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Tampa Bay Rays Rumors
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.
Here are highlights from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal‘s latest:
- The Braves‘ offseason has been quietly criticized throughout the industry, with other teams wondering about Atlanta’s signing of Nick Markakis and about its trades, including getting injured pitching prospect Max Fried as the co-headliner (along with Mallex Smith) in the Justin Upton deal.
- The Phillies, meanwhile, did well in getting Ben Lively in return for Marlon Byrd and cash. The Phillies didn’t get marquee names for Byrd, Jimmy Rollins or Antonio Bastardo, but they weren’t expected to. A Cole Hamels deal would clearly be a different story, and Rosenthal names the Red Sox and Cardinals as interesting potential trade partners.
- Ben Zobrist is likely to receive a qualifying offer next winter if the Rays deal him this offseason, and the possibility of getting a draft pick would likely make him even more valuable to some interested teams.
- The Orioles are interested in Colby Rasmus despite his perceived makeup issues because Buck Showalter believes Rasmus can adjust to the Orioles’ clubhouse, just as Delmon Young did. The Orioles also already possess plenty of good clubhouse players who can set strong examples. The Orioles have yet to sign Rasmus, though, and it’s not yet certain they will — Nori Aoki is also available, along with a variety of outfield trade possibilities. (Showalter met with Rasmus yesterday.)
- Wil Myers is excited about the possibility of playing center field for the Padres, Rosenthal writes. Myers has only played a handful of games at center in the Majors.
- Other teams aren’t willing to give the Rockies much for Wilin Rosario right now, so the team’s best course might be to allow Rosario to play some first base and outfield this season and hope he improves his stock after declining offensively in each of the last two seasons.
The return of Alex Rodriguez headlines the top ten baseball storylines in 2015, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. With the 39-year-old Rodriguez and his two degenerating hips returning after serving a 162-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Cafardo posits the best-case scenario for the Yankees would be if A-Rod cannot hold up physically or the team and/or MLB come up with more damaging material to keep him out of baseball for good. Also making Cafardo’s list, the start of Rob Manfred’s tenure as Commissioner and Pete Rose testing the waters of reinstatement in the wake of the retirement of Bud Selig, a staunch opponent of allowing the all-time hits leader back into the game.
In other tidbits from Cafardo’s Sunday Notes column:
- It has been hard to gauge the market for James Shields because his negotiations have been private. However, a MLB source tells Cafardo the Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Dodgers, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Giants have had discussions or shown interest in the right-hander. Cafardo adds the Giants have cooled on Shields after re-signing Jake Peavy, but remain open-minded.
- The Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Cubs are seriously pursuing Ben Zobrist with the Rays‘ asking price being at least one top prospect and a mid-level one.
- Dan Uggla is confident in returning to his former self after being diagnosed with oculomotor dysfunction (poor motion vision when moving the head or body), which was caused by being hit in the head by a pitch on two separate occasions. After a two-week exercise regimen, doctors have declared the second baseman’s motion vision normal. The Nationals, who signed Uggla to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite the day after Christmas, have prior experience in dealing with oculomotor dysfunction, as Denard Span suffered through it in 2013. The Orioles and Rangers also expressed interest in Uggla.
- Despite his less-than-stellar reputation, Cafardo finds it hard to fathom a team would not trade for closer Jonathan Papelbon. Cafardo notes Papelbon has found a way to keep getting batters out with diminished velocity as evident by his 106 saves over the past three seasons, including 39 (with just four blown saves) for a bad Phillies team last year.
- Clubs are only offering outfielder Nori Aoki two-year deals. The Orioles have definite interest in Aoki, who also has some appeal to the Giants.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Alex Rodriguez | Baltimore Orioles | Ben Zobrist | Boston Red Sox | Chicago Cubs | Dan Uggla | James Shields | Jonathan Papelbon | Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim | Los Angeles Dodgers | New York Yankees | Norichika Aoki | Philadelphia Phillies | San Francisco Giants | Tampa Bay Rays | Texas Rangers | Toronto Blue Jays | Washington Nationals
ESPN’s Buster Olney is the latest analyst to complete an analysis of Max Scherzer‘s market. In his team-by-team breakdown, Olney doesn’t uncover any blatantly obvious match. There are a handful of teams who can theoretically afford the Scott Boras client, but none of them feel pressure to ink an ace. An offseason injury to an existing ace could change Scherzer’s market – as it did with Prince Fielder a few years ago. Then, Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez injured himself while training, opening a need for the club. Detroit remains the default guess for Scherzer’s landing spot, but it’s beginning to feel like something unplanned is necessary for the market to move forward.
- Rays trade candidate Ben Zobrist makes sense for either Chicago club, writes Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago. There are the geographical coincidences – Zobrist is a Eureka, Illinois native and is represented by Chicago-based agent Alan Nero. There is history – Zobrist has played his entire career for Cubs manager Joe Maddon. More to the point, there is a need. Zobrist’s versatility would improve either club, although they both would lean upon his ability to play multiple positions rather than handing him a steady home.
- Delmon Young‘s physical is scheduled for Wednesday, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. It was reported on December 24 that Young and the Orioles had agreed to a one-year, $2.25MM deal with $750K in incentives. The deal will be officially announced after the physical.
The Giants are out of the hunt for free agent starter James Shields, according to Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (via Twitter). San Francisco never was in on Max Scherzer, and that remains the case, per the report.
But while an impact free agent arm is not in the offing, the team is still “trying to work a deal” to land outstanding utilityman Ben Zobrist from the Rays. A recent report from Peter Gammons had suggested that match on the veteran, who could potentially plug in at left field for the Giants while serving as a key depth piece throughout the infield. Always a potential piece of trade bait, the pending free agent became a more obvious target when Tampa agreed to terms with Asdrubal Cabrera.
GM Brian Sabean said recently that his organization has limited financial flexibility after re-signing Jake Peavy and Sergio Romo. It appeared at that time that the club would be choosing between a significant addition in the outfield against one in the rotation, and today’s report suggests that San Francisco is perhaps more focused on its lineup.
It would, perhaps, be foolish at this point to rule out entirely the possibility of more aggressive spending given the team’s recent World Series windfall. But the club already appears set to exceed last year’s payroll, and an attempt at two significant additions would bring it well past historical levels, if not even within sight of the luxury tax line.
The Rays are in a tough spot with utility fielder Ben Zobrist, writes Richard Justice of MLB.com. On the one hand, big seasons from a couple key personnel could allow the Rays to compete in the AL East. Tampa Bay is accustomed to competing in a tough environment with under-the-radar talent. However, Zobrist is a free agent after 2015. One of GM Matt Silverman’s top tasks is to buff the farm system, and a Zobrist trade could certainly contribute. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan points to Jason Heyward as a comparable trade piece.
- The Yankees are heading in an odd direction – they’re getting younger, writes FanGraphs’ Drew Fairservice for FOX Sports. While the Bronx Bombers have a history of leaning on established veterans, they’ll turn to a number of relative unknowns in 2015. Among those are shortstop Didi Gregorius, second baseman Rob Refsnyder, and pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. The result is a highly volatile roster. We could witness an unexpectedly competitive season if the ball bounces the right way, but the Yankees could also end up in the basement. Not everything depends on youngsters. The club could use a “dead cat bounce” from a number of its veterans like Brian McCann, C.C. Sabathia, and Carlos Beltran.
- The Red Sox are beyond the $189MM luxury tax threshold for next season, reports the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber. While owner John Henry said he’d blow past the threshold for Jon Lester, it’s unclear if he’ll do the same for lesser talents. The Sox could still benefit from an ace, so expect GM Ben Cherrington to monitor the markets of Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Phillies trade target Cole Hamels.
Here are today’s minor moves from around baseball.
- The Indians have signed Casey Weathers to a minor-league deal, Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan tweets. The hard-throwing righty and former Rockies first-round pick has struggled with his control throughout his career. He also has a lengthy injury history and missed most of the past two seasons with elbow trouble, although he says he’s now pain-free, and Passan links to a recent video of Weathers throwing 106 MPH after getting a running start.
- The Rays have signed another hard-throwing righty reliever, Jhan Marinez, according to the International League transactions page. Marinez, 26, posted a 6.69 ERA with 10.3 K/9 and 7.1 BB/9 in 40 1/3 innings in the Dodgers and Tigers systems in 2014, struggling badly with his control. He last appeared in the big leagues with the White Sox in 2012.
- The Rangers have signed righty Mitch Atkins, according to the Pacific Coast League transactions page. Atkins, 29, pitched for Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett in the Braves system in 2014, posting a combined 3.76 ERA, 7.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 141 1/3 innings. He pitched briefly in the big leagues for the Cubs (2009-2010) and Orioles (2011).
Earlier today, the Rays reportedly struck a one-year deal with Asdrubal Cabrera, prompting immediate speculation that the versatile Ben Zobrist could be on the move before the offseason is over. Given the fact that Zobrist’s defense ranges from adequate to exceptional at second base, shortstop and the outfield corners, he could help virtually any team in the game. In this afternoon’s MLBTR Chat, I noted that Zobrist could plausibly draw from interest from nearly half the teams in the league, as the one year and $7.5MM remaining on his contract is something that any club can absorb.
Here’s a very speculative division-by-division look at teams that could make a play for Zobrist.
- Angels: The Angels dealt Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers in a one-for-one trade that netted them top young lefty Andrew Heaney, and they now project to have Grant Green or Josh Rutledge starting at second base. Zobrist’s contract wouldn’t push them over the luxury tax threshold, though they lack impact prospects to entice the Rays.
- Rangers: The Rangers have yet to add a bat that can handle left field, and an acquisition of Zobrist would solve that need (either with Zobrist playing left or Shin-Soo Choo shifting to that position, and Zobrist manning right field). The Rangers have a bounty of young infielders to offer.
- Athletics: The A’s currently project to have Marcus Semien and Eric Sogard up the middle, and Zobrist could take one of the middle infield spots, with Semien handling the other. He’s the type of versatile piece that has come to be commonly associated with the A’s, although Oakland has admittedly looked like a rebuilding club for much of the offseason (the Billy Butler signing notwithstanding).
- Mariners: Seattle will have Robinson Cano at second, Dustin Ackley in left and a platoon of Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith in right field. However, shortstop right now looks to be a battle between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, and a year of Zobrist would likely be an upgrade over either. Seattle has young pitching and hitters that could appeal to Tampa.
- Astros: As a rebuilding club that most don’t expect to contend, Houston’s a stretch to be connected to a one-year upgrade like Zobrist. Still, they could deploy him in left field or shift Jed Lowrie to the hot corner. Of course, part of the selling point for Lowrie in Houston was that he’d be playing shortstop.
- White Sox: The most aggressive club in the Central this offseason, the ChiSox could deploy Zobrist at second base. They’ve already added Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke this winter, and Zobrist would fit GM Rick Hahn’s recently stated goals of getting more athletic and improving his team’s defense.
- Tigers: The Tigers aren’t a great fit, but they traded Eugenio Suarez to the Reds in the Alfredo Simon deal, and Jose Iglesias‘ health isn’t certain. They’re a stretch, but they’re in clear win-now mode with a closing window for contention as the team’s core continues to age.
- Royals: The Royals were interested in Cabrera before he signed with the Rays and are said to want to move Omar Infante‘s remaining salary. If they can pull off that deal, a second significant trade with the Rays for GM Dayton Moore would make a good deal of sense.
- Yankees: The Yankees are gearing up for a Spring Training battle between Rob Refsnyder, Jose Pirela and others to see who will man second base, but Zobrist could step into that spot and give the team better all-around contributions.
- Blue Jays: Toronto is reportedly focusing on its closer position at the moment, but Zobrist would fill another need — a bat to plug in at second base. Toronto managed to acquire both Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders without parting with any of its top-ranked prospects, so they’d still have plenty of appealing assets for the Rays.
- Orioles: The O’s have yet to replace either Nick Markakis or Nelson Cruz, and second baseman Jonathan Schoop struggled greatly at the plate as a rookie in 2014. Zobrist could help in a variety of ways as Baltimore looks to keep up with the much-improved Blue Jays and Red Sox.
- Padres: I’d be remiss not to mention the hyper-aggressive Padres as a possible destination for a trade target. The Friars have plenty of outfielders, but they’re looking at Alexi Amarista or Clint Barmes as a starting shortstop right now. Zobrist would be yet another upgrade to a completely revamped Padres lineup, and the Friars still have a number of top prospects, as they didn’t part with the likes of Austin Hedges, Matt Wisler and Hunter Renfroe in their other trades.
- Giants: The Giants have been frequently linked to Zobrist, with Peter Gammons even writing recently that many GMs feel Zobrist will end up in San Francisco. The reigning World Champs could deploy Zobrist in left field and use him as insurance if Joe Panik can’t repeat last year’s production.
- Cubs: The Cubs need to add another outfield bat, and Zobrist could fill that role while serving as an insurance policy to Javier Baez at second base. With one year remaining, he wouldn’t block any of Chicago’s vaunted young prospects, and he could help push them toward the postseason.
- Reds: Cincinnati is also in need of a left fielder and has had trade talks regarding Marlon Byrd in addition to free agent interest in Nori Aoki and Michael Morse, among others. The Reds have traded away Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, so it’s possible that they’re no longer interested in one-year upgrades.
- Mets: The Mets have remained patient in their search for a shortstop, and as ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin writes, that patience will look like a shrewd decision if the team is able to acquire Zobrist to man shortstop in 2015. Zobrist would deepen New York’s lineup and give them a chance at contention with a healthy Matt Harvey in a division that has seen the rival Braves shift to a minor rebuild.
- Nationals: With Ryan Zimmerman now shifting to first base and Anthony Rendon presumably manning third base, the Nationals project to have the struggling Danny Espinosa as their Opening Day second baseman. The Nationals are considered the division favorites, but deepening their roster would better position them for a potential postseason run.
In terms of what Zobrist should fetch in a trade, it seems reasonable to expect either a Major League ready player and perhaps a prospect in addition, or a package of three to four prospects headlined by at least one particularly well-regarded name. Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan took an excellent look at this scenario earlier today, noting that Jason Heyward‘s trade to St. Louis represents a fairly sound comparable, despite differences in age and the Braves’ inclusion of Jordan Walden.
It should also be noted, of course, that clubs not listed here could make a run at Zobrist if a different move or injury opens a need. Likewise, a rebuilding club that doesn’t appear to be a fit could have interest in Zobrist simply because they want a chance to extend him or feel they can trade him midseason for more than they’d give up to initially acquire him. A team with an established second baseman may just decide that Zobrist is an upgrade and pursue him with the intention of then shopping their incumbent at the position.
The Rays don’t need to trade Zobrist now; they could move Yunel Escobar instead or simply keep Zobrist and bounce him around the diamond in a role not dissimilar to the one the Pirates assigned to Josh Harrison for much of the 2014 campaign. They could also deal another outfielder and return Zobrist to right field.
However, Zobrist has long been an attractive trade chip, and the addition of a player who could be viewed as redundant with Cabrera also on the roster figures to further motivate rival GMs to reach out to the Rays as Zobrist heads into a contract season.
- Perhaps the key takeaway of the Cabrera signing is that the Rays now have a surplus in their middle infield, suggesting a trade of either Ben Zobrist or Yunel Escobar. Zobrist in particular would be a very attractive addition for any number of clubs, and Mark Zuckerman of NatsInsider.com looks at the possibility that Cabrera’s old team, the Nationals, could trade for Zobrist to play second base, their only obviously weak position.
- Zobrist is a good fit for the Giants but an even better fit for the Nationals, Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles writes. The Giants might not be able to top the Nationals in a bidding war, since the Nats, for whom second base is their only significant need, could be highly motivated to acquire Zobrist. Brisbee also notes that it’s strange that Cabrera would head to Tampa Bay on a one-year deal with the intention of building his value, since Tropicana Field figures to limit his offensive output.
- Cabrera’s signing leaves one less player for the Yankees to sign, Brendan Kuty of NJ.com writes. They could still pursue Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, to whom they’ve been connected, to play second base. Stephen Drew and Rickie Weeks are other possibilities. They could deal for Zobrist, although a trade between the Yankees and their divisional rivals in Tampa seems unlikely. They could also simply go with Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela.