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Washington Nationals Rumors
8:54am: Span won’t resume baseball activities for four to six weeks, manager Matt Williams told reporters, including Janes (Twitter link). Taylor will see the bulk of playing time in center field this spring in his absence.
7:33am: The Nationals announced on Monday that center fielder Denard Span underwent surgery to repair a right core muscle injury (Twitter link). The recovery timeframe for this surgery can sometimes be as short as a month — Brett Gardner had a similar procedure in October and had a four-week recovery period, per ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand — so it’s possible that Span would be in game shape by about Opening Day. Others, such as Justin Verlander, who had the surgery prior to the 2014 season, had a six week recovery period (via MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian).
Even if Span were to be in game shape in four weeks, I’d imagine he’d still open the season on the DL, as he’d need some time to get up to speed in Triple-A after missing virtually all of Spring Training. Span had already undergone surgery this offseason to repair a sports hernia, tweets Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, who adds that Span showed no noticeable ill effects from the operation in an 0-for-2 performance in the spring opener against the Mets.
The 31-year-old Span is entering his third season as the Nationals’ center fielder after being acquired from the Twins in a swap for top prospect Alex Meyer. He’s enjoyed a pair of very nice seasons in D.C., particularly last year, when he hit .302/.355/.416 with five homers, 31 steals and a National-League-leading 184 hits.
In addition to hoping for a quick recovery to help the Nationals, who are considered by most to be favorites in the NL East, Span has personal motivation to get back on the field soon as well. He’s slated to hit the free agent market next winter for the first time in his career. Span originally signed a five-year, $16.5MM extension with the Twins, and the Nats made the easy call to exercise his $9MM option for the 2015 season this winter. He’ll be in competition with younger options such as Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson and Colby Rasmus on next year’s free agent market.
If Span is indeed unable to open the season with the team, the Nationals have some options. Nate McLouth and top prospect Michael Taylor are both on the 40-man roster. McLouth himself may not be ready, as Janes wrote in this morning’s Post that he is still recovering from right shoulder surgery and has yet to see game action this spring, although he is close. As far as non-roster invitees go, Tony Gwynn Jr. is an excellent defender and could be leaned upon to help bridge the gap if necessary. Keep in mind, too, that the Nats are also waiting on Jayson Werth to recovery from early January shoulder surgery, so two of their three projected starters in the outfield may not be ready to kick off the season.
Shortstop Trea Turner, the reported player to be named later in the Wil Myers deal, will be headed to the Nationals organization in June, but for right now, he’s enjoying his time in Padres big-league camp, MLB.com’s Corey Brock writes. “It’s been great. It’s been everything I’ve hoped for and more,” says Turner, who adds that he’s liked working with Padres third base coach Glenn Hoffman. Turner’s situation is unusual, though it sounds like he and the Padres are making the best of it. The team can’t simply trade the 2014 first-rounder now because they’re not allowed to deal him until a year after he signed his first pro contract. At the same time, it’s widely known that he’s in the trade and will be with the Nationals in June. Here’s more from the National League.
- Free-agent-to-be Jason Heyward doesn’t know what his future holds, but he’s happy to have a new start with the Cardinals, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. “I spent five years at this level with one organization and I still don’t know if I’ve seen the best of myself,” Heyward says. “I do feel that this is the best thing that could have happened to me as far as playing this game, getting a new start somewhere else. Absolutely.” Heyward adds that money will be part of the equation in his search for a new team, but that it will be secondary. “Who is going to provide that environment on a daily basis that says you have a great opportunity to be great for as long as you can play? That’s the biggest thing for me,” he says.
- The Pirates signed reliever John Holdzkom out of independent ball last season with the idea that he would be an extra arm for Double-A who might turn out to be something more, Bucs special assistant Jim Benedict tells ESPN 970’s David Todd in an interview Todd transcribed for Bucs Dugout (a website for which I also write, in the interest of full disclosure). Benedict saw Holdzkom pitch last summer at Triple-A Indianapolis. “I remember telling Clint (Hurdle) like a lot of other guys, ‘There’s a guy down there that can help us. He’s downhill, he’s 98 and it cuts. And I know that’s hard to hit, so let’s keep our eyes on this one,‘” Benedict says. “And all of a sudden he’s on the Pirates pitching meaningful games.” Holdzkom, who began the season pitching for independent teams in San Angelo and Amarillo, wound up striking out 14 batters in nine innings down the stretch with the Pirates.
- Giants outfielder Hunter Pence is out six to eight weeks with a fractured forearm, but assistant GM Bobby Evans says that injury is short-term enough that the Giants will simply replace him internally, MLB Network Radio tweets.
The Nationals have signed outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor league pact, the club announced. The deal includes a big league spring invite.
Gwynn is, of course, the son of one of the greatest players in recent memory. Though he has not matched his father’s near-untouchable stat line, he has obviously maintained the big league legacy with a career spanning eight seasons. Across 1,798 total career plate appearances in the bigs, Gwynn owns a .238/.309/.310 slash with 80 stolen bases.
Gwynn enjoyed a four-year run (2009-12) where he had over 250 trips to bat annually, but that streak ended when he failed to reach the game’s highest level in 2013. But he returned to the majors last year with the Phillies, putting up a meager .152/.264/.190 slash line in 127 plate appearances.
Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer bet on himself when he rejected the Tigers $144MM extension offer last spring, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The ace discussed the Tigers’ offer, the resultant insurance policy he took out, and his current contract with Rosenthal. Below are the specifics from that article, although it also contains a number of great quotes from Scherzer not included here.
Of interest, Scherzer’s insurance policy would have paid $40MM if an injury forced him to take an offer below the $144MM offered by Detroit. The policy cost $750K and covered every type of injury including elbow and shoulder ailments. Said Scherzer, “once you took the injury-risk factor out of it, and you can just go play baseball and not have to worry about anything . . . I was set.”
Ultimately, Scherzer did not need to call upon the policy. He inked a seven-year, $210MM deal with the Nationals in January. Half of the total is deferred until 2022-2028 and will be paid in $15MM yearly installments. The players’ union values the contract at $191.4MM due to the deferrals.
The structure of the deal is actually beneficial to both Scherzer and the Nationals. The signing bonus and deferrals won’t be subject to state income taxes. Washington D.C. doesn’t have an income tax for non-residents. Scherzer has set up residency in Florida, which also does not have an income tax. The deferrals will be paid to him there.
As you might expect, Scherzer wasn’t hoodwinked when taking the deferred money. Nor was another club pushed out of the bidding by the Nationals. “I know finance. I know deferral money. I get all that. But this was the best offer. If another team wanted to make a better offer without a deferment, we never received it. This was the best offer.”
In my view, Scherzer’s use of insurance could have implications for other players. Earlier today, we learned about the confidence Andrew McCutchen received from his team friendly contract extension. It’s intuitive, a player who doesn’t have to worry about his financial future can focus on playing his best. Insurance could offer an alternative to an early career contract extension for some athletes – especially those who want to test free agency at the earliest opportunity.
The Nationals haven’t managed to avoid the possibility of losing key members of their team due to free agency, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports. The Nats could be without Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Doug Fister after the season because they haven’t managed to sign those players to long-term deals that delay free agency. That might not be entirely their fault, Svrluga suggests — they tried to sign all three players. In the meantime, though, they have another wave of core players (Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon) to whom they could turn their attention. Strasburg, Harper and Rendon are all represented by Scott Boras, who does not generally like long-term deals for pre-free-agency players. Some of his clients, such as Jered Weaver and Carlos Gonzalez, have signed them, however. Here are more notes from the National League.
- Yunel Escobar wasn’t happy to have been traded away from the Rays to the Athletics and then from the Athletics to the Nationals, and he also wasn’t happy he’d have to move from shortstop to second base, the Post’s James Wagner writes. Escobar has changed his mind since then, however. “They’ve reached the playoffs two of the last three years,” says Escobar. “I want to help them win a World Series. If the missing piece is me playing second base, then I’m here for anything.” Escobar says certain aspects of playing second base, like turning double plays, are “confusing,” but says that he’ll improve that them with practice.
- Baseball is full of incredibly disappointing free-agent contracts, but Matt Holliday‘s current seven-year, $120MM deal with the Cardinals isn’t one of them, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. “I really wanted it to work out great for both sides,” says Holliday. “A lot of times with a long-term contract, you hear ‘They hope to get a couple of good years out of it.’ My goal from the day I signed was to get to the end of the contract and have everybody feel really good about it.” Holliday’s defense has slipped since signing, but he’s maintained a high standard offensively, and with just two years (plus an option) left on the deal, it looks like the Cardinals are going to get more than their money’s worth.
- When Cuban righty Yoan Lopez signed with the Diamondbacks, he joined the organization he rooted for as a child, Carlos Torres Bujanda writes for Baseball America. “Since I was a kid, I followed the D-backs when Randy Johnson was on the team,” says Lopez. “To see the games or check the stats I had friends who worked in hotels with Internet access. They download the games so I can watch later, or see the numbers.” Lopez adds that he’s happy the Diamondbacks also signed another Cuban player this offseason, Yasmany Tomas.
News broke earlier today that the Mets weren’t planning to discuss extending Daniel Murphy‘s contract, and Newsday’s Marc Carig has some more details on the team’s decision. Murphy rates as a below-average second baseman and the Mets are worried he’ll inevitably have to be moved to a corner infield position. While Murphy hits well for a second baseman, the Mets don’t believe he has the bat necessary for third base or first base, not to mention the fact that David Wright and Lucas Duda have those positions covered for at least the next few seasons in New York. The Mets also aren’t likely to make Murphy a qualifying offer, unless he enjoys a huge year.
Here’s some more from around the NL East…
- Also from Carig’s piece, he hears from two rival executives that Murphy will draw a lot of interest on the free agent market. “There will be a nice line of suitors for him. Some will want the bat and accept the below-average glove if necessary. He’s young enough, the bat is strong enough to warrant a multi-year [deal],” one official said.
- The Marlins made a multi-year offer to Francisco Rodriguez before he agreed to terms with the Brewers, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports (on Twitter). However, McCalvy spoke to one of K-Rod’s teammates and was told that Rodriguez “likes it a lot” in Milwaukee and was hoping to return to the club. The amount that was offered to Rodriguez isn’t known, though previous reports had indicated Miami was comfortable with something in the two-year, $10MM range.
- Yunel Escobar wasn’t happy to be traded away from the Rays, nor was he pleased about moving from shortstop to second base, James Wagner of the Washington Post writes. The veteran infielder changed his mind after discussions with Nationals management, however, and is looking forward to playing for a contender. “I want to help them win a World Series. If the missing piece is me playing second base, then I’m here for anything,” Escobar said.
- Non-roster invitees in camp on minor league deals could play a significant role in the Braves‘ plans this year, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Asked about the team’s collection of NRIs, manager Fredi Gonzalez listed Eric Stults, Jose Veras, Matt Capps, Brady Feigl, Kelly Johnson, Eric Young and John Buck as players with a legitimate chance, noting that he was probably leaving a few out. Gonzalez seemed particularly excited about Young. “I think the world of Eric Young,” Gonzalez said. “He can really bring a different dynamic that we haven’t had here since Michael Bourn, leading off against right-handed pitching or whatever you want to do. So that’s an exciting non-roster invitee, really.”
- In NL East news from earlier today on MLBTR, we shared some Phillies notes.
Shortstop Trea Turner is technically still a member of the Padres, but it’s one of baseball’s worst-kept “secrets” that he’ll be headed to the Nationals in June as a player to be named later in the three-team Wil Myers trade once he’s a year removed from being drafted. Turner tells Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune that while he does find the situation to be a bit weird, he’s happy to have had a normal camp thus far. “A little bit. It’s been awesome, though, because a lot of my teammates don’t really care too much about it. They know the business side, and things like this can happen all the time, so I haven’t been treated differently than I thought I would.” Turner’s agent, Jeff Berry of CAA Sports, called the situation “unconscionable” at the time of the trade but released the following statement yesterday, per Lin: “Trea has put this matter behind him and is focusing on his development and being a productive member of the Padres organization.”
Some more notes pertaining to the NL East…
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tells MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki that his team was in contact with Yoan Moncada‘s agent, David Hastings, right up until the end when Moncada agreed to sign with the Red Sox this week. However, Amaro declined to get into specifics or even give a “yes” or “no” answer when asked by Zolecki if the Phillies submitted a formal offer for the highly touted 19-year-old.
- Ichiro Suzuki is appreciative of how accommodating the Marlins were during negotiations, and the positive feelings he got from the organization are a large reason that he signed there, writes Christina De Nicola of FOX Sports Florida. (For example, the Marlins have added facilities for Ichiro’s Pilates machine in their Spring Training and regular season homes, said Ichiro through a translator.) He’s also very accepting of his role as a fourth outfielder, which manager Mike Redmond said was a key component in the deal.
- New Braves right fielder Nick Markakis has been cleared for running and extensive workouts, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Markakis won’t be in the lineup for the early games in Spring Training and isn’t sure if he’ll be ready to compete come Opening Day, but he tells O’Brien that’s absolutely his goal. Manager Fredi Gonzalez tells O’Brien that he is optimistic that Markakis, who signed a four-year, $44MM contract this winter, will be ready for the opener come April 6.
10:17pm: Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post (on Twitter) hears the Nats are not in on Rodriguez.
9:21pm: The there may also be a third team lurking when it comes to K-Rod and it might be the Nationals, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com writes.
Rodriguez is arguably the top remaining arm on the relief market and is coming off a 3.04 ERA with 9.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 a 43.9 percent ground-ball rate and 44 saves with the Brewers in 2014. However, he also struggled with home runs, allowing 14 in just 68 innings. While that’s due primarily to a spike in his homer-to-flyball ratio that is unlikely to repeat itself, one can also understand why some clubs would be hesitant to commit significant money to someone who was that homer-prone in 2014.
The 33-year-old Rodriguez reportedly been seeking as much as $10MM for a one-year deal, and prior reports indicated that he was seeking a two-year pact (presumably at a lower annual value). The Marlins have shown interest on a two-year deal worth around $10MM total, and while they were said to be an unlikely landing spot for K-Rod by Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, Frisaro did note that there was a chance of a match if Rodriguez and agent Scott Boras lowered their asking price. It’s not known exactly where the Brewers’ level of financial comfort lies, but Boras has been talking with owner Mark Attanasio.
Spring Training is already underway, and Rodriguez is one of a few notable bullpen arms yet to latch on with a new team. Also on the market are Rafael Soriano, Phil Coke and Joe Beimel; Joba Chamberlain inked a new one-year deal with the Tigers earlier this morning.
Despite all of their success, it’s not easy for the Giants to land free agents thanks to the tax rate in California, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News writes. The top income tax rate in California is 13.3%, which is more than double the top tax rate in all but a handful of states with major league teams. “It’s exponential when you get into the size of some of these numbers,” Sabean said. “It makes a difference.” The Giants have had to build differently and a little more creatively than others, sometimes with some key moves in the summer, but it has worked out pretty well for them. Here’s more from the West divisions..
- The Rangers‘ interest in lefty reliever Phil Coke has waned and the club doesn’t expect to sign the free agent reliever, a source tells Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram (via Twitter). The Rangers claimed a left-handed reliever earlier today when they plucked Edgar Olmos from the Mariners. The Tigers apparently haven’t expressed much interest in a reunion and another spot in their ‘pen was filled when they signed Joba Chamberlain.
- If shortstop prospect Ketel Marte plays well enough to reach the big leagues this year, the Mariners’ willingness to move Brad Miller or Chris Taylor will increase in the coming months, if not sooner, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. One Mariners official compared Marte, a switch hitter, to a younger version of Jose Reyes. He also has some second base experience, but he’s blocked there by Robinson Cano.
- All of the Angels‘ core relievers throw fastballs at an average speed of less than 92 mph, which means they’re basically ignoring baseball’s dogma about power arms in the bullpen, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes. Recently, the Angels have placed more of a premium on strike-throwing ability than velocity.
- Trea Turner, who will be joining the Nationals as the player to be named later in the Wil Myers trade, is in camp with the Padres, Dennis Lin of U-T San Diego writes. Lin checks in on Turner’s unusual camp experience as he is still more than three months away from joining the Nats.
Let’s take a look at the latest from the National League East:
- Braves president of baseball operations John Hart says that the club never considered dealing closer Craig Kimbrel or other “core” pieces, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The purpose of the offseason was not to kick off a full-on rebuilding effort, said Hart. “Do a lot of things have to come together? Are we in a tough division? Yes, yes,” he said. “But I don’t think that anybody came in with the idea or even discussed that we were going to blow this thing up. We held onto our core guys all winter. We never discussed them. We’re not looking to run up the white flag and not compete.”
- Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond does not plan to discuss his contract situation this year, he tells MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. “I owe it to everybody here to give my 100 percent concentration and that’s what I’m going to do,” Desmond said. “All the other stuff is really not going to be talked about. It’s time to go.” The organization’s longest-tenured player says that the only thing he heard about a trade over the winter was a message from manager Matt Williams informing him that he was not going to be dealt.
- Righty Taylor Jordan is now largely a forgotten piece of the Nationals‘ rotation picture, but it wasn’t long ago he was looked upon as a valuable young arm. After a tough and injury-plagued 2014, Jordan tells Tom Schad of the Washington Times that he feels healthy and ready to get back on track. Though he is no longer a plausible candidate for a starting role, the 26-year-old could put himself in line on the depth chart and might even turn into an interesting trade chip if he can thrive again in the upper minors.