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Brad Wieck has been limited to 59 2/3 innings over his four big league seasons, as the Cubs left-hander has been hampered by a series of concerning health problems. After being treated for testicular cancer in 2019, Wieck has faced heart issues in each of the last two years — a cardiac ablation in 2020, and then surgery last year to address an atrial fibrillation. “I’ve had to deal with a lot in my career, but it’s one more thing that’s made me who I am,” Wieck told Mark Gonzales of The Daily Herald. “I take pride in what’s made me, and all I can do is continue to work.”
The good news is that Wieck was cleared for baseball activity, and said “as of now, I feel great” as he ramps up for the 2022 season with a series of bullpen sessions. Despite a 14.1% walk rate last season, Wieck didn’t allow a single earned run over 17 innings of work, and the southpaw has an impressive 35.9% strikeout rate over his brief MLB career. In a Cubs bullpen that is lacking in surefire options, Wieck certainly looks like a candidate to win a job, and perhaps serve as the Cubs’ top left-handed reliever.
More from around the National League….
- Multiple teams have approached Brandon Gomes with interview requests over his five years with the Dodgers, but Gomes consistently turned down those other opportunities to remain in Los Angeles. Speaking with Jack Harris of The L.A. Times and other reporters, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman noted that Gomes was being sought after for several different roles, and “there aren’t a lot of people that you can say that about, that really are qualified to do so many different things.” This versatility will continue to apply to Gomes’ new position as the Dodgers’ general manager, as Friedman said that Gomes’ specific day-to-day duties will evolve and “we’ll figure out what makes the most sense at any given time.”
- “Given their roster construction, no team wants the designated hitter in the National League in 2022 as much as the Phillies,” NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman writes. The Phillies aren’t a strong defensive team, and they have several veterans who battled injuries in 2021 and could benefit from the partial off-day provided by a DH spot. However, the universal DH might also lessen the chances of a reunion between the Phils and Brad Miller, as Miller will have even more job opportunities open to him in free agency should the 14 other NL teams all have need for extra position player depth.
Last month, the Rakuten Monkeys of the Chinese Professional Baseball League announced that right-hander Dylan Covey and left-hander Ryan Bollinger had signed new contracts with the team for the 2022 season. (Hat tip to CPBL Stats.) Both pitchers will be entering their second season with the Monkeys, and for Bollinger, 2022 will be his fourth year of CPBL action.
Covey posted a 6.57 ERA over 264 1/3 innings with the White Sox and Red Sox from 2017-20, officially beginning his MLB career after Chicago selected him away from the A’s in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft. The righty’s grounder-heavy arsenal didn’t translate well against Major League batters, as Covey had only a 15.4% career strikeout rate, and the long ball (18.4% home run rate) also plagued him.
While that strikeout rate only marginally improved in Covey’s first CPBL season, the overall numbers were much better, as he posted a 4.01 ERA over 58 1/3 innings with the Monkeys. As noted by CPBL Stats, Covey joined the Taoyuan-based team in midseason and got off to a slow start, but posted a minuscule 0.58 ERA over his final five outings of the season.
Though Bollinger has been pitching in the CPBL for three seasons, he has only seen action in two of those years, as foot injuries kept him from appearing in even a single game in 2020. Moving from the Fubon Guardians to the Monkeys last year, Bollinger had a nice rebound, posting a 2.80 ERA and 24.73% strikeout rate over 106 innings for the Rakuten squad.
Bollinger (who turns 31 in February) was a 47th-round pick for the Phillies back in 2009, drafted as a first baseman but quickly transitioning to pitching. He never actually played in Philadelphia’s farm system, as Bollinger moved onto a well-traveled pro career that has included stops with several independent teams, the Australian Baseball League, and the CPBL. The southpaw pitched in the affiliated minors with the White Sox from 2011-13 and with the Yankees in 2018, plus he signed a minor league deal with the Padres in the 2018-19 offseason but was released at the end of Spring Training.
The Mets have officially announced their 2022 coaching staff, with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner as the only returning member of the last year’s coaching corps. Many of the new hires had already been reported in recent weeks, with hitting coach Eric Chavez, first base coach Wayne Kirby, third base coach Joey Cora, and bench coach Glenn Sherlock all joining forces on Buck Showalter’s staff for the veteran manager’s first year in the Mets dugout.
Joining this group are two other coaches, one a newcomer to the Mets organization and the other a familiar face. Jeremy Barnes will become the assistant hitting coach, receiving a promotion from his previous role as New York’s director of player initiatives. Craig Bjornson will act as bullpen coach, coming to Queens after most recently working three seasons as the Red Sox bullpen coach.
Phillies fans may remember Barnes as a member of the Philadelphia farm system from 2009-12, after Barnes was selected in the 11th round of the 2009 draft. Barnes then moved on to play the next three seasons in independent baseball and in the Australian Baseball League, remaining in Australia for two more years to work for ACT Baseball after his playing career was over. From there, Barnes returned to North America and spent four years working in the Astros’ farm system as a hitting coach and as a minor league hitting coordinator.
Bjornson also has ties to the Astros, working as Houston’s bullpen coach in five of six seasons from 2012-17. Before his time with the Red Sox and Astros, Bjornson spent 13 seasons as a minor league pitching coach with four different organizations.
With Showalter’s staff now complete, the group represents an interesting mix of old-school experience and newer-school approaches. Bjornson, Kirby, Cora, and Sherlock are all seasoned big league coaches, while this will be Barnes’ first time on a Major League staff and Chavez’s first coaching gig of any kind. Even Hefner is still relatively new to the coaching world, as the 35-year-old has been the Mets’ pitching coach for the last two seasons and a Twins assistant pitching coach in 2019.
Last week, the Uni-President Lions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League announced the signings of right-handers Keury Mella and Logan Ondrusek (h/t to CPBL Stats). They join former Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario as one-time big leaguers who’ll be suiting up with the Lions in 2022.
Mella has appeared in each of the past five MLB seasons, although he’s never exceeded ten innings in a given year. The 28-year-old has made 21 appearances in relief, totaling 28 2/3 innings of 7.22 ERA ball. A former Giants prospect, he was traded to the Reds alongside Adam Duvall in the July 2015 Mike Leake deal. Mella spent parts of three years in Cincinnati and has pitched with the Diamondbacks in each of the last two years.
Last season, Mella made two MLB appearances but spent the bulk of the year in Triple-A, splitting the season between the top affiliates of the D-Backs and Pirates. The Dominican Republic native had a 5.44 ERA over 48 Triple-A innings, where he fanned 24.5% of opponents against a 9.9% walk rate. At the end of the season, he elected minor league free agency and will now embark on his first stint in an Asian professional league.
Ondrusek has a bit more experience in foreign leagues, but this will be his first stint in the CPBL. A frequently-utilized middle relief option with the Reds from 2010-14, he also appeared briefly with the 2016 Orioles. Altogether, the Texas native owns a 4.03 ERA across 277 MLB innings.
Since his time in Cincinnati, the 36-year-old (37 next month) logged some time with the Yakult Swallows of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. He’s bounced between a few Triple-A clubs, independent ball and appeared in the Mexican League. Ondrusek hooked on with the Giants on a minor league deal late last season, ultimately making nine appearances (including eight starts) with their top affiliate in Sacramento. He posted a 4.78 ERA with a slightly below average 21.8% strikeout rate but a strong 6.9% walk percentage across 43 1/3 innings there.
On this date three years ago, the Reds, Mariners and Yankees reached agreement on a complex deal. Not only was it a fairly uncommon three-team trade, the deal pushed across the finish line only when the most notable player involved agreed to a three-year contract extension with his new club.
As part of that January 21, 2019 agreement, the Reds landed Sonny Gray. Cincinnati agreed to take on the right-hander’s $7.5MM salary for that season and promised him an additional $30.5MM through 2022. (The deal also included a $12.5MM club option for 2023). The Reds also landed left-handed pitching prospect Reiver Sanmartín from New York. In exchange, they sent infielder Shed Long Jr. to Seattle, who flipped their recent second-round draftee, Josh Stowers, to the Yankees.
Gray, an All-Star and AL Cy Young award finalist in 2015, was the obvious headliner of the deal. After a generally strong run in Oakland, he was sent to the Yankees at the 2017 trade deadline. Yet Gray didn’t fare as well during his year-plus in the Bronx, posting a mediocre 4.51 ERA/4.40 FIP across 195 2/3 innings. He dealt with particular struggles in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, managing a 6.55 ERA in home contests during his time in pinstripes.
The Reds identified Gray as a target as they neared the end of a rebuild that had landed them in the basement in the NL Central for four straight seasons. They were rewarded for that decision, as Gray immediately turned things around in his new environs. He twirled 175 1/3 frames with a 2.87 ERA during his first season with the Reds, earning his second All-Star nod and some down ballot Cy Young votes in the process. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference pegged Gray as the most valuable player on the team that year by Wins Above Replacement.
Gray’s excellent debut season wasn’t enough to get the Reds to the postseason, but Cincinnati did qualify for an expanded playoff the next year. His 56 innings of 3.70 ERA ball in the shortened season weren’t quite as impressive as his first-year numbers, but it was still solidly above-average output that contributed to a decent 31-29 team showing. The Reds didn’t make the playoffs over a full schedule last year, but Gray had another nice showing. The 32-year-old’s 4.19 ERA marked a bit of a step back, but a 27% strikeout rate, 47.2% ground-ball percentage and 3.85 SIERA suggest he may have been adversely affected by a poor defense behind him.
Cincinnati hasn’t had the team success they’d no doubt hoped to achieve over the past three seasons. That’s not any fault of Gray’s, though. Over 366 2/3 innings with the Reds, the Vanderbilt product has posted a 3.49 ERA/3.57 FIP, holding opposing hitters to a meager .208/.292/.345 line. Buying low after his struggles with the Yankees proved a shrewd move for former president Dick Williams, general manager Nick Krall, and the rest of the Cincinnati front office.
It remains to be seen whether Gray’s tenure with the Reds is finished. He’s still controllable for two seasons under the terms of the extension he signed at the time of the trade. The organization may be looking to cut payroll after the lockout, and Gray perhaps offers the best blend of recent productivity, availability in trade and 2022 salary (around $10.167MM) of anyone on the roster.
Whether Gray winds up dealt for a third time or opens next season in Cincinnati, the deal counts as a win for the Reds in retrospect. In fact, of the three prospects involved in the trade, Sanmartín is the only one who remains with the club that acquired him. He made his first two MLB starts during the final week of last season and could be a depth starter or long reliever for Cincinnati this year.
The other two prospects — Long and Stowers — were more well-regarded than Sanmartín at the time of the trade. Neither emerged as a long-term option in their new organizations, though. Long tallied 412 plate appearances over three years with Seattle. He hit well as a rookie but struggled between 2020-21, dealing with recurring injury issues around his right shin. Outrighted off the Mariners 40-man roster at the end of last season, the 26-year-old elected minor league free agency and has yet to sign elsewhere. Long figures to get another opportunity — even if just via minors pact — and he’s young enough to have a real chance at turning things around, but he didn’t make the kind of impact in Seattle their front office no doubt hoped he would.
Stowers, meanwhile, has yet to crack the majors. He spent two years in the New York farm system, then was traded to the Rangers last April as part of the deal that sent Rougned Odor to the Bronx. The 24-year-old outfielder (25 next month) then hit .220/.311/.466 across 351 plate appearances in Double-A. Not added to the Texas 40-man roster after the season, he’ll be eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft once the lockout wraps up. As with Long, it’s far too early to close the books on Stowers’ career, but he’ll be available to the rest of the league for little more than an active roster spot in the coming months.
The deal also netted the Yankees the Reds’ Competitive Balance pick in the upcoming draft. New York used that selection (#38 overall) to nab left-hander T.J. Sikkema from the University of Missouri. Sikkema, who missed the entire 2021 campaign due to injury, was ranked by Baseball America as the #23 prospect in the Yankees’ system midseason. Between the lost minor league season in 2020 and last year’s injury-wrecked campaign, he’s still yet to advance to full season ball. Sikkema will be eligible for next offseason’s Rule 5 draft if not added to the New York 40-man roster, making the 2022 campaign a particularly important one for his future in the organization.
Note: This article was updated to reflect that the Yankees also acquired a Competitive Balance Selection from the Reds.
Uncertainty at shortstop is unfamiliar territory for the Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki held down the position for almost a decade, including a handful of seasons where he was among the best position players in the sport. Colorado traded Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays midway through the 2015 campaign, but they had a highly-regarded replacement waiting in the wings.
Trevor Story burst onto the big league scene with six home runs in his first four MLB games in April 2016. Essentially from that point forward, the position was his. Aside from a strikeout-fueled slump in his sophomore season, Story offered solid to plus production on both sides of the ball throughout his time in Denver. The most recent Colorado Opening Day shortstop not named Tulowitzki or Story? Clint Barmes, in 2006.
For the first time in a long time, the Rox now have a real question mark at shortstop. Story hit free agency. The club tagged him with a qualifying offer and has expressed some hope in a reunion, but there’s no indication that’s likely to happen. Assuming Story doesn’t return after the lockout, where could the Rockies go from here?
Unlike after Tulowitzki’s departure, Colorado wouldn’t appear to have a minor league replacement ready to step in. Only two of the top ten prospects in the farm system, according to Baseball America, are shortstops. One of them, Ezequiel Tovar, is 20 years old and finished the 2021 campaign in High-A. The other, Adael Amador, is 18 and has yet to advance to full season ball. So the Rockies will either need to move one of their current big leaguers up the defensive spectrum or replace Story externally.
- Brendan Rodgers — A former #3 overall draftee and top prospect, Rodgers has appeared in the big leagues in three consecutive seasons but finally got his first extended MLB run last year. He held his own, hitting .284/.328/.470 across 415 plate appearances, starting a bit more than half the team’s games in the middle infield. The bulk of Rodgers’ work came at second base, and while that was partially in deference to Story, it also seems the club believes him better suited for the keystone. In November, Thomas Harding of MLB.com wrote that the front office’s “preferred plan is to keep Rodgers … at second base.”
- Ryan McMahon — McMahon’s coming off a very nice season. He hit a capable .254/.331/.449 over 596 trips to the plate. More impressively, the 27-year-old rated as a Gold Glove caliber defender during a season split between second and third base. After the season, general manager Bill Schmidt expressed his belief McMahon could handle the rigors of regular shortstop duty. That’s not without risks, though. The California native moved to third base in high school and has never started a professional game — MLB or minor league — at shortstop. And while moving McMahon might effectively plug a hole at shortstop, it’d leave the team searching for third base help (perhaps explaining their interest in Kris Bryant?).
- Garrett Hampson — If Rodgers and McMahon stay put at second and third base, respectively, that’d seemingly leave Hampson as the favorite for shortstop playing time among internal candidates. The speedster has bounced all around the diamond as a big leaguer. He was a primary middle infielder coming up through the minors, though, and he’d likely be a capable if unspectacular option defensively. The bigger question may be whether the Rockies are content to live with Hampson’s bat in the lineup regularly. Despite playing his home games at altitude, the 27-year-old is a .240/.298/.383 hitter in a bit more than 1,000 career plate appearances.
- Alan Trejo — Trejo is the least experienced of the bunch, with only 28 big league games under his belt. The 25-year-old is probably better suited for a utility role than the regular shortstop job. He has a decent minor league track record but has never appeared on an organizational ranking at BA.
Aside from Story and Carlos Correa, free agency doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions at this point. Andrelton Simmons is still an elite defender but coming off a miserable season at the plate. José Iglesias had a decent offensive showing but ran into uncharacteristic troubles with the glove. While Jonathan Villar can still moonlight at shortstop, he’s probably better suited for second/third base duty.
There are a few shortstops who might be available in trade. The D-Backs would surely listen to offers on Nick Ahmed. The Phillies might find an upgrade over Didi Gregorius. The A’s are likely to try to find a taker for Elvis Andrus. All three players will make fairly notable salaries in 2022, though, and none are definitive improvements over Colorado’s internal options.
The Rockies could act more aggressively in an attempt to land a younger, affordable player from teams with greater infield depth (i.e. the Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi or the Rays’ Taylor Walls). But that’d require parting with young talent from a farm system that Baseball America placed among the league’s bottom five in August. Coming off a 74-87 season, that’s probably not the most advisable course of action either.
Figuring out shortstop has likely been a point of emphasis this winter for Schmidt and his staff. Whether they elect to rely on an internal option without much MLB experience at the position or look outside the organization for help, it’s hard to envision a scenario where they enter 2022 as confident in their shortstop group as they’ve been for quite some time.
The Braves have signed reliever Michael Tonkin to a minor league contract, according to his transactions log at MLB.com. The 32-year-old returns to affiliated ball after splitting the 2021 campaign between independent ball and the Mexican League.
Tonkin has 141 big league appearances under his belt. He appeared in the majors with the Twins each season between 2013 and 2017, logging a personal-high 71 2/3 frames of relief in 2016. Tonkin pitched to a 5.02 ERA that season and owns a 4.43 mark overall, with some home run troubles (1.54 HR/9) offsetting passable strikeout and walk rates (23.1% and 8.4%, respectively).
Following the 2017 campaign, Minnesota released Tonkin to pitch in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. The California native worked to a 3.71 ERA across 51 frames with the Nippon-Ham Fighters the following season, then returned to North America on successive minor league deals with the Rangers, Brewers and D-Backs. Tonkin didn’t have a ton of Triple-A success in 2019, and he was cut loose by Arizona during the 2020 pandemic freeze.
There’s plenty of ambition to be found within baseball’s front offices, and yet for an increasing number of executives, remaining in a secondary role is a nice place to be, The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli and Eno Sarris write. Whether in an assistant GM role or as a general manager working under a president of baseball operations, these “top lieutenant” positions tend to involve more job security, increased pay in recent years as teams try to prevent other clubs from poaching employees, and a lot less public pressure than being the head of a baseball ops department. As one former GM put it, “there’s so much scrutiny on it that people are like, ’Screw it, I’m happy making a nice living and can be around my kids and go out to dinner without being recognized.’ ”
On the other hand, if there is relatively less movement amongst front office personnel, that can also lead to a stagnation of hiring practices. This makes it harder for minority candidates to get opportunities for a notable front office position, let alone consideration for a PBO or GM job. As White Sox executive VP Kenny Williams has observed, teams are increasingly hiring front office personnel lacking in baseball-related experience, and yet that same lack of experience is often cited as a reason why women or minority candidates aren’t given promotions to larger roles.
More from around the baseball world…
- Heston Kjerstad might receive an invitation to the Orioles’ big league Spring Training camp, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. It is a welcome bit of good news for Kjerstad, who is now fully recovered from the myocarditis that has thus far kept the second overall pick of the 2020 draft from beginning his professional career. Kjerstad has gotten in some work at Orioles minicamps and in the fall instructional league, with the early returns against live pitching already impressing team coaches and evaluators.
- Speaking of high draft picks, the top of the 2022 draft class figures to be heavy with position players, with MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis predicting that “at least eight hitters will go in the first 10 selections.” This seems due to both a lack of standout college pitchers and an above-average group of hitters at both the collegiate and prep levels. High schoolers Druw Jones (son of former Braves star Andruw Jones) and Termarr Johnson rate particularly well with Callis, who puts Jones and Johnson behind only Bobby Witt Jr. as the best position player prospects of the 2019-22 draft classes.
The Rays’ plan of splitting home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal led to quite a bit of debate and controversy since the club first floated the concept in 2019, though after the Rays asked the league for formal approval of the plan in November, the MLB Executive Council officially rejected the two-city proposal yesterday.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said the team’s immediate next step is to again revisit the idea of a new ballpark in the Tampa Bay area, even though multiple attempts at such a project have fallen short over the years. Tampa mayor Jane Castor recently said that her office would be open to any idea that would keep the Rays in town, yet while the city would also be willing to explore alternate ways of funding a ballpark, Castor drew the line at using taxpayer funds, saying “the community’s appetite to pay for a stadium has left the train station.”
In short, it looks like the Rays may essentially be back at square one, given how Sternburg stressed that his organization had been so fully committed to the Tampa/Montreal plan. In fact, Sternburg is still a believer in the two-city idea for not just the Rays, but for teams in both Major League Baseball and beyond, stating that “Partial seasons are going to be the wave of the future in professional sports.”
It isn’t yet known why the Executive Council vetoed the Rays’ idea, though the simple answer could be that there were too many logistical hurdles to make such a two-city concept work. However, just to be purely speculative, it is possible that the league took issue with splitting games between Tampa and Montreal specifically, rather than necessarily vetoing a two-city concept entirely. With more and more cities increasingly reluctant to commit much or any taxpayer dollars towards building new stadium projects, categorically ruling out a “sister city” plan or other creative ideas wouldn’t be logical for MLB, as the league obviously wants all of its teams in revenue-generating ballpark situations.
Maybe the Executive Council could’ve taken a different view of the plan if the Rays had pitched sharing Tampa and a more nearby city like Orlando, rather than a city 1500 miles away and in a different country. In the bigger picture, the Council might also have balked at one team covering two distinct markets, especially since Montreal has often been mentioned as a possible landing spot for an expansion team, or for any other existing teams who might eventually look to switch cities.
In any event, the only option that seems certain is that the Rays don’t see Tropicana Field as a long-term option. The team’s lease at the stadium expires following the 2027 season, and unless the Rays sign a one- or two-year extension to give Tampa or St. Petersburg more time to finish a new ballpark, there is virtually no chance the Rays will still be calling the much-maligned Trop home come Opening Day 2028.
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