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In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that the Red Sox spent a lot of time with Jon Lester trying to get him over his fear of throwing to bases. It’s an issue that the Cubs will have to address if it arises again and Cafardo is surprised that more opposing teams haven’t tried to pounce on that perceived weakness. That could change, however, as he hears that one team already is looking forward to testing him this season. Here’s more from today’s column..
- Orioles GM Dan Duquette twice has tried to engage in extension talks with Matt Wieters’s agent, Scott Boras, but now it doesn’t appear that the sides will get together before Wieters becomes a free agent. After missing most of 2014, Wieters will earn $8.3MM in his final year of arbitration. The 28-year-old was hitting .308/.339/.500 in 112 plate appearances before right elbow issues forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery.
- Scouts are beginning to at least discuss what the Red Sox may need to receive in order to part with Jackie Bradley in a trade. The Sox don’t appear to be in that mode right now, but there are teams who feel Bradley will turn things around at the plate because he’s hit at every level except the majors. “I think Chili Davis is going to be good for him,” said one scout of Boston’s new hitting coach. “I think he needs someone with a tough approach and Chili isn’t afraid to give someone some tough love.” There has been a great deal of trade talk around Bradley this offseason and Joel Sherman of the New York Post recently suggested that the Braves could make sense as a landing spot.
- Giants assistant GM Bobby Evans told Cafardo that the team offered James Shields a five-year, $80MM contract not long after Jon Lester agreed to join the Cubs.Evans said that Shields wanted time to explore other offers, however, and the timing wasn’t right. A previous report indicated that the Giants made Shields a four-year, $80MM pitch, which is the same length as his deal with the Padres, but worth $5MM more. Shields’ agent Page Odle said in February that his client received more than one offer with a higher AAV than the one he ultimately accepted from the Padres.
- Before Daniel Bard signed a minor league deal with the Cubs this winter, the Red Sox considered bringing him back. Now that early reports are indicating that Bard is throwing hard and possibly cured of the yips that have troubled him the last couple of years, the Cubs must be glad that they decided to give him another chance.
- While many scouts believe that the Dodgers’ offense won’t be as productive without Matt Kemp, many also believe that he will hurt the Padres‘ defense. “Everyone raves about the Padres with Kemp, but they’re going to find some things they’re not going to like, and I’ll leave it at that,” said one scout. For his career, Kemp has a -13.9 UZR/150 rating in the outfield.
Right-handed power hitters carried the day in 2014, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. By the numbers, 12 of the top 16 power hitters batted right-handed. Several clubs including the Padres, Astros, Diamondbacks, and Blue Jays have committed to a mostly right-handed lineup in a search for more power. Unfortunately, right-handed power extends to the mound, where an influx of relievers are throwing over 95 mph with nasty secondary pitches.
Here’s more from around the game:
- Indians utility fielder Zach Walters has injured his oblique and will miss the next three to four weeks, reports Chuck Crow of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Walters was acquired last season in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera. The switch-hitter is a career .193/.253/.452 batter in 146 plate appearances, most of which came last season. He played five positions for the Nationals and Indians last season. Oblique injuries can be tricky to rehab, so expect the club to proceed slowly.
- Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang has the work ethic and bat speed to succeed in the majors, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The South Korean star will make his major league debut this season. No former KBO hitter has succeeded in the majors, so Kang will aim to pave the road for future generations. He uses the exaggerated leg kick first popularized by Sadaharu Oh, but he quiets it with two strikes. FanGraphs swing expert Dan Farnsworth analyzed Kang’s swing earlier this winter (FG+ required), concluding “he has all the makings of an absolute monster.”
- Former number one draft pick Brady Aiken is expected to make his season debut with IMG Post Grad on Thursday, tweets Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs. Aiken was selected by the Astros last June, but their agreement fell apart due to concerns about his pitching elbow. Aiken remains among the top prospects in the draft, although the Astros will presumably pass on selecting him with either of their top five picks.
Padres outfielder Justin Upton could be a linchpin for the club, writes Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The former top prospect and MVP candidate is still just 27. GM A.J. Preller hinted that the club could extend Upton depending on how the relationship develops. “We made this deal with eyes open, knowing that this may be a long-term relationship and it may end up being a one-year relationship…We’re not really sure, but that’s the benefit of getting around a player like that that’s obviously going to command big dollars and big value on the open market.” MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranked Upton the top name in the 2016 free agent market. He implied that a $200MM contract is possible.
Here’s more from out West:
- With Padres backup catcher Tim Federowicz sidelined for three to six months, the club could turn to veteran Wil Nieves, Lin reports. The 37-year-old claims to be in the best shape of his life with coaches and teammates supporting the assertion. He’s a career .243/.281/.317 hitter in over 1,200 plate appearances. However, the role of backup catcher is often more about defense and forming a rapport with the pitching staff. If GM A.J. Preller opts for somebody other than Nieves, he’ll probably have to look outside of the organization. Prospect Austin Hedges is major league ready behind the plate, but scouts say his bat lags behind his glove.
- The Mariners are aiming to score 700 runs this season, reports Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. The M’s are the only AL club to not pass the 700 run threshold since 2007. As Kepner notes, only eight teams scored that many runs in 2014, with five reaching the postseason. While the arbitrary threshold is not required for a playoff bound club, it would dramatically improve their odds. Seattle has to contend with the star-laden Angels and the pesky Athletics.
Surgery revealed that Padres reserve backstop Tim Federowicz suffered a significant tear of his meniscus, Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports on Twitter. The expectation is that he will miss three to six months of action.
While it was already clear that the Padres would be without Federowicz for Opening Day, the length of his absence was not known and may have been quite a bit shorter had the surgeons found less damage. Now that it appears he will miss at least half the season or more, there could be added impetus to San Diego’s already-reported willingness to consider acquiring another catcher.
The Padres do have in-house options, led by veteran Wil Nieves and including top prospect Austin Hedges and longtime minor leaguers Griff Erickson and Rocky Gale. MLBTR’s Steve Adams ticked through some possible trade targets in the above-linked post.
Max Scherzer knows exactly what David Price is experiencing as the left-hander enters his last year under contract, and Scherzer told reporters (including James Schmehl of Mlive.com) that facing free agency inevitably adds another element to a pitcher’s season. “You only get one shot at this, to sign a big deal,” Scherzer said. “He’s going to be in a position to do it, whether he does it now or in the offseason. That’s his choice. But you have to do it right. That’s something you have to be comfortable with.” Scherzer said that he blocked out the pressure by simply focusing on winning games, advice that Price seems to be following. “I’ve gone year-to-year for the last four years now, so every year is a contract year,” Price said. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not what I’m focused on. It’s not what I’m worried about….I just need to go out there, have fun and play baseball.”
Here are more notes from various rotations around the game…
- The Cardinals have a nice problem with Marco Gonzales, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia all looking good in Spring Training, and Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch doesn’t see any reason why the team shouldn’t keep this rotation surplus in place. Some could argue that the Cards could trade one of these excess starters, yet Miklasz notes that the club will inevitably need starting depth beyond the five in the rotation.
- Beyond Cole Hamels, there aren’t many top-flight pitchers available on the trade market for teams looking to fill rotation holes, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his latest Insider-only piece. Olney cites the Padres as a team who might have enough depth to trade some pitching now, while the Rays could conceivably explore dealing Alex Cobb or Drew Smyly in the coming months if they decide they can’t contend this season.
- Also from Olney, he wonders (based only on his own speculation) if the Orioles and Dodgers could fit as trade partners in a bad-contract deal of Ubaldo Jimenez for Andre Ethier. It’s not a bad idea, though the trade probably works better for L.A. than it does for Baltimore since losing Jimenez (even considering his 2014 struggles) would leave the O’s a bit thin on rotation depth.
The Marlins recently made a seven-year, $53MM offer to Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, but “backed away after hearing” that the Dodgers had a significantly higher bid, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald (Twitter links). According to the report, the Miami offer was made prior to Olivera’s recent agency change.
The report suggests that Olivera’s prior representatives led the Marlins to believe that the Dodgers were offering $77MM, with the Padres at $52MM and the Braves at $44MM. Given the switch in representation that has occurred and the industry scuttlebutt surrounding it — to say nothing of the fact that Olivera remains unsigned — it is far from clear that such offers were actually made.
Miami is still said to be comfortable paying Olivera in the $50MM range, so it would appear that the team’s interest is still live. And other reports have suggested that San Diego and Atlanta are likely also interested at or just below that level. The key question seemingly remains whether the Dodgers are willing to go above the other bidders, and if so by how much.
It’s been a whirlwind week on the Hector Olivera front, as the 29-year-old Cuban infielder switched agents earlier this week and is said to be weighing offers of four to six years in length, with the ultimate price tag expected to land around $50MM as recently as last night. Per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez — who discussed Olivera and other Cuban players with Jeff Todd on the MLBTR Podcast last month — Olivera has received strong interest from the Dodgers, Braves, A’s, Marlins, Padres and Giants. To this point, the Braves have made an offer and are reportedly interested in the $30-40MM range, while the Padres are said to be considering an offer worth upwards of $50MM. Olivera has already conducted physicals for the Braves, Dodgers and Padres, and possibly other clubs as well. Let’s take a quick look at how he’d fit on each of the reportedly interested clubs…
- Dodgers — The Dodgers have Howie Kendrick and Juan Uribe at second and third base, respectively, which are Olivera’s two best positions. Uribe is a free agent next winter and could shift into a super utility role, as he has plenty of experience at shortstop and second base in the Majors as well. However, much of his value has come from his suddenly excellent work at third base over the past two seasons, and the Dodgers may have to use Alex Guerrero in a super utility role due to his contract, which allows him to refuse an assignment to the Minors.
- Braves — Olivera could step directly into Atlanta’s lineup at second base, as he’d be an upgrade with the bat over likely starter Alberto Callaspo and potential utility player Jace Peterson. Braves fans will point out that Jose Peraza is believed to be the long-term answer at second, but he’s at least a year away, and Olivera could always unseat Chris Johnson at third base; Johnson posted just a .292 OBP with little power last year and is not well-regarded defensively.
- Athletics — The A’s will likely use Ben Zobrist at second and Brett Lawrie at third this year, though Zobrist could be used in the outfield, presumably left field, if Olivera were signed. Zobrist is only controlled through this season, so Olivera makes sense as a long-term option for the A’s at second base.
- Marlins — The Marlins’ infield situation is crowded, and there’s no spot opening up for the next two years, barring a trade. Still, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reported last night that Miami is comfortable in the $50MM range with Olivera and believes he could handle all four infield spots. Per Frisaro, the Fish would like to rest Mike Morse one or two days per week and also would like to spell Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop from time to time.
- Padres — Olivera would likely start over one of Jedd Gyorko or Will Middlebrooks at second or third base. It’s possible that Middlebrooks could eventually wind up playing first base, depending on how well Yonder Alonso hits this season. The two could at least platoon, one would imagine, allowing Gyorko and Olivera to handle second and third (each player can handle both positions).
- Giants — Joe Panik looks to be their second baseman this season, but much of Panik’s 2014 success was driven by a .343 BABIP that may be too high to repeat, and he doesn’t offer much in terms of power or speed. Even if the Giants feel Panik is the long-term answer at second, they could shift him to a bench role this year and slide Olivera over to third next year after Casey McGehee becomes a free agent.
It’s possible that another club will enter the mix unexpectedly, as Olivera’s agency shift has reportedly expanded the level of interest. (His previous agents had been touting a $70MM goal.) However, at this point, these appear to be the six top landing spots, which seems like plenty of fuel to conduct a poll.
Cuban infielder Hector Olivera is weighing offers that range from four to six years in length and could come to terms with a team this week, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Sanchez’s sources indicate that the Dodgers, Braves, Marlins, Padres, A’s and Giants have all shown a strong interest in Olivera, who will turn 30 early next month.
Olivera’s market has been anything but typical, as while scouts believe he’s Major League ready and could hit 15-20 homers with strong OBP marks right out of the gate, he also comes with myriad health issues and underwent a late change of representation, switching to the Legacy Agency’s Greg Genske earlier this week. Olivera has a blood disorder that at one time caused clotting in his biceps but is said to be cleared up now, and a report last week indicated that he may have damage to his ulnar collateral ligament as well. Olivera maintains that he is completely healthy, and multiple teams, including the Braves, Dodgers and Padres, have already conducted physicals.
Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro hears that Olivera’s price tag is expected to land in the $50MM range, and the Marlins are comfortable making an offer in that vicinity (though he does not specify the number of years, and clearly, $50MM over four years would be drastically different than $50MM over six). As for where he would play in Miami, Frisaro notes that the Marlins believe Olivera could handle all four infield positions, and the team would like to get Mike Morse a day or two off per week. They’d also like to keep Adeiny Hechavarria fresher at shortstop by resting him periodically.
Reports last night indicated that the Padres were weighing an offer that was worth “upwards of $50MM,” though no length of contract was specified. The Braves also reportedly have an offer on the table to Olivera, and their comfort zone is reportedly in the $30-40MM range.
Here’s the latest out of the NL West:
- Though his early work at third for the Diamondbacks has done more to raise questions than to provide answers about his future as an infielder, Yasmany Tomas is drawing positive reviews for his attitude and bat, as ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports.
- Rockies owner Dick Monfort says he is pleased with the organization’s direction under new GM Jeff Bridich, as Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. “I don’t think Jeff set out to make a splash just to make a splash,” Monfort said. “I think when we first met, way back when, his job was to make this current team a winner. He’s not here just to start over and do what some people do. He did not come in to blow things up.”
- There is also some positivity coming from the Padres, where at least one rival scout says the new outfield trio of Justin Upton, Wil Myers, and Matt Kemp has looked good, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. It remains to be seen what kind of defensive work that unit can produce over the long haul, of course, though Heyman notes that reserves Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin have looked good at the plate. It still seems that San Diego will need to do something to clear at least one outfielder, with Will Venable under contract in addition to that group.