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Recently-retired veteran Kevin Youkilis will be joining the Cubs as a special assistant, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports on Twitter. The connection will be obvious for many: Youkilis rose to prominence and made most of his impact on the field playing for former Red Sox GM and current Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
Here’s more from the central divisions:
- Pirates starter Francisco Liriano held talks with the Red Sox, Twins, Astros, and Royals before re-signing with Pittsburgh, the lefty told Dan Zangrilli of 93.7 The Fan (Twitter links). Kansas City went as high as $36MM over three years, said Liriano, who ultimately took home $39MM from the Pirates. Interestingly, Liriano noted that he felt the qualifying offer did not significantly hinder his market.
- If Brandon Moss and Nick Swisher prove their health this spring, outfielder David Murphy (or another roster candidate) will likely need to be dealt before breaking camp, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. It may be hard to find a taker without eating a good bit of Murphy’s $6MM salary, should that come to pass. For now, this remains an interesting story to watch over the coming months.
- While the Tigers do have some worrying signs in their large contracts and low-rated farm, they are not yet facing the kind of difficulties that the Phillies have found, Mike Petriello of Fangraphs writes. If nothing else, Detroit still looks to be legitimately competitive at present, and has time to prepare for a soft landing when its window does finally begin closing.
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts told Mully and Hanley of 670 The Score (via Levine) that he is interested in having extension talks with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. The 40-year-old executive joined the Cubs just over three years ago on a five-year deal. Here’s more from around the big leagues.
- The Royals are not ruling out the possibility of bringing back DH Billy Butler, reports Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. While Kansas City obviously did not value him at his $12.5MM option, and had hoped to give some DH time to Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez, Mellinger says that Butler’s play down the stretch and in the postseason has changed the club’s thinking. Of course, his .770 OPS over the season’s last 62 games was hardly world-beating production for a bat-only player, but it did hint that his previous excellence at the plate may still be found. Mellinger theorizes that Kansas City could be willing to guarantee Butler eight figures on a two-year deal, though the lifetime Royal would probably need to forego better offers to stay — which he did say was a possibility earlier in the year.
- Free agent righty Chad Billingsley has changed his representation to Octagon’s Steve Hilliard, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). He had been a client of Dave Stewart, who of course has given up the business as part of his new career move. Billingsley, still only 30, has missed virtually all of the past two seasons with multiple elbow surgeries. In spite of his health struggles, Billingsley should draw plenty of interest as a buy-low candidate.
Yesterday, the Cubs set off fireworks in the baseball world when they agreed to send Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for top prospect Addison Russell, outfield prospect Billy McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily. In a conference call earlier today, Cubs President Theo Epstein spoke fondly of both starters and thanked them profusely for their effort while in Chicago. Samardzija will be under contract with Oakland through 2015 but Hammel will hit the open market after the 2014 season. I asked Epstein if he might circle back to the 31-year-old whom he signed to a reasonable one-year, $6MM deal earlier this year.
“You know, Jason left a great impression while he was here, but he’s an Oakland A now,” Epstein said. “We just wish him well with Oakland all the way through October.”
While word of the trade leaked out late last night, the deal between Chicago and Oakland was actually agreed to mid-afternoon yesterday. A’s GM Billy Beane first reached out to Epstein “about a month ago” to let him know that they wanted to be aggressive this year, particularly in acquiring pitching, and asked him to keep the A’s in mind when it came to Samardzija and Hammel. Epstein quickly realized the two clubs didn’t match up “one-for-one” in a deal involving Samardzija and Russell, but they managed to expand the deal in yesterday’s talks to something that worked for both sides.
Russell is one of the top prospects in baseball and gives the Cubs a nice return for their pitchers, but Epstein is hopeful this will be the last time they find themselves on this side of a summer deal.
“We thought a lot internally as we went through this process that we hope that this is the last year that we’ll be obvious sellers at the deadline. And, nothing would make us happier than aggressively adding to the big league team and enhancing chances for a World Series,” Epstein said. “We repeated to ourselves that this type of move is not something that we want to do.”
Of course, the addition of Russell gives the Cubs something of a glut at shortstop on the surface. However, even with Starlin Castro at the big league level and two top-100 prospects in Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara waiting in the wings, Epstein says no one will be changing positions right away.
“The nice thing about having impact players who are athletic, can play in the middle of the field, and can hit is that it gives you options. You can never have too many shortstops and you look around baseball and you see some of the best outfielders in the game came up as shortstops and the same for the best third basemen and second basemen. We feel that Baez is a shortstop but we’re also comfortable that he can play second base or third base or outfield if he has to. Addison Russell has versatility to play all over the infield, Bryant can also go out to right field with a relatively smooth transition, Alcantara can play shortstop or second base or be one heck of an outfielder…They can all fit on the field together,” said the Cubs president, who went on to say the acquisition of Russell had “nothing to do” with Castro.
Ultimately, the Cubs feel you can never have too much of a good thing and they have a plan in place to make sure everyone is utilized. Of course, as Epstein himself said, there also figures to be plenty of trades in the club’s future.
The Cubs begin a series at Fenway Park tonight, getting back in action following a rare Sunday off-day. The club played a doubleheader on Saturday in order to keep Sunday free for Chicago’s Pride Parade, which could’ve created a traffic jam in the Wrigleyville area had the Cubs been playing as originally scheduled. MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat takes a look at the history of Sunday baseball, and passes along the historical note that the Cubs were off on a Sunday for the first time since 1932.
Here’s the latest from the north side of Chicago…
- Theo Epstein denied rumors that he will leave the Cubs after his contract expires following the 2016 season, he tells Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. While some speculate that Epstein has been upset at the lack of Major League resources he’s been given by the Cubs, he “insists he will be here as long as the Cubs want him,” Sullivan writes.
- Two scouts aren’t impressed by Darwin Barney‘s bat, telling Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune that while Barney is a good fielder, “if he can’t hit in the National League, what makes anyone think he can hit in the American League?” Barney has only slashed .198/.243/.284 in 174 PA this season and could be non-tendered if he can’t improve at the plate. Gonzales feels Barney’s time with the Cubs is probably nearing an end, though it could come via a trade if he can hit enough to get a look from another team.
- Also from Gonzales’ reader mailbag piece, he expects the Cubs “to wait as long as possible” for the best offer before trading Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel. He thinks Samardzija might even not be moved until the offseason if necessary, though this would lessen this trade value as a new team would only have him under contract for the 2015 season.
- The Cubs haven’t gotten much production out of their veteran outfielders, and Gonzales expects maybe one (at most) of Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Sweeney, Chris Coghlan or Ryan Kalish to be back next season and Chicago will look for more veteran upgrades. Since Sweeney is owed $2MM for 2015 and the others are all on one-year or minor league contracts, I’d suspect Sweeney is the favorite to return, though $2MM isn’t so large an amount that the Cubs couldn’t eat it if necessary.
The Red Sox can clinch a world title at Fenway Park for the first time in 95 years if they win tonight's Game Six against the Cardinals. Though all eyes are focused on the World Series, here are a few hot stove notes out of Boston…
- Xander Bogaerts' strong World Series has more or less cemented his place in the Red Sox lineup next season, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes. Bogaerts' right-handed bat and ability to play shortstop gives the Sox breathing room in case Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli aren't brought back, and Britton doesn't think the team will bother bringing in a veteran to compete with Bogaerts at shortstop.
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia reiterated that he wants to stay with the Red Sox over the long term but he admitted to ESPN Boston's Joe McDonald that he may have played his last game for the team. "You don’t want to leave but at the same time it’s one of those things where it’s baseball. If it goes in that direction you can’t control it. I haven’t thought too much of a destination, but it’s definitely hit me a few times that this could be the last time," Saltalamacchia said. The catcher has had a tough postseason both offensively and defensively and was benched for Games Four and Five of the World Series. Though MLBTR's Tim Dierkes' prediction of a four-year, $36MM free agent contract for "Salty" was made before the playoffs began, the catching market is thin enough that Saltalamacchia's October struggles probably won't hurt him that much.
- Theo Epstein has kept a low profile during the World Series but CBS Sports' Jon Heyman notes that Epstein deserves credit for building the core of this Red Sox team during his tenure as general manager, not to mention helping groom current GM Ben Cherington.
- Would the Red Sox still be in the World Series if Anibal Sanchez, Francisco Liriano, Hiroki Kuroda, Cody Ross, Nate Schierholtz and Joakim Soria had been their big additions of the 2012-13 offseason? WEEI.com's Rob Bradford looks at how the Sox considered all of these names last winter.
- Whatever luster Boston may have lost as a free agent destination last offseason has surely been regained by the club's success, manager John Farrell told repoters (including WEEI.com's Alex Speier).
- The Red Sox improved team chemistry surely helped their turn-around but a few league executives tell The Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro that the narrative has been bit overblown. The Diamondbacks are a team that seem to be ranking chemistry as a high priority and other clubs may follow in seeking out good clubhouse personalities like Jonny Gomes, “but if people think [Gomes] is the new market inefficiency, they are going to be disappointed," an NL executive says.
Matt Garza made his second start since being activated from the disabled list, but it didn't go as well as his five shutout innings in his season debut last Tuesday versus the Pirates. Garza, number eight on MLBTR's 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, needed 92 pitches (52 for strikes) to cover four innings against the Reds. The right-hander struck out seven but allowed four runs on four hits with four walks (one intentional), one HBP, and a wild pitch. Garza received a no-decision as the Cubs rallied for a 5-4 victory in 10 innings snapping their six-game losing streak. In other North Side news:
- The present for the Cubs has fallen into the abyss and the future is flush with questions, opines Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Sullivan points to no hints ownership will increase payroll and a farm system which remains bereft of pitching talent at the upper levels and that would-be stars such as outfielder Brett Jackson and third baseman Josh Vitters have yet to pan out.
- Within the same piece, Sullivan writes there's no chance manager Dale Sveum will be fired, as team President Theo Epstein believes the coaching staff has done a "fine" job.
- The Cubs will have the second overall selection in the June 6 amateur draft, but Epstein warns not to pin the hopes of the franchise on that player. "There are some promising players on the way, but we have a lot of work to do," Epstein told Sullivan. "The No. 2 pick is a great opportunity, but one player by himself cannot make a system."
- The Cubs are eyeing pitchers Jonathan Gray of Oklahoma and Mark Appel of Stanford and third basemen Kris Bryant of San Diego and Colin Moran of North Carolina with that pick, reports MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. Manager Dale Sveum has been watching video of the quartet and provides Muskat with a brief scouting report on each.
- With the Crosstown Classic against the White Sox beginning tomorrow, former South Side manager Ozzie Guillen said recently he would be willing to be a coach for the Cubs. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweeted Sveum's response, "I don't have no openings on my staff."
In an interview with Chicago's The McNeil and Spiegel Show earlier this week (hat tip to Bleacher Nation), Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed several pertinent topics. In particular, Epstein sought to answer the question of why the Cubs seem unable to contend while they rebuild.
Epstein's long answer was interesting, even as he largely kept on message about the need to drive new revenue through a renovation of Wrigley Field, new television deals, and the like. He said that, until, the club can generate new revenue, it is placed in an "untenable position": the Cubs are "fighting upstream" against division competitors that get competitive balance draft picks, but are simultaneously unable to increase payroll to keep pace with the top of the division.
On the question of payroll level, Epstein was seemingly quite revealing. His quote is lengthy, but worth repeating in full (transcription courtesy of Bleacher Nation):
“It’s not a choice. We are not making a fundamental choice to only focus on the future. We’re not withholding dollars from this year’s team. We are spending every dollar that we have on this baseball team. We maxed out our payroll last year and we maxed out our payroll this year. It’s not a choice. It’s not like we’re making a conscious decision to say, ‘Hey, let’s withhold $15-20 million from the 2012 or 2013 payroll because we don’t think we’re quite good enough or it’s not worth it to spend it there. Let’s save it for a rainy day. Or let’s save it so we can get that free agent in 2016.’ The baseball department is spending every dollar that is allocated to baseball operations. Yeah, we’re spending it in the draft and we’re spending it in the minor leagues. There’s only so much you can spend there. We’re also spending every dollar we have available on the Major League payroll."
Of course, read carefully, Epstein's statements only go to the question of whether the Cubs are spending up to the payroll limits the club set. He did not address the core concern that some have raised: i.e., whether management has set a sufficient payroll in the first place. Epstein has previously indicated that revenue would drive payroll growth. But observers like the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer have suggested that more aggressive payroll expansion should be economically feasible now, or at least in the immediate future.
Putting that question aside, Epstein seems right in insisting that the Cubs have stuck to a budget — whether or not that budget is justified — over these last two offseasons. The club's 2012 opening day payroll shows $109.3MM. The 2013 opening day payroll, in turn, stood at $106.8MM, after the club extended Starlin Castro, signed international free agent Jorge Soler, and inked Edwin Jackson. Of course, as MLBTR's Tim Dierkes noted in his review of the Cubs' offseason, the team also agreed to several short-term deals with free agents who provided some performance upside. Those deals held out at least some hope that the team could remain in contention and also provided the possibility of turning into trade chips. In sum, while bearing in mind the limits on the amounts that can be spent on draft or international prospects, the team seems to have spent up to its budget on a mix of players that would deliver some reasonable level of present performance while also paying future dividends.
The signing of Jackson, in particular, is telling. While there were plenty of good reasons for the Cubs to sign him, those reasons seem to apply just as well (or better) the year prior. Before 2012, Jackson reportedly turned down a three-year offer for around $30MM from the Pirates to sign with the Nationals on a one-year deal. (Twitter links.) He had reportedly been seeking in the neighborhood of five years at $12MM a year. Meanwhile, the Cubs were, in Dierkes's estimation, modest players in the free agent market. While there were whispers of the team going after big-ticket players like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, that did not materialize. And the Cubs were never apparently in on Jackson.
Fast forward to this past offseason. The Cubs not only seriously pursued Anibal Sanchez, but ultimately signed Jackson to a four-year, $52MM deal. What changed? The Cubs were coming off of an abysmal season, and looked no closer to immediate contention despite some nice development from young stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Jackson was now coming off of yet another very Jackson-esque season, with consistently solid, if unspectacular, results. If anything, Jackson's relatively uninspring year with Washington, along with increased age and potentially worrisome velocity decline, should have made him less attractive.
Most likely, it seems, the thing that changed was simply the fact that the Cubs could fit Jackson under the team's self-imposed salary budget. With Ryan Dempster off of the books, in particular, there was room for the $14MM promised Jackson for 2013 (and beyond). Of course, while Jackson brought both present and future value to the club when he signed this year, it is reasonable to wonder whether he might have provided more value at a cheaper price had the club pursued him before 2012. Jackson's then-agent Scott Boras did say that he "felt it was best for him to do a one-year contract rather than a three-year deal" at that time. But a four-year offer from the Cubs might have allowed the team to control Jackson over a more favorable age band (28-31 rather than 29-32), possibly even at a lower price.
The Jackson question is relevant looking forward because of what it means for the Cubs' future spending plans. Whether or not the team is spending at the levels that it can or should, it appears that Epstein should be taken at his word when he says that "it comes down to revenue." Importantly, he did not say that the club is holding back because it does not believe it is at the right point on the rebuilding curve to make a substantial investment in free agent talent. Instead, he said that the club would do so, "once we generate enough revenue to be able to afford" such a player. "Revenue has to come first," Epstein says, and at the moment the Cubs maintain that they simply "don't have the flexibility to do something like that."
Jurickson Profar tops Baseball America's newly-released list of the top 100 prospects in the game. The Cardinals, Marlins and Twins each placed six prospects amongst the top 100, and BA's John Manuel and J.J. Cooper discussed the list in a reader chat. If there was any doubt that Profar was the cream of the minor league crop, the Rangers shortstop also ranked first on the top 100 prospect lists recently released by MLB.com and ESPN's Keith Law.
Here's the latest from around the majors…
- The 133 players who filed for arbitration last month received an average salary increase of 119%, according to a report by The Associated Press. Buster Posey had the biggest raise, going from $615K in 2012 to $8MM in 2013. The AP also examines why no arb cases went to hearings this winter, the first time this has ever happened. You can check out the results of every arbitration case on MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker.
- The Denver Post's Patrick Saunders looks at a number of Rockies-related topics in a reader mailbag, including how the Rockies largely stood pat with their pitching staff over the winter, instead hoping that improved health from incumbent starters upgrades the rotation. Saunders also doesn't see Kyle Lohse as a fit with Colorado, as Lohse likely has no interest in pitching at Coors Field and the Rockies aren't keen to spend big money on a free agent starter.
- Theo Epstein talks to CSN Chicago's David Kaplan about his first 16 months as Cubs president, the progress that the franchise has made and what still has to be done to make the team successful.
- Right-hander Seth McClung has been throwing for teams, CBS Sports' Danny Knobler reports (Twitter link). McClung, 32, last pitched in the Majors in 2009 as a reliever and spot starter for the Brewers and has since pitched in the minors for the Brewers, Rangers and Cubs.
- Freddy Sanchez is looking to keep playing and has turned down minor league offers in hopes of finding a Major League job as a utility infielder, Sanchez's agent Paul Cobbe tells Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area. Sanchez, 35, hasn't played in a game since June 2011 due to shoulder and back injuries but around 20 teams reportedly asked to see his medical records this offseason. Cobbe says Sanchez would love to re-sign with the Giants but they don't want to sign him to a guaranteed contract.
It has been six weeks since the Red Sox and Mike Napoli agreed to terms on a three-year, $39MM contract. The holdup in finalizing the deal is concern with one of Napoli's hips and the team's desire to write protective language into the contract. Recently, we learned the Red Sox are continuing negotiations with Napoli, but would like to shorten the deal to just one year and have been in contact with the Nationals about Mike Morse. A major league source told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe this about Napoli's hip, "It’s one of those things where it could go anytime or five years from now. Nobody really knows, which is why the Red Sox want strong language after putting $40 million on the table for him.” Cafardo believes it's starting to make sense for the Red Sox to trade for Justin Morneau or to make Daniel Nava a first baseman/left fielder. More from Cafardo:
- That Kyle Lohse is still available at this late date is somewhat of a stunner to Cafardo. Lohse's market has been stunted with him being tied to draft pick compensation and that no one seems willing to go beyond two years, although several teams needs starting pitching and his stuff translates to both leagues.
- Draft pick compensation has also shrunk the market for Michael Bourn. Another factor, according to a NL GM, has been the Twins trading both Denard Span and Ben Revere and the Braves signing B.J. Upton.
- Cafardo thought it was strange for Justin Upton to reject his trade to Seattle since it's one of the nicest cities in the country and the fences at Safeco Field have been moved in.
- Cubs President Theo Epstein has come to realize Alfonso Soriano is an excellent clubhouse presence because of his willingness to help younger players. With that and his excellent 2012 season, Epstein wants a player of note in any deal where the Cubs eat a majority of the $36MM left on Soriano's contract.
- Discussions to include Garrett Jones in the Joel Hanrahan trade never progressed very far because "the Pirates really valued Jones highly," a major league source told Cafardo.
- One NL GM told Cafardo Roy Oswalt may still want to pitch, but on his terms and perhaps for only a half a season. Many teams have given up trying to persuade the 35-year-old to pitch, feeling the vibe is that he just doesn’t want it bad enough. Cafardo also notes Oswalt suffered a forearm strain at the end of his time with the Rangers last season.
- Bobby Valentine has turned down some opportunities to serve as an advisor for teams. Valentine has instead decided to focus on expanding his restaurant business, growing his film company, and working for NBC Sports since being fired as manager of the Red Sox.
It was on this day in 1996 that Cal Ripken Jr. became professional baseball's all-time iron man. Though Ripken eclipsed Lou Gehrig's Major League record for consecutive games played in 1995, it took a while longer to surpass Japan's Sachio Kinugasa, who played in 2215 NPL straight games between 1970 and 1987.
Here's some news from both Ripken's Orioles and elsewhere around the AL East…
- Theo Epstein spoke to media (including WEEI.com's Alex Speier) about his days as the Red Sox general manager, noting that he felt some of the club's free agent signings deviated from the franchise's long-term plan and were made due to the pressure of staying competitive. It's a must-read piece for Red Sox fans, not to mention Cubs fans who could see what Epstein hopes to avoid during his tenure in Chicago.
- “We’re going to go see hundreds of players over the next few weeks,” Red Sox GM Ben Cherington tells Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. “We may end up just acquiring one of those or none of them. In this particular year, we do believe we’re going to get impact players just by getting healthy. Still, we have to come together. I think this team still will be very good.”
- The Blue Jays could look to move Edwin Encarnacion, Kelly Johnson or "any bullpen piece" at the trade deadline if the team isn't in serious contention, opines FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi in a radio interview with the Brady & Lang show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan (Sportsnet.ca's Jeff Simmons has a partial transcript).
- Encarnacion's breakout season could put him in line for a big free agent contract this winter but Morosi says "a lot of GMs are wary" about Encarnacion's ability to play first base on a regular basis. "If you're viewed as a DH, that will affect his valuation going forward," Morosi said. "So we'll see how often he plays in the field and not having [Vladimir Guerrero] coming will certainly change how often he'll play first base."
- The Orioles and Blue Jays have both been scouting the Cubs, reports Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago. Levine specified that Baltimore was looking at the Cubs' starting pitchers and Alfonso Soriano.
- For more AL East news, check out this batch of Yankees notes and the latest on the Kevin Youkilis trade rumors.