Washington Nationals Rumors

Washington Nationals trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Nationals Exercise Matt Williams’ 2016 Option

The Nationals have announced that they’ve exercised their 2016 option on manager Matt Williams. The team holds another option on Williams for 2017.

We are happy to pick up Matt’s option for the 2016 season,” says Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo. “It shows the great confidence we have in Matt to continue to lead this team on the field.”

Williams replaced Davey Johnson for the 2014 season, and in his first year as manager, he led the team to a 96-66 record as the Nats easily won the NL East. In the process, Williams won the BBWAA NL Manager of the Year award and the Sporting News NL Manager of the Year award.


NL East Notes: Coke, Mets, Fister, Hamels

The Mets won’t be signing Phil Coke, ESPN’s Adam Rubin reports.  The team was reportedly interested in the left-hander earlier this winter, but according to Rubin, the Mets decided in December that they wouldn’t be signing any relievers to Major League contracts this offseason.  They have stuck to that plan, adding the likes of Buddy Carlyle, Duane Below and Scott Rice on minor league contracts.  Several teams have offered Coke minor league deals with Spring Training invitations, but the veteran southpaw is still looking for a Major League contract.

Here’s some more from around the NL East…

  • Also from Rubin, he has the full list of Mets players who are out of options: Wilmer Flores, John Mayberry, Jenrry Mejia, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Cesar Puello, Ruben Tejada and Carlos Torres.  According to Rubin, all of these players are expected to make the Mets’ roster except for Puello.
  • Carlyle and Alex Castellanos have out clauses in their Mets contracts for early June, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports (Twitter links).  Carlyle also has an out clause that he can exercise on Opening Day.  The two players each signed minor league deals with New York earlier this winter.
  • Doug Fister is entering his last year under contract with the Nationals, but the righty tells MLB.com’s Bill Ladson that he isn’t looking ahead to his free agency but rather just concentrating on the coming season.  “I’m wearing this jersey right now. That’s the most important thing. I’m a National through and through. I’m proud of it. If it looks like I can stay here, great. If not, I’ve just got to make sure I get my job done, be part of the team I’m part of,” Fister said.  The right-hander is just one of several high-profile Nats players who are slated for free agency after 2015, including Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Denard Span.
  • The top four teams who seem like the best fits for Phillies ace Cole Hamels are listed by MLB.com’s Jim Duquette.  In order, the Red Sox, Cardinals, Padres and Cubs comprise Duquette’s list.  All four clubs have been linked to Hamels on the rumor mill, though none may be willing or able to provide the Phillies with the top-tier prospects they would need to make a deal.

East Notes: Hamels, Bradley, Minor, DeJesus, Aceves

ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark polled league executives for their takes on the offseason, and some of the strongest opinions related to the game’s eastern divisions. Collectively, that group liked the Blue Jays’ signing of Russell Martin, but was skeptical of the contracts given to players like Max Scherzer (Nationals) and Hanley Ramirez (Red Sox). Check out the piece for the results on a number of other questions.

  • Regarding the oft-discussed possibility of the Red Sox dealing for Cole Hamels of the Phillies, Peter Gammons of Gammons Daily suggests that circumstances may need to change to force a deal. Any changes to Boston’s internal pitching dynamics could, of course, push it toward a deal. Or, with the Sox uninterested in taking on all of Hamels’s salary, a new willingness by the Phils to eat cash to increase the prospect return could move the needle.
  • One other factor in driving trade possibilities for the Red Sox is the club’s overflowing cup of outfielders. Before deciding how to proceed, the club will look to see where things stand, says Gammons, especially in terms of health.
  • Of note is that the Braves have made clear to Boston that they have “strong interest” in young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. This is not necessarily an active matter, however: Gammons notes that any possible action on that front would occur in the late spring, at the earliest, and David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets his understanding that the expression of interest was made earlier in the offseason, before other moves occurred.
  • Lefty Mike Minor will face a hearing with the Braves tomorrow, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman notes on Twitter. $500K remains at stake between the sides ($5.6MM versus $5.1MM).
  • Rays outfielder David DeJesus tells Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that he has prepared for the possibility of being dealt but hopes to remain with Tampa. DeJesus says he is refreshed and ready after a “long, grueling” go of things last year, though as Topkin writes there appears to be a logjam in front of him in the outfield.
  • Alfredo Aceves, a seven-year veteran of the Red Sox and Yankees, will throw for teams this afternoon, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets. Among those expected to be in attendance are the Giants, Padres, Royals, Brewers, and Reds.


Updates On The Top Cuban Free Agents

Yoan Moncada, Hector Olivera and Yadier Alvarez represent the top three names on the Cuban market right now, with Andy Ibanez ranking as perhaps the fourth-most intriguing option from the island. Both Moncada and Ibanez are eligible to sign at any time, while Olivera is still awaiting MLB’s clearance. Alvarez is the furthest from signing, as he’s yet to establish residency in another country, which must be completed before he can begin the process of getting cleared.

There’s been a quite a bit written on each of these four of late, so we’ll look at each on a case-by-case basis within this post. All information is courtesy of this excellent and comprehensive piece from MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez unless otherwise noted.

Yoan Moncada

Moncada has yet to receive a formal offer, Sanchez writes, but he’s worked out privately for the Cubs, D-backs, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rangers, Rays, Tigers and Brewers, and there could be other private workouts to come.  Some scouts are a bit skeptical of Moncada’s ability to hit from the right side of the plate, but the belief is that he won’t require a lengthy stint in the minors before being ready for the big leagues.

Sanchez notes that any team that signs Moncada would have until July 15 to pay the overage tax on what will be a historic bonus, and that bonus can be paid out in installments over the next three years. So, while shelling out the tax due to the league in one lump sum may be onerous for smaller-market clubs like the Padres, the timeline on that payment is at least pushed back a ways.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently spoke to multiple executives regarding Moncada’s potential bonus, and while one estimated that the bonus alone could reach $50MM, others have expressed some skepticism at the numbers that have been thrown around. Rosenthal spoke to execs that are clearly on both ends of the Moncada spectrum, as one estimated a $30MM maximum bonus, with something in the range of $20MM being more likely. Of course, that would still shatter the current record, held by Yoan Lopez ($8.25MM).

Digging further into the Moncada market, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune spoke with Moncada’s agent, David Hastings, who iterated once again that he hopes to have Moncada in camp for Spring Training. Said Hastings of that goal: “Certainly that’s not all within our power, as we have to wait for teams to make a commitment, and we have to choose the team we think best suits my player. But hopefully we’re down to the final stages of the process and we can begin the contract phase.” Hastings added that he wants to give as many as teams as possible the opportunity to bid on his client, so the volume of private workouts Moncada has attended isn’t exactly surprising. Lin characterizes the Padres as a potentially “unlikely, if not improbable destination” for Moncada. The Dodgers and Yankees remain the favorites, per Sanchez.

Hector Olivera

The 29-year-old Olivera, who turns 30 in April, is said to be seeking a five- or six-year pact along the lines of the contracts signed by Yasmany Tomas (six years, $68.5MM with a year-four opt-out) and Rusney Castillo (seven years, $72.5MM), Sanchez writes. (Remember that Oliver’s age and professional experience make him exempt from international spending limitations.) A recent report by Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs depicts that as highly unlikely; McDaniel noted that concerns over Olivera’s age and a blood clot disorder (thrombosis) may limit his contract to three years, or potentially four, if multiple clubs become aggressive. He did concede that something around $10MM annually could be possible.

Sanchez writes that the 6’2″ Olivera is in the best shape of his career and has “wowed” in open showcases and private workouts, leading many to believe he could hit 15 to 20 homers annually.

Were Olivera younger, I’d be more inclined to believe that he could command something in the vicinity of the Tomas and Castillo deals, but I personally can’t envision that for a player of his age. Tomas will be younger than Olivera is right now when his six-year contract expires, and Castillo’s deal runs through just his age-32 season. A six-year pact for Olivera would carry through his age-35 campaign, so despite having seemingly impressive power for a second baseman (he can also play third), those goals seem far-fetched.

Lin notes that the Padres also have some interest in Olivera and may turn their sights his way if they’re unable to land Moncada. Padres pro scouting director/senior adviser Logan White attended Olivera’s final showcase in the Dominican Republic last week, per Lin.

Though Olivera isn’t yet cleared to sign, Sanchez hears that he could sign within 24 hours of being declared a free agent. The Mariners, Braves and Dodgers are the most likely landing spots for Olivera, per Sanchez, who also lists the Yankees and Padres as interested clubs. Clearly, Seattle is an odd fit, given the presence of Robinson Cano and the recently extended Kyle Seager. Perhaps, however, the Mariners would have interest in using Olivera in a corner outfield spot or in some form of super utility capacity.

Yadier Alvarez

One high-ranking NL official told Sanchez that Alvarez was the best 18-year-old pitcher he’s ever seen following a showcase in which he touched 98 mph on the radar gun and also showed a plus slider and above-average changeup. Scouts to whom Sanchez has spoke believe he could eventually become a No. 2 starter. One international scouting director also told Sanchez that given Alvarez’s age and lower asking price, he prefers the right-hander to Moncada.

The Dodgers, D-Backs, Rockies, Nationals, Blue Jays, Padres, A’s, Cardinals, Twins and Brewers are all interested, per Sanchez, with the D-Backs and Nationals as the likeliest destinations at the moment. However, Alvarez is still early on in the process, so those seem the most likely to change of any of Sanchez’s likely destinations.

Andy Ibanez

Ibanez, 21, has drawn comps to Omar Infante, Howie Kendrick, Miguel Cairo and Placido Polanco from scouts, Sanchez writes, although he’s probably a couple of years away from contributing in the Majors. As other reports have indicated, Ibanez’s tools don’t blow scouts away, but he does have Major League potential. Sanchez lists the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, D-Backs, Brewers, Mariners, and Padres as interested parties, with the Yankees, Dodgers and Padres as the likeliest landing spots.


NL East Notes: Roark, Phillies, Reynolds, Mets

The Nationals‘ signing of Max Scherzer dropped righty Tanner Roark — one of the most effective starters in baseball in 2014 — to the bullpen, and Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com examines what the best role for Roark is in 2015. As Zuckerman notes, Roark ranks sixth or better in ERA, WHIP and opponents’ OPS dating back to Aug. 7, 2013, when he made his big league debut. One could make a case, therefore, that he is deserving of a high-leverage spot in what will be a new-look Nationals bullpen, but reducing him to a one-inning role complicates matters if he needs to be stretched out due to an injury to another starter. However, if he’s used in a long relief role, that will limit his usage, particularly given how strong the starting five project to be. The way in which Roark will be deployed figures to be a fascinating storyline for Nats fans, and I should note that there could be longer-reaching ramifications. Pitching in a high-leverage setup role for a year would likely be better for Roark’s first arbitration case as opposed to being used as a long man; accumulating holds and possibly the occasional save would likely be better for his financial future than pitching in blowout games, as many long relievers end up doing. Of course, Roark isn’t arb-eligible until the 2016-17 offseason, so he should still have another season of starting duty to add to his first arbitration platform.

Some more NL East items as Spring Training games draw near…

  • Previous reports have indicated that the Phillies may add veteran depth at shortstop and catcher during Spring Training, but MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki clarifies that the team will only make a move if it is first determined that younger options such as Freddy Galvis and Cameron Rupp aren’t able to fill those roles. Non-roster alternatives are in place at each position, such as Andres Blanco and Chase d’Arnaud at short and Koyie Hill and John Hester behind the dish. However, none of those players has much of a big league track record.
  • Matt Reynolds feels comfortable at shortstop and tells Kevin Kernan of the New York Post that he thinks he can help the team at the position in 2015. Kernan notes that Mets‘ officials consistently praise Reynolds’ focus and determination, and the .343/.405/.454 batting line he compiled between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014 doesn’t do anything to hurt his chances, of course. Reynolds says he is close with Wilmer Flores and hopes to see Flores succeed, adding that the situation “will play itself out.” Reynolds also spoke glowingly of the benefit he’s received from David Wright‘s down-to-Earth nature and willingness to share his wisdom as he’s risen through the ranks. Flores is expected to open the season at shortstop for the Mets, but Reynolds could challenge for time if Flores struggles.
  • The lofty goals publicly expressed by several members of the Mets organization could have harsh ramifications among the fan base should the team struggle, writes Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Matt Harvey is the latest to join the big talk — telling reporters over the weekend (in unprompted fashion) that it was “very realistic” that the team could find itself in the World Series. That the Mets’ offseason has been largely uneventful aside from the addition of Michael Cuddyer is a well-documented fact, and I’d imagine the quiet offseason could expedite a negative reaction to stated expectations should the team struggle in the early-going.

East Notes: Phillies, Zimmerman, Porcello

The big fish are off the market, but the Marlins are still looking to pick up a couple of notable relievers.  Miami is interested in signing Phil Coke to a minor league deal and they’re still open to inking Francisco Rodriguez.  Signing Coke to a minor league deal might not be a reality, however.  The 32-year-old is seeking a $2MM guarantee and is getting interest for a major league deal, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. More from the AL and NL East..

  • Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee won’t be winning any championships in Philadelphia this season, but they could help the Phillies win one down the road, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes.  Both players have been involved in trade rumors, of course, but it’s likely that they’ll start the season with the team and get moved sometime before the July 31st trade deadline. “Sometimes trades take two years to do, sometimes they take seven minutes,” GM Ruben Amaro said recently.  Amaro recently indicated that as many as eight teams have kicked the tires on Hamels and four have made “real” offers.
  • With five years and $74MM left on the contract extension he signed in 2012, Ryan Zimmerman may no longer be the face of the Nationals‘ franchise, but he’s still one of the team’s most important players, as Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider writes. This season, his ability to make a permanent position switch at the age of 30 may go a long way towards determining how far the Nats can go in 2015 and beyond.
  • Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald looked at Rick Porcello, who has the unique opportunity of becoming a free agent before his 27th birthday.  Boston is still without a true ace and the right-hander is being counted on by many to fill that role.
  • On Saturday, our own Mark Polishuk looked at Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro as a trade candidate.

Jerry Blevins Wins Arbitration Hearing Against Nationals

Lefty Jerry Blevins has emerged victorious in his arbitration hearing against the Nationals, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports on Twitter. He will take home $2.4MM instead of the team’s $2.2MM submission.

Blevins, 31, had a mixed bag of a first season in D.C. He threw 57 1/3 innings of 4.87 ERA ball, hardly the result that the team hoped for when it dealt for him last winter. But his peripherals (a career-high 10.4 K/9 vs. 3.6 BB/9) led ERA estimators to value his effort much more highly. His 2.77 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, and 2.93 SIERA are all career bests.

Other than an unseasonably low strand rate (60.5%), Blevins’s biggest enemy was his difficult in limiting free passes to right-handed hitters. He walked nearly 14% of all righties who stepped in against him.

The Nationals will hope that the results catch back up to the peripherals this time around. Blevins is set to hit the open market at the end of the season.


Minor Moves: Jimenez, Fornataro, Davies, Elmore, Alderson

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…

  • The Phillies have outrighted lefty Cesar Jimenez to Triple-A, according to the International League transactions page. Despite inking a one-year deal to avoid arbitration back in October, Jimenez lost his roster spot to Chad Billingsley. He had strong results last year both in the bigs and upper minors, working to a 1.69 ERA in 16 MLB frames and a 1.45 mark over 49 2/3 innings at Triple-A.
  • Likewise, the Nationals passed righty Eric Fornataro through waivers and assigned him to Triple-A, the club announced. Washington claimed Fornataro off waivers from the Cardinals earlier in the offseason, then designated him to make room for Casey Janssen. The 27-year-old reached the bigs last year for the first time, but spent most of his season working to a 2.57 ERA in 56 Triple-A innings.
  • The Yankees have inked right-hander Kyle Davies to a minor league deal, Sweeny Murti of WFAN reports on Twitter. Davies, 31, has worked in the minors over the past two years with the Twins and Indians organization, tossing 154 1/3 innings of 3.91 ERA ball last year. He has seven years in the bigs on his resume, though he owns a career 5.59 ERA with 6.4 K/9 against 4.3 BB/9.
  • The Rays announced that they’ve signed utility man Jake Elmore to a minor league deal and invited him to Major League Spring Training. The 27-year-old Elmore elected free agency last week after being outrighted by the Pirates. He spent last season with the Triple-A affiliates for the Reds and the A’s (plus a brief MLB stint with Cincinnati), batting .281/.376/.345. Elmore’s most extensive MLB experience came with Houston in 2013, when he batted .242/.313/.325 in 136 plate appearances. Elmore played every position on the diamond with Houston that season, and he even pitched and caught in the same game.
  • Right-hander Tim Alderson signed a minor league deal with the Nationals, according to the team’s transactions page. San Francisco selected Alderson 22nd overall in 2007, and in the 2008-09 range, he was one of the organization’s top pitching prospects, alongside Madison Bumgarner. Alderson twice ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100, but his career stalled after he was flipped to the Pirates in the Freddy Sanchez trade of 2009. Now 26, Alderson has a lifetime 5.02 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 129 Triple-A innings, and a 4.24 ERA in his minor league career as a whole.

Quick Hits: Fielder, De Aza, Maddon, Scherzer

Prince Fielder is one of several players whose hoped-for return to past production levels will go a long way toward determining the near-term fate of the Rangers. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News provides an interesting profile of Fielder, who says he is recharged, newly appreciative, and raring to go for 2015.

Here are a few more notes from around the league:

  • The Orioles are headed toward an arbitration hearing with outfielder Alejandro De Aza, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. Executive VP Dan Duquette explains that the club informed De Aza it had made him its best offer and would take a “file to go” strategy from that point forward. He expressed surprise that the team’s $5MM proposal was not accepted, noting that there had been discussions of a two-year deal as well. De Aza filed at $5.65MM, which actually falls shy of the $5.9MM that MLBTR and Matt Swartz projected. Baltimore’s arbitration strategy was actually the first topic covered by Kubatko in his recent appearance on the MLBTR Podcast.
  • MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said today that the league’s investigation into possible tampering by the Cubs into then-Rays manager Joe Maddon is still in progress, as ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers reports. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Maddon’s agent, Alen Nero, have both insisted that nothing untoward occurred, but it appears that MLB will take its time and cover the matter thoroughly before coming to any conclusions.
  • Max Scherzer‘s departure from the Tigers appears to have been all but a formality from the point that he rejected the club’s $140MM offer last spring, as the righty explained to MLB.com’s Jason Beck. Scherzer said that he wasn’t interested in holding contract talks during the season, and that the club was not interested in negotiating when Scherzer’s camp “reached out” over the offseason. Indeed, Scherzer said that both he and Rick Porcello realized some time ago that the club was likely going to undergo a lot of turnover in the coming years, which has indeed been the case.
  • As for his choice of the Nationals, Scherzer gave some further details on how the end game went down: “Of the teams that were really down to the end, the Nationals gave me the best opportunity [to win]. So because of that, that’s the recent why I told Scott [Boras] at the end, ‘Let’s just negotiate with the Nationals.'”

Nationals Sign Casey Janssen

The Nationals look to have found a replacement for recently traded setup man Tyler Clippard, as the team announced on Monday the signing of right-hander Casey Janssen to a one-year contract with a mutual option. The ACES client will reportedly receive a $5MM guarantee in the form of a $3.5MM 2015 salary and a $1.5MM buyout on his $7MM mutual option. He can also reportedly earn up to $500K via performance bonuses.

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The 33-year-old Janssen was one of the best remaining options on the relief market and has spent the bulk of the past three seasons serving as Toronto’s closer. His stats took a tumble in 2014, though some of that decline may have been attributable to a violent case of food poisoning. Janssen reportedly lost eight pounds in a single day as a result of that episode, and he likely rushed back to the mound too soon; Janssen spent two days on an IV to rehydrate his body and the next day began a stretch of five appearances in eight days.

Overall, he posted a 6.26 ERA in the second half that caused his overall mark on the season to balloon to 3.94. Janssen showed his typically excellent command in 2014, walking just 1.4 hitters per nine innings, but his strikeout rate curiously dipped, even during his healthy first half. Janssen averaged just 5.5 K/9 in 2014 — a decline of three strikeouts per nine when compared to his previous four seasons of work.

A rocky 2014 notwithstanding, Janssen’s work dating back to the 2011 season is nothing short of outstanding when judged as a whole. In that time, he’s worked to a 2.77 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 43 percent ground-ball rate. He saved 83 games for Toronto in that stretch and should give Nationals manager Matt Williams an experienced safety net for closer Drew Storen. However, Storen posted a sensational 1.12 ERA in 2014 and took over the ninth inning late in the season after Rafael Soriano struggled. His ERA and the fact that he closed out the year with a stretch of 20 innings without allowing an earned run likely still makes Storen the favorite for saves in 2015.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the deal (on Twitter). The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga broke down the financial terms (Twitter links). Rosenthal later tweeted the details about Janssen’s incentives.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.