Washington Nationals Rumors

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

Quick Hits: Bailey, Burnett, Twins, Samardzija

Even though most of Alex Rodriguez's 2014 salary will be wiped out by his season-long PED suspension, the controversial slugger's contract is still ranked as the worst in baseball by Grantland's Jonah Keri.  Of Keri's list of the 15 worst contracts in the sport, the Dodgers have four, the Yankees, Angels and Braves each have two and the Reds, Rangers, Phillies, Blue Jays and White Sox have one each.

Here are some items from around the baseball world…

  • The Reds and Homer Bailey are "still talking" about a multiyear contract, GM Walt Jocketty tells MLB.com's Mark Sheldon.  "There has not been a lot of progress, but good conversations anyhow," Jocketty said.  Bailey's arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 20 and there is a $2.9MM gap ($11.6MM to $8.7MM) between his demands and the Reds' offer for a 2014 contract.  This is Bailey's last season under contract with Cincinnati and the two sides are reportedly far apart on a long-term deal.  Sheldon suggests that the Reds will be watching the Indians' case with Justin Masterson, as he and Bailey have posted comparable numbers over the last three years and Masterson is also scheduled to be a free agent next offseason.
  • The Pirates offered A.J. Burnett a $12MM contract for 2014, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link).  This obviously fell short of the $16MM Burnett received from the Phillies earlier today.
  • The Twins aren't one of the teams interested in Emilio Bonifacio, 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson reports (via Twitter).  Bonifacio cleared release waivers and became a free agent earlier today.  The Orioles are known to be one of at least nine teams interested in the speedy utilityman.
  • Also from Wolfson, a Twins official said that the club "had extensive talks" about Erisbel Arruebarruena but he was judged to be too expensive.  The Cuban shortstop agreed to a deal with the Dodgers today that could be worth as much as $25MM.
  • The Cubs can afford to be patient in trading Jeff Samardzija, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan argues, as teams may be more willing to meet Chicago's large asking price once the free agent pitching market thins out and teams get more desperate once the season begins.
  • Right-hander Josh Roenicke is drawing interest from a "handful of teams" and could be signed soon, a source tells MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo (Twitter link).  Roenicke posted a 4.35 ERA, 6.5 K/9 and 1.25 K/BB rate in 62 relief innings with the Twins in 2013 before being outrighted off Minnesota's roster in November.
  • Also from Cotillo, right-hander Blake Hawksworth has retired.  Hawksworth posted a 4.07 ERA and 1.85 K/BB over 124 games (eight as a starter) with the Cardinals and Dodgers from 2009-11 before elbow and shoulder injuries derailed his career.  Hawksworth has taken a job with the Boras Corporation, his former agency.
  • Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill discussed the club's recent signing of Carlos Marmol with Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
  • Luis Ayala chose to sign a minor league deal with the Nationals since they (as the Expos) were the franchise that originally signed him and he still has many friends in the organization, the veteran reliever tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.  Several teams were linked to Ayala this offseason but the bidding came down to the Nats, Tigers and Phillies.

East Notes: Nationals, Madson, Mets, Orioles, Santana, Yoon, Yankees

 Here are some notes from the game's eastern divisions:

  • After watching rehabbing reliever Ryan Madson throw on Friday, the Nationals came away impressed, reports James Wagner of the Washington Post. Reportedly throwing in front of representatives from 15 clubs, Madson is said to have touched 93 mph during the session. 
  • Nationals rotation candidate Taylor Jordan suffered a broken ankle over the off-season, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Jordan seems to be ready to go, though manager Matt Williams says the club will keep a close eye on him to ensure that ankle issues do not impact his motion and create bigger problems. 
  • Mets GM Sandy Alderson spoke again about the club's shortstop situation, Marc Carig of Newsday reports. He tempered expectations of a Stephen Drew signing, saying that it remained possible but only "under the right circumstances." Alderson also said that the team was looking to the trade market, but a rival executive tells Carig that New York would probably need to give up young pitching to add anything worthwhile up the middle.
  • The Orioles have stepped up their interest in Ervin Santana since losing out on Bronson Arroyo, tweets Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Though he is not sure how heavily the club will pursue the free agent starter, Connolly says that Baltimore is definitely still in the mix.
  • Speculation arose that South Korean hurler Suk-min Yoon may have signed with the Orioles after a picture was apparently sent from his Twitter account purportedly showing him donning an O's cap. But two high-ranking team officials tell MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko that they have heard nothing about an agreement with Yoon (Twitter link). Likewise, a source tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter) that no agreement has been reached. Baltimore has certainly been linked to the 27-year-old, but as of now it is just one of five clubs in the mix, according to Rosenthal.
  • Filling in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees expect to use Kelly Johnson as the left-handed side of a platoon at third, reports Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger. GM Brian Cashman said that the team would pick from among "a cast of characters that are going to compete for that spot on the right side."

Nationals Avoid Arbitration With Tyler Clippard

The Nationals and setup ace Tyler Clippard have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $5.875MM, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter).

Clippard, 29 on Friday, exchanged figures with the Nats last month. He and his agents at Excel Sports Management filed for a hefty $6.35MM, while the Nationals countered at $4.45MM. His ultimate salary falls north of the $5.4MM midpoint but comes in south of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz's projected $6.2MM payday.

The Nationals brought in a new closer in the form of Rafael Soriano last offseason, leaving Clippard with little hope of repeating his 32 saves from the 2012 campaign. A shift to the seventh and eighth innings didn't harm his production one bit, however, as he continued his success to the tune of a 2.41 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 73 innings. Over the past five seasons, Clippard has a 2.72 ERA in 383 1/3 innings to go along with averages of 10.3 strikeouts and 3.6 walks per nine innings pitched. He's controllable through the 2015 as a Super Two player, as he currently falls just 24 days shy of five full years of service (4.148).

As MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker shows, the Nationals have now successfully avoided hearings with all 10 of their arbitration eligible players.

Nationals To Sign Luis Ayala

2:19pm: MLB.com's Bill Ladson tweets that Ayala would earn $1MM were he to make the club out of Spring Training. Ayala will receive a $500K bonus for appearing in 60 games — a mark Ayala has reached just once since 2008 (in 2012 with Baltimore).

10:55am: The Nationals and Luis Ayala have agreed to a minor league contract. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first tweeted that the two sides were nearing a deal.

Ayala, a client of Boston Sports Counsel's Dan Rosquete, joins Jamey Carroll as the second member of the original 2005 Nationals to return to the club on a minor league deal this offseason. The 36-year-old posted a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings for the Braves last season after being traded over from the Orioles in the first couple weeks of the season (April 10). With Atlanta, Ayala averaged 5.8 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 to go along with a strong 59.6 percent ground-ball rate. However, he also spent just over two months on the disabled list with anxiety disorder, resulting in the diminished innings total.

Ayala's future in the Majors looked questionable following a tough stretch from 2009-10. He signed with the Twins heading into the '09 campaign but posted a 4.18 ERA before getting released, and he allowed 10 runs in 7 2/3 innings after being picked up by the Marlins that season. The end result was a 5.63 ERA, and he didn't fare any better in 2010 when he posted a combined 6.42 ERA at the Triple-A level between three different organizations.

Since that pair of difficult seasons, however, Ayala has revitalized his career with a rock-solid 2.58 ERA, 6.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 164 innings for the Yankees, Orioles and Braves. Ayala will look to work his way into a bullpen that features right-handers Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Craig Stammen in addition to lefty Jerry Blevins.

Nationals, Luis Ayala Closing In On Agreement

The Nationals are closing in on a deal with right-hander Luis Ayala, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter). Ayala is represented by Boston Sports Counsel's Daniel Rosquete.

The 36-year-old Ayala posted a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings for the Braves last season after being traded over from the Orioles in the first couple weeks of the season (April 10). With Atlanta, Ayala averaged 5.8 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 to go along with a strong 59.6 percent ground-ball rate.

Ayala's future in the Majors was in doubt following a brutal stretch from 2009-10. He signed with the Twins heading into the '09 campaign but posted a 4.18 ERA before getting released, and he allowed 10 runs in 7 2/3 innings after being picked up by the Marlins that season. The end result was a 5.63 ERA, and he didn't fare any better in 2010 when he posted a combined 6.42 ERA at the Triple-A level between three different organizations.

Since that pair of difficult seasons, however, Ayala has revitalized his career with a rock-solid 2.58 ERA, 6.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 164 innings for the Yankees, Orioles and Braves.

Twelve Teams Have Asked Nationals About Espinosa

FEBRUARY 6: At least twelve teams have inquired with the Nationals about Espinosa's availability, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. However, the team remains unlikely at present to deal Espinosa, Ladson says.

Though Anthony Rendon has the inside track at the starting gig at second, Espinosa will have a shot at taking his job back. Alternative outcomes include Espinosa making the club as a reserve or starting out in Triple-A on optional assignment. But Espinosa represents important middle infield depth and still has tantalizing upside at age 26, leaving the Nats uninterested in selling low.

DECEMBER 10: The Nats are balking at moving Espinosa despite interest from the Yankees, among other clubs, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

DECEMBER 9, 6:29pm: One Nationals executive told Kilgore that the Nats aren't shopping Espinosa. Beyond that, GM Mike Rizzo plainly stated that he expects Espinosa to be his team's utility infielder in 2014, noting that despite a lack of experience at the hot corner, Espinosa has the tools to play third base. Kilgore writes that Espinosa has a big proponent in Rizzo, and the Nationals are determined not to sell low on the switch-hitter.

4:25pm: The Nationals are shopping Danny Espinosa in trade talks, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports (via Twitter). Passan adds that if the Nats are unable to find a deal they like for Espinosa, the infielder could fill the utility role vacated by Steve Lombardozzi.

After a couple solid seasons in Washington, Espinosa saw his production fall off a cliff in 2013 due in part to injuries. In 2011 and 2012, he was an everyday player for the Nats, hitting 38 homers with a .727 OPS in over 1300 plate appearances.

GM Mike Rizzo told reporters today, including Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com (Twitter link), that the Nats will be "open-minded" and won't be afraid to make a trade. However, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post says (via Twitter) that he'd be surprised if the team moves Espinosa, having already rebuffed teams like the Rays and Cardinals, who have tried to buy low.

AL East Notes: Davis, Yoon, Lobaton, Yankees

It's been a busy day for Orioles news, as so far we've heard that the O's are one of three finalists for Bronson Arroyo, Baltimore signed Jack Cust and Evan Meek to minor league contracts, Grantland's Jonah Keri explored the team's recent spending history and its MASN TV contract, and MLBTR's Steve Adams wrapped up even a few more O's items as part of an East Notes post.  Heck, why stop now?  Here are more Orioles tidbits plus more news from around the AL East…

  • Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135MM extension with the Braves could very well change the parameters for the Orioles' possible extension with Chris Davis, observes MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko.  "If Davis comes close to duplicating his 2013 season, [agent Scott] Boras will view Freeman's salary as chump change," Kubatko writes.  The Braves' deal with Freeman, 24, covered his three remaining arbitration-eligible years and his first five free agent years, while the 28-year-old Davis has just one year of arbitration eligibility remaining before hitting free agency following the 2015 season.
  • Also from Kubatko, he questions if the Orioles would make a multiyear offer to Suk-min Yoon given his shoulder history and how the O's were recently burned by Tsuyoshi Wada's injury history.  With Yoon looking for a two-year commitment and the Rangers, Giants, Cubs and Twins all showing, a one-year offer might not be enough to get it done for the Orioles.
  • The Rays have been talking to the Nationals about a Jose Lobaton trade for at least a month, MLB.com's Bill Ladson reports, though the two sides can't settle on what the Rays would get back in return.  Though the Nats are one of several teams interested in Lobaton, Tampa Bay is in no hurry to deal the catcher and could wait until Spring Training begins to move him.
  • The Yankees' struggles to draft and develop quality minor league talent in recent years is chronicled by ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand.
  • Over at Roto Authority, MLBTR's fantasy baseball-focused sister site, I looked at which of the Orioles' Manny Machado or the Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie is the better bet for fantasy success in 2014.

East Notes: Orioles, Nationals, MASN, Braves

In a feature piece for Grantland, Jonah Keri profiles the Baltimore Orioles franchise, tracing the club's recent history to its current position. Keri shows positive perspectives on the team's oft-criticized owner, Peter Angelos, and credits GM Dan Duquette (and predecessory Andy MacPhail) with some shrewd moves that gave the team its solid current core. Nevertheless, Keri writes that Baltimore's generally average-or-below payroll tends to leave the impression that the O's are "spending like the Royals when they can afford to shell out more" and, "in a division that demands greatness, [have] resigned themselves to merely being good."

  • One reason that Keri suggests the Orioles have untapped spending capacity is the team's unique TV rights situation. As Keri explains, Baltimore has a dominant position in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN, the RSN that enjoys both the Orioles and Nationals broadcast rights) and has been able to keep much of its position from the MLB revenue sharing system. Especially after the successful 2012 season for both clubs, the deal has been massively beneficial to the Orioles, but has seemingly not resulted in a corresponding increase in the team's payroll. Keri does note that one valid reason for caution in spending: the possibility of the deal being forcibly renegotiated against the Orioles' favor. 
  • On the other side of the ledger, Keri reports, a seemingly intractable situation for the Nationals has been ameliorated somewhat by league intervention. Stuck with little equity and a middling annual rights fee payout, the Nationals have nevertheless had their side of the deal sweetened by an undisclosed cash stipend that is paid to the club each year by MLB.
  • For the Braves, meanwhile, their own unfavorable TV deal has left the front office looking for creative ways to keep the team's outstanding young talent in Atlanta. As David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, GM Frank Wren explained that the team's $135MM extension of first baseman Freddie Freeman was the culmination of months of planning and, potentially, the first of several moves designed to maintain the club's core. "We're looking at how we can keep our team together, especially our young, homegrown players," said Wren. "And we looked at how we could strategize to make that happen." Of particular importance, the GM acknowledged, is the team's new stadium plans. "There is also an element of the new situation in Cobb County that allows us to be more competitive, and I think it's evident by this signing," Wren said. 

Trade Talks For Jose Lobaton Heating Up

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports (via Twitter) that trade talks for Rays catcher Jose Lobaton have begun to heat up. Topkin notes that teams with interest or need at the position include the Diamondbacks, Indians, Rockies, White Sox, Mets and Nationals.

The 29-year-old Lobaton slashed a solid .249/.320/.394 with seven homers for the Rays in 2013 and also belted one of the most dramatic and improbable home runs of the postseason. A switch-hitter, Lobaton has historically been better from the right side of the dish than the left, but he bucked that trend and swung the bat better as a lefty (.736 OPS) than as a righty (.653) in 2013.

While Lobaton is a solid, controllable bat — he is a Super Two player that is not eligible for free agency until the 2017-18 offseason — at a thin position, he also comes with some defensive question marks. Lobaton has caught just 16 percent of attempted base stealers in his career and was below average at blocking pitches in the dirt in 2013 (per Fangraphs). While he's not a poor pitch-framer, he also doesn't add significant value in that department, either (per Matthew Carruth's work at StatCorner).

Lobaton has been connected to the White Sox and Nationals in trade talks so far this offseason, with the Nats being the most recently linked club. A trade would seem to be beneficial for both Lobaton and the Rays; the Rays acquired and extended Ryan Hanigan this offseason in addition to re-signing Jose Molina, leaving Lobaton without a clear path to playing time. Additionally, a trade would save the Rays a bit of cash, as Lobaton avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $900K salary for 2014.

Nationals Sign Koyie Hill

10:59am: Hill's contract contains a July 1 opt-out clause that allows him to elect free agency if he's not on the Major League roster by that time, tweets MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo.

9:50am: The Nationals announced that they have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with veteran catcher Koyie Hill (Twitter link). The Turner Gary Sports client also received an invitation to Major League Spring Training.

Though he's a career .206/.266/.287 hitter, Hill has carved out a nice career for himself as a backup catcher. The switch-hitting 34-year-old (he turns 35 in March) has tallied 1027 plate appearances in the Major Leagues and recorded at least 10 big league games per season dating back to 2007. He spent the 2013 campaign with the Marlins, batting .155/.183/.190 in the Majors (61 PAs) and .237/.291/.326 at Triple-A. Hill is a career .268/.326/.411 hitter at the Triple-A level.

The Nationals have been on the lookout for catching depth of late as they look to find a backup for starter Wilson Ramos. They've reportedly had recent discussions with the Rays about a Jose Lobaton deal.