Washington Nationals Rumors
Pitcher Doug Fister has avoided arbitration with the Nationals, according to a team release. Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that Fister will make $7.2MM, plus bonuses for innings pitched. Fister filed for $8.5MM while the Nats offered $5.75MM.
The Nationals, of course, acquired Fister in a trade with the Tigers in December. Fister posted a 3.67 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 208 2/3 innings last season.
The Nats had already agreed to terms with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Jerry Blevins, Wilson Ramos and Ross Ohlendorf. Fister's signing leaves Tyler Clippard as their only arbitration-eligible player.
1:07pm: Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets that Baker is close to signing with a team, and the Nationals are still in the mix.
11:39am: The Marlins and Nationals are among the teams showing interest in Jeff Baker, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter), who also notes that the Orioles are a possibly interested team.
Despite huge numbers against left-handed pitching -- Baker slashed .314/.407/.667 with 10 homers in 123 plate appearances against southpaws last season -- it's been a relatively quiet offseason for the 32-year-old. The Rangers are known to have interest in re-signing Baker, and the Giants had talks with him a couple months back, though that was shortly before they elected to sign Mike Morse. The Morse signing would seem to indicate that Baker is no longer a consideration for San Francisco.
Baker has just a .647 OPS against right-handed pitching in his career, but he has an .875 OPS against lefties to go along with experience at second base, third base, first base and both outfield corners.
- Homer Bailey was cautious in his remarks about signing a multi-year contract with the Reds, according to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. "There is [interest], but it has to be something that works out for both ends," said Bailey. "That's kind of tough to do. You see a lot of the signings that are going on, so, of course, it's going to raise eyebrows on my behalf. Obviously, with a mid-market team, it's tougher for them, also. We're just going to have to see how everything goes." Bailey, who is represented by Excel Sports Management (the agency which negotiated lucrative long-term deals for Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka this offseason), is arbitration eligible asking for $11.6MM while the Reds countered with $8.7MM.
- Reds GM Walt Jocketty says he is not interested in signing free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz (#17 on MLBTR's 2014 Top 50 Free Agents list) because he is tied to draft pick compensation, reports Sheldon.
- Danny Espinosa has been told by manager Matt Williams and GM Mike Rizzo he will be given the opportunity to compete with Anthony Rendon to be the Nationals' starting second baseman, writes Chase Hughes of Nats Insider. "That’s all I can ask for," said Espinosa. "I’ve never asked for anything to be handed to me. If I can get a fair opportunity to win my job back, I feel like I can do it." Espinosa struggled in 2013, due in part to injuries, batting .158/.193/.272 in 167 plate appearances before being demoted to Triple-A. The 26-year-old's name has popped up in trade rumors this winter with the Yankees, among other clubs, showing interest.
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. needs to decide when the team can realistically contend next and then set them up do so because going all in while simultaneously investing in the future only offsets each other, opines philly.com's Justin Klugh.
Let's take a look around baseball's Eastern divisions:
- Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis discussed his 2013 struggles with MASNSports.com's Roch Kubatko. "With my strength not being where it was, I was having to make adjustments I've never really had to try before," Markakis, who hit .271/.329/.356 last year, said. The left-handed hitter is considered a strong candidate to lead off in 2014, according to Kubatko, but hasn't discussed the issue with manager Buck Showalter.
- Though he'll never again suit up for the Nationals as a player, having retired, Livan Hernandez says he's 99 percent sure he'll be taking a job with the team. Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports that Hernandez said on Saturday at the club's NatsFest event that he'd like a position that would allow him to work with Washington's pitchers. GM Mike Rizzo confirmed that the team is interested in bringing Hernandez into the fold.
- Nats ace Stephen Strasburg says he's fully recovered from arthroscopic surgery that removed bone chips from his throwing elbow, Ladson writes. While Strasburg managed 30 starts last season, the big right-hander revealed that he often struggled to straighten out his arm after games and during bullpen sessions.
The Rays and Athletics have done the most this offseason to solidify themselves as top teams, New York Daily News' Bill Madden writes. The Rays addressed all their major needs by re-signing James Loney and adding Grant Balfour and Ryan Hanigan. The Athletics replaced Balfour with Jim Johnson and Bartolo Colon with Scott Kazmir, and they further improved their bullpen with the additions of Luke Gregerson and Eric O'Flaherty. The Yankees also added plenty of talent, Madden notes, but they still have serious issues in their infield. Here are more notes from around baseball.
- The Padres, Braves and Mets are among the teams interested in Cuban catcher Yenier Bello, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez tweets. As MLBTR's Steve Adams recently noted, it's unclear what it might take to sign Bello, but he is not as highly-regarded a prospect as players like Jose Dariel Abreu and Yasiel Puig. Sanchez had previously connected Bello to the Dodgers, Cubs and Blue Jays.
- The Diamondbacks have interest in Cuban pitchers Odrisamer Despaigne and Raciel Iglesias, Sanchez tweets. Despaigne was recently cleared to sign with an MLB team.
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo says he does not expect to give extensions to arbitration-eligible pitchers Doug Fister and Tyler Clippard, MLB.com's Bill Ladson tweets.
- The Nats were briefly connected to free-agent closer Grant Balfour before Balfour signed by the Rays, and they probably would have traded Drew Storen if they'd managed to sign Balfour. But Storen isn't bothered by that idea, Ladson writes. "You don’t take it personally, it part of it. It’s flattering that other teams want you, too," says Storen. "You look at it from all angles. [The Nationals] are a great team. Obviously, I don’t want to go anywhere. It’s just part of the business. Nothing new."
After a poor 2013 season and an underwhelming offseason, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. understands the criticism coming his way, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick writes. "People say, 'Don't you think you feel like you've built up equity? You guys had so many years of success.' I'm like, 'Not here in Philadelphia, my friend.' It doesn't work like that here," Amaro says. "We may have had one year of a pass, but our job is to try to get ourselves to the point where we're back again contending. Quickly." Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo hasn't made many phone calls recently, but he's still looking for ways to make his team better heading into spring training, MASNsports' Dan Kolko writes. Rizzo confirms that the Nationals were interested in Grant Balfour, but Balfour liked the proximity of the Rays to his home in Clearwater (Twitter links). Despite losing out on Balfour, the Nationals may not pursue another reliever, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets. A backup catcher, however, could still be a possibility, tweets MLB.com's Bill Ladson.
- With Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki, the 2014 Yankees will have more Japanese star power than any Major League team ever, writes FOX Sports' Jon Morosi. Kuroda, in particular, could be especially helpful as Tanaka adapts to U.S. baseball.
We'll keep track of today's minor moves here (information courtesy of MLB.com transactions page):
- Righty Jose Valdez has inked a minor league contract with the Red Sox. The 30-year-old has seen 24 big league games with the Astros, but worked last year at Triple-A, putting up a 5.72 ERA in 39 1/3 innings. Valdez has shown the ability to miss bats (career 8.7 K/9), but also tends to miss spots (5.2 BB/9).
- Tyler Graham, a 29-year-old outfielder, has signed a minor league deal with the Giants. Graham spent all of 2006-11 with the San Francisco organization, then split 2012 between the Giants and Diamondbacks. He got a cup of coffee with the D-Backs (two plate appearances), but ended up out of the MLB structure thereafter. Last year, he bounced between four Independent and Mexican League clubs. In his last full Triple-A season, 2011, Graham posted a .273/.337/.338 line with 60 stolen bases.
- The Reds have signed a minor league deal with second baseman Hernan Iribarren. The 29-year-old Venezuelan received 29 plate appearances over 2008-09 but has yet to return. Last year, with the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate, Iribarren slashed .312/.367/.407 in 286 plate appearances.
- Outfielder Angel Morales has reached agreement on a minor league contract with the Marlins. The 2007 third-round pick had spent his entire career with the Twins organization, reaching the Double-A level last year at age 23. Morales earned the promotion with a .297/.364/.525 start to the year in 234 High-A plate appearances, but failed to follow up in the penultimate level of the minors (.169/.230/.307 in 184 plate appearances).
- The Nationals have signed southpaw Zach Jackson to a minor league deal. Now 30, Jackson saw 105 1/3 innings over the 2006-09 period after being drafted in the first round of the 2004 amateur draft. Jackson has bounced around the league, failing to stick as a starter. Last year, after converting full-time to relief for the Royals, he pitched to a 1.32 ERA in 41 innings at Double-A and Triple-A. Jackson managed a sturdy 2.57 K:BB ratio in 2013, but did so on the back of just 4.0 K/9 (against a career-low 1.5 BB/9).
- Washington also signed righty Clay Hensley to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite, MLB.com's Bill Ladson reports on Twitter. The 34-year-old last saw MLB time in 2012 with the Giants, when he had a 4.62 ERA over 50 2/3 innings of relief. Over his career, Hensley has started 49 big league games and appeared in over 200 others out of the pen. He threw to a 2.57 ERA in 35 Triple-A innings last year with Reds and Brewers affiliates, registering 9.8 K/9 against 4.9 BB/9 in the process.
- One player appears in MLBTR's DFA Tracker with an unresolved case: Carlos Peguero of the Mariners.
Free agent right-hander Grant Balfour is expected to make a decision as to where he will sign "within a week, if not in the coming days," a person close to his situation tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that the Nationals are in the mix for Balfour, and Kilgore writes that it should be known soon how serious that level of interest is. GM Mike Rizzo appeared on the MLB Network this morning and spoke in general terms regarding Balfour (via Kilgore):
"Sometimes, you get some values at this time of year. We’re looking for any way to strengthen a weakness we have. We feel our bullpen is extremely strong. It’s a big part of our ball club. But if we could strengthen a strength, that never hurts, either. You can never have too many good players. Especially in January, you can never have too many good arms, too many starters, too many relievers."
In his weekend report, Rosenthal noted that the purpose of backloading the two-year deals inked by Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond was to create financial flexibility for the 2014 season. The club saved in the vicinity of $3.5MM by backloading those deals, and that money, paired with a trade of Drew Storen -- something both Rosenthal and Kilgore note as a possibility -- would seem to free up enough payroll to add Balfour. Storen is set to earn $3.5MM next season.
The 36-year-old Balfour agreed to a two-year, $15MM with the Orioles back in December, but that contract fell through due to medical concerns from Baltimore. While the initial reaction to the deal was anger from Balfour and his agents because multiple doctors said his shoulder was perfectly healthy, recent reports have indicated that Baltimore backed off due to concerns in Balfour's wrist and knee.
The Cardinals' Shelby Miller had an excellent rookie campaign with 15 victories (the most by any rookie) and the NL's tenth-best ERA at 3.06. But, the 23-year-old right-hander made only one appearance during the Cardinals' post-season run. During the team's annual Winter Warmup, Miller addressed the issue (as quoted by the Associated Press via ESPN.com). "I was a little upset I didn't pitch but I just put it away. I didn't want to dwell on the past and why I didn't pitch in October. I'm not worried about it anymore. I'm just going to let it be a mystery. A mystery unsolved." Miller added he felt fine physcially: no "better or worse than I did during the season." In other news and notes involving the Cardinals and the National League:
- The Cardinals have not gone to an arbitration hearing since 1999, but GM John Mozeliak admits it is a possibility with Daniel Descalso, reports MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. Descalso asked for $1.65MM while the Cardinals countered with $930K. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected a $1.2MM salary for Descalso.
- Also within Langosh's article, Mozeliak does not anticipate any contract extensions during Spring Training this year. The Cardinals have extended Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, and Allen Craig during the last two Spring Trainings.
- Jason Motte, the Cardinals' closer before undergoing Tommy John surgery last May, is heading to the Cardinals' training camp in Florida to continue his throwing program, Langosch tweets.
- The Nationals remain in the market for a backup catcher and that piece will likely come in a trade, according to MLB.com's William Ladson.
- There is a good chance reliever Rafael Betancourt returns to the Rockies, a source tells Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish. The source adds Betancourt prefers Colorado because of his relationship with the club, but both sides are "trying to figure out the timing with his rehab" before coming to terms. The 38-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery last year leading the Rockies to decline his 2014 option, but is working on a comeback.
- Fourteen teams were on hand for Todd Coffey's showcase on Friday, tweets Cotillo. The right-handed reliever missed all of last year after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery in 2012. Before being sidelined, the 33-year-old appeared in at least 57 games and pitched at least 51 innings in six of his previous seven seasons.
Aaron Steen contributed to this post.
The Nationals have interest in free agent reliever Grant Balfour, major league sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The Nats already have three relievers with closing experience in Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, but the addition of Balfour could make sense for a variety of reasons, Rosenthal writes.
According to sources, GM Mike Rizzo & Co. would like to trade Storen, who will earn $3.45MM in 2014. Meanwhile, Washington almost certainly doesn't want Soriano to pitch enough games to trigger his $14MM option for 2015 and they'd probably like to keep Clippard as a setup man.
The Nationals saved about $3.5MM by signing shortstop Ian Desmond and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann to back-loaded, two-year extensions and major league sources say their aim was to create financial flexibility. They want to add another bat off the bench, but they also would like to add Balfour. They could also parlay those savings into settling their arb cases with Clippard and Doug Fister, but, of course, they'd rather not have to.
Balfour, of course, had agreed to a two-year, $15MM contract with the Beltway's other team before the O's called it off due to concerns about his knee and wrist. Meanwhile, Balfour has been adamant that he is completely healthy.
While the Nationals like Balfour, they don't have interest in Fernando Rodney, the other top closer on the market, sources say.