Tampa Bay Rays Rumors
Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio spoke with multiple agents and executives over the weekend and got contradictory takes on the reasons for so many top free agents remaining unsigned (ESPN Insider required and recommended). Agents told Bowden that they (and the MLBPA) feel that the heightened media coverage resulting from social networking has damaged players' market values. Reports from media members about how teams value players and whether or not they've made offers to players could be violations of the CBA, those parties told Bowden. Meanwhile, executives said to Bowden that the market is simply full of players with baggage (draft pick compensation, PED usage, inconsistent performance) and added that agents entered the offseason with unnatural expectations for their clients.
Here are just some of the highlights from a jam-packed column from the former Nationals and Reds GM...
- Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are the two most likely candidates from next year's crop of free agent starting pitchers to sign an extension, Bowden writes. Despite the fact that Scherzer is a Scott Boras client (Boras prefers his clients to test the open market), Scherzer seems to want to remain loyal to the Tigers. However, Bowden notes that an extension would still need to be somewhere close to Scherzer's market value, which Bowden pegs at a whopping $196MM over seven years.
- The Red Sox have made a two-year offer to Stephen Drew, one source told Bowden. The value of that reported offer is unclear, as is the date on which it was made.
- The Nationals have discussed Jose Lobaton trades with the Rays as they look to add a backup catcher for Wilson Ramos. Lobaton figures to be expendable for the Rays, as they project to have a strong defensive tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina behind the dish. Shedding Lobaton's $950K salary would seem to be more beneficial to the tight-budgeted Rays than most teams, particularly if they don't have a roster spot for him.
- The Dodgers are pushing for an infielder over another starting pitcher and hope to have a deal done within the next 48 hours. Los Angeles isn't likely to bid on any of the remaining free agent starters unless they're willing to take a short-term deal, as Dan Haren did to play near his hometown.
- Kendrys Morales is the most likely free agent to be this year's version of Kyle Lohse, writes Bowden. He notes that the Orioles -- who still have about $15MM to spend -- and Mariners remain interested in the switch-hitting Scott Boras client. Both are still in on Nelson Cruz as well. MLBTR readers seem to agree with the Morales/Lohse comparison; in the poll I conducted earlier this morning asking which Top 50 free agent would be the next to sign, he drew the fewest votes.
- The Royals and Indians are both highly unlikely to be able to lure back their respective free agent pitchers, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Blue Jays are a likely landing spot for both pitchers.
Rays right-hander and 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow last week and is expected to be sidelined until mid-to-late May, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
The 26-year-old Hellickson struggled through his worst season in 2013, posting a career-high 5.17 ERA and yielding a .274/.325/.450 batting line to opposing hitters. Hellickson, the Rays and agent Scott Boras all said that there were no physical ailments following the season, according to Topkin, but something flared up in his elbow when Hellickson began throwing in late January.
The Rays have the rotation depth to overcome an injury to Hellickson, as Jake Odorizzi now seems likely to step into the rotation alongside David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer. It already appeared likely that the Rays would hang onto Price for at least one more season (contrary to what many pundits believed earlier this winter), but the loss of Hellickson may further strengthen that standpoint. The Rays have added payroll this offseason by re-signing James Loney to a three-year deal, signing Grant Balfour and acquiring Heath Bell and Ryan Hanigan (and extending the latter), so it seems unlikely that they'd shift from those win-now moves by dealing Price -- especially with depleted rotation depth. As Topkin notes, Enny Romero and Alex Colome represent additional rotation options, but Colome himself is recovering from an injury.
Of course, the team could also look to the free agent or trade market to add another starting option. However, they already project for a record payroll (roughly $76MM, including league minimum players), so adding significant dollars seems unlikely. Adding a veteran with starting experience on a minor league deal could make some sense.
Hellickson has seen his own name raised in speculative trade talks coming off a down season, but this surgery eliminates the already unlikely scenario that he would find himself dealt to a new team. He and the Rays sidestepped arbitration this offseason by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $3.625MM. He'll be arb-eligible twice more before becoming a free agent following the 2016 season, but this injury will prevent him from accumulating some valuable innings and counting stats in 2014. That will suppress his 2015 arbitration payday, which would subsequently keep his 2016 salary down as well.
As the NFL season comes to an end, ESPN's Jayson Stark writes that, contrary to popular belief, there's more parity in baseball than football. True, the Red Sox and Cardinals were this year's World Series teams, but five MLB teams made the playoffs in 2013 who didn't make it the year before, including the upstart Pirates and Indians. Meanwhile, every team except the Mets and Astros has had one or more winning seasons in the past five years, whereas six NFL teams haven't had any in that span. Here are more notes from around baseball.
- Kenley Jansen isn't worried about being the last arbitration case for the Dodgers, writes Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times. "I leave all that to my agent," says Jansen. "I know what my No. 1 goal is, and that’s to get ready for the season." Jansen filed for $5.05MM, and the Dodgers countered with $3.5MM. Jansen mentions that he is excited that three former closers -- Brandon League, Brian Wilson and the newly-signed Chris Perez -- will join him in the Dodgers' bullpen.
- The Rays have added plenty of depth this offseason, including new infielder Wilson Betemit, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. Logan Forsythe, Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez can all play the outfield as well as infield, so there might be a way for Betemit to earn a bench job out of camp. Topkin also suggests that the Rays could re-sign free agent outfielder Sam Fuld if Fuld doesn't find a Major League contract elsewhere.
- The Red Sox, meanwhile, have lots of depth on their pitching staff, but perhaps not enough at third base or center field, writes Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. That could mean trouble if Will Middlebrooks or Jackie Bradley Jr. struggle. The Red Sox did recently sign Grady Sizemore, but he and Bradley both hit left-handed, and there isn't likely to be space for both on the team's active roster. Shane Victorino could also play center, but an outfield of Jonny Gomes, Victorino and Daniel Nava wouldn't be ideal from a defensive perspective.
The MLBPA has spoken to Major League Baseball COO Rob Manfred about their concerns over team executives talking about whether or not they're negotiating with free agents, which is a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports. Some players are also upset at the slow pace of the free agent pitching market, and while Rosenthal says the union could consider filing a grievance, such an action would be hard to prove given that teams have already spent close to $2 billion on free agents this offseason.
Here's some more from around baseball on Super Bowl Sunday...
- The Braves will have to make some tough decisions about which of their young core players they want to extend while keeping their payroll in check, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes (subscription required). The experience of many of Atlanta's best young players is another issue, Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh tells Bradley, since "most of them have established themselves. (The Braves) possibly might have already missed the window of getting a good deal.”
- The Red Sox are wary about making too long a commitment to 38-year-old David Ortiz given how aging designated hitters can so quickly decline, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald writes. Ortiz is under contract through 2014 and recently said he would like another year added to his contract. While Ortiz's age is a concern, Lauber notes that if the Red Sox don't extend Ortiz and he has another big season, the Sox will then be forced to sign him through at least 2016 to keep him in Boston.
- Jon Lester is another Red Sox player mentioned in extension rumors, and John Tomase of the Boston Herald looks at the somewhat shaky history of left-handed starters who sign expensive contracts into their 30's. Since Lester has said he would give the Red Sox a hometown discount, Tomase thinks a five-year, $100MM extension could work for both sides.
- The Rays are still having talks about trading catcher Jose Lobaton, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Lobaton looks like the odd man out behind Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina, though Topkin notes that the team could still bring Lobaton to Spring Training in case one of their regulars gets injured. If another team develops a catching need later in the spring, as well, the Rays can explore moving Lobaton then.
- Also from Topkin's piece, the Rays have focused on adding depth this offseason to give themselves plenty of roster flexibility and options heading into Spring Training.
- The Indians believe that Joe Smith was their biggest bullpen loss this winter, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes, not former closer Chris Perez. The Tribe rebuilt their bullpen and hope that John Axford can cinch the closing job, Vinnie Pestano returns to his old form and that young arms Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen continue to deliver quality relief innings. Pluto notes that the Indians hope Shaw turns into a new Smith, and the club sees Allen as a future closer.
- Baseball America's Matt Eddy recaps the week's minor league transactions.
The Rays have agreed to sign third baseman Wilson Betemit to a minor league deal, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). The 32-year-old Dominican missed most of last season with a knee injury.
In his last full MLB campaign, 2012, Betemit posted a .261/.322/.422 triple-slash in 376 plate appearances for the Orioles. The switch-hitter has done most of his damage from the left side of the plate, where he has a career .819 OPS that dwarfs his .636 mark when swinging right-handed. That split was even more pronounced in 2012 (.850 OPS as a lefty and .405 as a righty). Betemit's best season came in 2010 with the Royals, when he slashed .297/.378/.511 in 315 plate appearances for the Royals.
As has been the case for most of his career, Betemit saw most of his action at the hot corner. He has also seen time at first, DH, and even the outfield in recent seasons. Defensive metrics have not looked kindly upon Betemit's glovework in the infield.
Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio said on MLBN's Inside Pitch show today that the Blue Jays expect to land one of Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez (Twitter link from MLB Network Radio). While Toronto has yet to make a formal offer to either right-hander, the team has had discussions with each former AL Central hurler's camp. More from around the league...
- Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com writes that the Dodgers' lack of infield depth could be troubling when the season gets underway. Of particular concern is Cuban signee Alexander Guerrero, who could struggle with the transition from shortstop to second base. The Dodgers have little in the way of alternatives, with Chone Figgins, Dee Gordon and light-hitting Miguel Rojas as the primary in-house candidates. Saxon also wonders how many games Hanley Ramirez can stay healthy for, and asks if the Dodgers are relying too heavily on Juan Uribe.
- JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago looks at the savvy scouting of Joe Siers and Daraka Shaheed of the White Sox -- the two scouts who pushed the team to pluck lefty Jose Quintana off the scrap heap following his release from the Yankees organization. General manager Rick Hahn wasn't shy about his praise for Quintana, who he feels has exceeded expectations and become a strong No. 2 starter behind Chris Sale. "He doesn't have to improve in my book," Hahn said. "If he does, fantastic. He certainly has the aptitude and athleticism and now the knowledge of the league that it's not unrealistic to expect the improvement. ...if he's this guy for the next several years we'll be very happy."
- The Blue Jays will move waiver claim Brent Morel from third base to second base, Morel told Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com (Twitter link). Toronto claimed the former White Sox top prospect off waivers earlier this year. The move isn't all that surprising given Toronto's lack of depth at the keystone.
- Bowden writes (Insider subscription required) that Athletics GM Billy Beane and Rays GM Andrew Friedman are the GM stars of the offseason. While Yankees GM Brian Cashman spent the most money, and Rangers GM Jon Daniels made the second-most noise with acquisitions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, Bowden feels that the two small-market GMs shined above all others. In particular, he praises Beane's stockpiling of elite bullpen arms and Friedman's decision to resist the pressure to deal David Price.
Burnett's reported decision to enter the open market promises to have a major impact on how the remaining free agent starting pitching situation plays out. In certain respects, Burnett is the most attractive remaining starter. (In particular, he was outstanding last year and figures to be had on a short-term deal.) As the newly reported interest of the Rays demonstrates, he could appeal to a variety of clubs, including those that had not been rumored to be players on the rest of the market.
But, as Gammons says, Burnett has only just begun the process of chosing a club. With pitchers and catchers reporting within a matter of weeks, and the starting pitching market still de-thawing from its Tanaka freeze, Burnett could potentially create further hold-up on the rest of the market. Teams like the Orioles, for instance, might conceivably hold off on other top options like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana until Burnett has made his decision. And, as I noted previously, if Burnett lands with a club that had intended to add a starter, there could be less demand left for the other best open-market arms.
The Mariners are "back in business, showing strong interest" in Nelson Cruz and Fernando Rodney again, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports in his latest column. The Mariners, who are said to have some financial leeway by new team president Kevin Mather, is also looking at the trade market for starting pitchers, though they're not currently focused on David Price or Jeff Samardzija. Rosenthal also notes that the Indians aren't having any conversations on Justin Masterson, nor are the Reds inclined to move any of their starters, further limiting the list of trade targets. More highlights below...
- Cruz could be a fallback option for the Rangers, but probably only if he's willing to sign a one-year deal. Bringing Cruz back would allow the Rangers to deal Mitch Moreland.
- Rosenthal wonders if the Reds should be thinking about dealing a starter. While they're trying to extend Homer Bailey, that seems to be a tall order as he's just one year from free agency. Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto are all only controlled through 2015, and as Rosenthal notes, not all can be long-term pieces.
- The Athletics aren't considering making a run at Stephen Drew and shifting Jed Lowrie from short to second base. The A's are comfortable platooning Eric Sogard and Nick Punto.
- A rival executive wondered to Rosenthal if the Braves would match up with the Mariners on a Dustin Ackley trade, but Rosenthal hears that the Braves aren't looking for a second baseman. They currently have Dan Uggla, who is owed $26MM through 2015, and three fallback options in Ramiro Pena, Tommy La Stella and Tyler Pastornicky.
- Braves GM Frank Wren said he doesn't hold any ill will toward players who go to arbitration hearings -- such as the ones he could face with Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman: "We don’t look at it as an antagonistic process. We look at it as a solution to a disagreement on a player’s salary."
JAN. 27: Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets some more specifics on the breakdown of Balfour's contract. Balfour's $5MM in 2014 will come in the form of a $1MM signing bonus and a $4MM salary. He will receive an additional $500K if traded, and $2MM is deferred in each year of his contract.
JAN. 23, 6:00pm: Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Balfour will earn $5MM in 2014 and $7MM in 2015 (Twitter link).
3:19pm: The Rays have officially signed reliever Grant Balfour to a two-year, $12MM deal. Balfour returns to the organization with which he had both his best (2008, 1.54 ERA) and worst (2009, 4.81 ERA) seasons as a big leaguer.
Of course, the ACES client had an earlier agreement in place with the Orioles for two years and $15MM, which was blown up when Baltimore found issues with the reliever's physical. The Aussie will nevertheless throw in the AL East after agreeing to terms with Tampa. (It is worth noting that the Rays' team doctor was one of those who said there were no issues with Balfour's right shoulder, though the Orioles apparently had different reasons for concern with the medicals.)
As MLBTR's Steve Adams wrote in profiling Balfour earlier in the offseason, the righty struck out batters at an impressive rate of 10.8 K/9 in 2013. Though the 36-year-old's fastball velocity has dipped since he worked around the 95 mph mark in his excellent 2008 season with Tampa, he still brings his heater at above 93 mph on average.
Ultimately, since a tough 2009, Balfour has been outstanding at keeping opposing runners from crossing the plate. Over the 2010-13 seasons, Balfour has maintained a 2.47 ERA in 254 2/3 innings, with an average of 9.2 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. He has been a model of consistency over that time frame as well, as his ERA has not strayed above the 2.59 mark.
Balfour faced a tough market situation even before his ill-fated pact with Baltimore. With several other big-name, late-inning relievers on the market, it was clear early on that some good arms would be left unable to max out their earnings. As the list of free agent closers shows (via MLBTR's Free Agent Tracker), Balfour slots in between the two-year deals of Joaquin Benoit ($15.5MM from the Padres) and Edward Mujica ($9.5MM from the Red Sox). Interestingly, he falls well shy of the $19MM guarantee handed by the Dodgers to Brian Wilson, who only threw 19 2/3 innings last year (including the post-season) after missing almost all of 2012-13 due to Tommy John surgery.
Andrew Rickli of SportsReel Boston first reported the deal (via Twitter). Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first tweeted the final contract terms, while Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports first tweeted that the deal was expected to land in the two-year, $12MM range.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Dave Wallace was away from the majors for years but he's now back with the Orioles to lend pitchers a helping hand, writes Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. Wallace, 66, wa the minor league pitching coordinator for the Braves before he was hired as the O's pitching coach. "It was real difficult," Wallace said of deciding whether to return to a big league coaching staff. "I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't. … I'm not the youngest guy in the world, but I'm in pretty good shape physically now. Actually, I did some praying. I have a strong faith, and if the good Lord thought I was healthy enough to do it again, then I would love to have an opportunity." Here's today's look at the AL East..
- Masahiro Tanaka is ready to make the transition from Japan to New York, writes Christian Red of the New York Daily News. Red spoke with baseball executives and people familiar with the history of players coming over from Japan about what it will take for the star pitcher to make things work wth the Yankees.
- The Yankees have to be careful and protect their investment in Tanaka, writes Barry Federovitch of the Star-Ledger. Tanaka was overworked in Japan, so it would make sense for the Bombers to have him skip the occasional start to preserve his arm.
- Rays owner Stuart Sternberg acknowledges that he's making a play for a championship in 2014, but he doesn't like people saying that Tampa Bay is "all in," writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. "I don't believe in the phrase, 'all in,' " Sternberg said. "I've heard it, and I don't care for it. We are feeding the beast. That usually comes with very successful teams who have to keep throwing money into an incinerator to keep things going."