Washington Nationals Rumors
The Max Scherzer trade rumors don't make much sense to Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, who argues that a Tigers club built to win in 2014 can't afford to move an ace pitcher unless another team makes "an incredibly loony price" in a trade. The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore hears from a source who flatly denies that Scherzer will be dealt, and Kilgore wonders if the Tigers' alleged willingness to trade may hint at concerns about Scherzer's future performance.
Here are some items about notable arms that could be had via trade or free agency this offseason...
- The Nationals have the minor league depth to acquire the likes of Scherzer or David Price, Kilgore writes. It could be more likely that the Nats pursue a younger pitcher who is under control for more years, a la the team's deal for Gio Gonzalez.
- Shelby Miller is "an under-the-radar potential [trade] target," a baseball official opines to Kilgore. Miller pitched just one postseason inning for the Cardinals due to concerns that he had a tired arm, though Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes that were rumors that Miller was really being saved for a possible trade this winter. I'm not sure if I believe that theory; you'd think the Cards would've had all healthy arms on deck in pursuit of a World Series.
- The Cubs are interested in Masahiro Tanaka, GM Jed Hoyer told David Kaplan on WGN Radio's The David Kaplan Show (Twitter link). "He's going to help somebody and we will be in on him," Hoyer said.
- Matt Sosnick, Josh Johnson's agent, says he has talked to "nearly every team" about his client, including the Rangers, ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett reports. The Rangers appeal to Johnson due to their winning ways because he lives in nearby Oklahoma, though since Sosnick says Johnson would prefer "at least a pitching-neutral ballpark," Rangers Ballpark might be a hindrance.
- The Angels' signing of starter Chris Volstad could spell trouble for starters Jerome Williams and Tommy Hanson, writes Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles TImes. Volstad is cheap and young, and DiGiovanna says that the club may not see much difference between him and the club's pricier, pre-existing options. In his breakdown of the Halos' arbitration-eligible players, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes calls Hanson a definite non-tender candidate, and says Williams could also be shown the door.
- ESPN's Jim Bowden speculates about six possible David Price trades (ESPN Insider subscription required).
MLBTR's Jeff Todd also contributed to this post
After a down season that saw the Angels decline their team option on him, Dan Haren signed a one-year, $13MM contract with the Nationals with the hope that a return to the Senior Circuit could boost his free agent stock. Unfortunately for Haren, 2013 brought more of the same, for the most part, and he's now set to head into free agency two seasons removed from his last ace-caliber campaign.
Few pitchers in the game can boast better command than Haren, who has averaged more than 1.9 walks per nine innings just once in the past six seasons. Haren walked just 4.3 percent of the batters he faced in 2013, trailing only Bartolo Colon and Bronson Arroyo among free agents.
Haren has only been on the disabled list only twice. While both of those instances have occurred in the past two seasons, Haren seemed perturbed to be placed on the disabled list this season, implying at the time that the move was made more to give him a mental break than due to any true physical ailment in his shoulder.
Whether or not there was an injury severe enough to merit a DL stint, it's hard to argue with Haren's results after the time off. Upon being activated from the DL, Haren rattled off a 3.29 ERA over his final 15 starts (and one relief appearance in which he picked up a save in a 15-inning marathon game). Over those 16 appearances, Haren was in vintage form, striking out 84 batters against just 18 walks in 87 2/3 innings of work. Opponents batted just .228/.271/.355 against Haren in that time.
Both xFIP (3.67) and SIERA (3.60) feel that Haren's ERA should've been at least a full run lower than the 4.67 at which he finished.
National League clubs looking to sign Haren will be pleased with the offense he provides. The average NL pitcher hit .135/.167/.174 in 2013. Haren, who was an excellent hitter in his college days at Pepperdine, has a lifetime .215/.240/.312 batting line in 353 plate appearances. That line isn't pretty, but it's leagues better than most of his mound brethren can boast.
Haren recently turned 33, so while he's on the wrong side of his prime, he's not so old that there's no hope for him to sustain his second-half success over the course of a full a season next year. He didn't receive a qualifying offer from the Nats, so there's no draft pick compensation tied to Haren.
One of Haren's main problems is that he's become increasingly homer-prone since 2012. Always a fly-ball pitcher, Haren's ground-ball rate dropped to a career-worst 36 percent in 2013. For the second straight season, he averaged more than 1.4 homers per nine innings, and that was coming in a pitcher-friendly stadium in the National League. Haren's average fastball velocity has clocked in at 88.7 mph over the past two seasons, which could have something to do with the increase in homers.
Haren's strikeout rate has dropped off in recent years. After averaging 8.7 K/9 with the Diamondbacks, he dropped to 7.2 K/9 with the Angels from 2010-12. This season with the Nationals, his strikeout rate climbed back to 8.0 per nine, but the move back to the NL played a large role in that jump. Haren whiffed nearly half of the opposing pitchers that he faced after facing just four pitchers in 2012. His K% against non-pitchers in 2013 (19.7 percent) was only a marginal improvement over his 2012 mark (19.1 percent).
Hitters are squaring up the ball with more frequency when facing Haren. His opponents' line-drive rate has risen in each of the past three seasons, climbing from 18.8 percent in 2010 to 19.5 percent in 2011 to 20.7 percent in 2012 to 21.9 percent in 2013.
From 2005-11, only CC Sabathia threw more Major League innings than Haren. Once a virtual lock to provide 220+ innings, Haren has failed to top 180 in each of the past two seasons. The 169 2/3 innings he totaled in 2013 are the fewest he's thrown in any full season.
The baseball offseason lines up well with Haren's interests, as he's an avid fan of the NFL and college football. His wife and two young children live in California, and Haren expressed the difficulty he found in being away from them to the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore late in the season: "From a personal standpoint, it was really tough," Haren said. "I hadn’t been away from my kids. It’s a year of their lives I’ll never get back. From that standpoint, it’s sad."
In a candid interview with MASNsports.com's Dan Kolko, Haren recently said that he's never had as much self-doubt as he did in 2013, and coping with his struggles in a city where he knew few people was difficult at times. At a few points, things got so bad that he debated retirement. Haren acknowledged that he won't have as much say in where he lands this offseason as he did in 2012-13, but his preference is to pitch on the West Coast. His hometown of Monterey Park, Calif. is just minutes outside of Los Angeles and is a mere 120 miles from San Diego. Having spent 2005-07 with the A's, the Bay Area is a familiar environment as well, and both Oakland and San Francisco could look to add a veteran starter this winter.
If Haren can't find a home on the West Coast, many other teams will be looking for rotation help. The Pirates have shown a recent affinity for starters whose xFIP numbers dwarf their ERA, and Haren fits that mold to a tee. A return to the Nationals could make sense given his strong finish and the fact that the city no longer feels so unfamiliar. The Orioles, Yankees, Blue Jays and Phillies could all use rotation help, though their hitter-friendly environments may not be a fit for a pitcher whose home run rate continues to climb. Earlier today it was reported that the Twins have reached out to Haren as well.
Haren salvaged some of his free agent value with a solid second half upon his return from the disabled list, but he's still likely in for a pay cut on 2013's $13MM salary. Another one-year deal seems to be in the offing for he and agent Greg Landry of CAA Sports, and Haren's frank remarks about the unease he felt playing in an unfamiliar city could suggest that geography will play a larger role in his 2014 destination than it would in most free agents' decisions.
Haren has already banked $61MM in his career, so he could settle for less cash if it meant pitching on the West Coast. Ultimately, while he hasn't resembled his former ace self over the past two seasons, he's done enough to earn more than fellow former ace Roy Halladay. My expectation is that Haren will sign a one-year, $10MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here are today's outright assignments and minor moves from around the league...
- Outfielder Aaron Cunningham has agreed to a minor league deal with the Cubs, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes reported yesterday (on Twitter). A former top prospect, Cunningham has batted just .219/.280/.347 in 501 Major League plate appearances between the A's, Padres and Indians. He spent the 2013 season with the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, slashing .247/.337/.401 in 115 games.
- The Rockies have signed right-hander Greg Burke to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. The 31-year-old Burke hurled 31 2/3 innings for the Mets in 2013. His 5.68 ERA doesn't look very pretty, but Burke whiffed eight hitters per nine innings and averaged 4.3 walks per nine. His 3.93 FIP and 3.95 xFIP give plenty of reason for optimism.
- Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker passes along a Sanspo article reporting that the Hanshin Tigers have an agreement in place to acquire Mauro Gomez (Twitter link). Gomez, 29, spent most of the season in the Blue Jays system but was claimed off waivers by the Nationals on Sept. 5. The powerful righty swatted 29 home runs for Triple-A Buffalo this season and slashed .249/.332/.521 in 453 plate appearances.
- Athletics right-hander Pat Neshek has elected free agency, per the A's Transactions page. Neshek, 33, has played an important role in Oakland's bullpen over the past two seasons, totaling 60 innings of 2.70 ERA ball with 6.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9. The side-armer has faced 555 right-handed hitters in his career, holding them to a paltry .181/.257/.315 batting line. As shown in our A's Arbitration Eligibles post, Neshek is just short of six full years of service time and would have qualified for arbitration one more time this winter, projecting to earn $1.2MM, per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
- The Braves have outrighted second baseman Philip Gosselin to Triple-A Gwinnett, according to the team's Transactions page. The 25-year-old Gosselin made his MLB debut this year, collecting a pair of singles and a walk in seven plate appearances. In 469 minor league plate appearnces split between Double-A and Triple-A, Gosselin batted .254/.299/.318.
The Nationals are looking to add an "elite" starting pitcher via trade, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, and they're in luck, as both Max Scherzer and David Price have been rumored to be available this winter. Rosenthal explains his reasons behind believing that Scherzer could be a better fit, highlighted by the fact that Nats GM Mike Rizzo drafte Scherzer in the first round when he was the Diamondbacks' scouting director. Rosenthal's sources maintain that the Tigers aren't shopping Scherzer at this point but rather just listening to offers. Here's more from a jam-packed column from Rosenthal...
- The Phillies have kicked around the idea of trading for Price, but it's unlikely to happen. The Phils would likely have to include top prospect Jesse Biddle in a potential package and perhaps Domonic Brown as well. Also, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recognizes that his club has multiple needs and that he will need to make multiple additions rather than going "all-in" on one big splash like Price or free agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
- While many will argue that Tim Lincecum's deal doesn't impact the free agent markte for starting pitchers because it was the Giants paying to keep one of their own, Rosenthal points out that other starters and their agents will argue the direct opposite -- "that the Lincecum contract was merely the outgrowth of supply-and-demand economics." In particular, he feels that it hurts the Pirates in their quest to retain A.J. Burnett. Rosenthal wonders how the Bucs can possibly retain Burnett after Lincecum got $17.5MM per year when they didn't even want to offer Burnett a $14.1MM qualifying offer.
- The Rangers are once again pondering their infield logjam and whether or not to trade one of Elvis Andrus or Ian Kinsler. Kinsler could also be moved to first, though it may be less appealing that moving Kinsler and his salary ($57MM through 2017). Kinsler's contract makes him the easier of the two to trade. Figuring out the middle infield and securing some salary relief could be the key to the Rangers' offseason, he adds.
- The Mariners consider right-handed pop their biggest need, and Rosenthal wonders if they'll take a second run at Mike Napoli, who they tried to land last offseason.
New Nationals manager Matt Williams says that the club has "some things we can refine" but is not in need of fixing, he said upon his introduction today. Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington has a fine breakdown of the proceedings, including Williams' stated emphasis on improving the club's defense and increasing its aggressiveness on the basepaths.
- Washington will maintain its existing coaching staff under Williams, with two exceptions, Zuckerman further notes. Bullpen coach Jim Lett will be replaced with Matt LeCroy, and Mark Weidemeier -- who, like Williams, comes via the Dbacks -- will be added to the staff as a defensive guru of sorts.
- Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have announced their staff, according to a team press release. Replacing Williams as the third base coach is Glenn Sherlock. The club also promoted Turner Ward to Hitting Coach and added first base coach Dave McKay, who had most recently served in that capacity for the Cubs.
- Even as they watched the experienced McKay leave town, the Cubs welcomed Brad Ausmus to Chicago today to interview for their managerial opening, tweets Bruce Levine. The longtime big league catcher has received plenty of attention this offseason, and now joins a list of six candidates to have had their moment to impress the Cubs' brass, as CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman explains.
- The Mariners are also interested in Ausmus's services, according to a report from Shannon Drayer of ESPN Radio Seattle. Drayer indicates that Ausmus has had an interview already.
- Former Mariner Joey Cora is also a possibility to take the helm in Seattle, says Drayer. He has already given one interview and could be in town right now for a second.
- As the club works to fill its skipper role, it has already quietly jettisoned bench coach Robby Thompson and third base coach Jeff Datz, reports Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times. The former was shown the door last week, while the latter was told he could stay on as a scout but wouldn't keep his uniform for next season. The remainder of the 2013 staff is still in limbo.
- The Rangers have brought back Bobby Jones to serve in a coaching capacity that remains to be decided, tweets Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest. Jones has bounced between the bigs and various minor league managing roles in the Texas organization.
OCT. 31: The Nationals officially announced that they have hired Williams as their manager. According to the release, Williams will receive a multiyear deal. GM Mike Rizzo offered the following statement:
"I am thrilled to welcome Matt to our organization and am confident he is the best choice to lead the Nationals at this time. He is exceptionally prepared for the task. Matt came into the interview process already possessing an extensive knowledge of our organization: our roster, our Minor League system – and our fan base. He has genuinely creative, unique ideas on how to increase performance, and on cultivating leadership and team unity."
OCT. 25: 8:40am: Knorr told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post (Twitter link) that he would stay in the event that he isn't selected to be the next manager, stating plainly: "I love this team."
8:27am: The Nationals plan to hire Matt Williams as their new manager with the hope of retaining Randy Knorr as their bench coach, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). The timing of an official announcement is still unknown, he adds.
Williams has been the rumored favorite for the past week or so, with one evaluator recently telling ESPN's Buster Olney that he would be "shocked" if the Nats don't tab him for the job. The Nationals have also interviewed Knorr, third base coach Trent Jewett, Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale and Padres special assistant Brad Ausmus.
Williams served as Arizona's third base coach from 2011-13 and was the team's first base coach a year prior in 2010. In terms of managerial experience, he spent two months as the interim manager for the Diamondbacks' Double-A affiliate. Last year, he managed in the Arizona Fall League, leading the Salt River Rafters to the AFL East Division Title before falling in the AFL Championship Game.
Over the course of a 17-year playing career, Williams batted .268/.317/.489, earning five All-Star appearances, four Silver Slugger Awards and four Gold Gloves. He finished in the Top 6 in NL MVP voting on four separate occasions, including a second-place finish with the 1994 Giants after he batted .267/.319/.607 with 43 home runs and earned a Gold Glove at third base.
Denard Span had been hoping that bench coach Randy Knorr would be promoted to the team's manager, but he tells James Wagner and Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post that he's excited by the hiring of Matt Williams. Right-hander Ryan Mattheus tells the Post duo that he grew up watching Williams as a Giants fan and used to emulate his game in the backyard, so he's particularly excited about the hiring. Here's more on the Nats and the manager/coaching situations from around the league...
- From that same piece, Wagner and Kilgore report that the pitchers are hopeful that the Nationals will retain pitching coach Steve McCatty, the team's longest-tenured coach. Hitting coach Rick Schu, who coached with Williams in Arizona from 2007-09, will remain in the organization in some capacity, even if Williams wants a different hitting coach, GM Mike Rizzo said.
- A.J. Hinch and Rick Renteria will receive second interviews for the Cubs' managerial vacancy, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The Cubs will conduct an in-person interview with Eric Wedge on Tuesday but have already spoken with him on the phone, Rosenthal adds.
- Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo is on the list of managerial candidates for the Tigers, Mariners and Cubs, as pointed out most recently by Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Lovullo tells James Schmel of MLive.com that he is indeed interested in being a manager, but obviously his sole focus at the moment is on the World Series. According to Schmel, the Tigers' list of candidates currently includes Lovullo, current third base coach Tom Brookens, current bullpen coach Mike Rojas and former big league managers Manny Acta and Dusty Baker. Lloyd McClendon and Tim Wallach have already interviewed.
The Nationals informed the press today that three critically important players had undergone "successful" surgeries, none of which are expected to present obstacles to a normal Spring Training. Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com, who was first to report the news on Twitter, rounds up the latest here. Staff ace Stephen Strasburg had bone chips removed from his right elbow; outfielder Bryce Harper had work done to the bursa in his left knee; and first baseman Adam LaRoche had his left elbow cleaned up. Each is reportedly on a four to six week timetable, though as Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington notes, bone chip removal in a throwing elbow typically requires a three to four month window for a full recovery. Elsewhere in baseball's eastern divisions ...
- Stephen Drew of the Red Sox has had one of the most anemic offensive post-seasons ever, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post wonders whether it will impact his free agency. Of course, as Sherman also details, Drew has been outstanding defensively during the Sox' run to the World Series. The expectation, he writes, is that Boston will make Drew a qualifying offer and attempt to keep him around, with the shortstop ultimately pulling down three or even four years at around $12MM a pop.
- Looking at things from the perspectives of the New York clubs, each of whom could have a use for Drew, Sherman says that Drew figures to cost too much for the Mets' liking. For the Yankees, meanwhile, Drew seems more of a second-level possibility whose attractiveness will depend upon who else the Yanks can sign and the status of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.
- With managerial openings beginning to be filled, the Orioles are likely to act soon to decide upon a pitching coach, writes Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun. The leading candidates, according to Encina, include three men with prior experience as pitching coaches (Rich Dubee, Carl Willis, and Dave Wallace) along with Andy Hawkins, the Rangers' bullpen coach.
The Mets were focused on position players in the 2012 draft, which is why they took shortstop Gavin Cecchini with the draft's 12th overall selection and didn't take Michael Wacha, the New York Post's Mike Puma writes. Paul DePodesta, the Mets' VP of player development and amateur scouting, tells Puma that "we really liked Wacha, and he was high up on our board," but the team felt it had enough minor league pitching depth already and needed help around the diamond. Wacha, of course, ended up going to the Cardinals with the 19th overall pick and has already emerged as a star during St. Louis' postseason run.
Here's some more from around the NL East...
- "The Braves certainly will entertain shopping" Dan Uggla, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reports, and he looks at the chances of Uggla re-joining the Marlins as part of a reader mailbag. Frisaro suggests the Braves would move Uggla if a team agrees to pay $6MM of the $26MM owed to Uggla through the 2015 season, and if the trade partner pays more, Atlanta could add a prospect. I'd suggest that the Braves would have to sweeten the pot to move Uggla, who turns 34 in March, is a defensive liability at second base and has only hit .201/.330/.374 over the last two seasons. The Braves have been linked to a possible deal of Uggla and a prospect to the Reds for Brandon Phillips.
- The Braves have "been lucky of late" to remain competitive despite overspending on Uggla and B.J. Upton, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Bradley warns that the team can't afford any more of these overpriced deals, and suggests that re-signing Brian McCann would create another payroll albatross in a few years' time.
- The Phillies' chances of re-signing Carlos Ruiz, their limited payroll and a suggestion about a David Price trade are all addressed in a Phillies-centric reader mailbag from MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.
- That limited Phillies budget could make it hard to upgrade their rotation since there won't be many bargains to be found on the pitching market this winter, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News writes.
- Matt Williams "seems to be the best available choice" to be the Nationals' next manager, and though Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post notes some of the risks involved in the impending hiring, he feels it could be a bold move for the team.
The MLBTR staff extends our condolences to the friends and family of NBA Hall-of-Fame player and coach Bill Sharman, who passed away today at age 87. Sharman is best known for his legendary basketball career but he also played in the Dodgers' minor system from 1950-55, doing well enough to earn a late-season callup in 1951. Sharman was a so-called "phantom ballplayer" (a player who spends time on a Major League roster but didn't actually appear in a game) yet his status afforded him a unique spot in baseball history. The entire Dodgers bench was ejected for arguing a call on September 27, 1951, thus making Sharman the only player to ever be ejected from a Major League game without appearing in one.
Here are some items from around the NL West, starting with Sharman's old team...
- J.P. Howell and Nick Punto are the only two of the Dodgers' free agents who Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles predicts will be back with the team next season. Saxon also predicts the Dodgers will decline Mark Ellis' $5.75MM club option and their side of Chris Capuano's $8MM mutual option.
- Letting that mostly veteran free agent group go is one of Saxon's five ways the Dodgers can reach their stated goal of getting younger in 2014. Other methods include trading Andre Ethier and acquiring David Price and Elvis Andrus.
- The Rockies will explore signing Jesse Crain if he's healthy and will look to re-sign Matt Belisle to a longer-term deal, Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes. Colorado has a $4.25MM option on Belisle for 2014 but Renck says the team will look to lower Belisle's base salary for next season in as part of a new contract.
- Renck also outlines several other Rockies offseason needs and notes that while they couldn't manage to sign Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu, the attempt at least showed that the club is trying and is willing to spend this winter.
- Also from Renck (via Twitter), he is "fascinated" by the Nationals' reported hiring of Matt Williams and notes that the Rockies came close to hiring Williams as manager last year before going with Walt Weiss.
- Even before their offseason moves have really begun, the Rockies and Giants are two of three teams projected by ESPN's Jared Cross (Insider subscription required) to have the best chance of improving by at least 20 wins in 2014. Cross also suggests a pair of free agents who could help the two clubs.
- A number of Padres topics are explored by Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune during a live chat with readers, including whether the Angels' Mark Trumbo would be a realistic trade option for the Friars as they look to add power to their lineup.
- USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweets that Dave Duncan is a "perfect fit" as the Diamondbacks' pitching coach and that we should "keep an eye on" him as a candidate for the job. Duncan took a leave of absence from the Cardinals in 2012 and recently said that he isn't interested in serving as a pitching coach again.
- In other NL West news from earlier today, the Giants officially announced Tim Lincecum's new contract....Lincecum's feelings about re-signing are included as part of a collection of Giants notes....the Padres designated southpaws Colt Hynes and Tommy Layne for assignment....MLBTR's Steve Adams wrote a Free Agent Profile of Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson.