The Rays are in “advanced talks” with free agent righty Tommy Hunter, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. But Topkin cautions that Hunter is still also holding chats with other teams, possibly in search of a multi-year guarantee, suggesting that a signing with Tampa Bay is not imminent. And ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick notes that Hunter is still rehabbing after needing core muscle surgery this winter (Twitter links). The club is working on other possibilities as it looks to beef up a pen that has lost some options to trade. Ryan Webb is also under consideration, per the report, and the Rays have looked elsewhere as well — both on the free agent and trade markets.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times spoke to Rays manager Kevin Cash as well as third baseman Evan Longoria about the addition of Corey Dickerson to the club’s lineup, and both had positive things to say. Cash spoke about how Dickerson will help to lengthen their lineup, and as Topkin notes, Dickerson is one of several offseason additions that will give Cash a better slate from which to choose when playing matchups. (The Rays have also added Brad Miller, Steve Pearce and Logan Morrison.) Notably, Topkin points out that the addition of Dickerson only further underscores the need to move James Loney and his $8MM salary, which would free first base for Pearce and Morrison and create more DH at-bats for Dickerson.
The Rays are a “long shot” to land Ian Desmond, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports on Twitter, with the required draft pick compensation (from the qualifying offer he declined) posing a significant barrier. Tampa Bay is in “bargain shopping” mode, he adds. We’ve seen previous suggestions that Desmond could line up with the Rays, though he doesn’t make for the most obvious roster match and it’s always seemed that he’d need to take a deal far below pre-winter expectations for that to occur.
Here are some more rumblings from the open market:
- There are plenty of other teams hunting for value at this stage of the market, of course, with the Marlins eyeing pitching, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via Twitter). We’ve heard that before, of course, and the club seems to be a prime destination for players seeking opportunity as the market settles.
- One possibility that has often been tied to Miami is righty Tim Lincecum, who is preparing for a showcase some time this month. Sherman tweets that his agent, Rick Thurman, will check in on the veteran’s progress tomorrow as his camp decides upon a date to call in the scouts.
- Yovani Gallardo remains the best available free agent arm, and Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets that he’s still drawing interest from the Orioles and two other teams. Cotillo had suggested (via Twitter) that the bidding would come down to the O’s, Astros, and Rockies, but Houston is out of the hunt after signing Doug Fister and he now says that Colorado appears to be on the sidelines.
- August Fagerstrom of Fangraphs argues that the White Sox may be the better fit for Gallardo, given their lack of quality and depth at the back of the rotation. It helps, of course, that the team’s first overall selection is protected. It’s worth noting that Chicago also makes a good deal of sense for the other remaining qualified free agents — Desmond and Dexter Fowler — and could in theory lower the average draft pick compensation cost by signing more than one such player. On the other hand, Chicago’s current spending commitments are already right at last year’s Opening Day mark once you account for league-minimum salaries to round out the roster. Things look slightly better in 2017, though, with John Danks and Adam LaRoche coming off of the books, so creative contract structuring could create some daylight.
- Two new names to watch in the coming months are prominent Cuban brothers Yulieski Gurriel and Lourdes Gurriel, both of whom reportedly left the national team in the Dominican Republic with intentions of heading towards major league free agency. But it might be unrealistic to expect to see either appear in the 2016 campaign, Ben Badler of Baseball America explains. His colleague, John Manuel, breaks down both players, noting that the elder Yulieski is a better player than Hector Olivera and could “set off a significant bidding war.” And for more reading on the interesting pair, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains their unique place in Cuban baseball.
It’s easy to buy into Spring Training hype, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe notes in his latest column as he looks at some of the major Red Sox storylines heading into camp. While the Sox have drawn mostly approval for their offseason dealings, Cafardo warns that pundits were saying the same thing last year prior to Boston’s last place season. Here’s some more from Cafardo’s piece…
- The Astros have asked about Tyler Clippard. Houston has already made a couple of big offseason moves to reinforce their bullpen in trading for Ken Giles and re-signing Tony Sipp, and adding Clippard would only further deepen a relief corps that also includes Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Pat Neshek and Josh Fields. Clippard’s market was fairly quiet for much of the winter, though as Cafardo notes, things have started to heat up for the veteran righty with at least six teams (including the Rays and Diamondbacks) showing interest.
- Matt Thornton is drawing interest from around six teams, though the veteran lefty may have to settle for a minor league contract. Thornton turned 39 in September and has a 1.98 ERA over 77 1/3 innings in 2014 and 2015, though with only a 5.9 K/9 in that stretch, ERA predictors such as xFIP (4.19) and SIERA (3.79) are less enthused with his performance over the last two years. The Braves, Pirates and Twins were all rumored to have some interest in Thornton earlier this offseason.
- The Rays are likely to keep their pitching, despite “quite a bit of interest” from other teams about Alex Cobb.
- Teams have considered signing Cliff Lee, though they’re wary of giving him a contract in the range of $6MM-$8MM (plus incentives).
- Dan Uggla’s agent says that teams have called about his client, though no side has made any commitments. The veteran infielder is another player who is likely to only find a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite.
- “It’s just so slow out there” for the large number of veteran players still on the market, one agent tells Cafardo. This offseason has been the apex of a growing trend in recent years for teams to spend on a few high-salaried stars and then rely on young, cheap talent for the rest of the roster rather than spend more on established veterans. This not only goes for the rank-and-file veterans looking for bench jobs but also for would-be starters like Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler and Yovani Gallardo, all of whom have had their markets slowed by the qualifying offer-attached draft compensation required to sign them. “The [draft-pick] compensation issue is a factor, no question, and we have to do something about it with our collective bargaining talks because this is hurting good baseball players getting jobs,” the agent said.
- An AL general manager, however, implies that some agents should perhaps be a bit more realistic about their demands. “The agents are still asking for major league guarantees for players who should be grateful for major league invitations and minor league deals,” the GM said. “I hear the agents blaming the teams, but I think a lot of teams are willing to add these players. But we’re in February, and quite frankly the signings need to be on our terms at this stage of the game. Eventually, these guys will break down and sign minor deals but we’re close to spring training and there hasn’t been a lot of bend.”
The big ticket free agents aren’t always the most important offseason additions, writes AJ Cassavell of MLB.com. Using the Steamer projection system, Cassavell takes a look at the six players he thinks will most affect their respective divisions. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and Cubs center fielder Jason Heyward are obvious picks. Surprisingly, Cassavell finds Mike Napoli to be the big name in the AL Central while Wade Miley’s move to Seattle could be sneaky important.
Here are a few more notes from around the league:
- Cuban veterans Alexei Bell and Yordanis Linares will hold workouts on February 15 and 16 in Baja California, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Bell, 32, was reported to have left Cuba on January 13 and could fit as a right fielder. Linares’ defection was reported last summer. The 26-year-old doesn’t have enough professional experience in the Serie Nacional to avoid international spending restrictions. Bell, however, can be signed by any team.
- The White Sox should target Yasiel Puig, opines Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Chicago has shown curiosity about the Dodgers outfield depth and could obviously stand to improve in the outfield. Rumors have tied them to veteran lefty Andre Ethier who could provide a useful platoon bat. However, Puig represents a more definitive upgrade with a star ceiling. Unfortunately, young talent comes with a price. Merkin lists pitchers Carson Fulmer, Spencer Adams, and shortstop Tim Anderson as possible targets for the Dodgers. Trading any of that trio would be a bitter pill to swallow.
- The Indians could be a fit for free agent outfielder Austin Jackson, suggest Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com. Center field depth would be useful considering that Michael Brantley will start the season on the disabled list. Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, and Abraham Almonte figure to form the Opening Day outfield, and it’s not hard to see a way to improve upon that trio. At the very least, additional depth in case of injury would be valuable.
- The Rays should consider three more offseason moves, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The bullpen could use additional depth – perhaps Tyler Clippard or Tommy Hunter. Either Desmond Jennings or Brandon Guyer can be traded. The team is deepest with them on the roster, but they may be expendable. Jennings’ health may make a trade difficult. Lastly, Ian Desmond looks more and more attractive as a buy low option. The Rays have to be willing to discard their 13th overall selection in the draft if they’re to sign Desmond.
The Rays have provided Hillsborough County officials with a list of specifications for their proposed new stadium, write Charlie Frago and Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times (see also, Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Tribune). The Rays recently won a concession from the St. Petersburg government that will allow them to survey the area for a new site. A one page document details the team’s wishlist ranging from development options, site size, accessibility, and financial considerations.
The club’s lease agreement for their current home park, Tropicana Field, runs through 2027. The Rays have spent most of their tenure in St. Petersburg attempting to gain clearance for a new site in the St. Pete-Tampa Bay area. Their time at the Trop has not gone well. The Rays routinely “race” the Athletics for lowest attendance. Incidentally, the A’s are also locked in a battle to relocate.
The Rays’ one page spec sheet demanded a 20 acre site suitable for a baseball field. The surrounding area should contain development potential – either existing local businesses or the potential for new ones. The team has aspirations to create a new Camden Yards by building the first in the next generation of major league stadiums. They speak of creating a come-early and stay-late atmosphere with a next level fan experience. Their desire to integrate with external entertainment, retail, and food options dovetails with the latest trends in stadium building.
The document also refers to a need for a “public-private partnership.” That’s shorthand for tax payer money. Tax payer funding of stadiums is always a fascinating angle to evaluate. Economic analyses typically find that public funding of stadiums mostly profits club ownership at the expense of tax payers. Cities still agree to fund stadiums despite the evidence against them.
As for next steps, the Rays will begin to meet with interested parties. The city believes that the current Tropicana site and another called Toytown fit the team’s specifications. Presumably, the Rays will begin to hone in on more specific details from here.
Here’s the latest from around the AL Central…
- The White Sox and Cubs have both contacted the Rays about their pitching and outfield surplus, CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine reports. The Cubs’ discussions with the Rays have been well-documented this winter, though the Sox are a new entry among the many teams to touch base with the Rays about their young arms; Levine notes that at least 11 teams have asked Tampa Bay about pitchers. The White Sox have needs at both corner outfield positions and at the back end of their rotation. The all-lefty trio of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon will headline the Pale Hose rotation, while John Danks, Jacob Turner and Erik Johnson are the current competitors for the fourth and fifth starters’ jobs.
- The White Sox went on a seven-game winning streak from July 23 to July 29 last season, though this hot stretch right in the leadup to the trade deadline didn’t really change the team’s plans, GM Rick Hahn tells MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. The decision to keep Jeff Samardzija at the deadline, for instance, wasn’t made because of the win streak; “nothing materialized and nothing was done in principal” in terms of a possible Samardzija trade, though the Sox were discussing him with teams. “Those [talks] don’t necessarily happen July 27, 28, 29 and 30th. Those are going on for several weeks,” Hahn said.
- The Indians have offered Juan Uribe around $3MM, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports as part of his latest subscription-only column. Uribe has been linked to the Tribe and a few other teams, though salary will depend on whether or not Uribe is slated for a starting or backup role. Cleveland seems likely to use Uribe and Giovanny Urshela in a time-share at third, so Uribe wouldn’t get the lion’s share of playing time.
- Speaking of Urshela, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer looks at the Indians’ incumbent at the hot corner, noting that it’s too soon to write off the 24-year-old as an all-glove, no-bat player. While Urshela’s minor league numbers aren’t impressive overall, he did post an .825 OPS over 528 PA at Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. Pluto notes that Urshela battled injuries in 2015 and was probably promoted too quickly. Urshela’s glove is so impressive that he can be a very useful everyday player if he hits even just a little, though Pluto notes that there are enough questions surrounding Urshela that the Tribe is justified in looking for an upgrade, especially in a season when team plans to contend.
- The Indians are leaning more towards Uribe than David Freese to address their third base need, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes as part of a reader mailbag. Freese entered the winter as the best of a fairly thin free agent third base market but there’s been very little news about him this winter, aside from some talks with the Angels before they acquired Yunel Escobar.
- Randy Rosario was something of a surprising addition to the Twins’ 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft, but as Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes, the Twins are impressed by the young left-hander’s promise. Rosario, 21, missed much of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery before returning to pitch 53 2/3 innings in A-ball last season. The Dominican Republic product signed an $85K contract with the Twins in 2010.
Here are the day’s minor moves:
- The Yankees added outfielder Jared Mitchell on a minor league pact, Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweets. Mitchell has been playing in the upper minors for quite some time after moving quickly upon being taken as the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft, but he’s yet to crack the majors. He spent most of last year with the Angels after breaking in with the White Sox, and owns a .213/.329/.338 batting line with 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases over 695 total plate appearances in parts of four seasons at Triple-A.
- Meanwhile, the division-rival Rays are evidently working on a new pitching angle after adding converted catcher Jeff Howell on a minor league deal, as Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweets (with an assist from Mick Reinhard of PennLive, on Twitter). He joins fellow knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa in the Tampa Bay organization, which has also recently added former big league knuckler Charlie Haeger to its instructional staff. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see how this apparent experiment pans out.
- The Rays also picked up righty Adam Reifer on a minors deal, per Eddy. The 29-year-old reliever owns a 4.35 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 over 176 total minor league frames.
The Rays are among the teams considering a run at Tyler Clippard late in the offseason, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). As Topkin notes, Clippard was raised in Florida — he attended high school roughly 40 miles from Tropicana Field — and would also benefit from Florida’s lack of an income tax.
The lack of a market for Clippard has been surprising to many, although the right-hander certainly isn’t without red flags. His velocity has dropped each season since 2013, and he posted his lowest full-season strikeout rate in 2015 while also recording the third-worst full-season walk rate of his career. Clippard was also the game’s most extreme fly-ball pitcher last season; his 60.6 percent fly-ball rate was the highest among any pitcher that threw at least 20 innings, and it wasn’t particularly close. Teams may also be concerned about the huge workload on Clippard’s right arm; no reliever is within even 50 innings of the 464 1/3 innings that Clippard has tallied since the 2010 season.
Of course, that durability can also be perceived as a positive. Clippard has never been on the disabled list, and he’s made at least 72 appearances with at least 70 innings pitched in each of the past six seasons. Given the volatile nature of relief pitcher’s, Clippard’s consistent ability to take the mound — and pitch effectively, no less — is nothing short of remarkable. Dating back to that previously mentioned 2010 season, Clippard has a 2.67 ERA with 10.1 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9. He’s always been a fly-ball pitcher — though rarely to the extreme that he displayed in 2015 — but has managed to average less than a home run per nine innings (0.9 HR/9) in that stretch as well.
The question with which teams are faced, then, is whether or not the decline in Clippard’s K/BB numbers and velocity are due to that heavy workload or are elements of his game that can be corrected. Given the fact that he’s the last big-name relief arm left on the market, it would seem that there is indeed some level of trepidation surrounding him, but that could create the opportunity for a team to get something of a bargain rate on a player that has typically yielded high-quality results.
The Rays, in particular, could make sense as a landing spot for a reputable setup man, as the team has traded both Kevin Jepsen (to the Twins) and Jake McGee (to the Rockies) in the past six months or so, creating a potential late-inning opening. Clippard would theoretically join names like Danny Farquhar and Alex Colome as right-handed setup pieces serving as a bridge to closer Brad Boxberger.
Left-hander Drew Smyly and his agents at Frontline Athlete Management have won their arbitration hearing against the Rays, reports Jon Heyman (on Twitter). Because of the arbitration panel’s ruling, Smyly will earn $3.75MM in 2016 as opposed to the $3.2MM figure that had been submitted by the team.
This will be Smyly’s second trip through the arbitration process. As a Super Two player, he landed a $2.65MM salary last offseason and will be eligible for arbitration twice more before qualifying for free agency. Because his future salaries will be based off of his 2016 salary, that fact that he received the higher of the two possible sums in this hearing means that not only will he receive a greater salary in 2016, but his future salaries, too, will be based on a considerably more favorable launching point.
The sum in question at the hearing may seem relatively trivial to onlookers, although as several GMs and assistant GMs explained to MLBTR last year at this time, teams feel a responsibility to manage the arbitration market, as it is shared by all 30 clubs. Because all arbitration cases are built on recent historical comparables, the slight increases would eventually compound and become more significant were every team simply to give in to what appear, on the surface, to be relatively trivial amounts.