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Toronto Blue Jays Rumors
In the wake of yesterday’s report Rays ownership has discussed relocating the franchise to Montreal, Commissioner Bud Selig paused and then declined to answer whether Tampa Bay is a viable major league market, reports Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Selig did say, however, the team needs a replacement for Tropicana Field. “The team has to have a ballpark that makes them competitive,” the commissioner said before Game Four of the World Series. “It doesn’t produce the kind of revenue they need.”
In other news involving the Rays and the American League:
- Change is coming to the Rays and the front office and players alike don’t see it as a negative, writes the Tampa Tribune’s Roger Mooney. “Whoever we bring in here, they’re going to set the scheme and how they want to win games and be a successful organization,” said pitcher Alex Cobb. “When that trickles down to the players, all that is is us playing up to our capabilities, and that doesn’t matter who is in the dugout or the front office.” Mooney notes all coaches are under contract for 2015; but, if the new manager is from outside the organization, there may be changes to the staff.
- In today’s mailbag, a reader proposed his Indians offseason plan to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer: trade Jason Kipnis and David Murphy for prospects to free up money, then use that money on Victor Martinez. Hoynes doesn’t see the Tribe trading Kipnis so soon after giving him a $50MM+ extension, despite his bad year. The reader’s ambitious plan also calls for Cleveland to have one of their young outfielders form a platoon with Nick Swisher and, given his $15MM salary, Hoynes believes the team wants to see him in the lineup every day.
- Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe identified Mark Buehrle as a trade candidate earlier today and Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets the Twins have long been admirers of the Blue Jays hurler. Still, his $19MM salary is too high.
- If the Jon Daniels-Jeff Banister partnership works in Texas, it will continue a trend in the game of a college educated GM with no professional playing experience working with a baseball lifer as manager, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe details the challenges faced by the Braves and Dodgers this offseason. John Hart and Andrew Friedman differ in age, style, and substance, but they face similar roadblocks. Here’s more from Cafardo..
- Scouts who have seen pending free agent James Shields over his career feel he’s changed from a fastball/changeup pitcher to a fastball/cutter pitcher. At one time his changeup was unhittable and the cutter, which has now taken over, is hittable at times. Shields is still effective but there is some bewilderment over his repertoire.
- Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle will be made available in a trade, though his $19MM contract will be a deterrent unless the Jays are willing to assume part of it. Still, he seems more tradable than knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
- Cafardo expects Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist to draw a lot of trade interest this offseason. In fact, new Dodgers boss Andrew Friedman might want to reunite with him in Los Angeles.
- The White Sox would love to move John Danks, but the $28.5MM owed to him over the next two years will be a deterrent to teams. Meanwhile, pitching coach Don Cooper still believes Danks, who has lost some of his heat, could become the second coming of Buehrle and pitch effectively in the mid-to-high 80s.
- The Twins haven’t asked Torey Lovullo for a second interview yet, but he also hasn’t been told he’s out of the hunt.
Joe Maddon shocked many people by opting out of his contract with the Rays Friday and has now become the most coveted managerial free agent in recent history. While early speculation was that he’d follow former GM Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers, Friedman and the Dodgers have issued a statement backing Don Mattingly as their manager, definitively stating that Mattingly will manage the Dodgers next season.
There’s been plenty of other Maddon chatter, however, so we’ll keep track of the latest on his situation here…
- Maddon’s agent Alan Nero says 10 teams have contacted him about Maddon, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Job suggestions have varied from manager to something like the Chief Baseball Officer position occupied by Tony La Russa. Maddon has also been contacted by several media outlets. Nero notes that Maddon is prepared to sit out 2015. He cited a previous experience with Lou Pinnela who spent a year as a FOX analyst before joining the Cubs. Apparently, Maddon’s friends say he’s interested in joining a NL club due to the added challenge of managing the pitcher’s at bats.
- Twins GM Terry Ryan tells Berardino that the news of Maddon’s availability came as a surprise to him. “This is a pretty big opt-out,” he said. “When I saw it, I was surprised, but it’s certainly caught my eye.” Though he did not say expressly that the team would consider Maddon, Ryan seemed to indicate that is very much a possibility. “I certainly will do my due diligence on anybody that’s available,” said Ryan. “Everybody was hoping I would hurry up and get a manager. ‘What’s taking so long.’ Now everybody sees this.”
- Meanwhile, sources tell LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (via Twitter) that the team will indeed reach out to Maddon.
- Angels GM Jerry Dipoto put to bed any speculation that the Halos would consider Maddon, telling Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (Twitter link) that, “of course Mike [Scioscia] will be our manager.”
- David Kaplan of CSNChicago has spoken to several sources who have indicated to him that the Cubs are indeed the front-runner to land Maddon at this time, but there are several teams that have shown interest (Twitter link).
- ESPN’s Buster Olney, who intially reported the opt-out, hears that if Maddon ends up with the Cubs, the Rays will investigate the issue of tampering (Twitter link).
- Sherman reports that Maddon is looking for a five-year deal worth roughly $25MM (Twitter link). He again downplays any thought that the Mets could go to those heights, noting that GM Sandy Alderson doesn’t believe managers should be compensated as such.
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post spoke with Maddon on the phone (Four links to Twitter) and was told that Maddon didn’t feel the Rays would commit to him the dollars he was hoping for on a new contract. Maddon, 60, has had jobs throughout his career where his salary was dictated to him, and he felt this would be his last chance to find out how the open market would value him. He added that he was unaware of a clause in his contract that allowed him to opt out if Friedman left the team, and it was new Rays president of baseball ops Matthew Silverman who told Maddon of the clause. He said being contacted by teams with managers is none of his business. “They will do their business how they want to do it,” he told Sherman.
- Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports (via Twitter) that Maddon was looking to be compensated with a deal that would’ve paid him like one of the top two or three skippers in the game, meaning something north of $5MM per season. Cafardo then spoke with Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero (Twitter link), and was told that Maddon would consider sitting out for a year, perhaps taking a TV gig, if the right opportunity doesn’t arise, but Cafardo adds that Nero’s phone line is “lighting up.”
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports also spoke to Maddon (Facebook link), and Maddon told him that he learned his contract contained a two-week opt-out window in the event that Friedman left the Rays. Rosenthal asked Maddon specifically about the Cubs, to which Maddon replied, “I don’t know. I have to talk to people. I have interest everywhere right now. I’ve got to hear what everyone has to say.” Maddon wants to work, regardless of landing a new managerial gig, but his preference is to be in a dugout.
- Sherman tweets that he’s been told that Maddon won’t be going to the Braves or Blue Jays and that all signs point to the Cubs.
- Yahoo’s Jeff Passan spoke to one Maddon confidante who said Maddon wouldn’t have opted out of a deal without having a sense for what the market could offer, and he wants to go to a big market (Twitter link).
- The Twins are the only team with a current managerial opening (besides the Rays, of course), but La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune heard that the team had yet to contact Maddon (Twitter link).
- Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press looks at whether or not the Twins could plausibly make a run at Maddon, noting that the team has never paid a manager more than $2MM annually and will in fact be paying Ron Gardenhire $2MM not to manage the club this season.
- Mets owner Jeff Wilpon gave Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link) a very concise and definitive answer when asked about Maddon, stating, “No. We are not changing managers.” GM Sandy Alderson told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, “Terry is our manager,” via text message (Twitter link).
- Jayson Stark of ESPN tweets that the more people with whom he speaks, the greater the sense he gets that there was almost no offer the Rays could’ve made to keep him there.
The Blue Jays are hopeful to retain Melky Cabrera and have opened preliminary discussions with his representatives at the Legacy Agency, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Toronto is said to be willing to offer “at least” a three-year contract, according to Heyman, though he’s spoken with some in the industry who expect Cabrera to pursue a five-year pact.
Two-thirds of the Blue Jays’ outfield is hitting the open market this winter, as center fielder Colby Rasmus is also eligible for free agency. However, Heyman says that there’s been no thought to bringing Rasmus back, and the team is instead focused on retaining the switch-hitting Cabrera at this time.
Cabrera struggled through the worst season of his career in 2013 before a benign tumor was found on his spine. Surgery to remove the tumor ended his season, and he bounced back in a big way this year, slashing .301/. 351/.458 with 16 homers in 139 games. Cabrera’s season did end early once again when he broke a pinkie finger on a headfirst slide.
Nonetheless, Cabrera has set himself up for what will easily be the largest payday of his career. However, a three-year pact seems highly unlikely get the job done, in my estimation. In my free agent profile for Cabrera two weeks ago, I pegged him for a five-year deal given his relative youth and status as one of the best bats on this year’s thin free agent market.
Cabrera has said that he wants to return to Toronto, so it’s possible that the Jays have some hope of getting a deal done before he hits the open market. If a deal is not reached by the time qualifying offers are due, the Blue Jays will make the $15.3MM QO, which Cabrera will almost certainly decline in search of that big payday.
Blue Jays first baseman/DH Adam Lind has drawn interest from a number of teams, including National League clubs, reports Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun. One executive tells Elliott that he hears at least three or four teams have called to check in on the 31-year-old Lind.
The Blue Jays hold a $7.5MM club option on Lind, whose contract also contains an $8MM club option for the 2016 campaign. Lind batted .321/.381/.479 with six homers, 24 doubles and a pair of triples in 318 plate appearances this season, though he missed some time with a fractured right foot that was initially misdiagnosed. While his slash line looks appealing, it should be noted that the Blue Jays have shielded him almost entirely from left-handed pitching in recent years. Many players have platoon deficiencies, but Lind is an extreme example, as evidenced by his lifetime .212/.257/.331 batting line against southpaws.
Nevertheless, Lind’s price tag makes him an appealing option for a team like Pittsburgh, in my opinion, as a club that has a potential need at first base but lacks the financial muscle to bring in a more traditionally expensive slugger. The Padres and Marlins could also make some sense as a trade partner for the Blue Jays, and within the American League it wouldn’t surprise me if the Indians, White Sox or Mariners (to name a few clubs) had some interest in Lind as well. Of course, all of these teams are solely my speculation, although the Pirates did show interest in Lind on multiple occasions last winter.
Obviously, the Blue Jays will first have to make a decision on whether or not to exercise Lind’s option or pay a $1MM buyout, but it seems like a fairly easy call given the relatively modest price and his production against opposite-handed pitching.
Palm Beach County has approved $108MM in public funding for a $135MM spring training complex to be shared by the Nationals and Astros, writes James Wagner of The Washington Post. The clubs must still agree to a site for their new spring home. The move to Florida’s east coast also has implications for the Cardinals and Marlins. They are now more likely to remain in their shared complex, which included an opt out based on number of teams in the area.
- Phil Plantier has been relieved of his duties as hitting coach for the Padres, writes Corey Brock of MLB.com. The Padres featured the worst offense by many measures in 2014, although much of that can be pinned on sub-par personnel. Assistant hitting coach Alonzo Powell is expected to remain with the club.
- Jose Bautista spoke about Melky Cabrera‘s upcoming free agency on Sportsnet 590 the FAN and handicapped a return at about 50-50, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. According to Bautista, Cabrera will see what’s out there, but he’s “had a good experience in Toronto.” With Colby Rasmus expected to leave via free agency, the Blue Jays outfield could be in a state of flux is Cabrera also departs.
- Newly hired Astros bench coach Trey Hillman has worn a lot of different hats in his career. Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle profiles Hillman in his latest piece. He was let go from on-field positions with the Royals (manager) and Dodgers (bench coach) before latching on with the Yankees as a special assistant. Per Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News, Yankees GM Brian Cashman approached Hillman about the opening left by former head of minor league operations Mark Newman. Hillman reportedly declined the position because he preferred an on-field role.
A number of teams have made staff moves today. Here’s the latest.
- The Padres have announced several changes to their player development staff, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Randy Smith, formerly VP of player development, is now the senior adviser for baseball operations and will focus on scouting. Three others were let go from their posts. GM A.J. Preller will focus on hiring a new farm director. Per Preller, “I think it’s a matter of maybe a little different look, a chance to get some other voices in the organization.”
- Scout Mike Russell has left the Tigers to serve as a special assistant to Diamondbacks senior VP of baseball operations De Jon Watson, writes Jason Beck of MLB.com. Russell worked with Watson under GM Dave Dombrowski while with the Marlins in the mid-1990’s.
- Beck also learned that the Tigers are expected to replace Russell with former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield. Most recently, Littlefield has worked as a scout with the Cubs. Littlefield was with Dombrowski in Miami from 1999 through 2001.
- The Blue Jays have hired Nationals scout Paul Tinnell, tweets Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun. Tinnell, a former scouting director with the Pirates, is credited with the signings of Michael Burgess and Steve Lombardozzi per Baseball Reference.
- The Padres have hired former Blue Jays scout Rob St. Julien, according to another tweet from Elliott. Evan Crawford, Danny Farquhar, and Aaron Loup are among his notable signees.
- The Nationals may target former Reds executive Bob Miller to fill the shoes of erstwhile assistant GM Bryan Minnitti, writes Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post. Minnitti resigned last week. Miller’s specializes in budgetary matters, specifically arbitration and other contractual considerations. This makes him a good candidate to fill in for Minnitti.
- Speaking of Minnitti, he has emerged as a front runner for the Diamondbacks assistant GM role, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Minnitti has also been linked to the Dodgers front office, so the Diamondbacks may be looking to outpace their division rivals. MLBTR profiled Minnitti as a possible GM candidate back in 2011.
- The Astros have hired Dave Hudgens as their hitting coach, reports Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. Hudgens served for four seasons as the Mets hitting coach before he was dismissed this past May. The Mets have also re-assigned their most recent hitting coach, Lamar Johnson, to the minors. Dave Magadan and Kevin Long are candidates for the role.
On the heels of their first winning season since 2010, the Blue Jays are hoping to take the next step and reach the playoffs, though they may need to get creative with their payroll to make room for roster upgrades.
- Jose Reyes, SS: $66MM through 2017 ($22MM club option for 2018)
- Mark Buehrle, LHP: $19MM through 2015
- Jose Bautista, OF: $14MM through 2015 ($14MM club option for 2016)
- R.A. Dickey, RHP: $12MM through 2015 ($12MM club option for 2016)
- Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH: $10MM through 2015 ($10MM club option for 2016)
- Ricky Romero, LHP: $7.5MM through 2015 ($13.1MM club option for 2016)
- Dioner Navarro, C: $5MM through 2015
- Maicer Izturis, IF: $3MM through 2015 ($3MM club option for 2016)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Brett Cecil, RP (4.152): $2.6MM projected salary
- John Mayberry, 1B/OF (4.095): $1.9MM
- Josh Thole, C (4.085): $1.4MM (Thole will be arb-eligible if his option is declined)
- Juan Francisco, 3B/1B (3.147): $2.2MM
- Danny Valencia, 3B (3.118): $1.7MM
- Brett Lawrie, 3B (3.055): $1.8MM
- Non-tender candidates: Francisco
- Brandon Morrow, RHP: $10MM club option with a $1MM buyout
- Adam Lind, 1B/DH: $7.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
- J.A. Happ, LHP: $6.7MM club option with a $200K buyout
- Sergio Santos, RHP: $6MM club option with a $750K buyout
- Dustin McGowan, RHP: $4MM club option with a $500K buyout
- Josh Thole, C: club option, unconfirmed value
With the exception of Dioner Navarro‘s modest two-year, $8MM free agent contract last offseason, the Blue Jays have gone almost two full calendar years without a major transaction. Granted, the Jays reshaped their roster with some huge moves over last two months of 2012, but the lack of any significant follow-up has raised controversy in Toronto. Since the Jays led the AL East for over a month and finished only five games out of a wild card spot, fingers were pointed by both fans and some players at GM Alex Anthopoulos and the Rogers Communications ownership group for not making any acquisitions that could’ve put the team over the top.
A weakened Canadian dollar, the hiring of a new Rogers CEO within the last year and Rogers spending $5.2 billion to acquire NHL TV rights over its Sportsnet channels have all been cited as theories for the lack of Blue Jays-related spending. It could also simply be that the club’s $137MM payroll represents the full budget, so Anthopoulos wasn’t authorized to spend any further. Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that Anthopoulos will have more than that $137MM figure to work with, and it’s possible the 2015 payroll could be lower.
Certainly, lots of teams would love to have “just” a $137MM budget, though Anthopoulos doesn’t have much room to maneuver given that $96.2MM is committed to only eight players for 2015. Roughly $11.6MM (as estimated by Matt Swartz for MLBTR) will be paid to their arbitration-eligible players if all are tendered contracts, though Josh Thole‘s contract option can be exercised instead of going through the arb process and Juan Francisco stands out as a non-tender given how little action he saw over the season’s final weeks. That adds up to at least $104MM for 13 players, plus the Jays figure to pick up at least a few of their outstanding team options lest they create more holes on the roster.
Payroll space is of particular concern in regards to Melky Cabrera, whose solid bounce-back season will net him a significant free agent contract. Cabrera wants to stay in Toronto and the Blue Jays want him back, yet it remains to be seen if the two sides can match up on a new deal. The Jays will issue a Cabrera a qualifying offer at the very least, and as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes noted in his latest Free Agent Power Rankings, teams could be hesitant to surrender a first-rounder and give an expensive multiyear deal to a player with a below-average glove and a PED suspension on his record.
This being said, Dierkes still ranked Cabrera as the eighth-best player in free agency since quality bats are a rare commodity this offseason. The Jays might be out of luck if they’re hoping the QO limits Cabrera’s market enough that they can re-sign him at a relative bargain. In his free agent profile of Cabrera, MLBTR’s Steve Adams made the point that the outfielder might actually be the safest bet among the top available hitters — Cabrera is younger and has more defensive value than Victor Martinez and Nelson Cruz, and he is a proven MLB quantity, unlike Yasmany Tomas.
Cabrera could be the litmus test for how tight a payroll crunch Toronto is facing. Something like Adams’ predicted five-year, $66.25MM contract isn’t an unreasonable sum for a team that has designs on contending and has only one player (Jose Reyes) guaranteed money past the 2015 season. If Cabrera signs elsewhere for such a deal, it’s a sign the Jays will continue to limit spending.
If Cabrera leaves, the Jays will have two outfield spots to fill since center fielder Colby Rasmus seems as good as gone. Rasmus had a disappointing season overall and received only 14 plate appearances in September as the Jays instead used younger players in center field. He seems likely to pursue a one-year deal elsewhere to rebuild his value, leaving the Jays with a combination of Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar and top prospect Dalton Pompey juggling the center field duties. That trio and John Mayberry could form platoons in left and center, though you’d imagine that would only be the last-ditch plan if a more established everyday outfielder couldn’t be found to handle one of the two spots. Top-tier outfield free agents like Tomas and Cruz will be too expensive, so the Jays could pursue a trade for a left fielder and let the youngsters handle center.
Casey Janssen posted a 1.23 ERA in the first half of the season and a 6.46 ERA in the second half, as he was clearly affected by a severe bout of food poisoning during an All-Star break vacation. That late slump seemed to cinch his departure from the team, and Janssen won’t be the only notable relief arm to leave — Sergio Santos‘ $6MM option will surely be bought out after a rough season and Dustin McGowan‘s $4MM option is a bit pricey for a reliever without a defined role as a closer or setup man. McGowan still put up solid numbers once he became a full-time relief pitcher, however, so it’s possible the team could decline the option and seek a new contract with its longest-tenured player.
Some bullpen improvements are necessary after the Jays’ relief corps posted a collective 4.09 ERA in 2014, the sixth-highest bullpen ERA in baseball. The Blue Jays will look to upgrade the pen by adding setup relievers rather than pricey free agent closers, and then the setup options would either form a closer committee or one would eventually emerge as the ninth-inning preference. Top starting prospect Aaron Sanchez was dominant in a relief role in 2014, though the Jays would prefer to stretch him out as rotation depth rather than use him for significant bullpen innings.
The rotation went from a glaring weakness in 2013 to a relative strength in 2014. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey were their usual solid selves, top prospect Marcus Stroman exploded onto the scene with an impressive rookie season, Drew Hutchison recorded 184 strikeouts over 184 2/3 innings in his first year back after Tommy John surgery and J.A. Happ rebounded from an injury-plagued 2013. Since Happ pitched well enough for his $6.7MM option to be exercised, Toronto projects to have the same starting five next year, with young arms like Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin providing depth in the minors or the bullpen. After two injury-shortened seasons, Brandon Morrow‘s $10MM club option is expected to be declined.
Anthopoulos isn’t ruling out the idea of adding another veteran starter in a trade, though I’d be surprised if the likes of Stroman, Hutchison or Sanchez were dealt given how the GM has so often spoken of the importance of young pitching depth. Could Anthopoulos make a lateral move by trading Buehrle? The idea has been broached in the Toronto media as a way to open up salary space, as while Buehrle is the definition of a reliable starter, he might not be worth the $19MM he’s owed in the final year of his contract.
I’m not sure dealing any pitching is a wise move given that the Jays would be lucky to replicate the general good health their rotation enjoyed in 2014. If they do make a move, however, I’d suggest dealing Dickey over Buehrle. The Jays might well have to eat some of that $19MM to make a deal happen and get a good MLB-ready piece back in return for Buehrle, while Dickey has a more palatable contract ($12MM in 2015, $12MM team option for 2016) to trade partners. From Toronto’s perspective, Dickey is also over four years older, hasn’t pitched as well as Buehrle in 2013-14 and is a bit more of a question mark simply by dint of being a knuckleballer.
Some of the same logic in trading Buehrle or Dickey to free up payroll space applies to Reyes, who is owed $66MM through 2017. The larger term and salary makes dealing Reyes a tall order, however, especially considering Reyes’ injury history and his declining defense; he hasn’t posted an above-average UZR/150 since 2008. Reyes reportedly played through injuries for much of the season so the Jays will have to hope that he’ll be healthy and productive for the remainder of his contract.
Reyes, Navarro, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie hold down everyday positions around the rest of the diamond, though Lawrie’s actual position is up in the air. The Jays would prefer to see his excellent third base glove remain on the hot corner, though Lawrie saw some time at his old second spot last season and could be moved semi-permanently if the Jays can acquire an everyday third baseman. Of course, Lawrie isn’t a stable option himself, having spent significant time on the DL in each of the last three seasons.
There aren’t many attractive 2B/3B options within Toronto’s price range in free agency, so a trade might again be the ideal route for an upgrade. I cited the Cubs’ Luis Valbuena as a trade candidate in my Red Sox offseason outlook piece, and Valbuena (coming off a .249/.341/.435 season with 16 homers in 547 PA) might make even more sense for the Jays since he can play both second and third. The Marlins, White Sox and Rockies are all teams with second base depth that could be available in trades, and there’s plenty of room for improvement given that Toronto’s second basemen combined for only 0.5 fWAR in 2014.
Right now, Ryan Goins and Steve Tolleson are the top choices to platoon at second base, while Maicer Izturis will be in the mix. Izturis had a terrible 2013 season and was injured for almost all of 2014, so his three-year, $10MM contract has thus far been a bust for the Jays. Munenori Kawasaki was outrighted off the Jays’ 40-man roster but there’s a good chance the fan favorite infielder will be brought back as a minor league depth option.
A broken foot limited Adam Lind to only 318 PA last year, yet his injury history and inability to hit left-handers don’t offset his value as a righty-smashing bat. Lind posted a .942 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2014, so expect the Jays to exercise his $7.5MM option and use him in his usual role as a primary DH and part-time first baseman. Mayberry or Valencia fit as right-handed hitting complements to Lind at DH, or Reyes could even see some action at DH as an effort to keep him fresh.
Anthopoulos has stressed durability as one of his key musts for any new player, which goes towards a general team-wide goal to cut down on injuries and add bench depth. It’s no coincidence that the Jays’ red-hot stretch in May and early June came when they had almost all of their key performers healthy at the same time. They lacked the depth to withstand multiple injuries, however, and ultimately fell apart around the time when Encarnacion, Lind and Lawrie’s DL stints overlapped.
With promising young talent and and a very good veteran core, there is a lot to like about the 2015 Blue Jays on paper. They could be close to being serious contenders, and yet if the youngsters don’t pan out or the veterans start to decline, the Jays’ window of contention could just as easily start closing given how many key talents are only controlled (via team options) through 2016. The unknown payroll situation and the possibility that team president Paul Beeston could depart also adds to the winter uncertainty. The Jays have been so mysteriously quiet over the last two years that it’s hard to predict exactly how busy they’ll be before Opening Day, though with so many areas that need addressing, the club can’t get away with another offseason on the sidelines.
Here are today’s minor moves and outright assignments from around the league…
- Outfielder Roger Bernadina has elected free agency, thereby freeing a 40-man roster spot for the Dodgers, the team announced last night (Twitter link). Bernadina picked up 80 plate appearances between the Reds and Dodgers this season, slashing a combined .167/.304/.258 with a homer and a pair of steals. The longtime Nationals outfielder is a lifetime .236/.307/.354 hitter in 1480 big league plate appearances.
- The Blue Jays announced that they have re-signed infielder Jonathan Diaz to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training next year (hat tip: Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith on Twitter). The 29-year-old Diaz received 45 PA with Toronto this season, hitting .158/.256/.184. The majority of his work came at shortstop, though he did see 16 innings at second base and play at least one inning at all three outfield spots.
- Right-hander Collin Balester, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, has re-signed with the Pirates on a minor league deal, Chris Iott of MLive.com reports (via Twitter). The 28-year-old hasn’t pitched in the Majors since posting a 6.50 ERA in 18 innings with the Tigers back in 2012, but he spent part of the four prior seasons in the Nationals’ bullpen. Balester has a 5.30 ERA in 185 innings between the Nats and Tigers.
A benign spinal tumor was learned to be a significant factor in Melky Cabrera‘s disappointing 2013 campaign, and the switch-hitter regained his form in 2014 as he prepared to hit the open market for the second time in his big league career.
Cabrera hit a strong .301/.351/.458 with 16 homers, 35 doubles and three triples in 621 plate appearances this season. In three of the past four seasons, he’s batted above .300 and context-neutral stats such as wRC+ and OPS+ have each pegged him as at least 18 percent better than a league-average hitter in each of those campaigns.
A switch-hitter, Cabrera is a bit stronger as a right-handed bat, but his platoon split is minor. Over the past four seasons, Cabrera has batted .308/.350/.477 as a right-handed hitter and .309/.352/.451 as a left-handed hitter. In terms of average and OBP he’s about the same from each side, but he does offer a bit more pop against lefty pitchers.
He’s never been one to strike out much (career 12 percent), and he posted a career-best 10.8 percent strikeout rate in 2014. Cabrera’s swinging-strike rate (5.1 percent) was the 21st-lowest strikeout rate among qualified hitters this season, and his 88.3 percent contact rate ranked 16th.
Cabrera will play the majority of next season at the age of 30, so he’s a relatively young bat. Even a five-year contract would only run through his age-34 season, so it’s possible that a team could buy mostly prime years without worrying about too much of the decline phase with this deal.
The elephant in the room when discussing Cabrera’s free agent stock, of course, is his past suspension for PED usage. Cabrera was hit with a 50-game suspension near the end of his tenure with the 2012 World Champion Giants, and he admitted at the time that his punishment was “the result of my use of a substance that I should not have used.” That test called the validity of his excellent 2012 numbers into question, and naysayers exuded a sense of almost vindication in 2013 when his numbers went into the tank. While the tumor can now clearly be noted as a strong factor in those struggles, some will always question how much of Cabrera’s production is legitimate.
Back to his on-field characteristics, Cabrera may not strike out much but he also doesn’t walk much or show excellent plate discipline. He’s an aggressive hacker who despite rarely swinging and missing at a pitch averaged just 3.69 pitches per plate appearance in 2014 — a figure that tied him for 105th in Major League Baseball among qualified hitters.
Cabrera once had value on the basepaths as a potential 20-steal threat, but Fangraphs pegged him with negative baseruning value in each of the past two seasons. Perhaps last year can be written off, but Cabrera stole just six bags and provided negative baserunning value even in a healthy 2014 season.
Both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved feel that while Cabrera’s arm is a plus asset in left field, he is overall a below-average defender at the position. Given his decreased speed, it would seem a stretch to suggest that he could still handle center field, even on a limited basis. Indeed, Toronto only played him there for nine innings this past season. He also ended the season on the DL for a minor injury — a broken pinkie finger sustained while sliding back into first base. The injury did require surgery.
Finally, the Blue Jays reportedly plan to extend a qualifying offer to Cabrera, so a team will have to surrender its top unprotected pick in order to sign him.
Cabrera has fit in well to a Blue Jays clubhouse that features a number of his countrymen in Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Juan Francisco, among others. He was also well-liked in San Francisco, even after his suspension. At the time, Sergio Romo made it clear that Cabrera would have been welcomed back with open arms, asking, “Why wouldn’t we want him on our team?” and referring to Cabrera as “a great teammate.”
Cabrera has taken an active role in the community in his native Dominican Republic, organizing youth league tournaments (Spanish link) and encouraging children to stay diligent with their studies while chasing their baseball dreams. Cabrera also donated both cash and food to his home country following the hurricanes of 2007 and was honored with the 2008 Munson Award for his “excellence and philanthropic work in the community,” per the Blue Jays’ media guide.
Cabrera made his desire to return to the Blue Jays perfectly clear late this season, stating plainly, “I stay in Toronto.” Of course, that thinking can obviously change if the Blue Jays’ offer to Cabrera — and GM Alex Anthopoulos has said he expects to make a “competitive” bid — doesn’t stack up with those that he receives from other clubs.
A number of teams will be looking for offense in a thin market for bats, and Cabrera’s will be one of the best out there. The Orioles, Tigers, Royals, White Sox, Twins, Mariners, Rangers, Giants, Padres, Reds, Phillies and Mets could all be in the market for an outfield upgrade, so Cabrera’s representatives at the Legacy Agency will have no shortage of teams with which to converse. Among those clubs, the White Sox, Twins, Rangers and Phillies would have a protected first-round pick.
Perhaps most importantly, Cabrera will find himself near the top of a thin free agent crop of hitters. Among his chief competitors will be Nelson Cruz, Victor Martinez and Yasmany Tomas — an aging slugger with questionable defense, a pure DH entering his age-36 season and a 24-year-old that has yet to play in the Majors, respectively. Cabrera’s power doesn’t stack up to those players, but he’s shown a consistent ability to hit for average with respectable pop, and he offers more certainty than someone like Michael Cuddyer or Colby Rasmus.
Cabrera is in the unenviable position of hoping to set a precedent. Through this offseason, no player has hit the open market with the stigma of both a PED suspension and a qualifying offer and been able to cash in on a sizable deal. Jhonny Peralta secured a four-year, $53MM pact last offseason fresh off a suspension, but he was not the recipient of a qualifying offer from the Tigers. Any number of free agent bats have cashed in after receiving a qualifying offer, including Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Carlos Beltran. While none of those deals looks enticing at this point, that’s certainly not to say that second-tier free agents with qualifying offers will continue to struggle.
Cabrera’s agents will look to make their client the first to receive a strong multi-year deal in spite of that QO and in spite of a past suspension. He does have the benefit of having performed well in a season two years after his suspension, and more importantly, there’s a case to be made that he’s the safest bat on the market. Cruz is four years older with less defensive value, Martinez’s age and lack of position will limit his market, and though Tomas is tantalizing, he’s unproven.
Ultimately, Cabrera’s contract is difficult to project, but I feel the $36-45MM figure floated past the Toronto Star’s Brendan Kennedy in a survey of rival agents was low. Cabrera can rightly claim that he’s one of the best bats on the market at a relatively young age, and that’s enough for me to predict a perhaps unnecessarily specific five-year, $66.25MM contract (Peralta’s contract with an extra year at the same AAV).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.