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Washington Nationals Rumors
Consistency hasn’t exactly been Adam LaRoche‘s calling card over the past several years, but he’s timing one of his better seasons well, as he faces the strong likelihood of hitting the open market this offseason. LaRoche’s two-year deal with the Nationals contains a $15MM mutual option ($2MM buyout), but teams and players almost never agree to exercise both ends of a mutual option.
Typically, if a team exercises their half of the option, it’s because the player has had a strong season, leading the player to reject in search of more money on the open market. If the player exercises his half, it’s typically due to injury or poor performance, causing the team to reject. In LaRoche’s case, team dynamics come into play as well; Washington likely needs to open up first base for Ryan Zimmerman, whose persistent shoulder problems no longer allow him to handle third base.
As such, LaRoche seems likely to hit the open market, and he’s quietly on pace to do so as one of the most productive bats on the upcoming class. LaRoche is hitting .306/.417/.513 with eight homers, nine doubles and a 33-to-31 K/BB ratio in 192 plate appearances this season. Both his 16.1 percent walk rate and 17.2 percent strikeout rate are career-bests. He did miss 15 games with a quad injury earlier this year, though for now that looks to be behind him.
Ultimate Zone Rating has dinged him for his defense thus far, but Defensive Runs Saved feels that he’s on his way to his fifth straight season of plus defensive value. LaRoche has long had some problems with left-handed pitching, but he’s holding his own to this point with a .381 OBP against southpaws, and platoon problems certainly don’t bar some players from being paid.
LaRoche is set to turn 35 in November, but if he maintains the pace he’s currently on, it’s not hard to envision him landing another two-year deal, perhaps with some type of vesting option. His main competition will be Michael Morse, but aside from that, he’ll be competing against Corey Hart and Michael Cuddyer — both of whom have had significant injuries in 2014 already (and Cuddyer is a year older).
Billy Butler, too, could hit the open market if his option is declined by the Royals, but he’s in the midst of a poor season and likely couldn’t top LaRoche based on performance. Given the dearth of left-handed pop on next year’s free agent market — Kendrys Morales and Victor Martinez are the top alternatives, but both are more designated hitters than first basemen — LaRoche is in a good position despite his age.
It seems likely that his performance will be worthy of receiving a qualifying offer – believed to be in the $15MM range next offseason — but the need to open first for Zimmerman likely will prevent the Nats from extending one. LaRoche could look at a qualifying offer as merely receiving a $2MM raise for next season (he’d pocket the $2MM buyout of his option and still earn $15MM or so), which makes it a risk that Washington seems unlikely to take.
The knocks on LaRoche are well-known; his career OPS versus lefties is 114 points lower than his mark against right-handed pitching, age isn’t on his side and he hasn’t turned in a consecutive pair of well above-average offensive seasons since 2009-10 (122 OPS+ each year). Some teams likely will have the perception that a two-year deal will pay him for one strong season and one so-so campaign, and I’d imagine a number of clubs will be more interested on a one-year deal.
Nonetheless, LaRoche and agent Mike Milchin of Relativity Baseball appear to be in solid position as they look to lock down what could be the last significant contract of a solid offensive career. Morales recently received the pro-rated version of a $12MM salary after sitting out the first two months of the season, and Justin Morneau received a two-year, $12.5MM deal coming off a vastly inferior season to the one LaRoche is putting together.
Even if LaRoche simply finishes the season by hitting at his career pace — .266/.340/.475 – he’d finish with one of the best OPS+ marks of his career. In that instance, a two-year deal worth $10MM+ annually seems very attainable. The fact that he is facing very limited competition both at his position (first base) and in terms of his best skill (left-handed power) only strengthens LaRoche’s free agent outlook.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
First basemen who “are available” to be traded include the Yankees’ Kelly Johnson, the Phillies’ John Mayberry Jr., the Nationals’ Tyler Moore and the Pirates’ Gaby Sanchez, sources tell Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. Johnson and Sanchez are new additions to the rumor mill, while Mayberry and Moore have both been recently cited as possible trade chips.
The quartet is cited in the context of Mitch Moreland‘s season-ending ankle surgery, leaving the Rangers dealing with yet another major injury. Despite losing a host of notable players to the DL, Texas is still just 2.5 games behind Seattle for the last AL wild card slot, and could still be looking to make additions down the stretch. Texas had previously had exploratory talks with the Nationals about Moore, though MLB.com’s Bill Ladson noted those talks weren’t serious.
Johnson has played 23 games at first for the Yankees this season, though he has spent the large majority of his career as a second baseman (plus some time at third and in left field). Despite Yangervis Solarte‘s emergence, the Yankees’ infield depth is still thin, so it would be somewhat surprising to see New York move a versatile player like Johnson elsewhere. Johnson is still owed roughly $1.845MM from the one-year, $3MM deal he signed with the Yankees last winter.
Sanchez was the subject of some trade rumors last year, though he remained with the Bucs as the right-handed hitting half of a first base platoon. While he has a solid .255/.303/.510 slash line with five homers in 109 PA this year, Sanchez has made almost twice as many plate appearances against righties as he has against lefties since the Pirates have faced an unusually large amount of right-handed starters; Pittsburgh hitters as a whole have made only 366 PA against lefties in 2014, by far the lowest in the majors. Sanchez has a career .903 OPS against southpaws against just a .700 OPS against righties, so he could certainly provide a contender with a useful part-time or bench bat.
Rangers first basemen have combined for -0.9 fWAR this season, and five other teams (the Twins, Astros, Indians, Royals and Mariners) have also received sub-replacement level production from their first basemen.
Pirates ace Gerrit Cole has landed on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue, but the team doesn’t believe the shoulder has any structural damage, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. That could be great news for the Bucs, who will need Cole if they hope to make noise in the playoff race this summer. The injury, which came to light almost three years to the day after Cole was selected first overall in the 2011 draft, is a reminder of the uncertainty of drafting pitchers in a season that’s been full of such reminders. Here are more notes from around the National League.
- The career trajectory of Tanner Roark of the Nationals is perhaps a more pleasant story about the uncertainty of pitching — the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore describes Roark as “a potential rotation piece that fell out of the sky.” The Rangers drafted Roark in the 25th round in 2008, then shipped him to Washington with another minor-leaguer for Cristian Guzman in 2010. Even in 2013, the Nationals used him as a reliever in Triple-A. But he pitched brilliantly down the stretch for the Nats in 2013 and has been nearly as good this season, posting a 2.91 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 as a key part of Washington’s rotation.
- Chase Utley of the Phillies tops the list of the best bats who might be available in trade this summer, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. It’s unclear whether the Phillies will commit to trading veterans, but even if they do, some of them (like Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee) would be difficult to trade anyway. Utley, who is signed to a reasonable contract and is still very productive, is a different story. Utley has the right to veto any trade, however, since he has 10-and-5 rights, and the Phillies have shown no interest in trading Utley.
Here are Sunday’s minor moves from around MLB:
- Reliever Heath Bell has opted out of his minor-league deal with the Orioles, MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo tweets. Bell had signed with the Orioles in mid-May after being released by the Rays, and the veteran closer pitched 10 2/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk, posting a 4.22 ERA while striking out 11 and walking six.
- The Nationals have released right-hander Brad Meyers, reports Geoff Morrow of PennLive.com. Meyers made six starts for the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate this year posting a 7.12 ERA, 4.1 K/9, and 4.9 BB/9 in 24 innings. The 28-year-old, Washington’s 2007 fifth-round draft choice, has battled shoulder and back injuries the past two seasons and has not advanced past Triple-A.
- Per MLBTR’s DFA Tracker, seven players remain in DFA limbo: Jose Veras (Cubs), Jordan Pacheco (Rockies), David Huff (Giants), Kent Matthes (A’s), Jason Lane (Padres), Josh Lueke (Rays), and Jason Kubel (Twins).
Charlie Wilmoth contributed to this post.
Tyler Stubblefield was stuck at low-A ball last year for the Padres at age 25. This year, writes MLB.com’s Corey Brock, he played a key role in recommending the team’s first-round draft choice, N.C. State shortstop Trea Turner, as San Diego’s area scout for eastern George and North and South Carolina.
Here’s the latest from the National League:
- It is time for the Dodgers to initiate a shake-up, opines Buster Olney of ESPN.com (Insider link). While the team undeniably has talented pieces, they have not fit together well, says Olney, who recommends that the team consider bringing up top prospect Joc Pederson to play center and installing the defense-first Erisbel Arruebarrena at short. Of course, those moves would have repercussions involving key veterans Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, among others, but Olney says that dramatic action may be necessary with the club still sitting well back of the Giants in the NL West.
- The Brewers do not seem like a good fit for Kendrys Morales, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy writes on Twitter. McCalvy says that two key questions — Morales’s ability to handle first and the team’s ability to fit him in the payroll — make a signing unlikely.
- Ryan Zimmerman says that he is not sure that he will ever return full-time to third base for the Nationals, as Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports. “I don’t know if I’m the best option over there anymore,” he said. “I’ve always said I’ll play until someone is better than me, or I’m not the best option at that position.” It will be fascinating to see how the Nats proceed when Bryce Harper returns, which is expected to occur around the turn of the month. While the team would have several options heading into 2015 — Zimmerman could stay in left and the team could deal Denard Span, or he could move to first if Adam LaRoche leaves town — the mid-season calculus is even more complicated. It seems hard to imagine that the team would leave second base in the hands of Danny Espinosa while taking away significant at-bats from any of the other players just mentioned. It seems at least possible that the Nationals could explore some creative trade possibilities to right-size the everyday lineup.
- Pirates righty Duke Welker underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday, reports Tom Singer of MLB.com (via Twitter). The towering 28-year-old was the player to be named later in last year’s Justin Morneau deal, but later returned to Pittsburgh in exchange for lefty Kris Johnson.
There was a great story today in San Diego, as former Astros outfielder Jason Lane re-emerged onto a big league diamond with the Padres after last appearing in 2007. Now, the 37-year-old is a pitcher, and his first-ever MLB relief outing was a good one: ten up, ten down. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times recently profiled Lane and his now-consummate attempt at a return to the bigs.
Here’s the latest out of the National League:
- The Diamondbacks placed middle infielder Cliff Pennington on the DL and recalled young shortstop Didi Gregorius to take his active roster spot, the club announced via press release. Arizona’s mix of middle infielders — including those two players, current MLB starters Aaron Hill and Chris Owings, and prospect Nick Ahmed — has often been discussed as a source of depth from which the team could trade. For Gregorius, who entered the year with 1.033 days of MLB service, staying on the active roster for most of the remaining 115 days of the season could position him for an eventual Super Two candidacy.
- Meanwhile, the D’backs learned that they would be without one of their top pitching prospects for the rest of the season, as Jose Martinez will need surgery for a stress fracture in his right elbow, reports Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (via Twitter). Baseball America rated Martinez as the team’s sixth-best prospect heading into the year, saying that he throws a mid-90s heater and outstanding power curve. Given his last name, Dominican heritage, and slight build, BA notes that comparisons to Pedro Martinez and Carlos Martinez are inevitable.
- The Marlins‘ recent series of transactions are a sad reflection on owner Jeffrey Loria, opines Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. Even putting aside the question whether it made sense for Miami to target the relievers it did (Bryan Morris and Kevin Gregg), Cameron says that there is no reason the team couldn’t have found the money without giving up a significant future asset in the 39th overall choice in the upcoming draft.
- A fire sale is looming for the Phillies, writes Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, who says that the club has far too many holes to do anything but sell. Zolecki raises the point that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has seemingly done rather poorly in generating returns when it has dealt veterans in the past. Having shipped out players like Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, Jim Thome, Michael Young, and Joe Blanton in recent years, the return has been headlined by names such as Phillippe Aumont, Tommy Joseph, and Ethan Martin.
- Ryan Zimmerman had a strong game in an interesting return to the Nationals tonight, appearing comfortable in his first ever appearance in left field and hitting the ball hard several times. As Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports, Zimmerman willingly moved off of his customary hot corner without complaint. “Our window is now,” he said. “This team’s good enough to win a World Series, I think. But you just never know. Realistically, we’re only going to be together for this year and next year.” Those comment seemed related, in particular, to the contractual status of Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann, each of whom is set to reach free agency after 2015. “Guys like Desi, guys like Jordan — I don’t doubt that they want to stay here,” he said, “but baseball’s a business. You never know.”
In his latest Notes column, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports opines that the Rockies shouldn’t be buyers at this summer’s trade deadline. While the club could make a Wild Card run, he writes that the team isn’t a serious World Series contender. Rosenthal feels that the club should look to move Jhoulys Chacin — who could be a non-tender candidate this offseason — to clear room for one of its top pitching prospects (likely either Jon Gray or Eddie Butler). The bigger, and certainly bolder move posited by Rosenthal is to deal Carlos Gonzalez in order to clear room for everyday at-bats for Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon. With Kyle Parker and a number of other outfield prospects on the horizon, plus Brandon Barnes and Drew Stubbs as reserve options, the team has plenty of outfield depth. Gonzalez is also owed $53MM following this season. Rosenthal notes that ownership has never shown an inclination to move Gonzalez, however, so the Rockies likely don’t share his point of view on the future of their star outfielder.
More from his latest piece…
- Most agents with whom Rosenthal has spoken feel that Jon Singleton sold himself short by agreeing to a five-year, $10MM contract extension that could reach $30MM with three club options and $35MM if he hits enough performance bonuses. First base prospects are among the safest variety of prospects, and while some bust, Singleton will earn scarcely more than the current MLB average salary, over the life of his deal on an annual basis (assuming all options are exercised).
- Rosenthal feels that the Cardinals should look to add a big-name starting pitcher such as James Shields or David Price at the deadline (should either become available, which is no guarantee, of course). While pitching certainly isn’t a need for the Redbirds, it’s not exactly clear where they’d place another bat upon acquiring one. And, given the team’s wealth of prospects at multiple positions, they could move valuable assets that are essentially spare parts to their own organization.
- Ryan Zimmerman projects to play first base for the Nationals next season, but Rosenthal asks what might happen if Washington instead decides to keep Adam LaRoche. Doing so could push Zimmerman to left field full-time, with Bryce Harper manning center field, Jayson Werth in right field and Denard Span becoming a trade chip. Span has a $9MM club option and a “limited”future with the club given the presence of Michael Taylor (not to be confused with the former A’s prospect of the same name) at Double-A, writes Rosenthal.
Adrian Beltre made his first career appearance at Nationals Park this weekend, but he confirmed to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post that he came very close to calling that stadium home for a long time back in 2010. Beltre said that he was close to choosing the Nationals over the Rangers, with whom he signed a five-year, $80MM in 2010. He and agent Scott Boras met with the Nats’ front office at the 2010 Winter Meetings and had advanced talks. Beltre notes that the meeting took place before Washington signed his friend, Jayson Werth, to a seven-year, $126MM deal. It’s unclear if Washington could’ve afforded both, but it’s interesting to wonder how different the franchise would look and whether or not they could’ve afforded Ryan Zimmerman‘s $100MM contract extension with Beltre in the fold.
More on the Nats…
- Kilgore also examines the remarkable story of Blake Treinen, who was refused a walk-on tryout by the University of Arkansas and got his first shot at a Division I baseball program after attending a $20 pitching camp attended primarily by middle school children. Treinen, who nearly developed diabetes due to an unhealthy lifestyle in early high school, was throwing just 79 mph late in high school but worked his way up to the seventh round of the draft and now fires a 98 mph sinker for the Nationals.
- Looking ahead to the summer, the Nationals are one club that needs to make a roster upgrade via trade, opines Paul Swydan of ESPN.com (Insider subscription required). The situation is a difficult one for the stagnant Nats, says Swydan, given that the club lacks obvious places to make an impact. It is hard to imagine how Washington would go about upgrading the pitching staff, and the everyday lineup does not have any spots that are truly ripe for a move. Nevertheless, Swydan argues that the team’s bench could stand to be improved. The club put a priority on bolstering its reserves in the offseason, adding Nate McLouth, Jose Lobaton, and Kevin Frandsen, but the group has struggled on the whole. Of course, things have not been helped by the fact that the loss of several regulars for long stretches has at times pressed reserves into everyday duty.
- Aside from the obvious possibility of swapping out bench pieces, it could be that the Nationals will largely need to sink or swim with the players they have. It is easy to imagine a more productive option than Denard Span in center or even the struggling Wilson Ramos at catcher, but actually getting such a player would be extremely expensive and may not even be a realistic possibility. (Looking at the center field and catcher leaderboards, it is hard to identify reasonably plausible targets that would really move the needle.) And that is even before considering how Washington would deal with the fallout of such a move, both in the present and in the future. Given the uncertainty surrounding the role of Zimmerman, who is apparently set for time in left field and both corner infield spots when he returns, it seems that versatility could be an important factor should GM Mike Rizzo choose to go after a truly impactful player. In that respect, it is worth wondering — and this is pure speculation — whether Ben Zobrist of the Rays would be a viable target, if Tampa decides to sell off veterans. He is under control next season through a bargain $7.5MM club option, and could theoretically play any number of positions depending upon how the rest of this season and the coming offseason shake out. It is worth noting here, too, that Tampa is familiar with the Nats’ system after negotiating the Lobaton deal, and has long been said to have interest in Danny Espinosa, whose role in D.C. would largely disappear were the Nats to add a player like Zobrist.
Jeff Todd wrote the latter two bullets to this post.
It’s time to move Hanley Ramirez from shortstop to third base, writes Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Saxon notes that advanced defensive metrics paint Ramirez as the worst shortstop in the Majors, and with Juan Uribe out for weeks (if not months) and a heavy emphasis on pitching, going with the best defensive alignment makes sense. Uribe could be used in a super-utility role upon his return, with Erisbel Arruebarrena and Dee Gordon forming a solid middle-infield tandem, he argues.
Here are some more notes from the Senior Circuit…
- The landscape in the upcoming Jeff Samardzija sweepstakes is beginning to take shape, writes Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Sun-Times. Gonzalez runs down all of the factors that could determine where Samardzija is dealt (assuming, of course, that he is indeed traded) and examines how the tight race in the AL East benefits the Cubs. An Orioles source told Gonzales last week that they feel they’re in a window to contend through 2015. He also speculates that the Red Sox might be a sleeper for Samardzija given their strong pitching and catching depth in the minors.
- Earlier in the week, Mets GM Sandy Alderson appeared on 98.7 ESPN radio to tackle some criticism he’s received for signing Chris Young for just $750K less than Nelson Cruz received from the Orioles. Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog has highlights from the talk, in which Alderson calls such talk an “unfair comparison,” given the fact that Cruz was seeking $65MM at the time and only was an option in left field. Alderson said the team was searching for an outfielder that could handle center field and provide some pop with a .240-.250 average.
- The Washington Post’s James Wagner looks at the unlikely story of Nationals prospect Pedro Severino, who almost quit baseball after being asked to become a full-time catcher and is now among the organization’s best prospects at the position. Severino caught his first game at age 15 (he had preferred third base at the time) because the team’s regular catcher failed to show up. He impressed his coaches by gunning down a base stealer, and they asked him to stay there. Four months after nearly quitting, the Nats signed him as a 16-year-old catcher for $55K. Now, Severino says, he wouldn’t dream of playing another position. Though his offensive numbers are low, the Nats coaches and front office aren’t worried, as they’ve placed him in leagues where he’s three years younger than the average player in order to challenge Severino.
As previously reported, before hiring Tony LaRussa, the Diamondbacks considered other candidates to slot in atop the club’s baseball operations structure or to take over directly for Kevin Towers as general manager. One candidate was former Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who notes that it is likely (but not certain) that Beinfest would have slotted into the GM role. Arizona also spoke with Braves advisor John Hart, says Rosenthal, though that was purely for purposes of dispensing advice.
Here’s more from Arizona and the rest of the National League:
- The April 2012 shoulder injury to then-Diamondbacks outfielder Chris Young had widespread ramifications both for player and club, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Young, who had been off to a hot start that season, has never really been the same since. And the injury also led to then-teammate Justin Upton playing through a thumb injury. Upton’s step back that year, which could well have been injury-related, ultimately played a role in his departure, Piecoro observes.
- If Young’s current team — the Mets – want to improve its offensive performance, the club needs to boost its spending, opines ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). With David Wright and Curtis Granderson eating up much of the team’s payroll space at its current spending levels, which reduces the team’s flexibility to add talent creatively without increasing its budget.
- Confirming recent suggestions, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that the Nationals are planning to rotate Ryan Zimmerman between third, first, and left field when he returns from the DL. In addition to increasing the club’s ability to optimize the deployment of its position players, Washington hopes that Zimmerman’s future value to the team will see a boost from increased flexibility. The one-time stalwart at the hot corner, who has seen his defensive performance wane with shoulder issues, is in the first year of a six-year, $100MM extension that was agreed to before the 2012 season.
- Nationals prospect Matt Purke will undergo Tommy John surgery tomorrow, reports Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post (via Twitter). The 23-year-old lefty has largely disappointed since the Nats gave him a $4.15MM bonus in 2011 to sign out of TCU. As Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com notes on Twitter, Purke — who signed a big league deal — will be out of options by the time he recovers from the procedure.