The Mariners announced tonight that right-hander Tony Zych has been placed on the disabled list due to right shoulder tendinitis (retroactive to May 2). In his place, Steve Johnson’s contract has been selected from Triple-A Tacoma. The loss of Zych is significant for the Mariners, as the 25-year-old has quietly been a dominant relief arm in the Majors since being recalled last season. In 30 1/3 innings at the Major League level, Zych has posted a 2.67 ERA, 12.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 with a 51.5 percent ground-ball rate. While he’s far from a household name, Zych has averaged 95.7 mph on his heater in the Majors and rates 14th among MLB pitchers (min. 30 innings) in terms of K%-BB% dating back to last season. There’s yet to be any word on the length of his absence, and manager Scott Servais said today (via the Tacoma News Tribune’s Bob Dutton, on Twitter) that Zych is returning to Seattle to have his shoulder examined. A corresponding 40-man roster move was not necessary due to yesterday’s outright of right-hander Joe Wieland.
We’ll track the day’s minor moves right here:
- The Cubs announced that they’ve placed outfielder Matt Szczur on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring and selected the contract of outfielder Ryan Kalish to take his place on the active roster. In order to clear a spot for Kalish on the 40-man roster, the club has transferred infielder Christian Villanueva to the 60-day disabled list. Kalish, 28, was long a top-rated Red Sox prospect and is, as such, quite familiar to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer. Excellent production in the minors has earned Kalish his first taste of the Majors since 2014 (also with the Cubs). In 20 games (70 plate appearances) at the Triple-A level thus far, Kalish is batting a ridiculous .368/.471/.509 with four doubles, a pair of triples, three steals and more walks drawn (10) than strikeouts (nine).
- The Mariners announced that they’ve selected the contract of right-hander Steve Johnson from Triple-A Tacoma and placed right-hander Tony Zych on the 15-day DL with rotator cuff tendinitis. Johnson, 28, has a fair amount of big league experience — all coming with the Orioles between the 2012-15 seasons. In 59 1/3 innings at the big league level, he’s worked to a 4.25 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against 5.5 BB/9. However, he’s posted a 20-to-2 K/BB ratio in 16 innings with Tacoma this season, so the Mariners will undoubtedly hope that they’ve helped iron out his longstanding control problems. Zych, meanwhile, had a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings this season and had punched out 19 batters against eight free passes (one intentional).
- The Reds have purchased the contract of catcher Rafael Lopez from the Bridgeport Bluefish, the indy league club announced. He’ll head to Triple-A Louisville, providing another depth option for an organization that is filling in for injured MLB starter Devin Mesoraco. Lopez, 28, has only appeared briefly at the major league level. He spent last season at Triple-A in the Cubs and Angels systems, slashing .266/.339/.335 over 246 plate appearances.
- Righty Matt Buschmann has been outrighted to Triple-A by the Diamondbacks, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports on Twitter. The 32-year-old was designated recently as Arizona continues to cycle through relief pitchers to keep its pen fresh. He surrendered only one earned run in his first 4 1/3 big league frames, but will for head back to Triple-A once again to wait for another shot. Buschmann had been working as a starter in the minors, as he has for much of his minor league career, but it remains to be seen what role he’ll take upon his return to Reno.
The Mariners announced on Monday that they have outrighted the contract of righty Joe Wieland off the 40-man roster. Wieland, who passed through waivers, remains at the Triple-A level, while Seattle’s 40-man roster now sits at 39 players.
Seattle acquired Wieland from the Dodgers in exchange for minor league infielder Erick Mejia this offseason. Wieland was originally a fourth-round selection of the Rangers back in the 2008 draft but was dealt to the Padres in the 2011 Mike Adams trade and was then flipped to the Dodgers in the Matt Kemp blockbuster of the 2014-15 offseason. Wieland looked to be a potential rotation option in San Diego back in 2012 when he posted a 4.55 ERA with 7.8 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 in five starts (27 2/3 innings) as a 22-year-old, but he underwent Tommy John surgery that season and missed the entire 2013 campaign. A stress reaction and eventual arthroscopic surgery on his elbow cost Wieland much of the 2014 campaign, making the 2015 season the first in which he was fully healthy in two years.
Last year, Wieland worked to a 4.59 ERA in 113 2/3 innings at the Triple-A level with the Dodgers organization and also tossed 8 2/3 innings at the Major League level, though he surrendered eight runs in that brief big league stint. The 2016 season has been a disaster for the now 26-year-old Wieland, however, as he’s allowed an unthinkable 25 earned runs on 36 hits and eight walks with 10 strikeouts in just 13 innings at the Triple-A level. Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Wieland actually looked sharp through his first two outings of the year, surrendering a total of three runs with a 7-to-1 K/BB ratio in nine innings. He’s made a trio of starts since that time, though, and failed to escape the second inning while allowing at least five runs in each of the three.
- Mike Zunino spoke with Larry Stone of the Seattle Times about the mechanical adjustments he’s made to his swing and the more relaxed mental approach he’s been able to adopt with the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate this season. Triple-A hitting coach Scott Brosius and manager Pat Listach each weighed in on Zunino’s hot start as well, noting that he’s not only more mechanically sound but also showing greater strike-zone recognition, neglecting to chase sliders on the outer edge of the plate and high fastballs out of the zone. Zunino said to Stone that he doesn’t feel “on edge all the time” like he has in the past while struggling in the Majors, adding that he’s “not chasing base hits” by worrying about the outcome. Zunino has come around on recognizing that hard contact, such as a line drive that turns into an out, isn’t necessarily a bad outcome. Zunino was particularly heartened recently with some success hitting to the opposite field — a component of his game that he freely acknowledged has long been lacking.
5:19pm: Stanton will become the chairman and CEO of the Mariners, the team announced today in a press release. Kevin Mather will remain the club’s president. MLB.com’s Greg Johns tweets that the ownership change is subject to approval from Major League Baseball, which won’t be finalized until August. Per the press release announcing the ownership transition, the Mariners franchise was valued at $1.4 billion, meaning that First Avenue Entertainment, the new ownership group, spent $1.26 billion to purchase its 90 stake. Lincoln issued the following statement:
“From the first day of our involvement nearly 24 years ago, Nintendo has had two goals for its investment in the Mariners. First, we wanted to assure the permanence of the team in this great city. And on that count, I am proud and gratified that this agreement further solidifies that goal. On the other hand, I’m equally disappointed that we have not been able to host a World Series game for our fans.”
Stanton, too, issued a statement in the Mariners’ press release:
“My goal and the goal of the entire Mariners ownership and management team is to win a World Series. I believe that the Mariners are well positioned to achieve that goal and it will be my honor to lead the organization. I want to thank Howard for his leadership for the last 17 years and thank the members of the board and ownership for giving me this opportunity.”
2:00pm: Unspecified “ownership changes” have led to the end of CEO Howard Lincoln’s tenure with the Mariners, Mike Salk of 710 ESPN reports. Lincoln is set to resign his position, per the report, with minority owner John Stanton in line to “become the new point person for the ownership group” — though it’s unclear precisely what position (if any) he will take.
It’s obviously difficult at this point to assess the long-term ramifications of the move. It’s not clear whether other front office changes could be afoot, though it would obviously be surprising if there were any immediate impact on baseball operations. A news conference has been scheduled for this afternoon, which may begin to shed further light on the situation, including the underlying ownership modifications that prompted the leadership move.
The 76-year-old Lincoln has held his role since taking over before the start of the 2000 season. A former executive with Nintendo of America, the entity which now owns a controlling share of the ballclub, Lincoln is said to have been involved at the highest levels since the current M’s ownership group took control back in 1992.
Lincoln was obviously a significant part of the team’s financial dealings over the years, including the construction of Safeco Field and the organization’s regional sports network agreement in 2013. He was an immensely powerful figure in the organization, as Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times explains. Of course, his tenure has also come with its share of criticism; among other things, the club’s attendance has dwindled quite a bit and its last post-season berth came way back in 2001.
Among Lincoln’s more recent moves was the promotion of Kevin Mather to president and COO early in 2014, replacing Chuck Armstrong. At the time, the organization was winding up for what it hoped would be a successful 2015 season after shocking the baseball world by signing Robinson Cano. But the on-field results proved disappointing, and the leadership group ultimately fired GM Jack Zduriencik, who has since been replaced at the helm of baseball operations by Jerry Dipoto.
Now, it seems, Stanton will decide the strategic direction of the Seattle organization. He is said to have been looking to enhance his role with the club for some time, as Baker explains (Twitter links). Stanton reportedly controls about one-tenth of the Mariners’ ownership stake at present; it’s not known whether he’ll increase his holdings as part of today’s shake-up.
- Yahoo’s Tim Brown spoke to Mariners first baseman Dae-ho Lee about the difficult decision he made to jump to leave superstardom in Asia to test himself in Major League Baseball. Lee, who batted .303/.387/.514 with 323 homers in 15 seasons between the Korea Baseball Organization and Nippon Professional Baseball, explained that he’s dreamed of playing in the Majors since childhood but elected to go to Japan when his first crack at free agency in Korea arose. “I had a little opportunity before but I didn’t make my decision to challenge the major leagues,” he said through his translator. “I wanted to learn more. So I decided to go to Japan and learn more baseball.” Countryman and division rival Ji-man Choi called Lee’s decision to make the jump to the Majors at age 33 inspirational to him and other Korean players. Lee has started six times in 19 games as the left-handed component of a platoon with Adam Lind, and he’s batting .235/.316/.588 with a pair of homers in 19 plate appearances.
The Athletics announced following tonight’s game that third baseman Danny Valencia will be placed on the 15-day disabled list due to a hamstring injury suffered in yesterday’s contest. Valencia, though, tells reporters that he doesn’t consider the issue to be serious and doesn’t anticipate missing more than the minimum amount of time (Twitter link via the Bay Area News Group’s John Hickey). “I will be very upset not to be in [the] lineup,” said Valencia in reference to the end of his 15-day DL window. The A’s didn’t announce a corresponding roster move, but Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets that it’s “clear” that the versatile Tyler Ladendorf will be recalled from Triple-A.
A few more notes from the game’s Western divisions…
- The Padres have placed left-hander Robbie Erlin on the 15-day DL and recalled right-hander Leonel Campos from Triple-A El Paso, as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. “He’s had some tightness in his forearm,” manager Andy Green said of Erlin. “He’d pitched through it, was capable of continuing to pitch through it. … We just thought it best at this point in time to shut him down for a couple weeks and get on top of it.” The Padres haven’t announced a replacement yet, but Lin tweets that Double-A right-hander Cesar Vargas was scratched from his start tonight and does not have an injury, making him a definite possibility. The Friars gave Vargas a big league contract and put him on the 40-man roster this offseason despite the fact that he’s never pitched in the Majors. Vargas has a 1.42 ERA through his first two starts this season and has a career 2.58 ERA at that level.
- Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs tells MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez that he’s throwing his fastball between 90 and 94 mph and is ready for a return to the Majors. However, Skaggs is still building up his endurance and says he understands the Halos’ cautious approach to his return. “I haven’t had any input or anything,” said Skaggs. “They said they want to save my innings for the end of the year, which completely makes sense. It’s frustrating for me because I want to pitch more. But it’s a good thing that they care about me, care about my future, about my health.” A healthy Skaggs could be a boon to an Angels rotation that is without C.J. Wilson and is going to be without Andrew Heaney for an indefinite amount of time. Heaney went on the disabled list with a forearm strain and, as of earlier this week, was said by manager Mike Scioscia to have “plateaued” in his rehab from the injury.
- Rockies right-hander Miguel Castro is dealing with shoulder inflammation and could land on the disabled list, writes MLB.com’s Thomas Harding. The hard-throwing 21-year-old, acquired in last summer’s Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster, has been outstanding for the Rockies early in the 2016 season, allowing just one run on two hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in six innings pitched.
- The Mariners’ revamped bullpen has delivered excellent results early in the season, writes Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Incredibly, as Dutton points out, none of the seven relief pitchers that are currently in manager Scott Servais’ bullpen were on the Mariners’ Opening Day roster in 2015. GM Jerry Dipoto acquired four of the club’s current relievers (Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit, Joel Peralta and Nick Vincent — this offseason, but Dipoto explained to Dutton that he’s all too aware of how fleeting the success could be. “I spent my entire major-league career pitching 400 pitched games in the bullpen,” said Dipoto. “Never did anything else. If you think you’ve got it figured out, you don’t. The bullpen is about as unpredictable as it gets.”
- Mariners catcher Mike Zunino is off to a blistering start at Triple-A Tacoma this season, batting .447 with six homers through his first nine games/40 plate appearances. However, manager Scott Servais tells Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune that Zunino isn’t in line for a quick promotion to the Majors as a result of his torrid opening stretch. “It needs to be a process for (Zunino),” said Servais.“And if he does take an 0-for-10, how is he responding to that? … But Mike needed to get off to a good start, which he did. Have success and (experience) confidence-building. It’s really, really good for him. And for us.” For the time being, Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger are the catching options for the Mariners on the 25-man roster.
- The Mariners’ offseason moves at the catching position are working out well in the early going, writes Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. Free agent signee Chris Iannetta has been productive at the major league level, providing a consistent presence that the team lacked in 2015. Meanwhile, Mike Zunino — the young backstop of the past and, hopefully, the future — is off to a scorching start at Triple-A after struggling badly in the bigs last season. The success of the former is allowing the team to remain patient with the latter, and Divish says not to expect a quick call-up for the 25-year-old Zunino. (It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that Zunino entered the year with 2.084 years of service on his clock, meaning that Seattle could pick up an additional year of control if he stays down long enough.)
Sunday’s showdown between the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka and the Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma will be the first-ever matchup in the majors between two former Japanese league teammates, writes Ryan Hatch of NJ.com. The two ex-Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were supposed to face one another in 2014, but rain prevented that from happening. Regarding Iwakuma, Tanaka said, “There’s a little cultural difference. He’s older than [I am], so, I look up to him…He was the ace of the staff [in Japan]. I learned a lot from him…you know, strategies, and facing batters. Stuff like that.” Interestingly, the 35-year-old Iwakuma and Tanaka, 27, have posted nearly identical ERAs (3.18 to 3.17) since emigrating from Japan. Iwakuma debuted in the majors two years earlier (2012 versus 2014), so his success has come over 363 2/3 more innings than Tanaka’s total.
- In other news regarding Japanese starters, Rangers ace Yu Darvish threw a live batting practice session Sunday and will engage in another Thursday before beginning a rehab assignment with Double-A Frisco on or near April 26, T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports (via Twitter). Darvish is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss all of last season. His 50-pitch BP session Sunday drew raves from pitching coach Doug Brocail, tweets the Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant. “The breaking ball was crisp. The slider was unbelievable,” Brocail said. “The fastball was good and hard with both two- and four-seamers. He threw strikes in a lot of good areas. As we measured it, there were a lot of 0-2 and 1-2 counts.” A May 11 return to the Rangers could be within reach for Darvish if all goes well during his rehab stint, per Grant.
- Thanks in part to a disastrous showing as a left fielder last season, the Red Sox’s Hanley Ramirez was among the league’s least valuable players during his first year in Boston. But the Red Sox like what they’ve seen this year from Ramirez, who is now their first baseman. “We have a different player,” manager John Farrell told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). “He’s in a good place,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said (link via Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald). In addition to finding a more suitable position, Ramirez has shown signs of life offensively, slashing .293/.318/.463 in 44 plate appearances. A shoulder injury helped lead to an uncharacteristically poor season at the plate in 2015 for Ramirez, who hit .249/.291/.426 in 430 PAs.
- Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis – who underwent left shoulder surgery in November – will take the field for live batting practice off a coach for the first time this year Monday, tweets Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. Meanwhile, lefty Franklin Morales is better after feeling “weakness” in his shoulder earlier this month and will begin a throwing program Monday, Davidi reports (on Twitter).
- The Indians are expected to activate right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall on Wednesday after he plays a pair of rehab games with Double-A Akron on Monday and Tuesday, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com was among those to report (Twitter link). Upon returning, Chisenhall – who has been on the disabled list since March with a left wrist injury – will vie for playing time in an Indians outfield that has mostly used Rajai Davis, Marlon Byrd and Jose Ramirez so far this year.