Click here to read a transcript of Tuesday’s chat with MLBTR’s Steve Adams.
The Rays announced Tuesday that they’ve designated struggling first baseman/outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo for assignment. He’s in the second season of a two-year, $12MM contract that represented a relatively sizable investment for the cost-conscious Rays. They’ll now have a week to trade him, pass him through waivers or release him. Corner infielder Kevin Padlo is up from Triple-A Durham in his place.
Tsutsugo, 29, was a prominent slugger with the Yokohama DeNa BayStars in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, batting .285/.382/.528 in parts of 10 seasons — including a .293/.402/.574 slash with 139 home runs in the four years leading up to his free agency.
He struggled in 2020 with the Rays but at least showed off some of that power, slugging eight long balls, five doubles and a triple in 185 trips to the plate last summer. That power has completely evaporated in 2021, however, as Tsutsugo has just four doubles and no home runs through his first 87 plate appearances.
Overall, Tsutsugo has come to the plate 272 times as a member of the Rays and managed only a .187/.292/.336 batting line with a 28.3 percent strikeout rate. To his credit, he’s walked at a hearty 12.5 percent clip, but that keen eye hasn’t helped him to tap into the obvious power that helped make him a star in Japan. With Ji-Man Choi nearing a return from the injured list and Tsutsugo’s struggles persisting, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wrote yesterday that a touch decision on Tsutsugo seemed virtually “inevitable.”
It’s unlikely that the Rays will find a taker for Tsutsugo’s salary — he’s still owed $5.46MM through season’s end — though they could always try to orchestrate some kind of swap involving another bad contract. Such deals are tough to put together in a short window during the season, making it likelier that he’ll be placed on waivers or simply released.
The Braves announced Tuesday that they’ve claimed right-handed reliever Jay Flaa off waivers from the Orioles, who’d designated him for assignment over the weekend. The move fills Atlanta’s 40-man roster.
Flaa, who’ll turn 29 in a month, was selected to the big league roster for the first time in his career last month. The Orioles’ sixth-round pick in 2016, he made his MLB debut on April 27, tossing 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief with a pair of walks and a strikeout.
That was Flaa’s lone appearance before the Orioles designated him for assignment in order to open a roster spot for waiver claim Brandon Waddell. While Flaa has struggled in a total of 56 2/3 frames at the Triple-A level, he was excellent at both Double-A and Class-A Advanced while rising through the Orioles’ system. He’s tallied 260 1/3 professional innings since being drafted out of North Dakota State University, working to a 3.49 ERA with an above-average 26.7 percent strikeout rate but a somewhat bloated 11.2 percent walk rate.
Flaa’s fastball sat 93.2 mph in his lone MLB appearance, and he also showed a slider and splitter that day. Because he was selected to the MLB roster for the first time this year, he still has all three minor league option years remaining.
Ole Miss right-hander Gunnar Hoglund, one of the top prospect in this summer’s draft class, will require Tommy John surgery after exiting last night’s start during the first inning, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel reports (Twitter link). He’ll be sidelined for the next 12 to 18 months while he recovers.
It’s a tough blow for the 21-year-old Hoglund, who has been excellent thus far in his junior season. Through 62 2/3 innings spread across 11 starts, the 6’4″, 220-pound righty has pitched to a 2.87 ERA while striking out 38.9 percent of his opponents against a 6.8 percent walk rate. Hoglund notched a 1.16 ERA and a stellar 37-to-4 K/BB ratio in 23 1/3 innings in 2020 before the season was halted.
McDaniel’s most recent mock draft had Hoglund going eighth overall to the Rockies, while recent mocks from Baseball America and MLB.com had him going 10th to the Mets and 13th to the Phillies, respectively. BA ranked Hoglund as the No. 9 overall prospect in this year’s draft, while MLB.com had him tenth. It’s the second time Hoglund has entered the season as a high-profile draft prospect; the Pirates selected him with the No. 36 pick back in 2018, but he opted to honor his college commitment and did not sign. Pittsburgh received a comp pick the following year (used to select outfield prospect Sammy Siani).
The forthcoming Tommy John procedure doesn’t entirely dash Hoglund’s hopes of going in the first round. It’s fairly common for teams in the middle or back half of the first round roll the dice on injured potential top 10 talents whose stock has dipped a bit due to health concerns. McDaniel adds in reporting the unfortunate news on Hoglund that the injury will probably drop him to the 15 to 25 range on future attempts at forecasting the first round.
[Related: 2021 MLB Draft To Be 20 Rounds]
Hoglund becomes the second high-profile college starter to require Tommy John surgery this spring, joining LSU righty Jaden Hill, who sustained a torn UCL in early April. Both could yet come off the board early in this summer’s draft, particularly if there’s a team interested in cutting a deal to save some money on its top pick and then spending a bit more aggressively elsewhere down the board.
The Yankees announced Tuesday that they’ve activated first baseman Luke Voit from the 10-day injured list. The 30-year-old slugger missed the first five-plus weeks of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, but he’s been on a rehab assignment in Triple-A Scranton and is now set to make his 2021 debut. The Yankees announced after Sunday’s game that Miguel Andujar was optioned to Scranton, and they’d yet to announce a corresponding move, so Voit will fill that spot on the roster.
Voit led the Majors with 22 long balls during last year’s shortened season, batting .277/.338/.610 overall. He’s been a revelation since coming to the Yankees in a trade that sent setup man Giovanny Gallegos to the Cardinals, as he’s seized the everyday first base job on the strength of a .279/.372/.543 with 57 homers in 897 plate appearances.
The return of Voit should be a spark for a Yankees lineup that has struggled to gel over the course of the season. A revitalized Giancarlo Stanton is in the midst of a hot streak for the ages, but as a whole, the Yankees are tied for 21st in the Majors in runs scored, 24th in batting average (.222) and 19th in slugging percentage (.381). Their collective .320 OBP is still the seventh-best mark of any team in the game, but the Yankees have received sub-par production from the likes of Gary Sanchez, Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier to this point.
First base, in particular, has been a black hole for the Yankees. DJ LeMahieu is hitting well overall but hasn’t been as productive when slotted in at first base — a reality that is merely coincidental — while Jay Bruce, Mike Ford and Miguel Andujar haven’t produced in their opportunities there. Through 144 plate appearances, Yankees first basemen are batting .150/.250/.244 so far in 2021.
After spending parts of 13 seasons in the Major Leagues, veteran right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has announced his retirement, via a statement released by the Brewers. The two-time All-Star and Wisconsin native made it back to the big leagues this year for a brief run with his home state’s team, but he’ll now call it a career after 1614 innings and 279 appearances in the Majors.
“I have had the joy of playing the game that I love for the past 15 years,” Zimmermann said. “I will forever be thankful to the Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers for allowing me to live out this dream. It has been particularly special to be able to end it all playing for my hometown team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Thank you to all of my friends, teammates and family members who have been by my side throughout this incredible journey. I will miss the game greatly, but I’m ready for the new phase of my life.”
A second-round pick out of Division-III University of Wisconsin Steven’s Point back in 2007, Zimmermann was in the big leagues not even two years later. He cracked the Nationals’ rotation early that year despite limited minor league experience and held his own through 16 starts, pitching to a 4.63 ERA in 91 1/3 frames. Unfortunately, Zimmermann’s elbow began barking early that summer, and by August he’d undergone Tommy John surgery that wiped out his next year. He returned late in 2010 and tossed 31 innings.
It was the 2011 season, however, where Zimmermann truly cemented his place in the Nationals’ plans. He broke out with 161 2/3 innings of 3.18 ERA ball and was a fixture in the club’s rotation for the next half decade. Zimmermann made the All-Star team in both 2013 and 2014 and finished among the top seven in Cy Young voting during both seasons. In his final five seasons with the Nats, Zimmermann was a durable workhorse who averaged 194 innings per year while pitching to a combined 3.14 ERA and 3.30 FIP with some of the best command of any pitcher in the game.
Zimmermann’s highlight with the Nationals was undoubtedly a 2014 no-hitter in his final appearance of the season — a 10-strikeout, one-walk masterpiece that will go down as one of the best performances in franchise history. He nearly went the distance in his next start, too: a National League Division Series showdown with the eventual World Champion Giants. Zimmermann had thrown 8 2/3 shutout innings before walking Joe Panik — at which point then-manager Matt Williams hooked him for Drew Storen. Storen famously served up back-to-back hits, blowing the Nationals’ 1-0 lead in a game that would turn into an 18-inning marathon which the Giants won.
That excellent showing unsurprisingly made him one of the market’s top free-agent starting pitchers as he headed into his age-30 season. The five-year, $110MM contract he eventually signed with the Tigers actually came in a bit lighter than some prognosticators expected — including our prediction here at MLBTR (six years, $126MM). For a pitcher with Zimmermann’s durability and consistency, it seemed like an eminently reasonable contract that would help stabilize the Tigers’ rotation for the foreseeable future.
As we all know, that isn’t how things panned out. Zimmermann was slowed by a neck injury in his first season with Detroit and struggled to a 4.87 ERA in 19 appearances. Zimmermann made 29 starts the following year but was clobbered for a 6.08 ERA, and the 4.52 mark he managed through 25 starts in 2018 wound up being the best of any of his five years in Detroit.
It was a constant struggle to stay healthy in Detroit for Zimmermann, who spent time on the injured list not only due to the previously mentioned neck strain but also with a lat strain, a shoulder impingement, a UCL sprain, cervical spasms in his back, and a forearm strain. That mountain of injuries clearly took its toll on the former All in all, Zimmermann spent a half decade with the Tigers and mustered just a 5.63 ERA in 514 frames.
This offseason, Zimmermann inked a minor league deal with his hometown club. He headed to the Brewers’ alternate training site when he didn’t win a roster spot in Spring Training, and the righty rather candidly acknowledged that he was in the process of retiring when the Brewers called him to the big leagues. Zimmermann jokingly told reporters earlier this month that he was retired “for about two hours” before getting the call. He tossed 5 2/3 innings in a Brewers jersey to put a bow on what was overall a very fine career, even if injuries derailed the second half of his Major League tenure.
Few Division-III hurlers even get noticed by big league scouts — let alone second-round draft status and an accelerated, 18-month skyrocket journey through the minors and up to the big leagues. Zimmermann did just that, however, and as the dust now settles, he heads into retirement with a career 4.07 ERA through 1614 Major League innings. The righty posted a 95-91 record, struck out 1271 hitters in the Majors and tallied more than $143MM in earnings over the course of a career valued at 20.3 wins above replacement at Baseball-Reference and 25.5 WAR at FanGraphs.
2:50 PM: It appears the Indians will be without their starting catcher for quite some time. Manager Terry Francona told the media, including the Athletic’s Zack Meisel (Twitter links), that Cleveland expects Perez to be out for 8-10 weeks.
2:04 PM: Indians catcher Roberto Perez underwent surgery to repair the fractured ring finger on his right hand, tweets Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon-Journal. The team has yet to provide a timeline as to when Perez might be cleared to return to action, but Cleveland will now be without its top catcher for the foreseeable future.
Perez suffered the injury when he got crossed up with hard-throwing James Karinchak, and while he tried to play through the issue for awhile, he eventually was placed on the injured list earlier this week. He met with a specialist this week, Lewis notes, and clearly the surgical route wound up being the recommended course of treatment.
The injury initially occurred more than three weeks ago at a time when Perez was batting .238/.448/.524 with a pair of home runs through his first 29 plate appearances. Unsurprisingly, his bid to remain productive with a broken finger didn’t go particularly well; in 44 plate appearances since that time, Perez has just three hits and a dismal .075/.159/.175 slash.
Cleveland is temporarily losing one of the game’s best defensive catchers, although one of Perez’s primary competitors for that distinction is his own teammate, Austin Hedges. With Perez sidelined, Hedges figures to get the lion’s share of playing time. His bat isn’t likely to match that of a healthy Perez, as he’s mustered only a .118/.189/.294 output in 2021 and a .166/.243/.306 line overall dating back to 2019. Hedges’ glove, game-calling and framing should continue to work to the advantage of what is yet another high-quality Indians pitching staff, however.
That’s especially true given that he figures to share time with 37-year-old Rene Rivera, who was selected to the MLB roster to replace Perez. Rivera, a glove-first backstop himself, won’t provide much with the bat but will give Terry Francona another quality battery-mate for his pitchers.
The Tigers announced a series of roster moves Friday, designating right-hander Buck Farmer for assignment and selecting the contract of veteran righty Erasmo Ramirez in his place. Detroit also placed Wilson Ramos on the 10-day injured list due to a lumbar strain and recalled catcher Jake Rogers from Triple-A Toledo.
MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery wrote not long before the announcement that the Farmer-for-Ramirez shuffle could be on the horizon. It’s not a huge surprise, given the extent of Farmer’s struggles in 2021; the 30-year-old righty has been tattooed for 15 runs on 15 hits (six homers) and nine walks with 10 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings so far on the young season.
Grisly as those number are, Farmer was one of the team’s better relievers from 2018-20. During that time, the former fifth-round pick tallied 158 1/3 innings of 3.92 ERA with continually improving control and ground-ball rates. Last year’s 15.7 percent strikeout rate in 21 1/3 frames was a career-low, but Farmer’s 5.6 percent walk rate and 52.2 percent grounder rate both represented career-bests. His 93.9 mph average heater in 2021 is down from its 95.1 mph peak in 2019 but also an improvement over last summer’s 93.3 mph mark.
On the whole, since Farmer established himself as a staple in the Detroit bullpen four years ago, he’s posted a 4.47 ERA, a 20.8 percent strikeout rate, a 10.7 percent walk rate and a 44.3 percent ground-ball rate. This year’s catastrophic results obviously weigh that performance down, but at his best he’s been a hard-throwing righty who can both miss bats and induce grounders at an above-average clip. Whether that leads to interest from another club can’t be known, but the Tigers will have a week to trade him or try to pass him through outright waivers.
Farmer is out of minor league options, so if another club does acquire him, he’ll need to be placed on the big league roster. He has more than the three years of service time needed to reject an outright assignment even if he goes unclaimed. However, as Woodbery rightly points out, doing so would mean forfeiting the remainder of this year’s $1.85MM salary, as he doesn’t yet have the five years of service required to retain salary in the event of rejecting an outright. That salary might make it tough for Farmer to be claimed on waivers, and if he does pass through, he’ll surely accept the assignment rather than surrender the $1.44MM he’s yet owed through season’s end.
The veteran Ramirez will give the Tigers some depth as a potential long man in the ’pen or perhaps even in the rotation, should a need arise. He spent the 2020 season with the Mets and fared quite well, allowing just a run on eight hits and four walks with nine punchouts in 14 1/3 innings.
Ramirez, 31, has spent time in the big leagues with the Mariners, Rays and Red Sox as well, with his best season coming back in 2015-16 when he gave Tampa Bay a combined 254 innings of 3.76 ERA ball. He struggled in limited samples of work from 2018-19, but Ramirez has pitched in a variety of roles at the MLB level and on the whole carries a 4.31 ERA through 655 Major League frames.
The Braves announced Friday that they’ve designated right-hander Nate Jones for assignment in order to open a spot on the 40-man roster for fellow righty reliever Carl Edwards Jr., whose contract has been selected from Triple-A Gwinnett. Atlanta also optioned right-hander Edgar Santana to Gwinnett.
Jones, 35, inked a minor league deal with the Braves over the winter and parlayed a dominant Spring Training effort into an Opening Day spot in the Atlanta ’pen. Unfortunately, the regular season didn’t bring about the same results as Jones enjoyed in Grapefruit League play. Through 10 1/3 innings this season, Jones has walked 10 batters, hit another and allowed eight hits (three homers). He’s limited the damage to six runs (four earned), but that lack of control ultimately cost him his roster spot.
The oft-injured Jones has scuffled in recent seasons but at one point was a lights-out setup man for the White Sox. He spent parts of eight seasons with the South Siders, pitching to a 3.12 ERA over the life of 291 1/3 innings out of the Chicago bullpen. Whether he can ever reclaim that form remains to be seen, but Jones came out of the gates in 2021 with a still-very-healthy 95.8 mph average velocity on his heater. The Braves will have a week to trade him, pass him through outright waivers or release him. He has more than enough service time to refuse an outright assignment if he clears waivers.
Edwards, 29, will be looking to bounce back from what has been a relatively swift decline in recent years. From 2016-18, he was one of the Cubs’ primary bullpen arms and was quite impressive along the way, compiling a 3.03 ERA while striking out nearly 35 percent of his opponents. Control was an issue (13.5 percent walk rate), but Edwards looked the part of a high-quality, late-inning arm.
However, Edwards began to unravel in Sept. 2018, when he walked 12 of the final 38 batters he faced in a total of just seven innings pitched. He began the 2019 campaign in similarly shaky fashion, pitching to a 5.87 ERA with nine walks, a hit batter and eight hits (three homers) allowed in 15 1/3 frames. The Cubs somewhat surprisingly moved on, and he’s been unable to find his stride again since that time. He looked sharp in a brief stint with the Mariners in 2020 but ended up missing the bulk of the season due to a forearm strain.
If Edwards is able to recapture his peak form, he’ll give the Braves a high-octane strikeout artist who can be controlled for another season via arbitration. Walks will likely to continue to be an issue even if he does find some success, however, which isn’t ideal for a club whose bullpen already has the fifth-highest walk rate in the Majors (12.2 percent).
Whether Edwards rebounds or not, Atlanta could eventually turn to the trade market to augment a bullpen that currently ranks 23rd in the Majors in ERA (4.58), 21st in FIP (4.41) and 25th in SIERA (4.23).
The Reds announced Friday that they’ve reinstated outfielder Shogo Akiyama from the 10-day injured list and put Joey Votto on the injured list in his place. Votto is expected to be out three to four weeks after fracturing his thumb in yesterday’s game. Akiyama has yet to play in 2021 due to a hamstring injury.
Perhaps of more interest to Reds fans will be the new-look defensive alignment the team is rolling out in the wake of Votto’s injury and Akiyama’s return. They’ll open this weekend’s series against the Indians with Mike Moustakas sliding over to first base in Votto’s place, while Nick Senzel moves from center field to second base. Eugenio Suarez is back at third base today, with Kyle Farmer stepping in for him at shortstop. Tyler Naquin is in Senzel’s customary center field, and Akiyama is getting a day in left while Jesse Winker serves as the designated hitter.
This particular alignment obviously won’t be the norm in Votto’s absence, as the Reds won’t have the DH in most of the games they play over the next month. But Moustakas sliding over to first base and Senzel moving from a crowded outfield into the infield could be frequently featured tactics. Second baseman Jonathan India has ample experience at third base, of course, so it’s possible we’ll see a frequent infield of India, Suarez, Senzel and Moustakas. Meanwhile, the Reds will rotate Winker, Naquin, Nick Castellanos and Akiyama in the outfield. Presumably, with the first three all hitting so well to begin the year, they’ll be viewed as the starting trio.
That said, the club surely still has hope of a better performance for Akiyama in is second season at the MLB level. The former Seibu Lions star signed a three-year, $21MM deal with Cincinnati in the 2019-20 offseason, and while he got on base at a nice clip last year, he struggled to hit for much average or power. The now-33-year-old Akiyama batted .245/.357/.297 with six doubles, a triple, no home runs and seven steals (10 attempts) through his first 183 big league plate appearances.