Tampa Bay Rays Rumors

Tampa Bay Rays trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Quick Hits: Blazek, Axford, Olt, Frasor, Santana, Rays

The Brewers shipped out reliever John Axford to the Cardinals at last year's trade deadline, bringing back young righty Michael Blazek. Milwaukee has been impressed with the 25-year-old, with manager Ron Roenicke saying he profiles as a late-inning arm, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentine. Meanwhile, after being non-tendered by the Cards and signed by the Indians, Axford hopes to continue learning from his brief stint in St. Louis. As MLB.com's Jordan Bastian reports, his former club informed him that he'd been tipping pitches, and Axford hopes that correction — along with regained velocity — will allow him to return to his peak form. 

Here are more stray notes from around the game …

  • Another trade deadline mover, Mike Olt of the Cubs, has shown substantial improvement in the eyesight issues that plagued him last year with the Rangers, reports Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times. Though his prospect stock has fallen in the meantime, all that matters to Olt is maintaining his health. "As long as I'm healthy," he said, "I know that I can do what I was capable of."
  • Reliever Jason Frasor explained that he elected to re-sign with the Rangers for the simple reason that he likes playing for the club, reports Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com"Free agency isn't that great for middle relievers," he said. "I never wanted to be the kind of guy that bounced around from team to team as middle relievers often do with one-year deals. I found a place I really, really liked. … I think I was the first [free agent] to sign [this offseason]. I just didn't feel it was worth it to try to scrape out maybe a little better contract … ."
  • One free agent who faces a much more open-ended market is former ace Johan Santana. As Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports, Santana has fielded interest from at least three American League clubs. The 34-year-old is hoping to be ready to take the mound in a big league game in June.
  • The Rays' roster battle features several situations where options will play a role, reports Bill Chastain of MLB.com. Among the players who must make the active roster or face a DFA are Chris Archer, Josh Lueke, Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Guyer, and Matt Joyce

AL East Links: Markakis, Sternberg, Blue Jays, Ortiz

For the last year or two, Nick Markakis has been vocal about how important it would be to spend his entire career with one organization, and the outfielder tells Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun how he hopes his contract year will help carry the Orioles to a championship and, potentially, convince the team to keep him in the fold.  "In a perfect world, I'd like to [stay here],'' Markakis said. "A lot of people play this game for the wrong reasons. A lot of people play it where the money is. I get a bigger satisfaction being with the same team your whole career….To be able to do that would be a pretty cool experience. It would be something special to me."  The O's have a $17.5MM option on Markakis for 2015 that seems a bit too expensive to exercise even if Markakis does rebound from his career-low numbers last season, though the two sides could work out another multiyear deal.

Here's more from around the AL East…

  • Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg told reporters (including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times) that while he didn't plan on having a payroll in the $80MM range for the coming season, the opportunity was there for the Rays to sign Grant Balfour and re-sign James Loney.
  • Sternberg noted that extending a star like David Price is "more difficult now than it was in the past, given the numbersThere's been inflation.''  That said, Sternberg also "wouldn't say it's likely" that this is Price's last year in Tampa.  "You just can't make decisions like that this far in advance, and we're trying to give the team as big of a chance as we can this year without sacrificing our future as well," Sternberg said.  "There's the opportuniuty of other players, there's the expense that's involved in it, but we're…a little enamored with the possibilities of what we can do, and what he brings."
  • The Blue Jays haven't made many roster moves this winter but GM Alex Anthopoulos tells ESPN's Jayson Stark that he expects the Jays to improve simply by avoiding some of the injuries and misfortune that plagued the club last season.  “Sometimes you sit there and say, ‘We won 74 games, when everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong,’” Anthopoulos said. “So this year, what happens if we just have a little bit of luck?  I can understand the skepticism about our team, absolutely, coming off the year we’re coming off.  But I just don’t think it’s a stretch to expect improvement out of a lot of these guys this year, simply because the floor was so low.”
  • The Blue Jays' second base options project to generate only 0.4 WAR in 2014, Fangraphs' Mike Petriello notes, and he explores a few trade possibilities that could upgrade Toronto at the keystone position.
  • With the Red Sox enjoying huge revenues and big drops in payroll obligations in 2015 and 2016, ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes argues that the time is right to extend David Ortiz.  The slugger's contract negotiations have generated some bad publicity in recent years, so Edes suggests that Ortiz could receive a club option in perpetuity, a la Tim Wakefield's contract with the Sox.
  • Red Sox limited partner Michael Gordon isn't a well-known figure to most fans, but WEEI.com's Alex Speier profiles the man who has quietly become a more influential voice within the team's ownership group over the last few years.

Nationals Notes: Desmond, Balfour, Gonzalez

Ian Desmond reportedly turned down a seven-year contract offer from the Nationals that was worth at least $85.5MM and possibly topped the $90MM threshold, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post reported during a reader chat.  Rumors about the Nats extending Desmond have swirled for over a year, and while the two sides agreed to a two-year, $17.5MM extension in January that covered both of his remaining arbitration years, Desmond is still eligible for free agency following the 2015 season.  While Desmond didn't specifically comment on Boswell's report, the shortstop told MLB.com's Bill Ladson that "the Nationals and I had been in conversation prior to the two-year deal, but things didn't work out. I don't know how this got out. It's not something that came from my side. We don't operate like that." 

Here's some more from Desmond and some other items from Washington…

  • Though a long-term deal hasn't been reached, Desmond "feel[s] real strongly about my future with the Nationals. I would like to play here for the rest of my career."
  • Desmond admitted he was "a little bit hesitant" to sign his two-year extension, "but in turn, I have a wife and kids. Guaranteed money is guaranteed money. I think it was a good, fair deal for both sides. I took a deal that benefited my family and it didn't affect future infielders in the arbitration process. To have the security was something I couldn't pass up."
  • Also from Boswell's chat, he notes that the Nationals offered Grant Balfour a two-year, $12MM deal but the reliever took a similar deal from the Rays instead because Washington's offer contained mostly deferred money.  Boswell admits this could be "one of those many after-the-fact retellings of history," but believes the rumor to be true.  The Nats were known to be interested in Balfour and were trying to free up 2014 payroll space to sign him and make further moves, to the point that Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann's two-year extensions were both backloaded to 2015.
  • Gio Gonzalez's contract has become a major bargain for the Nationals, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post writes.  Gonzalez has three years and a guaranteed $31.5MM remaining on his original five-year pact, and the Nationals have $12MM club options on the southpaw for both 2017 and 2018.


Orioles, Pirates Still Interested In Ike Davis

Although Mets Spring Training is underway and Ike Davis trade rumors have largely died down as of late, a pair of clubs is still interested in the 26-year-old. ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote yesterday that the Pirates continue to monitor Davis' status in camp, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Orioles are still interested in acquiring Davis to serve primarily in a DH capacity.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington told Stark yesterday that the team is confident in its internal candidates to serve as a platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez — namely Andrew Lambo, Chris McGuiness and Travis Ishikawa. However, Huntington added:

"That doesn't stop us from looking elsewhere. It’s just that now, our bar has been set a little bit higher, as to 'How do we make the club better?' And 'How do we make the club better at the right situation for us?'"

As for the Orioles, acquiring Davis would allow them to add some more power while preserving the No. 55 pick in the draft — a selection that would be forfeited should the team go the free-agent route by signing either Kendrys Morales or Nelson Cruz. Davis would also be significantly cheaper in terms of salary, as he's slated to earn just $3.5MM this season. However, Mets GM Sandy Alderson has made it clear that he will not simply give Davis away. Previous reports indicated that Alderson has asked the Orioles to part with top pitching rospect Eduardo Rodriguez in a Davis trade.

Sherman also reports that at one point this offseason, the Mets and Rays were discussing players that could be added to a Davis-for-Matt Joyce swap before Tampa finally proposed a straight one-for-one trade. The Mets rejected that deal, and Tampa closed the door on talks by signing James Loney to a three-year, $21MM contract.

Davis batted .205/.326/.334 overall last season but fared very well upon his recall from the minor leagues after being sent down in early June. The former first-round pick posted an .872 OPS over his final two months, including a .290/.468/.522 triple-slash in August. An oblique strain cut his strong finish to the season short, sidelining him for the entire month of September.


Rays Sign Erik Bedard

MONDAY: Bedard would earn $1.15MM if he makes the MLB roster, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. He can also earn up to $1.625MM more based on the number of starts he makes (ranging from eight to thirty). Bedard can opt out of his deal on March 23rd.

FRIDAY, 7:58am: The Rays have officially confirmed the signing on Twitter.

7:40am: The Rays have agreed to a minor league contract and an invitation to big league Spring Training with left-hander Erik Bedard, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweeted last night that the two were likely to strike such a deal, and MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo first connected the two sides on Wednesday. Bedard is a client of Relativity Baseball.

The 34-year-old Bedard spent the 2013 campaign with the Astros, posting a 4.59 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 4.5 BB/9 and a 36.4 percent ground-ball rate in 151 innings as both a starter and reliever. Bedard has always been injury prone, but until the past two seasons, he had always been effective when on the active roster. From 2006-11, Bedard posted a 3.44 ERA and whiffed 679 batters against 245 walks in 671 1/3 innings. Since that time, however, he's turned in just a 4.78 ERA in 276 2/3 innings between Pittsburgh and Houston.

Though he was emerging as one of the game's better pitchers before being struck by injuries in the mid-2000s, Bedard is probably most famous for the trade that sent him from Baltimore to Seattle. Former Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail flipped Bedard to the Mariners in a trade that netted Adam JonesChris TillmanGeorge SherrillKameron Mickolio and Tony Butler. Jones and Tillman, of course, are cornerstones in Baltimore now. Sherrill was flipped to the Dodgers in a trade for top prospect Josh Bell and righty Steve Johnson (who is still with the organization), and Mickolio was one of two pitchers used to acquire Mark Reynolds from Arizona.

The Rays have already added some pitching depth in the past 24 hours, landing righty Nate Karns from the Nationals in exchange for Jose Lobaton and a pair of prospects. Signing Bedard would add to that depth — a need that is of increased importance due to the news that Jeremy Hellickson will miss the first six to eight weeks of the season following elbow surgery.

Tampa's rotation figures to be led by former Cy Young winner David Price, with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi rounding out the starting five as Hellickson recovers. Should Odorizzi struggle or should a starter get injured in Spring Training, Bedard could work his way into the mix. It's also possible that he begins the season in the bullpen and fills a swingman role for the Rays in the earlygoing.


Quick Hits: Price, Wallace, Phillies, Drew

The Rays haven't yet traded David Price, and Price thinks the holdup on the pitching market due to Masahiro Tanaka's arrival might be the reason why, ESPN's Jayson Stark writes. "With Tanaka not being able to sign until the 24th [of January] and stuff like that, it seemed like teams waited for that market to fall," Price says. "You know, if he had signed during the winter meetings or something, it might have been a little bit different. That would have given teams a lot more time to figure out what they wanted to do." Still, Stark quotes an executive who notes the Rays will still probably eventually trade Price, because deals for players like Wil Myers and Chris Archer are currently the Rays' most reliable way to accumulate talent, since recent drafts haven't yielded much top talent and since they don't have the budget to acquire key players on the free-agent market. Here are more notes from around the Majors.

  • Brett Wallace isn't concerned that the Astros removed him from their 40-man roster, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. His goal before was to win a job coming out of camp, and that's still his goal. "I was coming in here to win a job anyway. Being on the roster doesn't guarantee you anything," he says.
  • John Mayberry Jr. and Kevin Frandsen, who were both eligible for arbitration this winter, both now have contracts that are guaranteed, writes Matt Gelb of the Inquirer. Mayberry is under contract for $1.59MM, while Frandsen will make $900K. That could affect the Phillies as they try to set their roster, because they can't cut either of them in spring training without running the risk of paying them their entire salaries anyway. Often, contracts for players in their arbitration-eligible seasons are non-guaranteed, as was the case with, for example, Emilio Bonifacio and the Royals. When the Royals designated Bonifacio for assignment, they paid only a percentage of his $3.5MM salary.
  • Manager John Farrell says the Red Sox still don't know whether Stephen Drew will return to them, and they don't want a "lingering what-if" in the clubhouse as the season approaches, WEEI.com's Alex Speier reports. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts would move to third base and third baseman Will Middlebrooks would move to the bench if Drew were to re-sign.

Rays Likely To Sign Erik Bedard

The Rays are likely to sign left-hander Erik Bedard to a minor league deal, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo noted yesterday that Tampa could add a veteran starter on a minor league deal in the near future and listed Bedard as a possibility (Twitter link).

The 34-year-old Bedard spent the 2013 campaign with the Astros, posting a 4.59 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 4.5 BB/9 and a 36.4 percent ground-ball rate in 151 innings as both a starter and reliever. Bedard has always been injury prone, but until the past two seasons, he had always been effective when on the active roster. From 2006-11, Bedard posted a 3.44 ERA and whiffed 679 batters against 245 walks in 671 1/3 innings. Since that time, however, he's turned in just a 4.78 ERA in 276 2/3 innings between Pittsburgh and Houston.

Though he was emerging as one of the game's better pitchers before being struck by injuries in the mid-2000s, Bedard is probably most famous for the trade that sent him from Baltimore to Seattle. Former Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail flipped Bedard to the Mariners in a trade that netted Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kameron Mickolio and Tony Butler. Jones and Tillman, of course, are cornerstones in Baltimore now. Sherrill was flipped to the Dodgers in a trade for top prospect Josh Bell and righty Steve Johnson (who is still with the organization), and Mickolio was one of two pitchers used to acquire Mark Reynolds from Arizona.

The Rays have already added some pitching depth today, landing righty Nate Karns from the Nationals in exchange for Jose Lobaton and a pair of prospects. Signing Bedard would add to that depth — a need that is of increased importance due to the news that Jeremy Hellickson will miss the first six to eight weeks of the season following elbow surgery.


Nationals Acquire Jose Lobaton For Nate Karns

The Nationals have officially acquired catcher Jose Lobaton and two prospects from the Rays in exchange for pitcher Nate Karns. Along with Lobaton, the Nationals will pick up a pair of 22-year-olds that played at the High-A level last year: lefty Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson. Washington placed Erik Davis on the 60-day DL (right elbow strain) to clear 40-man roster space for Rivero.

Lobaton

Lobaton is a 29-year-old backstop who figures to slot in behind Nats' incumbent Wilson Ramos on the depth chart. A switch-hitter, Lobaton will presumably see much of his time against righties. Indeed, that has been the case for most of his time in the big leagues, though he has hit from both sides of the plate at roughly the same rate over his career.

Last year, in 311 plate appearances, Lobaton managed a .249/.320/.394 line, good for a league average OPS that plays nicely from the catching position. In addition to offering a left-handed hitting option, Lobaton appeals due to his affordable $900K salary this year and the fact that he can be controlled for three more seasons through arbitration. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted earlier this month, however, the Venezuelan native's defensive metrics provide cause for some concern.

The 26-year-old Karns underwent shoulder surgery early in his career and just reached the big leagues for three starts last year. Throwing 132 2/3 innings at the Double-A level last year, he put up a 3.26 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9.

Karns is a well-regarded prospect with a big arm, but questions remain whether he will stick in the rotation. Baseball America placed him at the ninth spot among the Nationals' top ten prospects. He had been expected to have an outside chance at earning a rotation spot in D.C., but otherwise would likely have served as minor league depth. Instead, he will presumably find himself facing a similar proposition in Tampa, whose fifth-starter options are perhaps led by 23-year-old prospect Jake Odorizzi.

The prospect return to Washington surely plays an important role in this deal. The southpaw Rivero, who landed at 17th on the BA list this year and 20th last year, threw to a 3.40 ERA in 127 innings at High-A last year, posting 6.4 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. Rivero has a slight build but reportedly delivers a fastball that touches the mid-90s and carries mid-rotation upside. He occupied a 40-man slot in Tampa. The Nationals had success with a similarly youthful lefty acquired via trade last year, getting some production out of Ian Krol before flipping him in the Doug Fister trade.

Vettleson — the 42nd overall choice in the 2010 draft — also placed amongst the Rays' top thirty prospects. Gaining the 11th overall slot last year, he fell to 20th on this year's version after a .274/.331/.388 campaign at High-A. He knocked just four home runs a year after hitting 15 at the low-A level in 2012, and also swiped only five bases after netting 20 over the prior campaign. Vettleson profiles as a right fielder, with decent legs and a good arm. Baseball America says that, if his power develops as he fills out, and he improves his jumps on the bases and defensive routes, the left-handed hitter could end up with a solid all-around tool set.

The deal shapes up to be a swap of somewhat redundant assets. For Tampa, Lobaton had no obvious role going forward after the Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan from the Reds earlier in the off-season. Meanwhile, the club learned that starter Jeremy Hellickson would miss the early part of the year due to injury. Though Rivero could potentially have a similar ceiling to Karns, the latter is certainly a more established player who is much closer to making a contribution at the MLB level. Even if he does not earn a rotation slot, he could contribute in the pen sooner rather than later.

From the Nationals' perspective, the price was likely easier to bear given presence of other young, MLB-ready starting options (including Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, in addition to the more established Ross Detwiler) as well as several other solid arms moving through the system. (To say nothing of the fact that the team already has a strong, young, current MLB rotation that is under control for at least two years.) Though Washington had already traded one well-regarded young starter earlier in the off-season when it sent Robbie Ray (among others) to the Tigers for Fister, Karns did not have a clear place on the big league club and was something of a wasting asset in the minors given his age. By picking up younger talent in the deal, the club managed to maintain a reasonable portion of its talent base while shifting its promotion timeline in a potentially beneficial manner, all while adding a solid piece to the MLB roster.

MLB.com's Bill Ladson first reported the deal (via Twitter). Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported the structure of the deal in its negotiating phase on Twitter. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reported (via Twitter) that Karns had been told he was traded to the Rays. Topkin first reported that two minor leaguers would also head to the Nats (via Twitter), and Kilgore tweeted that those names were amongst the Rays' top thirty prospects. Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com first reported on Twitter that Rivero was included in the deal.


Rays, Nats Discussing Trade Involving Lobaton, Karns

THURSDAY: The potential deal includes at least two other players, possibly minor leaguers that would head to Washington, reports Topkin. As of last night, however, Lobaton told Topkin that he had yet to hear anything and was planning to report for the spring with the Rays on Friday.

WEDNESDAY: The Rays and Nationals are again discussing a trade of catcher Jose Lobaton, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, with righty Nate Karns being contemplated as the return for the backstop. Topkin says that the deal could involve other players as well.

Lobaton, 29, has reportedly generated interest amongst multiple clubs, especially a Nationals team that would still like to add an established backup catcher. A switch-hitter, Lobaton has seen about twice as many plate appearances against righties than against lefties, maintaining fairly even splits from both sides of the plate. He is a fairly attractive asset, particularly given that he is owed just $900K this year and comes with three more years of control through arbitration. While Lobaton's contract profile makes him a fit for Tampa's general approach to roster-construction, he became expendable when the team picked up Ryan Hanigan from the Reds. Last year, in 311 plate appearances, Lobaton managed a .249/.320/.394 line, good for a league average OPS. 

Karns, meanwhile, is a 26-year-old who has yet to see substantial MLB action, but has a big arm. Baseball America rates him at the back end of the club's top ten prospects, after several other young arms. But the Nats have already dealt one relatively advanced pitcher from that list in Robbie Ray, and Karns was said to have a shot at competing for the team's fifth rotation spot. (If that failed, Karns would presumably serve as depth, especially with the news that Taylor Jordan could be slow to start the spring after ankle surgery.) In 132 2/3 Double-A innings last year, Karns put up a 3.26 ERA and 10.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. He received three MLB starts last year, struggling to a 7.50 ERA in just 12 innings.

Should a deal go down along the lines suggested by Topkin, it would follow a similar pattern (on a somewhat smaller scale) to other recent deals in which Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has swapped out pitching prospects for relatively youthful, established, cost-controlled big-leaguers. In addition to shipping Ray (and more) to the Tigers for starter Doug Fister, Rizzo sent Alex Meyer to the Twins last year in exchange for center fielder Denard Span. (The Nats also acquired reliever Jerry Blevins in exchange for prospect Billy Burns this off-season.)


Twelve Teams Have Asked Nationals About Espinosa

FEBRUARY 6: At least twelve teams have inquired with the Nationals about Espinosa's availability, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. However, the team remains unlikely at present to deal Espinosa, Ladson says.

Though Anthony Rendon has the inside track at the starting gig at second, Espinosa will have a shot at taking his job back. Alternative outcomes include Espinosa making the club as a reserve or starting out in Triple-A on optional assignment. But Espinosa represents important middle infield depth and still has tantalizing upside at age 26, leaving the Nats uninterested in selling low.

DECEMBER 10: The Nats are balking at moving Espinosa despite interest from the Yankees, among other clubs, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

DECEMBER 9, 6:29pm: One Nationals executive told Kilgore that the Nats aren't shopping Espinosa. Beyond that, GM Mike Rizzo plainly stated that he expects Espinosa to be his team's utility infielder in 2014, noting that despite a lack of experience at the hot corner, Espinosa has the tools to play third base. Kilgore writes that Espinosa has a big proponent in Rizzo, and the Nationals are determined not to sell low on the switch-hitter.

4:25pm: The Nationals are shopping Danny Espinosa in trade talks, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports (via Twitter). Passan adds that if the Nats are unable to find a deal they like for Espinosa, the infielder could fill the utility role vacated by Steve Lombardozzi.

After a couple solid seasons in Washington, Espinosa saw his production fall off a cliff in 2013 due in part to injuries. In 2011 and 2012, he was an everyday player for the Nats, hitting 38 homers with a .727 OPS in over 1300 plate appearances.

GM Mike Rizzo told reporters today, including Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com (Twitter link), that the Nats will be "open-minded" and won't be afraid to make a trade. However, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post says (via Twitter) that he'd be surprised if the team moves Espinosa, having already rebuffed teams like the Rays and Cardinals, who have tried to buy low.