Tampa Bay Rays Rumors

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

Pitching Notes: Zito, Belisario, Twins

Former AL Cy Young winner Barry Zito is throwing for  “select group” of teams on Tuesday, agent Scott Boras tells ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link). Zito, who sat out the 2014 season, is eyeing a return to the game and hopes to sign with a team before Spring Training. He last followed up a respectable 2012 season with a dismal 2013 campaign, pitching to a 5.74 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 133 1/3 innings for the Giants.

Here are a few more pitching notes from around the game:

  • Ronald Belisario‘s contract with the Rays can max out at $1.8MM if he reaches all of his incentives, tweets CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. Belisario inked a minor league pact with the Rays over the weekend just days after a similar deal with the Blue Jays fell through. The right-hander will compete for a spot in Tampa’s bullpen this spring.
  • The Twins are open to adding some relief help, according to previous reports, but Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets that the team isn’t showing interest in righty David Aardsma at this time. The former Mariners closer, who enjoyed a strong season with the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate in 2014, will audition for clubs next Monday.
  • Speaking of the Twins‘ bullpen, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger did his best to sort out the many candidates in his latest Twins Inbox column. In addition to his take on who is most likely to comprise Minnesota’s relief corps in 2015, Bollinger notes that offseason signee Tim Stauffer will get a chance to earn a spot in the rotation, despite the fact that most believed he was signed as a bullpen addition.

AL East Notes: Rays, Britton, Red Sox

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked numerous times over the weekend about the club’s vacant leadoff spot, but he didn’t have much in the way of answers, as Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun writes.  “Somebody’s going to lead off Opening Day, I’ll bet you,’’ Showalter said. “Our guys don’t talk about it a lot. I’ve said many times, take your best hitter and hit him first and give him more at-bats.”  Here’s more from the AL East..

  • Most of the heavy lifting is done, but the Rays would still like to make some improvements as spring training approaches.  “Maybe now this is the time for ‘tweaking’ of the roster,” baseball ops president Matt Silverman said, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. “As we get closer to camp, we have a good sense of the depth that we have as well as a couple areas of potential need. Hopefully we can find ways to line up with other clubs to improve ourselves, but it’s not a necessity.”  The biggest priority seems to be adding another middle infielder, preferably a defensively-strong shortstop, though there aren’t many options on the open market.  Tampa Bay may also seek an experienced catcher to support Rene Rivera and another experienced reliever.
  • Reliever Zach Britton doesn’t seem to think that he and the Orioles are right on the verge of a pre-arbitration agreement, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes.  “I’m not sure,” said Britton. “Where we are right now, we’re still negotiating. There’s been a lot of dialogue the last couple of days, but right now there’s really nothing to update other than we’re just talking.”
  • The advanced metrics are bullish on the Red Sox‘s improved offense in 2015, as Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes.
  • Orioles center fielder Adam Jones spoke with reporters, including Kubatko, about a wide range of topics, including the loss of Nick Markakis and the Dan Duquette-to-Toronto rumors that dominated much of the offseason.
  • New Red Sox starter Rick Porcello has the skills to be the ace of Boston’s staff, writes Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe.

Rays Nearing Minor League Deal With Alexi Casilla

The Rays are likely to sign free agent infielder Alexi Casilla to a minor league deal, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). The 30-year-old will compete for a middle infield job. The club may yet acquire a starting shortstop, per Topkin.

The former Twin and Oriole has appeared in parts of nine seasons. He played just one game with Baltimore last season and spent most of his season at the Triple-A level. While neither a defensive wizard nor offensive threat, Casilla has occasionally approached a league average rate of performance. He’s a career .247/.302/.331 hitter in 1,893 plate appearances.

Casilla has experience at second base, shortstop, and third base with most of his time spent at the keystone. Under Joe Maddon, the Rays were known for valuing flexibility. It stands to reason that the club still prefers players with plenty of utility.



Rays Sign Ronald Belisario To Minor League Deal

The Rays have signed free agent reliever Ronald Belisario to a minor league deal, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). Belisario was recently tied to the Blue Jays, although their reported deal fell through yesterday. Per Topkin (also Twitter), the Rays have been in contact with Belisario for awhile. He will compete for one of two open spots in the bullpen.

The 32-year-old reliever was designated for assignment by the White Sox earlier in the offseason. He was one of several temporary closers for Chicago, although he struggled in the role. Before being cut loose by the White Sox, Belisario was in line to earn $3.9MM via arbitration, according to MLBTR’s Matt Swartz.

While he posted an unsightly 5.56 ERA last season, advanced stats painted a sunnier picture (3.54 FIP, 3.22 SIERA). The righty is a ground ball specialist with a career rate above 60 percent. Belisario dealt with a high .339 BABIP and low 57.5% strand rate last season, which contributed to his ugly ERA.

It’s possible that Tampa offered a better opportunity than Toronto for Belisario. As Topkin points out, the Rays have two open spots in the bullpen. Tropicana field is also substantially more pitcher friendly than the Rogers Centre.


Rays Notes: Moncada, Moore, Teaford

Here’s the latest from Tampa Bay…

  • Yoan Moncada took part in a private workout for Rays officials at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.  Despite the Rays’ interest in Moncada, it is widely expected that they will be outbid given the widespread interest in the Cuban phenom.
  • Left-hander Matt Moore threw off a mound on Tuesday of this week for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery, reports Topkin. Moore made 15 tosses from halfway up the bullpen mound at Tropicana Field and said the session couldn’t have gone better. Moore says he is targeting a return to the Tampa rotation sometime in June. In the meantime, trade acquisition Nate Karns and prospect Alex Colome should battle to hold down the fifth slot behind Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer.
  • The Rays’ minor league signing of Everett Teaford is yet another example of how the organization focuses on pitchers who throw high fastballs, Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan writes.  Tampa generally either pursues pitchers with rising fastballs or tries to add the pitch to a hurler’s arsenal after the club acquires him, as was the case with Drew Smyly last season.

Minor Moves: Paulino, LaHair, Marjama

Here are today’s minor league transactions, with the latest moves at the top of the post…

  • The Red Sox announced the signings of righty Felipe Paulino and 1B/OF Bryan LaHair to minor league deals with Spring Training invites.  Paulino posted an 11.29 ERA over 18 1/3 IP with the White Sox last season, his first taste of MLB action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012.  LaHair also last appeared in the majors in 2012, when he rode a big first half to an All-Star selection but came back to earth after his hot start.  LaHair played in Japan in 2013 and spent last season in the Indians’ minor league system.
  • The Rays acquired catcher Mike Marjama from the White Sox, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports (via Twitter).  Chicago will receive cash or a player to be named later in return.  Marjama was a 23rd-round pick for the Sox in the 2011 draft and the 25-year-old backstop has a .270/.307/.376 slash line over 888 minor league plate appearances.  Marjama has yet to play above the high-A level, and Topkin notes that the catcher isn’t expected to be in the Rays’ Major League Spring Training camp.

AL Notes: Rays, Gutierrez, Mariners, Butler, Royals

The Rays have dramatically improved their farm system since last summer, but they’ve had to do it by trading top talent, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes. Steven Souza, who Baseball America deems the system’s best prospect, arrived in the Wil Myers trade, with No. 2 prospect Daniel Robertson joining the system via the Ben Zobrist deal and No. 3 prospect Willy Adames arriving in the David Price trade. The Rays have gotten little talent in the draft lately, so their best young players have come from elsewhere. Souza, Robertson and Adames aren’t the only key prospects in their system they’ve gotten in trades — there’s also Hak-Ju Lee (from the Matt Garza deal), Boog Powell (from the Zobrist trade), Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams (from the Jeremy Hellickson trade) and Jake Bauers and Burch Smith (from the Myers deal). “It was no secret that our minor league system didn’t have the talent that it has had in past years,” says Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman. “A number of players have graduated from our system and are on our major league club or have been part of trades that we made, and that left somewhat of a void that we needed to fill during these transactions.” Here’s more from the American League.

  • The Mariners have already bolstered their outfield depth by adding Endy Chavez on a minor-league deal, and they also appear likely to add Franklin Gutierrez, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Gutierrez, who appeared in 41 games with Seattle in 2013, missed last season due to gastrointestinal issues. Mariners sources indicate that he would have to begin the year in Triple-A if he were to sign with the team.
  • Dutton also notes the Mariners appear likely to head to an arbitration hearing with reliever Tom Wilhelmsen. Wilhelmsen has proposed a 2015 salary of $2.2MM, while the Mariners have countered at $1.4MM, and Dutton writes that the Mariners do not want to keep negotiating. After posting a 2.27 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 in 79 1/3 strong innings in 2014, Wilhelmsen is eligible for the arbitration for the first time.
  • Billy Butler signed a three-year deal with the Athletics earlier this offseason, but he wouldn’t mind returning to the Royals later in his career, Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star writes. “It’s disappointing, but you understand that the game’s a business and I didn’t leave on bad terms,” Butler said. “I’d be more than happy to come back. That’s home for me. I’ll always be forever tied to the Royals organization and the community there.” For now, though, Butler is happy to be with the A’s, who he says told him he was their top priority this offseason.

East Notes: DeJesus, A-Rod, Flores

Mets majority owner Fred Wilpon is the new chairman of MLB’s finance committee, a move that was met with raised eyebrows given that he was a victim of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  However, that’s not a concern to commissioner Rob Manfred, as Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes.  “I understand the whole Madoff thing,” Manfred said, “but before and since, Fred Wilpon was an extraordinarily successful businessman. The committee — the finance and compensation committee — really deals with two issues, principally: executive compensation, which he’s more than capable of dealing with, and a central office budget. Obviously, to be a successful businessman, you have to know how to budget.”  More from the AL and NL East..

  • The Rays are still likely to add a middle infielder and outfielder David DeJesus is still likely to be traded, but one or both pursuits could carry into spring training, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.  DeJesus is owed $5MM this year with a $1MM buyout on a 2016 option, which makes him a reasonably priced target but also does not leave him with a ton of trade value.
  • Alex Rodriguez offered to meet face-to-face with Yankees executives to apologize for his role in the Biogenesis scandal and clear the air before players report to Tampa next month, according to Teri Thompson, Bill Madden, and Michael O’Keeffe of the Daily News.  However, the Yanks declined the invitation, which seems to indicate that the team is not ready to forgive and forget.  Sources tell the Daily News trio that the next battle will be over the performance clauses in A-Rod’s deal which call for him to earn $6MM each time he ties a career home run milestone.  Rodriguez needs just six more to tie Willie Mays’ 660 homers and earn a $6MM bonus.
  • Some people have expressed concern about the Mets‘ shortstop position after the team was unable to find an upgrade this winter.  However, Wilmer Flores insists that he’s ready and capable of filling the role.  “I’m not going to say I don’t hear things,” Flores said, according to Marc Carig of Newsday. “But I try not to because I know what I can do, man. Honestly, I know what I can do.”

Quick Hits: Moncada, Dodgers, Johan, Varona

In an interview with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (audio link), Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said his team will scout Yoan Moncada as they would any prospect of “great intrigue,” but “given our financial situation, I wouldn’t expect us to be the winners of an auction.”  Silverman feels this is another example of how difficult it is for successful small-market teams to replenish their systems, as “all of the [player acquisition] structures, whether it’s the draft or international, put us at a disadvantage.

Here’s some more from around baseball…

  • A group of South Korean investors are talking with the Dodgers about buying a minority stake of the franchise, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports.  The news was originally reported by two South Korean newspapers, one of which (the Korea Joongang Daily) reports that the discussed terms were $370MM for 20 percent of the team.  A source with knowledge of the talks told Shaikin there is a “zero” chance the Dodgers’ ownership group would give up control of the team in these negotiations.
  • The Phillies face a tough road back to respectability but they can get there within two to four years if they augment their financial resources with good young talent, Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan opines.  The worst-case scenario would be if they make the wrong moves and revenues decline, thus putting the club in a long streak of losing seasons, a la the Orioles prior to their 2012 playoff appearance.
  • Peter Greenberg, Johan Santana‘s agent, said his client doesn’t have any structural damage in his shoulder, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi tweets.  Santana was recently scratched from a Venezuelan Winter League start due to his shoulder, though Greenberg said Santana might return to pitch in the league playoffs.
  • Cuban outfielder Dayron Varona receives a scouting report from ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider subscription required), who praises Varona’s running and plus arm but has some questions about his hitting.  The current popularity of Cuban players could inflate Varona’s market, Law feels, though he thinks Varona will sign for “close to eight figures as a potential big league backup.”
  • The Blue Jays could consider Everth Cabrera as an option at second base, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets.  Presumably the Jays’ interest would hinge on the outcome of Cabrera’s ongoing legal case, which may not take place until April.  Heyman also notes that Rickie Weeks “seems to be further down [Toronto’s] list.”
  • ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield lists the five teams he felt improved the most and least this winter.

Free Agent Notes: Moncada, Olivera, Belisario, Santana, Zito

While he awaits clearance from the government, Cuban second baseman Yoan Moncada is putting on showcases for interested teams. The Yankees have already put the 19-year-old through the paces, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. In addition to New York and the previously-reported Giants, Moncada has worked out for the BrewersRangersRed Sox, and Padres, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Meanwhile, the DodgersRaysCubs, and Phillies have shown interest. For their part, the Twins will not seek a private workout because they believe the bidding will go too high, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets.

Here are some more free agent notes:

  • Fellow Cuban second bagger Hector Olivera will begin a two-day open showcase in the Dominican Republic tomorrow, Badler reports on Twitter. Olivera figures to be more of an immediate contributor than the younger Moncada.
  • Clubs interested in righty Ronald Belisario, as with Burke Badenhop, include the Blue Jays and Nationals, per Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The 32-year-old has run up solid innings totals over each of the last three years, but has seen his ERA steadily move north during that stretch. On the other hand, ERA estimators have viewed him as a solidly average performer in each of those seasons, with a low strand rate likely causing most of his troubles in 2014.
  • The YankeesBlue Jays, and Padres are three of the approximately six teams pursuing lefty Johan Santana, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. An upcoming Venezuelan league start could have some bearing on where the one-time ace ends up.
  • Another prominent lefty is plotting his comeback as well. Per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link), Barry Zito still plans to return to baseball after a year off and will put on a showcase this spring. The 36-year-old last threw in 2013, working to a career-worst 5.74 ERA over 133 1/3 innings.