St. Louis Cardinals Rumors

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

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.

Quick Hits: Montero, Astros, Pierzynski

Jesus Montero was at the center of a bizarre situation on Thursday night, as MILB.com’s Tyler Maun reports.  While on a rehab assignment at Seattle’s short-season class A affiliate, Montero reportedly had to be restrained from going after a Mariners crosschecker with a bat after the scout reportedly sent an ice cream sandwich to the dugout.  Butch Baccala, the crosschecker in question, tells Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times that the incident is “not what is being portrayed,” though he didn’t want to comment further until speaking with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.

  • There is discord between Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager Bo Porter, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports, and things may have gotten bad enough that “it’s difficult to imagine the Astros starting the 2015 season with the same management team.”  Porter feels he doesn’t have enough input in the team’s plans and Luhnow too often second-guesses his in-game decisions, plus there were some hard feelings over Mark Appel‘s bullpen session at Minute Maid Park last month.
  • Yadier Molina‘s return shouldn’t end A.J. Pierzynski‘s stint with the Cardinals, FOX Sports Midwest’s Stan McNeal writes.  Molina will need to be eased into his usual workload behind the plate, and with rosters expanding, the Cards will have room for three catchers (Tony Cruz being the third).  Pierzynski has also been a fit in the Cardinals’ clubhouse following the drama that marked his exit from Boston.
  • The Braves were the other finalist for right-hander Brandon Poulson, Baseball America’s Bob Padecky reports.  Poulson ended up signing a $250K bonus with the Twins, capping off a fairly incredible route to pro baseball for the 6’7″ fireballer.
  • Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred figures to differ from Bud Selig in several areas, and ESPN’s Jayson Stark outlines some of the areas that Manfred will focus on when he officially takes over the job.

Quick Hits: Colon, Angels, Cardinals, Stanton, Cashner

The Mets have not yet tried sending Bartolo Colon through revocable waivers, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets. One reason this is significant is because Colon would represent one possible upgrade for an Angels team that just lost Garrett Richards to what appears to be a significant knee injury. It’s unclear whether Colon would be claimed by another team before getting to the Angels. He’s pitched fairly well this year, despite his age, and he’s set to make a reasonable salary of $11MM in 2015. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • At least so far, the David Freese / Peter Bourjos trade has worked out fairly well for the Angels, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez writes. Freese got off to a slow start but has hit well since June, while Fernando Salas has been steady out of the Angels’ bullpen. Meanwhile, Bourjos hasn’t hit well in a part-time role with the Cardinals (although he continues to provide defensive value), and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk has spent most of the season at Triple-A.
  • Calls for the Marlins to trade Giancarlo Stanton may have been premature, writes Rosenthal. Next season, Stanton will still only be 25 and under control through 2016, and the Marlins will have a healthy Jose Fernandez. They might also get more help from young hitters Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, so they could contend in 2015. While they likely won’t be able to sign Stanton long term before he becomes eligible for free agency following the 2016 season, they might be able to simply wait to trade him, perhaps for established players rather than prospects.
  • Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner will make his first start since June 18 on Saturday in Arizona, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune tweets. On his way back from a shoulder injury, Cashner pitched five innings in a rehab start for Triple-A El Paso Monday. Cashner has emerged as one of the top starters in the National League in the past two seasons, and he had a 2.76 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 76 1/3 innings this year before he got hurt.

Minor Moves: Hill, O’Sullivan, Sale, Daley, Gimenez, Thomas

Here are today’s minor moves …

  • The Tigers inked right-hander Shawn Hill to a minor league deal today, as James Wagner of the Toledo Blade reports on Twitter. Hill, 33, has seen mostly scattered MLB action since taking 28 starts for the Nationals over the 2007-08 seasons. He has a 4.87 ERA through 105 1/3 innings (4.7 K/9 against 2.2 BB/9) in the upper minors this year with the White Sox and Blue Jays organizations.
  • The Phillies have outrighted Sean O’Sullivan to Triple-A, according to the International League transactions page. The righty accepted a previous outright assignment earlier this year, but will once again have the right to elect free agency instead.
  • Rays prospect Josh Sale has been hit with a 50-game suspension for recreational drug use, MLB announced today. This is hardly the first brush with trouble for the 23-year-old former first-round pick, who came into the 2013 season rated Tampa’s 24th-best prospect by Baseball America. After a previous drug-related suspension, Sale missed all of last year when the team banned him for inappropriate conduct. He had slashed .238/.313/.344 over 361 plate appearances on the year at the High-A level.
  • After reporting earlier today that Matt Daley has accepted an outright assignment from the Yankees, MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo tweets that Daley has actually been optioned by the club. The righty still occupies a 40-man spot.
  • Catcher Chris Gimenez has accepted an outright assignment from the Rangers rather than electing free agency, tweets John Blake, the club’s executive VP of communications. The 31-year-old was designated for assignment five days ago, and apparently has not found a better opportunity with another organization.
  • The Phillies have released outfielder Clete Thomas, Cotillo tweets. The 30-year-old has seen 794 MLB plate appearances in parts of four seasons, but had not been elevated by Philadelphia this season. Over 226 minor league plate appearances, he carries a .247/.345/.335 slash.

Earlier Updates

Baseball America’s Matt Eddy has posted his weekly look at minor league transactions from around the league from the past seven days. We’ll highlight a couple of the (relatively) notable names that were missed in the past week:

  • Eddy reports that the Cardinals have released southpaw Pedro Feliciano from his minor league deal. The 37-year-old, once an excellent setup man with the Mets, pitched to a 5.57 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 21 frames with Triple-A Memphis this season.
  • The Reds have released left-hander Scott Maine, Eddy reports. The former Cub was inked to a minor league deal in June after pitching well for the independent Atlantic League’s Bridgeport Bluefish, but he posted a 6.10 ERA in 10 1/3 innings with the Reds organization.
  • The Athletics have released first baseman/third baseman B.A. Vollmuth, tweets Eddy. Vollmuth, a third-rounder as recently as 2011, batted just .207/.278/.341 this season at Class A Beloit. The 24-year-old has yet to move above the Class-A Advanced level and a has a .702 OPS in his pro career.