Stephen Drew Rumors
Over at Fangraphs, Dave Cameron provides an interesting look at team age, weighted for anticipated playing time. The unsurprising result is that the oldest current MLB roster belongs to the Yankees. With the Red Sox and Blue Jays also falling in the top five, and the Rays landing in the top half with what Cameron calls a "sneaky old" roster, the American League East would appear to be the most veteran-laden division in the game.
- The loss of pitchers Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeremy Hellickson has exposed the fact that the Rays are thin on pitching depth in their system, says Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com (Twitter links). Gammons notes that, despite having five of the first 79 picks in the 2010 draft and a whopping ten of the first 60 choices in 2011, the only major leaguer to have emerged from those additions is infielder Derek Dietrich (who, of course, has since been dealt for fellow infielder Yunel Escobar).
- Looking at the bigger picture for the Rays, the club is still looking for a location to target for a new ballpark, as the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) reports. One possibility is to land in the city after which the club is named. "Tampa is obviously very, very attractive on the list," said club owner Stuart Sternberg, "and we expect to at some point, hopefully sooner, look there as well as some other parts of the region." The organization still needs to undertake "a full-out exploration" of possible sites in the area, including Tampa and St. Petersburg, Sternberg said. Tampa's current lease -- at the St. Petersburg-located Tropicana Field -- has often been noted as a significant hindrance for the team's spending capacity, and runs through the 2027 season.
- Injuries to the middle infield have not changed the Yankees' stance on Stephen Drew, according to principal owner Hal Steinbrenner. As MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom reports, Steinbrenner said that he is "pretty content with [the Yankees'] infield right now," especially given the early returns on some of the club's lower-profile offseason additions. "I'm happy with a couple of our Minor League free-agent signings -- [Yangervis Solarte] and [Dean Anna]. Jeter has been healthy. So far, I'm pretty content with where we are, but I will always analyze options." (Anna was actually acquired via trade, though certainly he was the same type of addition.)
- The Yankees are also enjoying the excellent early showing from Michael Pineda, who was picked up in a rare swap of highly touted young talent. (Jesus Montero, of course, went to Seattle in that deal.) Continuing a strong Spring Training run, in 12 innings over two starts, Pineda has allowed just two earned runs and has struck out 12 batters while walking only two. As Tony Blengino of Fangraphs writes, a full return to form for Pineda would be "basically unprecedented in baseball history," with the one notable exception of another outstanding young pitcher who returned from an early-career shoulder injury to post a Hall-of-Fame career: Jim Palmer.
- Red Sox hurler Jon Lester projects to be worthy of a six-year, $145MM deal in free agency, according to ESPN.com's Dan Szymborski. Other than sticking in Boston, Lester could draw interest from teams like the Cubs, Mariners, Giants, and Tigers, in Szymborski's estimation.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal has a new, lengthy notes column in which he begins by examining the early scrutiny of MLB's new instant replay system. He points to a pair of blatantly missed calls on Saturday in which conclusive evidence was seen on TV broadcasts of the games but apparently not by the umpires at MLB's Replay Operations Center in New York. An MLB spokesperson confirmed to Rosenthal that one of those calls was blown and added that the system would continue to work on improvement. Rosenthal reminds that John Schuerholz, one of the architects of the system, said it would be a three-year roll out. However, he adds that MLB can't expect any patience from fans, players or managers when home viewers are able to make better judgments than the umpires at the Relay Operations Center.
Here are some more highlights from his article, which also contains notes on Jose Abreu, struggling offenses around the league and the Dodgers' interleague schedule...
- Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson is the early front-runner for "first manager to get fired" due to the team's 4-11 start, but Rosenthal wonders what more Gibson can do with the pitching talent (or lack thereof) he has been given. GM Kevin Towers thinned out the rotation depth by trading Tyler Skaggs and David Holmberg this offseason, and the loss of Patrick Corbin compounded those moves. Rosenthal wonders how long the Snakes can wait before recalling Archie Bradley.
- One executive said to Rosenthal that any American League team with a need in the infield will have added incentive to work out a deal with Stephen Drew in order to prevent the Tigers from signing him. The AL Central powerhouse is currently going with Alex Gonzalez at short, and the results have been less than stellar.
- Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda told Rosenthal (through his interpreter) that he's never considered retirement as heavily as he did this offseason. The most difficult factor for Kuroda wasn't the separation from his L.A.-based family -- they come live with him in the summer when his daughters are out of school -- but rather that he simply loves and misses Japan. Kuroda again left open the possibility of finishing his career back in Japan.
- Both the Angels and Twins have a need in the outfield with the likes of Josh Hamilton, Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham on the disabled list, and both teams were interested in the recently DFA'ed Sam Fuld this offseason before he signed with the Athletics. Rosenthal reports that the A's will gauge trade possibilities for Fuld and wonders if the Halos and Twins could have interest.
- After signing a minor league deal in the 2012-13 offseason, Blue Jays right-hander Neil Wagner earned the pro-rated portion that deal's $525K salary while in the Majors last season. However, Toronto's pre-arbitration pay scale called for just a $506,250 salary in 2014, as it is based on service time rather than performance. Agent Jim Munsey and Wagner refused the deal, giving Toronto the freedom to renew Wagner's contract at $500K if they wished, which the team did. Said Munsey of the ordeal: "It's, obviously, disappointing that they cut Neil's pay after such a good season last year. And when we didn't agree to the pay cut, they cut it further in renewing him. Hard to cheer for that. ... The rules allow the Jays to reduce his pay. They also allow us to talk about that at arbitration." MLBTR's Zach Links recently looked at teams' calculation of pre-arbitration salaries.
- Though the Rays' rotation has been ravaged by injuries to Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, the team is planning on using internal options rather than pursuing outside help.
Scott Boras, the agent for unsigned free agents Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, claims his clients have been "damaged" by comments from the anonymous executives quoted in a recent ESPN story, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Boras' remarks come two days after the MLBPA requested the Commissioner's Office to investigate those comments made to ESPN's Buster Olney, which appeared in a column he penned Wednesday.
"It's a clear violation of the CBA," Boras told Heyman. "As many as five executives continue to use ESPN as a conduit to violate the collective bargaining agreement. Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew were damaged by these comments."
Boras also warns, "The integrity of the game is challenged when players of this stature have yet to have a negotiation due to the system," adding there needs to be a "remedy" for the pair, which could take the form of monetary damages or relief from a future qualifying offer. Boras points out not only does the CBA disallow negative comments from MLB team officials, which could depress player markets, but also provides for the possibility of monetary damages in such circumstances. Boras says the issue is about the "conduct" of the executives, not the timing suggesting a grievance procedure needs to be implemented where all concerned parties are placed under oath.
Here are a few tidbits from Ken Rosenthal's latest video from FOX Sports:
- There aren't many good third base options available this offseason (Chase Headley is available, and Aramis Ramirez has a mutual option), so retaining Pablo Sandoval makes sense for the Giants.
- Rosenthal wonders if the Pirates could sign either Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales after the draft in June, at which point they wouldn't have to worry about the draft-pick forfeiture attached to each of them. After a quiet offseason, the Pirates should have the financial wherewithal to pursue a bigger-name player. In a tiny sample size, Jordy Mercer has not hit well so far this year as the Pirates' starting shortstop. The team is currently platooning Travis Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez at first base.
- Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are off to good starts with the Cubs, who could trade either player by the end of July. The Cubs dealt Matt Garza and Scott Feldman in-season last year, and Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm the previous season.
- Tyler Thornburg is off to an excellent start out of the Brewers' bullpen, which makes clear why they were unwilling to trade him to the Mets this offseason.
- In a separate video, Rosenthal says that five teams bid upwards of $60MM for Jose Abreu: the White Sox, Astros, Rockies, Brewers and Red Sox. The Red Sox still wanted to keep Mike Napoli, however, which would have meant that Abreu might have started the season in the minors if he had signed with them. Abreu is currently hitting .273/.365/.659 in his first couple weeks with the White Sox.
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark has asked commissioner Bud Selig to conduct an investigation regarding comments made by several anonymous executives to ESPN's Buster Olney for a column penned by Olney this week, the MLBPA announced in a press release. Olney's column featured a number of front office executives stating (on the condition of anonymity) what they would pay free agents Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew on an annual basis. The comments violate baseball's collective bargaining agreement, which has language designed to prevent executives from commenting on specific players and their values/contract goals, as it could depreciate a player's market value. Within the release, Clark issued the following statement:
"I am angered that numerous, anonymous baseball executives have blatantly and intentionally violated our collective bargaining agreement by offering to ESPN comments about the free agent values of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. These statements undermine the free agent rights of the players and depress their market value. Today, I have called upon the Commissioner's Office to investigate immediately and thoroughly the sources of these statements and to take appropriate action to enforce our agreement."
Morales and Drew, two of the more prominent free agents on this year's market, each remain unsigned due largely to the fact that each is tied to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year qualifying offer at the end of last season.
This isn't the first instance of this type of investigation in the past year, as Major League Baseball also looked into comments made by Dodgers owner Magic Johnson regarding Robinson Cano. Back in October, Johnson was quoted as saying, "Though I can't talk about it, that other guy in New York is going to get paid. Not by us, but he's going to get paid."
This most recent wave of comments is clearly a bit more telling due to both the number of people who were willing to offer their take to Olney and the specific nature of their responses. At the time of the Cano situation, GMs around the league told Olney that they felt their comments had been monitored more closely in the past year than any time in recent memory.
There was more bad injury news out of Oakland, as top Athletics prospect Addison Russell has torn his right hamstring and will be down for at least a month, according to a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). Though Russell was not necessarily expected to contribute much at the MLB level this year -- he had started his age-20 season at Double-A -- a prolonged absence will certainly be unwelcome news for an Athletics club that could hypothetically look to Russell for a late-season boost or audition for 2015. Here are a few more stray notes from the day:
- There is a sense that the free agent market for Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales could be thawing, according to a report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Multiple clubs have gone to scout the pair, says Heyman, and Morales in particular seems to be drawing increased activity. Heyman cites the Orioles, Mariners, and Brewers as teams thought to have interest, with the Pirates also a potential landing spot.
- Free agent starter Freddy Garcia has been throwing to Drew and Morales, Heyman adds. Though Garcia has received minor league offers since being cut loose by the Braves, he is holding out in hopes of signing straight into a MLB role.
- The Twins will be among the teams with the most cash to spend through international bonus pools and the amateur draft. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN provides some updates on the club's current direction (Twitter links). Minnesota still has several hundred thousand dollars of uncommitted international cash to work with, and has narrowed its options for the 5th overall pick to eight players (most of whom are pitchers).
- As expected, Braves reliever Cory Gearrin will have Tommy John surgery and miss the 2014 season, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported yesterday (via Twitter). The 27-year-old was a useful arm last year, throwing 31 innings of 3.77 ERA ball after notching 20 innings at a 1.80 ERA clip in 2012. Though the club has already filled in for Gearrin in the immediate term, his loss takes another depth piece away from an organization that has suffered more than its share of recent pitching injuries.
- One reason that Pirates reliever Vin Mazzaro may have cleared waivers is simply that he stood to be paid nearly twice the league minimum salary. "Once you go to spring training, you’ve spent almost all the money you’re going to spend," a general manager told Olney. "There aren’t many teams with a lot of extra money lying around."
- That same fact has a bearing on the situations of compensation free agents Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. Olney polled executives around the league, finding that none were willing to pay either player at the qualifying offer rate of $14.1MM. The highest figure he heard was $10MM to $12MM AAV for Drew and a $8MM to $10MM rate for Morales on a multi-year deal, with most respondents landing well shy of those amounts. There were many other concerns raised as well, ranging from those players' injury histories to questions about their commitment to a new team (e.g., would they play through a late-season injury?) and worry about "the layoff and need for a modified spring training."
- Turning to the podcast, Olney spoke with Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who said that the team left its playoff run determined to return with focus. Instead, Huntington said that his concern entering the spring was how to keep positive energy flowing after the front office was criticized for its quiet offseason. Huntington said that the team wanted to do more, but that there "wasn't the right move out there" and he felt the organization needed to continue to "stretch when it's appropriate, stay disciplined when it's appropriate." Looking ahead, the GM said that, "if need be we can go outside because of the depth of our player development system."
- Huntington also discussed his team's well-publicized use of defensive shifts, saying that it is all about "maximizing our chances to put balls in play and turn them into outs" and indicating that much of the work is in shading out of the standard alignment. The approach for each situation is developed through what he calls a "multi-tiered process" within the organization.
- Olney also chatted with newly extended Twins closer Glen Perkins, who is under team control through 2018. Perkins said that he made clear to his agent as far back as his first extension that he was happy to take a deal and stay in town rather than "pric[ing] myself out" of the organization. The lefty says that maximizing money is not the most important thing, and saw value in the possibility of a World Series run with his hometown club while providing for his family's future when he had the chance. He kicked things off by suggesting a new deal to his agent, with a deal coming together quickly thereafter.
- Asked for his opinion on the idea of players accepting so-called team-friendly deals, Perkins said that the chances of upside are met (and often exceeded) by the possibility of "blowing your arm out." It becomes somewhat easier to take on risk as a player's earnings rise throughout their career, Perkins noted, but looking for "a little more" is tough when "you're always one pitch away." His ultimate advice to players is hard to disagree with: "get yours while you can."
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has a lengthy new column up that takes a look at the hot start for the Giants' offense as well as an impressive sweep of the Red Sox by the Brewers this weekend. Beyond that, it has quite a bit of info on the top two remaining free agents and come contract extensions. Here are some highlights from his latest work...
- Scott Boras is telling tems that he could soon land a deal for Kendrys Morales, a source tells Rosenthal. However, some of the interested parties are debating between signing him (and fellow Boras free agent Stephen Drew) now or waiting until after the June draft. Rosenthal points out that this could potentially save a club multiple picks, as the signing team wouldn't have to surrender a 2015 draft pick, and if they offer a multi-year deal, they won't have to forfeit a 2016 pick to fill the hole on the free agent market next offseason.
- The Indians have been trying to extend Jason Kipnis for the past two years, but Kipnis and agent Dan Horwits of the Beverly Hills Sports Council rejected offers in the $15MM range (following Kipnis' two-month debut in 2011) and $24MM range (prior to the 2013 season).
- The main hangup in extension talks between the Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez isn't the average annual value but rather the length of the contract, says Rosenthal. Ramirez is likely to receive an AAV in the $22-25MM range, but the length of the contract is a concern for the Dodgers given Ramirez's lengthy injury history.
- Surgery remains an option for Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun as he battles nerve damage in his right thumb, but general manager Doug Melvin said to Rosenthal that going under the knife wouldn't even guarantee that the damage could be repaired. For the time being, Melvin said the team "is not overly concerned" about Braun's injury.
Red Sox free-agent-to-be Jon Lester says the six-year, $144MM deal the Tigers reportedly offered Max Scherzer would be "hard to walk away from," Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal tweets. Lester says there's no news concerning negotiations for his own contract but that the two sides continue to talk, tweets Alex Speier of WEEI.com. The Red Sox are reportedly trying to resolve Lester's contract situation by Opening Day, either by signing him or by suspending negotiations once the season starts. Here are more notes from around the American League.
- The Twins have "done their homework" on Stephen Drew, although it remains very unlikely that they'll sign him, 1500ESPN.com's Darren Wolfson tweets. The team watched Drew in a workout more than a month ago.
- The Twins added Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes this offseason, but they planned to spend even more money, assistant GM Rob Antony tells Phil Miller of the Star Tribune (via Twitter). "We were trying to give money away," Antony says. They were not able to sign any position players to significant contracts, however.
- Astros manager Bo Porter says one reason the team hasn't set its rotation yet is because it has the top waiver priority, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle tweets. That suggests the Astros could wait to claim a starting pitcher to insert into their rotation.
The 2014 season is about to get underway in earnest and two of MLBTR's Top 50 free agents remain on the shelf. Stephen Drew (No. 14) and Kendrys Morales (No. 28) are still looking for homes months after rejecting one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offers from their respective teams. The qualifying offer system, now in its second year, appears to be getting quite a bit of criticism from agents and players around baseball, but that's nothing new. Last winter, I asked Adam LaRoche for his thoughts on being linked to a compensatory pick and having to wait until after the holidays to sign.
"I think that it did [affect me]," said LaRoche, who inked a two-year, $24MM deal with a mutual option with the Nationals rather than the three year pact he wanted. "That's coming from people a lot smarter than I am that explained it to me. I think it affected a couple of other players worse than me, there are a lot of solid ballplayers out there still looking for a job. It definitely hindered some teams from going after some guys...I think there were two or three, maybe four teams out there that it did affect as far as teams that were interested me but didn't want to give up that pick."
As you might expect, after conversations with high-level MLB executives, it seems that front offices are short on empathy for the predicament of the Scott Boras duo. Executives recognize that the qualifying offer system favors clubs, but at the end of the day, they feel players and agents are responsible for anticipating demand appropriately before making their decision.
"It's certainly advantageous to the clubs, so I can understand why certain players wouldn't like it," said one National League executive. "No one is forcing them to reject a one-year, $14MM offer which is pretty darn good and see if they can do better. Honestly, that's just their reading of the marketplace telling them what to do and if it doesn't go the way they anticipated then they just misread the marketplace."
That might be a reasonable view for some, but Boras vehemently disagrees, recently telling ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that he feels as though Morales and Drew are "in jail" rather than true free agents. From Boras' view, the system is having an unforeseen ill effect on the free agency process. From the club's view, everything is going as planned.
"People keep talking about unintended consequences with the new system and I don't think they're unintended at all," one American League exec opined. "I don't understand why anyone went into the current system thinking there weren't going to be lags in the market or thinking that teams wouldn't give second thought to [second tier] free agents."
The AL exec and others were quick to note that the qualifying offer system has not hampered the true cream of the free agent crop. When the Mariners wanted to sign Robinson Cano, for example, their main deliberation was over cost and not the compensatory draft pick they would have to forfeit to the Yankees. While Cano, an elite player at a premium position who was universally considered the top free agent prize of the winter, didn't have to give any thought to accepting the QO, executives argue that someone like Morales should have thought it over. While Morales is an offensively gifted switch-hitter, his possibilities were limited since his appeal is mostly as a DH. Teams would argue that this was all obvious in November and perhaps should have informed Morales and Boras to make a different choice.
Of course, the current qualifying offer system is only a couple of years old but the concept of a restricted MLB free agency has been around for much longer. The current QO construct replaced the widely reviled "Type A/B" system, which placed the better free agents in one of two tiers based on seemingly arbitrary criteria. A team losing a Type A player would receive the signing club's top pick plus a newly-generated supplemental pick in the sandwich round (between rounds 1 and 2). A team losing a Type B player would get a sandwich pick, but nothing from the club signing the player. Agents and players were vocal about their frustrations with that system and executives that spoke with MLBTR expressed similar thoughts. One executive called the formulas used to determine Type A or B (or C, pre-2006/07 offseason) status "antiquated" while another said that the system was "wrought with abuse and handshake offers" to circumvent its consequences. While teams got used to that process over time, executives seem to appreciate the simplicity of the new system. And as one high-ranking executive told MLBTR, the new system helps to "protect the middle reliever." The old system would routinely lump a solid, but not spectacular reliever in the same group as an elite batter or starting pitcher, making free agency a frustrating process. Now, under the current system, no team in their right mind would put a $14MM+ offer on the table for a seventh-inning reliever.
As Drew continues to look for a home, it has been reported that he would take a one-year deal from the Tigers in the neighborhood of the $14.1MM figure that he turned down just months ago. While plugging Drew in for injured shortstop Jose Iglesias has to have some appeal to Detroit, the idea of sacrificing a pick for a one-year rental is surely unpalatable. The execs who spoke with MLBTR said that they would be very unlikely to sign a QO free agent if they were only getting one year out of him, but each of them also conceded that they would consider it under the right circumstances. If their club was right on the cusp of contending and losing a pick - projected to be towards the bottom anyway - made the difference, they would give serious thought to pulling the trigger. This winter, Ervin Santana and Nelson Cruz both wound up signing one-year deals while attached to draft compensation, so those execs surely aren't alone in that thinking. Meanwhile, all of the executives said that they would not rule out a player strictly because he was tied to draft compensation.
After watching Ubaldo Jimenez, Santana, Cruz, Morales, and Drew struggle to find homes for 2014, some have assumed that the QO system will be drastically overhauled in the 2016 Collective Bargaining Agreement. While it's bound to be a high-priority discussion for the union, executives caution that it's far from an automatic to be changed.
"I don't know if it will be changed, but I think if they want it changed, they'll have to give something substantial back," the AL exec said. "Now, whether that's something like an extra year of arbitration, I'm just not sure. I don't think the owners would just give it back to the players, it's something that [the owners] bargained and negotiated for."