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While much of the focus has been on stud prospect Yoan Moncada, another Cuban infielder — veteran Hector Olivera — is the biggest wild card looming over the traditional free agent market. Another intriguing younger player is available in Andy Ibanez, and the market also saw yet another possible infusion of talent over the weekend, with young righty Vladimir Gutierrez and infielder Dainer Moreira defecting. Here’s the latest…
- Gutierrez is applying for political asylum in Puerto Rico, according to El Nuevo Dia, a Puerto Rican newspaper (hat tip to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez). If he claims asylum in Puerto Rico and then establishes residence in another country, he’ll go through the usual international signing process. If he establishes residence in Puerto Rico, however, Gutierrez would be eligible for the first-year draft since Puerto Rico is a United States territory.
- Moncada has at least one workout scheduled during the week of February 16th-20th, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports (via Twitter), so Badler doesn’t think the phenom will sign before then.
- Olivera petitioned MLB for free agency two weeks ago and has not yet received a determination, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports on Twitter. On the positive side for Olivera, it would appear that the new rules regarding clearance of Cuban players will permit him to sign as soon as he receives the nod from MLB.
- While Olivera waits, he is working out for clubs and trying to build a market, as Sanchez further tweets. Olivera has held session recently for the Padres, Mariners, Giants, Yankees, and Braves. He has open showcases scheduled for this Friday and next Wednesday.
- Indeed, the Mariners had more than the usual contingent on hand to see both Olivera and Ibanez, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. Seattle sent not only GM Jack Zduriencik but also president Kevin Mather to join international director Tim Kissner in the Dominican Republic for the private workout. As Badler notes, that level of front office involvement is unusual, and is all the more odd in this case since the club has Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager installed in the infield.
- Cuban baseball documentary project El Trogon (cinematographer Jonathan Miller, director Sami Kahn) has video from Puerto Rico depicting Gutierrez and Moreira, who left their team, Pinar del Rio, during the Caribbean Series.
The Blue Jays held a “State Of The Franchise” event for season ticket-holders at the Rogers Centre on Thursday, with president Paul Beeston, manager John Gibbons and GM Alex Anthopoulos in attendance to discuss the club’s offseason and future plans. As you would expect, most of the hot stove-related news came from Anthopoulos, and here’s the roundup of his comments from Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith and Shi Davidi (links are to Davidi’s Twitter feed).
- The Jays are still concentrating their efforts on bullpen help, though Anthopoulos said they’re looking for depth and not specifically a closer. “We’re not overly concerned about the ninth inning, because we do think there are some guys that can get those last three outs,” Anthopoulos said, referring to Aaron Sanchez and Brett Cecil. “We are concerned about the general depth — just having enough guys to lead into the ninth.” Toronto has been linked to such notable relief names as Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and Phil Coke in recent weeks, though of that group, Coke is the only one who wouldn’t expect to close.
- While the club is still looking for relievers, Anthopoulos said the Jays could also save their payroll space to make additions at the end of Spring Training or during the season.
- The Jays are likely set at second base, Anthopoulos said. Maicer Izturis, Ryan Goins, Steve Tolleson and Munenori Kawasaki are the internal options at the keystone, with newly-acquired prospect Devon Travis still probably a year away.
- With Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion both entering their last seasons under contract, Anthopoulos said he expects “that at some point we’ll sit down with them and try to work something out” in regards to extensions. The Jays hold club options ($14MM for Bautista, $10MM for Encarnacion) on the two sluggers for 2016 that look like no-brainers to be exercised, so the club has plenty of time to negotiate.
- The Mariners claimed J.A. Happ off waivers from the Blue Jays last August, Anthopoulos said. The two sides couldn’t agree to a trade at the time and Happ finished the season in Toronto, though they did discuss Michael Saunders during negotiations. The M’s and Jays finally worked out a Saunders-for-Happ trade in December.
Recent Brewers signee Neal Cotts tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he came close to hanging up his spikes before the Rangers offered him a deal for the 2013 season. After two fairly productive seasons in Texas, Cotts chose Milwaukee in part due to proximity to his home in Chicago.
Here are some notes on still-active bullpen situations around the game:
- The Red Sox have indicated a willingness over the last few days to deal righty Edward Mujica, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Mujica, 30, signed a two-year deal to head to Boston last year after a strong 2013 with the Cardinals, but struggled mightily out of the gate. He rebounded with a big second half, however, throwing 25 1/3 innings of 1.78 ERA ball over the second half. All said, Mujica ended the year having allowed 3.90 earned per nine and having compiled a 3.70 FIP that was nearly identical to his fielding-independent mark from the season prior.
- After adding Cotts, the Brewers will keep looking for a veteran, late-inning arm, potentially one with closing experience, assistant GM Gord Ash tells Haudricourt. The club is “juggling a lot of balls right now,” says Ash, who added that talks with the Phillies on Jonathan Papelbon are not dead even if nothing is imminent. Ash also indicated that the team was considering former closer Francisco Rodriguez, but noted that the club is not in on Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain. Milwaukee also seems to have its eye out for a bargain, with Ash noting that the club is open to doing a minor league deal at any time.
- A few of the other names still on the market do have some interest even though they have yet to ink a contract, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). After a solid 2014, southpaw Joe Beimel has interest from three clubs, including the incumbent Mariners, while fellow lefty Joe Thatcher has drawn attention from a handful of teams.
It is prospect season yet again, with various evaluators releasing their latest breakdowns of the brightest young players in the game. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs are working through the systems on a team-by-team basis for the time being, while MLB.com is going position-by-position at present. ESPN.com’s Keith Law (subscription links) has now filed a new top-100 list as well as organization rankings. Kris Bryant and his club, the Cubs, rank atop Law’s respective boards.
- The Phillies should take a flier on Dayan Viciedo, argues CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman. While there are some barriers to such a move, and reasons against it, Seidman says that there is enough upside left in the 25-year-old that Philadelphia ought to roll the dice.
- In another update on Yoan Moncada and the general situation of Cuban ballplayers, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports that the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) does still issue the “specific licenses” that MLB has required Cubans to obtain before they are cleared to sign. Since it appears that such players would already be able to sign pursuant to a “general license” (more on that here), Badler suggests that MLB-related requests may be receiving a lower priority that extends the delay.
- Free agent reliever Todd Coffey has interest from five or six club and may be nearing a deal, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets. The 34-year-old has not seen big league action since 2012, but put up intriguing numbers last year at Triple-A in the Mariners organization.
The White Sox rank at the very top of the list of offseason winners compiled by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. GM Rick Hahn ticked through many of the team’s questions this winter and should have a competitive team to show for it, says Heyman. Of course, despite plenty of praise, there are still some non-believers out there. They can point to this year’s PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus, which see Chicago as a 78-win team. Also of note from PECOTA, which is rather down on the division on the whole: the Tigers are tabbed as a .500 club, while the Royals project to win just 72 wins after appearing in the World Series last year.
More from the south side and the AL Central:
- The White Sox are a much improved team heading into the 2015 season, but much of the optimism surrounding the club relies on the contributions of right fielder Avisail Garcia, writes Fangraphs’ Neil Weinberg. Perception appears to be that Garcia can handily outperform the just-designated Dayan Viciedo, but Weinberg cautions that we shouldn’t readily accept that as fact. Garcia’s stats to date tell a similar tale to that of Viciedo — modest on-base percentage with some power and below-average base-running and defensive skills. While Garcia’s track record is clearly smaller, the two are excellent statistical comps even when looking at their production through the age of 23. Weinberg notes that scouts have long questioned whether or not Garcia would be able to resist bad pitches and make enough contact to succeed, and the assumption that he will outperform Viciedo is based largely on perceived ceiling as opposed to likely outcomes.
- Newly-designated White Sox slugger Dayan Viciedo should generate plenty of interest, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports writes. The American League West offers the best matches, Morosi argues, with the Mariners, Athletics, and Rangers all potentially making sense as landing spots.
- Despite some apparent suggestions, the Twins are not interested in free agent second baseman Rickie Weeks, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets. That is not terribly surprising, given that the right-handed-hitting Weeks does not play short and would presumably have needed to serve as a backup to two right-handed hitters in Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe.
- Ichiro Suzuki‘s representatives (who he shares with Twins skipper Paul Molitor) tried to generate interest in the veteran from Minnesota, but the club never saw a fit, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. As Berardino explains, Ichiro and Molitor — both incredible pure hitters — share an interesting relationship.
The 34-year-old Baker, a client of CAA’s Joe Urbon, spent last season with the Cubs and picked up 208 plate appearances despite struggling tremendously at the plate. Baker batted just .192/.273/.231 with Chicago, continuing a decline from what were a pair of solid offensive seasons in his first two years in the Majors. Baker batted .281/.364/.423 with 14 homers in 656 PAs from 2008-09 — his first two seasons of Major League action. However, since that time, he’s batted .209/.291/.249 without a homer in 572 PAs.
Baker is a career .272/.360/.408 hitter in the minor leagues, though, and his addition was likely made for depth purposes. That said, he’ll surely have a chance to compete with Jesus Sucre and John Hicks to determine who will open the season as the backup to former No. 3 overall pick Mike Zunino.
TODAY: The deal is official. Chavez will earn $750K if he makes the big league roster and also can achieve $450K in plate appearance bonuses, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports on Twitter.
YESTERDAY: The Mariners have re-signed outfielder Endy Chavez to a minor-league deal with a Spring Training invitation, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. Previous reports had indicated that a reunion between Chavez and the Mariners was likely. Chavez is represented by the Legacy Agency.
Chavez, who turns 37 early next month, collected 258 plate appearances with the Mariners in 2014, hitting .276/.317/.371 while playing all three outfield positions. The 13-year veteran also appeared with Seattle in 2009 and 2013.
We’ll keep tabs on the day’s minor moves here:
- The Mariners have brought back outfielder Franklin Gutierrez on a minor league pact, the club announced. He will receive an invite to major league camp. Gutierrez inked a big league deal with the Mariners last offseason but was placed on the restricted list when he informed the club that he would sit out the season due to gastrointestinal issues. In his most recent action, back in 2013, Gutierrez slashed .248/.273/.503 and hit ten home runs over just 141 plate appearances.
The Rays have dramatically improved their farm system since last summer, but they’ve had to do it by trading top talent, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes. Steven Souza, who Baseball America deems the system’s best prospect, arrived in the Wil Myers trade, with No. 2 prospect Daniel Robertson joining the system via the Ben Zobrist deal and No. 3 prospect Willy Adames arriving in the David Price trade. The Rays have gotten little talent in the draft lately, so their best young players have come from elsewhere. Souza, Robertson and Adames aren’t the only key prospects in their system they’ve gotten in trades — there’s also Hak-Ju Lee (from the Matt Garza deal), Boog Powell (from the Zobrist trade), Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams (from the Jeremy Hellickson trade) and Jake Bauers and Burch Smith (from the Myers deal). “It was no secret that our minor league system didn’t have the talent that it has had in past years,” says Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman. “A number of players have graduated from our system and are on our major league club or have been part of trades that we made, and that left somewhat of a void that we needed to fill during these transactions.” Here’s more from the American League.
- The Mariners have already bolstered their outfield depth by adding Endy Chavez on a minor-league deal, and they also appear likely to add Franklin Gutierrez, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Gutierrez, who appeared in 41 games with Seattle in 2013, missed last season due to gastrointestinal issues. Mariners sources indicate that he would have to begin the year in Triple-A if he were to sign with the team.
- Dutton also notes the Mariners appear likely to head to an arbitration hearing with reliever Tom Wilhelmsen. Wilhelmsen has proposed a 2015 salary of $2.2MM, while the Mariners have countered at $1.4MM, and Dutton writes that the Mariners do not want to keep negotiating. After posting a 2.27 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 in 79 1/3 strong innings in 2014, Wilhelmsen is eligible for the arbitration for the first time.
- Billy Butler signed a three-year deal with the Athletics earlier this offseason, but he wouldn’t mind returning to the Royals later in his career, Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star writes. “It’s disappointing, but you understand that the game’s a business and I didn’t leave on bad terms,” Butler said. “I’d be more than happy to come back. That’s home for me. I’ll always be forever tied to the Royals organization and the community there.” For now, though, Butler is happy to be with the A’s, who he says told him he was their top priority this offseason.
The Astros nearly signed Ryan Vogelsong, but after Vogelsong took his physical with the Astros, he went another direction and re-signed with the Giants. Vogelsong later said he “really wasn’t comfortable with what was going on” with the Astros, as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle notes. Vogelsong’s agent, Dave Meier, later said Vogelsong simply meant he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that negotiations were falling apart. Vogelsong also later added that his wife wanted to stay in San Francisco. As Drellich notes, though, Vogelsong’s phrasing was odd, and it’s unclear exactly why the two parties weren’t able to agree on a deal. “[E]verything that’s happened to me this offseason — and one of these days I’ll tell you guys all about it, when we’re all sitting around having a couple beers 10 years from now when I’m done playing — and you’ll go, ‘There’s no way that happened,’ and I’ll say ‘Yup,’ and you’ll understand what I’m talking about,” Vogelsong says. Here’s more from the West divisions.
- The Mariners could still re-sign outfielder Franklin Gutierrez to a minor-league deal, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. “He wants to give it a shot,” says assistant general manager Jeff Kingston. “Full disclosure, there are some veteran non-roster players we’re still talking to, and we probably will add a few more here before the start of camp.” The 31-year-old Gutierrez hit .248/.273/.503 in 2013, hitting a remarkable ten home runs in 151 plate appearances, but he missed the 2014 season with gastrointestinal issues.
- Athletics closer Sean Doolittle has a slight rotator cuff tear in his throwing shoulder, MLB.com’s Jane Lee notes. He is not expected to be ready to pitch to start the season (Twitter links). Doolittle dominated for the A’s in 2014, posting a 2.73 ERA with a ridiculous 12.8 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 in 62 2/3 innings. The newly acquired Tyler Clippard, who had 32 saves with the Nationals in 2012, could perhaps get save opportunities for however long Doolittle is out.