The Cardinals have designated infielder Buddy Kennedy for assignment, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That opens up a roster spot for shortstop Brandon Crawford, whose previously-reported deal is now official.
More to come.
February 27: President of baseball operations John Mozeliak tells John Denton of MLB.com that the deal is now official.
February 26: The Cardinals are reportedly in agreement with shortstop Brandon Crawford on a major league deal, pending a physical. Financial terms have not yet been reported. Crawford is a Wasserman client. The Cardinals will need to make a 40-man roster move once the deal is finalized.
St. Louis has been looking for a veteran infielder who could take on the backup shortstop job. Crawford was perhaps the top unsigned player who could fill that role. It’ll assuredly be a low-cost flier on the 13-year big league veteran, who’ll take on a depth job for the first time in his career. Crawford has been a starting shortstop since debuting with the Giants back in 2011.
The UCLA product had an excellent run over his time in the Bay Area. Crawford helped the Giants to World Series titles in 2012 and ’14. He was one of the sport’s preeminent defensive infielders during the last decade. Crawford won three consecutive Gold Glove awards in 2015-17 and took a step forward with the bat in his late-20s. He earned a Silver Slugger in 2015 and turned in average or better offensive production in six of the eight seasons between 2014-21.
Crawford inked a six-year extension over the 2015-16 offseason. That put him on track to reach free agency after the 2021 campaign. He surprisingly turned in the best season of his career that year, hitting .298/.373/.522 en route to a fourth-place finish in NL MVP balloting. The Giants kept him around for another two years at $16MM annually on an extension signed towards the end of that season.
While an understandable decision during Crawford’s resurgent season, the latter extension did not pan out. Crawford’s offensive production plummeted beginning in 2022. He hit .231/.308/.344 two seasons ago. His production fell off further last year. The left-handed hitter put up a personal-worst .194/.273/.314 slash line in 320 trips to the plate. Crawford punched out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances for the first time in his career.
Injuries have sent him to the shelf on a few occasions over the last two years. Since the start of 2022, he has had IL stints related to his left knee (twice), right knee, right calf, left forearm and right hamstring. None of those required a long-term absence, but it’s possible that playing through any number of those issues has taken a toll on his performance.
The Cardinals can’t expect much from Crawford offensively as he enters his age-37 campaign. Public metrics are split on how valuable he remains on the other side of the ball. Crawford isn’t the elite defender he was at his peak. Statcast still grades him as a solid gloveman, giving him above-average marks every season since it began tracking in 2015. That includes an estimated four runs above average a year ago.
Defensive Runs Saved has been far less forgiving. DRS has graded Crawford as a well below-average defender two years running. It marked him 14 runs below par in 725 2/3 innings last season. Among shortstops, only Tim Anderson and Amed Rosario fared more poorly by that estimate.
St. Louis will be hopeful of at least passable glovework in a rotational role. The Cards are going to turn the position to rookie Masyn Winn. The 21-year-old struggled in a very limited MLB look at the end of last season, hitting .172/.230/.238 in 37 games. Prospect evaluators have praised his defensive acumen and power upside, though, and the Cards haven’t made any effort to block his path to MLB playing time.
Winn’s presence pushed last year’s Opening Day shortstop, Tommy Edman, to center field. While he’s still capable of handling the middle infield, the Crawford signing will allow manager Oli Marmol to keep Edman in the outfield even on days when Winn needs a breather. It also affords the Cardinals some security in case Edman isn’t available early in the season. The switch-hitter is working back from an arthroscopic right wrist procedure. He’s hopeful of being ready for Opening Day but has yet to begin taking live batting practice with less than a month until the regular season.
Aside from Edman, St. Louis didn’t have a clear backup shortstop on their 40-man roster. Neither Brendan Donovan nor José Fermín is a great fit there. Crawford takes that role. Roster Resource projects the St. Louis payroll around $182MM, pending the Crawford deal. He shouldn’t add more than a couple million dollars to that ledger.
As for the Giants, they’ll officially bid farewell to one of the faces of the franchise’s recent history. It became clear towards the end of last season that things were headed in this direction. San Francisco is going to turn shortstop over to a top prospect of their own, Marco Luciano. They signed longtime division rival Nick Ahmed to a minor league deal to serve as glove-first veteran depth. Crawford returned from the injured list on the final day of last season so he could receive a proper send-off from the San Francisco fanbase. He’s the final player from their 2012 and ’14 World Series teams to depart the organization, although Pablo Sandoval has since returned on a non-roster pact.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle first indicated Crawford and St. Louis were in talks. Katie Woo of the Athletic was first to report the sides had reached an agreement. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported it was a major league deal.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.
The White Sox officially announced their previously-reported trade with the Cubs, acquiring left-hander Bailey Horn. To open a spot for Horn on their 40-man roster, they have moved right-hander Jesse Scholtens to the 60-day injured list with torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. James Fegan of Sox Machine was among those to relay that Scholtens will have Tommy John surgery on Friday.
Scholtens, 30 in April, was able to make his major league debut last year. He made 26 appearances, including 11 starts, logging 85 innings in the process. He had a 5.29 earned run average in that time, striking out 15.4% of opponents while issuing walks at an 8% clip. His work in Triple-A was stronger, as he made nine starts at that level with a 4.44 ERA, 23.4% strikeout rate and 6.8% walk rate.
He was likely going to be serving in a depth role for the club this year, given that he still has a couple of options remaining. The Sox have remade a lot of their pitching staff over the last year. They have traded Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Lucas Giolito, Gregory Santos, Kendall Graveman, Aaron Bummer, Reynaldo López, Yohan Ramírez and Keynan Middleton since last summer, while pitchers like Mike Clevinger and Liam Hendriks departed via free agency. They have also added guys like Erick Fedde, Chris Flexen, John Brebbia, Tim Hill, Michael Soroka, Jared Shuster and others, but there should be plenty of opportunity for a depth arm or two to step up and fill a role this year.
Unfortunately, Scholtens won’t be able to take advantage of that opportunity. He will miss the entire 2024 campaign and likely some early portions of the 2025 season as well, given that Tommy John rehabs generally run more than a year in length. He’ll remain on the injured list for all of 2024, collecting major league service time and pay.
Click here to read a transcript of Tuesday’s chat with MLBTR’s Steve Adams.
The White Sox and Cubs have agreed on a trade sending left-hander Bailey Horn from the Cubs to the Sox in exchange for minor league righty Matt Thompson, per announcements from both clubs. Sahadev Sharma and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported on the deal prior to the official announcement. Sharma reported last night that the Cubs were exploring deals to trade a pitcher off the back end of their 40-man roster, in order to open a spot for the newly re-signed Cody Bellinger.
Horn, 26, will return to the club that originally selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 draft. He pitched in the Sox’ system for a portion of the 2021 season but was traded to the Cubs in exchange for veteran reliever Ryan Tepera just over a year after being drafted. Current Sox general manager Chris Getz was the team’s farm director in 2020-21 and clearly saw plenty in Horn to like, given that he’s now reacquired the lefty.
Horn split the 2023 season between the Cubs’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, pitching to a combined 4.21 ERA in 65 innings out of the bullpen. He fanned a hearty 28.7% of hos opponents but struggled with his command, issuing walks at a 12.5% clip. Baseball America ranked him 28th among Cubs farmhands this season, touting a fastball that sits 94-96 mph and a pair of potentially above-average breaking balls (a plus slider and a solid curveball). However, BA’s report also noted that Horn has a “violent arm action that yields well below-average control and significant injury risk.”
Now back with the South Siders, Horn will give the Sox a near-term option in the bullpen. He’s pitched exclusively in relief in each of the past two seasons and was only just added to the 40-man roster this offseason, meaning he has a full slate of three minor league option years remaining.
In exchange for Horn, the Cubs will receive the 23-year-old Thompson — a starting pitching prospect whom the White Sox selected in the second round of the 2019 draft. He started 27 games at the Double-A level in ’23, pitching to a 4.85 ERA with a 23.9% strikeout rate, 15% walk rate and 40.7% ground-ball rate. Scouting reports on Thompson tout a heater that reaches 97 mph and a potentially plus curveball, but like Horn he’s working to overcome below-average command. Baseball America tabbed him 30th among ChiSox prospects heading into the 2024 season.
Much like Horn, Thompson is a project who’s reached the upper minors but will likely need to make some refinements before earning a look at the MLB level. He’s pitched 109 and 124 innings, respectively, over the past two seasons. He could join the rotation in Double-A Tennessee or in Triple-A Iowa and will provide the Cubs with some upper-level rotation depth. The Cubs are increasingly deep in that regard, with names like Jordan Wicks, Hayden Wesneski, Ben Brown and Javier Assad all in the mix for their final rotation spot, and top prospect Cade Horton rapidly climbing the organizational ladder.
Royals manager Matt Quatraro provided some updates about the club’s players to Anne Rogers of MLB.com (X links). Right-hander Carlos Hernández will be shut down for a while due to shoulder soreness while left-handed pitching prospect Christian Chamberlain has a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
Last week, it was reported that Hernández had been slowed by the shoulder issue but that the club was still hopeful of him getting six or seven Spring Training appearances before being ready for Opening Day. But per today’s updates, he did not respond well to his recent bullpen and required a cortisone injection. He’ll now be shut down for an undetermined amount of time that the Royals are hoping will be short.
Hernández, 27 next month, seemed to be in the middle of a breakout last year but faded down the stretch. Steve Adams of MLBTR profiled him in mid-July when Hernandez had a 3.86 earned run average, 28.5% strikeout rate and 7% walk rate for the year. But Hernández also had significantly dropped his curveball usage after a couple of rough outings to start the year and saw noticeable improvements. From mid-April to mid-July, he had a 3.12 ERA, 31% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to finish strong. From the start of August through the end of the season, he allowed 20 earned runs in 17 innings pitched, walking more batters than he struck out. That caused his season-long ERA to finish at an unimpressive 5.27. But his triple-digit fastball velocity and that strong stretch in the middle of last year made him an intriguing breakout candidate heading into 2024.
The shoulder issue could potentially put a damper on that, depending on how Hernández responds to treatment and ramping back up in a few weeks. The Royals have made a number of moves to alter their bullpen this winter, signing free agents Will Smith and Chris Stratton while also trading for Nick Anderson and John Schreiber. Those new guys, as well as incumbents like James McArthur and John McMillon, should give the Royals some cover if Hernández needs to miss some time.
As for Chamberlain, he’s likely looking at a long absence. Based on the reporting from Rogers, it seems like Tommy John surgery isn’t yet guaranteed but is certainly on the table. Now 24, Chamberlain was drafted by the Royals in 2020. Over the past three years, he has climbed through High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, logging a combined 109 1/3 innings over 81 appearances. He has struck out 31% of batters faced but also given out walks at a 19% clip, leading to a 5.60 ERA.
Last summer, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs listed Chamberlain as the club’s #19 prospect. The lefty would have been in the mix for a 2024 debut since he had already reached Triple-A but that seems unlikely now. If he does require Tommy John surgery, he would miss the entire 2024 season and likely the early portions of 2025 as well.
Giants right-hander Tristan Beck has left the team’s spring complex and is traveling back to San Francisco to undergo testing after experiencing discomfort in his right hand, the team announced to reporters (X link via Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area). The team will provide further updates in the coming days.
Beck, 27, becomes the second Giants starter to incur an injury of some sort in camp. Fellow righty Keaton Winn has been slowed by a nerve issue in his pitching elbow. He resumed throwing Sunday but is at least a week behind the rest of the group. That’s good news, but early injury troubles for the Giants’ presumptive fourth and fifth starters is nevertheless unsettling — particularly given the patchwork nature of the starting staff behind ace Logan Webb.
The Giants are relying on Winn, Beck, top prospect Kyle Harrison and reliever-turned-starter Jordan Hicks to shoulder the bulk of the workload in the rotation. In terms of proven big league starters, it’s among the thinnest rotations in the game. Veterans Alex Cobb and Robbie Ray will eventually join that group, but both will very likely open the season on the injured list. Ray will be sidelined into the season’s second half as he recovers from last May’s Tommy John surgery. Cobb is on the mend from October hip surgery. A precise return date isn’t clear, but Pavlovic suggested a couple weeks back that Cobb was hoping to be cleared to face hitters by the end of spring training. That trajectory would likely sideline him into May, at the very least.
Beck came to the Giants by way of the 2019 trade that shipped former closer Mark Melancon to Atlanta. The former fourth-round pick made his MLB debut in 2023, pitching 85 innings of 3.92 ERA ball with a below-average 19.2% strikeout rate but a strong 5.9% walk rate. Most of that work came as a multi-inning reliever, however. Beck appeared in 33 games for San Francisco but made just three starts. He completed five innings only three times all season — twice in long relief and once in a start that marked his final appearance of the year.
Another injury scare for a Giants starter will only further spark speculation about the possibility of the Giants adding to the rotation. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has downplayed the potential for any notable acquisitions following the team’s signing of Jorge Soler, but the Giants remain one of the most obvious fits for high-profile free agents like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery — both in terms of actual roster need and from a payroll vantage point. The team’s projected $164MM Opening Day payroll (via Roster Resource) is more than $36MM south of the franchise-record $200.5MM mark set back in 2018, and the Giants are also about $24MM shy of the luxury-tax threshold.
If the Giants are strictly averse to shelling out the requisite years and dollars needed to bring in Snell or Montgomery, there are still alternatives on the free agent market. Michael Lorenzen and Mike Clevinger remain unsigned, as do rebound candidates like Eric Lauer, Jake Odorizzi and Noah Syndergaard (to name a few).
Feb. 27: The Nationals and Barnes are in agreement on a minor league deal, reports Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com. The agreement is still pending a physical. Assuming that goes well, Barnes will report to big league camp as a non-roster invitee.
Feb. 26: Veteran right-hander Matt Barnes has “made good progress” towards a deal with the Nationals, reports Chris Cotillo of MassLive, though Cotillo cautions that the deal is not complete. Earlier today, Cotillo relayed that Barnes’ market was heating up with the Nats being one of the teams in the mix. The righty is a client of ISE Baseball. The Nationals have a full 40-man roster and would need to open a spot for Barnes — if the parties are discussing a guaranteed deal. That could easily be achieved by moving Stephen Strasburg to the 60-day injured list.
Barnes, 34 in June, is coming off a rough couple of years but looked like one of the most dominant relievers in the league prior to that. From 2016 to 2019, he had a stretch with the Red Sox where he looked like a solid but not elite reliever. Over those four seasons, he made 264 appearances for Boston with a 3.84 earned run average. His 32% strikeout rate was quite impressive and he kept 48.4% of balls in play on the ground but his 11.4% walk rate was on the high side.
In the shortened 2020 season, he had a bit of a blip, with his ERA jumping to 4.30. But in 2021, he turned things around in spectacular fashion. Through July 10, he had tossed 37 innings over the same number of appearances, allowing 2.68 runs per nine. He struck out a huge 44.6% of batters faced while giving out walks at just a 7.2% clip. He was just a few months from free agency but the Sox decided to lock him up, agreeing to a two-year extension with a guarantee of $18.75MM and a club option for 2024.
Unfortunately, things took a downward turn shortly after that deal was signed. His next seven appearances were scoreless but he hit a rough patch in early August. From the signing of extension to the end of the year, his ERA was 6.11. He then posted a 4.31 ERA in 2022, with subpar strikeout and walk rates of 19.3% and 11.9%, respectively. He was dealt to the Marlins prior to last year and put up a 5.48 ERA in 24 appearances. He went on the injured list in early June due to a left hip impingement and never returned, undergoing surgery in July. The Fish turned down his option at the end of the year and sent him to the open market.
“Looking back on it, I’m realizing now that the hip was such a limiting factor in my ability to get into my lower half, subconsciously knowing that it was there,” Barnes told Alex Speier of the Boston Globe last month. “The nature of the injury with the hip, it didn’t allow me to get over my front side and truly rotate and create power.” The right-hander averaged 95-98 miles per hour on his fastball through 2022 but then was down to 93.4 last year, perhaps backing up his assessment of his poor campaign in 2023.
For the Nats, taking a flier on Barnes and hoping for a post-surgery bounceback would be a sensible gambit. The club has been deep in a rebuild for many years and isn’t expected to return to contention here in 2024. The projected standings at FanGraphs and the PECOTA standings at Baseball Prospectus both peg them to be the worst club in the National League East and one of the worst in the majors overall.
They currently project to have a bullpen featuring Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey and Tanner Rainey, all of whom are set for free agency after 2025. Coming into the winter, they had almost no one else with a meaningful track record of big league success, leaving plenty of openings for other hurlers. They signed Dylan Floro to a one-year deal to stabilize the ’pen somewhat and perhaps turn himself into a trade chip. Signing Barnes would come with the same logic.
Given the long-term outlook of the club and the fungible nature of relievers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Finnegan/Harvey/Rainey trio on the trading block this summer if they are throwing well. Even if someone like Floro or Barnes didn’t pitch well enough to net a huge deadline return, they might still need to step up and play a role to help the club get through end of the season. The Nats have also given non-roster deals to veterans like Derek Law, Richard Bleier, Jacob Barnes and Luis Perdomo.
As Blake Snell continues to linger in free agency, speculation regarding him and the Yankees persists. The Yanks reportedly offered the lefty five years and $150MM before pivoting to sign Marcus Stroman on a two-year deal last month. Since then, it’s been reported that the Yankees still have an offer out to Snell, though the shape of that offer is presumably different after signing Stroman and pushing themselves into the top tier of luxury-tax penalization in the process. Whatever is presently on the table doesn’t appear to be a “take it or leave it” type of offer, as the New York Post’s Jon Heyman writes that the Yankees and Snell talked about various contract parameters as recently as yesterday.
Notably, Heyman writes that agent Scott Boras has suggested the possibility of a shorter-term deal with higher annual salaries and opt-out opportunities. That’d be a pivot from Snell seeking maximum guarantees, as has been the case throughout the winter. It’s also not a concept that works well with a team in the Yankees’ situation.
The Yankees are a third-time luxury tax payor who are in the top tier of penalization. Any additional spending at this point will be taxed at 110%. And since the luxury tax is based on a contract’s average annual value, there’s no skirting the issue by backloading a deal. In that sense, dialing up the contract’s AAV only further penalizes the Yankees. The taxes are only part of the issue. New York would also be forfeiting its second- and fifth-highest draft selections, as well as $1MM from next year’s international bonus pool, in order to sign Snell, who rejected a qualifying offer from the Padres.
A longer-term pact that stretches out an agreed-upon guarantee while weighing down the AAV would be more sensible. The Yankees took that approach with DJ LeMahieu in free agency a couple years back, when he inked a six-year deal at a time when a contract around four years was widely expected. There’s no indication such an arrangement is currently being discussed, however, and going longer term on Snell would present the Yankees with its own slate of worrying factors. New York already has Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge, Carlos Rodon and Giancarlo Stanton under contract through the 2027 season. Each of Cole, Rodon and Judge are on the books through 2028, giving the Yankees $103MM in guaranteed money on the books in a season that’s still four years down the road. Add in the $10MM buyout on Stanton’s 2028 option, and that’s $113MM of considerations for that season.
Furthermore, they’ll very likely wind up tacking an extra year onto Cole’s contract this coming offseason. The reigning AL Cy Young winner has an opt-out in his contract after the ’24 season, but the Yankees can void that by picking up a 2029 club option at $36MM. That’d give the Yanks $76MM on the books as far down the line as 2029; adding Snell on a long-term deal designed to tamp down his contract’s AAV could push them close to or even north of $100MM in commitments a half-decade from the current season. Not only that, but Judge will be 37 that year and Cole will be 38. Snell would be 36. It’d be plenty understandable if the Yankees have some trepidation about locking in $100MM+ in guarantees to three players who’ll be 36 or older in 2029.
Heyman also notes that the Yankees have some interest in fellow lefty and fellow unsigned Boras client Jordan Montgomery, whom they of course originally drafted and developed. However, the Yankees prefer Snell, and the financial hurdles just laid out regarding Snell applies to Montgomery — but on a slightly smaller scale, as he doesn’t have quite the earning power of a two-time Cy Young winner.
As Spring Training continues, here are three things for MLBTR readers to keep an eye on today:
1. Ohtani to make Dodgers debut:
The Dodgers had their first Cactus League game against the Padres last week in preparation for the Korea Series in Seoul next month, though superstar offseason addition Shohei Ohtani has not yet made his first spring appearance for the club. That’ll change today, as the Dodgers have announced that Ohtani will make his debut in today’s game against the White Sox. Left-hander Garrett Crochet will take the mound for the White Sox opposite Dodgers youngster Bobby Miller, with the game scheduled for 2:05pm CT. The two-way superstar will be limited to only hitting this year as he rehabs from elbow surgery, though he’ll be building off an incredible 2023 campaign that saw him slash a whopping .304/.412/.654 in 135 games while hitting an AL-best 44 home runs en route to his second MVP award in three years.
2. Cubs working on potential trade?
Center fielder Cody Bellinger’s deal with the Cubs has not yet been made official, and Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic indicated yesterday that the Cubs are trying to work out a trade to clear space on the 40-man roster. Per Sharma, Chicago hopes to move a pitcher off its 40-man roster via trade in the coming days rather than risk losing a player for nothing on waivers. Speculatively speaking, that could mean the Cubs are shopping an arm towards the back of their bullpen depth chart such as Keegan Thompson, Jose Cuas, or Yency Almonte, or perhaps even a prospect such as Porter Hodge or Caleb Kilian. Sharma went on to suggest that if a trade cannot be worked out quickly, the Cubs could still designate a player for assignment in hopes that a trade of that player could be finalized over the seven-day window following the DFA.
3. MLBTR Chat today:
While teams around the league are already participating in Cactus and Grapefruit League games, a handful of the winter’s top free agents remain unsigned and plenty of offseason shopping lists around the league remain unfulfilled. Are you wondering if there’s more in store for your team as camps open in Arizona and Florida? If so, tune in this afternoon when MLBTR’s Steve Adams hosts a live chat with readers at 1pm CT. You can click here to ask a question in advance, and that same link will allow you to join in on the chat once it begins or read the transcript after its completed.