Ubaldo Jimenez Rumors
According to separate reports, both the Orioles and Blue Jays are active in the market for starting pitching. Both clubs have been fairly quiet in free agency to date, at least in terms of dollars committed. (Baltimore gave $4.5MM to Ryan Webb, but otherwise has not promised much above league minimum for any players; Toronto has given out only one MLB contract, guaranteeing $8MM to Dioner Navarro.)
The Orioles have had "recent, active dialogue" with several starters, including sought-after names like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Bronson Arroyo, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun (via Twitter). As Connolly recently reported, the club's interest in closer Fernando Rodney may take a backseat to starting pitching in terms of priority.
Meanwhile, Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos says that the club is "not done yet," as Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Noting that plenty of options remain, Anthopoulos expressed hope in making new acquisitions, but cautioned that, "at the same time we're not going to force anything." The Toronto GM said that the club likes the upside of several of its in-house starting options, including the rehabbing Brandon Morrow. He also warned that players with draft-pick compensation attached -- which can refer only to Santana and Jimenez, among pitchers -- could remain unsigned "into February and even into March."
With Masahiro Tanaka off of the market and Matt Garza seemingly close to following him, the starting pitching dam may finally have burst. As I noted on Tuesday, the long delay in Tanaka's situation has left an unprecedented number of substantial free agent business left to complete just weeks before the start of Spring Training -- especially with respect to a number of quality rotation options.
Here's the latest on the Cubs from CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney...
- Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs are still far apart on a contract extension, "though there’s mutual respect on both sides and hope they can eventually find common ground." Samardzija's name has surfaced in several trade rumors this offseason but Mooney reports that the Cubs now plan to keep the righty until closer to the July 31 trade deadline. This would theoretically improve the quality of trade offers, such as how the Cubs scored a nice package of prospects from the Rangers last summer in exchange for Matt Garza.
- The Cubs are prepared to give Masahiro Tanaka a nine-figure contract, a source tells Mooney. The Cubs have long been considered a major suitor for the Japanese right-hander, with one MLB source telling Mooney's CSN colleague David Kaplan last month that the Cubs wouldn't be outbid for Tanaka's services. That said, Mooney hears from several baseball officials that the bidding will get "silly" and another team will offer Tanaka a longer-term and more expensive deal.
- If they can't sign Tanaka, the Cubs aren't interested in pursuing Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Garza. The Cubs would have to surrender their second-round draft pick and corresponding draft pool money as compensation for signing either Santana or Jimenez.
- Santana "is the kind of buy-high pitcher the Cubs are trying to avoid now," Mooney writes. The Cubs did explore trading for Santana last winter when the righty was coming off a tough season with the Angels, and Santana ended up reviving his career with a good 2013 campaign with the Royals.
The Indians have signed a couple of notable names to minor league deals this week, picking up right-hander Scott Atchison and outfielder Jeff Francoeur. They were also one of the two finalists on infielder Jamey Carroll. Here's the latest out of Cleveland (All courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes)...
- Hoynes writes that the Indians have been in contact with Masahiro Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, and could meet with him and his client in the coming days. The Indians "are in the game" and could make a lucrative multiyear offer, but Hoynes calls the chances of a deal "slim," noting that Cleveland isn't likely to outbid big spenders like the Yankees and possibly the Diamondbacks.
- From that same piece, Hoynes writes that if they do not land Tanaka, they're content to wait for a starter to come to them at their price. Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo could all be of interest and could all sign after Tanaka. Hoynes writes that Cleveland has long coveted Garza, and also adds that they may be able to sign Jimenez if he's the last man standing from the remaining free agent starters. At that point, they could get Jimenez at their price and would have an advantage over other teams due to draft pick compensation. Cleveland is also content to let Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Shaun Marcum and Josh Tomlin battle for the fifth spot if they can't find a starter at the right price.
- In a mailbag piece, Hoynes tells readers that while the Indians have spoken to Johan Santana's agents, his sense is that the team is focused on adding healthier, more dependable arms if it makes further pitching additions.
- Cleveland isn't likely to sign Bobby Abreu because Jason Giambi is already in the fold, Hoynes reports. However, the Indians are impressed by Abreu's swing and improved conditioning. If it becomes clear that Giambi cannot fill the role he did for the Indians in 2013, then Abreu would be a candidate to do so.
Though it's been a somewhat quiet offseason on the Ubaldo Jimenez front thus far, the lack of chatter doesn't mean his asking price is going down. The right-hander's agents are still telling teams that they seek an annual salary north of $14MM on a multiyear deal for their client, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
Jimenez, represented by Relativity Baseball (formerly known as SFX), has seen his market slowed by the uncertainty surrounding Masahiro Tanaka. To this point in the offseason, no pitcher has secured a $14MM annual salary on a multiyear deal, though that again is likely due to the Tanaka market. Tanaka himself should clear that mark with ease, and Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana also figure to top that mark with their eventual deals.
Because Jimenez rejected a qualifying offer, any team other than the Indians will be required to forfeit a top draft pick in order to sign him. Though he comes with a spotty track record in recent years, Jimenez is relatively young for a free agent (he turns 30 this month), and it's hard to argue with the performance he turned in this season. Many are quick to glance at Jimenez's splits and state that he had a dominant second half. While that's true -- he had a 1.82 ERA after the All-Star break -- Jimenez's rebound began much earlier than that. After allowing 19 earned runs in his first 17 innings, Jimenez pitched to a 2.61 ERA with a 179-to-69 K/BB ratio from April 29 through season's end -- a span of 28 starts.
Though the Indians would like Jimenez back, he's likely to be too pricey for their tastes. Jimenez was recently connected to the Blue Jays and could draw interest from clubs such as the Yankees and Diamondbacks as well. The Orioles were at one time linked to Jimenez, but they, like the Indians, seem unable to afford him.
The Angels are likely to eclipse the $189MM luxury-tax threshold eventually, despite their efforts to avoid doing so this offseason, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal writes. Sources tell the columnist that the Angels have between $13MM and $15MM of space left beneath the cap, figures that are much lower than what will be required to sign Masahiro Tanaka. However, extending Mike Trout at, say, $300MM over 10 years would make it difficult to avoid surpassing the threshold anyway, so the Angels may as well do so now, Rosenthal surmises. Here's more from his new column:
- This offseason's big contracts for less-than-durable stars like Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Brian McCann show that position players can earn more as free agents than they would with club-friendly, long-term deals. Meanwhile, clubs appear increasingly willing to move players who resist extensions. For example, sources tell Rosenthal that rival teams have asked about Astros catcher Jason Castro, who could be moved if Houston is unable to ink him long-term.
- Qualifying offers appear to have suppressed the market for players such as Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales, frustrating player representatives. Potential fixes to the system include guaranteeing that free agents receive a qualifying offer only once, or ensuring that teams signing free agents who received qualifying offers lose only draft picks and not their associated bonus-pool amounts. The current system will remain in place for another two offseasons, Rosenthal notes.
- Stephen Drew appears to be a fit for the Mets, rival executives say, despite the club's insistence that it will consider Ruben Tejada for its starting shortstop job.
- The Blue Jays remain among the favorites to sign either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, despite their quiet offseason thus far. The Jays could acquire as many as two starters before the offseason is over, Rosenthal reports. In addition to upgrading through free agency, the club has also discussed trades for the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija and other starters.
- The Diamondbacks could trade J.J. Putz after acquiring Addison Reed from the White Sox. Swapping the righty for Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is one potential deal, or Putz could be packaged with other players in a deal for a starter such as Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers.
Of all the baseball news that broke in 2013, the story of how David Murphy's contract with the Indians became public has to be the most unique. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer relates how Murphy and the Tribe had agreed to terms but were keeping the deal under wraps until it was finalized...only to have Murphy's five-year-old daughter spill the beans to her kindergarten class during a lesson about Thanksgiving. “She was in preschool and they were learning about Pilgrims and Indians,” Murphy told reporters last month. “She spoke up that her dad was going to the Indians. Obviously, the word spreads quickly because of social media. It’s not the best situation, but it’s a good story to tell her when she gets older.”
Here's some more Tribe-related notes from Hoynes, as part of a reader mailbag...
- The Indians don't have any current interest in Jake Westbrook, who pitched in Cleveland from 2001-10. Westbrook hit free agency after the Cardinals bought out his 2014 option but it's been a pretty quiet winter of rumors about the veteran right-hander. Hoynes reported in October that the Tribe would "keep an eye" on Westbrook but nothing seems to have come of that interest. Westbrook, 36, posted a 4.63 ERA in 116 2/3 IP with the Cardinals last season and had trouble missing bats, as he recorded only 44 strikeouts (against 50 walks).
- A right-handed power bat isn't high on the club's priority list as the Indians are focused on adding pitching.
- Hoynes figures the Indians will post a $20MM bid for Masahiro Tanaka since they "have nothing to lose" in doing so, given that only the team that signs Tanaka has to pay the $20MM posting fee. While the Indians may check on the Japanese righty, however, Hoynes thinks larger-market teams will offer Tanaka a much bigger contract offer.
- Hoynes thinks Ubaldo Jimenez will end up signing with the Blue Jays, Diamondbacks or Yankees. The Tanaka signing could affect this prediction as the latter two teams are known to be heavily interested in Tanaka and Toronto will likely be interested as well.
- Francisco Lindor is only likely to see time as a September callup, and that's only if the Indians' star prospect rebounds from a 2013 back injury and impresses in his first taste of Double-A and Triple-A baseball. Lindor's progress will also naturally impact the Tribe's future decision on Asdrubal Cabrera, who will be a free agent next winter. Cleveland is known to be listening to trade offers for Cabrera, who is coming off a down year in 2013.
The Blue Jays are still interested in acquiring a starting pitcher, but won't say how interested they are in Masahiro Tanaka, the Toronto Star's Brendan Kennedy reports. "I have said that we’re definitely going to inquire on any free-agent pitchers that are out there," is about as specific as GM Alex Anthopoulos is willing to get.
If they don't sign Tanaka (and with the Yankees, Dodgers and other big-payroll teams interested, that might be a tall order), the Jays could pursue pitchers like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza, whose markets have been slow to develop due to the uncertainty over Tanaka's status. Kennedy suggests that the Blue Jays would be in an especially favorable position with regard to Santana and Jimenez, who declined qualifying offers, because the Jays' first-round picks in 2014, ninth and 11th overall, are both protected.
It's still possible, also, that the Blue Jays could acquire a starting pitcher via trade, but Anthopoulos isn't sure whether a trade or free agency will be the best route. "I would say it’s 50-50 at this point," says Anthopoulos. "Free-agent prices tend to change as the winter goes along. I don’t know that I’d say one is more likely than the other at this point."
Paul Blair, one of baseball's all-time greatest defensive players, passed away today at age 69. Blair spent 13 of his 17 Major League seasons with the Orioles, with his superb center field defense playing a key role in Baltimore's success in the late 60's and early 70's. Blair won eight Gold Gloves over his career and accumulated 18.6 defensive WAR over his career (according to Baseball Reference), tied for 58th-best all-time. While he was best known for his glove, Blair also enjoyed a few impressive years at the plate, including hitting .285/.327/.477 with 26 homers for the O's in 1969. Blair won four World Series rings in his career --- with the Orioles in 1966 and 1970, and with the Yankees in 1977-78. We at MLBTR express our condolences to Blair's family and loved ones.
Here's the latest from Camden Yards...
- The Orioles will focus on free agent starters like A.J. Burnett or Bronson Arroyo rather than Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, according to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. Pitchers like Burnett or Arroyo have "a track record of stability [and] can be signed to shorter-term deals" than Jimenez, Santana and Garza, Encina writes. The Orioles "aren't high" on Garza in general.
- Also from Encina, the O's may put their closer search on hold for now and focus on other needs. For the time being, Tommy Hunter projects as Baltimore's closer.
- Minor league right-hander Mike Wright drew attention at the July deadline and MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko notes that the O's aren't keen to trade Wright. A rival scout isn't high on Wright's potential, telling Kubatko that Wright is "a back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors, at best." Wright, who turns 24 in January, was taken in the third round of the 2011 draft and he posted a 3.26 ERA, 3.54 K/BB rate and 8.3 K/9 in 150 1/3 IP for Double-A Bowie in 2013.
- The Orioles are hesitant to trade young starters like Wright or Eduardo Rodriguez, but Kubatko notes that they might have to make such a move to acquire a rotation upgrade if they won't pursue Tanaka and have doubts about the free agent market. Kubatko says that Jeff Samardzija is still "a potential trade target" for Baltimore, though the Cubs would surely ask for young pitching in return.
- Kubatko and Encina both reiterate Dan Duquette's claim that the Orioles won't be part of the market for Masahiro Tanaka, since Tanaka will be out of the team's price range.
Now that the Winter Meetings are over, here are the top ten remaining free agents from Tim Dierkes' Top 50 list, with updates on each.
3. Shin-Soo Choo. The acquisitions of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran by the Yankees, Curtis Granderson by the Mets and Corey Hart and Logan Morrison by the Mariners have helped define the market for Choo. One report recently indicated he Rangers had a seven-year offer on the table. Not everyone agreed, but in any case, the Rangers remain interested. The Astros, Diamondbacks and Reds do not appear to be in the mix. The Tigers could be another possibility, although ESPN's Jerry Crasnick recently wrote that their acquisition of Rajai Davis ruled them out.
5. Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka's status will likely become clearer once an agreement on the posting system is ratified tomorrow. If Rakuten decides to post Tanaka, the Diamondbacks could be serious suitors, as could the Cubs. Tanaka is also the Yankees' "top choice." The Dodgers might also be a possibility, but their interest doesn't appear to be as strong as expected.
6. Ervin Santana. The Tigers are reportedly interested in Santana, and the Diamondbacks have met with his agent. The Mets probably dropped out of the race when they agreed to terms with Bartolo Colon. The Yankees do not appear to be interested.
7. Matt Garza. Unlike Santana, Garza didn't receive a qualifying offer, which may improve his market, since teams won't have to worry about losing a draft pick. The Angels and Twins have been connected to Garza, although Angels GM Jerry Dipoto says his team doesn't have an offer out for Garza, and the Twins don't want to give Garza a four- or five-year deal. The Diamondbacks have repeatedly been connected to Garza, and Arizona could be a good landing spot, particularly if the D'Backs don't come up with Tanaka or Santana.
9. A.J. Burnett. The Pirates still believe Burnett is deciding between re-signing with them or retiring, although the Orioles have shown interest, and Burnett's offseason home is in Maryland. It's been almost two months since Burnett said he would take "a week or so" to decide whether to continue playing or retire.
11. Ubaldo Jimenez. The Indians want Jimenez to return, but it's unclear whether they'll make a big enough commitment to re-sign him. The Orioles might also be a possibility. Note that the last five names on this list are pitchers -- with Tanaka unable to sign, Burnett a question mark, and David Price and Jeff Samardzija looming on the trade market, the free-agent market for pitching has been slow to develop.
14. Stephen Drew. Drew and Jhonny Peralta were the only big names on the shortstop market, and Peralta has already signed with the Cardinals, so Drew is a huge fish in a tiny pond. The Yankees need a second baseman after Robinson Cano and Omar Infante signed elsewhere, and a return to the Red Sox would still make sense, with Drew at shortstop and Xander Bogaerts at third. The Mets don't seem to be serious contenders.
17. Nelson Cruz. Cruz rejected a qualifying offer and is reportedly looking for a deal that pays $16MM or more a year, which may be a lot to player with limited defensive ability and scary offensive indicators. Cruz wants the Rangers to offer a three-year deal, but so far, they're only offering two. The Mariners continue to be connected to Cruz, even after adding Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.
23. Bronson Arroyo. Four teams have reportedly offered Arroyo two-year deals, but Arroyo, like Cruz, seems to be holding out for three. The Twins are still a possibility even after their signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and their re-signing of Mike Pelfrey. The Mets and Reds are contenders as well.
25. Grant Balfour. The Indians just agreed to terms with John Axford, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports noted (via Twitter) that one likely scenario for the rest of the bullpen market had Joaquin Benoit going to the Padres and Balfour heading to the Orioles. The Boston Herald's Jen Royle, meanwhile, reports that the Orioles have offered Balfour a three-year deal, but Balfour wants three years with a vesting option (Twitter links). In any case, the Orioles look like Balfour's most serious suitors by far right now, although Royle suggests the Mariners could also come into play.
The Indians are reportedly open to trading Justin Masterson and have been in contact with the Yankees, but there are reportedly no legs to those talks and Cleveland isn't near a trade of any player. A couple of other Tribe notes...
- General manager Chris Antonetti told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that the Indians would love to have Ubaldo Jimenez back and aren't ruling out a return for the right-hander (Twitter link). Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway is a big factor for Jimenez, Heyman notes.
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports looks at the Tribe's surplus of outfielders (on Twitter) with Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, David Murphy, Drew Stubbs and Ryan Raburn all in the fold, noting that something is likely to give. Rosenthal notes that Cleveland is listening on virtually all of its players.