St. Louis Cardinals Rumors

St. Louis Cardinals trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Quick Hits: Towers, Zimmermann, A-Rod

Kevin Towers considered another front office job with the Diamondbacks after being fired as the team’s general manager, but Towers told AZCentral.com’s Zach Buchanan that he chose to leave rather than possibly make things awkward for new GM Dave Stewart and his staff.  “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to be that elephant in the room when they’re making roster decisions or maybe letting people go,” Towers said. “‘I know K.T. likes him…’ I didn’t want them to have to worry about that.”  Towers said he’s spoken to a few teams and thinks he’ll be in a new job before the year is out, also hinting he likely wouldn’t return to one of his other ex-clubs (the Padres, Yankees and Pirates).

As we enjoy two LCS games today, here’s some news from around baseball…

  • With offense dropping around the game and a number of top-tier pitchers available in trades or free agency this offseason and next, this year’s free agent aces may find their markets slightly diminished, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (ESPN Insider subscription required).
  • Also from Olney’s piece, he reports that rival officials feel Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will test the free agent market when he is eligible after the 2015 season.  Zimmermann’s long-term status in Washington will be one of the biggest questions facing the Nats this winter.
  • Alex Rodriguez “is the most expensive mystery in baseball history,” Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes.  The Yankees currently have no idea if A-Rod will be able to handle third base on a regular basis, provide first base depth, hit well enough to earn DH at-bats or be healthy enough to play whatsoever.  This makes the team’s winter planning rather difficult, as just releasing Rodriguez would mean the Yankees have no way of recovering any of the $61MM remaining on his contract via insurance payments.
  • First baseman Dan Johnson is looking to add to his skillset by learning the knuckleball, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes.  “Why not have something else in the bag? Give yourself every chance,” Johnson said. “I’m not 24 anymore. I want to help out as much as possible and still be relevant in this game.”  Johnson, best known for his dramatic Game 162 homer for the Rays in 2011, recently elected to become a free agent after the Blue Jays outrighted him off their 40-man roster.
  • MLB.com’s Corey Brock profiles Dan Kantrovitz, a St. Louis native who rose from a teenage internship (mostly handling Mark McGwire’s fan mail) with the Cardinals to becoming the club’s scouting director.
  • The Astros are next up for Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel in his rankings of each team’s top prospects and their overall farm system depth.

NL Central Links: Mueller, Frazier, Mesoraco, Bucs, Cards

Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller has resigned after one year on the job, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reported yesterday (via Twitter). Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com tweets that the Cubs have confirmed Mueller’s decision and added that he resigned after learning that assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley was reassigned by the team. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford speculates (Twitter link) that the Red Sox might have interest in adding Mueller to their coaching staff. For those who would have some fun and speculate, Rogers also tweets that Manny Ramirez is not a candidate to become the club’s new hitting coach, as he’s yet to even officially retire as a player.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that too much focus is being placed on what the Reds should do with their quartet of starters that are free agents following the 2015 season, and not enough is being placed on the fact that the team should try to extend breakout stars Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco. While the future of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon is indeed a big part of the Reds’ offseason, Fay notes that the team can position itself for sustained success by controlling the salaries of Frazier and Mesoraco and keeping them in place beyond their arbitration seasons.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he expects his entire coaching staff back in 2015, unless one of them unexpectedly departs. Price notes how much the offense improved under first-year hitting coach Jeff Branson and first-year assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey. She also points out that pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas also played a key role, helping to facilitate the turnarounds of Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley.
  • The Cardinals view the draft as “a mechanism to save money,” scouting director Dan Kantrovitz tells David Laurila of Fangraphs in a fascinating interview. Whether it’s landing a solid starter or a future bench piece, the draft can open flexibility down the line, says Kantrovitz, who explains that savings from drafted players represents “money that our GM can allocate to another area, or a more abundant, cheaper position.” Kantrovitz says that the team is focused on adapting and finding value, rather than “stick[ing] to a rigid strategy that is not data-driven.” Ultimately, the team takes all the information it can acquire, then attempts to combine them and apply discount rates to reach a present value for the amateurs under consideration. There’s plenty more to glean from this interview, and you’ll want to give it a full read.

Quick Hits: Gomes, Holliday, Marlins, Cespedes

A number of impressive postseason achievements have occurred on October 6th over the years, yet perhaps the most notable was Babe Ruth slugging three home runs in Game Four of the 1926 World Series.  The Bambino’s huge day helped the Yankees to a win and (according to legend) fulfilled his promise that he would homer in honor of a hospitalized young fan on that day.

Could another incredible playoff moment take place tonight?  While we wait for today’s NLDS Game 3 action, here are some notes from around the majors…

  • The Cubs could be interested in outfielder Jonny Gomes, league sources tell ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers.  The Cubs are known to be looking for both veteran leadership in the clubhouse and depth in the outfield, and Gomes could check both boxes as a platoon partner with Chris Coghlan.
  • The Cardinals received some criticism when they signed Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $120MM free agent deal in January 2010, yet as MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby writes, both the team and the player are very happy with how everything worked out five years into the contract.  Holliday has averaged .295/.383/.496 with 24 homers and 92 runs scored from 2010-14, and while he posted career lows in average (.272) and slugging (.441) this season, it could be argued that the deal has already been worth it for St. Louis.
  • The Marlins are looking to add a starting pitcher this winter, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports.  A new arm plus the return of Jose Fernandez could lead to some rotation shuffling, and Frisaro cites Tom Koehler and Nathan Eovaldi as possible candidates to move to the bullpen.  Also in the piece, Frisaro examines some other Miami position changes that could occur depending on how the Marlins’ offseason shopping plans develop.
  • On paper, Yoenis Cespedes fits as a long-term power bat for the Red Sox, though Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald notes that Cespedes’ free-swinging, low-OBP style doesn’t fit into the Red Sox organizational philosophy of taking pitches and grinding down opposing pitchers.  Silverman thinks Cespedes could potentially better help the Sox as a trade piece, perhaps as part of a major package to pry Giancarlo Stanton away from Miami.
  • Hunter Strickland‘s rise from being an unheralded Red Sox draft pick to a flame-throwing postseason reliever for the Giants is chronicled by WEEI.com’s Alex Speier.
  • Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, Jason Hammel, Rafael Soriano and Alfonso Soriano stand out as potential bargains on the free agent market, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post opines.


Free Agent Profile: Justin Masterson

In 2013, Justin Masterson turned in a career season for the Indians as he pitched to a 3.45 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, earning an All-Star Game nod and piquing the attention of baseball people everywhere.  No one knew where he would wind up after the 2014 season, but everyone agreed that he was in line for a massive contract.  Masterson might not get the same long-term haul he once envisioned thanks to a lackluster 2014, but he still figures to get paid this winter.

Strengths/Pros

Everything came together for Masterson in 2013.  His power sinker was clicking, he was striking batters out at a career-high rate, and his 3.33 xFIP indicated that he was just flat out good, not lucky.  With an aggressive approach on the mound and a 58.5 percent ground-ball rate, Masterson truly realized his potential with the Tribe.

Justin Masterson

Of course, the main difference between the 2013 and 2014 versions of Masterson was health.  Fortunately, he’s on the mend from his injuries and should be 100% on all fronts by the start of Spring Training.  While others in his position – banged up in a contract year – might have chosen to rest up, Masterson mostly pitched through the pain.  At 29, Masterson is younger than most of the quality pitchers available on the open market.  And, thanks to the midseason trade that sent him to St. Louis, Masterson can’t be hit with the qualifying offer and won’t have draft pick compensation tied to him.

His 2014 numbers – a 5.88 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 – aren’t so hot, but the fact that he managed to make 25 starts and 3 relief appearances despite it all is pretty impressive.  The righty logged four straight seasons of at least 180 innings for Cleveland and while his ERA yo-yoed – 4.70 in 2010, 3.21 in 2011, 4.93 in 2012, and 3.45 in 2013 – he was solid on the whole and his 11.7 fWAR in that stretch placed him among the top thirty starters in the game.  Masterson also hasn’t had a ground ball percentage lower than 55.1% in the last five years and he’s been around 58%  over the last two seasons.

GMs will ask their team doctors to do a thorough check on Masterson before putting pen to paper, but they probably won’t fret about the right-hander resting on his laurels and counting his money.  It’s also worth mentioning that the 29-year-old’s xFIP (4.06) and SIERA (4.03) were far kinder to him this year than ERA and his 8.1 K/9 is actually stronger than the average of his previous four seasons.  Given time to heal up and iron out the kinks in his delivery, Masterson could get back to his old self rather quickly.

Weaknesses/Cons

His troublesome right knee, which plagued him for a good chunk of the season, is partially to blame for the down year.  That problem seems to be in the rear view mirror but shoulder impingement and a nagging left oblique injury have held him back and adversely altered his mechanics.  He’s expected to fully recover from all of those injuries with some rest, but teams will certainly be wary and especially thorough in their examinations.  Clubs will want to be sure that they’re more likely to get the 2010-2013 version of Masterson than the 2014 version.

During Masterson’s 2010-2013 run, his fastball had an average velocity of about 92.9 MPH.  This season, Masterson threw his heater at a decidedly less warm 90.3 MPH.  Faulty mechanics brought on by injury are believed to be culprit for the drop, but teams will still view the decreased velocity as a concern.

Masterson’s struggles landed him in the Cardinals’ bullpen to finish out the regular season and that’s obviously not how St. Louis saw things shaking out when they traded for him at the deadline.   The hurler was viewed as a top-of-the-rotation piece just a year ago and he will wind up with relief appearances as the most recent work on his resume.  Masterson actually did well in his grand total of 3 and 1/3 innings of bullpen work, but he’s obviously looking to join someone’s starting five next season.

Personal

Earlier this year, Justin and his wife Meryl welcomed twins to the world, a boy and a girl, making their three-year-old daughter a big sister.   Justin, the son of a pastor, spends much of his downtime aiding in humanitarian causes both here and abroad with Meryl.  This offseason, he’ll be heading to Uganda and Kenya on a mission trip to help with water projects and to build orphanages for needy children.  The Mastersons founded a non-profit organization (the Fortress Foundation) in 2013 to help extremely impoverished people from all around the world.  In Cleveland, they volunteered and donated to Laura’s Home, a local battered women’s shelter.  It’s no surprise that the Indians made Justin a repeat nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.

In the clubhouse, Masterson is known a supportive teammate and someone who is always willing to help out the younger pitchers.  At 29, Masterson is still young, but he also has lots of valuable experience to draw from.

Market

If the medicals check out, a team could very well come away with one of the best pitching bargains of the winter.  Back in January, when Masterson was coming off of his career year, Tim Dierkes pegged his extension value around $65-$85MM over a five year stretch.  Like any free agent, the 6’6″ hurler has his question marks, but he could be a very solid value after an offseason of rest.

Last last month, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com wondered aloud if Masterson could be a fit for the Cubs.  His history with former Red Sox GM and current Cubs president Theo Epstein could lead to a union and, as Mooney notes, coach Chris Bosio has a track record for taking his pitchers to the next level.  Speaking of the Red Sox, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote back in August that Boston will have interest in Masterson in the offseason.

Outside of those old friends, teams in bigger parks with pitching needs like the Twins, Angels, Marlins, and Braves might be in the mix for Masterson.

Expected Contract

Because Masterson’s four consecutive strong years were followed by a spotty walk year, it’s hard to gauge what kind of contract he’ll net this winter.  A one-year deal to reassert himself as a top starter could put him in line for a substantial long-term deal.  At the same time, it’s not hard to envision a team coming to the table with a multi-year offer to Masterson’s liking.

If Masterson opts for a one-year deal in order to restore his value and go for a monster contract after the 2015 season, a one-year, $12MM contract could make sense.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.  Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


NL Notes: Mozeliak, Mets, Braves, Pirates, Padres

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak tackled a variety of topics in a two-part interview with MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch. Looking back to the last offseason, he said that the team identified Pat Neshek as an option because he offered a different look from the club’s other relievers, and said that the David Freese-for-Peter Bourjos trade would not have been made without the inclusion of prospect Randal Grichuk.

Here’s the latest out of the National League …

  • The Mets have, as expected, decided not to bring back hitting coach Lamar Johnson and assistant Luis Natera in those roles, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Johnson stepped in mid-season after his predecessor, Dave Hudgen, was fired. Meanwhile, Triple-A skipper Wally Backman will not be elevated to the big league staff, but will be offered the chance to keep his position.
  • As the Braves continue to make their own staff changes, scouting director Tony DeMacio has been re-assigned, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Atlanta is still waiting to hear whether interim GM John Hart will take the job full-time, Nightengale adds.
  • If the Pirates are unable to bring back catcher Russell Martin, another impactful transaction that could have PR benefits would be a Neil Walker extension, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. With a $5.75MM arbitration salary to build off of over his next two seasons of eligibility, and coming off of a .271/.342/.467 slash with 23 home runs, he will not be cheap.
  • The Padres had a private workout today with Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Tomas officially hit the open market yesterday.

NL Central Notes: Cubs, Castillo, Martin, Bourjos

Cubs catcher Welington Castillo wants to be part of the future in Chicago, but he understands that in order for that to happen he likely has some more improvement to do, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Castillo, 27, is entering his prime-age seasons but doesn’t hear his name mentioned alongside younger core players like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Castillo specifically mentions that he recognizes the fact that baseball is a business and he can’t assume that he will be in a starting role. Cubs GM Jed Hoyer again said to Wittenmyer that the team plans to add at least one everyday veteran this winter, leading Wittenmyer to speculate on Russell Martin, who would give the Cubs a major defensive boost behind the plate. While catching coach Mike Borzello feels that Castillo is “the best in the business” at blocking pitches, Castillo ranks at the bottom of Baseball Prospectus’ Blocking Runs Added stat and ranks 72nd among 97 catchers in extra strikes via pitch framing (also via B-Pro). Hoyer, however, did give Castillo a vote of confidence: “I really believe in Welly. … He doesn’t get mentioned a lot when we talk about our established young veterans, but he can be in that mix as well.”

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers also has quotes from Hoyer on his desire for veteran leadership, and Rogers wonders if the club would pursue a veteran such as Jonny Gomes to help out in left field. While he notes that Gomes, of course, wouldn’t be an everyday player, “a quasi-starter who has winning experience might be the best option” given the lack of starting-caliber bats at positions of need for the Cubs, Rogers opines. He, too, notes that Martin would be a good fit in Chicago, though.
  • Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette looks at the extraordinary preparation and conditioning that have contributed to Russell Martin‘s brilliant season. Brink spoke to Martin’s coaches and teammates about what he means to the club, with GM Neal Huntington stating that the club is going to do everything it can to re-sign its catcher. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the fact that Brink notes that the Pirates offered Martin a two-year, $17MM deal and a three-year, $21MM deal when signing him prior to the 2013 season. Martin explains to Brink that he didn’t want to sign for three years, because he felt he could improve his stock on a two-year pact, which he has done in dramatic fashion.
  • One veteran scout tells Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Cardinals outfielder Peter Bourjos is the best defensive center fielder he’s seen in 38 years as a scout. Bourjos and Randal Grichuk were acquired from the Angels with the idea that one of them would be the team’s everyday center fielder in 2015, writes Hummel, but Jon Jay‘s solid offense has muddied the picture and left the Cardinals with choices to make. Bourjos has hit better of late, boosting his season batting line to .241/.305/.367, and he drew praise from manager Mike Matheny as well. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cardinals decide to proceed, not only in the next few weeks, but in the offseason as well.

Cardinals Outright Audry Perez, Rafael Ortega

Here are today’s minor moves and outright assignments from around the league…

  • The Cardinals have outrighted catcher Audry Perez and outfielder Rafael Ortega, both of whom were designated for assignment on Monday, according to the MLB.com transactions page. The 25-year-old Perez is a career .270/.293/.413 hitter in the minor leagues and has seen sparing time in the Majors, appearing in just three games and totaling just three plate appearances. Ortega, once a somewhat promising prospect with the Rockies, was claimed off waivers by the Cardinals this past offseason following an injury-shortened 2013. (The Rangers had first claimed him, indicating that multiple clubs had some degree of interest.) He hit .249/.331/.346 in 414 Double-A plate appearances and made a brief appearance with Triple-A Memphis as well. The speedster does have six big league plate appearances — each of which came with the Rockies back in 2012.

Cardinals Designate Rafael Ortega, Audry Perez

The Cardinals have designated outfielder Rafael Ortega and catcher Audry Perez for assignment, the team announced via its Twitter feed.  In corresponding moves, outfielder Tommy Pham, right-hander Sam Tuivailala and infielder Greg Garcia have been called up.

Ortega was claimed off waivers by the Rangers in January and he has a .669 OPS over 441 combined PA at the rookie league, Double-A and Triple-A levels this season.  The left-handed hitting outfielder has a .289/.353/.403 slash line and 175 steals over 2536 minor league PA in the Colorado and St. Louis farm systems since 2008, plus a two-game cup of coffee with the Rockies in 2012.

Perez has a similarly limited Major League resume, appearing in three games with the Cards over the last two seasons.  The 25-year-old backstop has a .270/.293/.413 slash line over 1738 minor league PA, all in the Cardinals’ system.

Ortega and Perez are the latest duo from the same organization to enter “DFA Limbo,” as they join Chris Dwyer and Blake Wood (Royals), Matt Hague and Darin Mastroianni (Blue Jays), Michael Kohn and Ryan Wheeler (Angels) as unresolved cases on the MLB Trade Rumors DFA Tracker.


Cafardo On Astros, Darvish, Gallardo, Bautista, Kang

The firing of Astros manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley was a clash of old-school baseball versus the new-school of analytics and old-school lost, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. For that reason, Cafardo opines GM Jeff Luhnow’s next hires will need to be data savvy, know their way around a laptop, put numbers ahead of traditional baseball, and accept daily interference. Trembley, who found out he was fired from the ESPN news ticker, wasn’t surprised by the dismissals because there was a disconnect with the front office from “the computer leaks to the draft and the Mark Appel situation where the manager wasn’t told (top prospect) Appel was coming up to throw. I think (owner) Jim Crane nailed it when he said that there was a personality clash and sometimes people just don’t get along.

In other items from Cafardo’s Sunday Notes column:

  • There is a financial component to placing Yu Darvish on the disabled list. The Rangers can deduct $5,228.75 per day in bonuses over 30 days on the DL and, since the right-hander has been moved to the 60-day disabled list, the savings realized will be nearly $136k on Darvish’s $800K roster bonus.
  • Justin Verlander‘s struggles this year should give teams pause about giving large contracts to older pitchers. Cafardo, however, doesn’t see this cautionary tale dampening the market for Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields because there are franchises which cannot resist the temptation and feel it’s the cost of doing business.
  • Cafardo views the Red Sox as players for the services of free agents Jason Grilli and Justin Masterson this offseason.
  • There is some debate within the Brewers organization about exercising Yovani Gallardo‘s $13MM option for 2015 with some feeling the money might be better spent elsewhere.
  • Expect the Rangers to engage the Blue Jays in trade talks for Jose Bautista, but Cafardo notes Texas may not have the pitching prospects to pry the All-Star slugger away from Toronto.
  • Joel Hanrahan, who suffered a setback in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, will not need another operation and will attempt to continue his comeback in 2015. Hanrahan had signed a $1MM deal with the Tigers in May, but never pitched an inning for the organization.
  • Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang will be posted this winter and should be in line for a substantial contract given the lack of available impact power hitters. The 27-year-old, who measures six feet and 180 pounds, hit 38 home runs and drove home 107 runs in 107 games for Nexen of the KBO. Cafardo notes the Cardinals have shown interest in Kang previously, but a few more teams (not named by Cafardo) are now in the mix.

Manager & GM Notes: Rangers, Astros, LaRocque

Ron Washington’s departure to deal with an unidentified personal matter might turn out to help the Rangers, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. Washington would have been a lame duck next season, and an extension was unlikely after the Rangers’ poor season. A bad start in 2015 would have put Washington and the Rangers in awkward spots. Instead, the organization gets to start fresh, beginning with a few weeks auditioning interim manager Tim Bogar, who was once viewed as a top managerial prospect. Here are more notes on managers and GMs.

  • Replacing Washington will be difficult, writes MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby, offering a contrasting view. Washington had his players’ respect, an important quality in a manager, particularly in a Rangers season that has endured so much roster turnover. Bogar, former Rangers coach Dave Anderson (now with the Orioles) and current pitching coach Mike Maddux are all potential candidates for the team’s open job.
  • Maddux has interest in replacing Bo Porter with the Astros, however, Grant writes. Maddux declined to interview for the Astros’ open position two years ago when the team hired Porter, but it seems times have changed, and Nolan Ryan’s role as an executive advisor with the Astros could help Maddux this time around.
  • The Diamondbacks will interview Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque for their open GM job today, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. LaRocque has extensive experience in both player development and scouting in the Dodgers, Mets and Cardinals organizations, and he worked with the Diamondbacks’ Tony La Russa in St. Louis. LaRocque has also served as a manager at the minor league level.
  • Angels GM Jerry Dipoto says the Diamondbacks will also formally interview Angels pro scouting director Hal Morris, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona reported yesterday that LaRocque and Morris would be among the Diamondbacks’ candidates, along with player agent Dave Stewart, Diamondbacks scouting coordinator Ray Montgomery and Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler.