Washington Nationals Rumors

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

NL East Notes: Braves, Kimbrel, Nationals, Mets

Despite their "file and trial" stance with respect to the arbitration process, the Braves made clear today that the club did not extend its refusal to negotiate after exchanging figures to multi-year talks. After inking a two-year pact with Jason Heyward that did not extend club control, Atlanta promptly locked up Freddie Freeman to a long-term deal. The Heyward deal, in particular, reveals another benefit of the file-and-trial approach, writes Eno Sarris of Fangraphs. By holding out on seemingly inconsequential portion of Heyward's salary, Atlanta obtained sufficient leverage to add another year (and attendant cost-certainty) to Heyward's contract. Here's more on the Braves' interesting arbitration season and the rest of the NL East:

  • Of course, Heyward's deal also provides security for the oft-DL'ed 24-year-old, though with his talent it is somewhat difficult to imagine any scenario where he would not have been tendered a contract next year. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links) that Heyward's representatives at Excel Sports Management approached the front office about a multi-year deal after exchanging figures. Though his spate of injuries (and correspondingly limited statistical production) hindered discussions, says Sherman, the gap was spanned and agreement reached on the value of Heyward's remaining arb-eligible years.
  • In spite of the deals with Heyward and Freeman, Atlanta remains all but certain to face a hearing with closer Craig Kimbrel, reports Jeff Passon of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). With a substantial gap between Kimbrel's $9MM figure and the club's $6.55MM counter in Kimbrel's first year of arbitration eligibility, the outcome of that hearing (scheduled for February 17th) could go a long way toward determining the outstanding closer's future salary — and, potentially, even what uniform he will wear for the long haul.
  • After losing out on bench bat Jeff Baker, the Nationals are still on the hunt for late-off-season value, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. In particular, says Wagner, the Nats remain very interested in southpaw reliever Oliver Perez, who is reportedly close to choosing a team.
  • The Mets are still saying that a Stephen Drew signing remains a "long shot" for the club, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. We heard earlier today that New York had not made an offer to the free agent shortstop.

East Notes: Blue Jays, Nationals, Ruf

Several 2015 free agents will need to play well enough this year to counteract the poison pill of a qualifying offer, writes Buster Olney of ESPN.com (Insider link). Shin-Soo Choo managed the feat last year, putting up a big enough season that the sacrifice of a draft pick did not substantially limit his market. Barring a big setback, Max Scherzer has probably already done the same, according to Olney. Others, however, still have work to do to avoid a potentially heavily constrained market. Among them, in Olney's estimation, are Justin Masterson, Chase Headley, David Ortiz, Asdrubal Cabrera, James Shields, Jed Lowrie, Hanley Ramirez, and Brett Gardner

Here are some notes from baseball's eastern divisions:

  • The Blue Jays are not just the most active buyer on the free agent starting pitching market, but actually hold a "commanding position" in the same, Olney asserts in the same piece. Toronto's beneficial draft-pick situation and cash position have left it in the driver's seat, able to name a price and wait for one of the top remaining starters to accept that it's the best they can do.
  • Jays president Paul Beeston discussed his baseball and business philosophies in a wide-ranging interview with Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. Saying that "economics will follow the winning," Beeston said that, though the team is "not in the business to lose money, … we're not in the business to make money either. We make the money we'll plough it right back in … ." He also complimented club ownership, saying they greenlighted payroll additions in cases like Aroldis Chapman (as an international free agent) and last year's major trades with the Marlins and Blue Jays. As for GM Alex Anthopoulos, Beeston credited the 36-year-old with pulling off deals last year that everyone in the front office supported and said the experience had been a learning experience for all involved.
  • The Nationals could still follow suit on the last two off-seasons and make an unexpected, late free agent splash, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, who looks at the team's current commitments for 2014 and 2015. Washington was willing to pay $12MM over two years to reliever Grant Balfour, and cleared additional cash by backloading the two-year deals of Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond. Though the club could stand to add another catcher, no attractive free agent splashes remain. Kilgore wonders, however, whether a run at A.J. Burnett would make sense, especially given his preference to play near his Maryland home. 
  • Unless the Phillies elect to utilize Marlon Byrd as the backup center fielder, Darin Ruf does not appear to have a clear shot at a roster spot, writes Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Ruf could still be optioned down to start the year, but he is 27 years old and is not in need of seasoning. Though limited defensively, Ruf carries a .838 career OPS through 330 MLB plate appearances.

Bowden’s Latest: Free Agency, Scherzer, Drew, Lobaton

Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio spoke with multiple agents and executives over the weekend and got contradictory takes on the reasons for so many top free agents remaining unsigned (ESPN Insider required and recommended). Agents told Bowden that they (and the MLBPA) feel that the heightened media coverage resulting from social networking has damaged players' market values. Reports from media members about how teams value players and whether or not they've made offers to players could be violations of the CBA, those parties told Bowden. Meanwhile, executives said to Bowden that the market is simply full of players with baggage (draft pick compensation, PED usage, inconsistent performance) and added that agents entered the offseason with unnatural expectations for their clients.

Here are just some of the highlights from a jam-packed column from the former Nationals and Reds GM…

  • Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are the two most likely candidates from next year's crop of free agent starting pitchers to sign an extension, Bowden writes. Despite the fact that Scherzer is a Scott Boras client (Boras prefers his clients to test the open market), Scherzer seems to want to remain loyal to the Tigers. However, Bowden notes that an extension would still need to be somewhere close to Scherzer's market value, which Bowden pegs at a whopping $196MM over seven years.
  • The Red Sox have made a two-year offer to Stephen Drew, one source told Bowden. The value of that reported offer is unclear, as is the date on which it was made.
  • The Nationals have discussed Jose Lobaton trades with the Rays as they look to add a backup catcher for Wilson Ramos. Lobaton figures to be expendable for the Rays, as they project to have a strong defensive tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina behind the dish. Shedding Lobaton's $950K salary would seem to be more beneficial to the tight-budgeted Rays than most teams, particularly if they don't have a roster spot for him.
  • The Dodgers are pushing for an infielder over another starting pitcher and hope to have a deal done within the next 48 hours. Los Angeles isn't likely to bid on any of the remaining free agent starters unless they're willing to take a short-term deal, as Dan Haren did to play near his hometown.
  • Kendrys Morales is the most likely free agent to be this year's version of Kyle Lohse, writes Bowden. He notes that the Orioles — who still have about $15MM to spend — and Mariners remain interested in the switch-hitting Scott Boras client. Both are still in on Nelson Cruz as well. MLBTR readers seem to agree with the Morales/Lohse comparison; in the poll I conducted earlier this morning asking which Top 50 free agent would be the next to sign, he drew the fewest votes.
  • The Royals and Indians are both highly unlikely to be able to lure back their respective free agent pitchers, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Blue Jays are a likely landing spot for both pitchers.


Doug Fister, Nationals Avoid Arbitration

Pitcher Doug Fister has avoided arbitration with the Nationals, according to a team release. Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that Fister will make $7.2MM, plus bonuses for innings pitched. Fister filed for $8.5MM while the Nats offered $5.75MM.

The Nationals, of course, acquired Fister in a trade with the Tigers in December. Fister posted a 3.67 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 208 2/3 innings last season.

The Nats had already agreed to terms with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Jerry Blevins, Wilson Ramos and Ross Ohlendorf. Fister's signing leaves Tyler Clippard as their only arbitration-eligible player.


Jeff Baker Close To Signing

1:07pm: Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets that Baker is close to signing with a team, and the Nationals are still in the mix.

11:39am: The Marlins and Nationals are among the teams showing interest in Jeff Baker, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter), who also notes that the Orioles are a possibly interested team.

Despite huge numbers against left-handed pitching — Baker slashed .314/.407/.667 with 10 homers in 123 plate appearances against southpaws last season — it's been a relatively quiet offseason for the 32-year-old. The Rangers are known to have interest in re-signing Baker, and the Giants had talks with him a couple months back, though that was shortly before they elected to sign Mike Morse. The Morse signing would seem to indicate that Baker is no longer a consideration for San Francisco.

Baker has just a .647 OPS against right-handed pitching in his career, but he has an .875 OPS against lefties to go along with experience at second base, third base, first base and both outfield corners.


NL Notes: Bailey, Cruz, Espinosa, Phillies

Earlier today, the Brewers finally locked down their agreement with Matt Garza. Elsewhere in the National League:

  • Homer Bailey was cautious in his remarks about signing a multi-year contract with the Reds, according to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. "There is [interest], but it has to be something that works out for both ends," said Bailey. "That's kind of tough to do. You see a lot of the signings that are going on, so, of course, it's going to raise eyebrows on my behalf. Obviously, with a mid-market team, it's tougher for them, also. We're just going to have to see how everything goes." Bailey, who is represented by Excel Sports Management (the agency which negotiated lucrative long-term deals for Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka this offseason), is arbitration eligible asking for $11.6MM while the Reds countered with $8.7MM. 
  • Reds GM Walt Jocketty says he is not interested in signing free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz (#17 on MLBTR's 2014 Top 50 Free Agents list) because he is tied to draft pick compensation, reports Sheldon.
  • Danny Espinosa has been told by manager Matt Williams and GM Mike Rizzo he will be given the opportunity to compete with Anthony Rendon to be the Nationals' starting second baseman, writes Chase Hughes of Nats Insider. "That’s all I can ask for," said Espinosa. "I’ve never asked for anything to be handed to me. If I can get a fair opportunity to win my job back, I feel like I can do it." Espinosa struggled in 2013, due in part to injuries, batting .158/.193/.272 in 167 plate appearances before being demoted to Triple-A. The 26-year-old's name has popped up in trade rumors this winter with the Yankees, among other clubs, showing interest.   
  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. needs to decide when the team can realistically contend next and then set them up do so because going all in while simultaneously investing in the future only offsets each other, opines philly.com's Justin Klugh.

East Notes: Orioles, Nationals

Let's take a look around baseball's Eastern divisions:

  • Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis discussed his 2013 struggles with MASNSports.com's Roch Kubatko. "With my strength not being where it was, I was having to make adjustments I've never really had to try before," Markakis, who hit .271/.329/.356 last year, said. The left-handed hitter is considered a strong candidate to lead off in 2014, according to Kubatko, but hasn't discussed the issue with manager Buck Showalter.
  • Though he'll never again suit up for the Nationals as a player, having retired, Livan Hernandez says he's 99 percent sure he'll be taking a job with the team. Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports that Hernandez said on Saturday at the club's NatsFest event that he'd like a position that would allow him to work with Washington's pitchers. GM Mike Rizzo confirmed that the team is interested in bringing Hernandez into the fold. 
  • Nats ace Stephen Strasburg says he's fully recovered from arthroscopic surgery that removed bone chips from his throwing elbow, Ladson writes. While Strasburg managed 30 starts last season, the big right-hander revealed that he often struggled to straighten out his arm after games and during bullpen sessions. 

Quick Hits: Rays, Athletics, Bello, Nationals, Storen

The Rays and Athletics have done the most this offseason to solidify themselves as top teams, New York Daily News' Bill Madden writes. The Rays addressed all their major needs by re-signing James Loney and adding Grant Balfour and Ryan Hanigan. The Athletics replaced Balfour with Jim Johnson and Bartolo Colon with Scott Kazmir, and they further improved their bullpen with the additions of Luke Gregerson and Eric O'Flaherty. The Yankees also added plenty of talent, Madden notes, but they still have serious issues in their infield. Here are more notes from around baseball.

  • The Padres, Braves and Mets are among the teams interested in Cuban catcher Yenier Bello, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez tweets. As MLBTR's Steve Adams recently noted, it's unclear what it might take to sign Bello, but he is not as highly-regarded a prospect as players like Jose Dariel Abreu and Yasiel Puig. Sanchez had previously connected Bello to the Dodgers, Cubs and Blue Jays.
  • The Diamondbacks have interest in Cuban pitchers Odrisamer Despaigne and Raciel Iglesias, Sanchez tweets. Despaigne was recently cleared to sign with an MLB team.
  • Nationals GM Mike Rizzo says he does not expect to give extensions to arbitration-eligible pitchers Doug Fister and Tyler Clippard, MLB.com's Bill Ladson tweets.
  • The Nats were briefly connected to free-agent closer Grant Balfour before Balfour signed by the Rays, and they probably would have traded Drew Storen if they'd managed to sign Balfour. But Storen isn't bothered by that idea, Ladson writes. "You don’t take it personally, it part of it. It’s flattering that other teams want you, too," says Storen. "You look at it from all angles. [The Nationals] are a great team. Obviously, I don’t want to go anywhere. It’s just part of the business. Nothing new."

East Notes: Phillies, Nationals, Tanaka

After a poor 2013 season and an underwhelming offseason, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. understands the criticism coming his way, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick writes. "People say, 'Don't you think you feel like you've built up equity? You guys had so many years of success.' I'm like, 'Not here in Philadelphia, my friend.' It doesn't work like that here," Amaro says. "We may have had one year of a pass, but our job is to try to get ourselves to the point where we're back again contending. Quickly." Here are more notes from the East divisions.

  • Nationals GM Mike Rizzo hasn't made many phone calls recently, but he's still looking for ways to make his team better heading into spring training, MASNsports' Dan Kolko writes. Rizzo confirms that the Nationals were interested in Grant Balfour, but Balfour liked the proximity of the Rays to his home in Clearwater (Twitter links). Despite losing out on Balfour, the Nationals may not pursue another reliever, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets. A backup catcher, however, could still be a possibility, tweets MLB.com's Bill Ladson.
  • With Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki, the 2014 Yankees will have more Japanese star power than any Major League team ever, writes FOX Sports' Jon Morosi. Kuroda, in particular, could be especially helpful as Tanaka adapts to U.S. baseball.

Minor Moves: Valdez, Graham, Iribarren, Morales, Jackson, Hensley

We'll keep track of today's minor moves here (information courtesy of MLB.com transactions page):

  • Righty Jose Valdez has inked a minor league contract with the Red Sox. The 30-year-old has seen 24 big league games with the Astros, but worked last year at Triple-A, putting up a 5.72 ERA in 39 1/3 innings. Valdez has shown the ability to miss bats (career 8.7 K/9), but also tends to miss spots (5.2 BB/9).
  • Tyler Graham, a 29-year-old outfielder, has signed a minor league deal with the Giants. Graham spent all of 2006-11 with the San Francisco organization, then split 2012 between the Giants and Diamondbacks. He got a cup of coffee with the D-Backs (two plate appearances), but ended up out of the MLB structure thereafter. Last year, he bounced between four Independent and Mexican League clubs. In his last full Triple-A season, 2011, Graham posted a .273/.337/.338 line with 60 stolen bases.
  • The Reds have signed a minor league deal with second baseman Hernan Iribarren. The 29-year-old Venezuelan received 29 plate appearances over 2008-09 but has yet to return. Last year, with the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate, Iribarren slashed .312/.367/.407 in 286 plate appearances.
  • Outfielder Angel Morales has reached agreement on a minor league contract with the Marlins. The 2007 third-round pick had spent his entire career with the Twins organization, reaching the Double-A level last year at age 23. Morales earned the promotion with a .297/.364/.525 start to the year in 234 High-A plate appearances, but failed to follow up in the penultimate level of the minors (.169/.230/.307 in 184 plate appearances).
  • The Nationals have signed southpaw Zach Jackson to a minor league deal. Now 30, Jackson saw 105 1/3 innings over the 2006-09 period after being drafted in the first round of the 2004 amateur draft. Jackson has bounced around the league, failing to stick as a starter. Last year, after converting full-time to relief for the Royals, he pitched to a 1.32 ERA in 41 innings at Double-A and Triple-A. Jackson managed a sturdy 2.57 K:BB ratio in 2013, but did so on the back of just 4.0 K/9 (against a career-low 1.5 BB/9).
  • Washington also signed righty Clay Hensley to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite, MLB.com's Bill Ladson reports on Twitter. The 34-year-old last saw MLB time in 2012 with the Giants, when he had a 4.62 ERA over 50 2/3 innings of relief. Over his career, Hensley has started 49 big league games and appeared in over 200 others out of the pen. He threw to a 2.57 ERA in 35 Triple-A innings last year with Reds and Brewers affiliates, registering 9.8 K/9 against 4.9 BB/9 in the process.
  • One player appears in MLBTR's DFA Tracker with an unresolved case: Carlos Peguero of the Mariners.