Washington Nationals Rumors
Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has ranked the ten best and worst transactions of the offseason. The number one spot on both lists goes to the trade that sent Doug Fister to the Nationals and returned Robbie Ray, Steve Lombardozzi, and Ian Krol to the Tigers. Cameron argues that the deal is "the most lopsided trade we've seen in years," and notes that many observers are at a loss to understand it from Detroit's perspective. While the return for Fister certainly seems light, I tried to make some sense of the swap back in December, writing that the deal was a part (albeit a questionable one) of a massive overhaul of the club's future commitments that saved as much as $150MM in down-the-line salary while maintaining most of its present on-field quality.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski endeavored to explain the trade from his perspective in an interesting interview with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. He made clear that the team decided to deal one of its veterans for a good, young arm. "You can see that young pitching right now is very difficult to acquire," said Dombrowski. "We had a list of about 15 pitchers that we would consider in various deals. [Ray] was one of the 15. The other 14 people said no. And [the Nationals] said no at first." Nationals GM Mike Rizzo confirmed that the club was hesitant to part with Ray, even with Fister being dangled, saying that was "why the trade took 2 1/2 weeks to consummate."
- Dombrowski rejected the claims made by other executives that they had not known of Fister's availability, saying instead that he encountered a hesitant market. "That couldn't be further from the truth," he said. "We had our list of around 15 guys. We went to every one of those clubs: 'Would you trade this guy? Would you trade that guy?' And none of them would trade one." When the deal started to take shape, Dombrowski said he decided to grab Ray while he could. "We thought: Do we make this deal now, which we like? Or do we wait and see what else becomes available? But then does Washington do something else? Does [the trade] end up not taking place?" As I wrote at the time, the timing of things seemed to play an important role in how the deal came together; indeed, the Tigers went on to sign Joe Nathan the very next day, adding a two-year commitment at slightly more than Fister figures to earn in that stretch.
- The groundwork for the Orioles' signing of Ubaldo Jimenez was laid at the Winter Meetings when the starter and his agent met with new pitching coach Dave Wallace, executive VP Dan Duquette, and others, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. "Right there, I knew," said Jimenez. "They're really humble, really down-to-earth guys, and I knew it was going to be special to be in this organization. RIght there, I was like, 'Pretty much, this is the team I want to be with.' It's going to be a big part of my future for me and my family. The city is great and they have a competitive team. Those guys in the clubhouse look like they are great guys." Jimenez backed up his expressions of commitment by revealing that he would move his whole family -- including his parents and sister -- to Baltimore, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
- Though he is heartened by the club's moves and remains happy in Baltimore, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy says that he has heard nothing about an extension beyond what has been reported publicly, writes Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore. "Even after FanFest, I thought something was going to happen right away because I think you guys were asking Dan [Duquette]," said Hardy. "He came up to me and said something about how we're going to start talking extension, but really nothing has happened. I don't know. Maybe they were waiting to do some of these other moves or something." Hardy, who could test the market next year, says that he is still interested in a new deal: "If they come to me with an extension, we'll definitely be open with trying to work that out."
- Meanwhile, righty Kevin Correia of the Twins says that he would be interested in continuing to pitch in Minnesota when his two-year, $10MM deal expires after the season, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But, said Correia, he has not had any talks about an extension to date. "They had a pretty busy offseason with the pitching staff, so we haven't really talked," he said. "I enjoy playing here. We talked to the effect of how my experience was here, how I enjoyed the team and the coaching staff and everything, but that's about as far as we've gotten." Correia, 33, does not offer much upside but delivered solid results for the Twins last year, logging 185 1/3 innings of 4.18 ERA ball. Of course, as Berardino notes, with three new starters under contract and several prospect arms expected to reach the bigs in short order, the veteran may not fit into the club's plans after this year and could become a mid-season trade piece.
Ian Desmond reportedly turned down a seven-year contract offer from the Nationals that was worth at least $85.5MM and possibly topped the $90MM threshold, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post reported during a reader chat. Rumors about the Nats extending Desmond have swirled for over a year, and while the two sides agreed to a two-year, $17.5MM extension in January that covered both of his remaining arbitration years, Desmond is still eligible for free agency following the 2015 season. While Desmond didn't specifically comment on Boswell's report, the shortstop told MLB.com's Bill Ladson that "the Nationals and I had been in conversation prior to the two-year deal, but things didn't work out. I don't know how this got out. It's not something that came from my side. We don't operate like that."
Here's some more from Desmond and some other items from Washington...
- Though a long-term deal hasn't been reached, Desmond "feel[s] real strongly about my future with the Nationals. I would like to play here for the rest of my career."
- Desmond admitted he was "a little bit hesitant" to sign his two-year extension, "but in turn, I have a wife and kids. Guaranteed money is guaranteed money. I think it was a good, fair deal for both sides. I took a deal that benefited my family and it didn't affect future infielders in the arbitration process. To have the security was something I couldn't pass up."
- Also from Boswell's chat, he notes that the Nationals offered Grant Balfour a two-year, $12MM deal but the reliever took a similar deal from the Rays instead because Washington's offer contained mostly deferred money. Boswell admits this could be "one of those many after-the-fact retellings of history," but believes the rumor to be true. The Nats were known to be interested in Balfour and were trying to free up 2014 payroll space to sign him and make further moves, to the point that Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann's two-year extensions were both backloaded to 2015.
- Gio Gonzalez's contract has become a major bargain for the Nationals, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post writes. Gonzalez has three years and a guaranteed $31.5MM remaining on his original five-year pact, and the Nationals have $12MM club options on the southpaw for both 2017 and 2018.
It has been a newsworthy Sunday in the NL East with the Braves extending closer Craig Kimbrel and the Phillies announcing the signing of A.J. Burnett. Here's the latest on those two deals and the rest of the division:
- Kimbrel's agent David Meter called Braves GM Frank Wren one week ago and the extension was finalized Friday night, according to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- ESPN's Buster Olney tweets the Kimbrel extension is a win-win for both sides.
- The Kimbrel extension sets a good precedent for baseball because it will tamp down arbitration salaries for closers and it signals no closer will ever receive more than a four-year contract, writes Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio (Insider subscription required).
- Burnett told reporters, including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel, he chose Philadelphia because of its proximity (a 90-minute drive) to his home in Monkton, MD. "This is the first time in my career that I made a decision that wasn't about A.J. Burnett. It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I'm at home and I can still do what I love. And that feels good. It was a no-brainer to me."
- Burnett says he didn't receive much interest from the Nationals and Orioles, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
- Phillies Assistant GM Scott Proefrock, who lives a mile away from Burnett, told FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal the behind-the-scenes story of how the signing came about.
- Shortstop Andrelton Simmons could be next in line to receive an extension from the Braves, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets the two sides have a difference of opinion on the 24-year-old's future offensive value.
- O'Brien tweets it's safe to say the Braves will extend Simmons either this year or next.
- Daisuke Matsuzaka has a May 30 opt-out in his minor league deal with the Mets, tweets Sherman.
9:38pm: Roenicke's deal includes a June 15th opt-out clause, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com.
11:44am: The Nationals announced (via Twitter) that they have agreed to a minor league contract and an invitation to Major League Spring Training with right-hander Josh Roenicke. The 31-year-old Legacy Agency client spent the 2013 campaign pitching out of the Twins' bullpen but was outrighted off the 40-man roster and elected free agency back in October.
The Twins claimed Roenicke off waivers from the Rockies following the 2012 season, and he appeared in 63 games for Minnesota in his lone year with the club (he also appeared in 63 games for Colorado the year prior). With Minnesota, Roenicke posted a 4.35 ERA with 6.5 K/9, 5.2 BB/9 and a 41.1 percent ground-ball rate. In addition to clearly struggling with his command, Roenicke's 91.4 mph average fastball velocity was a career-low, as was his ground-ball rate.
Roenicke, the son of former Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke and nephew of current Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, is also the brother-in-law of Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post on Twitter). Once a well-regarded bullpen prospect in the Reds organization, Roenicke was traded to the Blue Jays along with Zach Stewart and Edwin Encarnacion in the deal that sent Scott Rolen to Cincinnati.
In 220 1/3 innings, Roenicke has a career ERA of 4.17 with 6.9 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 and a 46.7 percent ground-ball rate between the Reds, Jays, Rockies and Twins.
Major League Baseball is dealing with several employment issues not relating to big league players. As Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reported yesterday, MLB owners voted in January to permit teams the authority to take away pension plans from any employees that do not wear a uniform. (The effect would be prospective only.) MLB COO Rob Manfred noted that the vote does not require such a course of action and said no team has cut pension benefits, while asserting defined contribution plans are a reasonable alternative retirement structure. Though Rubin reports that some clubs appear primed to make reductions, Manfred disputed that it was inevitable. Meanwhile, as Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs details, MLB is now defending multiple lawsuits filed by interns, volunteers, and, most recently, minor league ballplayers.
Here are some notes from the National League ...
- After today's trade for catcher Jose Lobaton and a pair of prospects, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo explained his reasoning, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post was among those to report. RIzzo said that Lobaton "fit the criteria we were looking for" due to his switch-hitting abilities and solid pitch-framing ratings, the latter of which Rizzo labeled "key" to the deal. "Switch hitting is certainly a bonus," said Rizzo. "Our statistical analysis people rank all the catchers in baseball, and he ranks very well in the framing." Rizzo said that he was particularly high on Felipe Rivero, indicating that he felt like he took the place of fellow 22-year-old southpaw Robbie Ray, who was shipped out in the Doug Fister deal. The Washington GM labeled Rivero a "huge-upside left-handed starter."
- The Pirates' inability to reel back A.J. Burnett is based, at root, in a decision not to allocate all of the club's free payroll space to one arm, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Though Pittsburgh ultimately made a $12MM offer to Burnett, the club went into the off-season hoping to spread approximately $17MM to $19MM among multiple acquisitions, and came close to landing both Josh Johnson and James Loney. That explains much of the team's decision not to make Burnett a qualifying offer, says Sawchik, though he opines that the offer likely would have been declined. "It's always easy to look in hindsight," said GM Neal Huntington. "If [Burnett had] accepted the offer it would have had a significant impact on what we could have done. ... It would have affected our approach on the first base market, the right field market, and bullpen market. If we had [a] crystal ball and seen this is the way it would play out maybe things are different."
- Even after inking Burnett to a $16MM deal that reportedly pushes the Phillies player contract tab right up to (if not over) the $189MM luxury tax line, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said today that the club's payroll remains flexible, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
- Philadelphia reliever Antonio Bastardo will look to return from a 50-game PED suspension last year arising out of the Biogenesis scandal. In addition to expressing contrition today, he said that he faced a 100-game ban had he appealed, tweets Nightengale.
- Reds GM Walt Jocketty explained how his club came to claim Cubs righty Brett Marshall off of waivers, as MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports. "I talked to him and he sounded like a good kid," said Jocketty. "We had good reports on him. He had one of the best changeups in the Yankees organization. He's a sinkerballer with a good slider. He's got a couple of options left."
The Nationals have officially acquired catcher Jose Lobaton and two prospects from the Rays in exchange for pitcher Nate Karns. Along with Lobaton, the Nationals will pick up a pair of 22-year-olds that played at the High-A level last year: lefty Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson. Washington placed Erik Davis on the 60-day DL (right elbow strain) to clear 40-man roster space for Rivero.
Lobaton is a 29-year-old backstop who figures to slot in behind Nats' incumbent Wilson Ramos on the depth chart. A switch-hitter, Lobaton will presumably see much of his time against righties. Indeed, that has been the case for most of his time in the big leagues, though he has hit from both sides of the plate at roughly the same rate over his career.
Last year, in 311 plate appearances, Lobaton managed a .249/.320/.394 line, good for a league average OPS that plays nicely from the catching position. In addition to offering a left-handed hitting option, Lobaton appeals due to his affordable $900K salary this year and the fact that he can be controlled for three more seasons through arbitration. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted earlier this month, however, the Venezuelan native's defensive metrics provide cause for some concern.
The 26-year-old Karns underwent shoulder surgery early in his career and just reached the big leagues for three starts last year. Throwing 132 2/3 innings at the Double-A level last year, he put up a 3.26 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9.
Karns is a well-regarded prospect with a big arm, but questions remain whether he will stick in the rotation. Baseball America placed him at the ninth spot among the Nationals' top ten prospects. He had been expected to have an outside chance at earning a rotation spot in D.C., but otherwise would likely have served as minor league depth. Instead, he will presumably find himself facing a similar proposition in Tampa, whose fifth-starter options are perhaps led by 23-year-old prospect Jake Odorizzi.
The prospect return to Washington surely plays an important role in this deal. The southpaw Rivero, who landed at 17th on the BA list this year and 20th last year, threw to a 3.40 ERA in 127 innings at High-A last year, posting 6.4 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. Rivero has a slight build but reportedly delivers a fastball that touches the mid-90s and carries mid-rotation upside. He occupied a 40-man slot in Tampa. The Nationals had success with a similarly youthful lefty acquired via trade last year, getting some production out of Ian Krol before flipping him in the Doug Fister trade.
Vettleson -- the 42nd overall choice in the 2010 draft -- also placed amongst the Rays' top thirty prospects. Gaining the 11th overall slot last year, he fell to 20th on this year's version after a .274/.331/.388 campaign at High-A. He knocked just four home runs a year after hitting 15 at the low-A level in 2012, and also swiped only five bases after netting 20 over the prior campaign. Vettleson profiles as a right fielder, with decent legs and a good arm. Baseball America says that, if his power develops as he fills out, and he improves his jumps on the bases and defensive routes, the left-handed hitter could end up with a solid all-around tool set.
The deal shapes up to be a swap of somewhat redundant assets. For Tampa, Lobaton had no obvious role going forward after the Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan from the Reds earlier in the off-season. Meanwhile, the club learned that starter Jeremy Hellickson would miss the early part of the year due to injury. Though Rivero could potentially have a similar ceiling to Karns, the latter is certainly a more established player who is much closer to making a contribution at the MLB level. Even if he does not earn a rotation slot, he could contribute in the pen sooner rather than later.
From the Nationals' perspective, the price was likely easier to bear given presence of other young, MLB-ready starting options (including Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, in addition to the more established Ross Detwiler) as well as several other solid arms moving through the system. (To say nothing of the fact that the team already has a strong, young, current MLB rotation that is under control for at least two years.) Though Washington had already traded one well-regarded young starter earlier in the off-season when it sent Robbie Ray (among others) to the Tigers for Fister, Karns did not have a clear place on the big league club and was something of a wasting asset in the minors given his age. By picking up younger talent in the deal, the club managed to maintain a reasonable portion of its talent base while shifting its promotion timeline in a potentially beneficial manner, all while adding a solid piece to the MLB roster.
MLB.com's Bill Ladson first reported the deal (via Twitter). Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported the structure of the deal in its negotiating phase on Twitter. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reported (via Twitter) that Karns had been told he was traded to the Rays. Topkin first reported that two minor leaguers would also head to the Nats (via Twitter), and Kilgore tweeted that those names were amongst the Rays' top thirty prospects. Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com first reported on Twitter that Rivero was included in the deal.
THURSDAY: The potential deal includes at least two other players, possibly minor leaguers that would head to Washington, reports Topkin. As of last night, however, Lobaton told Topkin that he had yet to hear anything and was planning to report for the spring with the Rays on Friday.
WEDNESDAY: The Rays and Nationals are again discussing a trade of catcher Jose Lobaton, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, with righty Nate Karns being contemplated as the return for the backstop. Topkin says that the deal could involve other players as well.
Lobaton, 29, has reportedly generated interest amongst multiple clubs, especially a Nationals team that would still like to add an established backup catcher. A switch-hitter, Lobaton has seen about twice as many plate appearances against righties than against lefties, maintaining fairly even splits from both sides of the plate. He is a fairly attractive asset, particularly given that he is owed just $900K this year and comes with three more years of control through arbitration. While Lobaton's contract profile makes him a fit for Tampa's general approach to roster-construction, he became expendable when the team picked up Ryan Hanigan from the Reds. Last year, in 311 plate appearances, Lobaton managed a .249/.320/.394 line, good for a league average OPS.
Karns, meanwhile, is a 26-year-old who has yet to see substantial MLB action, but has a big arm. Baseball America rates him at the back end of the club's top ten prospects, after several other young arms. But the Nats have already dealt one relatively advanced pitcher from that list in Robbie Ray, and Karns was said to have a shot at competing for the team's fifth rotation spot. (If that failed, Karns would presumably serve as depth, especially with the news that Taylor Jordan could be slow to start the spring after ankle surgery.) In 132 2/3 Double-A innings last year, Karns put up a 3.26 ERA and 10.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. He received three MLB starts last year, struggling to a 7.50 ERA in just 12 innings.
Should a deal go down along the lines suggested by Topkin, it would follow a similar pattern (on a somewhat smaller scale) to other recent deals in which Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has swapped out pitching prospects for relatively youthful, established, cost-controlled big-leaguers. In addition to shipping Ray (and more) to the Tigers for starter Doug Fister, Rizzo sent Alex Meyer to the Twins last year in exchange for center fielder Denard Span. (The Nats also acquired reliever Jerry Blevins in exchange for prospect Billy Burns this off-season.)
Even though most of Alex Rodriguez's 2014 salary will be wiped out by his season-long PED suspension, the controversial slugger's contract is still ranked as the worst in baseball by Grantland's Jonah Keri. Of Keri's list of the 15 worst contracts in the sport, the Dodgers have four, the Yankees, Angels and Braves each have two and the Reds, Rangers, Phillies, Blue Jays and White Sox have one each.
Here are some items from around the baseball world...
- The Reds and Homer Bailey are "still talking" about a multiyear contract, GM Walt Jocketty tells MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. "There has not been a lot of progress, but good conversations anyhow," Jocketty said. Bailey's arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 20 and there is a $2.9MM gap ($11.6MM to $8.7MM) between his demands and the Reds' offer for a 2014 contract. This is Bailey's last season under contract with Cincinnati and the two sides are reportedly far apart on a long-term deal. Sheldon suggests that the Reds will be watching the Indians' case with Justin Masterson, as he and Bailey have posted comparable numbers over the last three years and Masterson is also scheduled to be a free agent next offseason.
- The Pirates offered A.J. Burnett a $12MM contract for 2014, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link). This obviously fell short of the $16MM Burnett received from the Phillies earlier today.
- The Twins aren't one of the teams interested in Emilio Bonifacio, 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson reports (via Twitter). Bonifacio cleared release waivers and became a free agent earlier today. The Orioles are known to be one of at least nine teams interested in the speedy utilityman.
- Also from Wolfson, a Twins official said that the club "had extensive talks" about Erisbel Arruebarruena but he was judged to be too expensive. The Cuban shortstop agreed to a deal with the Dodgers today that could be worth as much as $25MM.
- The Cubs can afford to be patient in trading Jeff Samardzija, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan argues, as teams may be more willing to meet Chicago's large asking price once the free agent pitching market thins out and teams get more desperate once the season begins.
- Right-hander Josh Roenicke is drawing interest from a "handful of teams" and could be signed soon, a source tells MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo (Twitter link). Roenicke posted a 4.35 ERA, 6.5 K/9 and 1.25 K/BB rate in 62 relief innings with the Twins in 2013 before being outrighted off Minnesota's roster in November.
- Also from Cotillo, right-hander Blake Hawksworth has retired. Hawksworth posted a 4.07 ERA and 1.85 K/BB over 124 games (eight as a starter) with the Cardinals and Dodgers from 2009-11 before elbow and shoulder injuries derailed his career. Hawksworth has taken a job with the Boras Corporation, his former agency.
- Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill discussed the club's recent signing of Carlos Marmol with Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
- Luis Ayala chose to sign a minor league deal with the Nationals since they (as the Expos) were the franchise that originally signed him and he still has many friends in the organization, the veteran reliever tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Several teams were linked to Ayala this offseason but the bidding came down to the Nats, Tigers and Phillies.
Here are some notes from the game's eastern divisions:
- After watching rehabbing reliever Ryan Madson throw on Friday, the Nationals came away impressed, reports James Wagner of the Washington Post. Reportedly throwing in front of representatives from 15 clubs, Madson is said to have touched 93 mph during the session.
- Nationals rotation candidate Taylor Jordan suffered a broken ankle over the off-season, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Jordan seems to be ready to go, though manager Matt Williams says the club will keep a close eye on him to ensure that ankle issues do not impact his motion and create bigger problems.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson spoke again about the club's shortstop situation, Marc Carig of Newsday reports. He tempered expectations of a Stephen Drew signing, saying that it remained possible but only "under the right circumstances." Alderson also said that the team was looking to the trade market, but a rival executive tells Carig that New York would probably need to give up young pitching to add anything worthwhile up the middle.
- The Orioles have stepped up their interest in Ervin Santana since losing out on Bronson Arroyo, tweets Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Though he is not sure how heavily the club will pursue the free agent starter, Connolly says that Baltimore is definitely still in the mix.
- Speculation arose that South Korean hurler Suk-min Yoon may have signed with the Orioles after a picture was apparently sent from his Twitter account purportedly showing him donning an O's cap. But two high-ranking team officials tell MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko that they have heard nothing about an agreement with Yoon (Twitter link). Likewise, a source tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter) that no agreement has been reached. Baltimore has certainly been linked to the 27-year-old, but as of now it is just one of five clubs in the mix, according to Rosenthal.
- Filling in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees expect to use Kelly Johnson as the left-handed side of a platoon at third, reports Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger. GM Brian Cashman said that the team would pick from among "a cast of characters that are going to compete for that spot on the right side."
Clippard, 29 on Friday, exchanged figures with the Nats last month. He and his agents at Excel Sports Management filed for a hefty $6.35MM, while the Nationals countered at $4.45MM. His ultimate salary falls north of the $5.4MM midpoint but comes in south of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz's projected $6.2MM payday.
The Nationals brought in a new closer in the form of Rafael Soriano last offseason, leaving Clippard with little hope of repeating his 32 saves from the 2012 campaign. A shift to the seventh and eighth innings didn't harm his production one bit, however, as he continued his success to the tune of a 2.41 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 73 innings. Over the past five seasons, Clippard has a 2.72 ERA in 383 1/3 innings to go along with averages of 10.3 strikeouts and 3.6 walks per nine innings pitched. He's controllable through the 2015 as a Super Two player, as he currently falls just 24 days shy of five full years of service (4.148).
As MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker shows, the Nationals have now successfully avoided hearings with all 10 of their arbitration eligible players.