Washington Nationals Rumors
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post examines the coming payroll crunch that will soon face the Nationals. While the division-rival Braves have locked up their young core on multi-year extensions that have delayed their free agency, only Ryan Zimmerman is in that situation in Washington. As Kilgore notes, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister and Ross Detwiler are all free agents after the 2015 season, and extending any of those players becomes more difficult in light of the fact that they approach free agency at the same time that Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Stephen Strasburg become more expensive via arbitration. Kilgore wonders if recent talk of a Mike Trout extension could lead to optimism about a Harper extension as well, but also notes the difference between agents; Craig Landis is likely more open to a long-term deal for Trout than Scott Boras would be for Harper. Here's more regarding the Nats and the NL East...
- In a piece for the Washington Times, Mark Zuckerman looks at the Nationals' options for their No. 5 starter in Spring Training. While Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark all have their merits, Zuckerman notes the strengths of each at adapting to different roles. He writes that the easiest decision is Detwiler in the rotation, Roark in the bullpen and Jordan at Triple-A, but stresses that GM Mike Rizzo and manager Matt Williams need to make the decision with the team's long-term interests in mind.
- MLBPA executive director Tony Clark wouldn't bite when asked if the Mets' payroll was drawing attention from the union, writes Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Clark said that the MLBPA pays attention to payrolls "in general" and called the Mets a "marquee franchise" but wouldn't elaborate. Clark said he isn't aware of any payroll constraints on the Mets, who will have a roughly $87MM payroll that represents a slight decline from last year's mark.
- Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia News writes that while Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez's Spring Training debut didn't go particularly well this weekend, Phillies coaches and executives took away some positives from the outing. Gonzalez allowed a run on two hits and four walks with two strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings and is fighting with Roberto Hernandez for the fifth rotation spot. Pitching coach Bob McClure and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. offered some praise, especially since Gonzalez has scarcely pitched over the past two years due to injury and suspension. Lawrence writes that Roberto Hernandez is still the favorite for the fifth starter role.
1:33pm: Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com tweets that Gonzalez will earn $1.5MM if he makes the roster and has $750K worth of incentives in his deal as well.
7:31am: The Nationals announced that they have signed lefty Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training (Twitter link). Gonzalez is represented by the MVP Sports Group.
Usually one to hold lefties in check, the 35-year-old Gonzalez struggled in that regard last season, surrendering a .274/.336/.443 batting line to opposing lefties en route to a 4.68 ERA in 50 innings with the Brewers. However, his career mark of .219/.287/.346 is a significant improvement from last year's split, and he's just one season removed from posting a 3.03 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 2012 -- a season he spent with the Nationals.
Baseball prospect rankings are always fascinating, but often unsatisfying. Once all of the exciting projecting and future lineup construction has been completed, you are left to wait for the player to develop and reach the bigs. But youthful players more generally -- as distinguished from prospects -- can and often are a thing of the present. So, which teams have the best assemblage of young talent, prospects or otherwise? According to Jason Parks and the Baseball Prospectus staff, the Cardinals lead the way in a top five that belongs to the National League. The Pirates (#4) also land in that grouping, but the rest is occupied by National League East clubs: the Nationals (#2), Braves (#3), and Marlins (#5).
Here's more from the N.L. East:
- The Mets land at 12th on that list, led of course by a trio of young pitchers. One of those -- 21-year-old Mets hurler Noah Syndergaard -- has always wowed scouts with his stuff, but Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that he has increasingly revealed a competitive personality as he's come out of his shell in New York. Mets brass is reportedly excited not only about Syndergaard's MLB-ready fastball, but also his attitude toward the role of being a starter. Of course, he does not figure to be much of a factor on the big league level this year, though scouts tell Martino that he could retire MLB batters at his current stage of development.
- Speaking of prospects, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America compiled a list of the players who received some consideration for inclusion in the outlet's Top 100. The two most notable names, perhaps, were A.J. Cole and Brian Goodwin of the Nationals, who appeared somewhere on every writer's list of the top 150 prospects and peaked at 49th and 51st, respectively. It is worth checking through the names for "just-missed" prospects from other teams.
- Freddy Garcia of the Braves is at quite the opposite side of his career at age 37. As MLB.com's Mark Bowman reports, Garcia has started the spring with a strong case for a rotation or pen slot, having now kept opponents off the basepaths entirely in his first five innings. If he ends up not receiving a big league spot, however, Garcia says that he will retire rather than spending time in the minors waiting for another shot.
A number of notable clubs entered Spring Training looking for clear answers at second base, and other teams could face looming questions at the position. Here's a roundup of items about the keystone...
- Multiple talent evaluators tell ESPN's Jim Bowden that Alexander Guerrero needs a lot of time at Triple-A in order to both learn second base and simply to regain his form after not playing last season. In the Insider-only piece, Bowden looks at internal and external second base answers the Dodgers could explore to solidify themselves at the position.
- Early word on Guerrero hasn't been too positive, as one evaluator tells ESPN's Buster Olney (another Insider-only piece) that the Dodgers "could get him through outright waivers right now if they need a roster spot." Olney speculates that the Nationals could generate some interest in Danny Espinosa given the number of teams (including the Dodgers and Yankees) looking for second base help, though Washington wouldn't want to accept a sell-low offer for Espinosa given his poor 2013 season.
- The Royals are lacking in middle infield depth behind Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar, as Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star notes may not have the 25-man roster space for a backup infielder. Since Ned Yost plans to carry 12 pitchers, that leaves only four bench spots for Justin Maxwell, Jarrod Dyson, Danny Valencia and the backup catcher. Christian Colon, Pedro Ciriaco and Johnny Giavotella are currently fighting for a roster spot in camp and the team will have Valencia and Mike Moustakas work out at second in case they need to be emergency options. “It’s not ideal not to have a backup middle infielder on the team,” GM Dayton Moore said. “However, I do anticipate Infante and Escobar in the lineup most days.”
- Marco Scutaro is only beginning to take grounders and has yet to swing a bat, CSNBayArea.com's Andrew Baggarly reports. The veteran infielder is purposely taking a slow start to Spring Training in order to keep himself healthy and free of hip problems, and Giants GM Brian Sabean admits that the team probably should've shut Scutaro down last year when he was battling multiple nagging injuries. Despite Scutaro's issues, Sabean is confident he'll be ready for Opening Day though he only said "we'll see" when asked if he was comfortable with the team's second base depth.
Mets fans had a scare yesterday when projected Opening Day starter Jon Niese had to travel to New York to undergo an MRI after experiencing a dead arm. However, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweeted earlier today that the results of Niese's MRI were positive; doctors said his shoulder looked "perfect," and he will be able to resume throwing as soon as he returns to camp. Elsewhere in the NL East...
- CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury writes that 2014 could finally be the year that the Phillies trade Cliff Lee if they fall out of contention. Lee says that the concept of trade rumors don't matter to him: "I really don't care. There’s no sense really thinking about it. Honestly, it usually means a good thing. It means you’ve had success and other teams really want you." Lee's contract is guaranteed through the 2015 season and contains a vesting option for 2016.
- Rehabbing Phillies setup man Mike Adams threw his first bullpen of the spring today and said he felt great afterward, writes MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Adams felt some discomfort when throwing from flat ground on monday, but the Phillies' head trainer assured him it was ok. Adams, set to earn $7MM in 2014 after missing most of 2013, said he threw at about 85 percent intensity today and could be in the Phillies' bullpen sometime in April.
- Christina De Nicola of FOX Sports Florida spoke to Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill about his wealth of pitching prospects. Beyond Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and Jacob Turner, the Marlins also have minor leaguers Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Adam Conley, Brad Hand and Brian Flynn. "Those guys are all starting pitchers, which is an envious position to be in," Hill said. "We're proud of our depth, happy to have it and just hopeful that they all develop into what we think they can be."
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo calls recent trade acquisition Felipe Rivero a "huge-upside left-handed starter," writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. Wagner spoke with Rivero about his transition from the Rays organization to the Nationals.
Spoiler alert! Marlins president David Samson took on a very different role as a cast member in the current season of Survivor, but in tonight's premiere episode, Samson was the very first person voted out of the game by his tribemates. Another notable baseball personality, Jeff Kent, fared much better when he appeared on the long-running reality show in 2012, finishing 10th out of 18 contestants.
Here's the latest from around the division....
- Michael Hill, former Marlins GM and the club's newly-promoted president of baseball operations, speaks to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro about his philosophy in building a franchise, some of Miami's offseason moves and the development of creating a "Marlins Way" of aggressiveness throughout the organization.
- As of a week ago, the Nationals still had interest in free agent reliever Oliver Perez, a source tells MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Perez was reportedly choosing between four offers, and while Washington was linked to Perez earlier this month, it's unknown if the Nats were one of the clubs who offered the veteran southpaw a contract. Another source tells Ladson that the Nationals could pursue Perez as left-handed bullpen depth if Ross Detwiler keeps his spot in the starting rotation.
- Brock Peterson's 11-year odyssey in the minor leagues finally ended when he appeared in 23 games with the Cardinals last season. Peterson talks to MLB.com's Andrew Simon about his long career and his latest opportunity, as he chose to sign a minor league deal with the Nationals in the offseason.
- Mike Minor seems likely to be the next Braves player to receive a multiyear extension, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution predicts. O'Brien also thinks that while Kris Medlen is a bit older (28) than the other youngsters being locked up by the club, Medlen's performance is deserving of a long-term commitment from the team. Minor, 26, has three arbitration years remaining as a Super Two player and is eligible for free agency after the 2017 season. A Medlen extension would be more expensive for Atlanta, as Medlen is only under team control through the 2015 campaign.
Jonah Keri of Grantland lists out the National League non-roster invitees who could have the greatest impact. In addition to a series of highly-touted prospects with a chance to break out this year, Keri says to keep an eye on Roger Bernadina (Reds), Mark Reynolds (Brewers), Bobby Abreu (Phillies), and Jamey Carroll (Nationals). Here's more from the National League:
- Jaime Garcia of the Cardinals is set to receive a second opinion on his ailing left shoulder after undergoing an MRI on Monday, reports Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. Though declining further comment, GM John Mozeliak said that the preliminary review by the Cards' team doctor showed that "early indications have been encouraging." Nevertheless, any visit to Dr. James Andrews causes alarm bells to go off, and that is particularly so in the case of the 27-year-old Garcia, who missed most of last year due to a labrum tear.
- Reliever Clay Hensley, 34, is looking to make an improbable comeback with the Nationals after a series of injuries derailed his career, reports MASNsports.com's Dan Kolko. Though he could barely crack 80 mph just half a year ago, a weighted ball program commended to him by former big leaguer Tom House has allowed Hensley to regain the low-90s heat that he carried earlier in his career. Of course, Hensley faces quite another uphill battle in gaining a place in a Nats bullpen that has several arms competing for few openings.
- Much has been written about the Phillies' controversial involvement with the collegiate career of former draft choice Ben Wetzler, but Tony Blengino of Fangraphs provides an excellent new perspective on the issue. The former scout explains that the role of the scout is to eliminate as many variable as possible, making things as black and white as possible. But uncertainty will never be removed from the equation entirely, and Blengino opines that players should be permitted to utilize an agent/advisor without fear of repercussions.
- Justin Turner, who was designated for assignment by the Mets this offseason before landing with the Dodgers, talked about the shock of the DFA with Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Turner says he has nothing but fond memories of New York, though he was particularly stunned to hear that the team had concerns with his level of hustle.
Mike Puma of the New York Post wrote last night that Ike Davis concealed an oblique injury for much of the season prior to Aug. 31, when it worsened and sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Davis took exception to the story and addressed Puma and other reporters today, writes ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin. He quotes the first baseman: "You made it look like an excuse. It’s an excuse. It shouldn’t have been a story anyway. ... I sucked last year because I sucked. It’s not because I had an injury. You always have injuries. And now it just looks bad."
More from the NL East...
- Mets COO Jeff Wilpon has indicated that the team is likely to pick up GM Sandy Alderson's option for the 2015 season, writes Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. Alderson's contract expires after the season, and while some have mentioned his name as a possible replacement for retiring commissioner Bud Selig, David Wright thinks Alderson wants to stay with the Mets and complete the rebuild he's begun since taking over as GM. Said Wright: "Everybody is kind of concerned with how they are remembered. ... he wants to be remembered for taking an organization that was struggling and slowly building it up with the system with some good trades and free-agent signings."
- David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution examines the psychology behind long-term deals for young players, noting that some believe extensions can relieve pressure, while others feel the extensions provide extra pressure, as players feel they must live up to that contract. O'Brien spoke with each of the five players the Braves have signed to multi-year deals in the past three weeks and got their takes on their new contracts.
- Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond spoke with Mark Zuckerman of NatsInsider.com and reflected on the decade he's spent with the organization. Desmond is appreciative of GM Mike Rizzo for declining trade offers when he was struggling and also appreciative of managers Davey Johnson and Jim Riggleman for playing him through those struggles.
- Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will make his debut for the Phillies on Thursday this week, giving the club a chance to evaluate the pitcher they signed for $12MM last August, writes CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury. Salisbury writes that Gonzalez has merely looked "so-so" to this point and could end up in the minors to open the season if he doesn't win the fifth starter's job.
Here are a few notes out of the National League East:
- Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy says that he would be open to extension talk, but that none have taken place to date, reports MLB.com's Anthony DiComo. Explaining that he would leave his contract situation to his agent, Murphy said that he already feels lucky for his situation. "What is comfort? Is it money?" asked Murphy. "I've made an ungodly amount of money. That's the only way to describe it. ... You see an organization heading in the direction that we're heading, it's an exciting time. So you always want to be a part of that. However that looks -- one-year deals or whatever that looks like -- other than playing well, that is a little bit out of my control as well. But I do want to be a part of the solution."
- The Braves' extension strategy has drawn plenty of recent attention, and the presence of senior advisor John Hart -- the former Indians GM who authored the advent of the extension era decades ago -- surely played a role. Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus recently engaged Hart in a fascinating interview on the topic of extensions. Hart continued to discuss the moves of his current club with MLB.com's Mark Bowman, focusing in particular on the situation of Jason Heyward, whose two-year deal did not buy out any free agent campaigns. "I never did deals with guys who were arbitration eligible unless I got something back," said Hart. "I didn't want to just take a guy through his arbitration years. But I think in the case of Heyward, it was a phenomenal strategy, and the message was clearly delivered that they really like this guy and they want to keep this guy. Nobody knows where his ceiling is, it hasn't been defined yet because he has had a lot of injuries coming along."
- The Nationals chose to give second baseman Danny Espinosa a raise to $540K (during time spent on the MLB roster) in spite of his tough 2013, reports Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Though Espinosa had been on track to qualify for arbitration this year, his demotion (and lack of a September call-up) left him short. That bought the team an extra year of control and another season at just above the league minimum rate. The 26-year-old has drawn significant trade interest from teams looking for a cheap opportunity to return him to form, but the Nationals appear likely to use him as a bench piece and keep his upside in house.
Barry Bonds will work with the Giants as a special instructor in spring training next month, Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News reports. Bonds has not had an official relationship with the Giants since 2007, his last season in the big leagues, so his presence could make quite an impression in Giants camp. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- The Indians will "soon make a serious push" to extend second baseman Jason Kipnis, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Kipnis is eligible for free agency following the 2017 season, and Pluto notes the Indians would likely try to sign Kipnis to at least a five-year deal, picking up at least one free-agent season. MLBTR recently suggested Kipnis could make $30MM-$35MM over the course of a five-year deal.
- The Brewers will likely have a team-record payroll, and owner Mark Attanasio expects to win this season, Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel reports. "We’re at the point now where we’re well into the top half of payrolls in the major leagues. We have more pitching depth than we’ve had, really, in 10 years. As I’ve explained to everybody, as investors you wouldn’t make that decision to lose," Attanasio says. "The ownership group felt like this was the year to invest (more) in the team. I think we’re going to surprise people this year." After an offseason that featured the high-profile addition of Matt Garza, the Brewers have $86MM committed to 12 players, which could give them a higher payroll than they had in 2012, when their opening-day figure was $101.2MM.
- The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez has had a dramatic impact on Orioles fans, MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski writes. The Orioles' offseason had been very quiet, but suddenly they've landed Jimenez and now have Nelson Cruz as well.
- Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann is happy with his two-year, $24MM contract, and isn't concerned about the recent Homer Bailey extension, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Zimmermann and the Nationals tried to negotiate a long-term deal, but ultimately couldn't find enough common ground. "They came to us with a two-year deal. Let's get this out of the way, so we don't have to worry about arbitration for the next two years," Zimmermann says. "We felt it was right, and I think it was fair for both sides, and we got the deal done."
- Arbitration-eligible players received an average raise of 117 percent this offseason, with their average salaries rising from $1.78MM to $3.86MM, the Associated Press reports. The heftiest raise went to Freddie Freeman of the Braves, who went from $560K in 2013 to a multiyear deal with an average salary of $16.875MM.