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Tampa Bay Rays Rumors
Earlier today, the Rays agreed to swap Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for John Jaso, infield prospect Daniel Robertson, and outfield prospect Boog Powell. The move represents a five or six win gain for the A’s, writes Keith Law of ESPN (Insider required). Per Law, Oakland lacked any “capable everyday middle infielders,” so the move is pure benefit at those positions. Here’s more reactions to the blockbuster.
- While it’s been a hectic offseason for the A’s, the club still has another $5MM available, tweets John Hickey of Bay Area News Group. My impression is that the team is pretty well stocked at this point. I could see a role for a third catcher, backup outfielder, or middle reliever, but no need is particularly pressing.
- Teams interested in Zobrist checked in with A’s GM Billy Beane within five minutes of the trade, tweets Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Zobrist appears to be a linchpin for the A’s, so a second trade strikes me as unlikely. Of course, Beane has shown this offseason that we can’t rule it out.
- The acquisition of Zobrist and Escobar will allow the A’s to shift Marcus Semien into a utility role, writes Law. Semien was previously penciled in as the primary shortstop, but he’s better suited to second or third base. With Semien and Zobrist capable of playing all over the diamond, Oakland could possess the most flexible roster in the league.
- “We see [Semien] as an everyday player, similar to Josh Harrison‘s role with the Pirates,” said Beane to reporters including Chris Haft of MLB.com. Meanwhile, Beane plans to leverage Zobrist’s versatility and switch-hitting to build excellent matchups. In the same article, Beane compared Robertson to former Athletic Mark Ellis.
- Jaso is excited to return to Tampa Bay, tweets Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times. Per Baker, Jaso had identified the Rays earlier in the offseason as a team that might target him (also Twitter).
- Jaso’s return to the Rays could allow the club to shop left-handed outfielder David DeJesus, according to Law. The veteran outfielder is owed $6MM in 2015, and the Rays have a reputation for careful management of the payroll. A trade would open more regular playing time for Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer. Jaso is expected to serve primarily as a designated hitter.
- Beane’s re-tooling efforts are “fearless,” writes Richard Justice of MLB.com. The GM’s decision to trade multiple All Stars and established veterans to extend the club’s window to compete is nothing short of inspired. Justice also notes that manager Bob Melvin specializes in building cohesive teams. With so many new faces, Melvin will have his hands full.
The trade of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for John Jaso, shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson and outfield prospect Boog Powell on Saturday was a franchise-changing one for the Rays, who parted with a longtime star. Zobrist joined the team in 2006 when it had never had a winning season and was still called the Devil Rays, and he was a key to the team’s turnaround, helping lead the organization to its first winning season in 2008.
Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman told the media Saturday afternoon that the decision to trade Zobrist, who would have been eligible for free agency after the season, was a painful one.
“This has been a difficult transaction for all of us to stomach,” Silverman said. “There are a lot of heavy hearts in the organization today. Ben has been a central figure in the transformation of the organization.”
Unsurprisingly, Silverman said that a team in the Rays’ position sometimes has to trade veterans for young talent.
“These trades are difficult, but they’re a necessary part of how we operate. In an ideal world, we don’t make these kinds of trades, but we don’t have the luxury to do that,” he said.
While not all trades of older players for younger ones work out, such trades have often proven helpful to the Rays in the past.
“We acquired Ben Zobrist in a trade kind of like this,” said Silverman, referring to the deal in which they sent former star Aubrey Huff to the Astros in 2006.
The Rays parted with another starting infielder in Escobar in today’s deal as well. They knew heading into trade discussions that the Athletics liked Escobar, because the A’s had claimed him from the Rays on revocable waivers last year.
“When we talk to teams, oftentimes interest is expressed years before transactions actually come to a head,” said Silverman, adding that the A’s were one of a number of teams with interest in Escobar. “Oakland had interest in Yunel for awhile, and it helps set the tone for conversations.”
Now, with Zobrist and Escobar gone, the Rays will need to reshape their middle infield. The key will be Asdrubal Cabrera, whose signing the Rays officially announced today. Silverman said that Cabrera would get regular playing time either at shortstop or second base.
Beyond that, he noted, “we have an open mind heading into the spring” regarding the middle infield. Silverman added that Nick Franklin, who the Rays acquired in the David Price deal last summer and who can also play both shortstop and second base, could now get more playing time as well.
“There are a number of players in our organization who probably see a better opportunity for them,” Silverman said, though he also suggested that the Rays could continue to look for outside middle infield help.
Meanwhile, the Rays did get one big-leaguer as part of their return in the trade. Getting a good left-handed hitter in John Jaso was a key to the deal, Silverman said.
“He’s the kind of offensive player that our lineup has been missing against right-handed pitching,” said Silverman.
The position Jaso has played the most is catcher, but Silverman suggested that Jaso’s hitting was more important to them than his ability to catch. Jaso missed the end of the 2014 season with concussion issues. Silverman said he expects Jaso to be healthy heading into the season, but added that it’s important that the Rays put Jaso “in the best position to succeed,” seemingly suggesting that the team could limit his catching if playing the position proved to be a health risk. The team could use Jaso at first base or outfield in addition to occasional catching if he proves he can perform at those positions.
“We want to make sure we get as much out of that bat as possible,” said Silverman.
Nonetheless, it’s Robertson, the Athletics’ former No. 1 prospect, who most interests the Rays.
“Robertson is the lead piece in this transaction,” Silverman said. “It takes a large trade like this for us to be able to acquire someone of his talents.”
Powell isn’t on Robertson’s level as a prospect, but he wasn’t a throw-in, either.
“He’s a speedy outfielder with an interesting bat profile, and one that we hope can develop a little bit more power. It’s a profile that is uncommon, but one that can often find success at the Major League level,” said Silverman. “He’s not going to overwhelm you in the stat box, but his value shows up in many different ways.”
Neither Robertson nor Powell has even played at Double-A yet, so neither of them are likely to help the Rays next year. Silverman says, though, that he expects the Rays’ offense to improve upon its AL-worst 612 runs scored next season, despite the departures of Zobrist, Escobar, Wil Myers and Matt Joyce.
“A lot of that is based on our expectation that the players who are returning will perform better offensively than they did last year,” he said.
“If our players play to our expectation, and we get the contributions we expect from the players we’ve added, this should be a better offensive team. … This team should be competitive. It should be compelling. The talent level is certainly there. It just looks different than it has in years past.”
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Rays have announced that they’ve traded Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for catcher/DH John Jaso, shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson, and outfield prospect Boog Powell. The Rays also announced that they would receive cash considerations, which Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets is $1.5MM.
“It’s an emotional and meaningful day as we bid farewell to Ben Zobrist and thank him for everything he’s meant to the Rays organization,” says Rays executive Matt Silverman. “Any description of his value, talent and character would understate how we feel about Ben, and we consider ourselves fortunate for all our great moments together.”
The Athletics entered the offseason with needs at both middle infield positions. They addressed one of those when they acquired Marcus Semien from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade, though Semien isn’t an established big-leaguer, and the versatile Zobrist can be moved around the field if Semien emerges. Or perhaps it’s Semien who will move around — he played third base in the big leagues and left field in the minors in 2014, and Slusser suggests that Semien could now be used “like a young Zobrist.” So acquiring Zobrist and Escobar certainly makes sense from a positional perspective.
The A’s pulling off a blockbuster trade for Zobrist and Escobar is surprising, however, given the trajectory of their offseason. They signed DH Billy Butler early in the winter but have spent much of the rest of it trading veterans, not acquiring them, sending Samardzija to Chicago, Josh Donaldson to Toronto, Brandon Moss to Cleveland, and Derek Norris to San Diego. The A’s also lost Jon Lester, Luke Gregerson and Jed Lowrie to free agency.
The Athletics aren’t interested in complete rebuilds, however, and acquiring Zobrist and Escobar (who the Athletics claimed on revocable waivers last August) should help, at least for 2015, in making up for the talent they lost previously in the offseason. The 33-year-old Zobrist has been one of baseball’s best players over the past several seasons, with four straight seasons of an fWAR of above 5.0. While his offense the past two years has been down from his 2008-2012 pace (slipping somewhat to .272/.354/.395 in 2014), his defensive talents and ability to play second base, shortstop and outfield make him tremendously valuable. He will be eligible for free agency after making $7.5MM in the last option season on the team-friendly extension he signed with Tampa in 2010. The Athletics can also extend Zobrist a qualifying offer after the season, potentially netting themselves a draft pick if he signs elsewhere.
Zobrist had also been connected to the Nationals and Giants this offseason. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out in December, however, Zobrist would have made sense for any number of teams.
Escobar, 32, hit .258/.324/.340 in 529 plate appearances with the Rays in 2014. In the past, much of his value has come from his above-average glove, although UZR liked his defense considerably less in 2014 than it did in the past. He signed a two-year deal last April that carries him through 2016 at a total of $12MM, and he also has a $1MM buyout on a $7MM option for 2017.
From the Rays’ perspective, a trade of Zobrist or Escobar seemed likely after the team reached agreement on a one-year deal with Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera will make $7.5MM in 2015, exactly the same as Zobrist, so trading him doesn’t seem to be primarily about shedding salary, but about getting something for a top player who’s eligible for free agency before the next time the Rays are likely to contend. The Rays could now use a combination of Cabrera, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe in the middle infield.
The Rays’ haul is considerable, as one would expect given Zobrist’s considerable talents. Jaso, 31, appeared in 54 games at catcher and 32 at DH last season, hitting .264/.337/.430. Given his solid hitting from the left side, Jaso is valuable at either position. He tells John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group (on Twitter) that the Rays have told him they want him to mostly DH while occasionally filling in at catcher. That would leave Rene Rivera as the Rays’ primary backstop.
Jaso was a semi-regular player for the Rays in 2010 and 2011 before they traded him to Seattle. He’s projected to make $3.3MM in 2015, his last season before he’s eligible for free agency. Jaso missed the end of the season last year with concussion issues but is expected to be healthy heading into the 2015 season.
The real jewel here, though, is Robertson, who MLB.com and Baseball America rank as the Athletics’ top prospect MLB.com also ranks him the No. 85 prospect in baseball overall. The 20-year-old also, obviously, would have qualified as Oakland’s top young shortstop after the A’s traded Addison Russell last year. Robertson, who the A’s drafted in the first round in 2012, hit .310/.402/.471 in 642 plate appearances with Class A+ Stockton in 2014, winning praise for his line-drive stroke on offense and his sure-handedness on defense. The loss of Robertson is another hit to the Athletics’ farm system that lost plenty of talent in the Samardzija deal with the Cubs last summer, although the addition of Franklin Barreto in the Donaldson trade should help with the middle infield depth they’re losing.
Fellow 2012 draftee Powell, meanwhile, ranks No. 11 on MLB.com’s list. Powell (who isn’t related to the fellow lefty-hitting outfielder and former Orioles great of the same name) hit a terrific .343/.451/.435 in 381 plate appearances with Class A Beloit and with Stockton in 2014. He was, however, suspended for 50 games in July for testing positive for an amphetamine. He doesn’t have an outstanding arm, but has good speed (though he hasn’t translated that speed into good basestealing ability yet) and could stick in center field.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report that a deal sending Zobrist and Escobar to Oakland was imminent. Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to tweet that the Rays would get Jaso and two prospects in the deal. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted that Robertson was involved in the deal, while ESPN’s Keith Law tweeted that Powell was in the trade.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Rays have announced that they’ve signed middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year deal. The Octagon client will make $7.5MM.
The Rays already had Yunel Escobar at shortstop and Ben Zobrist to play second, but after they reached agreement with Cabrera, they shipped both Escobar and Zobrist (who also will make $7.5MM next season) to Oakland. That should free the Rays’ middle infield for Cabrera, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe.
Cabrera, 29, hit .241/.307/.387 in 553 plate appearances with the Indians and Nationals last season. He rated as below average defensively at shortstop, and mostly played second base with the Nationals, who already had Ian Desmond at shortstop. Cabrera ranked 23rd on MLBTR’s list of this offseason’s top 50 free agents, just ahead of Jed Lowrie as the top middle infielder available (not including Hanley Ramirez). That such a player would only receive a one-year deal is somewhat surprising (Lowrie, for example, got three years and $23MM), but the contract will give Cabrera another shot at free agency next year, when he’ll still only be 30.
Cabrera is the first significant signing for the Rays this offseason. The Rays have added Ernesto Frieri and Michael Kohn on big-league deals, also trading Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Joyce, Joel Peralta and Sean Rodriguez in an attempt to remake a team that won 77 games with the franchise’s highest ever payroll.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the contract was done, and that it was a one-year, $7.5MM contract (Twitter links). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports originally tweeted that an agreement was in place. Heyman first tweeted that a deal was close.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here’s the latest from around the AL East…
- The Yankees and Red Sox “are the heavy favorites” to sign Yoan Moncada, Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel tweets. Moncada will be eligible to sign once he receives U.S. government clearance, though when that clearance comes is a major factor in regards to New York and Boston. Neither team can spend more than $300K on any player during the 2015-16 international signing period, a penalty incurred for exceeding their 2014-15 int’l bonus pools. If Moncada isn’t cleared before June 15, the Yankees and Sox will be out of the running, as Moncada will command a bonus in the $30MM-$40MM range.
- The Orioles‘ deal with Delmon Young may not be announced until Friday, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko reports, as the team is still waiting for final details from Young’s physical. The O’s are also still figuring out how to clear a spot for Young on their 40-man roster.
- Also from Kubatko, nothing has changed between the Orioles and Colby Rasmus, though the O’s “must be viewed as the favorites to sign him.”
- Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman discussed the team’s offseason with MLB.com’s Bill Chastain.
Here’s the latest from the Orioles and the Nationals…
- The Orioles‘ negotiations with Colby Rasmus “are gaining steam,” ESPN’s Jim Bowden tweets. Manager Buck Showalter personally visited Rasmus over the weekend and the O’s have interest in Rasmus on a one-year contract. Rasmus has also recently had some talks with another AL East team, the Rays.
- Johan Santana‘s stint with the Orioles was cut short by a torn achilles tendon last June but team executive VP Dan Duquette told MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko earlier this offseason that the O’s were open to bringing Santana back on a new contract. Santana is scheduled to pitch next week in the Venezuelan Winter League.
- Also from Kubatko, Delmon Young‘s signing is expected to be officially announced today, meaning the Orioles would have to make a 40-man roster move to make room. In the wake of the J.P. Arencibia signing, Kubatko speculates that Baltimore could drop a catcher since they have five other backstops on the 40-man — starter Matt Wieters (obviously not a candidate to be dropped), Steve Clevenger, Caleb Joseph, Ryan Lavarnway and Mike Ohlman.
- Ben Zobrist and the Nationals are an “almost perfect” match for a trade given the team’s need at second base and the news of Jayson Werth‘s shoulder surgery, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. Rosenthal feels the Nats would make a push to acquire Zobrist, though there are a few complications to a deal. Zobrist would join Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Jordan Zimmermann as notable Nationals on the 2015-16 free agent market, and thus the Nats might be hesitant about adding yet another player who would require a qualifying offer. I’m not necessarily sure this would be a big concern for Washington; I wouldn’t think Clippard or Span would get qualifying offers anyway, and the other four would surely reject the QO in search of lucrative multiyear deals.
- Also looking ahead to next offseason, MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko notes that the Nationals don’t need to worry too much over potentially losing both Zimmermann and Fister to the open market given the number of other quality arms available in free agency next winter.
- With Werth and Nate McLouth both question marks due to injury, James Wagner of the Washington Post wonders if the Nationals could bring back Nate Schierholtz as outfield depth. Schierholtz signed a minor league deal with Washington last August and appeared in 23 games for the club.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe shares some news and opinions in his latest reader mailbag piece…
- The Rays aren’t looking to trade Alex Cobb, as they see the right-hander as a building block piece. Cobb is under team control through the 2017 season and is only arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter; as Cafardo notes, Tampa only tends to move its stars when they get too expensive.
- Cafardo believes the Red Sox will acquire an ace-level pitcher before Opening Day. Given all of Boston’s other winter moves, “it makes no sense to do all they’ve done…and not go after the ace” to top everything off, Cafardo writes, especially since the Sox have the prospect depth to make a trade happen and already might be over the luxury tax threshold.
- One of those potentially available aces is Cole Hamels, who the Red Sox have been connected to in rumors but “there haven’t been substantiative talks lately.” Cafardo speculates that Boston could be waiting for the Phillies‘ asking price to drop, and the Sox have already turned down one offer that would’ve cost them both Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart.
- Besides getting an ace pitcher, Cafardo also predicts the Red Sox will add another reliever (possibly a hard-throwing lefty) and trade one of Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava or Allen Craig before the season begins. In Craig’s case, Cafardo believes the Sox won’t deal him until they see if he’s productive in Spring Training, as Craig is a valuable bat if healthy.
Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth will undergo arthroscopic surgery on right shoulder tomorrow and need two to three months to recover, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (All Twitter links). Werth will have his AC shoulder joint — the same joint that caused him to miss time in August — repaired at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. While the first reaction of some (myself included) is probably to wonder if this will increase Washington’s interest in Ben Zobrist, Rosenthal reports that that’s not the case. The Nats have considered the asking price on Zobrist to be too high in talks with the Rays, he says.
A three-month recovery could result in Werth missing time early in the season, which could lead to increased playing time for Nate McLouth or Michael Taylor. As the Nats deal with this unfortunate news, here are a few more notes pertaining to their division…
- Erick Fedde, whom the Nationals selected in the first round of last year’s draft despite the fact that he had undergone Tommy John surgery, is progressing well in his rehab and has begun a throwing program, reports MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. Fedde has also begun weight training and says that Stephen Strasburg and Lucas Giolito, both of whom have undergone Tommy John in the past, have been vital to keeping him upbeat and optimistic about his recovery.
- The Marlins have interest in James Shields but will likely only be able to make a serious play for him if his price tag drops below $100MM, writes MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Miami had “considerable” interest in Shields back in November, but they’ve since added Mat Latos and Dan Haren into the rotation mix. Haren, of course, wants to be traded back to a West Coast club, and moving him is another likely prerequisite to a theoretical Shields signing.
- Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer examines the Phillies‘ options for left field now that Marlon Byrd is with the Reds and Domonic Brown appears to be moving back to right field. Grady Sizemore is the favorite to at least platoon with someone at that spot, but Kaplan notes that Rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera is an intriguing name to keep an eye on. The second-baseman-turned-outfielder is just 23 years of age and enjoying a brilliant season in the Venezuelan Winter League, hitting a ridiculous .372/.432/.556 with six homers and eight steals in just over 200 at-bats. Kaplan also spoke with GM Ruben Amaro Jr. about Jeff Francoeur‘s chances of making the club after signing a minor league deal earlier this offseason.
That the Phillies are interested in dealing away first baseman Ryan Howard and some portion of his contract is well-known. Howard, of course, is in the middle of a huge extension that still includes two years and a guaranteed $60MM (including a $10MM buyout of a $23MM club option in 2017). That contract includes a “most favored nation” clause that allows Howard to match the no-trade terms in Cliff Lee‘s deal, under which the player is permitted to designate all but nine clubs for no-trade protection.
ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports the details on Howard’s current list of competitors. The nine teams to which Howard cannot prevent a trade are the Tigers, Royals, Angels, Mariners, Yankees, Rangers, Rays, Orioles, and Red Sox. Crasnick suggests that the teams listed are not particularly strong potential suitors for Howard, as most are either small-payroll clubs and/or lack a present need for a player of Howard’s ilk.
The list seems curious from a strategic perspective, in my view, since it includes only American League clubs. The prevailing sentiment around Howard seems to be that he might have some limited trade value as a designated hitter and left-handed bench bat, but it appears exceedingly unlikely that any National League team would have interest in adding him as a regular first baseman. And payroll is not likely to prevent any teams from pursuing Howard, as Philadelphia is expected to eat most or all of his remaining salary regardless of where he is dealt.
If anything, it could be that the list is simply made up of the American League teams that Howard would most like to play for. His money is earned, after all, and it is unlikely that he would be able to exert enough leverage to convince an acquiring team to provide him with some added benefit in exchange for waiving his no-trade protection. (The notion of demanding a guarantee of his option, for instance, seems far-fetched.) Rather than using the NTC as a means of opening the door to extracting concessions, then, the reported list seems to suggest that Howard is open to being dealt to a place where he is wanted and where he would like to play.
Reading the tea leaves for intent is only so possible and so useful, of course. And the bottom line remains the same: nine of the fifteen A.L. clubs can add Howard without receiving his permission.
The Rays and free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus have had discussions, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter links). A Rasmus signing could become more likely in the event of a Ben Zobrist trade, Morosi adds. In that case, the outfield/DH rotation would consist of Rasmus, Kevin Kiermaier, Desmond Jennings, David DeJesus and Steven Souza.
Rasmus has most recently been connected to the Orioles, who reportedly have interest on a one-year deal. Earlier today, Morosi tweeted that Rasmus came away from a weekend meeting with Orioles manager Buck Showalter with a very good impression of both the skipper and the organization.
Coming off somewhat of a down season at the plate — he batted just .225 with a .287 OBP but a .448 slugging percentage/.223 isolated power mark — Rasmus has yet to see his market take off. However, he does now hold the distinction of being one of the best bats left on the market and is certainly the youngest bat left among free agents with significant Major League experience.
His upside is unquestionable; Rasmus has a pair of four-plus WAR seasons under his belt and hit .276/.338/.501 as recently as 2013. He does, however, struggle with strikeouts, and he’s also had his makeup questioned on occasion, although he discussed some of those concerns with TSN.ca’s Scott Macarthur late in the season.
Rasmus, of course, seems a bit of a curious fit for what appears to be a Rays team that is re-tooling, if not rebuilding. The team traded David Price in July before moving Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Joyce, Cesar Ramos and Wil Myers this offseason. They did, however, recently add Asdrubal Cabrera to play second base and still can trot out a rotation consisting of Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and (eventually, once he is recovered from Tommy John surgery) Matt Moore. In the meantime, Nate Karns and Alex Colome represent suitable solutions in the fifth spot of the rotation.
Despite the roster shuffling, the Rays may still fancy themselves contenders and therefore have interest in Rasmus on a short-term deal, knowing that if things go south, they could flip him to another club. Tampa may also simply feel that Rasmus is being undervalued by the current market and that they therefore should add him to the fold on a multi-year deal — a route not unlike the one the Astros took in signing Jed Lowrie despite lacking a clear long-term infield need.