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Royals righty Joe Blanton has rejected several opportunities to play in Asia, tweets MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes. The 34-year-old veteran, who has an opt-out date of May 15, remains committed to working his way back to the big leagues for the first time since 2013. Blanton has produced a 3.71 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 through 26 2/3 Triple-A innings this year with Omaha.
- Another long-time big league right-hander, Kyle Farnsworth, has other athletic endeavors in mind. As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports, the 39-year-old former reliever is now suiting up on the defensive line for the Orlando Phantoms — and is credited with 11 sacks, the second-highest tally in the Florida Football Alliance. (Attentive fans will recall that Farnsworth showed some gridiron promise at times on the diamond.)
- Speaking of football-baseball crossover, top overall NFL pick Jameis Winston will not be appearing on a mound any time soon, according to Darren Heitner of Forbes (via Twitter). Winston, a promising righty at Florida State, has a clause in his deal that will preclude him from pitching while under contract with the Buccaneers.
- MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez takes a look at this year’s top July 2 prospects. Some of the names will be familiar not only to international prospect followers, but also to general baseball fans. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has already received plenty of attention, but Vlad Sr.’s nephew Gregory Guerrero and Fernando Tatis Jr. are also among the top 30 prospects with big league bloodlines.
- Meanwhile, the Mariners are indeed pulling the plug on their operations in Venezuela, per Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal. The move had been reported back in March, though the team declined comment at that time. Costa takes an interesting, but sobering, look at the decline of the academy system in the struggling country. Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos expressed dismay at the diminishing opportunities for hopeful young ballplayers from his home nation. Of course, Ramos himself endured a terrifying kidnapping ordeal in Venezuela after reaching the big leagues. Now, he says he is applying for a green card in hopes of establishing permanent U.S. residency.
As we approach tomorrow’s deadline for exchanging filing numbers, the volume of arb deals will increase. All arb agreements can be monitored using MLBTR’s 2015 Arbitration Tracker, but here are today’s smaller agreements, with all projections referring to those of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz:
- The Indians have avoided arbitration with third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and agreed to a one-year, $2.25MM deal, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link). It’s a slight bump over Chisenhall’s projected $2.2MM salary. Chisenhall hit .280/.343/.427 with 13 homers in 533 PA with the Tribe last season.
- The Indians and left-hander Marc Rzepczynski have agreed to a one-year, $2.4MM contract to avoid arbitration, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Rzepczynski surpassed his projected salary with the contract, as he was pegged to earn $1.9MM next season. The southpaw posted a 2.74 ERA, 2.42 K/BB rate and an even 46 strikeouts over 46 innings out of Cleveland’s bullpen last season.
- The Nationals and catcher Jose Lobaton will avoid arbitration after agreeing to a deal, CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman reports. Lobaton will earn $1.2MM, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi tweets, which exactly matches his projected 2015 salary. Lobaton hit .234/.287/.304 over 230 PA in backup duty for the Nats last season.
- The Athletics and outfielder Craig Gentry agreed to a one-year, $1.6MM deal to avoid arbitration, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi tweets. Gentry was projected to earn $1.5MM. After posting a .759 OPS over 556 PA in 2012-13, Gentry took a step back at the plate last season, slashing just .254/.319/.289 over 258 plate appearances but still providing tremendous defense (a +16 UZR/150).
- The Nationals have avoided arbitration with second baseman Danny Espinosa, agreeing to a one-year, $1.8MM contract, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. This deal falls below Espinosa’s projected $2.3MM contract, though Espinosa hit .219/.283/.351 in 364 plate appearances for the Nats last season and managed only a .465 OPS in 167 PA in 2013.
- The Indians agreed to a one-year, $2.337MM deal with right-hander Carlos Carrasco, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (via Twitter). This figure is a significant increase over the $1.4MM contract that was projected for Carrasco in his first arb-eligible year. The righty enjoyed a breakout 2014 season, posting a 2.55 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 4.83 K/BB rate over 134 innings with the Tribe. Carrasco pitched mostly out of the bullpen but also delivered several quality starts down the stretch.
- The Dodgers and outfielder Chris Heisey agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.16MM to avoid arbitration, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. This is slightly less than the $2.2MM Heisey was projected to earn. Heisey is coming off a .222/.265/.378 slash line over 299 PA with the Reds last season and was dealt to L.A. last month.
- The Angels inked catcher Drew Butera to a one-year, $987.5K deal to avoid arbitration, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. Butera was projected to earn $900K next season. The catcher posted a .555 OPS in 192 PA with the Dodgers last season and was dealt to the Halos last month.
- The Nationals agreed to a one-year, $2.25MM contract with Craig Stammen, avoiding arbitration with the right-hander, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (via Twitter). This figure slightly tops Stammen’s projected $2.1MM contract. Stammen posted a 3.84 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and a 4.00 K/BB rate over 72 2/3 innings out of Washington’s bullpen last season.
- The Cardinals agreed to a one-year, $1.65MM deal with outfielder Peter Bourjos to avoid arbitration, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Bourjos was projected to earn $1.6MM. Bourjos displayed his usual top-shelf defense with the Cards last season but only hit .231/.294/.348 over 294 PA.
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Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos is likely to undergo a procedure to repair an injury to his left hamate bone, report Adam Kilgore and James Wagner of the Washington Post. The surgery will likely keep Ramos out of action for four to eight weeks, according to the report.
The news is a major disappointment for the Nats, and even moreso for the unlucky Ramos, who returned last year from an ACL tear only to deal with hamstring issues over the first half of the season. Ramos, 26, was expected to play a major role for a Washington club that hopes to return to the top of the NL East this year. In just 303 plate appearances last year, he clubbed 16 home runs and put up a .272/.307/.470 triple-slash.
It is not yet known, of course, how the team will address the loss. The Nationals acquired Jose Lobaton in mid-February to serve as the backup catcher, and can certainly lean on him in a starting role for some time. The likeliest internal candidates to take Ramos's roster spot are Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano, who have filled in at the MLB level in past years. Washington let veteran Chris Snyder leave at the end of the spring, and he has since signed on with the Rangers.
A new acquisition will surely tempt GM Mike Rizzo given the team's readiness to win, Ramos's fairly extensive medical history, and the fact that hamate injuries often sap power for some time even after a player returns. But at this early stage of the season, it would be effectively impossible to find a player that offers a reasonable hope of filling Ramos's substantial expected production. And it could be hard even to find someone that would provide much of an upgrade over the team's internal options for the reserve role.
We'll keep track of today's smaller deals to avoid arbitration in this post. Click here for background on the upcoming arbitration schedule and how MLBTR is covering it. You can also check in on our Arbitration Tracker and look at MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz's arbitration projections.
Today's noon CT deadline to exchange arb figures has passed, but negotiations to avoid an arbitration hearing can continue into February. The Braves are the only strict "file and trial" team that did not agree to terms with all of its arb-eligible players, meaning they could be headed for several hearings. The Nats and Indians have also shown a willingness to go to a trial and still have some players unsigned. On to today's contract agreements…
- After exchanging numbers, the Mets and pitcher Dillon Gee have agreed to settle at the midpoint of $3.625MM, tweets Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. Swartz projected Gee to earn $3.4MM.
- The Cubs have avoided arbitration with reliever Pedro Strop, president Theo Epstein told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). He will earn $1.325MM next year, according to a tweet from Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. It is not immediately apparent whether the deal was reached before the sides exchanged terms.
- The Angels have reached agreement on a $3.8MM deal with reliever Ernesto Frieri, reports Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (on Twitter).
- Mike Minor has agreed to terms on a $3.85MM deal with the Braves to avoid arbitration, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com (Twitter links). The deal came before figures were exchanged, Bowman notes.
- Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the D-Backs and lefty Joe Thatcher have avoided arb with a one-year, $2.375MM deal (Twitter link).
- Nicholson-Smith tweets that the Angels and Fernando Salas reached an agreement to avoid arbitration. Salas is the first Halos player to avoid arb. Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times tweets that Salas will earn $870K, which beats out his $700K projection.
- MLB.com's Jason Beck reports (via Twitter) that the Tigers and righty Al Alburquerque have reached agreement on a deal to avoid arb. The hard-throwing righty will earn $837.5K in 2014, tweets Beck.
- Sherman tweets that the Yankees and Ivan Nova avoided arbitration with a one-year, $3.3MM deal.
- The Pirates and Vin Mazzaro inked a one-year, $950K deal in lieu of an arbitration hearing, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune.
- The Royals announced that they've avoided arbitration with infielder Emilio Bonifacio. Heyman tweets that Bonifacio will earn $3.5MM in 2014.
- Sherman reports that the Rays avoided arbitration with Jeremy Hellickson and Sean Rodriguez (Twitter link). Hellickson landed a $3.625MM payday with a $25K bonus if he hits 195 innings pitched. Rodriguez will get $1.475MM with a $25K bump for hitting 300 plate appearances.
- Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that Brian Matusz avoided arb with the Orioles. Sherman adds that he'll earn $2.4MM in 2014.
- MLB.com's Brian McTaggart tweets that Jason Castro and the Astros have avoided arbitration. McTaggart adds in a second tweet that Jesus Guzman avoided arb as well. Heyman reports that Castro will be paid $2.45MM, while Sherman tweets that Guzman will make $1.3MM.
- The Indians tweeted that they've avoided arb with lefty Marc Rzepczynski, and MLB.com's Jordan Bastian tweets that he'll earn $1.375MM in 2014. Bastian adds that Scrabble will earn an additional $25K for appearing in 55 games and another $25K for 60 games.
- The Giants avoided arbitration with Yusmeiro Petit, according to MLBTR's Steve Adams (on Twitter). He'll earn $845K, according to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith (via Twitter).
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The Blue Jays' decision to fire hitting coach Chad Mottola yesterday made him a curious scapegoat for the team's 2013 failures, opines Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. Davidi points out that Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie (who hit .283/.346/.417 in the second half) all made positive strides under Mottola, who was in his first season as a Major League coach. Here's more on the Blue Jays…
- Sergio Santos' contract no longer looks as team-friendly as it once did, but the Blue Jays aren't missing Nestor Molina, writes Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Molina has struggled with the White Sox since being sent to Chicago in exchange for Santos, and Santos' final two months were healthy and dominant. Santos tells Nicholson-Smith that his goal for 2014 is to stay healthy, which will be a key if he's to have any chance at seeing his $6MM option exercised.
- Starting pitching is still the team's top priority this offseason, but an upgrade at catcher has leapfrogged left field for the team's No. 2 priority, writes MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm in his latest Blue Jays Inbox. Chisolm notes that the free agent market will be expensive and competitive and adds that the Jays are interested in Wilson Ramos of the Nationals, though he would be an expensive trade target himself (in terms of prospects). Still, Chisolm writes that GM Alex Anthopoulos "seems determined" to make an upgrade behind the dish.
- Anthony Gose could slot into the fourth outfielder role that will open up with Rajai Davis' departure, but Chisolm notes that he's also one of the team's top trade chips. Gose could also move into a starting role should a starting outfielder be traded.
- The Blue Jays felt that Emilio Bonifacio couldn't handle playing the infield on the turf at the Rogers' Centre due to his poor footwork and limited range, writes Chisholm, which is why they essentially gave him to the Royals. He'd have been non-tendered this winter, Chisholm adds.
- Chisolm also addresses the free agent market, noting that the Jays aren't likely to break their policy of limiting free agent deals to five years this offseason and aren't likely to pursue a Roy Halladay reunion as they need more certainty in a starting pitching acquisition.
Adam Kilgore has plenty on the Nationals' recent trades of David DeJesus and Kurt Suzuki in an article for The Washington Post. According to Kilgore, GM Mike Rizzo anticipated from the beginning that he would be able to acquire a prospect for DeJesus after putting in a claim on the outfielder. “Whenever you can net a good, young 22-year-old controllable guy, that’s what we’re trying to do,” Rizzo said, referring to one of two pitching prospects that the Nats will receive from the Rays in exchange for DeJesus. "It’s acquiring assets. That’s really the reason you utilize your positioning on the waiver wire." Earlier this evening, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports heard from a few executives who wondered aloud if the claim might have been a mistake by the Nats. Here's some more Saturday night NL East links…
- The Nats “most definitely” plan to try to sign DeJesus this offseason if the Rays decline his $6MM option for 2014, Rizzo says. The GM essentially told DeJesus so when they spoke Friday morning, according to Kilgore.
- Trading Suzuki to the A's is a suggestion of the confidence the Nats have in catcher Wilson Ramos moving forward, Kilgore says. “[Ramos] wants to be that guy who plays each and every game," Rizzo said. "We thought it was a good opportunity for us to forego four weeks or so of Suzuki and get ourselves a prospect out of it.” MLBTR's Jeff Todd profiled Ramos as an extension candidate earlier this evening.
- Rizzo will require a significant package of talent in any trade for Dan Haren, who has a 2.16 ERA in 50 innings since returning from the DL and will become a free agent after the season. Haren is owed approximately $2.63MM for the remainder of the season.
- GM Ruben Amaro Jr. faces the unenviable task of rebuilding the Phillies' bullpen this offseason, Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer says, calling the club's relief corps one of baseball's worst. Gelb suggests that a "total re-evaluation of the team's scouting methods and developmental strategy" may be necessary, but says he expects Amaro to again pursue veteran relievers in free agency after the season's end. Pitching coach Rich Dubee, whose contract expires at the end of the season, isn't likely to remain with the club in 2014, Gelb adds.
- Amaro may look to bolster the Phillies' statistics department, according to an article by Tyler Kepner of The New York Times. “We may be looking to fortify some of our information with some more statistical analysis," Amaro said. "I’m not so stubborn that we can’t try to do things a little bit different, or think that we can’t make better decisions." However, scouting and player development will remain the Phils' focus, Amaro added.
The Nationals' 2013 season has hardly gone the way the team hoped and expected. Some of the contributing causes — Ryan Zimmerman's throwing issues; the underwhelming performances of newcomers Denard Span and Rafael Soriano; Danny Espinosa's collapse at the plate — remain concerns going forward. Wilson Ramos's missed time, however, is a factor that promises to turn in the Nats' favor next year. With Ramos set to enter his first year of arbitration eligibility, could this be an opportune time for the Nationals to lock him down for the future?
Ramos's importance to the club is undeniable. While he recovered from ACL surgery and battled a hamstring injury, the recently-departed Kurt Suzuki handled the Nats' primary catching duties. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference grade Suzuki right around replacement level over his 79 games and 281 plate appearances in 2013. Meanwhile, in just 47 games and 181 plate appearances, Ramos has been worth about a win and a half over replacement level (1.2 fWAR; 1.8 rWAR). His .289/.320/.480 triple-slash is good for a 120 wRC+ — 11th among catchers with at least 150 plate appearances. Certainly, Washington would have loved to play Ramos for a full season in 2013. Having dealt Suzuki, the team seems poised to do just that next year.
Looking ahead, Ramos seems a good bet to continue to perform. Only recently turning 26, he has a career .273/.330/.443 line over 794 big league plate appearances, well above average for a catcher. Though his defensive performance has had its ups and downs, the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell recently composed an interesting argument that Ramos has consistently enhanced the performances of the Nats' pitchers through his presence behind the dish.
Of course, Ramos is one of several young Nationals who could warrant long-term commitments, even before considering headline stars Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. MLBTR recently looked at the two primary candidates, with Steve Adams profiling the extension possibilities for starter Jordan Zimmermann back in May and Tim Dierkes exploring the case for shortstop Ian Desmond in April. With the price only rising on those two players as they get closer to free agency and continue to perform at a high level, Ramos could represent an even better value proposition for the team.
Previous first-time arbitration-eligible extensions for established backstops are somewhat sparse, but there are a few potential comparables. Suzuki, for instance, signed a four-year, $16.25MM deal before the 2010 season after two solid platform years. The contract bought out his arbitration eligibility at an average of $4.95MM per season, and included a $8.5MM team option season (as well as a vesting component). More recently, coming off of a strong 2011 offensive campaign, Nick Hundley inked a three-year pact that guaranteed the Padres backstop $9MM over three arbitration-eligible seasons and included a $5MM team option for his first free agent year. (Carlos Ruiz and Chris Iannetta both received similarly-valued, three-year deals.)
By depressing his statistical accumulation, Ramos's injury history will reduce the price he might expect to command through arbitration — and, presumably, the price of an extension. Notably, while Suzuki had logged about 600 plate appearances in the two years before he reached arbitration eligibility, Hundley only managed about 300 plate appearances in his three pre-arb seasons. Ramos, on the other hand, has logged less than 300 total plate appearances since his 113-game rookie campaign.
If the Nats could structure a deal along the lines of the Hundley contract, the team could reasonably expect to achieve significant excess value. For his part, Ramos could well be motivated to seek guaranteed money; he has never earned more than league minimum, has experienced significant injuries, and already faces prospective arbitration earnings that likely understate his true value. And Ramos is represented by an agency, SFX, that has worked out several recent extensions for its clients.
Of course, Ramos's injury history could also be cause for some hesitation on the part of the team. While his ACL tear was something of a fluke, he has followed that up with two long DL stints for hamstring strains this season. Both Ramos and the Nats seem confident in his durability, however, with manager Davey Johnson calling him "a horse." Nationals GM and president Mike Rizzo, meanwhile, has made clear that he views Ramos as a long-term solution behind the dish.
It will be interesting to see whether Rizzo will seek to turn that expectation into a commitment in the coming months, especially with other extension candidates on the docket. Either way, after paying Suzuki $6.45MM for replacement-level play this year, the Nationals should expect to see a substantially better return on investment behind the dish in 2014.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images/Rick Osentoski.
With Spring Training in full swing, wonderful stories from present and past are always emerging. Take Rays starter Chris Archer, who is not just fighting for a spot on Tampa Bay’s opening-day roster, but is on a quest for self-discovery. (As told by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.) Or today's matchup between former and current Padres workhorses Jake Peavy and Clayton Richard, who were traded for one another back at the 2009 trade deadline. (Courtesy of Corey Brock of MLB.com.) Or, going back further still, recall Roberto Clemente, whose presence was felt strongly in Fort Myers, FL during his playing days and lives on vividly today. (From David Dorsey of News-Press.com.) On to some National League notes …
- While there was never a question who would cover the right-field grass for Pittsburgh when Clemente was roaming Forbes Field, the team must find someone to man that role in 2013. Jose Tabata has shown hustle and power this spring that have exceeded the Pirates' expectations, Tom Singer of MLB.com writes. Still just 24 years old, Tabata’s strong showing thus far has only further complicated Pittsburgh’s right field situation. As Singer explains, in addition to Tabata and trade-deadline acquisition Travis Snider (who the team hopes will lay claim to the position), the Pirates are considering options like Clint Robinson, Jerry Sands, Alex Presley, Garrett Jones, Felix Pie, Darren Ford, and Brad Hawpe.
- Also making a surprising impression in Pirates camp is right-handed reliever Brooks Brown, who Singer says has emerged as an unexpected favorite to earn a spot in the Bucs' bullpen. Brown was selected by Arizona in the first round back in 2006, but has yet to make a big league appearance.
- Another darkhorse bullpen candidate who appears to be making strong moves towards a roster spot is the Nationals' Fernando Abad. As reported by The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, with fellow left-handed relievers Bill Bray, Will Ohman, and Brandon Mann being sent to minor league camp, the 27-year-old minor-league-invitee Abad now stands as the most likely candidate to round out the Washington bullpen should the Nationals decide to keep another lefty alongside Zach Duke. (Ohman was apparently cut during today's game, just after his poor outing, according to Mark Townsend of Yahoo.)
- The Nationals also welcomed back catcher Wilson Ramos, who made his first appearance in a game since tearing his ACL early in the 2012 season, reports James Wagner of The Washington Post. Ramos will likely split time with Kurt Suzuki as soon as he is able to catch regularly.
- With Rafael Furcal being shut down indefinitely after a setback in his recovery from the elbow injury he suffered late last season, the Cardinals are planning what GM John Mozeliak is calling “an open competition” at shortstop, reports Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. After emerging last season when Furcal went down, Pete Kozma will battle with veteran Ronny Cedeno for the starting job out of camp.
- The Dodgers' outstanding young starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, says that he is not thinking about whether or not he can top the Felix Hernandez contract, Tracy Ringolsby or MLB.com writes. Kershaw explains that he'll "play the game the same way" regardless of salary because "it's the best job you could have. … I talk to my buddies all the time. They are putting on suits and ties, and going to the office every day. I put on a uniform and play a game."
Congratulations to the Braves, who clinched a postseason berth with a win over the Marlins last night. Though Atlanta still has a shot at the NL East title, they're more likely to play the National League's second Wild Card team in a one-game playoff once the regular season ends. Here are some links from the NL East…
- Trading for Gio Gonzalez and bringing back Davey Johnson were some of the most important moves the Nationals made last offseason, GM Mike Rizzo told MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Rizzo called Wilson Ramos Washington’s “catcher of the future,” but made it clear that the Nationals will have lots of playing time for Kurt Suzuki next year.
- Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen “blew his second chance” with Miami and doesn’t deserve another one in the opinion of FOX Sports writer Jon Paul Morosi. The Marlins stuck with the outspoken manager after his comments about Fidel Castro in April, but there are rumblings that his job is no longer secure.
- Someone like Nick Swisher could be “the ideal offensive fit” for the Phillies’ lineup, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News writes.
- MLBTR's Mark Polishuk previewed a possible extension for Kris Medlen earlier today.
A late-night snack for those of you with a hunger for news on baseball's two Eastern divisions:
- Even after his kidnapping, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos plans to begin playing for the Aragua Tigres on Wednesday of this week, tweets Mark Zuckerman of CSNwashington.com.
- FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Red Sox will conduct a second interview with Dale Sveum and least one other candidate in their search for a new manager.
- While the organization doesn't sound like they're considering the idea, CSNbaltimore's Rich Dubroff wonders if the Orioles should entertain the thought of trading Adam Jones. Dubroff quotes one rival scout who thinks they should hang onto the 26-year-old center fielder, saying: "If they're willing to move him, they're stupid."