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Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco did not travel with the team and instead remained in Cincinnati to undergo an MRI on his hip, tweets John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Catcher Kyle Skipworth will fill in for the time being, as he’s had his contract selected from Triple-A, the Reds announced. (A corresponding 40-man move will happen prior to tonight’s game.) The Reds entered the season with quite a few injury question marks, but Mesoraco was not thought to be one. Clearly, losing Mesoraco for any significant amount of time would be crushing for a Cincinnati team that many have already picked to struggle in the NL Central, though it’s too early to tell exactly how great the level of concern surrounding Mesoraco should be.
A few more notes from baseball’s Central divisions…
- Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards breaks down Raisel Iglesias‘ debut against the Cardinals yesterday, noting that while the start didn’t alleviate concerns about Iglesias’ ability to work deep into games, he showed enough to suggest that he can get big league hitters out on a consistent basis, even if it ultimately has to come in a relief role. With Homer Bailey nearing a return from the DL, the Reds will have to make a decision between Iglesias and veteran righty Jason Marquis. For the time being, that’s been solved by optioning Iglesias to Louisville, but Edwards wonders if it’d be a better decision to eventually let Iglesias develop at the highest level — a move that would seemingly force Marquis into the bullpen or off the Cincinnati roster.
- Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spoke to Pirates GM Neal Huntington about the decision to pursue a long-term contract with Josh Harrison. “When you believe in the person and you believe in the abilities of that person, and it aligns with where you want to go, you’re able to find the common ground, it makes all the sense in the world,” Huntington told Brink. As Brink points out, not all deals of this nature work out — he uses Jose Tabata as a particularly regrettable deal for the Pirates — but the cost certainty they provide is valuable. Brink notes that the Bucs will be on the hook for $42.25MM in 2017 — the last guaranteed year of the Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Liriano contracts — for the combined salaries of Harrison, McCutchen, Liriano and Starling Marte.
- Torii Hunter told reporters prior to today’s home opener that the Royals, Mariners, Rangers and Orioles were all interested in him before he made the decision to sign with the Twins, tweets the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Mike Berardino. The Royals, in particular, seemed to tantalize Hunter, per Berardino: “Those guys going to the World Series, that was very appealing,” Hunter added.
Torii Hunter spoke with Bob Nightengale of USA Today about his return to the Twins and an interesting aspiration that he has in his post-playing days. The 39-year-old Hunter would eventually like to not only work in the Twins’ front office, but take the reins as general manager of the team. “I really want to get into that front office, make some changes, and build a team that I want to build,” Hunter explained. “I’d love to learn everything from [Twins GM Terry Ryan]. He’ll be a mentor. One day, that’s my goal, to be GM of the Twins.” Nightengale spoke with Ryan about the idea and writes that Hunter “will have a door waiting for him,” though Nightengale writes that Ryan also advised Hunter not to rush any decisions about retirement. Hunter said he’s considered hanging it up next winter, though he very much sounds like a good year at the plate would leave him open to a return in Minnesota. “…unless I hit .300, then I’m going nowhere,” said Hunter, who has batted .301 over the past three seasons. Hunter also has interest in working in TV, he said, and he spoke with Nightengale at length about his prayers for friend Josh Hamilton.
A bit more from Nightengale’s piece and the AL Central…
- Nightengale reports that the Rangers made Hunter a one-year, $8MM offer to play near his Dallas home, and the division-rival Royals offered Hunter one year and $8.5MM with a player option. Hunter, however, ultimately decided he wanted to return to Minnesota, and Nightengale adds that Billy Butler‘s three-year, $30MM contract with Oakland “raised the stakes” for Hunter (presumably implying that Butler’s deal caused Hunter to aim for a higher annual value). Hunter said a 90-minute phone call with Ryan, in which the GM explained that he wants Hunter in Minnesota “forever,” impacted him a great deal as well.
- Tigers right-hander Joel Hanrahan is traveling to Texas to see Dr. Keith Meister about persistent elbow problems that have slowed his comeback attempt, writes MLive.com’s Chris Iott. Hanrahan, who hasn’t thrown since Feb. 22, tells Iott that he’s past the point of frustration and wants to get answers as to why his elbow still is not working properly. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press also spoke with Hanrahan, who told him that at times, it feels like bones in his arm are rubbing together, and at other times, like his biceps is being pinched (Twitter link). Hanrahan missed all of the 2014 season and most of the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John and flexor tendon surgery.
- Mike Aviles‘ outgoing personality and vocal leadership abilities factored into the Indians‘ decision to exercise his $3.5MM option this offseason, writes Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com. Manager Terry Francona told Meisel: “We told him that in our one-on-one. That’s part of his responsibility. We love what he does as a player, because he plays all over the place and he can play every position professionally. But when he’s not playing, he needs to be in a leadership role. We need that out of him. He understands that.”
News broke earlier today that Victor Martinez will undergo knee surgery on Tuesday, and until the veteran slugger’s procedure is complete, the Tigers have no choice but to play the waiting game. “I don’t know what I need to fill [on the roster],” GM Dave Dombrowski told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jason Beck). “We’re going to have to wait to do all of that until Tuesday.” If the best-case scenario of a four-to-six week absence is met, Detroit can rely on short-term fill-ins to take Martinez’s place. Mlive.com’s James Schmehl lists several internal options within the organization, and he also opines that free agents Dayan Viciedo and Chris Colabello could also fit as temporary replacements or bench depth.
Here’s some more from around the junior circuit…
- Wade Miley‘s three-year extension with the Red Sox has some positive luxury tax implications for the team, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes. By locking Miley up now, he’ll likely cost Boston less against the tax than he would’ve had he gone year-to-year in arbitration. These savings could help the Sox get under the $189MM luxury tax threshold next winter or in 2017.
- In an interview on the MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” show (hat tip to MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger), Torii Hunter said he wasn’t yet sure if 2015 will be his last season. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m just taking it one year at a time,” Hunter said. The 18-year veteran reportedly turned down some two-year offers before signing a one-year deal with the Twins in December.
- Mariners president Kevin Mather and GM Jack Zduriencik both attended a private workout for Cuban players Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez, though Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times “wouldn’t overthink” why the two front office figures were present. As Divish notes, Mather and Zduriencik were already in the Dominican Republic for organizational meetings, so while it’s usually rare to see upper management at workouts, it makes sense that the two would check in on the workout during their visit.
- The Blue Jays‘ focus on developing young starting pitching is the backbone of Alex Anthopoulos’ plan to make the club into a consistent contender, Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi writes. The Jays have built a very solid offensive core, but if the young arms fail to deliver, the team’s plans over the next few seasons become very uncertain.
- Astros owner Jim Crane likes his team’s offseason moves and tells MLB.com’s Richard Dean that GM Jeff Luhnow has more possible acquisitions in the works. “Jeff’s still working on a few — we’re looking for a couple more players [to see] if we can make a couple more key additions,” Crane said. “But we like the moves we’ve made, and I think the team’s going to be very exciting this year — a lot more competitive.”
Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony sat down for his yearly interview with Jesse Lund of SB Nation’s Twinkie Town, and the two discussed a number of topics, including the Twins’ offseason moves, the future of Torii Hunter in Minnesota, the 2015 rotation, the farm system in general and the timelines of vaunted prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. The whole interview — split into a Major League portion and a Minor League portion – while lengthy, is well worth the read for Twins fans (and baseball fans in general). Here are some highlights…
- Antony explains to Lund that the Twins are aware of Hunter’s defensive decline but still feel that he can be adequate in right field. The Twins valued Hunter’s bat and also his experience and vocal leadership style — something the front office feels the team has lacked in recent years. Hunter “doesn’t have any interest in playing anywhere else,” Antony adds, noting that while he’s on a one-year deal, Hunter could return for future seasons as long as he remains healthy and productive. I’d imagine that would eventually require a reduced role for Hunter, possibly as soon as next season.
- Left-hander Tommy Milone struggled greatly after being acquired from the A’s on July 31, but the reason for his troubles may very well have been a benign tumor that was discovered in his neck after the season. Antony tells Lund that the tumor “took a long time to discover” but has since been removed.
- Milone will be one of several starters battling for the fifth spot in the rotation, alongside Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Tim Stauffer and Mike Pelfrey. Antony discusses the Twins’ signing of Ervin Santana and how leaving just one spot in the rotation may block some useful players but creates much-needed depth. He also confirms that the Twins had interest in Santana on a multi-year deal late last offseason. “I think we actually kind of picked up our conversations. He had a little bit better idea of where his market was [this offseason],” Antony adds.
- Shortly before the Santana signing, the Twins “took a run at some relievers” that ultimately signed elsewhere, per Antony. Mike Berardino reported in December that the Twins made an offer to Jason Frasor, so he’s likely one of the names in question. As for the others, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek are possibilities, as they signed with Houston just one day before the Twins added Santana. David Robertson and Andrew Miller also signed in the week leading up to Minnesota’s addition of Santana, though it strikes me as unlikely that the team made a serious run at either.
- Asked about a previous report that the Twins thought they had a pair of trades agreed upon before the other party took a different offer at the last minute, Antony replied: “It wasn’t anything major, where we were on the cusp of doing anything big. We had conversations with a few different clubs, and they showed some interest in our players and we exchanged names and those types of things … it didn’t evolve.”
- It was Phil Hughes‘ camp who first approached the Twins about an extension, Antony says, and the team was immediately receptive to the idea. The Twins recognized how steeply the asking price would increase if Hughes repeated his 2014 season and was only a year from free agency and “took an opportunity.” Antony feels that with Hughes getting financial security and the team getting a potential building block for its rotation, the trade worked out for both parties.
- The Twins’ front office feels the team underachieved in 2014 and was capable of winning 76-77 games rather than the 70 with which they finished. As such, Antony said he’s hopeful of finishing near or above the .500 mark this season and believes the team should be fighting for a playoff spot come 2016.
- While Minnesota used to shy away from pitchers who were likely destined for the bullpen near the top of the draft, Antony says their philosophical outlook has changed. Players with plus velocity and a strong secondary pitch are typically off the board early, he notes, and the Twins loaded up on such arms this year, grabbing the likes of Nick Burdi, Michael Cederoth and Jake Reed.
- Both Sano and Buxton could be with the team in 2015, with Antony specifying a September callup as a possibility for Sano while speaking more generally about a possible Buxton promotion. Additionally, Antony didn’t rule out the possibility of highly regarded right-hander Jose Berrios making the 2015 club at some point.
- Asked about the reasoning behind signing Santana as opposed to waiting until next offseason when there is a stronger crop of free agent starters, Antony cited a desire to get better for the 2015 season and faith that some of the arms in the system could eventually develop into front-end types to pair with Santana and Hughes. Specifically, he mentioned Meyer: “[H]opefully Alex Meyer is a guy that, six/seven years from now, people are saying ‘Glad the Twins signed him long-term’ … and he becomes one of those guys.”
- The Twins are hopeful that Sano, Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia will settle in as their 3-4-5 hitters of the future and don’t foresee adding any big-time power bats to the mix in the near term.
12:04pm: Hunter’s contract contains a full no-trade clause, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter).
11:45am: Though he reportedly drew interest from a wide number of clubs, Torii Hunter‘s career has officially come full circle, as the Twins today announced the signing of their former star center fielder to a one-year, $10.5MM deal. Hunter is a client of Reynolds Sports Management.
Hunter’s contract falls well shy of the two-year, $22MM pact that I predicted for him recently. But as I noted then, it would not be surprising to see him take a lesser deal for a preferred destination. It appears that is precisely what occurred here, as Hunter took the opportunity to return to the place where he became a star. Indeed, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweeted last night that Hunter had similar one-year offers from other clubs and also had some two-year opportunities but “wanted to come home.” He’ll serve as Minnesota’s right fielder in 2015, per Wolfson, with Oswaldo Arcia presumably shifting to left field.
While Hunter is no longer the all-around force he was in his prime, he remains quite a valuable and consistent producer as he enters his age-39 season. Last year marked the ninth in a row in which Hunter outperformed the league average offensive line by at least 10%, a rather remarkable achievement.
For Minnesota, Hunter’s value goes well beyond on-field production. His veteran presence will no doubt be welcome, especially with respect to young center field prospect Byron Buxton. Drafted 20th overall by Minnesota in 1993, Hunter spent 11 years in the Twins organization, eventually emerging as the team’s star center fielder and one of the game’s better all-around players. He ultimately ran up nine straight gold gloves after taking the reins up the middle for Minnesota, though the final two came with the Angels after he left via free agency.
Of course, Hunter’s performance in the field is precisely the area of concern at this late stage of his career. While he rated as an above average defender (and overall 5+ win player) just two years ago, Hunter has faded badly in the past two seasons in right. A return to average defending — whether or not extra rest is needed to make that possible — could make this signing return solid value to Minnesota in terms of production.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Twins announced the hiring of longtime Orioles minor league coach Butch Davis as their first base coach yesterday, adding to their recent list of coaching additions. While they’ve drawn a bit of flak for keeping most of their hires in-house, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports (Twitter link) that Minnesota reached out to recently dismissed Cubs skipper Rick Renteria about the bench coach vacancy (since filled by internal candidate Joe Vavra), but Renteria declined to interview. Similarly, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that the Twins wanted Delino DeShields to serve as their first base coach, but he took a position managing the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate, as his ultimate goal is to manage in the Majors someday.
Here’s more on the Twins…
- GM Terry Ryan told reporters yesterday, including La Valle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, that Minnesota did not win the bidding for Korean lefty Hyeon-jong Yang (Twitter link). There was some confusion as to whether the Twins or Rangers won the bidding, with some speculating that they made very similar bids. The point is moot, regardless, as the KIA Tigers did not accept the winning bid for their top pitcher’s services, as it was deemed too low.
- The Twins have interest in right-hander Edinson Volquez, reports Wolfson. Additionally, they’ve had conversations with agent Greg Genske, who represents both Francisco Liriano and Brett Anderson. Minnesota is expected to meet with Justin Masterson‘s agent next week at the Winter Meetings, and they met with CAA (the agency that represents Jake Peavy and Nori Aoki) at last month’s GM Meetings, Wolfson adds. However, there’s no real traction on either CAA client at this time.
- Wolfson also tweets that the Twins have made an official offer to Torii Hunter, who is expected to reach a decision soon. The Rangers are said to be pushing hard for Hunter, who reportedly prefers to sign with a contender. That makes a return to Minnesota seem doubtful.
- The Twins have given no indication that they plan to non-tender southpaw reliever Brian Duensing today, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Duensing, 31, is projected to earn $2.5MM in arbitration and was listed by MLBTR as a non-tender candidate.
9:21am: The Orioles, Royals and Twins remain in the mix for Hunter, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). However, he too hears that the Rangers are making a push to sign Hunter. It’s perhaps worth noting that Hunter resides in Texas in the offseason.
9:08am: The Rangers have been making a push to sign free agent outfielder Torii Hunter, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (Twitter link). Olney tweeted yesterday that the Rangers were continuing their talks with the Reynolds Sports Management client, and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News wrote last night that the Rangers were aggressively pursuing Hunter.
The 39-year-old Hunter would presumably fill the space that has been vacated by Alex Rios and join an outfield mix that also features Shin-Soo Choo and Leonys Martin. As Olney points out, Hunter’s right-handed bat would help to balance out a Rangers lineup that currently leans pretty heavily to the left side. Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Robinson Chirinos are the only projected regulars that bat from the right side. Andrus offers little in the way of power, and Chirinos has little track record as a 30-year-old with just one full season under his belt.
Hunter has been linked to a large number of teams, including the Orioles, Mariners, Royals and Twins of late. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets that Hunter plans to make his decision soon, and Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets that Hunter’s preference is still to sign with a contender.
Earlier today, news broke that the Mariners and Nelson Cruz had agreed to a four-year deal. While some assumed that he would serve in an outfield capacity, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that the M’s prefer to use Cruz in a DH role and will still seek a right fielder from outside the organization. According to Dutton, two possibilities are free agents Torii Hunter and Alex Rios.
Dutton also reports that the Mariners still have interest in acquiring Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, but those talks have stalled due to Los Angeles’ insistence that one of Taijuan Walker or James Paxton be included in the deal. Additionally, he adds, the Orioles have shown increased interest in Kemp, presenting Seattle with competition to acquire his services.
One player whose name has surfaced in trade speculation is right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, as many feel he could be a fit for the Red Sox in a potential swap for Yoenis Cespedes. However, ESPN’s Jayson Stark hears that Iwakuma is firmly unavailable, as the Mariners are looking to add to the club rather than subtract (Twitter link).
The Mariners feel they have the payroll flexibility to add Kemp (and thereby Hunter or Rios as well, of course) even after signing Cruz and working out a seven-year, $100MM extension for Kyle Seager. Kemp is owed $107MM over the next five seasons — a hefty investment for a power bat whose defensive skills appear to be diminishing as well.
Dutton’s report makes no mention of Justin Upton, although it would stand to reason that if Kemp is still in play, there would be continued interest in Upton as well, to whom the Mariners have been linked on multiple occasions. However, as Andy Martino of the New York Daily News tweeted after Cruz’s agreement, the Braves “almost certainly” would ask for Walker in exchange for Upton, so Seattle’s interest there figures to be limited until the asking price changes.
Both Hunter and Rios would provide a veteran right-handed bat to bring further balance to a lineup that was extremely left-handed in 2014. Hunter has recently been said to be considering the Mariners as well as the Rangers, Orioles, Royals and, to a lesser extent, the Twins. Rios, meanwhile, has yet to see his name surface in too many rumors, perhaps due to a down season at the plate (.280/.311/.398). The Mariners were said to consider him a fallback option earlier this month. Should the Mariners think on a larger scale, Melky Cabrera remains a free agent, and the price for parting with him is now slightly diminished, as Seattle would only need part with its second pick after forfeiting the No. 19 pick to sign Cruz.
In addition to the names listed, the Mariners do have a fairly strong in-house candidate in the form of Michael Saunders. However, Saunders is a left-handed bat and his relationship with the organization was strained after some postseason comments from GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon. The Mariners were said to be shopping Saunders as recently as last month’s GM Meetings, and those talks could of course be revisited at next week’s Winter Meetings.
The latest from the AL Central..
- Last night we learned that Torii Hunter is considering the Rangers, Orioles, Mariners, and, to a lesser extent, the Twins. Today, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter) adds the Royals to that mix and says others are in on the veteran.
- The White Sox‘s interest in A’s starter Jeff Samardzija is real, but whether they would meet a potential asking price of two or three of their top prospects remains to be seen, writes Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile, a White Sox source confirmed that they have explored trade talks with Oakland but wouldn’t categorize it as anything imminent.
- Whether or not the White Sox have the right pieces to acquire Samardzija is the big question, writes Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com. The Red Sox, another Samardzija suitor, have plenty of flexibility after signing both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval last week and they’re desperate for starting pitching.
Here’s the latest from around the league.
- The Rangers are one of four teams outfielder Torii Hunter is considering, reports Gerry Fraley of the the Dallas Morning News. The Orioles and Mariners are also at the top of Hunter’s list with the Twins a less likely landing spot. Mark Whicker of the L.A. Daily News was the first to tweet the news.
- The Astros are in an odd position with center fielder Dexter Fowler, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. With just one more season of club control, Fowler seems like an obvious trade candidate. However, he’s developed a tight bond with star prospect George Springer. While the club has the depth to deal Fowler – Springer, Jake Marisnick, Robbie Grossman, and Alex Presley can all play center field – they may want to hang onto him if he could benefit Springer’s development. To me, this is one of those sticky intangibles that’s hard to quantify but possibly very important.
- Justin Masterson headlines a list of the top ten free agent bargains, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Masterson has the potential to recover completely now that his rib injury has been addressed, and his asking price is said to be reasonable. We learned earlier tonight that the Tigers have put out feelers. Additional potential bargains include Sergio Romo, Ervin Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, and six others.