Tampa Bay Rays Rumors

Free Agent Notes: Gimenez, Hanrahan, Available Players

All remains relatively quiet on the compensation free agent front -- as you may have heard, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales remain unsigned, though each is now freed of the possibility of receiving another QO next year if they sign a one-year deal. While there have been rumblings that Morales could be approaching a contract, specifics remain unclear. Nevertheless, there is still a good bit of motion among some less-heralded names in the season's early going. Here's the latest:

East Links: Sabathia, Mets, Rays, Roberts

While much has been made of CC Sabathia's decline over the past year, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News writes that it doesn't matter if Sabathia is a true "ace" anymore. Feinsand points to promising starts from Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda in opining that the Yankees can be just fine with Sabathia as a contributor who takes the ball every fifth day. He adds that Sabathia's second start would be perceived a lot differently were it not for one seeing-eye single as well.

Here are some more links pertaining to the game's Eastern divisions...

  • MLB.com's Anthony DiComo tweets that he doesn't get the sense that the Mets are all that interested in Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Madson or any other free agent closers (e.g. Kevin Gregg). Likewise, Matt Ehalt of the North Jersey Record hears from a source that the Mets' plan is to look at internal options for help at this time (Twitter link).
  • Cork Gaines of Rays Index examines the Rays' roster and points out that it's not going to change dramatically over the next few years. While there's a strong likelihood of a David Price trade next offseason, much of the team is controlled through at least the 2016 season. Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce are exceptions to that rule, but each is controllable through 2015. It's unlikely, Gaines writes, that the Rays will feel pressured to make any big additions next winter, with the possible exception of the bullpen.
  • Both Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi head to Kansas City to square off against the team that traded them, MLB.com's Dick Kaegel points out. Kaegel, who feels the trade has worked for both clubs despite Shields' impending free agency, spoke with Odorizzi, calls the opportunity to return to Kansas City alongside Myers "special" and says he's looking forward to the experience.
  • In the wake of today's agreement between the Red Sox and Ryan Roberts, ESPN's Buster Olney recalls that multiple scouts told him during Spring Training that the Sox would need to add a third baseman if they weren't planning on promoting Garin Cecchini (Twitter link). Boston added Roberts today after Will Middlebrooks hit the disabled list.

AL East Notes: Robertson, Rays, Escobar

Jonathan Papelbon's four-year, $50MM contract now stands as cautionary tale to all teams thinking making a significant investment in their closer.  That puts the Yankees in an interesting position with David Robertson, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  Robertson's reps want him to be paid like a closer even though he is just rising to the job now and the Yanks want to treat him like a set-up man. But, because this is his walk year, the Yanks have to make a long-term decision on him in the near future.  Here's more out of the AL East..

  • Rays Executive VP Andrew Friedman knows the importance of building through trades, orchestrating 53 deals and acquiring 74 players since taking over after the 2005 season.  Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times sifted through all of them to identify the Rays' best six deals over that stretch.
  • More from Topkin, who notes that the two-year extension for shortstop Yunel Escobar isn't necessarily a sign the team has given up on prospect Hak-Ju Lee, but an opportunity to maximize value in Escobar, who could end up being traded at some point.  The Rays continue to believe that Lee has considerable upside, but last year's severe knee injury caused understandable pause.
  • The new deals for Escobar and pitcher Chris Archer will help to sustain success for the Rays organization, writes Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune.  “The runway of talent and maintaining a good core group of players is something that’s really important,” Friedman said. “We always talk about how, first and foremost, our goal is having as good of a 2014 season as we can, but also about sustaining it, and these two moves (last) week put us in a better position to sustain it than a week ago.
  • The Yankees are looking to their new big contracts to save them while the old ones break down, writes Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News

Quick Hits: Angels, Rays, Astros

Though he's arguably already baseball's best player, Mike Trout is working to improve his arm strength, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes. Some might say Trout's arm is the weakest of his five tools, which has produced "a little chip on his shoulder," according to Angels bench coach Dino Ebel. While the outfielder was once a fringe-average thrower, he's improved the tool so that it's now average or better, Ebel says. Here are more Saturday night Major League links:

  • The Rays are known for aggressively locking up their young stars long term, but the team increasingly shows a willingness to go multiple years with veterans, notes Adam Berry of MLB.com. Today's Yunel Escobar extension the most recent example, but the club has also recently given a two-year deal to David DeJesus and a three-year commitment to catcher Ryan Hanigan. "I think the common denominator is that they're three guys that we like a lot, that fit us well, that will help us win games in the current," GM Andrew Friedman said.
  • Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt both signed one-day contracts and officially retired as members of the Astros organization today. Alyson Footer of MLB.com has the details on a pregame ceremony in which the two greats were given personalized rocking chairs and custom Stetson cowboy hats.

Rays Extend Yunel Escobar

The Rays have announced that they've signed shortstop Yunel Escobar to a two-year extension that guarantees him $13MM. The deal pays Escobar $5MM in 2015 and $7MM in 2016, and includes a $7MM club option with a $1MM buyout for 2017. Escobar is represented by Miami Sports Management.


Escobar will make $5MM in 2014 in the first option year of a two-year deal for 2012 and 2013 that included two options. His new contract will replace the $5MM team option for 2015 on his old one, so this new deal essentially locks the Rays in for that $5MM in 2015 while giving the Rays the rights to 2016 and potentially 2017 as well.

Escobar, 31, hit .256/.332/.366 for the Rays in 2013, but provided excellent value defensively -- he posted a 10.7 UZR in 2013 and has been a consistently above-average defensive shortstop throughout his career. He typically provides little power but good on-base ability, with a .350 career on-base percentage to go with his strong defense. 2013 was Escobar's first season with the Rays, as the Blue Jays traded him to Miami in the Jose Reyes / Josh Johnson / Mark Buehrle blockbuster and the Marlins shipped him to Tampa for Derek Dietrich in December 2012.

The shortstop will enter the free agent market after his age-34 season if the Rays pick up the option. This is the second extension Tampa Bay has completed so far in 2014, having announced a six-year deal for pitcher Chris Archer this week.

Robbie Knopf of the Rays Colored Classes blog originally reported the deal. Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune was the first to report the value of the option and buyout (via Twitter).

Aaron Steen contributed to this post.

Minor Moves: Struck, Gimenez, Fitzgerald, Bigley

Today's minor moves:

  • 24-year-old righty Nick Struck has signed on with the Dodgers, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes has learned. The Cubs released their 2012 minor league pitcher of the year last week. Strcuk briefly reached Triple-A in his age-21 season, then put up a solid campaign in 2012 (3.18 ERA in 155 2/3 innings) at Double-A. He earned a quick promotion back to the Iowa Cubs last year, but allowed 6.17 earned runs per nine in his 109 1/3 frames.
  • Catcher Chris Gimenez has elected free agency rather than taking an outright assignment from the Rangers, the club announced. The 31-year-old was designated for assignment on Tuesday after just a few days with the team. The Rays are interested in signing him to serve as minor league depth, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News recently reported.
  • Righty Justin Fitzgerald has agreed to a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks, reports Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (via Twitter). Fitzgerald made it to the Triple-A level for the first time last year, but had a tough go of things. His 5.61 ERA in 77 innings was the worst of his career.
  • 27-year-old outfielder Evan Bigley, formerly a Twins prospect, has signed with the independent league St. Paul Saints, tweets Mike Beradino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. A tenth-round pick out of Dallas Baptist back in 2008, Bigley never made the leap from Double-A to Triple-A and became a minor league free agent this year.
  • The DFA limbo line has thinned considerably in recent days, as MLBTR's DFA Tracker shows. Pirates reliever Vin Mazzaro is a fairly intriguing name, and will see resolution of his situation by Monday. Frank Herrmann, Colt Hynes, and Preston Guilmet of the Indians are all due to learn their fates on Tuesday. Then come a series of players with interesting histories and a decent amount of big league experience: Eduardo Nunez (Yankees), Hector Noesi (Mariners), and Jeremy Jeffress (Blue Jays). Another player was just added to the rolls when the Royals designated Pedro Ciriaco this morning.

Reactions To The Chris Archer Extension

Chris Archer's new six-year extension with the Rays represents an indication that the league will continue its overall good health over the coming years, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. With plenty of money to keep both owners and players happy, Rosenthal opines that the coming expiration of the CBA (following the 2016 season) should not result in a work stoppage. Here are more notes on Archer's extension.

  • Rosenthal also offers that players should, perhaps, be doing better. He takes a look at the agencies that have agreed to extensions like Archer's, noting that pre-arbitration deals with multiple options are almost exclusively the domain of small- or mid-level outfits. (SFX/Relativity was the only larger agency to enter such a deal since 2000, with five to its credit.) With smaller firms concerned about losing clients, the union as a whole must exercise diligence in avoiding a loss of bargaining power as against ownership.
  • Archer's contract bears a strong resemblance to Jose Quintana's deal with the White Sox, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs writes. This isn't the first time two players have received very similar extensions -- as MLBTR's Steve Adams noted this morning, Jason Kipnis' new deal mirrors Matt Carpenter's, which mirrors Andrew McCutchen's, which mirrors Jay Bruce's and Justin Upton's. Cameron also points out that the Archer extension reflects the reality of pitcher attrition -- pre-free-agency extensions make sense for pitchers, even very promising pitchers, in part because their careers are so uncertain. Meanwhile, deals like Archer's are cheap enough that teams can absorb that risk.
  • Archer is only the fourth player to whom the Rays have given a contract worth over $20MM total, R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus points out (subscription-only). Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and Scott Kazmir are the others. Kazmir, of course, enjoyed a terrific comeback season with Cleveland in 2013, but Anderson writes that his case illustrates the pitfalls of signing a young pitcher like Archer long term.

Jeff Todd contributed to this post.

Rays, Escobar Have Had "Serious" Extension Talks

The Rays have already hammered out one extension recently, locking up right-hander Chris Archer to a six-year contract yesterday. Now, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports, via Twitter, that the club has also had serious extension talks with shortstop Yunel Escobar. While nothing is close with Escobar, who recently switched agencies and is now represented by Miami Sports Management, Topkin's source says an extension is still very possible.

The 31-year-old Escobar is controlled through the 2015 season via a $5MM club option -- the final year of team control for Escobar on a two-year, $10MM extension with three separate $5MM club options signed midway through the 2011 campaign. That deal was signed with the Blue Jays, and since that time he's found himself traded to the Marlins and then the Rays (he never appeared in a game for Miami).

Escobar batted .256/.332/.366 last season in his first year with the Rays, belting nine homers and playing excellent defense at shortstop. Despite the pedestrian batting line, Escobar was valued at 3.3 rWAR and 3.9 fWAR due to his outstanding defensive contributions and the fact that his roughly league-average offensive production (97 OPS+, 100 wRC+) came from the shortstop position.

Escobar's six years, 121 days of Major League service upon entering the season are very close to the six years, 99 days that J.J. Hardy had when he signed a three-year, $22.5MM contract extension with the Orioles in July 2011. That contract is a bit outdated, but it could still serve as a reference point in negotiations between the two sides (my own speculation). Of course, Hardy was coming up on free agency at the time, whereas Escobar does have another year of team control remaining. And, while both are regarded as plus defenders at short, Hardy has considerably more pop in his bat, though it comes at the cost of a significantly lower OBP than Escobar's career mark of .350.

Robbie Knopf of Rays Colored Glasses first wrote about extension talks between the two sides yesterday afternoon.

Rays Extend Chris Archer

THURSDAY: If Archer does not reach Super Two status, he is guaranteed $20MM, MLBTR has learned. In that instance, he would receive a $1MM signing bonus, $500K in 2014, $1MM in 2015, $1MM in 2016, $3MM in 2017, $4.75MM in 2018 and $7MM in 2019. The option years and buyouts would not change, regardless of his Super Two status. Either way, the guarantee is still the largest ever for a player with less than one year of service time.

WEDNESDAY: The Rays have established themselves as annual contenders by extending young players early in their Major League careers, and the next such case presented itself today as the team has announced a six-year contract for right-hander Chris Archer. Archer's deal buys out all of his pre-arbitration and arbitration years, and will be worth $25.5MM if he achieves Super Two status but less if he does not (Super Two seems highly likely for Archer, who entered the year with 156 days of service). The contract also also contains a pair of club options that can push the value of the deal to $43.75MM over eight years. The Relativity Baseball client also reportedly receives a $500K bonus if he is traded during this contract.


Assuming he reaches that Super Two status, Archer will receive a $1MM signing bonus and a $500K salary in 2014, $1MM in 2015, $2.75MM in 2016, $4.75MM in 2017, $6.25MM in 2018 and $7.5MM in 2019.  The Rays can buy out Archer's 2020 option for $1.75MM.

Archer, 25, broke out with the Rays in 2013 with a strong performance that netted him a third-place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. The North Carolina native posted a 3.22 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 46.8 percent ground-ball rate in 128 2/3 innings for the Rays, cementing himself as a member of the team's rotation. He averaged a blistering 95 mph on his fastball, which could eventually help him reach the his minor league levels of striking out a batter per inning. Perhaps most important for the Rays was Archer's improved command; he had averaged five walks per nine innings in his minor league career.

Archer's new deal is the largest ever for a player with less than one year of service time, eclipsing the six-year, $17.5MM extension and the five-year, $14MM extension signed by his own teammates Evan Longoria and Matt Moore, respectively.

The Rays originally acquired Archer from the Cubs along with Hak-Ju Lee, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer and Robinson Chirinos in exchange for Matt Garza, Fernando Perez and Zac Rosscup. That was actually the second trade of Archer's career though, as he was first drafted by the Indians and sent to Chicago along with John Gaub and Jeff Stevens to acquire Mark DeRosa back in 2008.

Archer was already under team control through the 2019 campaign, but this new contract will give the Rays options that run through the 2021 season, meaning the Rays haven't actually guaranteed any free-agent seasons with the deal. However, they will obtain cost certainty and two optional years of control, making it worthwhile risk for the team. From Archer's standpoint, he acquires financial security for a lifetime, sets a service time record and would hit the open market at age 33 if both options are eventually exercised.

For the 2014 season, Archer will join Moore, David Price, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi/Jeremy Hellickson in the rotation (Hellickson is currently on the disabled list). While Price's long-term future with the club is in doubt, the Rays will now control Archer, Moore and Odorizzi through at least the 2019 season, with Cobb under control through 2017 via arbitration. Hellickson is controlled through 2016.

The Rays alerted the media that an announcement would be coming this morning, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports was the first to report the six-year agreement, noting that it was in the $25MM range (via Twitter). Jon Heyman of CBS Sports pegged the exact value (via Twitter), while Yahoo's Jeff Passan added the trade bonus. Passan and ESPN's Jerry Crasnick added details approximating the value of the option years, and Passan noted the Super Two technicality as well. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported the year-to-year breakdown (via Twitter).

Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images.

AL East Notes: Archer, Rays, Nunez, Blue Jays

The Rays officially announced their six-year, $25.5MM extension with Chris Archer in a press conference today.  The right-hander told reporters (including MLB.com's Bill Chastain) that the recent spate of pitching injuries around baseball influenced his decision to sign the contract.  "I don't know if all the injuries -- the head injuries, the concussions, the elbow injuries, some shoulder injuries -- that have happened of late, I don't know if they've happened as a sign for me, but I took them as a sign for me, a sign of what's unknown," Archer said.  "I sat down with my financial advisor. With this contract, I'm financially secure multiple times over again, through many generations. For me, that's all I ever wanted out of this game -- to be personally secure and have my family members secure as well."

Here's some more from around the AL East...

  • Alex Cobb and Wil Myers would seem to be the next logical extension candidates for the Rays, MLB.com's Adam Berry writes.  Cobb said he would "plead the fifth" when asked if he'd been approached by the team about a multiyear deal, while Myers said that he's just focused on playing and will let his agent handle any contractual business.  Berry's piece also contains several quotes from Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman about his team's strategy of locking up its young stars.
  • The Rays have had nine players suspended for PED usage and 14 players suspended for drug-related offenses overall since 2012 , Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh notes.  Tampa Bay leads all teams in both categories, and the recently-suspended Alex Colome is the only the latest of several of the Rays' top prospects to be hit with a suspension.  Lindbergh, however, believes this current spate of issues is only a matter of "chance," as the franchise doesn't have a glaring suspension record before 2012.
  • The Mets haven't discussed making a move for Eduardo Nunez, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweets, and it's "too early to say if they will have interest" in signing the infielder to bolster their shortstop depth.  The Yankees designated Nunez for assignment yesterday.
  • Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos told reporters (including Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star) that he isn't looking for external shortstop help with Jose Reyes on the DL.  Jonathan Diaz is currently filling in at short, and Anthopoulos doesn't think Reyes' injury will keep him out for too long.
  • ESPN's Jim Bowden (Insider subscription required) doesn't think the Blue Jays will contend this season and the club should deal some top stars in order to restock the farm system.  Edwin Encarnacion headlines Bowden's list of Toronto's ten best trade candidates, which also includes possible trade suitors.
  • In other AL East news, we posted a collection of Red Sox Notes earlier tonight.

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