Tampa Bay Rays Rumors
"He's more like a [No.] 4 starter for me now," a scout said to ESPN's Jayson Stark after watching Roy Halladay's bizarre start for the Phillies last night, in which he allowed five earned runs, six hits, and three walks while striking out nine in 3 1/3 innings against the Braves. It seems likely that Doc will slide down our 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, as he tries to reinvent himself with a less-effective fastball. On to today's East links...
- "It’s great baseball. It’s the beginning of a new era for us and it’s exciting," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told reporters including Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post before last night's game. The Marlins do have a pair of exciting players on the big league roster in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, but they're also brimming with replacement-level guys. Outside of Stanton and Fernandez, I'd say the Marlins have one of baseball's least-exciting teams to watch.
- Roberto Hernandez's start today for the Rays ended a streak of 1,207 straight games without using a free agent starting pitcher, according to the team. The last one was Hideo Nomo in July 2005, which predates the current front office by a few months.
- "You have examples like CarGo, Weaver, Andrus, Varitek — there’s a ton of examples of guys that have signed before [free agency]," explained Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to WEEI's Alex Speier in the wake of Elvis Andrus' new contract. "[Agent Scott Boras] gives you advice, but it’s up to you to make your own decision." Ellsbury may be the top available free agent position player in free agency, if Robinson Cano signs before then.
- Earlier today, the Yankees released David Aardsma, the Orioles claimed Josh Stinson, and the Nationals signed Chris Young.
by Chuck Myron for MLBTR
In December, the Rays parted with their all-time leader in wins, strikeouts and games started when they sent James Shields to the Royals in a blockbuster trade that brought back a package headlined by touted prospect Wil Myers. Shields, the only pitcher ever to notch a win in the World Series for Tampa Bay, was coming off the best two-season stretch of his seven-year Major League career, compiling a 3.15 ERA and 448 strikeouts in 477 innings across 66 starts. Myers is the jewel of the Rays’ haul, which includes two more minor leaguers who have won Baseball America and MLB.com top-100 billing within the past 18 months. Still, the four players heading to Tampa Bay as part of the deal have a total of two games of Major League experience.
The result is an obvious hole in the Rays rotation, as well as in the clubhouse. But many of the Rays who spoke to MLBTR during Spring Training believe the move wasn’t nearly as jarring as it could have been.
"I think it’s an easier pill to swallow when it happens in the winter, and you get to spring training and you have what you believe is your team," outfielder Sam Fuld said. "And ultimately that group of 25 guys is going to change, obviously, throughout the season, but when you lose a guy of that significance, it helps to do it before the season starts."
Many of Fuld’s teammates concurred, including righty Jeff Niemann, who was battling to inherit the open spot in the rotation that wound up going to Roberto Hernandez. Compared to a midseason trade, "it’s kind of almost like it never happened," Niemann said.
Left-hander Matt Moore, one of the starters who’ll be asked to step up in Shields’ absence, offered a dissenting view. He isn’t so sure the timing of the move made any difference.
"It’s just a part of what happens," Moore said. "Teams trade guys every year, so you know it’s going to happen."
Still, Ben Zobrist believes the players in the Rays clubhouse aren’t the only ones better off because of when the move occurred, pointing to Shields and fellow pitching staff mainstay Wade Davis, who also went to Kansas City in the trade.
"I guess it’s probably easier for them to transition to a different team," Zobrist said. "Every team coming in is going to be new and different, because there’s going to be new guys. So yeah, it’s probably easier on us and them, just knowing that that transition was happening in the offseason instead of right in the middle of the season."
Talk of a Shields trade wasn’t confined to the hot stove period. The Cardinals, Braves, Dodgers, Indians, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Angels all showed interest in acquiring Shields in the days leading up to last year’s trade deadline. There were rumors about his availability before the 2011 deadline as well. Right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb, who acknowledged the team wouldn’t have won as many games the past two seasons if Shields weren’t around, is glad the team held off on a trade. Cobb, 25, is nonetheless confident that he and the rest of the team’s young players are ready to compete this year without their one-time ace.
"We’ve got Chris Archer on the verge from the Garza trade, (and) multiple prospects in the minor leagues on the verge of getting ready to help the big league club," Cobb said. "That’s just the way we operate around here. It’s obviously tough to let go of not only James, (but also) Wade, who’s been a great arm for us, both starting and relieving. But it’s one of the things that we have to do to keep competing in the AL East. We have to get rid of the older, more veteran-type guys and bring a new crop of young guys to do the job that they’ve done in the past."
Jeremy Hellickson, another 25-year-old right-handed starter, sees Cobb’s development as a key part of the club’s reloading effort.
"(Shields) was a big part of our rotation last year, but you know, Cobb’s going to step in this year, and he’s going to throw a lot of innings for us, so as good as (Shields) was, and as much as he saved the bullpen and all that, I like the guys we have," Hellickson said.
Of course, the effectiveness of the trade, regardless of its timing, will ultimately be judged by how the newly acquired prospects perform at the big-league level. In particular, Myers, who put up a .286/.333/.429 slash line in 35 spring at-bats before getting sent down to Triple-A, has his Major League teammates anxious to see him return.
"I know he swings it really well," Moore said. "I’ve seen a lot of solid contact and good plate appearances, so I’m excited for him."
"He was impressive," infielder Sean Rodriguez said. "Time will tell with him. He’s definitely got tools, he’s definitely got a good head on his shoulders, so we’ll see."
Pirates GM Neal Huntington and Rays GM Andrew Friedman claim that their decisions to leave Gerrit Cole (Pirates) and Wil Myers (Rays) in the minors to start the 2013 season were motivated not by service-time concerns, but by those players' readiness, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo reports. Mayo says the scouts he's spoken to can't blame Huntington for sending Cole to Triple-A Indianapolis, since Cole has very limited experience at that level. Friedman, meanwhile, says that he needs to be sure a player is ready before having him compete in the tough AL East. "The AL East will expose very quickly any weaknesses that you have," he says. "So when we bring someone here, we need to feel that he's ready to step in and help us win right away."
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, in contrast, says his organization promoted Jackie Bradley Jr. to start the season -- even though doing so could affect Bradley's timetable for free agency -- because Bradley is one of the organization's 25 best players, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald reports. "At the end, if there was that level of confidence that he was part of the best 25-man roster, then we felt he should be on the team. That’s part of our responsibility to the fans and to the organization," Cherington says. In addition, Cherington notes, the Red Sox begin their season with plenty of games within their division, and it's especially crucial that they do well in those games. Their first four series against the Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays, all AL East opponents. Here are more notes from around the majors.
- The Giants have locked up catcher Buster Posey with an eight-year, $159MM extension, but in Keith Law's latest podcast for ESPN, Posey's agent, Jeff Berry of Creative Artist Agency (CAA), contemplates what might have happened if Posey and the Giants had decided to go year-to-year through the arbitration system. Berry argues that Posey's situation would have been unique, because Posey has won an MVP and a Rookie of the Year award and has played for two World Series-winning teams, but after missing much of 2011 to injury, he doesn't have particularly impressive career bulk counting stats, which are a factor in arbitration hearings. "The challenge, first and foremost, in the arb system was looking at, 'Wow, this guy has accomplished things that no one else has ever done, but [among superstars in the arbitration process] he's also played less than anyone,'" Berry says.
- Reacting to Robinson Cano's decision to fire Scott Boras and hire CAA and the rapper Jay-Z as his representation, one agent says that "Jay-Z doesn’t know s--- about baseball," Michael O'Keeffe of the New York Daily News writes. "You don’t hire a real estate agent to do neurosurgery," the agent continues. O'Keeffe goes on to note that, of course, Jay-Z will not be negotiating a deal for Cano, who will be a free agent after the season. That duty will go to CAA, which represents Posey and a number of other MLB stars. Here are more reactions to Cano's agency switch.
- This year's Indians are excited about the team's offseason spending spree, Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal reports. "Hats off to Chris Antonetti and the Dolan family, after losing 94 games [in 2012] they very easily could have folded up shop and said, 'Let’s wait for a few more young kids to develop and see what we’ve got,'" says Jason Giambi, who signed a minor-league deal with Cleveland in February. Instead, he says, "[t]hey went out and got some guys and spent some money. They put together a good ballclub, now we have to answer the bell and play good."
- The Rangers had scouts watching pitcher Joba Chamberlain in spring training, but the Rangers and Yankees never ended up discussing a deal, George A. King III and Zach Braziller of the New York Post write. King and Braziller note that Chamberlain impressed the Yankees with a spring training performance that included nine strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings.
Jose Fernandez of the Marlins, Aaron Hicks of the Twins, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. of the Red Sox are all on their teams' Opening Day rosters, even though that might make them free agents a year earlier, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports is rooting for all three of them. Rosenthal says he's tired of watching talented players languish in the minors at the start of each season as their teams attempt to delay their service-time clocks. The best players should be on the field, Rosenthal argues. "The game is so flush with cash, teams are awarding hundred-million dollar extensions like Halloween candy," he says. "I’ll grant that certain low-revenue clubs need to watch their money more carefully than others. The rest of ‘em, no way."
- "The system" keeps the Rays on a winning path, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. "One of the things I'm most proud of is that we've been able to remain committed to our plan," says executive vice president Andrew Friedman. "It takes a tremendous amount of discipline because there are times when it is very tempting to deviate from that plan, but I feel very confident that had we done that in '08 or '09 we wouldn't be sitting where we are today." Topkin notes that the Rays haven't been successful in every area -- they haven't done well in the draft recently, and they haven't had much success with catchers and designated hitters. But a key area at which they have been successful is in developing their own starting pitching. By developing their own pitching, they're able to not only avoid expensive free-agent commitments, but to trade from their own stockpile, as they did when they sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for Wil Myers and prospects.
- Bud Selig isn't concerned about the Cubs' debt, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times reports. The Ricketts family purchased the Cubs for $845MM in 2009, and the team still has substantial debt related to that purpose. "The Ricketts family worked closely with our office to develop certain financial structures designed to [ensure] the stability of the franchise at these debt levels," a spokesman for Selig says.
The nine top names to watch in Los Angeles baseball in 2013 include Chase Headley and Robinson Cano, argues Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Headley could be an in-season trade target for the Dodgers, and Cano will likely be connected to the Dodgers as a free agent next winter. Shaikin also suggests that if the Dodgers don't do well in 2013, they could try to hire Rays GM Andrew Friedman. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- The Mariners' decision to keep Jason Bay and designate Casper Wells for assignment doesn't make sense, Jeff Sullivan of USS Mariner says. Sullivan notes that Wells is younger, had four years of team control remaining, and has recently been the better player on both offense and defense -- and the Mariners will likely lose him for virtually nothing. "Wells, probably, is going to end up getting traded to a team with a thin outfield in exchange for a non-roster barely-prospect," Sullivan says. Sullivan also points out that Wells was one of the key players in the Doug Fister deal with the Tigers. The Tigers already looked like clear winners in that trade, but it's even clearer now.
- The Giants' signing of Buster Posey to an eight-year, $159MM contract demonstrates the inequities between the Giants and the Athletics, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. The Giants have opposed the Athletics' move to San Jose. "It's more than mildly ironic that the Giants granted a single player a contract that exceeds the A's entire payroll by a factor of three," says San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo.
- The trade of Vernon Wells to the Yankees gave the Angels additional payroll flexibility, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes. The deal leaves the Angels about $6MM under the luxury tax threshold, Gonzalez reports.
The moves were needed to open space on their 40-man roster for first baseman/DH Shelley Duncan and relievers Jamey Wright and Juan Carlos Oviedo. Oviedo was then transferred to the 60-day disabled list, as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Duncan's promotion was necessitated by a right calf strain suffered by Luke Scott, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman told reporters, including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter), Duncan won the job due to his extra base-hit ability and because he adds value with his power.
Chirinos was acquired in the Matt Garza trade and appeared in 20 games for the Rays in 2011 producing a slash line of .218/.283/.309 in 60 plate appearances. He sat out the 2012 season due to a concussion.
Vogt, a 12th-round selection by the Rays in the 2007 draft, made his MLB debut last season, but went hitless in 25 at-bats. He has fared much better at the plate during his six-year minor league career (.290/.360/.448), including numbers of .272/.350/.424 in 396 plate appearances in 94 games at Triple-A Durham in 2012.
- With Verlander, Buster Posey and Adam Wainwright all agreeing to extensions with their teams this week, "the age of teams retaining their stars is upon us," MLB.com's Matthew Leach writes. Leach points out that Felix Hernandez, Joey Votto, Cole Hamels, Evan Longoria and Matt Kemp all also fairly recently agreed to huge contracts with their current teams. More money through new TV contracts is partially fueling this trend. "And it becomes somewhat cyclical," Leach writes. "As fewer stars hit free agency, clubs have fewer places to spend that money. So they spend it on their own players, and the cycle continues."
- The string of enormous contracts for players like Verlander should be approached with skepticism, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports argues. "These $100 million contracts are the price of doing business, no doubt," says Rosenthal. "Whether they qualify as good business is another question entirely." Rosenthal points out that big-money contracts for players like Joe Mauer and Johan Santana have gone sour, and says that while contracts like Verlander's may be exciting when they're announced, they might not seem like such great ideas a few years after the fact.
- The size of Verlander's contract likely makes it impossible for the Rays to keep David Price, ESPN's Buster Olney tweets. An extension for Price would mean yearly salaries that would require an enormous percentage of Tampa Bay's payroll.
- Fellow Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer says that any time he eats dinner with Verlander this year, Verlander is paying for it, MLive.com's Chris Iott reports. "I got a nice little contract this year, but no, he's buying every single dinner this year." Scherzer can afford to buy his own dinner, of course -- he's scheduled to make $6.725MM in 2013.
We'll keep track of today's minor moves here..
- Catcher Miguel Olivo has asked for and been granted his release by the Reds, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). It was previously reported that Olivo was mulling whether to accept a $100k bonus and report to Triple-A, or instead test the market. Olivo could be an option for the Marlins, writes Joe Frisaro of MLB.com.
- The Rays have released minor leaguer righties Nick Barnese and Joe Cruz, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times on Twitter. Barnese, a third-rounder from 2007, threw 56 2/3 innings over 12 starts in Double-A last year and mustered only a 5.72 ERA with 4.8 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9.
- Infielder Donnie Murphy exercised his out clause with the Brewers today and took his release, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The 30-year-old hooked on with Milwaukee in December and hit hit .216/.281/.379 in 129 plate appearances with the Marlins last season. Murphy is a .205/.270/.373 career hitter in 640 big league plate appearances and a .285/.351/.556 career hitter 738 Triple-A plate appearances.
The Rays have traded right-hander Dane De La Rosa to the Angels for fellow righty Steve Geltz, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. A Rays press release confirmed the move, and noted that Geltz will begin the year in Triple-A Durham. Both players had previously been outrighted to Triple-A by their former clubs.
Neither pitcher has seen much time at the major league level. In addition to his 12 appearances with the big club over the last two seasons, the 30-year-old De La Rosa pitched to a 2.79 ERA over 67 2/3 innings pitched last season in Triple-A. And as MLBTR noted yesterday when he was outrighted by his former club, Geltz tossed just two major league innings last year and had mixed results between Double-A and Triple-A.
Scouts watching Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann this month are wary of his lowered velocity, tweets Jayson Stark of ESPN.com (on Twitter). However, one source believes that if they move him to the bullpen, he'll be able to get his velocity up a "tick or two" and restore his trade value. Here's more out of the AL East..
- The Yankees are viewing Lyle Overbay as a free three-day look, though he is clearly their best defensive option at first base, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). The Bombers picked up Overbay shortly after he was cut loose by the Red Sox.
- The Red Sox ideally would like to keep Jackie Bradley Jr. in the minors for the first few weeks of the season to delay the start of his service time clock, but the club's sense of urgency may alter those plans, writes Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. If the Red Sox send Bradley to Triple-A Pawtucket for the first nine games of the season, he won't be eligible for free agency until 2019.
- The Yankees have reassembled a 2006 All-Star team, writes Daniel Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal. The Bombers have eight of 30 players that received AL MVP votes in the '06 season.
- The Red Sox have a roster decision to make between Daniel Bard, who has minor league options remaining, and the out-of-options Clayton Mortensen, writes Alex Speier of WEEI.com. Boston has to decide whether Bard will have an easier time getting back on track in the majors or in Triple-A Pawtucket.