Washington Nationals Rumors
2:19pm: MLB.com's Bill Ladson tweets that Ayala would earn $1MM were he to make the club out of Spring Training. Ayala will receive a $500K bonus for appearing in 60 games -- a mark Ayala has reached just once since 2008 (in 2012 with Baltimore).
Ayala, a client of Boston Sports Counsel's Dan Rosquete, joins Jamey Carroll as the second member of the original 2005 Nationals to return to the club on a minor league deal this offseason. The 36-year-old posted a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings for the Braves last season after being traded over from the Orioles in the first couple weeks of the season (April 10). With Atlanta, Ayala averaged 5.8 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 to go along with a strong 59.6 percent ground-ball rate. However, he also spent just over two months on the disabled list with anxiety disorder, resulting in the diminished innings total.
Ayala's future in the Majors looked questionable following a tough stretch from 2009-10. He signed with the Twins heading into the '09 campaign but posted a 4.18 ERA before getting released, and he allowed 10 runs in 7 2/3 innings after being picked up by the Marlins that season. The end result was a 5.63 ERA, and he didn't fare any better in 2010 when he posted a combined 6.42 ERA at the Triple-A level between three different organizations.
Since that pair of difficult seasons, however, Ayala has revitalized his career with a rock-solid 2.58 ERA, 6.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 164 innings for the Yankees, Orioles and Braves. Ayala will look to work his way into a bullpen that features right-handers Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Craig Stammen in addition to lefty Jerry Blevins.
The 36-year-old Ayala posted a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings for the Braves last season after being traded over from the Orioles in the first couple weeks of the season (April 10). With Atlanta, Ayala averaged 5.8 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 to go along with a strong 59.6 percent ground-ball rate.
Ayala's future in the Majors was in doubt following a brutal stretch from 2009-10. He signed with the Twins heading into the '09 campaign but posted a 4.18 ERA before getting released, and he allowed 10 runs in 7 2/3 innings after being picked up by the Marlins that season. The end result was a 5.63 ERA, and he didn't fare any better in 2010 when he posted a combined 6.42 ERA at the Triple-A level between three different organizations.
Since that pair of difficult seasons, however, Ayala has revitalized his career with a rock-solid 2.58 ERA, 6.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 164 innings for the Yankees, Orioles and Braves.
FEBRUARY 6: At least twelve teams have inquired with the Nationals about Espinosa's availability, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. However, the team remains unlikely at present to deal Espinosa, Ladson says.
Though Anthony Rendon has the inside track at the starting gig at second, Espinosa will have a shot at taking his job back. Alternative outcomes include Espinosa making the club as a reserve or starting out in Triple-A on optional assignment. But Espinosa represents important middle infield depth and still has tantalizing upside at age 26, leaving the Nats uninterested in selling low.
DECEMBER 10: The Nats are balking at moving Espinosa despite interest from the Yankees, among other clubs, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
DECEMBER 9, 6:29pm: One Nationals executive told Kilgore that the Nats aren't shopping Espinosa. Beyond that, GM Mike Rizzo plainly stated that he expects Espinosa to be his team's utility infielder in 2014, noting that despite a lack of experience at the hot corner, Espinosa has the tools to play third base. Kilgore writes that Espinosa has a big proponent in Rizzo, and the Nationals are determined not to sell low on the switch-hitter.
4:25pm: The Nationals are shopping Danny Espinosa in trade talks, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports (via Twitter). Passan adds that if the Nats are unable to find a deal they like for Espinosa, the infielder could fill the utility role vacated by Steve Lombardozzi.
After a couple solid seasons in Washington, Espinosa saw his production fall off a cliff in 2013 due in part to injuries. In 2011 and 2012, he was an everyday player for the Nats, hitting 38 homers with a .727 OPS in over 1300 plate appearances.
GM Mike Rizzo told reporters today, including Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com (Twitter link), that the Nats will be "open-minded" and won't be afraid to make a trade. However, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post says (via Twitter) that he'd be surprised if the team moves Espinosa, having already rebuffed teams like the Rays and Cardinals, who have tried to buy low.
It's been a busy day for Orioles news, as so far we've heard that the O's are one of three finalists for Bronson Arroyo, Baltimore signed Jack Cust and Evan Meek to minor league contracts, Grantland's Jonah Keri explored the team's recent spending history and its MASN TV contract, and MLBTR's Steve Adams wrapped up even a few more O's items as part of an East Notes post. Heck, why stop now? Here are more Orioles tidbits plus more news from around the AL East...
- Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135MM extension with the Braves could very well change the parameters for the Orioles' possible extension with Chris Davis, observes MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko. "If Davis comes close to duplicating his 2013 season, [agent Scott] Boras will view Freeman's salary as chump change," Kubatko writes. The Braves' deal with Freeman, 24, covered his three remaining arbitration-eligible years and his first five free agent years, while the 28-year-old Davis has just one year of arbitration eligibility remaining before hitting free agency following the 2015 season.
- Also from Kubatko, he questions if the Orioles would make a multiyear offer to Suk-min Yoon given his shoulder history and how the O's were recently burned by Tsuyoshi Wada's injury history. With Yoon looking for a two-year commitment and the Rangers, Giants, Cubs and Twins all showing, a one-year offer might not be enough to get it done for the Orioles.
- The Rays have been talking to the Nationals about a Jose Lobaton trade for at least a month, MLB.com's Bill Ladson reports, though the two sides can't settle on what the Rays would get back in return. Though the Nats are one of several teams interested in Lobaton, Tampa Bay is in no hurry to deal the catcher and could wait until Spring Training begins to move him.
- The Yankees' struggles to draft and develop quality minor league talent in recent years is chronicled by ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand.
- Over at Roto Authority, MLBTR's fantasy baseball-focused sister site, I looked at which of the Orioles' Manny Machado or the Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie is the better bet for fantasy success in 2014.
In a feature piece for Grantland, Jonah Keri profiles the Baltimore Orioles franchise, tracing the club's recent history to its current position. Keri shows positive perspectives on the team's oft-criticized owner, Peter Angelos, and credits GM Dan Duquette (and predecessory Andy MacPhail) with some shrewd moves that gave the team its solid current core. Nevertheless, Keri writes that Baltimore's generally average-or-below payroll tends to leave the impression that the O's are "spending like the Royals when they can afford to shell out more" and, "in a division that demands greatness, [have] resigned themselves to merely being good."
- One reason that Keri suggests the Orioles have untapped spending capacity is the team's unique TV rights situation. As Keri explains, Baltimore has a dominant position in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN, the RSN that enjoys both the Orioles and Nationals broadcast rights) and has been able to keep much of its position from the MLB revenue sharing system. Especially after the successful 2012 season for both clubs, the deal has been massively beneficial to the Orioles, but has seemingly not resulted in a corresponding increase in the team's payroll. Keri does note that one valid reason for caution in spending: the possibility of the deal being forcibly renegotiated against the Orioles' favor.
- On the other side of the ledger, Keri reports, a seemingly intractable situation for the Nationals has been ameliorated somewhat by league intervention. Stuck with little equity and a middling annual rights fee payout, the Nationals have nevertheless had their side of the deal sweetened by an undisclosed cash stipend that is paid to the club each year by MLB.
- For the Braves, meanwhile, their own unfavorable TV deal has left the front office looking for creative ways to keep the team's outstanding young talent in Atlanta. As David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, GM Frank Wren explained that the team's $135MM extension of first baseman Freddie Freeman was the culmination of months of planning and, potentially, the first of several moves designed to maintain the club's core. "We're looking at how we can keep our team together, especially our young, homegrown players," said Wren. "And we looked at how we could strategize to make that happen." Of particular importance, the GM acknowledged, is the team's new stadium plans. "There is also an element of the new situation in Cobb County that allows us to be more competitive, and I think it's evident by this signing," Wren said.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports (via Twitter) that trade talks for Rays catcher Jose Lobaton have begun to heat up. Topkin notes that teams with interest or need at the position include the Diamondbacks, Indians, Rockies, White Sox, Mets and Nationals.
The 29-year-old Lobaton slashed a solid .249/.320/.394 with seven homers for the Rays in 2013 and also belted one of the most dramatic and improbable home runs of the postseason. A switch-hitter, Lobaton has historically been better from the right side of the dish than the left, but he bucked that trend and swung the bat better as a lefty (.736 OPS) than as a righty (.653) in 2013.
While Lobaton is a solid, controllable bat -- he is a Super Two player that is not eligible for free agency until the 2017-18 offseason -- at a thin position, he also comes with some defensive question marks. Lobaton has caught just 16 percent of attempted base stealers in his career and was below average at blocking pitches in the dirt in 2013 (per Fangraphs). While he's not a poor pitch-framer, he also doesn't add significant value in that department, either (per Matthew Carruth's work at StatCorner).
Lobaton has been connected to the White Sox and Nationals in trade talks so far this offseason, with the Nats being the most recently linked club. A trade would seem to be beneficial for both Lobaton and the Rays; the Rays acquired and extended Ryan Hanigan this offseason in addition to re-signing Jose Molina, leaving Lobaton without a clear path to playing time. Additionally, a trade would save the Rays a bit of cash, as Lobaton avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $900K salary for 2014.
10:59am: Hill's contract contains a July 1 opt-out clause that allows him to elect free agency if he's not on the Major League roster by that time, tweets MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo.
9:50am: The Nationals announced that they have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with veteran catcher Koyie Hill (Twitter link). The Turner Gary Sports client also received an invitation to Major League Spring Training.
Though he's a career .206/.266/.287 hitter, Hill has carved out a nice career for himself as a backup catcher. The switch-hitting 34-year-old (he turns 35 in March) has tallied 1027 plate appearances in the Major Leagues and recorded at least 10 big league games per season dating back to 2007. He spent the 2013 campaign with the Marlins, batting .155/.183/.190 in the Majors (61 PAs) and .237/.291/.326 at Triple-A. Hill is a career .268/.326/.411 hitter at the Triple-A level.
The Nationals have been on the lookout for catching depth of late as they look to find a backup for starter Wilson Ramos. They've reportedly had recent discussions with the Rays about a Jose Lobaton deal.
Despite their "file and trial" stance with respect to the arbitration process, the Braves made clear today that the club did not extend its refusal to negotiate after exchanging figures to multi-year talks. After inking a two-year pact with Jason Heyward that did not extend club control, Atlanta promptly locked up Freddie Freeman to a long-term deal. The Heyward deal, in particular, reveals another benefit of the file-and-trial approach, writes Eno Sarris of Fangraphs. By holding out on seemingly inconsequential portion of Heyward's salary, Atlanta obtained sufficient leverage to add another year (and attendant cost-certainty) to Heyward's contract. Here's more on the Braves' interesting arbitration season and the rest of the NL East:
- Of course, Heyward's deal also provides security for the oft-DL'ed 24-year-old, though with his talent it is somewhat difficult to imagine any scenario where he would not have been tendered a contract next year. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links) that Heyward's representatives at Excel Sports Management approached the front office about a multi-year deal after exchanging figures. Though his spate of injuries (and correspondingly limited statistical production) hindered discussions, says Sherman, the gap was spanned and agreement reached on the value of Heyward's remaining arb-eligible years.
- In spite of the deals with Heyward and Freeman, Atlanta remains all but certain to face a hearing with closer Craig Kimbrel, reports Jeff Passon of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). With a substantial gap between Kimbrel's $9MM figure and the club's $6.55MM counter in Kimbrel's first year of arbitration eligibility, the outcome of that hearing (scheduled for February 17th) could go a long way toward determining the outstanding closer's future salary -- and, potentially, even what uniform he will wear for the long haul.
- After losing out on bench bat Jeff Baker, the Nationals are still on the hunt for late-off-season value, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. In particular, says Wagner, the Nats remain very interested in southpaw reliever Oliver Perez, who is reportedly close to choosing a team.
- The Mets are still saying that a Stephen Drew signing remains a "long shot" for the club, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. We heard earlier today that New York had not made an offer to the free agent shortstop.
Several 2015 free agents will need to play well enough this year to counteract the poison pill of a qualifying offer, writes Buster Olney of ESPN.com (Insider link). Shin-Soo Choo managed the feat last year, putting up a big enough season that the sacrifice of a draft pick did not substantially limit his market. Barring a big setback, Max Scherzer has probably already done the same, according to Olney. Others, however, still have work to do to avoid a potentially heavily constrained market. Among them, in Olney's estimation, are Justin Masterson, Chase Headley, David Ortiz, Asdrubal Cabrera, James Shields, Jed Lowrie, Hanley Ramirez, and Brett Gardner.
Here are some notes from baseball's eastern divisions:
- The Blue Jays are not just the most active buyer on the free agent starting pitching market, but actually hold a "commanding position" in the same, Olney asserts in the same piece. Toronto's beneficial draft-pick situation and cash position have left it in the driver's seat, able to name a price and wait for one of the top remaining starters to accept that it's the best they can do.
- Jays president Paul Beeston discussed his baseball and business philosophies in a wide-ranging interview with Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. Saying that "economics will follow the winning," Beeston said that, though the team is "not in the business to lose money, ... we're not in the business to make money either. We make the money we'll plough it right back in ... ." He also complimented club ownership, saying they greenlighted payroll additions in cases like Aroldis Chapman (as an international free agent) and last year's major trades with the Marlins and Blue Jays. As for GM Alex Anthopoulos, Beeston credited the 36-year-old with pulling off deals last year that everyone in the front office supported and said the experience had been a learning experience for all involved.
- The Nationals could still follow suit on the last two off-seasons and make an unexpected, late free agent splash, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, who looks at the team's current commitments for 2014 and 2015. Washington was willing to pay $12MM over two years to reliever Grant Balfour, and cleared additional cash by backloading the two-year deals of Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond. Though the club could stand to add another catcher, no attractive free agent splashes remain. Kilgore wonders, however, whether a run at A.J. Burnett would make sense, especially given his preference to play near his Maryland home.
- Unless the Phillies elect to utilize Marlon Byrd as the backup center fielder, Darin Ruf does not appear to have a clear shot at a roster spot, writes Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Ruf could still be optioned down to start the year, but he is 27 years old and is not in need of seasoning. Though limited defensively, Ruf carries a .838 career OPS through 330 MLB plate appearances.
Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio spoke with multiple agents and executives over the weekend and got contradictory takes on the reasons for so many top free agents remaining unsigned (ESPN Insider required and recommended). Agents told Bowden that they (and the MLBPA) feel that the heightened media coverage resulting from social networking has damaged players' market values. Reports from media members about how teams value players and whether or not they've made offers to players could be violations of the CBA, those parties told Bowden. Meanwhile, executives said to Bowden that the market is simply full of players with baggage (draft pick compensation, PED usage, inconsistent performance) and added that agents entered the offseason with unnatural expectations for their clients.
Here are just some of the highlights from a jam-packed column from the former Nationals and Reds GM...
- Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are the two most likely candidates from next year's crop of free agent starting pitchers to sign an extension, Bowden writes. Despite the fact that Scherzer is a Scott Boras client (Boras prefers his clients to test the open market), Scherzer seems to want to remain loyal to the Tigers. However, Bowden notes that an extension would still need to be somewhere close to Scherzer's market value, which Bowden pegs at a whopping $196MM over seven years.
- The Red Sox have made a two-year offer to Stephen Drew, one source told Bowden. The value of that reported offer is unclear, as is the date on which it was made.
- The Nationals have discussed Jose Lobaton trades with the Rays as they look to add a backup catcher for Wilson Ramos. Lobaton figures to be expendable for the Rays, as they project to have a strong defensive tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina behind the dish. Shedding Lobaton's $950K salary would seem to be more beneficial to the tight-budgeted Rays than most teams, particularly if they don't have a roster spot for him.
- The Dodgers are pushing for an infielder over another starting pitcher and hope to have a deal done within the next 48 hours. Los Angeles isn't likely to bid on any of the remaining free agent starters unless they're willing to take a short-term deal, as Dan Haren did to play near his hometown.
- Kendrys Morales is the most likely free agent to be this year's version of Kyle Lohse, writes Bowden. He notes that the Orioles -- who still have about $15MM to spend -- and Mariners remain interested in the switch-hitting Scott Boras client. Both are still in on Nelson Cruz as well. MLBTR readers seem to agree with the Morales/Lohse comparison; in the poll I conducted earlier this morning asking which Top 50 free agent would be the next to sign, he drew the fewest votes.
- The Royals and Indians are both highly unlikely to be able to lure back their respective free agent pitchers, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Blue Jays are a likely landing spot for both pitchers.