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In an article for ESPN.com, Jayson Stark collects opinions from around baseball on the new wild card game. While the arrangement motivates teams to win their divisions, Braves catcher Brian McCann, a veteran of last year's NL wild card contest, tells Stark that the game doesn't have a playoff atmosphere. "I just feel like, you play 162 games, you win 90-plus, and all of a sudden, it's one game and you're home?" McCann said. Stark's article also covers suggestions on how to address complaints with the one-game format. Here's more links from around the majors:
- For the Rangers, the season is increasingly looking like a troubling repeat of last year's collapse down the stretch. Looking ahead at possible free agent targets, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweets that the team could pursue one of the top international free agents — first baseman Jose Abreu and pitcher Masahiro Tanaka — but not both. Brian McCann will be the team's primary target, however, Grant predicts in another tweet.
- The Angels' decision to give Friday's start to minor-leaguer Matt Shoemaker isn't an encouraging sign for Tommy Hanson or Joe Blanton, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times writes. Hanson was recalled from Triple-A on Monday, while Blanton has spent the last two months in the bullpen. Though manager Mike Scioscia indicated the club merely wanted to get a look at Shoemaker, DiGiovanna says there's a good chance that Blanton will be released before the 2014 season, while Hanson is a non-tender candidate.
- The Astros' Chris Carter is aware of his high strikeout total this season, which currently sits at 202 and is the highest in the majors, Gene Duffey writes in an article for MLB.com. "Everybody's talking about it, but I just try to have good at-bats," Carter said. "I want to be around .290. I want to be a complete hitter. I've got to get the strikeouts down and the average up." While Carter's batted just .221 this season, he leads the Astros with 67 walks.
- White Sox GM Rick Hahn addressed his team's long-term plans in an interview with Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Two of the most significant items in the Sox's budget will be spending in the draft and international market, Hahn says. "Spending to our max in those two areas is important to the long-term sustaining of our success that we are trying to build to," the GM said. "Those will be kind of the first two items, and [they will be] significantly more than the past."
- Cubs righty Scott Baker says he'd like to return to the club next season, Manny Randhawa of MLB.com reports. "I think it's a wonderful place to play," Baker said. "I kind of feel like with these last few starts, there's less of a question mark about me next year than there was going into this year … Hopefully, whether it's the Cubs or other teams, [they] feel the same way." Baker made just three starts for the Cubs in 2013 after spending most of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.
The Brewers front office held individual meetings with the coaching staff, as part of the team's annual season-ending evaluations, while in St. Louis for a series against the Cardinals this past week. "It's more on what's going on and what we can do better, and do we need to change anything in Spring Training, do we need to do anything in the season differently?" manager Ron Roenicke told reporters, including MLB.com's Adam McCalvy. "Kind of, 'What went wrong?' We know the injuries, we know what. But what else can we do to help?" This week, the front office and the coaching staff will meet as a group to discuss plans for 2014. Elsewhere from MLB's Central divisions:
- Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breaks down the Brewers' roster position-by-position.
- Chris Carpenter is concentrating on mentoring the Cardinals' young starters and not on whether he will be able to resume his career in 2014, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I'll start working out before Spring Training, get off the mound like I always do and see what happens — and it's not time to say whether or not I want to do that. That's not on my mind right now." Carpenter said. "I'm going to enjoy this time with the guys, my family, and at the end of it we'll sit down and process where we're at, where we want to go forward as a family."
- Scott Baker will make one more start for the Cubs on Friday before being shut down for the remainder of the season, reports MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. Baker, who underwent Tommy John surgery 17 months ago, has allowed just one run and five hits with a 5.0 K/BB ratio in his two starts (11 innings) since being activated from the disabled list.
- Baker's performance has impressed manager Dale Sveum, who would like to see Cubs re-sign the right-hander, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Baker, finishing off a one-year, $5.5MM contract, is also interested in a return engagement. "It's definitely an interesting place for me to be next year," said Baker. "I love the city and I love the organization as a whole. But obviously, we'll just have to see because there's a lot of moving parts. They've got a master plan and we'll just see if I'm part of it."
- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire may or may not be back in 2014, but he does know the team needs to acquire better starting pitching, writes MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger. "I don't think we have enough ready arms to step into this rotation," Gardenhire said. "We have lots of candidates. But are these guys ready to turn you around? I don't think so."
- Within the same piece, Gardenhire also expressed his disappointment in some players' work ethic, as the franchise plots its course for 2014. "A lot of these guys have to understand this means a lot right now to how this roster is going to shape up next year," said Gardenhire. "Hopefully, they'll figure it out. We've been beating it into their heads that there's still something to play for."
With a 1-0 win over the Rangers Monday night, the Pirates clinched their first winning season since 1992. 2011 draftee Gerrit Cole pitched seven dominant innings for the Bucs on Monday, and the Pirates have, of course, gotten big contributions from draftees like Andrew McCutchen (2005) and Pedro Alvarez (2008). But much of the Pirates' success in 2013 has stemmed from Neal Huntington's spectacular 2012-2013 offseason. He signed Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin, who have emerged as two of the Pirates' top players behind McCutchen. He also re-signed Jason Grilli, who dominated as the Pirates' closer, and traded for Mark Melancon, who has been even more dominant and who stepped in as closer after Grilli got hurt.
Mike Axisa of CBS Sports digs deep into the construction of the 2013 Pirates, noting that many of this year's Bucs also came from earlier trades. He singles out the then-unpopular Nate McLouth trade, which brought back Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton, as an important one for the Bucs. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- Jason Giambi wants to return to play for the Indians next season, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports. "I would love to play next year," Giambi says. "Hopefully it will be here. I love it here. I love the direction the team is going and the things we've got going here." Giambi is hitting .186/.278/.372 in 198 plate appearances this season.
- The Cubs are giving Scott Baker starts in September, but it's unclear whether he'll be playing for them next year, writes Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com. Baker made his first start since 2011 on Sunday, after missing most of the last two seasons with an elbow injury. The Cubs figure to have Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson in their rotation next year, with a variety of possible back-end options, including Jake Arrieta, Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin. Mooney notes that the Cubs will likely pursue more starting pitching in the offseason.
- The White Sox will pursue position players via free agency and trade this offseason, MLB.com's Scott Merkin reports. Sox GM Rick Hahn says he will be "open to" trading young pitching in order to acquire hitters. The White Sox's top young-ish pitchers at the big-league level include Jose Quintana, Nate Jones, Addison Reed and Hector Santiago. Chris Sale would obviously be a very valuable trade chip, but he's an elite talent and the White Sox signed him to an extension before the season, so that appears unlikely.
As the Cubs and Brewers square off in the first of a four-game series that could have serious implications on the 2014 MLB draft (one game separates the two teams who stand to pick fourth and fifth, respectively), let's take a look at baseball's Central divisions…
- The Twins don't feel that rookie Josmil Pinto is far from being a starting catcher at the Major League level, writes Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The 24-year-old Venezuelan hit .309/.400/.482 with 15 homers and an 83-to-66 K/BB ratio between Double-A and Triple-A this season and has seven hits in his first 10 big league at-bats. As Miller notes, Pinto's emergence makes Joe Mauer's future position "more unknown than ever." Twins GM Terry Ryan told Miller he "doesn't know exactly what [Mauer is] going to end up doing" in 2014. Minnesota also has 25-year-old Chris Herrmann and veteran Ryan Doumit on the roster. Herrmann and Doumit are both capable of playing the corner outfield positions.
- Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski is currently in the process of deciding whether or not to bring Jhonny Peralta back to the club for a potential postseason run, writes James Schmehl of MLive.com. Dombrowski says Peralta was forthright and handled the situation as best he could. The Tigers, of course, acquired Jose Iglesias to man shortstop in Peralta's stead and in the long-term at the trade deadline. Bringing Peralta back would likely displace one of Don Kelly, Matt Tuiasosopo or Ramon Santiago from the roster.
- Bruce Levine and Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com write that Scott Baker will make his season debut for the Cubs this Sunday — his first Major League start since Sept. 24, 2011. Baker underwent Tommy John surgery in Spring Training of 2012 with the Twins and signed a one-year, $5.5MM contract with the Cubs this offseason. Clearly, Chicago was hoping for an earlier return, but arm soreness in Spring Training of this season shut him down. Baker posted a 3.14 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 for Minnesota in 2011.
- New Cubs reliever Daniel Bard told MLB.com's Carrie Muskat that he was ready to hit free agency this offseason after being designated for assignment by the Red Sox and was pleasantly surprised to hear from Cubs president Theo Epstein when he was claimed. Bard doesn't feel that his struggles have resulted from switching from a relief role to a starting role, but rather from trying to change too much about his arsenal in the process: "I could’ve just taken the pitcher I was in the bullpen for four years and plopped that into a starting role and probably would’ve been fine," Bard told Muskat. Instead, he tried to increase his changeup usage, sink the ball more and change speeds on his fastball too often, and he feels that vast array of alterations was his downfall.
For the fourth straight year, Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony sat down with Jesse Lund of SB Nation's Twinkie Town to discuss the state of affairs with his team. Antony and Lund discussed the Twins' offseason at length, ranging from the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere to the Twins' pursuit of starting pitching. Here's a look at some of the highlights, but bear in mind that entire piece is well worth your time…
- The Twins never intended to trade both Revere and Span, but the Phillies' offer of Trevor May and Vance Worley was too strong not to pull the trigger. Antony identifies May as someone who could get a September call-up in 2013 if he enjoys a strong season.
- The Twins had conversations with both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, but were unable to agree to terms with either one. In particular, the Twins sought a club option for Baker, who wanted strictly a one-year deal. Antony said they didn't want 2013 to "be a donation" to Baker in the event that he wasn't healthy and effective for most of the season. That decision looks wise, with Baker on the 60-day disabled list for the Cubs.
- Mike Pelfrey identified the Twins as a team he wanted to pitch for and was aggressive in working out a deal, according to Antony. The Twins did quite a bit of homework on Pelfrey's recovery from Tommy John surgery in order to ascertain that the right-hander would indeed be ready for Opening Day, as he promised.
- The Twins made several "competitive offers" to free agent starting pitchers, in some cases making better offers than the ones those pitchers ultimately took. The Twins had conversations with nearly every free agent starting pitcher and spoke with around 15 agents for pitchers at the Winter Meetings in December.
- Following the Span trade, most teams didn't believe that the team would also trade Revere. Antony says four teams were in the mix for Revere, but the Phillies were the most aggressive and ultimately landed him with the aforementioned offer.
- The Twins were willing to do a one-for-one swap of Span and Alex Meyer because they believe Meyer is a legitimate front-of-the-rotation candidate who can be a "dominant" strikeout pitcher.
- The decision to bring Aaron Hicks north as the team's Opening Day center fielder was a result of Hicks' strong play in Spring Training and his poise off the field. The Twins' front office was never overly concerned with delaying Hicks' free agency by a season: "If he's that good of a player we're going to do what we can to sign him long term and none of that's going to matter."
- Antony, GM Terry Ryan and the rest of the front office prefer to gradually expose their top prospects to the Major Leagues so as not to field a team of all rookies. Additionally, that line of thinking prevents mass arbitration and free agency issues: "If you can bring a couple guys, a couple rookies in each year, it helps infuse that and it helps to spread it out so that not everybody becomes arbitration eligible at the same time or free agents at the same time, all that stuff."
- The Twins "admire" the Royals' bullpen of power arms and would like to build a similar bullpen. The team prioritized power arms in the 2012 Draft, selecting a number of hard-throwing college relievers.
- Antony offered a definitive "No," when asked if the team had interest in Aaron Harang prior to his trade to the Mariners. The Twins feel they have a number of similar arms in the organization already.
- There's been no contact between the Twins and Jim Thome for "a couple of months," and the two were never on the same page. Minnesota had interest in Thome, but they were far apart in discussions.
- "It would be great if he could be a Twin for life," Antony said of Justin Morneau. "He's a guy who's meant a lot for this organization and we'd love it if he were to play his entire career here, but you just don't know how things are going to work out in the end."
- Antony feels that too much has been made of the decision not to extend Ron Gardenhire prior to this season. Many have speculated that Gardenhire is on the hot seat following a pair of 90-loss seasons, but Antony said it was intended to be an organization-wide message that they're looking to get better from top to bottom. He adds that he hopes Gardenhire is the Twins' manager for years to come, and that in three years people are surprised there was even a debate.
The Cubs have agreed to terms with Scott Baker on a one-year contract, the team announced. The deal includes a $5.5MM base salary with $1.5MM in incentives, reports Paul Sullivan of The Chicago Tribune and MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith (Twitter links). The right-hander is represented by Octagon, as our Agency Database shows.
Baker, 31, did not pitch at all in 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, prompting the Twins to decline his $9.25MM option after the season. The two sides had been discussing a new contract before the right-hander hooked on with the Cubbies. Chicago is reportedly looking to add pitching on short-term deals this winter, and this contract accomplishes that.
Baker has spent his entire career with Minnesota, pitching to a 4.15 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in nearly 1,000 career innings. He posted a career-low 3.14 ERA with a career-high 8.3 K/9 in 134 2/3 innings last season while missing time with elbow problems. Although he has cracked the 200-inning plateau just once in his career, Baker has thrown at least 170 innings three times in the last five years.
Tim Dierkes ranked Baker 46th on his Top 50 Free Agents List, predicting he would re-sign with the Twins. Check out our Free Agent Prediction Contest Leaderboard to see where you rank among MLBTR's readers.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Presswire.
Here's the latest on the Twins from Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN…
- So far, the Twins have reached out to free agents Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, Joe Blanton, Ryan Dempster, and Brett Myers. They're interested in Myers as a starter. They've also reached out to Brandon Webb even though he hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2009.
- The club continues to have regular conversations with Alan Nero, who represents right-hander Scott Baker. The two sides are working on a new contract after Baker's $9.25MM option was declined.
- The Twins have not shown any interest in Jon Garland and were not present when the right-hander threw for teams during an audition back in September.
- Talks with reliever Jared Burton about a contract extension are underway. Matt Swartz projects a $2.1MM salary for the right-hander next season, after which he'll become a free agent.
- The Twins have inquired about reliever Randy Messenger, though the Hanshin Tigers in Japan will not allow the right-hander out of his contract.
- The team has not contacted Bill Bray after he hit free agency. Special assistant Wayne Krivsky acquired the left-hander during his tenure as Reds GM.
The Blue Jays are casting a wide net in their search for pitching, reports Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. They have already shown interest in Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, and Ryan Dempster, among others.
Toronto is also one of several clubs to inquire about Scott Baker, joining the Red Sox, Cubs, and Rangers. The Twins recently declined the right-hander's option but hope to sign him to a new deal. The Blue Jays have made no secret of their goal to add pitching this offseason, either through trades or free agency. Free agents can begin signing with new teams tomorrow morning.
The Twins declined their $9.25MM option on Scott Baker earlier today, but the right-hander tells Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the two sides have made progress on a new contract:
"We’re talking, and obviously I think there’s a mutual feeling that I want to be back, and they want me back," Baker said. "But it has to make sense for both parties, and we’re just not there yet. There’s a lot to consider. I’ll just say, we’re not close, but we’re definitely closer than when it started."
Baker also told Christensen that he isn't discouraged by the fact that the team elected not to exercise his option. The 31-year-old is recovering from Tommy John surgery that he underwent this past spring.
A second-round selection of the Twins in 2003, Baker has spent his whole career in Minnesota. In that time, he's pitched to a 4.15 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 958 innings. He broke out in 2011 with a 3.14 ERA and upped his strikeouts to a strong 8.2 per nine innings.
In my view, an incentive-laden one-year deal with a lower base salary and perhaps a vesting option would seem to make sense for both sides. If Baker decides to talk with other teams, this will be his first time exploring the free agent market. Back in March 2009, Baker and the Twins agreed to a four-year extension that guaranteed the Oklahoma State University product $15.25MM.
Scott Baker will hit free agency following a season spent recovering from Tommy John surgery. As expected, the Twins declined their $9.25MM option for the right-hander, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.
Baker will be free to sign with any team starting Saturday morning. However, Twins GM Terry Ryan has said the Twins would like to re-sign the 31-year old. Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN reported last week that Baker remains a "high priority" for the Twins. Baker's agent has been in regular communication with the Twins about a deal, perhaps a one or two-year contract with incentives.