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Washington Nationals Rumors
Per the latest iteration of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, players with six years of service time who finished the 2014 season on a 40-man roster or on the 60-day DL but signed Minor League deals over the offseason are entitled to a $100K retention bonus if their new team wishes to assign them to the Minor Leagues. Otherwise, they must be added to the MLB roster or Major League disabled list. Players who do receive the retention bonus are also given June 1 opt-out dates in their Minor League pacts.
MLBTR’s Jeff Todd ran down a list of this year’s Article XX(B) free agents earlier in the month, and we’re now arriving at the juncture of Spring Training where decisions must be made on these players — the deadline will come at 11am CT tomorrow. Many such players have already been released or granted their release today (some will re-sign with the teams that released them, as Chris Perez did in Milwaukee), but here are updates on players who were paid this bonus or learned that they’ve made their respective teams…
- Yahoo’s Jeff Passan tweets that utility man Kelly Johnson has made the Braves‘ 25-man roster. Johnson inked a Minor League pact that included a yet-unreported base salary. His versatility, the organization’s familiarity with him and the fact that the 32-year-old slashed a hefty .273/.396/.523 with a pair of homers in 54 plate appearances this spring likely all factored into the decision.
- The Nationals will pay left-hander Rich Hill the $100K retention bonus, tweets James Wagner of the Washington Post. The 35-year-old yielded a pair of runs in 7 1/3 innings this spring and will give the Nats some left-handed relief depth. Of course, the Nats also just traded away some lefty relief by dealing out-of-options southpaw Jerry Blevins and his $2.4MM salary to the Mets.
- Padres catcher Wil Nieves has received a $100K retention bonus, tweets Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Nieves is still in the running for the team’s backup catching slot, Lin adds. Tim Federowicz was slated to be the team’s backup, but knee surgery has sidelined him for the next several months. The team must make a final call by this Sunday.
- The D-Backs and catcher Gerald Laird and agreed to a five-day extension that will allow him to remain in big league camp, reports Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona (on Twitter). Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic adds some clarity, noting that Laird still received the $100K retention bonus but will have the opportunity to fight for a roster spot (Twitter link). The five days will give the Snakes a bit more time to determine whether or not they want to take the veteran Laird north with them to open the season.
- The Blue Jays have paid the $100K retention bonus to both Johan Santana and Munenori Kawasaki, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. Both players were on Minor League deals, but Santana didn’t get into a game with the big league club as he continued to rehab from injury. Kawasaki hit .333/.481/.571 in 27 plate appearances but didn’t make the big league roster. He’ll head to Triple-A and wait for a call to the Majors in an organization with which he is quite familiar and where he is quite popular among the coaches and his teammates.
- Right-handers Brad Penny and Jesse Crain both received retention bonuses from the White Sox, Passan also reports (on Twitter). The duo will remain in the Minors in the hopes of a spot opening with the big league club. Penny struggled to a 6.89 ERA in 15 2/3 innings this spring, though little can be gleaned from such a small sample, and he did issue only four walks along the way. Crain, like his former Twins teammate Santana in Toronto, didn’t pitch in a big league game as he continued to rehab from injuries that cost him the entire 2014 season in Houston.
- Both Geovany Soto and Matt Albers, on the other hand, have made the White Sox‘ roster and will be added to the 40-man, Passan reports in the aforementioned tweet. Presumably, Soto will be in the mix for everyday at-bats behind the plate following a strong spring performance. Albers will slot into the bullpen and bring an experienced arm to serve as a right-handed setup option. Soto’s base salary is an unknown, wheres Albers stands to reportedly receive a $1.5MM base for making the club.
The Mets and Lucas Duda intend to cut off extension negotiations when the season opens, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com writes. It remains to be seen whether anything gets done, of course, especially since the 29-year-old still has just one complete season of strong performance on his ledger. A league executive tells Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com that the comparables suggest a deal in the four-year, $30MM range could make sense, pointing to the cases of Allen Craig, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler. In spite of his somewhat late start, Duda could have a higher earning capacity than that trio if he keeps hitting thirty-plus home runs.
- One notable new feature of Mets camp has been the presence of owner Fred Wilpon, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes. Though Wilpon has not said much publicly, he has been fairly visible and active behind the scenes, says Martino, consistently conveying the message that he expects winning baseball.
- Phillies righty Miguel Gonzalez looks like he may never pay off on the team’s investment, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes, particularly since he has not managed to earn a job in spite of the team’s desperate need for arms. “He hasn’t pitched well enough to be a major league starter for us,” said GM Ruben Amaro Jr. “His stuff and his command just weren’t good enough. It’s kind of simple. He needs to be better for us to utilize him in our rotation. He’ll go down and pitch and hopefully he improves. If he doesn’t, then he doesn’t.” Amaro continued to acknowledge: “He hasn’t performed as well as we would have liked. He may never perform as well as we would have liked, but that’s the risk you take. Sometimes, you’ve got to take a risk.”
- Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post takes a look in at Nationals shortstop-to-be Trea Turner, who is currently still with the Padres until he can formally be sent to D.C. The club had to check with the league to see if the deal could be structured that way, and pulled the trigger when it found it would be permitted. Washington had been intrigued with Turner in last year’s draft, says Svrluga, and a strong entry into the professional ranks has only raised his stock. For his part, as he waits to get introduced to a new organization, Turner says that his former team has “treated me just like one of their players.”
9:23pm: Johnson will earn $1MM if he makes the roster, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson tweets.
3:36pm: Though outfielder Reed Johnson was released by the Marlins earlier this morning, his brush with unemployment will apparently be fleeting, as the Nationals announced that they’ve signed him to a Minor League contract. Johnson, 38, will report to big league camp and be in the mix for a bench spot.
The Nationals could use some additional outfield depth with Denard Span likely out through mid-May and Jayson Werth unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. As I noted this morning in discussing Johnson’s release, while his overall work with the bat is light, he’s still a solid option against left-handed pitching. Johnson batted .303/.319/.409 in 69 PA against lefties last year and is a lifetime .310/.363/.454 hitter when facing opposite-handed pitching. He has experience in center field but is likely best suited for left field at this stage of his career.
It remains unclear exactly how the Nationals’ outfield situation will play out, but prospect Michael Taylor figures to slide into Span’s spot and receive the bulk of the playing time in center field.
The Mets announced that they’ve acquired left-hander Jerry Blevins from the Nationals in exchange for outfielder Matt den Dekker (Twitter link). Blevins becomes the second left-handed reliever added to the Mets’ bullpen today, as the team struck a deal to acquire Alex Torres from the Padres in exchange for Minor League righty Cory Mazzoni and a player to be named later.
Blevins, 31, had a curious season in his lone year with Washington. Though his strikeout rate soared to a career-best 10.4 K/9, he also posted a 4.87 ERA that was the worst full-season mark of his career. The likely culprit in Blevin’s struggles was a dismal 60.5 percent strand rate that checked in about 13 percent below his career mark. Stats such as FIP (2.77), xFIP (3.25) and SIERA (2.93) all feel that Blevins was particularly unlucky and that his ERA should rebound in 2015.
Perhaps more important in this situation, however, are Blevins’ numbers against left-handed hitters. Torres has proven that he can retire both left- and right-handed hitters and has actually been better against righties, so Blevins could be deployed as more of a specialist, whereas Torres will pitch entire innings. Blevins limited left-handed hitters to a frail .160/.202/.217 batting line in 2014 and has held them to just a .212/.264/.330 batting line throughout his career.
Blevins is set to earn $2.4MM this season after avoiding arbitration for the final time this winter. He’s only controlled for the coming year, so he amounts to a bullpen rental.
Of course, the price paid for Blevins isn’t necessarily steep. The 27-year-old den Dekker has played sparingly for New York over the past few seasons, hitting .238/.325/.310 in 237 plate appearances. More of den Dekker’s value is on the defensive side of the game, as he’s capable of handling all three outfield spots. He boasts a nice Minor League track record as well, having slashed .284/.345/.467 in 903 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. Despite that, though, den Dekker was a long shot to make the club. The out-of-options Kirk Nieuwenhuis figures to be the team’s fourth outfielder behind Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer, and John Mayberry Jr. will also be in the mix for outfield playing time.
This acquisition does call into question whether or not left-hander Sean Gilmartin, a Rule 5 pick from the Twins, will make the team. Earlier today, reports indicated that Gilmartin was likely to break camp with the team even if the Mets added a left-handed reliever from outside the organization. While adding a pair of southpaws might seem to cloud that situation, manager Terry Collins has indicated that Gilmartin still has a good chance of making the team, per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, which could then be bad news for veteran right-hander Buddy Carlyle (Twitter links).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Phillies may be preparing to add their fifth starter from outside the organization, according to a tweet from Jayson Stark of ESPN. Stark spoke with an executive who asked the Phillies who their fifth starter was expected to be and received a reply of, “He’s not here yet.” A number of rotation options have been released over the past few days, including Jhoulys Chacin, Scott Baker and Felix Doubront. More releases figure to come soon, and other rotation options will be placed on waivers as we get late into camp. I’d be surprised if the Phillies made any form of significant move, but adding someone with a bit of upside, such as Chacin, could prove beneficial if they can get him back on track. The Phillies will go with Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, David Buchanan and Jerome Williams in their first four rotation spots.
Here’s more from the NL East…
- The Mets are confident that they can land a left-handed reliever before Opening Day, but even if they do bring in someone from the outside, Rule 5 lefty Sean Gilmartin has a good chance of making the club, per ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin. Gilmartin, 25 in May, was the Braves’ first-round pick in 2011 but was traded to the Twins for Ryan Doumit last offseason. Gilmartin posted a combined 3.71 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 145 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A for the Twins last season, but they made the at least somewhat curious decision to leave him unprotected in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. With the Mets this spring, Gilmartin has allowed five runs in 8 2/3 innings with an 11-to-5 K/BB ratio. Last year in the Minors, Gilmartin held lefties to a miserable .201/.219/.235 batting line.
- Marlins manager Mike Redmond tells Tom D’Angelo of the Palm Beach Post that he “lost a few nights of sleep” over the decision to cut Reed Johnson, who was released earlier this morning. Redmond spoke highly of Johnson’s influence on the team’s young hitters last season and voiced an opinion that while he expects Johnson to get picked up by another club, he also can see him transitioning to a coaching or even managerial role in the future. Redmond called the 38-year-old Johnson “a guy who has truly earned everything he’s been given in this game.” D’Angelo notes that Jordany Valdespin, Don Kelly, Donovan Solano and Reid Brignac are competing for the final two bench spots in Miami. The Marlins are prioritizing taking someone who can play shortstop for one of the two spots.
- Tom Schad of the Washington Times spoke to Nationals right-hander Casey Janssen and was told that the setup man isn’t sure if he’ll be ready for Opening Day. Janssen underwent an MRI on his right shoulder yesterday and while the results haven’t been released yet, Janssen said he doesn’t believe the test indicated a significant injury.
9:05am: The Red Sox announced that they have acquired Leon from the Nationals in exchange for cash considerations. In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, Vazquez has been placed on the 60-day disabled list with a sprained right elbow.
7:05am: Catcher Sandy Leon tells James Wagner of the Washington Post (Twitter link) that he has been traded to the Red Sox. The 26-year-old Leon was out of options and unlikely to break camp with the Nationals, and the Sox have a need behind the plate with Christian Vazquez‘s immediate future uncertain as he deals with an elbow injury.
Leon, a switch-hitter, has played sparingly over the past three seasons, totaling 107 plate appearances in the Major Leagues and hitting just .189/.280/.253 in that extremely small sample. Leon’s track record in Triple-A — a .257/.358/.414 triple slash — is more impressive, but it, too, has come in a small sample of just 257 PA. Overall, Leon is a .236/.324/.329 hitter in the Minors, but he’s been a dominant force behind the plate when protecting against the running game, as he’s gunned down 45 percent of base stealers in his Minor League career.
Vazquez is slated to meet with Dr. James Andrews this week after an MRI has led to speculation that he could require Tommy John surgery. The move would be a significant blow to the Sox and devastating news for Vazquez, who was in line to see significant time behind the plate this year. Boston has already acquired Ryan Hanigan this winter, and he figures to receive the bulk of the playing time behind the dish.
The wild card in Boston’s catching situation is top prospect Blake Swihart, whose name has continually surfaced in Cole Hamels trade rumors. However, the Sox have steadfastly refused to consider trading Swihart, who is regarded as a Top 20 prospect in the game. Swihart batted a combined .293/.341/.469 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he’s had an excellent spring, hitting .296/.345/.444. Some have speculated that the 23-year-old could break camp with the club if Vazquez has a serious enough injury, but the addition of Leon gives the Red Sox the ability to give Swihart a bit more time to develop in the Minors if they wish. Swihart played just 18 games at the Triple-A level last season, so it would be understandable if Boston was yet uncertain about rushing their prized prospect to the Major Leagues.
Second baseman Dan Uggla has done enough to make the Opening Day roster, but it’s unclear how he’ll be used, writes Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider. After a couple dismal seasons, Uggla is in camp as a NRI. He’s hit a solid .278/.422/.500 after undergoing a new vision treatment over the offseason.
His lack of defensive versatility makes him difficult to roster. The club intends to use Yunel Escobar at second base with Danny Espinosa as a utility infielder. Uggla has an opt out, so he’s unlikely to remain with the organization if he’s assigned to the minors. Per Uggla, he wouldn’t feel comfortable in a reserve role. Once Anthony Rendon returns from injury, it’s hard to imagine the Nationals finding a place to keep Uggla.
- Reliever Casey Janssen will undergo a MRI on his sore pitching shoulder, reports James Wagner of the Washington Post. Manager Matt Williams described the injury as “generally it’s in his lat…it’s not something that’s normal soreness for him.” That’s worrisome because he missed time with a lat injury late last season. He’s also dealt with other shoulder injuries in the past. Janssen signed a one-year, $3.5MM over the winter and is expected to serve as the eighth inning reliever for the Nationals.
- GM Mike Rizzo won’t be tinkering with the roster much in the coming days. When asked if he could add players before the opener, he told reporters, including Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider (on Twitter), “We’re satisfied. We like the team we have.” The injury bug has bitten multiple Nats player, including Denard Span and Rendon.
- The Nationals may allow star pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg to walk via free agency, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. The reason has nothing to do with their performance. Both pitchers received Tommy John surgery in the past. Per Boswell, the “life expectancy” for the reconstructed elbow is eight years. Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs estimates that risk of re-injury increases sharply after just 400 to 600 innings. In either event, the injury history may partially explain the club’s willingness to add Max Scherzer over the offseason.
The Cubs‘ impending decision about whether to have Kris Bryant start the season in the minors has players around baseball talking about service-time rules, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes in a story that collects responses to Bryant’s situation from players from several teams. “Hey, we have a chance to make a lot of money in this game, but the rules are the rules,” says Yankees reliever Andrew Miller. “If that works in the Cubs favor, and the Cubs are a better team for that, they’re entitled to (use the rule to their favor). We negotiated that. It’s the reality of what our collective bargaining agreement says.” Here’s more from the National League.
- Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia will miss his start due to a shoulder issue, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports. Garcia likely will not be in the team’s Opening Day rotation. Garcia had impressed the team in camp and might well have made the Cardinals’ rotation, particularly since having him start rather than Marco Gonzales or Carlos Martinez would have been the best way for the Cards to protect their assets — they could have easily just optioned Gonzales to the minors, put Martinez in the bullpen and kept all three pitchers. Instead, it’s yet another injury for Garcia, who’s dealt with plenty of them in the past few seasons. There is, however, reason to hope it won’t be serious — GM John Mozeliak (via Langosch on Twitter) characterizes the injury as fatigue and the missed start as “more of a pause than anything.”
- Pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who’s on a minor-league deal with the Cardinals, can opt out of that deal Monday, Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch notes (via Twitter). Villanueva has gotten fairly good results in camp and has a track record of providing solid performances in a swingman role, so the Cardinals could try to find space for him on their roster.
- Intentionally or not, the Nationals, who have lefty relievers available, gave the lefty-starved Mets a look at Jerry Blevins Saturday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. (Blevins struck out Curtis Granderson but gave up a triple to Lucas Duda.) The Nationals have Blevins, along with Xavier Cedeno and Matt Thornton, and all are out of options, so they could end up trading one.
Here are the highlights from an enormous notes post by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:
- There’s the potential for lots of trade activity between now and Opening Day, with an unusual number of teams with logjams at particular positions. But there aren’t many good pitching options, and many teams are already close to their payroll limits.
- The Rays are one of several teams looking for starting pitching, but they’re currently focusing their efforts on depth, figuring they only need to cover for injured starters Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly for a month or so.
- If the Phillies struggle early in the year, trade whispers involving Chase Utley could grow louder, with the Padres, Angels and possibly Giants looming as potentially interested teams. Utley would, of course, have to waive his no-trade clause, but he has West Coast roots.
- The Diamondbacks are currently unwilling to trade Mark Trumbo, but that could change if they become dissatisfied with their outfield defense.
- The Orioles discussed trading lefty Brian Matusz to the Rangers before Texas acquired Sam Freeman, and have listened to other clubs interested in Matusz as well. But the Nationals might be more willing than the Orioles to trade a lefty reliever — some within the Orioles see Matusz as a better option than either T.J. McFarland or Wesley Wright.
Nationals righty Jordan Zimmermann, one of the team’s proudest homegrown talents, indicated today that a new deal appears rather unlikely, as Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington reports. Zimmermann made clear again today that he will refuse to discuss a contract during the season, leaving scant time to revive momentum.
Zimmermann, a Relativity Baseball client, is set to become one of the most desirable free agents in next year’s class. “I’m just not going to talk during the season,” said Zimmermann. “If something gets done before then — which is probably pretty rare right now — then it gets done. But it’s not looking good.”
With Max Scherzer now under contract for the foreseeable future, the Nationals seemingly lost interest in trying to convince the 28-year-old Zimmermann to take a deal that was palatable to the club. The same, perhaps, is true of Doug Fister. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the team will ultimately make a run at inking Stephen Strasburg to a long-term deal, though he too may be too close to free agency for that to be a realistic possibility.
As for Zimmermann, even an average season by his standards should make him an easy $100MM+ free agent. If he can repeat or improve upon last year’s effort (2.66 ERA/2.68 FIP over 199 2/3 innings), then he’ll probably be looking to build on the Jon Lester deal.