The late Jose Fernandez would have been eligible for free agency this offseason, a concept The Athletic’s Jayson Stark explores (subscription required) in an outstanding remembrance of the former Marlins ace. Fernandez emerged as perhaps the top young pitcher in all of baseball over 471 1/3 innings with Miami from 2013-16, and he would’ve reached free agency as a 26-year-old, the same age as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this winter. Assuming Fernandez had continued his dominant pace, agent Scott Boras had visions of a $400MM deal for his client. Miami had already offered to sign Fernandez to an extension prior to the 2015 season, and even though Fernandez was coming off Tommy John surgery, he rejected that $40.7MM in guaranteed money to bet on himself — a sign of the self-confidence that had both positive and negative effects on Fernandez throughout his life. Stark’s piece includes comments from a wide range of former teammates, coaches, and Marlins personnel about their memories of the star right-hander, who had already become a Miami baseball icon at the time of his tragic passing on September 25, 2016.
Some items from around the starting pitching scene…
- Dodgers manager Dave Roberts provided an update on Clayton Kershaw to reporters (including MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick), saying that Kershaw had a five-minute game of catch for the second straight day. “Clayton said he let it go about 80 percent and he felt good, he felt strong,” Roberts said. “Tomorrow we’re going to stretch him out some more as far as length and intensity. In talking to him today, we’re pretty encouraged.” Kershaw was shut down last week due to shoulder soreness, and the Dodgers will continue to take it slow with their ace southpaw.
- The Dodgers are taking a similar path with Walker Buehler, who has only been throwing on flat ground since tossing a single bullpen session during the first week of spring camp. There isn’t anything physically wrong with the young righty, Roberts said, as Buehler is simply being “slow-played” in his ramp-up to the 2019 season as a nod to his increased workload last year. Between the minors, the MLB regular season, and the postseason, Buehler tossed 177 innings in 2018. It was a vast increase for a pitcher in just his third pro season, especially considering Buehler underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 and tossed only 98 total innings in 2017.
- There hasn’t been much reported progress in contract talks between the Mets and Jacob deGrom, and according to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, “the word circulating is specifically [Mets owner] Fred Wilpon” has some hesitation about extending the right-hander. As Sherman points out, if the elder Wilpon has concerns, they wouldn’t be unjustified — deGrom turns 31 in June, has undergone a Tommy John surgery in his past, and is already controlled through the 2020 season. (Plus, the Mets have been burned on several pricey contracts in recent years.) Sherman proposes a possible extension that could satisfy both sides; a four-year deal covering the 2020-23 seasons for $124MM in guaranteed money, plus a vesting option for 2024 that pays deGrom another $10MM in a buyout, and up to $31MM for 2024 if the option vests.
- Michael Pineda tossed two scoreless innings and threw 18 of his 26 pitches for strikes in an outing against the Red Sox today, his first time facing MLB hitters since July 5, 2017. He threw between 93-95mph, matching his old fastball speed, though Pineda told The Athletic’s Dan Hayes and other media that “I’m not focused on the velocity. My goal is to be healthy and get some focus and be back. And be Michael Pineda, back like he used to be.” Pineda underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2017, and his hopes of a return in 2018 were dashed after he suffered a torn meniscus. After signing a two-year, $10MM deal with the Twins in the 2017-18 offseason, Pineda is making positive steps towards being a contributor for Minnesota this year.