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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.
Relativity Sports has added an even handful of new clients, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports (Twitter links). In addition to Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker of the Angels, Relativity has taken on Jason Castro of the Astros along with Charlie Furbush and Logan Morrison of the Mariners as clients. Each of those players had been with Octagon, but it appears that they followed agent Fred Wray to his new agency.
Among this group of players, only Shoemaker has yet to reach arbitration eligibility. He and fellow breakout Angels starter Richards (who will be entering his first arb year as a Super Two) could well become extension candidates if they maintain their form. Meanwhile, Castro could be a somewhat difficult-to-peg arbitration case, as he looks to improve on his $2.45MM salary after a rough year.
Morrison, too, could require some effort from his new firm. He managed to bridge a large gap in filing figures last year, settling on a $1.75MM deal. But Morrison’s future remains unclear after putting up a solid, if unspectacular, .262/.315/.420 slash over 365 plate appearances. He could be ready to go through another (relatively) high-stakes round of arbitration negotiations, find himself dealt to a new club, or even be set loose to find a new club on the open market.
Be sure to check out MLBTR’s Agency Database for the most up-to-date information on player representation.
With teams in preparation for the upcoming offseason, there will be numerous minor outrights over the coming weeks. We’ll run down today’s outrights and other minor moves in this post…
- After being designated for assignment late in the year by the Mariners, first baseman/DH Corey Hart has elected free agency after clearing outright waivers, MLB.com’s Greg Johns tweets. Though it may or may not have any practical import, Hart will be eligible to sign a new deal now, rather than waiting until until after the World Series for the official onset of free agency.
- The Phillies announced that they have outrighted Sean O’Sullivan off the 40-man roster. The right-hander will be eligible to become a minor league free agent. O’Sullivan made three appearances (two starts) for the Phils this season, yielding nine runs on 15 hits and a pair of walks with seven strikeouts in 12 2/3 total innings. In parts of five big league seasons, the 27-year-old O’Sullivan has a 5.91 ERA in 231 1/3 innings with 4.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 40 percent ground-ball rate.
Here’s the latest out of Seattle.
- The Mariners increased attendance by about 300,000 fans in 2014, and that means there is extra money to spend, writes Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times. We learned earlier today that fellow Times writer Geoff Baker believes payroll needs to expand in 2015. GM Jack Zduriencik and team president Kevin Mather have each publicly stated payroll will grow. Divish poses Victor Martinez as an obvious target for the soft-hitting M’s.
- The News Tribune’s Bob Dutton evaluated the Mariner’s 40 man roster with an eye on 2015. Of interest, Dutton wonders where Erasmo Ramirez fits on the roster. The righty will be out of options and doesn’t appear to have a place in the rotation or bullpen. Ramirez had an ugly 5.26 ERA with poor peripherals. One positive sign is a 10.8% swinging strike rate, which suggests better command and control could reveal a useful asset. This is my speculation, but he seems like a good reclamation project for a club like the Cubs.
- Justin Smoak is another change of scenery candidate according to Dutton. The switch hitter struggled to a .202/.275/.339 line in 276 plate appearances. Smoak has a $3.25MM club option for 2015 with a $15k buyout. However, if the club declines the option, he will instead enter his second year of arbitration. He’s a potential non-tender candidate if a trade is not worked out.. Other internal first base options like Logan Morrison and Jesus Montero seem to have a better chance to help the club. I wonder if the Brewers would give Smoak a look? Their offense friendly stadium could be a good fit for him.
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.
Earlier this week, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said that he felt he would have more financial resources to work with, and today Mariners president Kevin Mather confirmed as much in an appearance on 710 ESPN’s Brock and Salk show (Brady Henderson of 710 ESPN has transcribed some of the highlights). Mather explains that the Mariners spent $16MM more than they had budgeted for in 2014 (a total payroll of $107MM), but ownership has no intention of scaling that back after seeing the team’s performance this season:
“They’re fans and they seemed extremely pleased with the competitive nature of the games and September, meaningful baseball, and not one of them has said, ‘What are we going to do to get that $16 million back?’ They were all saying, ‘What are you going to do to get us six more wins next year?'”
Fresh off the signing of Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240MM contract, the Mariners posted an 87-75 record — their best since 2007 — and cleared two million fans at Safeco Field for the first time since 2010, which Mather says will help him to acquire more resources for Zduriencik.
If you have time to listen to the audio of the full interview (it’s roughly 21 minutes long), Mather’s interview is well worth hearing in its entirety. The first-year president was insightful and candid throughout as he discussed the extension of Zduriencik, the relationship between Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon, his own role with the team and the club’s approach at the trade deadline as they weighed a run at David Price.
Mather feels that Zduriencik’s contract extension was turned into a bigger deal than he’d expected. He echoed a story told by Zduriencik shortly after the extension, stating that he simply broached the topic casually at the end of a business lunch, asking the GM, “Does your wife like it in Seattle?” Zduriencik responded that she loves it, and Mather recalls, “I said, ‘Well, your contract’s up at the end of the year. Why don’t we talk about getting that extended?'” Mather does admit that Zduriencik’s rebuilding effort took longer than it should have, but he called the decision to extend him after the club’s success an “automatic.” Asked about Zduriencik’s best ability, Mather did not hesitate to say “personnel evaluation,” referring to evaluating young players.
Beyond that, he recalled his first test as a president — asking ownership for increased funding to sign Fernando Rodney late in the offseason. Unhappy with the asking prices of remaining starting pitchers and bats, Zduriencik suggested the idea of shortening the game. “The first thing I really tried to sell to ownership was, let’s take the ninth inning off the board,” said Mather, adding that he received little resistance on that front.
The team’s biggest desire moving forward, Mather says, is to avoid going through a “dip” like the Mariners went through from 2004-14:
“We need to be 85 to 95 wins every year, which means we need to draft well, we have to get our draft picks signed, we have to be strategic with our free agent signings, but we need to be competitive year-in, year-out. And you don’t do that by signing broken-down, middle-of-the-road free agents and hoping.”
Regarding the club’s summer interest in Price, Mather emphasized that with the team looking at a Wild Card spot, it was too difficult to mortgage the future. “Will you give up — and I shouldn’t use names — but will you give up [James] Paxton, or [Taijuan] Walker, or [D.J.] Peterson for David Price?” he asked, rhetorically. “…I want to be competitive in 2015, 2016, 2017 — these are young players that we control.”
Lastly, he discusses the impact that the team’s strong performance will have on attracting free agents. While he says it’s a selling point, the biggest red flag for the Mariners in attracting free agents, in Mather’s opinion, is the team’s travel schedule. Mather says he’s been assured by new commissioner Rob Manfred that MLB will look at the travel schedule in order to avoid scenarios like the one that came up this year where the team went from California to Houston to Toronto and back to Seattle without an off-day. He’s reminded Manfred about it multiple times, though he acknowledges that it may take a year or two in order to truly alleviate that pain for West Coast teams.
While multiple reports yesterday raised the possibility of the Athletics trading Josh Donaldson this offseason, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link) spoke with an A’s official who completely dismissed the notion, bluntly stating, “That would be stupid.” Of course, one such comment doesn’t completely rule out the possibility, but it does seem unlikely that the A’s are feeling too much pressure to move their All-Star third baseman, as he’s just hitting arbitration for the first time.
In other Oakland and AL West news…
- Athletics GM Billy Beane doesn’t regret pulling the trigger on the trade that sent Yoenis Cespedes to Boston in exchange for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes, he told reporters, including Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com. “Simply put, if we don’t have Jon Lester, I don’t think we make the playoffs,” Beane said. First baseman Brandon Moss also spoke, noting that he doesn’t think there was any way for the A’s to catch the Angels based on their torrid second-half run.
- The A’s could potentially have a strong pitching staff fronted by Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir in 2015, writes John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group, but they’re left with question marks surrounding that strength. The team has no middle infield to speak of, and the free agent market doesn’t offer much in the way of impact options. Meanwhile, a large portion of the roster — including Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Brandon Moss, Stephen Vogt, John Jaso, Derek Norris, Craig Gentry and Sean Doolittle — is marred by injury concerns. Building a team that can contend in 2015 is a long shot, in Hickey’s estimation.
- Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News has some more details on Michael Young‘s upcoming role in the Rangers‘ front office. Young and the Rangers are finalizing a deal that will make him a special assistant to GM Jon Daniels — a role that the Rangers are also discussing with Darren Oliver. However, while many former players that land special assistant roles are loosely affiliated with the club and have a light workload, Grant reports that these roles would be far more significant. The Rangers feel they’ve lacked insight into the psychology of modern players when making recent decisions, and the presence of Young and Oliver could help to provide that insight. The roles will also involve field work and player evaluation at times.
- Rangers lefty Matt Harrison has pushed back the beginning of his offseason throwing sessions from November to January, reports Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com. Harrison called the move precautionary, noting somewhat ominously, “I got only one shot at this. I just have to make sure it’s right.” The talented southpaw, who is entering the third year of a five-year, $55MM extension, is attempting to work his way back from his third back surgery in a span of two years.
- Perhaps the Mariners‘ biggest weakness was the lack of a productive DH this season, writes Larry Stone of the Seattle Times. That flaw, he opines, should be remedied with a hard pursuit of Victor Martinez. Though he’s 36, will cost a draft pick and is sure to be expensive, Stone points out that the time for exhibiting patience is waning, as Felix Hernandez and especially Robinson Cano move closer to the end of their primes. He also points out that Martinez “reveres” manager Lloyd McClendon, who was his hitting coach with the Tigers prior to becoming Seattle’s manager.
In this morning’s Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes that he feels a Josh Donaldson trade is likely for the Athletics this offseason. Billy Beane has shown a willingness to trade players at their peak value, Olney writes (citing the Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill trades, among others), and Donaldson’s salary will begin to rise quickly now that he’s hit arbitration. Olney looks at the rest of Oakland’s roster and notes that no other trade candidate has value as high as Donaldson’s, so while Jeff Samardzija would be an attractive chip, Donaldson could help Beane usher in his next roster reconstruction.
Some more news from the American League…
- The Red Sox won’t hold a private workout for Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas, reports Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. The team did attend his showcase in the Dominican Republic and they’re intrigued by his power, but the team’s glut of outfielders and concerns over Tomas’ strikeout rate in Cuba have tempered their interest.
- Tim Britton of the Providence Journal points to the Pirates’ success in reviving the careers of Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett and points to some similar buy-low candidates that the Red Sox could try for on the free agent market. Of course, as he notes, the Sox are expected to pursue Jon Lester and James Shields, so his suggestions of Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy and Ervin Santana are intended to be secondary targets.
- Miguel Cabrera turned down his share of the team’s postseason bonus when the time came to sign the paperwork, reports Paul White of USA Today. Cabrera refused to sign, instead stating that he “just wants the ring.” As White points out, Cabrera could be turning down as much as $300K (though that figure pales in comparison to his salary), and that money could be reallocated to other players as well as Tigers staff such as clubhouse personnel, traveling secretaries, etc.
- Justin Smoak‘s contract to avoid arbitration last year contained a rare club option, and Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times writes that it’s a virtual lock that the Mariners will buy out his $3.65MM option for $150K and non-tender the first baseman. Smoak, the centerpiece of an ill-fated Cliff Lee trade with the Rangers, hit just .202/.275/.339 and has failed to establish himself as a regular in four seasons with Seattle.
- Also from Divish’s piece, GM Jack Zduriencik called the decision to pick up Hisashi Iwakuma‘s $7MM option a “no-brainer,” which certainly isn’t surprising.
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 out west:
- Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says that he expects to be aggressive in adding offense to the ballclub while also adding some rotation depth, as Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN reports. “Offense is something we think we need,” said GM Jack Zduriencik. “We will explore every opportunity out there. I think we will be reasonably aggressive to try to add an offensive piece or two and you never have enough pitching.”
- Zduriencik added that he believes he’ll have additional cash to work with. “I think the payroll is going to rise,” he said. “What the exact number is I don’t know yet because we haven’t had that meeting, but I am encouraged that number will increase.” Seattle entered the year with about $90MM on its books. Looking forward, the club has nearly $62MM committed next year before accounting for several costly arbitration bumps (especially for Austin Jackson and Kyle Seager).
- The Diamondbacks have started interviewing managerial candidates with in-house options, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. Double-A skipper Andy Green had the first chance to make his pitch. Other D’backs staffers who will interiew are hitting coach Turner Ward and Triple-A manager Phil Nevin.
- Meanwhile, the Rangers have announced that they sat down with Mike Maddux and Steve Buechele today as part of their own managerial search, as expected. As with Arizona’s initial batch of candidates, Maddux and Buechele come from within the Texas ranks.