Zach Britton Rumors

Players Avoiding Arbitration: Wednesday

There are still nearly 30 players whose arbitration cases need to be settled, and as our Arbitration Tracker shows, the Royals (four remaining cases) and Pirates (three) have the most work ahead of them. We’ll run down today’s minor arbitration settlements here, with all projections coming courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz…

  • The Orioles settled one of their two remaining cases by agreeing to a one-year deal with closer Zach Britton, tweets Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that Britton will earn $3.2MM with $300K available in incentives for games finished (beginning at 45). The 27-year-old Britton enjoyed a scintillating breakout season with Baltimore in 2014, stepping into the ninth-inning spotlight and amassing 37 saves along with a pristine 1.65 ERA, 7.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. Perhaps most impressive, however, was Britton’s historic ground-ball rate; since batted-ball data tracking began in 2002, only one pitcher (Brad Ziegler) has posted a higher single-season ground-ball rate (min. 20 IP) than Britton’s 75.3 percent mark in 2014, as can be seen at Fangraphs. His $3.2MM payday was the midpoint between the $4.2MM figure he submitted and the Orioles’ $2.2MM counter, and matches Swartz’s projection exactly.

AL East Notes: Rays, Britton, Red Sox

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked numerous times over the weekend about the club’s vacant leadoff spot, but he didn’t have much in the way of answers, as Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun writes.  “Somebody’s going to lead off Opening Day, I’ll bet you,’’ Showalter said. “Our guys don’t talk about it a lot. I’ve said many times, take your best hitter and hit him first and give him more at-bats.”  Here’s more from the AL East..

  • Most of the heavy lifting is done, but the Rays would still like to make some improvements as spring training approaches.  “Maybe now this is the time for ‘tweaking’ of the roster,” baseball ops president Matt Silverman said, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. “As we get closer to camp, we have a good sense of the depth that we have as well as a couple areas of potential need. Hopefully we can find ways to line up with other clubs to improve ourselves, but it’s not a necessity.”  The biggest priority seems to be adding another middle infielder, preferably a defensively-strong shortstop, though there aren’t many options on the open market.  Tampa Bay may also seek an experienced catcher to support Rene Rivera and another experienced reliever.
  • Reliever Zach Britton doesn’t seem to think that he and the Orioles are right on the verge of a pre-arbitration agreement, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes.  “I’m not sure,” said Britton. “Where we are right now, we’re still negotiating. There’s been a lot of dialogue the last couple of days, but right now there’s really nothing to update other than we’re just talking.”
  • The advanced metrics are bullish on the Red Sox‘s improved offense in 2015, as Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes.
  • Orioles center fielder Adam Jones spoke with reporters, including Kubatko, about a wide range of topics, including the loss of Nick Markakis and the Dan Duquette-to-Toronto rumors that dominated much of the offseason.
  • New Red Sox starter Rick Porcello has the skills to be the ace of Boston’s staff, writes Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe.

Arbitration Roundup: 54 Players Exchange Figures

With today’s flurry of activities in the books, 144 players have agreed to deals to avoid arbitration for a total spend of $433MM. But that leaves 54 players who have exchanged figures and have ground left to cover before their 2015 salaries are settled. That number is up from last year’s tally of 39, and may point to the possibility that we will see more hearings than the three in 2014 (which was itself up from zero the year before).

MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker is a great resource for seeing where things stand. It is fully sortable and even allows you to link to the results of a search. (The MLBTR/Matt Swartz arbitration projections are also quite handy, of course.) Using the tracker, I compiled some broad notes on where things stand in the arbitration process this year.

Remember, deals avoiding arbitration can still be reached even after the exchange of numbers. Hearings will be scheduled between February 1st and 21st, so there is plenty of time for the sides to come together before making their cases.

That being said, some teams are known for their “file and trial” approach to arb-eligible players, meaning that they refuse to negotiate after the exchange deadline and go to a hearing if agreement has not been reached. Among those clubs (the Brewers, Rays, Marlins, Blue Jays, Braves, Reds, and White Sox, per the most recent reporting), there are several open cases remaining: Mat Latos and Michael Dunn (Marlins), Josh Donaldson and Danny Valencia (Blue Jays), Mike Minor (Braves), and Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier (Reds).

Meanwhile, some other clubs have historically employed the “file and trial” approach on a modified or case-by-case basis: the Pirates, Nationals, and Indians. Among those clubs, the Pirates (Neil Walker, Vance Worley) and Nationals (Jerry Blevins) have open cases, though all of them feature relatively tight spreads.

And there are some other interesting cases to keep an eye on as well. Consider:

  • The Orioles and Royals not only faced off in last year’s American League Championship Series, but find themselves staring at by far the most unresolved cases (six and eight, respectively). They are also the only teams with eight-figure gaps between their submissions and those of their players ($10.85MM and $10MM, respectively).
  • Among the Orioles players, two stand out for the significant relative gulf separating team and player. Zach Britton, who excelled after taking over as the closer last year, filed at $4.2MM while the team countered at $2.2MM, leaving a $2MM gap that is worth nearly 91% of the club’s offer. Even more remarkably, the O’s will need to bridge a $3.4MM gap ($5.4MM versus $2MM) with surprise star Steve Pearce. That spread is 1.7 times the value of the team’s offer and easily beats the largest difference last year (Logan Morrison and the Mariners, 127.3%).
  • Of course, it is worth remembering that first-year arb salaries have added impact because they set a baseline for future earnings. (Each successive year’s salary is essentially calculated as an earned raise from that starting point.) For the Reds, the outcome of their cases with Frazier ($5.7MM vs. $3.9MM) and Mesoraco ($3.6MM vs. $2.45MM) could have huge ramifications for whether the team will be able to afford to keep (and possibly extend) that pair of strong performers.
  • Likewise, the Angels face an important showdown with Garrett Richards, a Super Two whose starting point will factor into three more seasons of payouts. As a high-upside starter, he has sky high earning potential, so any savings will be most welcome to the team. The current spread is $3.8MM versus $2.4MM, a $1.4MM difference that equates to 58.3% of the team’s filing price.
  • Interestingly, the biggest gap in absolute terms belong to Pearce and the Orioles at $3.4MM. After that come Bud Norris and the Orioles ($2.75MM), David Freese and the Angels ($2.35MM), Greg Holland and the Royals ($2.35MM), Dexter Fowler and the Astros ($2.3MM), Eric Hosmer and the Royals ($2.1MM), and Aroldis Chapman and the Reds ($2.05MM).

Of course, plenty of deals already got done today. Here are some of the more notable among them:

  • David Price agreed to a $19.75MM salary with the Tigers that stands as the single highest arbitration payday ever, by a fair margin.
  • Interestingly, the Rays agreed to rather similar, sub-projection deals with all seven of their arb-eligible players. Discounts on Swartz’s expectations ranged from 3.23% to 13.21%. In total, the club shaved $1.525MM off of its tab.
  • The opposite was true of the Tigers, who spent a total of $1.4MM over the projections on just three players. Of course, since one of those players was Price, the commitment landed just 5.2% over the projected total.
  • Detroit’s overages pale in comparison to those of the Cubs, who handed out several of the deals that beat the projections by the widest relative margin and ended up over $2.5MM (14.5%) over their projected spend.
  • The MLBTR/Swartz model badly whiffed (over 50% off) on just three players, all of whom earned well over the projections: Chris Coghlan of the Cubs (78.9%), Carlos Carrasco of the Indians (66.9%) Tony Sipp of the Astros (60%).
  • On the low side, the worst miss (or the biggest discount, depending on one’s perspective) was Mark Melancon of the Pirates, who fell $2.2MM and 28.9% shy of his projected earnings. Danny Espinosa (Nationals) and Chris Tillman (Orioles) were the only two other players to fall 20% or more below their projections. Of course, in the cases of both Melancon and Tillman, Swartz accurately predicted that they would fall short of the model.


AL East Notes: Ramirez, Ortiz, Britton, Hardy

Manny Ramirez last saw MLB action with the Rays (briefly), and of course will always be associated with the Red Sox. As he continues to look for another chance at the bigs, the slugger spoke with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, acknowledging and expressing contrition for his prior PED use. Ramirez says he could play a role similar to that of Raul Ibanez on the field and in the clubhouse. Here are some notes from around the American League East:

  • Always-interesting Red Sox slugger David Ortiz says that he faces an unprecedented amount of responsibility to lead the way in the lineup, reports WEEI.com's Rob Bradford. "I'll give it a try, but I don't think there's a baseball player that has lived through this pressure at my age," said Ortiz. "Think about it. Guys my age are supposed to be complementary players. Nobody signs guys my age to be 'The Man.'" The 38-year-old, of course, is entering the final year of his current contract, and there has been no word of progression on extension negotiations.
  • The Orioles are looking at out-of-options pitcher Zach Britton in different roles in anticipation of a possible move to the pen, reports Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun. Britton, a 26-year-old lefty, has been mentioned as a possible trade chip for Baltimore. As MLBTR's Tim Dierkes recently explained in addressing the O's out-of-options players, the team faces a roster crunch that will require it to make some tough calls on a number of players, Britton among them.
  • There is still no movement on the extension situation of Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, writes MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski. Hardy comes across as somewhat frustrated with having to deal with speculation, noting that his previous extension came about in short order. "There has been not much talk at all," he said. "I don't know what they're thinking. The ball is in their court if they want me. They know I like it here." Hardy also added that he would want to address his long-term position before inking a new deal. "If there are any intentions at all of signing me to a long-term deal and wanting Manny to move over to short I would definitely want to know that before," he explained, "because, yeah, I still feel like I can play shortstop and that is what I want to do."

Cafardo On Stanton, De Aza, Porcello, Drew, Britton

In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wonders if Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton could wind up with the Red Sox.  Marlins GM Dan Jennings swears up and down that Stanton isn't going anywhere and even if he was for sale, Boston would be one of many clubs in pursuit.  If things suddenly changed and the Fish made Stanton available, Cafardo wonders if a package of Will Middlebrooks or Garin Cecchini plus Matt Barnes, Christian Vazquez, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts could get a deal done.  More from today's column:

  • The Twins have some interest in White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza, who is getting interest even though he's not everything a club would want in a center fielder, leadoff type.  Last season, De Aza slashed .264/.323/.405 with 17 homers in 675 plate appearances.
  • Major league sources say the Tigers are still willing to listen to offers on Rick Porcello. While he has shown promise, Detroit would like a hurler with more consistency.
  • The bidding for Ervin Santana has reportedly come down to the Orioles and Blue Jays.  Cafardo hears the Rockies were also in it for some of the day while the Phillies did their due diligence but did not appear to be in the hunt.
  • Bud Norris could be an alternative if Tommy Hunter can’t do the job as Orioles closer, but he also has trade interest and could have some appeal in the NL.  For budgetary reasons, the O's probably wouldn't go for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, but it's possible if the Angelos family believes that they have a chance to win it all.
  • One Red Sox player says that he's not crying for free agent Stephen Drew.  “Why not accept a $14.1 million qualifying offer for one year?” the player said. “Is that a bad deal? That’s a lot of money. Stephen would be here playing with us by now if he’d done that.
  • Scouts are watching Orioles pitcher Zach Britton closely as he is out of options. Still only 26, Britton is still a pitcher scouts think they can salvage.  The O's are aware of his value and the interest other clubs have, but could stash him in the bullpen if they can’t get good value for him.

Reactions To The Ubaldo Jimenez Agreement

After a quiet offseason for the Orioles, the team pounced in mid-February, officially announcing a three-year deal for righty Suk-min Yoon yesterday but more significantly (from a financial standpoint, at least) agreeing to a four-year, $50MM contract with Ubaldo Jimenez. Baltimore surrendered the No. 17 pick in this year's draft to issue the largest contract for a pitcher in franchise history. Some early reactions and fallout in the wake of the Jimenez pact…

  • Deep down, the Indians never really wanted Jimenez back in Cleveland, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. While the team admired Jimenez's work ethic and felt he was a positive presence in the clubhouse, they didn't feel his wild performance swings were worth the trouble. Hoynes points out that it's a bonus that Baltimore landed Jimenez, because their forfeiture of the No. 17 pick allows Cleveland to move from No. 22 overall to the No. 21 overall pick in the first round.
  • ESPN's Keith Law writes that despite the associated risk, the contract is a win for the Orioles (ESPN Insider required and recommended). He feels the $12.5MM annual value can end up being a bargain for a pitcher that at times shows three pitches which grade as a 60 or better on the 20-80 scale. Additionally, it allows Kevin Gausman to work on the consistency of his slider in the minors, which he will need in order to thrive as a Major League starter.
  • Law's colleague Buster Olney reports that the Orioles upped their offer from three to four years under the belief that the Red Sox and Blue Jays were both aggressively pursuing Jimenez. However, his sources indicate that neither club actually made an offer (Insider required). Olney points out some risks, such as Jimenez's struggles in limiting the running game, and he also opines that the O's should be more willing to lose further draft picks by pursuing Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales and perhaps even Stephen Drew.
  • MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli runs down what the Jimenez signing means for other pitchers in the organization. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez are locks (health-permitting), she writes, but Yoon, Bud Norris and out-of-options Zach Britton will battle for the fifth slot. Gausman is almost certainly ticketed for the minors, she writes. Ghiroli also reports that manager Buck Showalter said he prefers an everyday DH and that the best deals often happen in late spring, suggesting that someone such as Morales could be a fit after all.
  • The Jimenez signing should help to discredit the feeling that Orioles owner Peter Angelos is not willing to spend to win, writes the Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck.
  • The Sun's Eduardo A. Encina writes that the Orioles' recent international signings made it slightly easier for executive vice president Dan Duquette to surrender the No. 17 pick, as he felt the club added some additional high-upside talent with those moves.
  • Jimenez turned his career around by relying less on his fastball and more on his offspeed stuff — most notably his splitter, writes Eno Sarris of Fangraphs. Jimenez entered the 2013 season having thrown his split just three percent of the time over his career but threw it 14 percent of the time in 2013 with a 17 percent swing-and-miss rate, which helped offset his diminished velocity. If that trend continues, the $12.5MM annual value can be a bargain, Sarris concludes.
  • The Orioles and Jimenez have been working on this deal for a long time, but things came together quickly yesterday when Baltimore conceded and added a fourth year, writes MASNsport.com's Roch Kubatko.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that with Jimenez and Matt Garza each landing four-year, $50MM contracts, Ervin Santana's agents now have a great deal of pressure in trying to match that figure. Sherman also spoke to an executive who called Jimenez the "ultimate crapshoot," noting that Baltimore could be getting a star or a bust. That same exec wondered if Jimenez will struggle facing more patient lineups in the AL East (Twitter links).

AL Notes: Napoli, Tigers, Orioles, Ryan

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred testified, during the Alex Rodriguez arbitration hearing, baseball did not concern itself if Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch distributed illegal substances to minors and was only interested in possible criminal activity involving players. Today, Manfred called the report "ridiculous" telling Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his testimony was "totally out of context and mischaracterized" and accused the A-Rod camp of leaking the story. "The larger point is this: From our perspective, one of the reasons we pursue cases like the A-Rod case is we think players should be role models for kids," Manfred explained to Haudricourt. "It's almost comical that A-Rod, who already has admitted in the past he used steroids, would express an opinion on our stance on children and PEDs." The hearing will resume next month. In other news and notes from the American League:

  • Mike Napoli's strong postseason is further proof his avascular necrosis is not an issue as he enters free agency for the second time, reports MLB.com's Lindsay Berra. Napoli was frustrated by having to settle for a one-year, $5MM deal (incentives pushed the eventual value to $13MM) after a three-year, $39MM contract was scrapped because of the AVN diagnosis. "I waited seven years for free agency and then got an opportunity, and it got taken away because of something I didn't even know I had and had never had any pain from," said Napoli. "I'm a little more confident about negotiating a contract now that I've shown all year that my hips aren't an issue, but I'm sure I'm going to have to go through all the steps again, with all the MRIs and talking to doctors."
  • There are six questions the Tigers must answer this offseason, writes MLive.com's Chris Iott. Among the answers, Iott predicts Jim Leyland will return as manager, the Tigers will not re-sign Jhonny Peralta (despite his desire to remain in Detroit), but will re-sign Joaquin Benoit and Omar Infante
  • The Orioles don't have a lot of inventory to deal this winter after trading away six players in midseason acquisitions, writes Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com. Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Steve Johnson head the list of tradeable players, according to Dubroff.
  • Nolan Ryan left his imprint on the Rangers, especially the pitching staff, with his attitude and focus on conditioning, opines Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
  • Ryan received a $10MM buyout (his ownership stake plus incentives) when he announced his retirement from the Rangers, Grant reports in separate article. However, according to Forbes, Ryan wound up losing money on his ownership investment. Ryan's original equity interest was valued at $13MM (6% ownership); but, dwindled to $7MM (1% ownership) because he declined to participate in various cash calls to cover his share of the losses the franchise incurred.

AL East Notes: Blue Jays, Ellsbury, Britton

Brett Cecil enjoyed a breakout season in his new role as a reliever in 2013, but the Blue Jays were so desperate for pitching that they almost moved him back into the rotation this summer, GM Alex Anthopoulos said on Prime Time Sports radio with Bob McCown of SN590 (via Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith). Anthopoulos also added that the team hasn't considered moving the injury-prone Brandon Morrow to the bullpen, nor have the Jays made a decision regarding Josh Johnson's future. Here's more on the Blue Jays and the rest of the AL East…

  • Nicholson-Smith also runs down the Blue Jays' current contractual commitments, noting that Anthopoulos has the team's core in place long enough to target a sustained run. He quotes Anthopoulos as saying that Blue Jays never completely rule out trade discussions for any player — a familiar refrain from the Toronto GM.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury's strong ALDS performance is boosting his already-strong free agent stock, writes WEEI.com's Rob Bradford. Bradford points out that despite the small sample nature of the playoffs, players such as Derek Lowe, John Lackey, Marco Scutaro and Carlos Beltran have all padded their free agent contracts thanks to strong postseason showings in past years.
  • Despite the fact that Ellsbury might be the MVP of the Red Sox, John Tomase of the Boston Herald opines that the team needs to let him go this winter. Tomase writes that while many fans worry about losing a player who still has plenty left in the tank, the opposite is true far more often — players end up earning millions more than they deserve by the end of a contract. Tomase feels the Red Sox should look to the New England Patriots, who have made unpopular decisions to let popular players depart without hurting the franchise long-term. He adds that "Red Sox executives have privately marveled at the Pats’ ability to remove emotion from their player evaluations" and points out that speed-oriented players typically don't age well.
  • Next season will be a make or break year for former Orioles top prospect Zach Britton, writes Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com. Britton, who turns 26 in December, will be out of minor league options and must make a strong impression to stick with the team. The left-hander told Melewski that he's happy to have had his first healthy season since 2011, but he knows that performance-wise, he needed to do more at the Major League level. Britton posted a 4.95 ERA and averaged just 4.1 K/9 in 40 innings with the O's, though he was better for Triple-A Norfolk (4.27 ERA, 6.5 K/9, 4.0 BB/9 in 103 1/3 innings).

Cafardo On Britton, Norris, Garza, Red Sox

In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that strikeouts are on the rise this season and there are an abundance of theories as to why.  One prominent AL GM believes that the umps are using a wider strike zone.  Former pitcher Curt Schilling believes the strikeouts are piling up because there are more power arms than ever before.  Others believe that there are a lot of youngsters in the game right now who may not be major league ready, leading to a lot of Ks.  Here's more from today's column..

  • As the Orioles look for pitching help, there’s an increasing feeling among baseball people that Zach Britton is the arm the Orioles could dangle in a deal.  The 25-year-old has begun the season well in Norfolk and has 1.98 ERA with five strikeouts and seven walks in three starts. 
  • Astros pitcher Bud Norris could be the No. 1 guy on contenders’ wish lists – along with the Cubs’ Matt Garza, if he’s healthy and productive – according to an AL GM.  Erik Bedard can also draw interest but he has an injury history, which scares teams off.  Carlos Pena has value because of his power and could find himself on a contender if he has a strong showing in Houston.
  • Scouts feel that Red Sox minor league outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker has put himself back on the map as a player teams might be interested in trading for.  Early in the season, the 25-year-old has a slash line of .271/.308/.563 with four homers in Triple-A.  Scouts say he has taken a far more aggressive approach at the plate and is swinging at good pitches in good counts.  Hazelbaker is also showing some power and is considered a plus defensive outfielder.
  • The Red Sox never pursued Ted Lilly while he was available because it would have been too difficult to add him to the 25-man roster. The Sox have been looking for a veteran starter they can keep at Triple-A in reserve, but haven’t found the right guy. 
  • Brad Penny is still a free agent and looking to get back to the majors.  However, he's still waiting for a team to bite.  The 34-year-old last pitched for the Giants in 2012 and also had a disappointing few months with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan. 

AL East Notes: Britton, Posada, Yankees

The Yankees and Orioles won 90-plus games in 2012, but they're candidates to regress in 2013, according to MLBTR readers. Those two AL East clubs were by far the most popular answers to the question 'which 90-win team will disappoint in 2013.' Here's more from the division…

  • One rival executive expects the Orioles to discuss trades involving left-hander Zach Britton later in the spring, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (on Twitter). The Orioles have limited roster spots and lots of young arms, including Britton and Jake Arrieta. Troy Renck of the Denver Post suggests the Rockies will call later on in Spring Training (Twitter link).
  • Jorge Posada, now a guest instructor with the Yankees, says he's not going to be coming out of retirement any time soon, Jack Curry of the YES Network reports (on Twitter). "I have no interest in playing ball," Posada said.
  • While the Yankees are optimistic about their chances in 2013, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that others are skeptical. One GM has his doubts that the Yankees will be playing in October. "I don't think they are a playoff team," the GM said. A second GM wondered why they weren't more aggressive this past offseason and an owner suggested they're "a little long in the tooth."