Zach Britton Rumors

AL East Notes: Drew, Orioles, Blue Jays, Rays

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.

Orioles Notes: Britton, Willis, Catchers

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.

Update On The Timing Of Top Prospects’ Debuts

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.



Matusz Injury Could Change Britton’s Time Frame

8:43pm: Connolly reports that Matusz has been placed on the disabled list and could miss anywhere from three to six weeks (Twitter links). Britton will be called up and start on Sunday.

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.


Orioles Notes: Britton, Hendrickson, Andino

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).

Belt, Britton Face Different Cutoff Dates

A week ago I wrote that a player's free agency could be delayed a year by calling him up on April 11th or later, making it impossible for him to accrue more than 171 days of service time.  It turns out that I was only partially correct.

The April 11th date only applies if the player is not on the 40-man roster right now.  For example, Brandon Belt could be promoted by the Giants on April 11th or later and his free agency would be delayed until after the 2017 season, because he is not currently on the 40-man.  One related note – if he was called up exactly on that date, and thus fell one day short of the 172 needed for a year of service, his agent would probably file a grievance.  There's also the possibility of a one-game playoff allowing him to pick up that extra day of service time anyway.  So it makes sense to leave a little space.

What about a player who is on the 40-man roster, such as the Orioles' Zach Britton?  In that case, the player needs to be optioned to start the season and spend at least 20 days on optional assignment in order to not get the service time back.  So a 40-man roster player can earn either 162 or fewer days of service, or a full year.  The Orioles will have to wait until April 21st or later with Britton, as Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun indicated today.


AL East Links: All Five Teams

Plenty of storylines in the AL East this year; here are a few…

  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos talked to Jeff Blair on the Fan 590 yesterday, and Andrew Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans has highlights.  Anthopoulos talked about Aroldis Chapman, Frank Francisco, Brett Lawrie, and Juan Rivera among other things.
  • Much has been written lately about Rays' manager Joe Maddon's attempt to handle Manny RamirezMichael Silverman of the Boston Herald has quotes from the manager today.  ESPN's Jayson Stark tackled the Manny-Rays topic in depth yesterday, with one veteran big league coach and manager asserting, "I know one thing.  It will end horribly."
  • Despite being knocked around yesterday, Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, "That's one thing that never even crossed my mind – whether I'm making the team or not."  Mitre seems to be battling Freddy Garcia for a long relief job.
  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman talked about how Jesus Montero's defense seems to be slipping in tandem with his batting slump, in this article from Feinsand's colleague John Harper.  Montero might be best served at Triple-A for development and trade value purposes.
  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe has extensive quotes from Adrian Gonzalez's agent John Boggs, as the good vibes about an April extension continue.  WEEI's Alex Speier explains that trading for Gonzalez rather than signing him as a free agent gives Boston a more desirable slice of the first baseman's career and also saves them perhaps $25MM or more.  I think the value of the careers of the prospects given up easily surpasses that amount of savings, but that's slightly negated by the Sox not having to give up a draft pick to get Adrian.
  • Orioles president Andy MacPhail admitted to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun that service time is a factor in their decision whether to have top prospect Zach Britton break camp with the team.  At least he's being upfront about it.  Britton has allowed one run in 14 innings this spring.
  • Here's how the AL East stacks up in Baseball America's organizational talent rankings: the Rays are #2, the Blue Jays are #4, the Yankees are #5, the Red Sox are #17, and the Orioles are #21.

Odds & Ends: White Sox, Hoffman, Britton, Cubs

As Albert Pujols joins the 400-homer club, here are some items of note…

  • White Sox GM Kenny Williams hinted that his club may be pursuing a lower-profile waiver wire target than Manny Ramirez, reports MLB.com's Scott Merkin.  This target, however, is apparently not Trevor Hoffman. Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com writes that Williams denied a report saying that the Sox put in a claim on Hoffman, but were unable to work out a trade with the Brewers.
  • The Orioles are "increasingly less likely" to call up left-hander Zach Britton in September, reports MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli.  Britton, ranked as the 63rd-best prospect in the game by Baseball America's preseason rankings, would only be in line to start every six or seven days given Baltimore's full staff and a number of September off-days.  Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun adds that Britton is already nearing his 2010 innings limit.
  • The Cubs interviewed Eric Wedge today for their open manager's job, reports Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com.  Levine mentions that Fredi Gonzalez, Pat Listach and Ryne Sandberg are all slated for interviews, and Chicago GM Jim Hendry wants a new manager hired before the team's November organizational meetings.
  • It's "unlikely at this point" that the Diamondbacks will be making any more trades, a team executive tells Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com.
  • The Pirates were wise to get Jameson Taillon signed at an over-slot price rather than take their chances with two top-3 picks in the 2011 amateur draft, writes Chuck Finder of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  • Jeff Bagwell isn't sure if he wants to return as Houston's hitting coach next season, says MLB.com's Alyson Footer.