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. That move is still not official, however, and New York is in the early stages of assessing who they might bring in.
- Padres GM A.J. Preller is about to get his first taste of open market action from the seat of power, as MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports. Preller said that he anticipates a lot of trade attention on the team’s slate of arms, and indicated that he would be open to discussing any players if there’s a way to improve the club.
- One interesting player who remains under the Padres‘ control is starter Josh Johnson, whose injury-shortened year left the club with a $4MM team option. Preller said that he hopes to have Johnson in the fold next year, though left unclear whether the team is interested in a straight exercise of the option. “With Josh, he’s a guy that everyone has a positive feel for,” said Preller. “We’ll try to go down the road with him and try to present something to him that makes sense to him.”
It was a big day for the Diamondbacks: after announcing major front office changes, the club has all but clinched the league’s worst record, as Steve Gilbert of MLB.com notes (Twitter links). The only way they’d fall to the second pick would be if they were to sweep the Cardinals this weekend, with the Rockies in turn being swept by the Dodgers. It’s highly likely that Arizona will hold the first overall pick in next year’s amateur draft, providing an early test for chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and newly-minted GM Dave Stewart.
Here’s more from the west:
- Padres manager Bud Black indicated that he expects changes to the club’s array of position players, as MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell reports. “We were pretty set, and I think that’s definitely changed this year,” said Black. “I don’t know whether uncertain is the word. But I do think there will be some roster construction more so than last year.” It will be interesting to see how newly-minted GM A.J. Preller attacks his first offseason. If this season’s results are any indication, while the rotation is in solid shape, improving the offensive output may require new acquisitions.
- The Astros intend to be quiet, careful, and thorough in their managerial hunt, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. GM Jeff Luhnow is not necessarily seeking someone more malleable or numbers-focused than deposed skipper Bo Porter, according to Drellich, but rather someone more “relatable.” One of the possible candidates, Diamondbacks Triple-A manager Phil Nevin, is set for an interview after receiving clearance from the Arizona organization, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.
- Angels owner Arte Moreno covered a lot of ground in an interesting interview with Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Moreno said that he is committed to winning a championship, emphasizing the financial health of the organization and how that has supported the team’s significant spending. Saying that the team carries no debt and operates at a profit, Moreno indicated that he has no intentions of selling his valuable ownership stake — though he said that he would take an objective, businesslike approach if contacted by an interested buyer.