- Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez has pitched so well in relief that the Rays may not move him back to the rotation, even though that was the initial plan, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. “Once we were going to go to a four-man rotation, we knew that we were going to use Erasmo in some pretty high-leverage situations,” manager Kevin Cash tells Topkin. “I don’t think any of us could have said he was going to be pitching this good at this point. Not discounting him at all, he’s just been unbelievable.” Ramirez has fired 10 1/3 innings of one-run ball since April 19, striking out seven hitters against just one walk with a 60.7 percent ground-ball ratio. His overall relief numbers are even more impressive, as Ramirez has tossed 16 1/3 innings out of the bullpen this year and yielded just three runs on 11 hits and a walk with 13 strikeouts. The Rays have Alex Cobb on the mend and could could turn to Blake Snell or Matt Andriese as rotation options in the interim. If Ramirez can sustain his success, it’ll only be a boon for a Tampa Bay ’pen that is also on the verge of getting closer Brad Boxberger back as well. Boxberger is nearing a return from offseason hernia surgery.
With the Yankees off to a woeful 8-15 start to the season, the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff opines that it’s time to make some significant changes to the lineup. Chief among them, writes Davidoff, is the benching of struggling third baseman Chase Headley in favor of Ronald Torreyes. While he notes that such a move wouldn’t be a long-term fit, Davidoff feels Torreyes would provide quality at-bats on a more consistent basis. Davidoff also calls for a demotion for right-hander Luis Severino if his struggles persist much longer, writes that aging veterans (Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira) should receive less playing time and adds that the Yankees should make it known that they’ll eat a large portion of Jacoby Ellsbury’s salary in a trade.
While the Yankees could certainly look to move Ellsbury, that’s far easier said than done, even if they’re eating a huge portion of his contract. Ellsbury has nearly $107MM remaining on his contract through the end of the 2020 season (including the $5MM buyout on his 2021 option). While the Dodgers were able to move Matt Kemp with nearly an identical amount remaining on his deal, Kemp was significantly more productive at the plate prior to his trade, and the Dodgers still had to eat $32MM of his deal. L.A.’s inability to move Carl Crawford and the longtime struggles the Braves faced in trying to shed Melvin Upton Jr. serve as reminders that it would be exceptionally difficult to move Ellsbury.
More from the AL East…
- Fangraphs’ David Laurila spoke with Headley about his struggles at Yankee Stadium. Headley explained that he’s in somewhat of a catch-22, as with the exception of the short porch in right field, Yankee Stadium plays fairly large. His swing from the left side is more geared for power to center field or to left field, which negates some of the advantages of hitting left-handed there. However, because of the increased shifting against him, he does feel the need to try to hit the ball in the air, which has resulted in a number of fl-ball outs. Headley tells Laurila that he’s working on pulling the ball in the air with more authority, though clearly he’s still enduring some troubles at the plate.
- Also within Laurila’s notes column, he speaks to Rays right-hander Danny Farquhar about the increase of data that he’s received now that he’s in the Tampa Bay organization. “They’re presenting me with more than anyone I’ve been with,” said Farquhar. The former Mariners setup man feels that the increased data is good information to have to provide context when he’s struggling.
- Orioles infielder/DH Jimmy Paredes will see his minor league rehab assignment end in two weeks, and Baltimore will face a decision on the out-of-options 27-year-old at that point, writes MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko. Kubatko doesn’t see how the O’s can keep Paredes on the roster unless they view him as their backup second baseman over Ryan Flaherty, who is expected to be recalled from Triple-A this week. It does indeed seem as if Baltimore has some trepidation about playing Paredes in the field with any form of regularity. Last season, he logged just 72 2/3 innings in the field despite appearing in more than 100 games. The Orioles, in fact, elected to play Steve Pearce at second base over Paredes despite a complete lack of experience for Pearce at the position. With Pedro Alvarez locked in at DH, Paredes does appear to be squeezed out of a role unless the club feels comfortable with his glove, which hasn’t been the case in the past.
- The Red Sox optioned infielder Marco Hernandez to Triple-A, which will clear a spot on the 25-man roster for right-hander Carson Smith to be activated from the disabled list tomorrow, tweets ESPN Boston’s Scott Lauber. As the Boston Herald’s Evan Drellich writes, manager John Farrell explains that he plans to be careful with Smith early in his season. “We’ve got to be mindful that Carson comes back to us with a limited rehab (stint), so we’ve got to be careful on his frequency of use,” said Farrell. “It’s not being ruled out that we would go with an extra pitcher for the short term.”
- The Dodgers face the Rays in a rare interleague matchup this week, with Andrew Friedman returning to Tampa for the first time since leaving the franchise after the 2014 season. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times looks back at the five best and five worst moves of Friedman’s nine-year tenure, though Friedman’s overall contribution to the franchise was enormously positive, helping turn the Rays from perennial doormat to regular contender. “Andrew was one of the cornerstones who helped move the organization to where it is today….His impact will be felt here for decades going forward,” Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said.
The Diamondbacks made one of the offseason’s most criticized moves when they sent a significant haul of young talent to Atlanta for right-hander Shelby Miller. One month into the season, the deal looks even worse for the Diamondbacks than its detractors thought it did at the time. Two of the players they gave up, righty Aaron Blair and shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson, have gotten off to impressive starts in the Braves organization. Miller, meanwhile, threw 19 2/3 innings in April and yielded 19 earned runs while walking one fewer hitter (15) than he struck out (16). Regarding Miller’s early difficulties, D-backs general manager Dave Stewart told MLB Network Radio (Twitter link) that expectations are weighing down the 25-year-old. “Shelby Miller is really just feeling some pressure of the trade,” Stewart said.
Here’s the latest on a few more pitchers from around baseball:
- Blue Jays reliever Drew Storen’s horrid April (eight innings, 14 hits, nine earned runs) won’t deter John Gibbons from continuing to rely on him, the manager told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. “I plan on just throwing him out there. You’ve got to. Otherwise you’re not very good if he’s not a key guy. The good ones, they all learn how to survive and make adjustments,” Gibbons said. As Nicholson-Smith notes, Storen’s average fastball velocity fell from 94 mph last year to 91.9 in April. On the bright side, he struck out seven batters against just one walk during the season’s first month.
- Cuban right-hander and offseason Dodgers signing Yaisel Sierra made his U.S. debut Saturday in a Single-A start and struck out seven hitters in four innings, though he allowed eight base runners (six hits, two walks) and three runs, according to Pete Marshall of the San Bernardino Sun. Sierra’s fastball sat in the low 90s and topped out at 94, which is the normal range for the 24-year-old. “I wasn’t good, I wasn’t bad,” he said of his performance.
- Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood had his best start of the year in a 5-1 loss to the Padres on Friday, throwing seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball while striking out nine and walking one. Wood’s encouraging outing came after a few days of working on a mechanical adjustment, writes Jack Baer of MLB.com. Wood’s delivery became easier to repeat, leading to better command, as a result of lowering his foot during his stride. “When I stride out, my foot off the ground has been fairly higher than it has been in the past,” he said. “It’s something that I thought was the last piece of the puzzle, in terms of my timing and getting my consistency back.” Wood’s performance against the Padres dropped his season ERA from 6.00 to 4.82 and increased his K/9 from a paltry 5.1 to 6.75.
- Rays closer Brad Boxberger continues making progress in his recovery from core muscle repair surgery on March 17 and should return to the majors later this month after a rehab assignment, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Boxberger went 41 of 47 on save opportunities last season and put up a 3.71 ERA, 10.57 K/9 and 4.57 BB/9 in 63 innings.
Brewers star left fielder Ryan Braun can veto a trade to all teams except the Dodgers, Angels, Marlins, Rays and Nationals, but the idea of rebuilding Milwaukee dealing him “is becoming more realistic,” FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (video link). Braun, 32, will have four years and $76MM left on his contract after this season, and Rosenthal believes he’d make plenty of sense as a complement to Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun in the Angels’ outfield. However, the Angels’ dearth of quality prospects and a potential reluctance on owner Arte Moreno’s part to acquire Braun, given his contract and past suspension for PEDs, are factors that could stand in the way of a trade, Rosenthal adds.
Here’s more from Rosenthal:
- The Yankees aren’t known for selling at the trade deadline, but if their woeful April performance drags into the coming months, lights-out relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller could be two of the most appealing players available over the summer, Rosenthal says. Chapman, whose 30-game suspension stemming from domestic violence allegations is almost over, will be a free agent at year’s end. Miller has two years and $18MM left on his deal after this season, and Rosenthal doesn’t expect the Yankees to move him if they intend on competing in 2017. If not, though, they could use the deadline to erase his money from their books and stave off a possible decline in their uniform. Miller, 30, hasn’t shown any negative signs this year, having amassed 15 strikeouts over nine scoreless, walk-less innings.
- Speaking of relievers, the Mets, Giants and Blue Jays will look to fortify their bullpens as the season advances, per Rosenthal. Mets relievers have been outstanding this year, while the other two clubs’ bullpen production has been average or worse. Toronto will get in-house help there eventually in the form of starter Aaron Sanchez, whose innings limit will remove him from the team’s rotation, Rosenthal notes. Sanchez, who has been excellent in a starting role (2.59 ERA, 8.33 K/9, 2.87 BB/9 in 31 1/3 innings), put up a 2.39 ERA with 19 strikeouts and seven walks in 26 1/3 frames out of the Jays’ bullpen last season.
- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira could appeal to plenty of teams on a short-term deal if he hits free agency in the offseason, according to Rosenthal. Teixeira’s dedication to fitness might allay some teams’ fears about his age (he’ll turn 37 next April), but he’ll obviously need to stay healthy and compile significant production this season in order to cash in over the winter. Teixeira was terrific last year, slashing .255/.357/.548 with 31 homers in just 111 games to revive his career, but his 89 plate appearances this season haven’t been nearly as promising (.230/.360/.365).
- In other extension-related news, the Rays have not seriously engaged with center fielder Kevin Kiermaier about a deal over the last several months, according to Chris Cotillo of SB Nation (Twitter link). Nevertheless, Tampa Bay has given some indication of interest at some point. The 26-year-old seems like the type of player the Rays would target for a bargain contract, as he had only accumulated 1.131 years of service entering the season and is a glove-first player whose on-field value may not translate particularly well into arbitration earnings. Even if he can’t replicate last year’s magical season in the field, he seems like a good bet to continue as a solid asset for years to come. While it seems unlikely that the sides will get anything started in the near term, last year’s Juan Lagares extension looks like as good a comp as one could hope for. Lagares was the same age and featured a similar profile, though he was much more certain at the time to reach Super Two status (and, it’s fair to note, has done less with the bat in his career).
Longtime MLB reliever Grant Balfour has officially wrapped up his 12-year MLB career, he tells Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Balfour, 38, last pitched briefly in early 2015 with the Rays.
Last we checked in, Balfour expressed interest in continuing to pitch. Of course, that was at the end of May of 2015, and he hasn’t appeared in the majors since being cut loose by Tampa Bay. The veteran tells Topkin that he mulled a return this spring, but decided not to look for a spring invite after beginning to throw.
“It was honestly a great ride, meeting a lot of people and developing friendships along the way,” said the Australian native. “I now look forward to sitting home and being a spectator and be able to spend more time with my family.”
Balfour took some time establishing himself in the majors, but had a nice run of success once he did. Between 2008 and 2013, Balfour run up 380 1/3 innings of 2.74 ERA pitching with 9.7 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9. That made him one of the most reliable pen arms in baseball; eventually, Balfour would take over the Athletics’ closer role, picking up 62 saves in the final two years of that solid stretch of pitching.
After wrapping up a strong three-year run in Oakland, Balfour returned to the Rays after a deal with the division-rival Orioles fell apart over his physical. That represented a homecoming for the reliever, who had finally locked down a steady MLB job in Tampa Bay after prior stints with the Twins and Brewers.
Unfortunately, Balfour didn’t make good on his two-year contract, with age, velocity decline, and control issues telling in the results. Balfour ended 2014 with a 4.91 ERA in 62 1/3 frames, and was removed from the roster just six appearances into 2015 after failing to record strikeout and allowing three runs in 4 1/3 innings. He signed a minor league deal to stay with the Rays organization, and ultimately made eight Triple-A appearances, but didn’t experience enough improvement to make it back to the bigs.
MLBTR congratulates Balfour on his career and wishes him the best in his future endeavors.
- Rays closer Brad Boxberger, who’s missed the entire season so far after having core muscle surgery in March, has been cleared to resume baseball activities, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune tweets. Boxberger remains on track to return to the Rays in mid-May. Alex Colome has collected four saves in his absence.
- The Rangers will purchase the contract of southpaw Cesar Ramos on Monday so he can make a spot start in place of the injured Cole Hamels, Texas executive VP of communications John Blake tweets. There is no word yet on the corresponding moves that would create roster space for Ramos; Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram speculates that Keone Kela could be moved to the 60-day DL and Alex Claudio could head to Triple-A. Only ten of Ramos’ 251 career games have been starts, though he made seven starts as recently as 2014 with the Rays. Ramos posted a 2.75 ERA and 2.87 K/BB rate in 52 1/3 relief innings with the Angels last season before being rather surprisingly non-tendered. He signed a minor league deal with Texas in January.
- The Rays transferred Alex Cobb to the 60-day DL in order to create a 40-man roster spot for Jhan Marinez, the club announced. Cobb has been out of action for almost a full year recovering from Tommy John surgery and is expected back late this season.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times believes the Rays should consider trading for Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy if they plan on contending, even if it means parting with a couple of their top prospects. So far this season, the Rays have gotten almost no offensive production from backstops Curt Casali and Hank Conger. Moreover, base stealers have gone 15 of 15 against the duo. Conger has thrown out just one of 54 runners dating back to last season. Lucroy, on the other hand, has established himself as one of the sport’s premier two-way catchers. The 29-year-old is playing this season on an eminently reasonable $4MM salary and is under team control through 2017 with a $5.25MM club option.