Transactions Rumors

Chihiro Kaneko To Stay With Japanese Club

Japanese standout Kenta Maeda won’t be coming to MLB in 2015 and neither will right-hander Chihiro Kaneko.  The Orix Buffaloes ace announced yesterday that he’ll be staying with his club after signing a four-year deal worth ¥2 billion (~$16.6MM) plus performance-based incentives, according to The Japan Times.

Kaneko was named the Pacific League MVP for his stellar season in 2014 and also won the Sawamura Award, roughly the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award.  Kaneko, like Maeda, was not eligible for true free agency this season but could have been posted by his club.  Kaneko signed on with Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group last month.

Back in October, Kaneko attended the World Series to get a first-hand look at the atmosphere of Major League Baseball.  Despite having some interest in making the jump and scouting looks from the Phillies (GM Ruben Amaro personally watched him throw in September), Red Sox, and Padres, he opted to remain with Orix.  Still, the major leagues remain in his future plans.

I would like to do that at some point,” Kaneko said.

While not as highly regarded as Maeda, Kaneko earned an honorable mention on Tim Dierkes’ Top 50 Free Agents list and likely would have been included had he been posted.  This past season, Kaneko pitched to a 1.98 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 through 26 starts.


D’Backs To Re-Sign Jordan Pacheco

The Diamondbacks will re-sign Jordan Pacheco to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, a source tells Chris Cotillo of SB Nation (via Twitter).

Arizona claimed the infielder/catcher off waivers from the Rockies back in June.  Pacheco, 29 in January, was outrighted in November, but the club made it known soon after that they were hoping to retain him.

Though he hasn’t set the world on fire offensively, he does offer contact skills and defensive versatility.  Over the last few years, he has seen significant time at catcher, first base, and third base.  In 2012, he posted a .309/.341/.421 slash line (good for a 93 OPS+) across 505 plate appearances.  Since then, however, he has slashed just .245/.285/.320.

Pacheco is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council, as shown in the MLBTR Agency Database.


Minor Moves: Mijares, Bowden, Runzler

Here’s a roundup of some recent minor league transactions from around baseball, with the newest moves at the top of the post.  All moves are from Matt Eddy of Baseball America, unless credited otherwise.

  • The Reds have signed southpaw Jose Mijares and right-hander Michael Bowden to minor league deals.  Mijares posted strong numbers (3.23 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 2.22 K/BB rate) over 259 relief innings with the Twins, Royals and Giants from 2008-13 but didn’t pitch in 2014 after he opted out of his minor league deal with the Red Sox last March.  Bowden was drafted 47th overall by the Red Sox in the 2005 draft and was considered a top prospect during his stint in Boston’s minor league system.  He couldn’t manage that same success in the majors, posting a 4.51 ERA over 133 2/3 innings with the Red Sox and Cubs from 2008-13.  Bowden pitched in Japan in 2014.
  • The Diamondbacks signed left-hander Dan Runzler to a minor league contract.  Runzler posted a 3.86 ERA, 9.7 K/9 and 5.5 BB/9 over 72 1/3 IP with San Francisco from 2009-12 and was released by the Giants’ Triple-A team last July so he could pitch in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes.
  • The Marlins inked outfielder Vinny Rottino to a minor league deal.  Rottino, 34, is returning to North American baseball for the first time since 2012 after playing in Korea and Japan over the last two seasons.  This is Rottino’s second stint in Miami, as he played for the Marlins, Mets, Indians and Brewers while collecting 110 career Major League plate appearances.
  • The Rangers signed infielder Tommy Field to a minor league contract.  Field received 81 plate appearances with the Rockies and Angels from 2011-13 and he spent last season at the Triple-A level in the Angels and Pirates organizations.
  • The Royals outrighted outfielder Moises Sierra and right-hander Casey Coleman to Triple-A, the team announced via Twitter.  The two players were both designated for assignment last week to create roster spots for the recently-signed Kendrys Morales and Yohan Pino, respectively.
  • The Blue Jays announced the signing of left-hander Andrew Albers to a minor league deal that includes a Spring Training invite.  Albers posted a 5.89 ERA over 28 starts for Hanwha of the (very hitter-friendly) Korean Baseball Organization in 2014.  His Major League experience consists of a 4.05 ERA, 3.8 K/9 and 3.57 K/BB rate over 60 innings with the Twins in 2013.


Indians Sign Jeff Manship

The Indians have signed right-hander Jeff Manship to a minor league contract, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy reports.  Manship elected free agency in October, and the 29-year-old is represented by the Boras Corporation.

Manship signed a minor league deal with the Phillies last winter and earned a spot on their Opening Day roster.  He went on to post a 6.65 ERA, 16 strikeouts and 14 walks over 23 innings out of the Philadelphia bullpen before being designated for assignment and then outrighted off their roster in July.

Over 139 1/3 career innings with the Phillies, Rockies and Twins, Manship has 6.46 ERA, 5.8 K/9 and 1.55 K/BB rate.  He is something of a reverse-splits pitcher, as right-handed batters have performed much better (.953 OPS) against Manship than left-handed batters (.753 OPS).


Rockies Sign Roger Bernadina

The Rockies have signed outfielder Roger Bernadina to a minor league contract, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy reports.  Bernadina, a client of the All Bases Covered agency, elected free agency from the Dodgers following the 2014 season.

Since posting a .291/.372/.405 slash line in 261 plate appearances with the Nationals in 2012, the veteran has since managed only a .550 OPS over 330 PA, going from the Nats to the Phillies in 2013 and then picking up only 80 PA while playing for both the Dodgers and Reds last season.  Colorado’s crowded outfield picture (Carlos Gonzalez, Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Brandon Barnes, Charlie Blackmon) doesn’t seem to hint at an obvious Major League opportunity for Bernadina, though several Rockies outfielders have been mentioned in trade rumors this winter.


Braves To Sign A.J. Pierzynski

2:01pm: Pierzynski is expected to earn around $2MM in the deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets.

1:50pm: The Braves have reached a one-year deal with free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports on Twitter. Financial terms are not yet reported, and the deal will not become official until a physical that will be delayed by the holidays.

Soon to turn 38, Pierzynski played last year for the Red Sox and Cardinals, struggling to the lowest offensive output of his career. The veteran slashed just .251/.288/.337 and hit five home runs in 362 plate appearances. Advanced defensive metrics (via Baseball Prospectus) saw Pierzynski as slightly below average. The net package was below replacement level.

All that being said, Pierzynski has a lengthy history of solid-to-good output for his position. His lifetime slash of .281/.320/.424 is quite productive for a backstop, and he was good for an .827 OPS and 27 home runs as recent as 2012. Pierzynski has also generally been regarded as a sturdy option behind the dish, both in terms of defensive ability and (especially) durability.

It is ultimately not surprising to see the Braves add a veteran of this ilk. The team appears set to move Evan Gattis out from behind the plate (if not to another team altogether), and pairing well-regarded youngster Christian Bethancourt with a more established option makes plenty of sense.

If Pierzynski returns to his prior form, he could help lead a surprise run for a team that many have written off. Or, he could turn into July trade fodder. Of course, there may be some added risk given the frequent chatter about issues with Pierzynski’s personality. But that likely figured into the price tag, and he delivers scarce upside in a largely barren catching market.

Aaron Lunsford first tweeted news of Pierzynski’s agreement.


Orioles To Sign Delmon Young

The Orioles have agreed to a one-year, $2.25MM deal with free agent outfielder Delmon Young, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports (links to Twitter). Young can earn up to $750K more through incentives. The deal is dependent upon a physical, which will not take place until the new year.

Young, still a relatively youthful 29, enjoyed something of a renaissance last year in Baltimore. Splitting his time as a part-time DH and reserve outfielder, the one-time top prospect slashed .302/.337/.442 with seven home runs over 255 plate appearances.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether he can carry that performance forward. At least some skepticism is suggested by the fact that Young rode a .359 BABIP. And the Steamer projection system expects him to drop back to being a league-average bat.

Several other factors warrant mention as well. Somewhat curiously, despite strong career platoon splits (.091 OPS), Young actually posted much stronger numbers against righties last year. In fact, he was better across the board, with greater power and OBP when facing same-handed pitching. And then there is defense, where Young continues to rate rather poorly.

On the whole, though, the O’s are taking on very limited risk given the contract’s duration and value. With left-handed platoon mates already on board — and more potentially coming — Young can be deployed strategically to maximize his value.


Braves Sign Jason Grilli

The Braves have struck a move to bolster their bullpen, adding right-hander Jason Grilli on a two-year deal with a third-year club option, the team announced Tuesday night. Grilli, a client of player-turned-agent Gary Sheffield, will reportedly earn $8MM over the life of the contract.

Jason Grilli

The two-year agreement pays Grilli $4.25MM in 2015 and $3.5MM in 2016. The club option, which comes with a $250K buyout, is valued at $3MM.

The 38-year-old Grilli got off to a rough start in 2014 — the second season of a two-year, $6.75MM pact with the Pirates. A 2013 All-Star, Grilli slumped to a 4.87 ERA through his first 20 1/3 innings this season and also missed roughly a month with an oblique strain. He ceded the closer’s role to Mark Melancon and was ultimately flipped to the Angels in a one-for-one trade that sent Ernesto Frieri to Pittsburgh. The swap of struggling closers didn’t pan out for Frieri, but Grilli managed to right the ship and was very good down the stretch with Anaheim.

In 33 2/3 innings with the Halos, Grilli notched a 3.48 ERA with 9.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. The control problems he experienced in the season’s early stages seemed to be corrected with the Angels, and he showed no drop in velocity following the oblique injury, as he averaged 93.1 mph on his heater with both teams.

Grilli will likely assume a large chunk of the innings that would have gone to Jordan Walden, who was acquired by the Cardinals alongside Jason Heyward in the trade that sent Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta. Craig Kimbrel, of course, will again be tasked with defending ninth-inning leads, so Grilli will join Shae Simmons, David Carpenter and reclamation project Jim Johnson in bridging the gap from the rotation to Kimbrel. His two-year deal will lock in his age-38 and age-39 seasons, also giving the Braves an option for his age-40 campaign.

Grilli’s interesting Major League career began with the Marlins in 2003 but didn’t really take off until 2011 with the Pirates. Grilli missed the 2010 season after undergoing surgery to repair a quadriceps injury, and he carried a lifetime 4.74 ERA to Pittsburgh before breaking out with a 2.48 ERA and a hefty 10.2 K/9 rate. Grilli improved further in 2012, increasing his workload from 32 2/3 innings to 58 2/3 as his strikeout rate soared to 13.8 per nine innings. He eventually staked a claim to the club’s ninth-inning role and made his first All-Star team as Pittsburgh’s closer in 2013 at the age of 36. Over the past four seasons, Grilli has totaled a 3.09 ERA with 11.9 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 34.2 percent ground-ball rate in 195 1/3 innings. His outstanding 2.47 SIERA ranks 16th among 216 qualified relievers in that stretch.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the agreement (Twitter links). Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (via Twitter) and MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (Twitter links) provided contract details

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cardinals Sign Jordan Walden To Two-Year Deal

7:35pm: Walden receives a $350K signing bonus before earning $2.5MM in 2015 and $3.5MM in 2016, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets. The $5.25MM club option comes with a $250K buyout.

12:07pm: The Cardinals have announced a two-year deal with righty Jordan Walden to avoid arbitration, via Twitter. The deal includes a club option for 2017, giving St. Louis control over Walden for one season of expected free agent eligibility.

The deal is for $6.6MM over two years, per SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (via Twitter). The club option will cost $5.25MM to exercise.

Walden came to the Cardinals along with Jason Heyward by way of trade earlier in the offseason, and this signing confirms that he was hardly a throw-in. Atlanta had picked him up in a swap for Tommy Hanson before the 2013 campaign.

With Atlanta last year, Walden pitched to a 2.88 ERA with 11.2 K/9 against 4.9 BB/9. Those strong results are now fairly typical for the 27-year-old power reliever, who has established himself as a dependable back-of-the-pen arm. Walden owns a 3.10 career earned run average in 211 2/3 frames over five seasons, and has not yet finished a season with lower-than double-digit strikeouts per nine.

Though his fastball velocity is down a few ticks from his first few seasons, Walden still averages nearly 96mph on his heater. And pitch values suggest that he has deployed it with even greater success, while also dialing up the effectiveness of his low-to-mid-80’s slider.


Minor Moves: Gomes, Stewart, Wallace, Crosby

With a rash of waiver claims today, several players made it through without being added to another club’s 40-man. The Angels announced that outfielder Shawn O’Malley cleared waivers and was released. Meanwhile, the Athletics have outrighted righty Fernando Rodriguez to Triple-A after he cleared, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets. Indians lefty Nick Maronde has cleared waivers, been assigned to Triple-A, and received an invite to big league camp, per Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer (via Twitter). And the Dodgers announced that outfielder/first baseman Kyle Jensen was outrighted to Triple-A.

Here are the day’s further minor moves:

  • The Rays announced that right-hander Brandon Gomes has cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Durham. He will be invited to Major League Spring Training. The 30-year-old Gomes found himself designated for assignment last week following the Wil Myers trade.
  • Infielder Ian Stewart has joined the Nationals on a minor league pact, Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweets. As Eddy notes, Stewart seems to be a solid match for a Nats’ roster that currently features all right-handed-hitting infielders (if you count Danny Espinosa, who currently sits atop the depth chart at second and is a much better hitter from the right side than the left). Soon to turn 30, Stewart — not unlike Espinosa himself — has failed to maintain the promise of prior MLB seasons, but has shown significant power capability in the past.
  • The Padres have signed first baseman Brett Wallace to a minor league pact (via Eddy, on Twitter). Like Stewart, Wallace was once a highly-valued prospect. But the 28-year-old has yet to end an MLB campaign with an above-average hitting line, and he does not offer the kind of defensive value that lets his bat play. That said, he could still have some upside remaining and will provide San Diego with a depth piece at a position of need.
  • The Red Sox agreed to terms with lefty Casey Crosby (again, via Eddy). Per Eddy, Crosby landed amongst the Tigers’ top thirty prospects seven times. The oft-injured 26-year-old only received three big league starts in Detroit, however, and continued to have control issues after being converted to relief last year at Triple-A.
  • 28-year-old outfielder Adron Chambers will head to camp with the Cubs, Cotillo tweets. After seeing minimal playing time at the big league level from 2011-13 with the Cardinals, Chambers spent last year at the Triple-A level with the Astros and Blue Jays. Over 206 plate appearances, he slashed a rather typical .283/.351/.411 in the highest level of the minors.
  • The Reds have added several more minor league signings, also via Cotillo. In addition to the previously-reported signing of Ivan De Jesus, Cincinnati has locked up outfielder Jermaine Curtis and righty Nathan Adcock. Curtis, 27, managed only a .675 OPS at Triple-A last year for the Cardinals, and will be looking for a fresh start after spending his entire professional career in that organization. The 26-year-old Adcock has thrown 104 MLB innings over the last several years, mostly in relief, working to a 3.86 ERA in that stretch.
  • The Twins have made a series of additions, per a club announcement (via Dustin Morse, on Twitter). Among them are outfielder Wilkin Ramirez and second baseman Jose Martinez. The former is a 29-year-old who has called the Minnesota organization home since 2012. Last year, he put up a .262/.305/.368 line at the highest level of the minors. Martinez, soon to turn 29, slashed .276/.345/.372 at Triple-A last year with the A’s.