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St. Louis Cardinals Rumors
Earlier today we heard that the Giants have shown interest in Jon Lester, and that interest may now increase with Pablo Sandoval reportedly set to join the Red Sox. San Francisco would make another entrant in a Lester race that has begun to take clearer shape over the past week or so. And, of course, the connection to the Phillies‘ trade market for Cole Hamels cannot be ignored, with several reports suggesting that the two southpaws’ fates are intertwined.
Here are today’s Lester and Hamels rumors…
- Two NL GMs told Peter Gammons over the weekend that Lester is nearing a deal with the Red Sox. However, Gammons writes that the info doesn’t appear to be accurate at this time, as Lester is set to meet with the Cardinals sometime next week. According to Gammons, Lester might wish to have a deal in place in advance of the Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 7 in San Diego. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford echoes that there’s nothing close between the Red Sox and Lester at this time (Twitter link).
- Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe tweets that the Red Sox and Lester are still “very much engaged” and it does appear possible for the Sox to add Lester, Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez (who agreed to a four-year, $88MM pact with Boston earlier today).
- The Red Sox and Cubs are interested in Hamels, and both could “jump” at the chance to acquire him if they miss on Lester, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Boston has had the “most serious talks” with Philadelphia, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter), with Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweeting that the Phils are confident in striking a deal if Lester does not return to his former club.
- The Dodgers are also in on Hamels, according to a tweet from Nightengale. Los Angeles represents a potentially powerful new entrant to that market, of course, and could shake up the pursuit if it decides to commit significant resources to adding a third stellar lefty to its rotation.
Here are the day’s minor signings from around the league:
- The Mariners have acquired minor league right-hander Sam Gaviglio from the Cardinals in exchange for minor league infielder Ty Kelly, the teams announced. Gaviglio, 24, had a 4.28 ERA with 8.3 K/0 and 3.0 BB/9 in 136 2/3 innings at Double-A this season. He made 25 appearances, with 24 being starts. Kelly, 26, hit .263/.381/.412 with 15 homers and 11 steals at Triple-A. The former Orioles draftee has a lifetime .280/.402/.409 batting line in 841 PA at that level.
- Left-hander Omar Duran has agreed to a minor league deal with the Tigers that includes a Spring Training invitation, MLBTR has learned. Duran, 24, had spent his entire career in the Athletics organization, never moving above the Double-A level. But he was consistently productive last year after matching his double-digit strikeout marks with manageable walk totals.
- The Royals announced that they have acquired outfielder Reymond Fuentes from the Padres in exchange for left-hander Kyle Bartsch (Twitter link). Fuentes, 23, was one of the four players San Diego received from the Red Sox in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez. The 23-year-old former first-rounder batted .294/.363/.416 with five homers and went 25-for-28 in stolen base attempts between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. Bartsch, also 23, spent this season at Class-A Advanced Wilmington where he notched a 2.29 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 in 55 innings of relief, showing effectiveness against both lefties and righties.
- The Rangers have added catcher Chris Gimenez and righty David Martinez to minor league deals with invitations to camp, the club announced. Gimenez, 31, bounced around quite a bit last year and ultimately managed a .241/.313/.328 line over 128 plate appearances at the big league level — the sixth year in a row that he spent at least some time on an active roster. Martinez, 27, has just 18 1/3 big league frames to his credit and had spent his whole career with the Astros. He has worked in a swingman capacity in the upper minors in recent seasons.
Free agent lefty Francisco Liriano, most recently of the Pirates, is looking to land a three or four-year deal with a $12MM+ average annual value, according to a report from Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via Twitter). That seems like a plenty reasonable starting point given Liriano’s excellent numbers over the past two seasons. While draft compensation will no doubt play a role in his free agency, MLBTR’s Steve Adams still predicts that he will land $40MM over three years.
Here are some notes out of the National League:
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak is “increasingly aggressive and unpredictable,” says Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That lends some credence to the notion that St. Louis could pursue a top free agent starter, says Miklasz, who documents the reasons that adding Jon Lester or even Max Scherzer could make sense. In the final analysis, though, the veteran sportswriter says he would still be shocked if the team beats the market for an ace.
- Not only senior VP of baseball operations De Jon Watson but also GM Dave Stewart have been making the rounds internationally, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, who notes that the Diamondbacks are hoping to “make waves” in the international market. On the domestic front, Didi Gregorius is drawing the most interest on the trade market among the team’s middle infielders, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets.
- The Padres appear to be leaning toward keeping starters Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, reports MLB.com’s Corey Brock. San Diego can and should avoid marking down the price on that pair, in my view, as it ought to provide a cheap source of solid rotation production over the next several years.
- Even if the Dodgers are not internally discussing a deal to bring back Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, as was recently reported, that does not mean that the club is closing the door completely to a reunion, per a tweet from Chris Cotillo of SB Nation.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
- The Cardinals have outrighted right-hander Keith Butler off the team’s 40-man roster, according to the MLB.com transactions page. St. Louis has also released center fielder Shane Robinson. The 25-year-old Butler has yet to establish himself in the bigs, but has been quite good in the upper minors. Robinson, 30, has seen his role reduced and was no longer a valuable piece for a Cardinals club that just picked up Jason Heyward.
- The Nationals have released catcher Jhonatan Solano, also per MLB.com. Solano, the older brother of Marlins second baseman Donovan Solano, has seen minimal big league time over the past two years and did not have a clear role in the organization moving forward.
- The Indians announced that they’ve re-signed right-handers Shaun Marcum and Dustin Molleken to minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training. Marcum, 33 next month, was of course a fixture in the Blue Jays and Brewers rotations from 2007-12, though he dealt with his share of injuries in that time. Still, he posted a 3.67 ERA in 830 1/3 innings in that span before thoracic outlet syndrome in 2013 required surgery and has kept him on the shelf since. He did make it back to a minor league mound with Cleveland last season, posting a 2.35 ERA in 15 1/3 Triple-A innings in August.
- Molleken, 30, made 54 relief appearances for Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate last season and posted big strikeout numbers but also struggled with his command, to an extent. In 74 1/3 innings, he pitched to a 4.84 ERA with 10.8 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9.
- The Pirates have signed a familiar name to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training in the form of Brad Lincoln, per the club’s transactions page. Lincoln was selected fourth overall by the Bucs in 2006. He struggled through the early portion of his career but got off to a good start as a reliever in 2012 and was flipped to the Blue Jays for the man who was drafted 10 picks after him in ’06 — Travis Snider. Toronto would eventually deal Lincoln to the Phillies for Erik Kratz and Rob Rasmussen. Lincoln struggled with Philly but had success in Pittsburgh and Toronto, posting a 3.76 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 119 2/3 innings from 2012-13.
- The Pirates also announced a host of other signings, including righties Collin Balester, Blake Wood, and Deolis Guerra, lefty Jeremy Bleich, and shortstop Gustavo Nunez.
- The Twins have re-signed infielder/outfielder Eric Farris to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, reports 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson (on Twitter). The 28-year-old hit .280/.316/.356 with Minnesota’s Triple-A affiliate last season, playing primarily center field.
The heavily backloaded nature of the Blue Jays‘ deal with Russell Martin leaves the club with additional potential payroll capacity for 2015, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca writes. It is worth noting that Toronto likely feels comfortable pushing cash into the 2016-19 segments of the contract because, as is apparent from my recent post regarding future obligations, the team had very little on the books after this year.
Here’s the latest from the American League:
- The Astros have checked in with Brett Anderson‘s representatives, tweets Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The oft-injured, but generally excellent lefty makes his home in Houston and could represent an interesting upside play for the rising Astros.
- White Sox GM Rick Hahn has an extensive history with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, notes Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com. As Hayes explains, the two even managed to pull of a trade for the injured Jesse Crain at the 2013 trade deadline. While it remains to be seen whether a deal will be worked out involving shortstop Alexei Ramirez, it seems fair to believe that all reasonable possibilities will be explored between those two clubs.
- Of course, the White Sox already made an interesting move earlier today by locking up southpaw Zach Duke to a three-year, $15MM pact. Hahn says he is pleased but already “on to the next [deal] now,” as Hayes reports. “It’s an important get, one we’re all very happy about,” said Hahn. “But we’re not deluding ourselves that we’re by any means finished addressing our needs both in the bullpen or elsewhere.”
- A move by the Indians to push for an extension with Cy Young winner Corey Kluber would not be surprising; indeed, I profiled Kluber as an extension candidate back in August. But the club has yet to initiate talks, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter link).
- With the Twins still lacking a clear solution in center field for 2015, Peter Bourjos of the Cardinals is a name to keep an eye on, according to a tweet from Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. MLBTR’s Steve Adams has been one notable advocate of such a move for Minnesota.
4:46pm: The Cardinals are also interested in Lester, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com reports on Twitter.
9:14am: The Braves have a meeting with left-hander Jon Lester this week, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (via Twitter). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported last week that Atlanta had briefly touched base with Lester’s representatives at ACES and speculated that more serious interest could materialize if they moved some payroll. Rosenthal tweets that the meeting will take place on Thursday.
The Braves dealt Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals yesterday in a move that looked to be signaling a brief rebuild. However, one could also look at that move and see more than $11MM in savings on next year’s payroll plus the addition of an arm (Shelby Miller) that can be a significant boost to their rotation in 2015. Despite the cost savings on Walden and Heyward, however, Lester would seem too expensive a target. Atlanta already has about $70MM committed to just seven roster spots, plus perhaps as much as $16MM in arbitration raises. Lester figures to command an annual salary well north of $20MM, possibly around $25MM, making him a financial stretch. Atlanta had a record payroll of $112MM in 2014.
However, it’s possible that the Braves could free up more payroll space that would make a Lester addition more feasible. Atlanta has long been exploring ways to free itself of at least part of the remaining $46.5MM owed to B.J. Upton, and a trade of Justin Upton, who earns $14.5MM next year, hasn’t been entirely ruled out. Atlanta would probably also love to get out from underneath the remaining $23.5MM on Chris Johnson‘s contract, although that figures to be challenging to move as well.
While Lester seems like a stretch in terms of payroll, the Braves have a need for starting pitching. Currently, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Mike Minor and Miller are penciled into the rotation, and it’s unknown what the team can expect from Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen as the duo return from their second Tommy John operations. David Hale presents an option but seems better suited for a swingman role similar to the one he filled in 2014.
The Braves are “definitely not done” trading this offseason following yesterday’s trade of Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, reports MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (on Twitter). Both Justin Upton and Evan Gattis could still be on the move. Upton seems the more logical of the two, given that he’s under control for just one more season and could fetch further pieces to bolster the team’s long-term outlook. Gattis, however, figures to play in left field with Atlanta, where his value will be diminished from his negative defensive contributions, so it’s possible he could be moved even with four years of control remaining. Yesterday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today listed the Mariners as a “strong suitor” for the younger of the Upton brothers. Of course, the Braves figures to continue looking for ways to shed B.J. Upton‘s contract as well, but that will be far more difficult.
Here’s more out of Atlanta…
- Heyward tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had hoped to be with the Braves for a long time. However, according to Heyward, the Braves only engaged him and his agent in contract talks for about 10 minutes back in 2012. Heyward notes that the two-year deal was suggested by his side to avoid the arbitration process this year, but he’d made it clear that he hoped to remain in Atlanta well beyond 2015. The two sides reportedly discussed (O’Brien reporting in October) an extension that fell well shy of Freddie Freeman‘s $135MM extension, and Heyward was believed to be looking for significantly more than the team had in mind.
- ESPN’s Keith Law writes that he likes the Heyward/Shelby Miller trade for both sides (subscription required and recommended). Law feels that Heyward instantly makes St. Louis four to five wins better while Jordan Walden will give them 50 to 60 innings of quality late-inning relief in each of the next two years — both of which fit the Cards’ win-now mode. Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, meanwhile inherited little Major League pitching depth and an even thinner farm but improved both with this deal, Law opines. Miller, who Atlanta controls for four seasons, is a “mid-rotation starter at worst” with the upside to become a strong No. 2 arm thanks to his delivery and improved approach to attacking hitters. Tyrell Jenkins becomes Atlanta’s best pitching prospect and looked to be fully recovered from his shoulder troubles when Law saw him in the Arizona Fall League last month.
During a conference call with reporters, Braves president of baseball operations John Hart discussed several aspects of today’s blockbuster trade that saw Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to go to the Cardinals in exchange for right-handers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. It was “very difficult” for the Braves to trade a homegrown product like Heyward, Hart said, yet it was a move the team felt it had to make “to help not only in the short term but also in the long term.”
With Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang in free agency and Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen both recovering from Tommy John surgery, Atlanta entered the offseason with a clear need for starting pitching. There wasn’t much help coming from the farm, given how Hart described the Braves as “woefully thin [pitching-wise] in our minor league system.” The St. Louis deal, therefore, checked a couple of boxes for the Braves as they were able to add a quality prospect in Jenkins and a young arm who’d experienced some Major League success in Miller. The fact that Miller isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season made him especially attractive, Hart said.
“Going into this winter we’d lost over 400 innings in our rotation and we didn’t have any players coming up in our system that were ready to provide those types of innings. We really needed two starting pitchers. As we went through the meetings, we went out there with the idea of how do we acquire starters. We sampled the waters, we talked to literally every club out there and weren’t looking for a one-year sort of fix. Shelby Miller was one of the younger pitchers that we had identified as a guy who could step in and help us right now and that we would be able to control for a number of years.”
Miller’s status as a piece for both the present and future gives the Braves “the flexibility to go either way” in deciding if other offseason moves will be geared towards next season’s club or perhaps for a few years down the road.
“We’ll take a good look at our competition in our division, take a good look at our club, take a look at what we can do in free agency to allow us to compete and examine other opportunities that might come our way. I don’t think this trade sets us [in a direction] either way. It provides us with the opportunity to look at everything independently….It certainly gives us some options for 2015 but there’s certainly a big picture in play.”
One of those big-picture questions involves Justin Upton, who (like Heyward) only has one year remaining on his contract before free agency. There has been speculation that Atlanta could look to deal both of its corner outfielders this winter, and while Hart said “there is absolutely a legitimate chance” Upton is a Brave in 2015, he also said there hadn’t been any serious discussion of a contract extension.
“There’s nothing definitive as we look to go forward, obviously. We’re going to continue to explore a lot of avenues with what we do with the ballclub. As we sit here today, there’s certainly a good chance Justin is back with us next year….I’ve had conversations [about an extension] but they have not been anything in depth so it would be unfair for me to comment much on Justin in that regard. We’ll certainly continue to talk with his agent but I don’t really have a definitive answer as of yet.”
Heyward was guaranteed $8.3MM in 2015, so the trade also frees up some salary space. This doesn’t mean the Braves will be in the running for the likes of Max Scherzer or James Shields (“We’re not looking to give up draft picks or financially handcuff this club,” Hart said), yet the extra payroll allows the club to explore both the free agent market and the trade market for further upgrades.
Despite Heyward’s pending free agent status after the 2015 season, the Braves “didn’t go out with the idea that Jason was going to be the guy that we used to get our starting pitching,” and that the club “sorted through a lot of different options before” deciding on this deal. Last winter, Heyward signed a two-year extension that covered his two remaining arbitration-eligible seasons, and this modest contract stood out amidst much longer-term extensions given to Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Andrelton Simmons and Craig Kimbrel.
When I asked Hart if there had been any recent negotiations with Heyward about an extension, Hart gave the impression that there hadn’t been any further talks since last offseason.
“He wanted a two-year deal and wasn’t interested in a long-term extension unless the dollars were maybe beyond where the club certainly wanted to go. We had a strong feeling he was going to go on the market. That’s what he wanted to do. We wanted to protect ourselves and position ourselves better. If we elect, next year, to be one of 30 [teams] that compete for Jason on the market then that’s what we’ll do.”
A blockbuster in every sense of the word, the Cardinals will acquire one of the game’s most valuable outfielders in Heyward and an excellent setup man in Walden. Heyward just turned 25 in August yet already has five full Major League seasons under his belt. His offensive game hasn’t developed to the superstar level that many had expected, though he still owns a lifetime .262/.351/.429 batting line. His .269/.335/.479 batting line and 27 homers in 2012 give an idea of the power upside that Heyward brings to the table, however.
Where Heyward truly shines, however, is with the glove, as evidenced by career UZR and DRS marks of +74.1 and +97, respectively (UZR/150 pegs him at +17.6). That excellent glove paired with a solid bat has led Heyward to be valued at 4.3 fWAR and 4.9 rWAR per season throughout his career. There’s little doubt that Heyward is an MVP-caliber talent, although to realize that potential he would likely need to return to his 2012 form at the plate while maintaining his stellar defensive work.
Heyward is only under control for one more season and will earn $7.8MM in 2015, but Walden is a bit more of a long-term asset for the Cardinals, as he can be controlled through the 2016 season. Projected to earn $3MM in 2015, the 27-year-old Walden posted a 2.88 ERA with 11.2 K/9, 4.9 BB/9 and a 45.2 percent ground-ball rate for the Braves last season. Armed with a fastball that averages roughly 96 mph, he should give manager Mike Matheny yet another hard-throwing option to pair with the likes of Trevor Rosenthal at the end of the St. Louis bullpen.
In Miller, the Braves have acquired at least four years of control over a high-upside arm that looked to be on the verge of stardom for much of 2013 before a rough finish to the season and a step backwards in 2014. Miller frequented top prospect lists for his entire minor league career after being selected 19th overall in 2009, with Baseball America ranking him as highly as sixth in the game heading into the 2013 campaign. That season, he posted a brilliant 3.06 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 38.4 percent ground-ball rate in 173 1/3 innings. He saw his strikeouts dip late in the season though and was curiously a non-factor in the 2013 playoffs, leading many to speculate that he was either injured or simply out of gas after posting a career-high in innings pitched.
Miller maintained his velocity in 2014, but he displayed some signs of control issues that caused his ERA to jump to 3.74 (while FIP and SIERA pegged him at 4.54 and 4.60, respectively). For one, Miller’s BB/9 rate jumped to 3.6. But looking beyond that, his first-pitch strike rate dropped about two percent, and his opponent contact rate for pitches in the strike zone jumped from 85.6 percent to 90 percent, suggesting that he struggled to command the ball within the zone. Nonetheless, Miller’s upside is sky-high, and the Braves had a clear need in the rotation with both Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang hitting the free agent market. Both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are recovering from their second Tommy John surgery, leaving Atlanta with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Alex Wood as rotation candidates, perhaps along with swingman David Hale.
Jenkins, 22, isn’t simply a throw-in for the Braves, either. The Cards drafted Jenkins 50th overall in 2010, and the right-hander cracked BA’s Top 100 prospect list following the 2011 season — ranking 94th. Touted for his off-the-charts athleticism, Jenkins has seen his prospect star dim a bit since that time due to shoulder surgery, though he did return midway through 2014 and post a 3.28 ERA in 74 innings in the Class-A Advanced Florida State League. BA ranked him 17th among Cardinals prospects heading into 2014, noting that his fastball sits 93-96 mph when healthy and adding that he features an improved curveball as well.
The trade fills a need for both clubs, although the circumstances in which St. Louis came to have a need for a right fielder are of course tragic. It’s been difficult and felt inappropriate at times to look at the tragic death of Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend through a baseball lens, but many have wondered if is untimely loss would lead the Cardinals to look outside the organization for outfield help. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth noted in his Offseason Outlook for the Cards that such measures could be necessary, and the path that the team has taken will improve the team in 2015, even if the trade is unfortunately linked to tragedy.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Pirates had the inside track on signing A.J. Burnett, as agent Derek Braunecker told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s the only place he wanted to play in 2015. He instructed me to negotiate exclusively with the Pirates and thankfully there was mutual interest,” Braunecker said. Burnett enjoyed his previous stint in Pittsburgh and rejoined the Bucs on a one-year, $8.5MM deal. Here’s some more from around the NL Central…
- Mutual interest exists between the Cubs and free agent righty Jason Hammel, CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports. Hammel pitched well during his three months as a Cub in 2014 prior to being traded to the A’s, and Mooney points out yet another connection between the two sides — Hammel played under Joe Maddon in Tampa in 2008. At least nine teams and as many as 12 teams have reportedly shown interest in Hammel this offseason, including the Astros and Yankees.
- The Cubs‘ trade for Tommy La Stella “wasn’t a precursor to anything,” GM Jed Hoyer told reporters (including ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers). “Sometimes you have to acquire guys that can get on-base. It’s something we needed.” The La Stella deal seemed curious given how the Cubs already have a surplus of young middle infielders, though Hoyer said his team had tried to trade for La Stella “several times in the past.”
- It’s an open question as to whether or not the Reds will sign Johnny Cueto to a new contract, though an extension shouldn’t be ruled out on purely financial reasons, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer opines. Though Fay thinks extending Cueto would cost “probably north of $150MM,” the Reds will be seeing a revenue increase over the next few years thanks to a new TV deal. If Cueto will take a back-loaded deal, that would lessen the burden on the Reds’ payroll until Brandon Phillips‘ contract is off the books following the 2017 campaign.
- Fay thinks there is a “close to zero” chance that the Reds would trade Cueto this winter, since “owner Bob Castellini is not going to have a fire sale. Period. He thinks this team can win and he wants to win badly.” While Cincinnati seems likely to deal a starting pitcher this offseason, recent rumors suggest that Cueto will stay put.
- The Cardinals should jump at the chance to acquire a power-hitting outfielder and not worry about blocking their young OF prospects, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opines. Miklasz feels the Cardinals have some long-term questions in their outfield since Jon Jay is “a year-to-year” player who almost lost his job last offseason, right field prospects Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk are unproven and veteran Matt Holliday is only under contract for two more seasons.