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The Mariners are showing interest in a reunion with left-hander Joe Saunders, if he is willing to accept a bullpen role, reports Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Seattle would be interested in using Saunders in a relief capacity rather than as rotation depth, Dutton adds.
Saunders, 33, struggled to a 5.26 ERA with the 2013 Mariners, although he did soak up 183 innings for the team that season. Those struggles continued with the Rangers and Orioles in 2014, when Saunders posted an alarming 6.70 ERA in 43 innings of work.
However, for all of those struggles, Saunders has been quietly excellent against left-handed hitters. Over 2013-14 — the two worst seasons of Saunders’ 10-year big league career, lefties have produced a middling .230/.270/.308 batting line. Those marks are a slight improvement over his also-strong career numbers against lefties — a .241/.288/.329 batting line.
Charlie Furbush figures to be Seattle’s primary left-handed option in the bullpen, but the team is still on the lookout to replace the innings given to the club by Joe Beimel in 2014. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik told 710 ESPN earlier this week that the team tried to strike up a new deal with Beimel, who posted a 2.20 ERA in 45 innings as a lefty specialist last year, but no agreement could be reached. If Saunders is amenable to a minor league deal and a bullpen role as a means of revitalizing his career, he could be a reasonable option to replace some of the strong work that Beimel did last year.
Yoan Moncada, Hector Olivera and Yadier Alvarez represent the top three names on the Cuban market right now, with Andy Ibanez ranking as perhaps the fourth-most intriguing option from the island. Both Moncada and Ibanez are eligible to sign at any time, while Olivera is still awaiting MLB’s clearance. Alvarez is the furthest from signing, as he’s yet to establish residency in another country, which must be completed before he can begin the process of getting cleared.
There’s been a quite a bit written on each of these four of late, so we’ll look at each on a case-by-case basis within this post. All information is courtesy of this excellent and comprehensive piece from MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez unless otherwise noted.
Moncada has yet to receive a formal offer, Sanchez writes, but he’s worked out privately for the Cubs, D-backs, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rangers, Rays, Tigers and Brewers, and there could be other private workouts to come. Some scouts are a bit skeptical of Moncada’s ability to hit from the right side of the plate, but the belief is that he won’t require a lengthy stint in the minors before being ready for the big leagues.
Sanchez notes that any team that signs Moncada would have until July 15 to pay the overage tax on what will be a historic bonus, and that bonus can be paid out in installments over the next three years. So, while shelling out the tax due to the league in one lump sum may be onerous for smaller-market clubs like the Padres, the timeline on that payment is at least pushed back a ways.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently spoke to multiple executives regarding Moncada’s potential bonus, and while one estimated that the bonus alone could reach $50MM, others have expressed some skepticism at the numbers that have been thrown around. Rosenthal spoke to execs that are clearly on both ends of the Moncada spectrum, as one estimated a $30MM maximum bonus, with something in the range of $20MM being more likely. Of course, that would still shatter the current record, held by Yoan Lopez ($8.25MM).
Digging further into the Moncada market, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune spoke with Moncada’s agent, David Hastings, who iterated once again that he hopes to have Moncada in camp for Spring Training. Said Hastings of that goal: “Certainly that’s not all within our power, as we have to wait for teams to make a commitment, and we have to choose the team we think best suits my player. But hopefully we’re down to the final stages of the process and we can begin the contract phase.” Hastings added that he wants to give as many as teams as possible the opportunity to bid on his client, so the volume of private workouts Moncada has attended isn’t exactly surprising. Lin characterizes the Padres as a potentially “unlikely, if not improbable destination” for Moncada. The Dodgers and Yankees remain the favorites, per Sanchez.
The 29-year-old Olivera, who turns 30 in April, is said to be seeking a five- or six-year pact along the lines of the contracts signed by Yasmany Tomas (six years, $68.5MM with a year-four opt-out) and Rusney Castillo (seven years, $72.5MM), Sanchez writes. (Remember that Oliver’s age and professional experience make him exempt from international spending limitations.) A recent report by Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs depicts that as highly unlikely; McDaniel noted that concerns over Olivera’s age and a blood clot disorder (thrombosis) may limit his contract to three years, or potentially four, if multiple clubs become aggressive. He did concede that something around $10MM annually could be possible.
Sanchez writes that the 6’2″ Olivera is in the best shape of his career and has “wowed” in open showcases and private workouts, leading many to believe he could hit 15 to 20 homers annually.
Were Olivera younger, I’d be more inclined to believe that he could command something in the vicinity of the Tomas and Castillo deals, but I personally can’t envision that for a player of his age. Tomas will be younger than Olivera is right now when his six-year contract expires, and Castillo’s deal runs through just his age-32 season. A six-year pact for Olivera would carry through his age-35 campaign, so despite having seemingly impressive power for a second baseman (he can also play third), those goals seem far-fetched.
Lin notes that the Padres also have some interest in Olivera and may turn their sights his way if they’re unable to land Moncada. Padres pro scouting director/senior adviser Logan White attended Olivera’s final showcase in the Dominican Republic last week, per Lin.
Though Olivera isn’t yet cleared to sign, Sanchez hears that he could sign within 24 hours of being declared a free agent. The Mariners, Braves and Dodgers are the most likely landing spots for Olivera, per Sanchez, who also lists the Yankees and Padres as interested clubs. Clearly, Seattle is an odd fit, given the presence of Robinson Cano and the recently extended Kyle Seager. Perhaps, however, the Mariners would have interest in using Olivera in a corner outfield spot or in some form of super utility capacity.
One high-ranking NL official told Sanchez that Alvarez was the best 18-year-old pitcher he’s ever seen following a showcase in which he touched 98 mph on the radar gun and also showed a plus slider and above-average changeup. Scouts to whom Sanchez has spoke believe he could eventually become a No. 2 starter. One international scouting director also told Sanchez that given Alvarez’s age and lower asking price, he prefers the right-hander to Moncada.
The Dodgers, D-Backs, Rockies, Nationals, Blue Jays, Padres, A’s, Cardinals, Twins and Brewers are all interested, per Sanchez, with the D-Backs and Nationals as the likeliest destinations at the moment. However, Alvarez is still early on in the process, so those seem the most likely to change of any of Sanchez’s likely destinations.
Ibanez, 21, has drawn comps to Omar Infante, Howie Kendrick, Miguel Cairo and Placido Polanco from scouts, Sanchez writes, although he’s probably a couple of years away from contributing in the Majors. As other reports have indicated, Ibanez’s tools don’t blow scouts away, but he does have Major League potential. Sanchez lists the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, D-Backs, Brewers, Mariners, and Padres as interested parties, with the Yankees, Dodgers and Padres as the likeliest landing spots.
Commisoner Rob Manfred tops the 50 most fascinating figures in baseball, according to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Manfred has been pro-active during the first month of his tenure, Sherman opines, by already engaging the MLBPA over issues such as keeping the batter in the box between pitches and being ready to ignite play quicker after half-inning breaks while continuing the pitch clock experiment in the minors with an impetus to have them in MLB by next season. Rounding out Sherman’s top five are: Alex Rodriguez, Matt Harvey, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joe Maddon.
Here’s the latest news and notes from the American League:
- If the Red Sox are to trade for an ace starting pitcher, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald opines Jordan Zimmermann is a better fit than Cole Hamels. Silverman also believes the Red Sox will be better off by parting ways with Edward Mujica and Allen Craig since both are expensive and superfluous.
- The Tigers will receive a medical update on Miguel Cabrera‘s right foot on Tuesday, writes Mlive.com’s James Schmehl.
- Chris Capuano is the favorite to claim the final spot in the Yankees‘ starting rotation, notes Chad Jennings of LoHud.com. The Yankees will also stretch out relievers Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers during Spring Training.
- Reports out of Venezuela (and relayed by Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune and MLB.com’s Greg Johns) have Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez suffering a double skull fracture after being struck by a boat while swimming in Carúpano, Venezuela. The 20-year-old right-hander, ranked as the Mariners’ 11th-best prospect by MLB.com, is reportedly in intensive care with his condition listed as serious but stable. Sanchez, who received a $2.5MM bonus when he was signed out of Venezuela in 2011, threw a no-hitter for Class A Clinton in 2013 and last year posted a line of 4.19 ERA, 7.0 K/9, and 2.5 BB/9 in 23 starts covering 124 2/3 innings for Double-A Jackson as the second-youngest player in the Southern League.
Happy birthday to A’s right-hander Tyler Clippard, who turns 30 years old today. The newly-acquired bullpen arm received a pretty nice gift earlier this week when he and the Athletics avoided going an arbitration hearing by agreeing to an $8.3MM contract for 2015. Here’s some more from around the AL West…
- The Angels are “not aggressive” in their pursuit of any available Cuban players in the Dominican Republic, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez tweets, though the club has had scouts watching. The Halos have already made one major international acquisition this offseason, signing Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin to an $8MM bonus. Baldoquin’s deal already put the Angels over their signing pool threshold for this international signing period, though I’d argue that since the team is already being penalized for that overage (limited to only $300K signings for each of the next two int’l signing periods), Anaheim might as well make a push to add more international talent before their penalty kicks in on July 2.
- Rickie Weeks could end up playing all over the diamond in a depth role for the Mariners, GM Jack Zduriencik told reporters (including Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune), including both corner infield and outfield positions. Weeks has never played anywhere in the field besides second base over his 11-year career, but said as his free agent market developed, “teams were thinking about me playing other positions, and I just opened up to it, really.”
- Astros owner Jim Crane’s recent divorce settlement won’t have any impact on the club’s payroll or operations, team attorney Giles Kibbe told Evan Drellich and David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. “During our purchase of the Astros, MLB requested that the documents include certain language that would address these types of issues,” Kibbe said. The league’s approach stems from how Frank McCourt’s 2011 divorce proceedings affected the Dodgers, an MLB official confirmed to Drellich and Barron, though Crane’s situation is far different than McCourt’s.
The Blue Jays and Indians appear not to be involved with any of the three best remaining relievers — righties Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Joba Chamberlain — according to ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (Insider link). Other theoretically plausible landing spots seem fairly dried up as well, he notes in assessing the most likely remaining suitors.
Here are a few more pitching notes:
- Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says that the club spoke with lefty reliever Joe Beimel but that a deal could not be reached, Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN tweets. Beimel had a nice rebound campaign last year in Seattle, and is one of the few southpaws left on the market.
- The Mets will not be dealing away any pitchers unless circumstances change, Marc Carig of Newsday reports (Twitter links). Dillon Gee generated the most discussion, but New York never found an offer it liked and its prospective trade partners went with other options.
- We checked in earlier this evening on K-Rod and lefty Phil Coke, each of whom has received some interest from the Marlins. Within that post, we noted a report from Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter) indicating that Coke still has hope of landing a big league pact.
- Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays is likely not going anywhere any time soon, but I can’t help but link to this interesting piece from Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs, who explains that Stroman’s arsenal of pitches looks like it was assembled from amongst the best offerings of some of the very best arms in the game.
Olmos, 24, was claimed off waivers by Seattle from the Marlins earlier in the offseason. His miniscule MLB sample does not tell us much, but does indicate that he has a 95+mph fastball. He has struggled to limit the free passes, though is coming off his lowest-ever walk rate over a full season (3.5 per nine in 77 2/3 innings in the upper minors last year).
Here are today’s minor transactions from around the league…
- The Mariners announced the signing of lefty Rafael Perez to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invitation. Perez posted a 3.64 ERA, 2.29 K/BB rate and 7.3 K/9 over 329 relief innings with the Indians from 2006-12, but he hasn’t since pitched off a big league mound. The southpaw has pitched in the minors for the Red Sox, Twins, Pirates and Rangers over the last two seasons.
- The Brewers have signed right-hander Josh Roenicke to a minor league deal, per the club’s transactions page (a Spring Training invite is not mentioned, seemingly indicating that he will head to minor league camp). The 32-year-old Roenicke — the nephew of Brewers manager Ron Roenicke — spent the 2014 season with the Triple-A affiliates for the Nationals and Rockies, pitching to a combined 6.04 ERA with 4.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 89 1/3 innings (15 starts, 14 relief appearances). The former Reds prospect brings plenty of big league experience to the table in Milwaukee, as he has 220 1/3 career innings in the Majors. He most recently pitched to a 4.35 ERA in 62 innings with the Twins.
- Right-hander Fernando Cabrera has agreed to a minor league deal with the Giants, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The 33-year-old Cabrera hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2010 and hasn’t logged significant MLB innings since 2008, but he has an excellent track record at Triple-A, where he has compiled a 3.00 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 467 2/3 innings in parts of 10 seasons. Cabrera was considered to be one of the Indians’ best prospects in the early 2000s, but he wasn’t able to fully tap into his potential.
FEB. 12: Weeks can also earn up to $2MM worth of incentives on his deal with Seattle, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (via Twitter).
FEB. 11: The Mariners and second baseman Rickie Weeks are in agreement on a one-year, $2MM Major League deal, pending a physical, reports Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio (Twitter links). Weeks is represented by the Legacy Agency.
As Bowden explains, Seattle will look to use Weeks to spell Robinson Cano at second base and will also deploy him in the corner outfield at times. That role would seem to make some sense, as left fielder Dustin Ackley batted a woeful .212/.255/.298 against left-handed pitching in 2014 and is a career .236/.295/.342 hitter against southpaws. Weeks, as I explained earlier this week in examining teams with which he could potentially fit, has handled lefties with aplomb throughout his career. He batted .256/.361/.504 and swatted seven homers against lefties in 2014 and has hit .261/.385/.448 against them in his career. I speculated within that piece that a team could deploy him in the corner outfield as well as the infield, though the Mariners didn’t strike me as an obvious fit given Cano’s presence.
However, Seattle has a notoriously left-leaning lineup, with only catcher Mike Zunino, DH Nelson Cruz and center fielder Austin Jackson projecting as right-handed regulars. Justin Ruggiano, acquired from the Cubs this offseason, figures to platoon with Seth Smith in right field, and Weeks will give manager Lloyd McClendon another right-handed bat, allowing him to slot in at least five righties on days when a left-handed pitcher takes the hill for Seattle opponents.
While some might find the fit curious, if not downright surprising, it’s not a complete shock to see the Mariners show interest, as GM Jack Zduriencik was the Brewers’ director of scouting when Weeks was selected with the second overall pick in 2003. Weeks established himself as Milwaukee’s everyday second baseman last decade and enjoyed three excellent seasons from 2009-11 in which he batted .269/.357/.472, even belting 29 homers in 2010. His production took a step back in 2012 and cratered in 2013, but he rebounded to an extent last year when he served primarily as a platoon partner for Scooter Gennett.
Some of Weeks’ 2013 struggles can be attributed to a drastic dip in BABIP, but his strikeout rate has climbed upward a bit, and while he’s maintained a solid homer-to-flyball ratio, his overall amount of fly-balls has trended downward in a significant fashion. Weeks has become more of a ground-ball hitter, putting the ball on the ground more than 56 percent of the time in 2014, including a sky-high rate of 63.4 percent against right-handed pitching. If he can begin elevating the ball once again, he has a chance to restore some of his previous pop against righties, though the move to the pitcher-friendly Safeco Field in Seattle won’t help him achieve that goal.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Cuban first baseman/third baseman Yosvani Bell has been unblocked by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control and Major League Baseball, making him free to sign with teams, reports Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes (Twitter link). Bell, who is represented by Bryce Dixon (Johnny Cueto‘s agent), will host a showcase in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic at month’s end, per Rojas. Bell also hosted a showcase for teams back in July, when he was 23 years of age, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (on Twitter). There’s been very little written on Bell to this point, but MLBTR will of course keep readers apprised of reports on the corner infielder if they become more readily available.
Here’s the latest on a pair of international prospects that have had no shortage of ink dedicated to their names…
- The Dodgers still have legitimate reservations about going after Moncada given the high price he is expected to command, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports. The club’s ultimate interest level remains somewhat unclear, per the report, in spite of previous statements by GM Farhan Zaidi that the team would be “players” for Moncada “to the extent that our evaluation of him matches or exceeds where the market goes.”
- Hector Olivera was extremely impressive in a game setting at his second open showcase today, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America. The right-handed hitting, 29-year-old second baseman ripped a pair of home runs and also hit a double to the opposite field gap. Olivera split his time between second base and third base and also showed an above-average time in the 60-yard dash (6.65 seconds) prior to the game. The Dodgers had the most notable presence in attendance, per Badler, with VP of baseball operations Josh Byrnes among those in attendance. The D-Backs had their own VP of baseball operations, De Jon Watson, in attendance, and the Giants were well-represented, too. According to Badler, the Padres, Giants and Braves have all had their top scouts watching Olivera recently, and he’s also been seen by Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and president Kevin Mather. (Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweeted last night, however, not to read too much into the Mariners’ presence at a workout; they were in the Dominican for organizational meetings at the time already.)
- The Brewers are interested in Yoan Moncada and will keep tabs on him, writes MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, though he notes that Milwaukee is not likely to sign the 19-year-old. The Brewers sent at least six people to watch Moncada in a private workout, including pro scouting director Zack Minasian, amateur scouting director Doug Reynolds and senior director of baseball operations Tom Flanagan, per McCalvy. However, GM Doug Melvin said that while the reports on Moncada were unsurprisingly positive, he didn’t want to tip his hand with other teams in negotiation.
- McCalvy also notes that while the Brewers are an unlikely landing spot, the team did make a six-year, $64MM offer to Jose Abreu prior to his contract with the White Sox, though the team had some concerns that it was used more as a bargaining chip. Of course, it has to be noted that being willing to offer a 26-year-old MLB-ready first baseman a sizable Major League deal certainly does not mean they’ll be comfortable offering a similar, if not larger sum to a 19-year-old prospect in the form of a signing bonus.
- The Giants feel that they are long shots in the Moncada sweepstakes, general manager Brian Sabean told reporters, including John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link). Some have speculated that the Giants would be in on Moncada after showing a willingness to spend on both Jon Lester and Pablo Sandoval but failing to secure either player this winter.
News broke earlier today that Victor Martinez will undergo knee surgery on Tuesday, and until the veteran slugger’s procedure is complete, the Tigers have no choice but to play the waiting game. “I don’t know what I need to fill [on the roster],” GM Dave Dombrowski told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jason Beck). “We’re going to have to wait to do all of that until Tuesday.” If the best-case scenario of a four-to-six week absence is met, Detroit can rely on short-term fill-ins to take Martinez’s place. Mlive.com’s James Schmehl lists several internal options within the organization, and he also opines that free agents Dayan Viciedo and Chris Colabello could also fit as temporary replacements or bench depth.
Here’s some more from around the junior circuit…
- Wade Miley‘s three-year extension with the Red Sox has some positive luxury tax implications for the team, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes. By locking Miley up now, he’ll likely cost Boston less against the tax than he would’ve had he gone year-to-year in arbitration. These savings could help the Sox get under the $189MM luxury tax threshold next winter or in 2017.
- In an interview on the MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” show (hat tip to MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger), Torii Hunter said he wasn’t yet sure if 2015 will be his last season. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m just taking it one year at a time,” Hunter said. The 18-year veteran reportedly turned down some two-year offers before signing a one-year deal with the Twins in December.
- Mariners president Kevin Mather and GM Jack Zduriencik both attended a private workout for Cuban players Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez, though Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times “wouldn’t overthink” why the two front office figures were present. As Divish notes, Mather and Zduriencik were already in the Dominican Republic for organizational meetings, so while it’s usually rare to see upper management at workouts, it makes sense that the two would check in on the workout during their visit.
- The Blue Jays‘ focus on developing young starting pitching is the backbone of Alex Anthopoulos’ plan to make the club into a consistent contender, Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi writes. The Jays have built a very solid offensive core, but if the young arms fail to deliver, the team’s plans over the next few seasons become very uncertain.
- Astros owner Jim Crane likes his team’s offseason moves and tells MLB.com’s Richard Dean that GM Jeff Luhnow has more possible acquisitions in the works. “Jeff’s still working on a few — we’re looking for a couple more players [to see] if we can make a couple more key additions,” Crane said. “But we like the moves we’ve made, and I think the team’s going to be very exciting this year — a lot more competitive.”