Zach Britton Rumors
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).
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.
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).
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.
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."
On this date 21 years ago, the Blue Jays signed free agent starter Jack Morris to a two-year contract. The right-hander had recently led the Twins to a memorable World Series win over the Braves, out-pitching John Smoltz with ten shutout innings in the deciding seventh game. Morris won 21 games for the 1992 Blue Jays, and Toronto captured its first World Series title. Though Morris struggled in 1993, the Blue Jays successfully defended their title. Now 57, Morris is a candidate for Hall of Fame induction. Here are today's AL East links...
- Stephen Drew will obtain $500K if he reaches 500 plate appearances in 2013, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). Drew agreed to terms with the Red Sox on a one-year, $9.5MM deal yesterday.
- The Orioles have spoken with at least six teams about possible trades, Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com reports. The Orioles are seeking a middle of the order bat, but aren't willing to trade their best prospects to obtain one. While there's some interest in pitchers such as Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton, there are indications the Orioles wouldn't want to trade more than one of them. Plus, their trade value isn't particularly high.
- The Blue Jays are prioritizing present gains over future potential, Shi Davidi writes at Sportsnet.ca. But it's not about a one-year gamble for GM Alex Anthopoulos. "This allows us to really put what we feel is a contending team together for an extended run, for a three-to-five year period," Anthopoulos said. An interesting note from Davidi's piece: Zack Greinke will out-earn Dickey's $30MM contract about a month into the 2014 season. The two contracts were signed under different circumstances, of course, but it’s still noteworthy.
- Curtis Granderson expects to hit free agency after the 2013 season, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reports. The Yankees have a team policy of waiting until players hit free agency before negotiating extensions, and Granderson doesn’t expect GM Brian Cashman to make an exception for him. “I’m just excited to play this year, and then, once we get to the end, we’ll take it at that point,” he said.
- In a separate piece, Davidoff suggests that the best-run teams -- he cites the Rays as one example -- look to contend every year instead of targeting specific windows.
Here's the latest from Charm City...
- Zach Britton underwent two rounds of platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy today in an effort to solve the inflammation in his throwing shoulder. The young left-hander told reporters (including Brittany Ghiroli from MLB.com) that Dr. James Andrews recommended the procedure and if it works, Britton will be able to avoid surgery. Britton will be sidelined for at least six weeks and he hopes to be pitching by early May.
- Dontrelle Willis said he received offers from other teams before signing with the Orioles, tweets Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.
- The O's plan to use Willis as a left-handed relief specialist and he'll start the season in the minors, Dan Duquette told reporters (including Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com). Duquette also said the team would look out for other available pitchers but are concentrating on evaluating their current arms in camp.
- "It's going to be hard to pick up another catcher this time of the year," Duquette said, indicating that the Orioles will stick with Ronny Paulino as their backup catcher if Taylor Teagarden has to spend time on the disabled list.
Teams like saving money and extending their control over top young players. Why wouldn't they? Having impact players on affordable contracts simplifies a GM's job. As a result, teams call top young players up strategically every season to control their service time and, in doing so, delay their free agency and/or limit their earnings.
Though service time is a consideration all season long, it's most evident at two times: in April and again midseason, around early June. If teams wait until a few weeks after the season has begun to call a prospect up for his MLB debut, the player doesn't collect a full year of service time, which delays his free agency by a year.
The precise date until which teams must wait before calling prospects up varies each year and according to whether players are on the 40-man roster. Now that we're nearly three weeks into the season, even prospects on the 40-man roster can be called up, since they have spent the requisite 20-day period in the minor leagues.
None of the following prospects have big league service time, which means that their teams can call them up at any point and keep them through the 2017 season, if not longer: Dustin Ackley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brett Lawrie, Mike Moustakas, Jesus Montero, Eric Hosmer, Julio Teheran, Manny Banuelos, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles.
On the other hand, Michael Pineda, Zach Britton and Brandon Belt are now in the majors, picking up service time. Because those players are now on MLB rosters, they're currently on track to hit free agency after the 2016 season. However, if their respective teams option them to the minors for 20 days or more, their path to free agency could be slowed as well (that's an immediate possibility for Belt and a long-term one for the pair of impressive rookie hurlers).
That may sounds complicated, but it's the easy part. Later this spring, in late May and early June, the guessing game begins. Teams do not (and can not) know exactly when future cutoffs for super two status will be, so if they want to play it safe and ensure that prospects like Montero and Ackley only go to arbitration three times, they'll want to wait until at least the middle of June before calling them up.
8:21pm: The Orioles received some bad news before their first game of the season this evening, as young lefty Brian Matusz will miss tomorrow's start with an injury to the intercostal muscle on the left side of his back. Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun caught up with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who indicated that the injury could accelerate the team's timetable for top prospect Zach Britton.
"It could depending on what kind of news we get [about Matsuz] and how long term we’re looking," said MacPhail. "I was hoping [the injury] was an April Fool's joke."
As Tim Dierkes explained a week ago, the Orioles will have to wait until April 21st to call Britton up if they want to delay his free agency by a year. The 23-year-old southpaw was named the 28th best prospect in the game by Baseball America before the season, and they said he owns the "best sinker in the minor leagues" in the 2011 edition of their Prospect Handbook.
Britton split last season between Double and Triple-A, pitching to a 2.70 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9, though he generated 2.8 ground outs for every fly out. He also opened eyes with a stellar showing in Spring Training. Chris Tillman will start in Matusz's place on Saturday.
The latest on the Orioles, who start their season Friday evening in St. Petersburg...
- Top prospect Zach Britton was optioned to Triple-A, as expected. He's likely to be up by the end of April, as the Orioles look to ensure they control the Scott Boras client through 2017 instead of '16. MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli discussed the situation with Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who's been through it. Said Longoria, "It's just understanding the politics of the game."
- The Orioles made the curious decision to cut veteran southpaw Mark Hendrickson yesterday, and the 36-year-old must decide by tomorrow whether to opt out or head to Triple-A. Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun talked to Hendrickson, who would like to keep his family in Pennsylvania. The Phillies seem like a decent fit.
- Out of options shortstop Robert Andino made the team, notes Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter link).