- The Astros haven’t given up on the notion of acquiring one of Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana or Chris Archer and remain in contact with the Athletics, White Sox and Rays, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted recently. The extreme asking prices on each starter makes it seem unlikely that Houston would be able to pry any of that trio loose. They’ve already balked at Chicago’s reported asking price of Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove for Quintana, and MLB Network’s Peter Gammons tweets that he received a flat “No” when he asked one source if Gray could land in Houston. Archer, meanwhile, seems like an even longer shot to contend. The Rays have already moved one of their starters, trading Drew Smyly to the Mariners, and the remainder of their offseason dealings have been largely focused in improving the 2017 club.
The Rays announced that they’ve traded outfielder Mikie Mahtook to the Tigers in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. Detroit, too, has announced the move, adding that fellow outfielder Anthony Gose has been designated for assignment to clear a spot on the roster for Mahtook.
[Related: Updated Detroit Tigers Depth Chart]
Tampa Bay selected Mahtook, now 27, with the 31st overall pick in the 2011 draft, but the LSU product struggled in his second stint against Major League pitching this past season. Mahtook debuted in 2015 and batted an impressive .295/.351/.619 with nine home runs in just 115 plate appearances, but he’d never shown that type of power throughout his minor league tenure. Mahtook’s bat regressed (and then some) in 2016, as he received 196 Major League plate appearances but slashed just .195/.231/.292 with three homers over the life of 65 games. A broken left hand did sideline Mahtook for a good portion of the 2016 season, though it doesn’t seem likely that the injury had much to do with his lack of production, as Mahtook wasn’t performing at the plate even prior to being hit by the pitch that ultimately caused the fracture.
Defensively, Mahtook is capable of playing all three outfield spots and has split his time across all three slots fairly evenly (though he’s played a slight bit more in center than in either outfield corner). Mahtook has been primarily a center fielder throughout his minor league career, so he’ll give the Tigers an option in center field for the team to consider. And it should be noted that he does come with a sound track record of performance in Triple-A, where he’s batted .277/.342/.420 with 17 homers and 33 steals (40 tries) in 1088 plate appearances.
Mahtook will compete with out-of-options Tyler Collins and his former college teammate, JaCoby Jones, for playing time in center field. He could also serve as a right-handed complement to Collins in a platoon setting. Mahtook does have a minor league option remaining, so the Tigers can also send him to Triple-A for further refinement if he struggles this spring.
As for Gose, his time with the Tigers has long looked to be in jeopardy. Though the 26-year-old has been mentioned by GM Al Avila as an option in center field at times this offseason, he’s out of minor league options and hasn’t hit in the Majors with the Tigers since being acquired from the Blue Jays in exchange for Devon Travis two years ago. The fleet-footed Gose has batted just .247/.315/.363 with Detroit. That includes a .209/.287/.341 slash in 30 games last season and an even more disheartening .203/.276/.312 slash in 90 games between Triple-A and Double-A. Beyond his on-field struggles, Gose also received a brief, team-issued suspension due to a dugout altercation with Triple-A skipper Lloyd McClendon (followed by a demotion to Double-A).
As for the Rays, the trade of Mahtook opens a spot on the 40-man roster which could clear way for fellow outfielder Colby Rasmus, who has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with Tampa Bay that has yet to be formally announced. The Rays are also reportedly nearing a Major League deal with right-hander Shawn Tolleson, so Mahtook’s spot could go to him as well. Either way, it seems that the Rays stand to make at least one additional 40-man roster tweak in the days to come.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
6:30pm: The deal, if completed, will be a Major League contract, Topkin tweets.
The soon-to-be 29-year-old right-hander was non-tendered by Texas last month after a poor 2016 campaign but was excellent as recently as 2014-15. In that two-year run of success, Tolleson logged a 2.88 ERA with 9.1 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 across 144 innings of relief. Tolleson’s strong performance earned him a ninth-inning role with the Rangers for most of the 2015 campaign, and he racked up 35 saves that season as the primary closer in Texas.
However, the 2016 campaign was disastrous for Tolleson, who saw his ERA spike to an outlandish 7.68 mark over the life of 36 1/3 innings. Tolleson did pick up 11 saves, but he eventually ceded his ninth-inning job to teammate Sam Dyson, who enters the season as the projected closer in Texas once again. Tolleson was eventually outrighted by the Rangers and elected free agency in search of a better opportunity. Topkin notes that while Tolleson missed time with a back injury in 2016, he’s now said to be healthy, which one would think gives him a decent shot at cracking the Rays’ big league bullpen, even if the deal proves to be of the minor league variety.
Should Tolleson return to form in his new surroundings, the Rays will have the added bonus of being able to control him for another season. Tolleson finished the year four years, 109 days of big league service time, so he’ll be eligible for arbitration again next winter and wouldn’t reach free agency until after the 2018 season (unless the Rays elect to cut ties with him sooner).
The Cubs have claimed righty Dylan Floro off waivers from the Rays, per a club announcement. He had been designated for assignment recently by Tampa Bay.
Floro, 26, reached the bigs for the first time last year, working 15 innings over which he struck out 14 and walked five. He showed a 92.5 mph average heater and drew plenty of grounders, so there certainly seems to be some promise in his future.
Indeed, the control artist was quite good on the year at Triple-A, where he threw fifty frames of 2.88 ERA ball with 7.2 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9. Long a starter, Floro had converted to being a full-time reliever after struggling in his first attempt at the highest level of the minors in 2015.
TODAY: There’s still work left between Bautista and the Jays, and both Cleveland and Tampa Bay remain interested, Heyman adds on Twitter.
YESTERDAY, 6:45pm: Bautista is expected to take home more than the qualifying offer value ($17.2MM) if the one-year-plus-option scenario is indeed adopted in a finalized deal, Heyman tweets. Indications still are that the sides are leaning toward that arrangement.
2:07pm: Rosenthal tweets that the deal, if completed, will be a one-year contract with a mutual option.
9:38am: A one-year deal is also still a consideration, as are other scenarios tweets Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. Heyman tweets that the current expectation is that the two sides will agree to a deal worth about $37MM over two years, though there’s nothing final. Both the Indians and Rays have bid on Bautista recently as well.
9:15am: Passan reports that the two sides are in the final stages of working out an agreement that will pay Bautista close to $40MM over a two-year term.
7:50am: Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports hears that the two sides are discussing a two-year contract (Twitter link). FOX’s Ken Rosenthal agrees, tweeting that Bautista and the Jays are discussing a two-year pact in the $35-40MM range. That’s a departure from Passan’s report, though it should be noted that Passan’s tweets were around 2am, so there’s certainly been enough time for talks to have changed course.
JAN. 16, 7:13am: Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that the two sides have discussed multiple iterations of a deal but are currently focused on a one-year pact (Twitter links). A deal isn’t quite done yet, but each side is optimistic that something will be completed.
JAN. 15: The Blue Jays have emerged as the front-runners for free agent right fielder Jose Bautista’s services and are nearing an agreement with the slugger, reports Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com (Twitter link). Details regarding the potential pact aren’t yet known, but Toronto hadn’t been willing to give the Octagon/Jay Alou client a deal worth more than the one-year, $17.2MM qualifying offer as of late December.
Bautista has been on the open market since rejecting a qualifying offer from Toronto in November, though the 36-year-old’s venture into free agency hasn’t gone according to plan. Despite serving as one of the majors’ foremost offensive weapons since an out-of-nowhere breakout in 2010, serious interest in Bautista has been scarce this offseason. Bautista has been willing to consider a one-year deal as a result, but it seems having to surrender a first-round pick to sign him has scared off potential suitors.
It also hasn’t helped Bautista’s cause that he’s coming off a disappointing season, one that featured multiple stints on the disabled list and an offensive decline. While Bautista hit a more-than-respectable .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs in 517 plate appearances, those numbers represented a stark drop-off from the ones he has typically posted as a Blue Jay. After toiling in anonymity with various teams from 2004-09, Bautista slashed a stellar .268/.390/.555 with 227 homers as a Jay between 2010-15.
Thanks to that otherworldly six-year run, Bautista was reportedly seeking a half-decade-long extension worth $150MM last winter. Toronto unsurprisingly balked at that asking price, and the club’s decision was clearly wise given Bautista’s production in 2016. It’ll look that much better if the team is able to bring back Bautista at what should be a palatable price on a short-term contract.
The Blue Jays have already lost one of the longtime faces of their franchise, first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, to free agency this offseason. Encarnacion landed in Cleveland, which knocked the Jays out of the playoffs last year and has also shown interest in Bautista. But it doesn’t appear the two will reunite this offseason, which is welcome news to a Jays club that’s in dire need of corner outfield help.
Jason Martinez of MLBTR and Roster Resource is currently projecting that the light-hitting Ezequiel Carrera will man Bautista’s spot in right, while free agent pickup Steve Pearce is slated to start in left. Pearce is far better suited for first base, though, and the Jays could stand to upgrade over Justin Smoak there. Re-upping Bautista would enable them to shift Pearce and their most significant offseason acquisition to date, Kendrys Morales, between first and designated hitter and perhaps platoon Carrera and Melvin Upton Jr. in left.
While retaining Bautista would be a boon to Toronto’s offense (and likely the morale of its fans), he does come with drawbacks. In addition to his offensive regression last season, Bautista continued to fall off in the field, as he finished with negative grades in Defensive Runs Saved (minus-6) and Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-5.6) for the second year in a row. He also failed to provide value on the base paths, making Bautista a one-dimensional player at this stage of his career. That dimension is rather effective, though, and is apparently going to lead him back to Toronto, where he’s an icon. Keeping Bautista will cost the Jays the compensatory first-round pick they’d have netted had he headed elsewhere, but the club seemingly values what he could bring in future years more than that selection.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Speaking to Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link), Rays GM Erik Neander says his team “will continue to have an open mind” about moving another starting pitcher. Trade rumors have swirled around Tampa’s rotation all winter, seemingly culminating in the deal that sent Drew Smyly to the Mariners earlier this week. Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb also drew interest, so it’s not out of the question that the Rays would deal another starter if they can score a significant return.
Many teams use the arbitration exchange as a hard deadline for negotiations on one-year deals — a “file and trial” approach which effectively means that once figures are exchanged, the only option they’ll pursue before a hearing is a multi-year deal. (The Mets and Orioles are both adopting that approach this year, and other teams to use that strategy in the past include Astros, Blue Jays, Braves, Marlins, Rays, White Sox, Pirates, Reds and Nationals.)
- The Rays have now announced that they’ve avoided arbitration with all of their arb-eligible players except Jake Odorizzi. That means that in addition to Beckham, Kiermaier, Dickerson and Cedeno (all noted below), they’ve avoided arb with Alex Cobb, Erasmo Ramirez, Brad Boxberger, Danny Farquhar and Brad Miller. Roger Mooney of the Tampa Bay Times reports (on Twitter) that Cobb gets $4.2MM, Farquhar gets $900K and Miller gets $3.575MM. Heyman tweets that Ramirez gets $3.125MM and adds on Twitter that Boxberger settled at $1.6MM. Cobb slightly topped his projection by $200K, while Farquhar fell short by the same margin and Miller fell $225K shy of his $3.8MM figure. Ramirez also came up short of his $3.5MM projection. Cobb is a free agent next winter while Miller and Ramirez are controllable for another three seasons and Farquhar can be controlled for four.
- Corey Dickerson agreed to a $3.025MM salary with the Rays, tweets Heyman, which is $350K south of his $3.4MM projection. Dickerson is controllable through the 2019 season.
- Kevin Kiermaier and the Rays have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $2.975MM deal for 2017, tweets Heyman. Kiermaier is fresh off his second Gold Glove season and is considered one of the game’s premier defenders, but he also had a nice season at the plate. In 414 plate appearances, the 26-year-old hit .246/.331/.410 with 12 homers and 21 steals. Kiermaier crushed his $2.1MM projection after sneaking into arbitration eligiblity by exactly one day of service time. He’ll be arb-eligible thrice more before hitting the open market following the 2020 season.
- The Rays and infielder Tim Beckham agreed to an $885K salary for the 2017 season, tweets Heyman. The former No. 1 overall pick hit .247/.300/.434 with five home runs in 215 plate appearances for Tampa Bay last year. He seemed to fall out of favor with the organization late in the year and didn’t receive a September call-up after being demoted to Triple-A. However, he looks to be back in the fold for the 2017 campaign. Beckham is controllable through 2020.
- Lefty reliever Xavier Cedeno and the Rays have agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.3MM, tweets Heyman. That tops his projection of $1.2MM by $100K. Cedeno, 30, logged a 3.70 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 41 1/3 innings this past season and chipped in 19 holds as well. He’s arb-eligible twice more and can be a free agent after the 2019 season.
- The Mariners tried to acquire Mallex Smith from the Braves on multiple occasions this offseason and had talks with Atlanta about him as recently as last Friday. However, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto swung a deal for Jarrod Dyson, instead. Dipoto and the Mariners still saw value in Smith and knew the Rays had interest in him as a potential component in a Drew Smyly trade, so Dipoto circled back with Atlanta counterpart John Coppolella over the weekend to get talks rolling once again. (As an aside, Rosenthal counts a staggering 35 trades for Dipoto since taking over as Seattle’s GM in Sept. 2015. Thanks for always keeping us busy, Jerry.)
- Despite the fact that the Rays now have a fair amount of center-field depth in Smith, Kevin Kiermaier and newly signed Colby Rasmus, a Tampa Bay source tells Rosenthal it’s “very unlikely” that they’ll move Kevin Kiermaier in a trade. Kiermaier won’t turn 27 until April, is controlled through the 2020 campaign and is arguably the game’s top defensive player, making him a highly valuable asset. Defensive metrics are obviously an inexact science, but Defensive Runs Saved pegs Kiermaier at a ludicrous +68 runs in his 2346 Major League innings in center field (and another +13 in his limited corner work). Ultimate Zone Rating has him at +44 in center and +16 in the corners. On top of that, he’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to make an eminently affordable $2.1MM in his first trip through arbitration as a Super Two player this winter. He’s also a plus baserunner, and his bat has been slightly above the league average in his career, as he’s a .258/.313/.425 hitter (105 OPS+ and wRC+).
- In a separate column, Rosenthal writes that while he received some negative feedback from scouts on the Mariners’ decision to move left-handed pitching prospect Luiz Gohara in yesterday’s trades with the Braves (and then the Rays), Seattle may have been more willing to part with the 20-year-old due to medical concerns. The would-be Zack Cozart trade from this past trade deadline fell apart due to the Reds’ concerns over Gohara’s shoulder, Rosenthal hears. Certainly, Atlanta is comfortable enough with Gohara’s shoulder, and GM John Coppolella suggested to Rosenthal that he’s not afraid to move on from a trade due to medical reasons. “We have had to walk away from two trades this offseason because of failed medicals,” said Coppolella. “We feel good about the health of [Gohara and left-hander Thomas Burrows].”
The Mariners have struck yet another two-deal day, as Seattle has announced the acquisition of lefty Drew Smyly from the Rays. Tampa Bay will pick up center fielder Mallex Smith — who was just added by Seattle in a trade with the Braves — along with minor league infielder Carlos Vargas and minor league lefty Ryan Yarbrough.
This move represents a continuation of an immensely active offseason for the Jerry Dipoto-led Mariners front office. The club will surely install Smyly in its rotation, hoping that the 27-year-old southpaw can regain the form that he showed prior to a disappointing 2016 campaign. He’ll slot in alongside fellow newcomer Yovani Gallardo — acquired last week in a straight-up swap that sent Seth Smith to Baltimore — and holdovers Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton.
Despite carrying an ugly 4.88 ERA in 2016, Smyly did post career highs in both starts (30) and innings (175 1/3). And he managed to post a solid 8.6 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9, though his groundball rate sat at just 31.3% and he allowed 1.6 home runs per nine innings. If he can tamp down the long balls and remain healthy, perhaps there’s reason to think that Smyly will return to being a solid mid-rotation piece for Seattle, particularly given the excellent defensive trio that figures to roam the outfield at Safeco Field. Leonys Martin will return in center field and be flanked by trade acquisitions Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger to to provide a strong defensive unit. Another pair of strong defenders, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia, are also present beyond that presumptive starting trio.
The M’s will only control Smyly for two years, as the second-time arb-eligible hurler is set to reach the open market after the 2018 campaign. MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz project him to earn $6.9MM via arbitration for the coming season — his second trip through the arb process as a Super Two player.
Dipoto tells Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times (Twitter link) that he “probably spent more time through the course of the offseason trying to acquire Drew Smyly than any other player.” Clearly, then, the M’s had targeted the lefty all along, though it took another deal to get the assets needed to make it happen.
When Seattle picked up Smith earlier today (along with Shae Simmons) in a trade that cost the team prospects Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows, it obviously did so with intentions to flip Smith. He was evidently targeted by the Rays, despite the continued presence of Kevin Kiermaier in center and the recent signing of Colby Rasmus.
It’s certainly plausible to imagine those players co-existing on the MLB roster, though the presence of Steven Souza, Corey Dickerson, and others could complicate maters. Alternatively, Smith might simply start the year in Triple-A, unless the Rays find yet another deal that shifts some assets.
Smith is primarily valued for his defense and baserunning, though he has put up strong numbers at the plate during much of his minor-league career. He’s most valuable playing up the middle but could also presumably function in a corner spot while occasionally spelling Kiermaier in center. Though Smith is generally regarded as a strong defender, Kiermaier is one of the game’s premier defenders in center field and doesn’t figure to be displaced anytime soon.
In making this deal, Tampa Bay is acquiring at least five years of Smith’s services. The 23-year-old (24 in May) logged exactly one year of service time in the Majors last year. Another full year would put him on track to be arbitration-eligible following the 2019 season and eligible for free agency following the completion of the 2021 campaign, although if he spends even three to four weeks in the minors to open the season, Tampa Bay would gain another year of club control (while also putting Smith on track for Super Two status).
Smith’s big league debut last year was born out of necessity, as he was called up to the Majors when Ender Inciarte hit the disabled list early in the year. Smith didn’t hit much early on, but the Braves liked his speed and glovework enough to keep him around even when Inciarte returned. A fractured thumb would ultimately cost Smith roughly three months of the season. He batted a lackluster .238/.316/.365 in 215 plate appearances on the season as a whole, though he’d rebounded from a poor start to hit .272/.338/.440 in 43 games from late April until the time of his injury in mid-June. Paired with his 80-grade speed, that type of production would likely elate the Rays, though his defensive prowess would allow Smith to deliver value even if he can’t replicate that output over the course of a full season.
Yarbrough, who turned 25 on New Year’s Eve, rated as the Mariners’ No. 11 prospect per MLB.com, and Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper tweets that he’d have placed 12th on BA’s soon-to-be-released list of the Mariners’ top 30 prospects. Per Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis of MLB.com, Yarbrough’s fastball sits 91-93 mph and scrapes the mid-90s at times, and he also has an above-average changeup. The MLB.com duo praises Yarbrough’s “oustanding” command and strong ground-ball tendencies, adding that improvement on his breaking ball could ultimately make him a mid-rotation starter. If not, he projects as a quality lefty relief piece due to his fastball, slider and command.
Vargas is still just 17 years of age — he’ll turn 18 in March — and ranked as one of the top available international prospects on the market a couple of years ago. Cooper tweets that he was set to rank 26th on Seattle’s forthcoming top 30 prospect list, and there’s reason to believe he could carry even more upside than that most ranking would suggest. Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, for instance, tweets that there’s “sneaky” value in Vargas, whom he tabs as eventual third baseman with “big pull power projection” and a good approach.
In writing about Vargas last spring, BA’s Ben Badler noted that he has too many moving parts in his swing but has displayed a strong baseball IQ and an impressive ability to make adjustments at the behest of the Mariners’ staff. Badler also credited Vargas with above-average raw power, an ability to hit the ball the opposite way, and an above-average arm with a quick release. In 62 games/256 plate appearances in the Dominican Summer League last year, Vargas batted .242/.344/.391 with seven homers, 11 doubles and nearly as many walks (32) as strikeouts (35).
Coats, 27 next month, was designated for assignment by the White Sox recently when they claimed fellow outfielder Willy Garcia off waivers from the Pirates. A former 29th-round selection by Chicago, Coats made his Major League debut with the ChiSox in 2016, batting .200/.298/.340 in a tiny sample of 58 plate appearances. Coats has spent more time in right field than any other outfield spot (by a wide margin) in his minor league career, but he does have 350 innings of work or more at all three positions. He’s also coming off a monster year in Triple-A Charlotte, where he batted .330/.394/.519 with 10 homers, 22 doubles and a pair of triples in just 332 plate appearances.
Floro recently turned 26 and, like Coats, made his big league debut in 2016. He picked up 15 innings out of the Tampa Bay bullpen and allowed seven earned runs (4.20 ERA) with 14 strikeouts against four unintentional walks to go along with a 54.7 percent ground-ball rate. Floro averaged a respectable 92.5 mph on his fastball and enjoyed a successful season at the Triple-A level, logging 50 innings with a 2.88 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 1.6 BB/9 and a 56.5 percent ground-ball rate. Given his excellent control (career 1.3 BB/9 in the minors) and strong ground-ball tendencies, it seems as though he could be a candidate to be claimed if the Rays ultimately expose him to outright waivers.