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Washington Nationals Rumors
The Nationals have released reliever Heath Bell, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets. The Nats signed Bell to a minor-league deal in December. He struck out six batters and walked five while allowing five runs, four earned, in 5 1/3 innings in Spring Training.
The 37-year-old Bell established a strong track record as the Padres’ closer from 2009-2011, but began struggling after signing a three-year deal with the Marlins prior to the 2012 season. Bell headed to the Diamondbacks and then the Rays, for whom he allowed 16 runs in 17 1/3 innings last season while struggling with his velocity. After the Rays released him, he briefly signed on with the Orioles and then the Yankees, but struggled in Triple-A and did not appear in the big leagues with either team.
Despite carrying low expectations from the outside, the Braves have had good energy in camp, writes David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who attributes it to a combination of the team’s acquisition of several intense and/or vocal veterans along with the presence of competition all over the roster.
Here’s more from Atlanta and the rest of the NL East:
- The Braves are “still in [the] race” to land Hector Olivera, tweets O’Brien, who adds that the team is unlikely to offer more than five guaranteed years. Of course, a recent report indicated that Olivera might not yet have received a six-year offer, so if Atlanta is willing to move its bid up to the five-year range it could presumably have a shot.
- Meanwhile, the Braves have settled on Wandy Rodriguez for one of their final rotation spots, O’Brien tweets. Atlanta will hope for an Aaron Harang-like rebound from Rodriguez, who inked a minor league deal with the Braves after his agreement fell apart with Harang’s new club, the Phillies, over a failed physical. Rodriguez has looked good this spring, and currently owns a twelve-inning scoreless streak.
- The Nationals are open to dealing out of options outfielder/first baseman Tyler Moore, but see him as a quality big leaguer who has a place in the team’s immediate plans, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The 28-year-old may be needed to start the year given the club’s injuries in the outfield, and would probably be the next man up at first base were Ryan Zimmerman to suffer an injury.
- Nationals second baseman Dan Uggla has had a fairly productive spring thus far as he looks to keep his career alive. As MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports, manager Matt Williams sees a legitimate possibility of Uggla impacting the club this year. “We haven’t defined any roles,” said Williams. “What we do know at this point is that he is seeing the ball well and he is playing well. I like his at-bats. … We haven’t defined those roles yet because we just don’t know.” As Williams went on to note, infielders Yunel Escobar and Anthony Rendon have been limited by injuries in camp.
With Hunter Pence out to start the season, the defending World Champion Giants are experiencing some uncertainty in their outfield mix. The major question at present revolves around the health of center fielder Angel Pagan, who had back surgery last season and has been limited this spring.
Here’s the latest:
- Pagan had two injections in his ailing back today, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reports on Twitter. The club is hopeful he can resume baseball activity over the weekend and appear in a game early next week. If Pagan is ready for the regular season, he would presumably join Norichika Aoki and Gregor Blanco as the starters, with players like Travis Ishikawa, Juan Perez, Justin Maxwell, Gary Brown, and Jarrett Parker potentially in the mix for bench roles.
- One other possibility for some time in the outfield is first baseman Brandon Belt, as Alex Pavlovic of CSNBayArea.com reports. Asked today whether Belt was a first baseman, period, manager Bruce Bochy replied that it was “more of a comma” and said the possibility of using Belt in the outfield was under consideration. The club may also see how infielders Adam Duvall and Matt Duffy look on the grass, with Bochy indicating that the team is currently focused on evaluating its internal options and monitoring Pagan.
- Depending upon how the above situations play out, the team could obviously find itself in need of another bat capable of manning a spot in the outfield. Indeed, San Francisco is monitoring Nationals outfielder/first baseman Tyler Moore, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com tweets. Moore is out of options and may not have a spot on the Washington roster, though the club’s own rash of outfield injuries could create at least a temporary opening. The Giants are said to be interested in adding pop if they make a move, and the power-hitting Moore would certainly match that desire.
The Nationals announced that they released utilityman Jeff Kobernus today. The 26-year-old was once rated a top-twenty organizational prospect in D.C.
Kobernus, a second-round pick back in 2009, has seen limited big league action in each of the last two seasons. With just 44 MLB plate appearances to his name, most of his time over 2013-14 was spent at the Triple-A level, where he owns a .296/.356/.378 slash with 57 steals in 647 total turns at bat.
Primarily a second baseman, Kobernus has diversified his defensive repertoire by spending time in the outfield of late. As with outfielder Eury Perez and infielder Zach Walters, both of whom were parted with last year, Kobernus was an upper-level depth piece who no longer had a place in the organization.
Scouts have identified Cardinals left-hander Sam Freeman and Nationals left-hander Xavier Cedeno as logical trade candidates for the Mets, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com writes. Both relievers are out of options and unlikely to make their clubs’ Opening Day rosters, though Rubin stresses that the Mets’ level of interest in either player is unknown. The Mets could be on the lookout for a lefty reliever in the wake of Josh Edgin‘s decision to undergo Tommy John surgery. Here’s more on the Mets and other news out of the NL East..
- The Mets don’t see Phil Coke as someone who can help them, Marc Carig of Newsday tweets. That has been their internal evaluation for some time and that has not changed in the wake of Edgin’s injury. Coke signed a minor league deal with the Cubs earlier this month and apparently chose that opportunity over at least one MLB offer.
- Veteran Wandy Rodriguez has pitched effectively enough to position himself for one of the two vacant spots in the Braves‘ rotation, but the team will still have to decide whether its worth taking a $2MM gamble on a pitcher who has made just 18 starts over the last two years, Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes. The left-hander inked a minor league deal with Atlanta after failing a physical with the Phillies.
- The Mets have four lefty options in camp in Sean Gilmartin, Dario Alvarez, Jack Leathersich and Scott Rice, but none have shined thus far, as Matt Ehalt of The Bergen Record writes.
- Meanwhile, the Mets will be keeping their fingers crossed when it comes to starter Zack Wheeler as they’re sending his MRI results to team medical director Dr. David Altchek, Anthony DiComo of MLB.com tweets. The Mets, meanwhile, are still saying they’re not concerned about Wheeler’s long-term situation.
Right-handed power hitters carried the day in 2014, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. By the numbers, 12 of the top 16 power hitters batted right-handed. Several clubs including the Padres, Astros, Diamondbacks, and Blue Jays have committed to a mostly right-handed lineup in a search for more power. Unfortunately, right-handed power extends to the mound, where an influx of relievers are throwing over 95 mph with nasty secondary pitches.
Here’s more from around the game:
- Indians utility fielder Zach Walters has injured his oblique and will miss the next three to four weeks, reports Chuck Crow of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Walters was acquired last season in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera. The switch-hitter is a career .193/.253/.452 batter in 146 plate appearances, most of which came last season. He played five positions for the Nationals and Indians last season. Oblique injuries can be tricky to rehab, so expect the club to proceed slowly.
- Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang has the work ethic and bat speed to succeed in the majors, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The South Korean star will make his major league debut this season. No former KBO hitter has succeeded in the majors, so Kang will aim to pave the road for future generations. He uses the exaggerated leg kick first popularized by Sadaharu Oh, but he quiets it with two strikes. FanGraphs swing expert Dan Farnsworth analyzed Kang’s swing earlier this winter (FG+ required), concluding “he has all the makings of an absolute monster.”
- Former number one draft pick Brady Aiken is expected to make his season debut with IMG Post Grad on Thursday, tweets Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs. Aiken was selected by the Astros last June, but their agreement fell apart due to concerns about his pitching elbow. Aiken remains among the top prospects in the draft, although the Astros will presumably pass on selecting him with either of their top five picks.
Jeff Francoeur believes his easygoing personality has helped keep his career going, Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes in a profile of the well-traveled outfielder. Last season, Francoeur’s teammates with Triple-A El Paso in the Padres’ system played an elaborate practical joke on Francoeur, then videotaped his reaction when he found out he’d been had. A Triple-A team ordinarily might not feel comfortable playing a trick on an accomplished big-league veteran, but Francoeur’s teammates knew he would take it well. Francoeur hit .289/.320/.450 in 487 plate appearances in El Paso and played ten games with the Padres. Now he’s in camp with the Phillies, trying to make it back to the big leagues with the seventh team of his career. Here are more notes from the National League.
- Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was surprised by the blockbuster Jeff Samardzija trade that sent him from Oakland to Chicago last summer, MLB.com’s Jane Lee writes. “I was a little shocked, and more confused than anything,” says Russell, who adds that he soon began to see a positive side of the trade. “The Cubs wanted me, and they got me. I look at it as a new opportunity.” Lee notes that Russell probably would have had a more straightforward path to the big leagues if he were still with the Athletics. He’s talented enough, though, that that might not matter — if he continues hitting this season, the Cubs will surely find a place for him.
- Former big-league pitcher and outfielder Rick Ankiel is trying to help Nationals players as the teams new life skills coordinator, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. “I’m really just a resource for these guys or somebody to lean on for whatever they may need — whether it’s something off the field or something on the field,” Ankiel says. “I’ve been through it. I’ve got a lot of tools and mechanisms to pass down to these guys.” Ankiel, who signed out of high school and has no college experience, emphasizes that he’s not a doctor, just a former player who’s had an unusual and varied big-league life. The 35-year-old, of course, flamed out as a pitcher after finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2000 before following a long road back through the minors and then re-emerging as a hitter in 2007. He last appeared in the big leagues in 2013.
Nationals lefty Matt Thornton has exceedingly rare velocity for his age, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes. Now 38, Thornton joins former closer Billy Wagner as the only 35-and-up southpaws to sustain a 95+ mph average fastball over an entire season. Thornton’s method of maintaining his velo is rooted in a somewhat non-traditional workout program and commitment to an early but gradual build-up each offseason. The Nats have benefited thus far from picking up the veteran on a waiver claim last August, thus taking on his $3.5MM salary this year, and he is arguably the club’s top left-handed pen arm heading into 2015.
More from around the National League:
- The new Dodgers front office is finding its hands tied somewhat in putting together a final roster, as Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register writes. While the organization likely would prefer to open the year with recent acquisitions Chris Heisey and Enrique Hernandez on the bench, the contracts of Andre Ethier and Alex Guerrero make that difficult. Both Heisey and Hernandez have options, creating some flexibility, and will presumably start out at Triple-A unless the team swings a trade.
- Eric Young Jr. is the early leader for the Braves center field job out of camp, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Manager Fredi Gonzalez says that the club feels comfortable with Young’s ability to play the position defensively in spite of his limited experience.
- Reliever Pat Neshek says he was somewhat disappointed, but understanding, of the Cardinals‘ decision not to pursue him after his breakout year with the club, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Neshek ultimately landed with the Astros for two years and $12.5MM. In discussions during last season, GM John Mozeliak told Neshek that he held a “lottery ticket” and that the team would not be able to compete with the offers Neshek would receive on the open market. “In one sense it was kind of disappointing,” said Neshek, “but he knew it. He saw better. He could do something cheaper and try to get better. I see where they’re coming from. It was a good run. It worked out for everybody.”
We have not heard much today on Hector Olivera after a busy run the last few days, but the Braves are still “monitor[ing] his market,” per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Atlanta’s comfort level on cost seems to land in the $30MM to $40MM range, per the report.
Here are a few more notes from the NL East:
- Phillies veteran Cliff Lee did not experience any improvement in his bullpen session today, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. “I got through it,” he said. “There’s still something there. Same as yesterday.” Lee will throw again Thursday, and says he will keep trying to work through the discomfort so long as it does not get worse. The situation has wide-ranging implications, of course, one of them simply on the remainder of the club’s staff. Ryan Lawrence of the Daily News breaks down the latest on some of the team’s next men up, including Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang, and Miguel Gonzalez.
- Nationals starter Max Scherzer says that there really was a mystery team (other than his former club, the Tigers) that pursued him over the winter, as James Schmehl of MLive.com reports (Twitter links). Scherzer added that he was surprised that Detroit went public regarding the significant extension offer he signed last spring.