The Diamondbacks have elected to not only remove Brad Boxberger from the closer’s role but also to do away with set bullpen roles entirely for the remainder of the season, manager Torey Lovullo explained to reporters this week (link via Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic). Rather than deploy a set closer (Boxberger) and setup man (Archie Bradley), the D-backs’ late-inning decisions will be determined primarily based on matchups. Boxberger, Bradley, Andrew Chafin, Brad Ziegler and T.J. McFarland will be among the matchup options sharing late-inning duties, per Piecoro. The 30-year-old Boxberger has a 4.41 ERA and has averaged five walks per nine innings this season, but he’s also racked up 32 saves and fanned 68 hitters in just 49 innings of work. He’s struggled in particular as of late, surrendering a dozen runs in his past 11 2/3 innings of work. Boxberger will be arbitration-eligible for the final time this offseason after earning $1.85MM in 2018.
- Twenty-year-old Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna may be on his way to joining Trout as an elite player, which is a difficult reality for the Diamondbacks, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic explains. The Venezuelan-born Acuna signed with the Braves for a $100K bonus four years ago, but before that, the Diamondbacks believed they were on the verge of adding him for $80K. Junior Noboa, the Diamondbacks’ vice president of Latin American operations, revealed to Piecoro that the two sides reached an agreement in the Dominican Republic. However, rules state a player must officially sign in his home country, and by the time Acuna returned to Venezuela, the Braves had made a stronger offer, according to Noboa. “They accepted it before I could come back with another offer,” Noboa said of Acuna’s camp. Acuna disagrees with Noboa’s version of the story, as he said through an interpreter Thursday: “There was a difference between what was promised and what was eventually settled upon. They gave me an initial number and then afterwards that wasn’t it. That’s why I wasn’t on board with signing.” Regardless, as Piecoro notes, Acuna was not a superstar prospect when he chose Atlanta over Arizona. Thus, whether he’d have developed into the player he is now had he signed with a different team is anyone’s guess.
With Major League teams increasingly adding opt-out provisions to free-agent contracts as a means of incentivizing players to sign, there are now a handful of those decisions that impact the free-agent market every offseason. With nearly 90 percent of the season already in the books, many of the opt-out decisions/player option decisions look pretty clear cut.
Things could change over the final month, but here’s a look at where things currently stand…
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (Two years, $65MM remaining): Truthfully, Kershaw is the only player with an opt-out provision in 2018 who could be called likely to exercise the clause at present. While he hasn’t been quite as dominant as usual and has spent time on the DL for a third straight year (back issues, biceps tendinitis), it’s difficult to imagine him having to take less than that $65MM sum in free agency.
In 131 1/3 innings this season, Kershaw is sporting a 2.40 ERA with 8.7 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9 and a 48.9 percent ground-ball rate. He hasn’t topped 200 innings since 2015, but he’s still a clearly elite starter. If he does formally opt out, the Dodgers can issue a qualifying offer, though perhaps the easiest scenario would be for Los Angeles to simply extend Kershaw’s current contract to prolong his already historic Dodgers career.
David Price, Red Sox (Four years, $127MM remaining): Price is having his best season with the Red Sox, having notched a 3.60 ERA with a strikeout per inning and 2.4 walks per nine innings pitched through 152 1/3 frames. His results have been solid, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where he exceeds $127MM in free agency at the age of 33. Price’s Boston tenure has been rocky at times, but it seems likely that he’ll be back in the rotation next season.
Jason Heyward, Cubs (Five years, $106MM remaining): Declining to opt out is little more than a formality for Heyward at this point, as he hasn’t come close to living up to his $184MM contract in Chicago through the first three seasons. To his credit, though the 29-year-old has had a nice rebound effort, hitting .275/.342/.399 with above-average defense in right field. That might make the Cubs feel better about his contract moving forward, but it won’t be enough to prompt Heyward to test free agency. His contract contains a second opt-out clause following the 2019 season, at which point he’ll have four years and $86MM remaining, but that also seems like a long shot.
Elvis Andrus, Rangers (Four years, $58MM): Andrus could be considered more of a borderline call than some on this list, but he seems likelier to stay with Texas than to opt out. The 30-year-old hasn’t had a bad season, hitting .270/.322/.396 with quality defense, but his bat hasn’t been as potent as it was in 2016-17 when he hit a combined .299/.348/.457. The downturn in offensive output might not be entirely Andrus’ fault; he did incur a broken elbow when he was hit by a pitch earlier this season — an injury that caused him to miss just over two months of action. It’s easy to imagine that injury having a lingering effect on Andrus’ swing, too.
Like Heyward, Andrus has a second opt-out clause in his contract after the 2019 season. At that point, he’ll have three years and $43MM remaining on his contract. If his bat returns to its 2016-17 levels, surpassing that $43MM mark in free agency could be plausible. If Andrus opted out, he’d certainly be issued a qualifying offer — there’s no reason for the team to worry about him taking a one-year deal worth about $18MM when he just walked away from $58MM — which would only further hinder his earning power.
Yasmany Tomas, D-backs (Two years, $32.5MM remaining): Tomas clubbed 31 homers with the 2016 Diamondbacks but did so with a .315 on-base percentage and some of the worst defensive ratings of any player in the Majors — regardless of position. He’s since been outrighted off the 40-man roster and, in 371 Triple-A plate appearances this season, has 101 strikeouts against 11 walks with a .280 OBP. Suffice it to say: he’s not going anywhere.
Mark Melancon, Giants (Two years, $28MM remaining): Injuries have ruined Melancon’s first two seasons with the Giants, though he’s been excellent since returning in 2018: 2.64 ERA, 7.9K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 53.1 percent ground-ball rate in 30 2/3 innings. That performance is encouraging for the Giants as they look to 2019, but it won’t be enough to make Melancon’s camp think he can top $28MM heading into his age-34 season.
Brandon Kintzler, Cubs ($5MM player option): Kintzler’s contract technically contains a $10MM club option or a $5MM player option, but it’s clear given his dismal performance since being traded to Chicago that the team won’t be opting for that $10MM sum. Kintzler was very good with the Twins and Nationals from 2016 through this past July, but his typically excellent control has evaporated in Chicago while his hard-contact rate has skyrocketed. It’s only a sample of 11 2/3 innings, but his struggles make the option seem a fairly straightforward decision.
Eduardo Nunez, Red Sox ($5MM player option): Nunez’s deal comes with a $2MM buyout, making this effectively a $3MM decision for his camp. He’s struggled to the point that he may not even want to take that risk, though, hitting just .258/.282/.384 through 473 trips to the plate.
Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported this week that Nunez’s option increased from $4MM to $5MM once he reached 400 plate appearances. Bradford spoke to Nunez, who acknowledged that the knee that gave out on him in the postseason last year has been a problem for him throughout 2018, though he believes he’s finally “close” to 100 percent. Perhaps a strong month and a big postseason could prompt him to again test the open market, but his overall production to this point makes the player option seem a likelier outcome.
5:41pm: It emerged after the move that Dyson has undergone a core muscle procedure similar to the one that ended his 2017 season, as Steve Gilbert of MLB.com was among those to report (links to Twitter). It does not sound as if there’s much hope that the speedy outfielder will be able to return in 2018, though skipper Torey Lovullo says he expects Dyson to be ready to go for Spring Training in 2019.
Dyson has never really gotten going this year. In 237 plate appearances, he owns only a .189/.282/.257 slash with 16 steals. He’s slated to earn $3.5MM next season, the second and final campaign covered by his free-agent contract.
4:49pm: The Diamondbacks announced that they have acquired corner infielder/outfielder Patrick Kivlehan from the Mets. Cash considerations will head to New York in return.
Kivlehan will head onto the MLB roster, the D-Backs also announced. To create 40-man roster space, the club shifted outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the 60-day DL.
The 28-year-old Kivlehan landed with the Mets organization earlier this year after being cut loose by the Reds. He has turned in a big season at the plate since arriving in Triple-A Las Vegas, slashing .314/.372/.588 with twenty home runs in 390 plate appearances.
Of course, Kivlehan has at times shown solid pop and put up appealing numbers in the upper minors. But he has still yet to receive much of an opportunity at the game’s highest level. In his 228 total plate appearances, spread over 123 games in parts of two seasons, he has posted a .206/.303/.392 batting line.
Having been acquired after the end of August, Kivlehan will not be eligible to appear in the postseason should the Snakes qualify. He will, however, be able to help his new club try to get there and can be retained on the 40-man roster beyond the present season if the organization wishes.
3:17pm: Arizona has announced Lopez’s promotion, and it made room for him by transferring third baseman Jake Lamb to the 60-day disabled list. Lamb underwent season-ending left shoulder surgery last month.
1:37pm: The Diamondbacks will promote right-hander Yoan Lopez from Double-A Jackson, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. Lopez is not on the D-backs’ 40-man roster, which is currently full, so they’ll need to make a corresponding move.
Lopez, a holdover from the Diamondbacks’ ill-fated Dave Stewart/Tony La Russa/De Jon Watson regime, is finally coming to the majors three years after the team signed him out of Cuba. Arizona gave Lopez a whopping $8.27MM bonus, and in doing so, it paid a 100 percent overage tax and limited itself in future international markets. As a result of the Lopez signing, the Diamondbacks were barred from adding any international prospect for more than $300K over the next two signing periods. The club happened to have the majors’ largest bonus pool in 2015-16, making the Lopez-caused limitations all the more costly.
Of course, had Lopez developed into the front-line starter the Diamondbacks thought they were getting, there would be little to no criticism of the signing. Lopez’s tenure with the organization has been rocky at times, however, and he initially had such a difficult time adjusting to his new surroundings that he considered giving up baseball. However, Lopez – now 25 years old – persevered and may have put himself in position to make an impact with the D-backs. While he’s no longer a starter, the hard-throwing Lopez impressed as a Double-A reliever this season, recording a 2.92 ERA/2.85 FIP with 12.7 K/9 against 3.79 BB/9 in 61 2/3 innings.
Here’s the latest from the city of Jimi Hendrix and Frasier Crane…
- Marco Gonzales is hopeful that he can return from the disabled list to start during the Mariners’ series with the Yankees this weekend, MLB.com’s Greg Johns was among those to report. A cervical neck muscle strain forced Gonzales to the 10-day DL on August 27, though the left-hander had no issues while playing catch today. Gonzales will throw a light bullpen session Monday and another later in the week with an eye towards starting against New York. “The silver lining” of the absence, Gonzales told Johns and other reporters, is that he has had time to rest his arm and perhaps get a bit of a reset after struggling badly over his last four outings.
- The November 2016 deal that brought Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger to Seattle has turned into one of the best trades in recent Mariners history, with the two both quickly becoming cornerstone players for the M’s. The Athletic’s Corey Brock (subscription required) looks back at the trade with GM Jerry Dipoto, who broke down some of the talks between he and Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen, and how Segura and Haniger were identified as targets.
- In a mailbag piece for the Seattle Times, Ryan Divish notes that the two biggest questions surrounding the Mariners’ offseason will be whether or not to re-sign Nelson Cruz, and what position Dee Gordon will play in 2019. The two questions go hand-in-hand, particularly in regards to Robinson Cano — if Cruz leaves, Cano will see more DH time and Gordon could play more at his natural second base position. If Cruz stays as the full-time DH, however, Cano will see regular time at second while Gordon could return to the outfield. Ryon Healy’s future with the team is also a factor, as Cano could also be deployed at first base. It will be an interesting positional juggle for the M’s, plus we can’t rule out Dipoto trying another unconventional solution (i.e. the decision to acquire Gordon and use him as a center fielder in the first place).
Here’s the latest news from the international scene:
- Major League Baseball announced on Thursday the launch of a new Trainer Partnership Program that will strive to combat PED use among international amateurs prior to their signing with MLB organizations. The new partnership, per the league’s formal announcement, will require participating trainers to “enroll their players in MLB’s drug testing program, submit themselves and their employees to background checks, keep updated records of amateur players in their care, and comply with MLB rules regarding international players.” In exchange for that level of transparency, MLB will provide enrolled trainers and their players with “enhanced scouting opportunities.” The league will also promote trainers who are enrolled in the Partnership Program to Latin American players and their families.
- It’s obviously good to hear of an initiative that holds out the promise of improving the health and wellness of young amateur players, though of course many have argued that the trainers (generally known as “buscones” in Latin America) have themselves played a major role in creating the problematic conditions in the first place. MLB’s engagement with this shadowy world has long been a point of controversy without clear solutions. It seems that this agreement represents quite a notable step toward a more formalized relationship between the league and at least certain trainers, though no doubt there’ll still be quite a lot to sort out along the way.
- In Japan, meanwhile, MLB teams interact with amateur and professional talent under quite different circumstances. Generally, young Japanese players spend quite a bit of time playing professionally in their home country before the possibility of hopping the Pacific is entertained. But there have been notable exceptions — specifically, Junichi Tazawa — and now the Diamondbacks have potentially upset the apple cart by reportedly agreeing to terms with a 23-year-old amateur Japanese hurler named Shumpei Yoshikawa. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic says there is indeed an agreement in place, as Japanese media reports had indicated, with a $650K bonus going to Yoshikawa if it is finalized. As Piecoro explains, that signing seemingly violates the norms of player movement between Japan and the majors. While in this case the player in question was pitching in the Industrial League after previously being bypassed in the Nippon Professional Baseball draft, he had emerged as a significant NPB draft target. It’s certainly an interesting development; those who wish to learn more on the subject should read the full article.
- While many teams have already done the bulk of their heavy lifting on the international prospect market, additional signings will nonetheless filter in between now and next June. A few that have surfaced over the past couple of days …
- The Angels have signed Dominican outfield prospect Alexander Ramirez, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (Twitter link). Ramirez, who took home a $1MM bonus according to Ben Badler of Baseball America (also via Twitter), ranked 24th on MLB.com’s rankings of this year’s international prospects and 25th on Badler’s rankings over at BA. He had to wait until his 16th birthday (yesterday) for the signing to become official. Badler noted that Ramirez has average tools across the board, adding that scouts who like him the most are highest on his hit tool.
- Elsewhere, the Orioles announced another pair of international signings this week, adding 16-year-old infielder Moises Ramirez and right-hander Carlos Del Rosario — both out of the Dominican Republic. Neither was considered among the top 50 amateurs on this offseason’s class, per Baseball America’s rankings, though it’s nonetheless notable to see Baltimore continue to make some additions from a market they’d previously avoided almost entirely. Then again, the O’s did still dish out $750K of their 2018-19 pool in order to acquire first-base prospect Jack Zoellner — a 23-year-old 2017 ninth-rounder still in Rookie ball — in a trade with the Phillies earlier this week. And the Royals have signed right-hander Jin Woo-young — a high school righty out of South Korea (h/t: Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net, on Twitter). Naver Sports reports that he received a bonus of $150K.
7:14pm: The deal is official. Arizona will send cash considerations in the deal.
5:27pm: The Diamondbacks have agreed to a deal to acquire veteran catcher Chris Stewart from the Braves, per Robert Murray of The Athletic (via Twitter). Cash or a player to be named later will head to Atlanta in return, The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan tweets.
Stewart had been designated for assignment recently. He had briefly returned to the majors after being designated and outrighted earlier in the season. When the Braves acquired third catcher Rene Rivera yesterday, it became clear that Stewart wasn’t in their plans down the stretch.
While the D-Backs already have three catchers on their active roster, this’ll represent another depth piece for an organization that obviously values having options behind the dish. Stewart is not on the 40-man roster at present, but would need to be added to join the active roster.
Though he has rarely hit much at all in the majors, the 36-year-old is valued for his work behind the dish and in managing a staff. He has spent most of the present season at Triple-A, where he carries a .219/.299/.277 slash in 156 plate appearances.
The Mariners announced today that they’ve acquired infielder/outfielder Kristopher Negron from the D-backs in exchange for cash. He’s been assigned to Triple-A Tacoma for the time being.
Negron, 32, has seen MLB time in parts of five seasons, posting a combined .216/.297/.338 batting line in 304 trips to the plate. He appeared in a pair of games with Arizona earlier this season and 14 games last year as well, though he’d previously been outrighted off the 40-man roster and subsequently won’t require a 40-man spot on the Mariners’ roster (barring a September promotion).
Negron has big league experience at every position other than catcher and pitcher. He has nearly 5000 professional innings at shortstop under his belt but has also spent more than 1200 innings at second base and third base in addition to more than 1000 innings in the outfield corners and 998 innings in center field. He’s enjoyed a productive season in Triple-A Reno this year, hitting .283/.368/.477, though those numbers have come in an admittedly hitter-friendly setting. All told, Negron is a .249/.314/.392 hitter in parts of nine Triple-A campaigns.
Here’s the latest from the Diamondbacks, who are clinging to a half-game lead over the Rockies in the NL West…
- Clay Buchholz didn’t want to sign a minor league contract last offseason, though the righty tells Fangraphs’ David Laurila that the experience ended up being “a restart” for him, leading to his eventual revival with the D’Backs. “I swallowed my pride and did that [pitch in the minors] for a little bit. It was for the best, because it helped me get to where I’m at now,” Buchholz said. “It feels good to be able to go out there and throw without anything going on, mentally or physically.” Buchholz initially signed a minors deal with the Royals but was released before pitching for the big league team, only to sign another minor league contract with Arizona and emerge as a big piece of the Diamondbacks’ rotation. In 73 innings for the D’Backs this season, Buchholz has a 2.47 ERA, 3.81 K/BB rate, and a 7.5 K/9.
- Rookie catcher Michael Perez has made a strong first impression with the Rays after being traded from Arizona to Tampa as part of the Matt Andriese deal, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. The seeds of the trade were planted in the offseason when Rays scouts became impressed by Perez while examining the Diamondbacks’ system in preparation for the three-team deal that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona and Brandon Drury to the Yankees. “We were fortunate he was in a position where he was blocked by three catchers there in the big leagues….In a lot of organizations he may have had more of an opportunity than he had at the time in Arizona,” Rays pro scouting director Kevin Ibach said.
- Excellent glovework has been an underrated part of Arizona’s success this year, as Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan notes that the Diamondbacks have the best overall defense of any team in baseball. D’Backs pitchers and catchers rank first in the league in combined UZR and Defensive Runs Saved, while their infielders and catchers are also near the top of the list.