Yunel Escobar Rumors

Stark’s Latest: Price, Phillies, O’s, Royals, Pirates

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has a new Rumblings & Grumblings column posted in which he runs down a plethora of trade-related topics. You’ll need to read the full post to get all the information and analysis, but here are some of the highlights …

  • The Rays are waiting until next week to make any decisions on whether or not to trade ace David Price. However, as Stark points out, it could still be a difficult judgment call as to whether or not the Rays are close enough to go for it or far enough back to sell. Tampa is currently seven games back of the division lead and four and a half games back from a Wild Card berth.
  • One executive tells Stark that he’s convinced the team will move Price if they get a big enough offer. Said the exec, “They’ve really built their team by making these kinds of deals. But if the return they can get now is something they think they can get this winter, they’ll hold him.” Another exec tells Stark that waiting until the winter could reduce the return in a trade by 30 to 40 percent.
  • Stark runs down the possible landing spots for Price, calling the Dodgers the favorite, but noting that L.A. has said it will not part with both Joc Pederson and Corey Seager, even in a Price trade. The Mariners are the second choice, he notes, with the Cardinals listed third followed by the Giants and Blue Jays (both of whom are painted as long shots by Stark).
  • If the Rays do sell Price, they’ll be open for business and listen on a number of other players, including Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Yunel Escobar. Their preference is to deal Price and Zobrist in separate trades, if that comes to pass.
  • The Phillies are the next team that everyone is watching, with nine players that could be moved but contractual problems surrounding many of them. Most execs feel the Phillies will eat money to facilitate deals and aren’t looking to just dump players on other clubs. Specifically, the team is in need of position-player prospects, one exec who has spoken with Philadelphia tells Stark.
  • Marlon Byrd is the most likely to be dealt, with the Mariners, Royals and Reds scouting him. The Reds, however, may not be able to take on Byrd’s remaining $3MM in 2014, and the Mariners and Royals are on his no-trade list.
  • Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee aren’t likely to be dealt, executives tell Stark. In Lee’s case, they feel he’s a lock to clear waivers. One exec tells Stark that he’d be more inclined to take a chance on Lee were he a free agent, but his contract is too risky at this point.
  • Cole Hamels isn’t likely to be dealt either. It’s not that the Phillies aren’t willing to move him, it’s just that the prices they’ve specified consist of packages “that no one would possibly give up.”
  • A.J. Burnett‘s preference is indeed to return to the Pirates, but Pittsburgh would need assurances that he’s not going to exercise his player option for 2015. The Orioles‘ interest is said to be lukewarm, while the Phillies asked the Yankees and were told, “No thanks.”
  • At least half a dozen teams are in on Antonio Bastardo, whom Stark concretely says will be traded in the next week.
  • The Orioles aren’t looking for a closer upgrade over Zach Britton, but they’re looking for a rotation upgrade and a lefty reliever that’s more than just a left-on-left specialist. They’ve shown no interest in dealing Hunter Harvey or Dylan Bundy.
  • The Royals have called on virtually every right-handed hitter on the market, but they’re look specifically at right fielders, including Byrd, Alex Rios, Chris Denorfia and Dayan Viciedo. The first two of those options still look most likely.
  • Stark would be surprised if the Pirates didn’t add at least one pitcher, if not two in the next week, but it’d have to be at least a No. 3 option in terms of starters. On the relief front, they’re looking at seventh-inning arms, as they’re content with Tony Watson in the eighth and Mark Melancon in the ninth.

AL East Notes: Santana, Lester, Yanks, Meek, Escobar

Last week, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that several Blue Jays players were willing to defer their salary in order to help the team bring Ervin Santana on board, and it was later reported by Sportsnet's Shi Davidi that the group of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey were the five who were willing to do so. Last night, Rosenthal added to the story, reporting that Santana was so close to heading to Toronto that the MLBPA had already approved the deferrals. Rosenthal again speculates on the possibility of Rogers Communications imposing a payroll limit on the 2014 Blue Jays, which would help explain their quiet offseason (which was previously examined by our own Mark Polishuk). Elsewhere in the AL East…

  • The Boston Herald's Gerry Callahan opines that while Jon Lester is clearly the No. 1 starter for the Red Sox, he's not elite and isn't worth the money he could make on the open market. Callahan writes that another team will "get stupid" with Lester, offering him something in excess of $130-140MM, and if talks get to that point, then Boston would be wise to emulate the A's or Rays instead of the Dodgers or Yankees, and let their high-priced star walk.
  • In a second column from Rosenthal, he looks at a number of topics that also pertain largely to the AL East, beginning firstly noting that we shouldn't expect to see the Yankees pursue any outside help after injuries to Mark Teixeira or David Robertson. The Yankees feel that both injuries will be short-lived, and therefore aren't looking strongly at Ryan Madson and/or Joel Hanrahan, nor are they considering trades for first basemen.
  • Also of interest to Yankees fans will be Rosenthal's look at the rise of Yangervis Solarte — a minor league signing who has experience an unlikely rise to prominence in the Majors. Solarte's agents, Chris Leible and Peter Greenberg of the Legacy Agency, recall that their initial representation of Solarte was merely a favor to his uncle, Roger Cedeno. At one point this offseason, the Yankees dropped out of the bidding for Solarte, who was highly sought after. However, he was recommended by three different scouts, and Leible encouraged him by advising that his best ticket to the Majors was in a utility role.
  • Rosenthal also looks at the long road back to the Majors for Evan Meek, who signed a minor league deal with the Orioles this offseason only after calling his former Pirates manager (and current O's bench coach) John Russell and asking for a look. He ultimately auditioned for seven or eight clubs, but chose to go to Baltimore.
  • Lastly, Rosenthal notes that the extension for Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar was "almost certainly" his own call rather than that of his agents at Miami Sports Management. He writes that Escobar seems to prefer even minor levels of security and would rather have his new guarantee than risk waiting until free agency to sign, even if the outcome could have been something along the lines of Omar Infante's four-year deal with the Royals this offseason.

Quick Hits: Sandoval, Escobar, Injuries, Twins

For some late night reading, I recommend this piece from Eric Nusbaum for Sports Illustrated, which provides an interesting profile of Cuba's fledgling sabermetric community. Here are some notes from around the league to round out the day:

  • Pablo Sandoval and the Giants remain far apart in their discussions on a possible extension for the pending free agent, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The third baseman is asking for a five-year contract to forego the right to hit the open market, where he would be one of the most attractive players available.
  • The Rays' recent extension of shortstop Yunel Escobar looks to be a win for the team, writes Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs. Given Escobar's history of being traded and signed for values that seem to be beneath his skill set, Klaassen wonders whether Tampa's ability to incorporate players with a reputation for clubhouse problems was a factor in Escobar's decision to approach the team about a new deal.
  • Two injury situations arose in tonight's Rays-Royals game that will be worth keeping an eye on in the coming days. First, Tampa starter Matt Moore left the game after experiencing elbow soreness in his pitching elbow. While initial reports have been positive, he will take an MRI tomorrow, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune tweets. Later, Kansas City second baseman Omar Infante was struck on the chin by a pitch from Heath Bell. He is being examined to determine if he suffered a break, and the team also is concerned that he may have had a concussion, reports Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star (via Twitter). While it is still too early to speculate as to the impact of these up-in-the-air situations, any significant time missed by either player would obviously require some roster scrambling for their respective teams.
  • Twins president Dave St. Peter confirmed today that the club was aggressive on the free agent market beyond the signings that it completed, reports Derek Wetmore of 1500ESPN.com. St. Peter said that the club made "significant offer[s]" to Matt GarzaErvin SantanaA.J. Pierzynski, and Rajai Davis before those players signed elsewhere. "We offered more money to certain guys who chose to go elsewhere," said St. Peter. "It is what it is, but as the season progresses and we can do something that we think is a good baseball decision, the money will be there to allocate." Addressing the team's recent run of poor performance, St. Peter said it was not just about payroll. "At the end of the day, it's about making better baseball decisions," he said, "and obviously we haven't made enough good ones here over the last three or four years relative to certain trades and the way drafts have panned out."


Rays Extend Yunel Escobar

The Rays have announced that they've signed shortstop Yunel Escobar to a two-year extension that guarantees him $13MM. The deal pays Escobar $5MM in 2015 and $7MM in 2016, and includes a $7MM club option with a $1MM buyout for 2017. Escobar is represented by Miami Sports Management.

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Escobar will make $5MM in 2014 in the first option year of a two-year deal for 2012 and 2013 that included two options. His new contract will replace the $5MM team option for 2015 on his old one, so this new deal essentially locks the Rays in for that $5MM in 2015 while giving the Rays the rights to 2016 and potentially 2017 as well.

Escobar, 31, hit .256/.332/.366 for the Rays in 2013, but provided excellent value defensively — he posted a 10.7 UZR in 2013 and has been a consistently above-average defensive shortstop throughout his career. He typically provides little power but good on-base ability, with a .350 career on-base percentage to go with his strong defense. 2013 was Escobar's first season with the Rays, as the Blue Jays traded him to Miami in the Jose Reyes / Josh Johnson / Mark Buehrle blockbuster and the Marlins shipped him to Tampa for Derek Dietrich in December 2012.

The shortstop will enter the free agent market after his age-34 season if the Rays pick up the option. This is the second extension Tampa Bay has completed so far in 2014, having announced a six-year deal for pitcher Chris Archer this week.

Robbie Knopf of the Rays Colored Classes blog originally reported the deal. Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune was the first to report the value of the option and buyout (via Twitter).

Aaron Steen contributed to this post.


Rays, Escobar Have Had “Serious” Extension Talks

The Rays have already hammered out one extension recently, locking up right-hander Chris Archer to a six-year contract yesterday. Now, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports, via Twitter, that the club has also had serious extension talks with shortstop Yunel Escobar. While nothing is close with Escobar, who recently switched agencies and is now represented by Miami Sports Management, Topkin's source says an extension is still very possible.

The 31-year-old Escobar is controlled through the 2015 season via a $5MM club option — the final year of team control for Escobar on a two-year, $10MM extension with three separate $5MM club options signed midway through the 2011 campaign. That deal was signed with the Blue Jays, and since that time he's found himself traded to the Marlins and then the Rays (he never appeared in a game for Miami).

Escobar batted .256/.332/.366 last season in his first year with the Rays, belting nine homers and playing excellent defense at shortstop. Despite the pedestrian batting line, Escobar was valued at 3.3 rWAR and 3.9 fWAR due to his outstanding defensive contributions and the fact that his roughly league-average offensive production (97 OPS+, 100 wRC+) came from the shortstop position.

Escobar's six years, 121 days of Major League service upon entering the season are very close to the six years, 99 days that J.J. Hardy had when he signed a three-year, $22.5MM contract extension with the Orioles in July 2011. That contract is a bit outdated, but it could still serve as a reference point in negotiations between the two sides (my own speculation). Of course, Hardy was coming up on free agency at the time, whereas Escobar does have another year of team control remaining. And, while both are regarded as plus defenders at short, Hardy has considerably more pop in his bat, though it comes at the cost of a significantly lower OBP than Escobar's career mark of .350.

Robbie Knopf of Rays Colored Glasses first wrote about extension talks between the two sides yesterday afternoon.


Yunel Escobar Changes Agents

Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar has switched representation, moving from Praver/Shapiro to Miami Sports Management, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. 

Escobar, 31, is under team control for 2015 on a $5MM club option. Assuming that is picked up — which would be a given if he repeats his solid 2013 campaign — then his new agents may not have much work to do until he hits the open market before the 2016 season. Of course, another extension is always possible, though it may be difficult to get Tampa to offer up much of a commitment beyond Escobar's age-32 season.


Rays Exercise 2014 Club Options On Zobrist, Escobar

The Rays have exercised their club options over utilityman extraordinaire Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. As Topkin notes, the club's more difficult option decision comes due tomorrow, when Tampa must act on David DeJesus.

Neither move comes as a surprise, given that the option amounts for Zobrist and Escobar ($7MM and $5MM, respectively) are modest compared to their 2013 production. Zobrist slashed .275/.354/.402, a step back from his offensive output over 2011-12. But with stellar defense and baserunning, he nevertheless managed a third straight 5+ fWAR campaign and remains one of baseball's best values and most adaptable players. Escobar put up an exactly league-average wRC mark, but that will play at short, particularly when combined with outstanding fielding. He figures also to provide surplus production going forward after putting up a redemptive 3.9 fWAR in his first year in Tampa.

The best news for the Rays is that the club has virtually identical club options for this pair next year, as well. (Zobrist's jumps in value by $500k, though his buyout also plummets.) Tampa will hope the decision is just as easy next time around.


Rays Notes: Myers, Johnson, Escobar

The Rays allowed the fewest runs of any MLB team in 2012, posting a team ERA of 3.19. Here’s the latest on the 2013 version of the club…

  • Wil Myers probably won't start the season at the MLB level, but he's still expected to make an impact with the Rays in 2013, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com writes. Rays executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said he's hesitant to create oversized expectations for young players. “The first impression has been very strong. So we’re anxious to spend the next four or five weeks around him and continue his development,” Friedman added. 
  • The Rays will have extended control over Myers if they delay his debut, as I showed last week. The Rays acquired the 22-year-old in the deal that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City.
  • Bill Chastain of MLB.com notes that second baseman Kelly Johnson and shortstop Yunel Escobar will become the first middle infielders to start together for three different teams since Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino, who did it for the Mets, Indians, Giants and Astros. Johnson and Escobar also played together with the Braves and Blue Jays.

AL Notes: Hernandez, Escobar, Indians, Konerko

The signing of Felix Hernandez marks a major move in the history of the Mariners organization but will only matter if the deal is the first of many to come, writes Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times. “This signing, given the size and length of the contract, is the best evidence that the ownership group is committed to winning and doing what it takes to win,” Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said. Here's the latest news and stories making headlines from around the American League.

  • Yunel Escobar made his first comments about his trade to the Rays, reports the Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin. Escobar, with teammate Jose Molina acting as his interpreter, said he "felt really happy" about coming to Tampa Bay adding manager Joe Maddon made him feel very welcome and having former teammates like Molina and Kelly Johnson on the team makes him feel like he's "in the family already."
  • GM Chris Antonetti discussed the Indians' starting rotation with Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio (audio link).
  • White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko reiterated he will not make any decision on his future until after the 2013 season, reports Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com.  
  • The 2013 Blue Jays offer a lot to like and dislike as CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler breaks down what he's seen so far this Spring Training. 

Daniel Seco contributed to this post.


East Notes: Red Sox, Duquette, Escobar, LaRoche

John Lackey's new slim physique marks one of the many signs that the Red Sox organization has taken a step toward rebuilding a positive culture within the clubhouse, writes Buster Olney of ESPN.com (Insider sub req'd). The team has added new faces on the field (Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, among others) as well as brought familiar staff members home (former pitching coach John Farrell returns to Boston as the squad's manager) for what should be a vastly different season than years past. Here's the rest of the news and stories making headlines in both of the East Divisions.

  • Jair Jurrjens' contract status continues to remain the status quo according to Orioles GM Dan Duquette, writes Britt Ghiroli of MLB.com (on Twitter). "It's time to get it resolved," said Duquette as Jurrjens looks to rebound from a difficult 2012 season where he posted a 6.89 ERA with 3.5 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 48.1 innings. 
  • Yunel Escobar's arrival with the Rays organization has manager Joe Maddon excited about what the shortstop can provide the team this season, says Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (via Twitter). After a suspension marred his final month with the Blue Jays, Escobar was dealt to the Marlins in the November mega deal before ending up in St. Petersburg.  
  • Adam LaRoche says the new free agent compensation system has hurt players like him and is currently keeping Kyle Lohse from finding an acceptable deal, writes Dan Kolko of MASNSports.com (Twitter links). "It shows how important it is to get rid of that rule," LaRoche said to MLB.com's Bill Ladson. "I don't know if that was something the union granted, or they overlooked and didn't realize it could backfire the way it did, or if they were willing to take that risk. In talking with the union a little bit, I think they would love to take that back." For a more in-depth look, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes examines the system and explains why a qualifying offer can be a hindrance for a high-quality, but not elite, free agent.