Yuniesky Betancourt Rumors
As we wind up one of the busiest weeks in the history of baseball transactions, here are a few more notes as we head into the weekend...
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow is happy to have acquired Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman before the Winter Meetings, but Luhnow tells reporters (including Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle) that his club has more on its to-do list. “To have them both done before the Winter Meetings is a bonus," Luhnow said. "So now that we can focus on the bullpen and focus on potentially another position player somewhere....We may not be done with starting pitching either. We’re still actively talking to some other folks.”
- With the Phillies reportedly shopping closer Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News feels the team will have a tough time given Papelbon's large salary, signs of decline and his possible attitude issues.
- J.A. Happ could be a trade chip for the Blue Jays if the team needed to free up some payroll space, Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith writes. Happ is set to earn $5.2MM in 2014 with a $6.7MM team option for 2015. The southpaw was limited to 18 starts in 2013 due to head injuries suffered when he was hit in the head with a line drive, as well as a knee injury also stemming from the incident.
- Also from Nicholson-Smith, nothing is imminent with Yuniesky Betancourt, though a number of teams are still interested in the veteran as infield depth. The Marlins were linked to Betancourt last month.
- Erisbel Barbaro Arruebarruena has a good glove at shortstop, is lacking at the plate and is overall not going to provide the impact of recent Cuban signings, a scout tells MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. "This isn’t like watching Aroldis Chapman or Yoenis Cespedes. You’re not going to hear from 15 teams. You’ll hear from teams that are hurting a little bit at shortstop," the scout said. Arruebarruena will showcase his skills for teams this weekend, and the Mets have been identified as one of the attending clubs.
The Blue Jays discussed a trade for Matt Kemp with the Dodgers at the GM meetings, reports Shi Davidi of SportsNet.ca. Those discussions appear to have gone nowhere, but Davidi says they are indicative of a trend throughout MLB -- teams are entertaining ideas of big trades (like the recent Prince Fielder / Ian Kinsler blockbuster) rather than diving into a free agent market that's become increasingly expensive. Here are more notes from around the East divisions.
- The Nationals are hunting for a starting pitcher, but they don't want to sacrifice their 2014 first-round draft pick (no. 20 overall) in the process, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. That could make Matt Garza or Ricky Nolasco, who did not receive qualifying offers because they were traded in-season, more attractive options than Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana or Hiroki Kuroda.
- The Marlins have made contact with free agent infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes. The Marlins are looking for a third baseman, and Betancourt played 59 games there in 2013, a season in which he hit .212/.240/.355. One would think that the Marlins would be interested only on a minor-league deal, though it's worth noting that Betancourt has received near-regular playing time for most of his career despite not posting an on-base percentage above .300 since 2007.
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledges the risk involved in signing soon-to-be-35-year-old catcher Carlos Ruiz to a three-year deal, CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury writes. "Clearly this is a commitment that will be scrutinized," Amaro says. "Is it a risk to put three years into a catcher at this stage of his career? It can be, yes. But I think every signing is a risk and we hope that he remains productive throughout the three years and perhaps more." Ruiz hit .268/.320/.368 in a weak offensive season in 2013.
Joe Nathan agreed with Jim Bowden's suggestions of the Tigers, Angels and Yankees as good fits for his services, the veteran closer told Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. Nathan said that finding a winning team was more important to him than location, he's prepared to be patient and see how his market develops, and he revealed that his old teammate Torii Hunter was trying to recruit him to come to Detroit. Tip of the cap to MLB.com's Jason Beck for providing an audio link to Nathan's interview and a partial transcript.
Here's some more news as we wrap up a busy day around baseball...
- The Phillies have a long-standing interest in Peter Bourjos and would love to have him, but they don't have the young pitching the Angels would want back in a trade, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports. The Phils would have to get a third team involved to work out a deal, or forget Bourjos entirely and focus on other outfield candidates; Rosenthal suggests Grady Sizemore as a bench possibility.
- Also from Rosenthal, rival scouts figure the Yankees will make a big push to sign international talent since they're already over the bonus pool limit for international signings and will be penalized anyway. It's worth noting that Joe Pawlikowski of the River Ave Blues blog believes Rosenthal may have miscalculated some figures and is actually saying the Yankees will overspend during the next international signing period, which opens on July 2, 2014.
- MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez lists 10 teams who could possibly be trade partners for the Angels in their search for young, controllable pitching.
- Ruben Tejada's possible grievance against the Mets is just the latest sign of strained relations between the shortstop and the team, and Andy Martino of the New York Daily News figures the two sides are close to parting ways.
- The Rays plan to rotate Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce and David DeJesus at DH this season, a move that will help keep the players fresh and also allow the club to save money on signing a designated hitter, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes.
- Five teams have shown interest in Yuniesky Betancourt as a second or third baseman, agent Alex Esteban tells Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith (Twitter link).
- The White Sox aren't used to picking as high as third overall in the amateur draft, MLB.com's Scott Merkin writes, but the club is hoping to use the high pick and larger draft bonus pool to fuel GM Rick Hahn's plan to restock the farm system.
The Brewers signed infielder Yuniesky Betancourt to a Major League deal, according to a press release from his agency. He'd been the team's starting shortstop in 2011, and now he'll serve in a utility role.
Betancourt, 31, hit .228/.256/.400 in 228 plate appearances for the Royals last year, playing mostly second base. He was on a minor league deal with the Phillies this spring, but opted out a few days ago.
Former Expos outfielder Warren Cromartie is convinced that the city of Montreal would welcome baseball back with open arms, writes Bill Beacon of the Canadian Press. Cromartie is heading up the Montreal Baseball Project -- an organization that has been formed with the goal of bringing baseball back to Montreal. The $400K project will be completed by year's end and feature financial analysis, legal consultation and extensive market research among the city's population. Here's more from around the league for those of you in the mood for some late-night reading...
- Former Expo (and Angel, Ranger and Oriole) Vladimir Guerrero has an offer from the independent league Quebec Capitales, and he's been in contact with the Long Island Ducks as well, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (confirming an earlier tweet from Chris Cotillo).
- The Indians are hopeful of working out a trade with the Rangers to keep Rule 5 Draft pick Chris McGuiness, tweets MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.
- The Yankees had preliminary discussions with Yuniesky Betancourt on Sunday but don't see a fit, Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger reports (via Twitter).
- MLB.com's Brian McTaggart breaks down Rick Ankiel's incentive structure with the Astros (on Twitter). Ankiel, who has a $750K base salary, will receive $75K for 200, 250 and 300 plate appearances. He'll then receive $100K for 350, 400 and 450 plate appearances. All told, he could earn $1.275MM. Ankiel, an Article XX(B) free agent, was named the team's everyday right fielder earlier today.
- Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times expects the Angels to receive a low- to mid-level prospect from the Yankees when the reported Vernon Wells trade is finalized (Twitter link).
- Joey Nowak of MLB.com lists 12 notable out of options players who could be traded before the end of Spring Training.
The Twins announced yesterday that they will hand the reins in center field over to top prospect Aaron Hicks. The 2008 first-rounder ranked 72nd on Baseball America's Top 100 list and 98th on MLB.com's Top 100. Here's some more on the Twinkies as we draw closer to the end of Spring Training...
- General manager Terry Ryan told MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger that Hicks won the Opening Day job because he doesn't believe in holding players back for service time reasons: "'Can you imagine if we sent somebody out who did what the kid did?' Ryan said. 'And I had to look at [Josh] Willingham, [Justin] Morneau, [Glen] Perkins, [Joe] Mauer and those guys who are trying to win, and I'm going to stop that guy? I just don't believe in that.'"
- Other teams are interested in catcher Drew Butera, who the Twins optioned to Triple-A yesterday, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). However the Twins prefer to keep Butera, who they signed to a $700K contract in order to avoid arbitration this winter. The 29-year-old is just a .183/.232/.265 career hitter but is regarded as a terrific defensive catcher.
- The Twins contacted Chris Young this offseason and had interest in him at one point according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, but an official tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post that the team no longer considers him a fit (Twitter link). Young is set to opt out of his contract with the Nationals.
- The Twins were approached by representatives for both Yuniesky Betancourt and Freddy Garcia, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN, but the team passed on both players (Twitter links).
- Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez, who signed a minor league deal with the Twins, has all but guaranteed himself a spot on the Opening Day roster, tweets MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger. A corresponding 40-man roster move will need to be made in the coming days.
"It was a very difficult decision," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters including Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "He played great for us. We had some other guys feel great, and we’re comfortable with where we are as far as those players are concerned."
Those players would be Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen. Agent Alex Esteban told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that Betancourt requested his release by exercising his out clause and there are three teams who are interested in his client (Twitter link). Gelb tweeted the Phillies tried to trade Betancourt, but other teams walked away.
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com tweets both the Yankees and Cardinals are "poking around" Betancourt. The mention of the Yankees is interesting, as GM Brian Cashman told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News earlier today that he won't be looking outside the organization for a shortstop despite Derek Jeter's ailing ankle (Twitter link). The Giants and Brewers are in the market for an utility infielder and could be interested in Betancourt, according to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle and Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Twitter.
Betancourt hit just .228/.256/.400 with seven home runs in 228 plate appearances for the Royals last season. The 31-year-old is in the midst of an incredibly strong Spring Training collecting 21 hits in 47 at-bats en route to a .447/.451/.574 batting line with a 1.025 OPS in 51 plate appearances.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.
Tim Dierkes covered the Phillies' winter moves yesterday in the latest installment of MLBTR's Offseason In Review series. If today's news is any indication, however, the Phils may yet make another tweak or two to their roster before Opening Day. Here's the latest from the City of Brotherly Love...
- The Phillies have been talking to other teams about adding depth in the outfield, bullpen and behind the plate, ESPN's Jayson Stark reports (Twitter link).
- Also from Stark (Twitter links), Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said the outfield situation isn't quite settled. "We could make a trade (or) sign somebody," Amaro said. "We'll see. If there are ways to improve our team, we'll try to do it."
- Alex Esteban, Yuniesky Betancourt's agent, tells Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer that his client will opt out of his minor league deal with the Phillies if he isn't added to their Major League roster by Sunday. "Our preference would be to stay with the Phillies but it's out of our control," Esteban said. "We would definitely be opting out and seeing what's out there." Gelb speculates that the Cardinals, Marlins and Astros could be possible fits for Betancourt if he becomes a free agent.
- If Betancourt makes the Phillies and reaches his contract incentives, his deal would pay him $1.4MM, Gelb reports.
- From earlier today, the Phillies released Rodrigo Lopez.
In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe ranks all 30 managers in the major leagues. In Cafardo's view, you're doing something right if you're managing in MLB, so there are no negative comments for any of the skippers. Buck Showalter takes third place for his work with the surprise Orioles last season. Rays manager Joe Maddon takes second for his innovative ways. The top spot, however, goes to the Giants' Bruce Bochy. Here's more from Cafardo..
- We learned last week that the Rangers are scouting Joba Chamberlain of the Yankees and one AL scout believes that the Bombers believe they have gone as far as they can with the right-hander. “They would deal him in a heartbeat and then fill in with one of their starters in the bullpen,” said the scout. “If Texas would give up Mike Olt, a deal could get done there.”
- The Marlins' Steve Cishek is drawing considerable interest from teams looking for a reliever. One scout says that the side-arming sinker baller is likely on most wishlists around baseball.
- The Royals are open to moving Luke Hochevar (albeit, for a higher-than-expected price) but they're also willing to trade projected No. 5 starter Bruce Chen.
- The Phillies' Yuniesky Betancourt has improved his visibility and it wouldn't be shocking to see a team deal for him before Opening Day. The shortstop has a March 24th opt out date and he is on the Cardinals' list as they look to replace Rafael Furcal.
- Cafardo believes that there is an obvious trade to be made involving Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello and the Red Sox's Andrew Bailey. However, Boston's rotation is full right now and they already have Allen Webster waiting in the wings.
- One National League GM says that teams will be kicking themselves for missing out on Kyle Lohse, despite the draft pick compensation that he will cost. “That’s the way it’s going to go,” said the GM, “but you also don’t want to overpay for a pitcher who has been hanging around that long. If you can’t get him at your price, then you look foolish paying what he was asking two months ago.” In Cafardo's view, the Rangers are still the most logical destination.
- Manny Acta, who is now serving as an analyst for ESPN, has said that he hopes to get back into managing. However, he says that he's not interested in becoming a GM.
Zack Greinke made quite a few headlines this offseason by becoming the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in Major League history (Felix Hernandez has since topped him). The former No. 6 overall selection in the draft signed a six-year, $147MM with the Dodgers.
Greinke has long been a high-profile arm, thanks largely to his 2009 American League Cy Young Award. His 9.3 wins above replacement (Fangraphs version) that season were the most by any pitcher since Randy Johnson's 2004 season.
So it's no wonder that Greinke had a long list of suitors when it became evident that the Royals were going to trade him. Nor is it surprising that Greinke commanded a young shortstop, a young center fielder and a pair of right-handers that had both been first-round picks.
On December 19, 2010, the Royals traded Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers in exchange for shortstop Alcides Escobar (24 years old at the time), center fielder Lorenzo Cain (24), right-hander Jake Odorizzi (20) and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress (23). Each player in the deal had recently ranked in Milwaukee's Top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America. Let's take a look at each on an individual basis...
The Major League Side
- Zack Greinke: Greinke joined Shaun Marcum as one of two offseason acquisitions for the Brewers that offseason, as the team clearly had an "all-in" mentality entering the final season of Prince Fielder's contract. He broke a rib that offseason playing basketball, limiting him to 171 2/3 innings, but he pitched to a 3.83 ERA with an NL-best 10.5 K/9 when healthy. The Brewers ultimately finished with a 96-66 record, netting them an NL Central Division title. Greinke got his only taste of postseason baseball that year but allowed an unsightly 12 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings. The Brewers lost in the NLCS to the Cardinals, who would go on to win the World Series. Greinke hurled 123 more innings for the Brew Crew in 2012, pitching to a 3.44 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 before being traded to the Angels. GM Doug Melvin landed Jean Segura, John Hellweg and Ariel Pena in that deal, but that's a whole different post.
- Yuniesky Betancourt: Betancourt hit a paltry .252/.271/.381 with the Brewers but still totaled 584 plate appearances in spite of that sub-par production. His defense was also well below-average, and the result was a mere 0.4 wins above replacement, per Fangraphs. Betancourt did manage to swat 13 homers that season -- the second-highest mark of his career -- but his lack of plate discipline and poor glove mitigated most of that value. He would go on to re-sign with the Royals as a free agent the following offseason and is now in the Phillies organization as a non-roster invitee.
- Alcides Escobar: Milwaukee's No. 3 prospect at the time of the trade (per BA) Escobar has blossomed into the Royals' everyday shortstop, posting fWAR marks of 2.2 and 2.6 in his first two seasons with Kansas City. He doesn't walk often (4.2 percent), but he's posted a respectable .274/.311/.368 triple slash line with Kansas City. That includes significant improvement from 2011-12, as his OPS+ jumped from 74 to 98 between the two years. He's developed into an elite base-stealer, collecting 61 swipes in 75 tries (81.3 percent). In 2012, he went 35-for-40 (87.5 percent). The Fielding Bible evaluates Escobar's defense at +12 runs during his time with Kansas City, while Ultimate Zone Rating feels he's been closer to average. Still just 26 years old, Escobar has room for growth.
- Lorenzo Cain: Cain's arrival as Kansas City's everyday center fielder was delayed by the acquisition of Melky Cabrera. Groin and thigh strains have cost Cain 98 games between his two seasons with the Royals, but he looks poised to take the reins as the team's everyday center fielder in 2013. It's a small sample, but Cain has a .266/.315/.410 batting line in 267 plate appearances with the Royals. His seven homers and ten steals translate to a 162-game average of 17 homers and 25 steals -- a well-above average combination of power and speed for a center fielder. In 726 1/3 career innings in center, UZR/150 rates him at 14.4 runs above average, and The Fielding Bible agrees at +15 runs. He's excelled in the Minors for the Royals and is in the midst of an impressive Spring Training showing, but he'll already be 27 on April 13. Kansas City needs to let Cain play in order to determine if they have a long-term piece this season.
The Prospect Side
- Jake Odorizzi: Odorizzi made his big league debut for Kansas City in 2012, but totaled only 7 1/3 innings. Those will likely be the only innings he ever throws for the Royals, as GM Dayton Moore included the now-22-year-old in the James Shields trade. Odorizzi is BA's No. 92 prospect in all of baseball, and he ranks 45th on MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo's version of the same list. BA ranks him fifth among Rays prospects, praising his four average pitches (fastball, slider, curve, change-up) but noting that he lacks a true out pitch. Both BA and Mayo agree that Odorizzi has a chance to become a reliable No. 3 starter, but his ceiling is limited by average offerings across the board.
- Jeremy Jeffress: Jeffress' star has fallen considerably since he ranked as BA's No. 100 prospect prior to the 2009 season. Now 25 years of age, the Royals traded him to the Blue Jays for cash considerations this past November. Jeffress pitched 82 innings for Kansas City's Triple-A affiliate and maintained his strong strikeout rate (9.3 K/9) but walked too many (4.7 BB/9) and allowed nearly a hit per inning as well. He received a pair of call-ups to the big league club but walked 24 batters in 26 2/3 innings. He has the potential to be a power arm late in games, but he'll now look to fulfill that upside elsewhere.
In the end, the Brewers got an ace-caliber pitcher and an NLCS berth in exchange for the four prospects they dealt. Greinke managed to net them a trio of prospects including a new, promising shortstop to replace Escobar. Kansas City turned Greinke into an everyday shortstop, a promising center fielder and a pitching prospect that helped them acquire a new ace-caliber pitcher (Shields). However, the Royals are better positioned to compete with this top-of-the-rotation arm than they were the last time they had one.
Both teams fell a bit short of their best case scenarios (Milwaukee didn't win a World Series, and Kansas City cut ties with Jeffress for next to nothing), but this is a trade that definitely reaped benefits for each side.
Baseball America's 2013 Prospect Handbook was used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.