- Michael Bourn is expected to miss four weeks recovering from a broken finger, which MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko notes could actually help the Orioles’ chances of keeping Bourn in the organization. Bourn’s minor league deal with the O’s contained an opt-out date for March 27, so given his current injury timeline, he won’t have much chance to play before making his decision.
TODAY: The Orioles have officially released McFarland, as per a team announcement. The southpaw cleared release waivers and can now be signed by any club.
McFarland, 27, posted a 6.93 ERA over 24 2/3 relief innings for the Orioles last season, despite recording a 60.2% grounder rate. Always an extreme groundball pitcher who didn’t miss many bats (a 60.7% career GBR, 5.67 career K/9), McFarland recorded just seven strikeouts in 2016, and issued more walks (10) than strikeouts.
McFarland avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $685K deal with the O’s for the coming season, and he still has two remaining years of arb-eligibility. The lefty is also out of options, and CSNBaltimore.com’s Rich Dubroff speculates that McFarland is likely to pass through waivers and potentially stay with the Orioles, if no longer on the 40-man roster. Though any number of teams are looking to add left-handed relief options, McFarland has only solid numbers (.280/.326/.395) against left-handed hitters over his career, so clubs may look for southpaws with more extreme splits.
- Orioles outfielder Michael Bourn has a broken ring finger on his right hand and will miss the next four weeks, Roch Kubatko of MASN writes ( Twitter links). Bourn injured the finger yesterday while catching a football as part of a team workout. Bourn, of course, recently signed a minor-league deal to return to the Orioles, and he stood a decent chance of making their Opening Day roster. It remains to be seen how Bourn’s injury will affect his chances of making the team, and how his situation will be impacted by his opt-out, which allows him to leave the Orioles in late March if he isn’t added to their big-league roster.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the game.
- The Orioles have re-signed shortstop Paul Janish to a minor-league deal with a Spring Training invite, Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com tweets. Incumbent O’s shortstop J.J. Hardy has had back issues lately, but Buck Showalter told reporters, including MASN’s Roch Kubatko (via Twitter), that Janish’s re-signing is not related to Hardy’s status. The 34-year-old Janish appeared in 14 games with the Orioles in each of the past two seasons, but has spent most of the last two years with Triple-A Norfolk, where he batted .248/.333/.280 in 2016.
- Orioles lefty T.J. McFarland has cleared outright waivers and been placed on release waivers, Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun tweets. The Orioles designated McFarland for assignment when they officially acquired Vidal Nuno from the Dodgers. The Orioles remain interested in McFarland but would like to re-sign him for less than the $685K they would have had to pay him after settling with him for that sum in January, Kubatko tweets. McFarland has just over three years of service time and would have been eligible for arbitration had he and the Orioles not settled. The reliever is coming off a disappointing season in which he posted a 6.93 ERA with ten walks and just seven strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings in the big leagues.
Walker was once a well-regarded prospect in the Orioles’ system, winning the team’s minor league player of the year award after a strong 2014 season spent mostly at Double-A Bowie. He has since struggled to get much traction at Triple-A Norfolk, however, batting a decent but modest .264/.321/.437 there last season. Walker had little chance at a roster spot with the Orioles once the team re-signed Mark Trumbo this past winter.
Walker does, however, have an option remaining, and he’s relatively young, at 25. While his Triple-A numbers haven’t been impressive, they also haven’t been horrific, so it seems possible he could yet emerge as a viable big-leaguer with a bit of improvement. If he does, his ability to play both first base and left field should give the Braves or some other organization at least a couple ways to use him. The Braves, of course, have Freddie Freeman at first, but it’s possible to see Walker helping the team out as a backup and in the outfield (where he could potentially serve as a right-handed caddy for Nick Markakis) at some point this season.
- Veteran righty Tim Lincecum is drawing some interest as he prepares for a showcase, according to Heyman, though surely he won’t draw as much intrigue as he did last year. It’s unclear what’s next for catcher Steve Clevenger, who has attempted to rehabilitate his image in an interview with Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. His former team, the Orioles, at least considered offering him a minor-league pact, but ultimately decided against it.
- The Orioles continue to receive positive signs on two key pitchers who are dealing with some early-spring health questions, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports (Twitter links). Though Zach Britton still has “a little discomfort in [his] left side,” he says it’s getting better. And starter Chris Tillman says that his right shoulder “feels great” as he continues to throw long toss. It’s not yet clear when the two hurlers will get back on the mound.
FEB. 22: Bourn’s deal also comes with up to $3.5MM worth of incentives based on plate appearances, reports Crasnick (Twitter link). In total, the contract can max out at $5.5MM with enough playing time.
FEB. 20: The Orioles have reached agreement on a contract with outfielder Michael Bourn, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com first reported (via Twitter). It’s a minor-league pact that comes with a camp invite, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets. Bourn would earn $2MM if he cracks the MLB roster, per Heyman.
Bourn, who is a client of Lagardere Sports, will have a chance to opt out of his deal if he isn’t added to the 40-man late in camp, though there’s a bit of discord on the date. ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter) has it as March 25th, while Kubatko tweets that it’s actually the 27th. Regardless, the veteran will be able to seek greener pastures if the team decides not to commit to him.
At 34 years of age, Bourn is no longer the player he once was when starring in center field for the Braves. But he showed that there’s still some gas left in the tank during his stint late last year with the O’s, earning plaudits from the Baltimore front office and field staff.
Over 55 plate appearances in Baltimore, Bourn slashed .283/.358/.435 and drew six walks against nine strikeouts. Those numbers compared favorably to his best full seasons in the majors, when he was rarely much more than a league-average hitter but nonetheless added significant value with the glove and on the bases.
Of course, that’s rather a small sample, and the broader recent picture isn’t as favorable. Bourn’s offensive production has lagged since he signed on with the Indians in advance of the 2013 season, and he has struggled in particular over the last two seasons.
Even if it would be optimistic to expect Bourn’s late-2016 work at the plate to carry over, there’s reason to hope he can make a strong contribution. The veteran still rates well on the bases, and rates as at least a roughly average fielder. While the O’s already have two lefty platoon outfielders penciled into their roster, Seth Smith and Hyun Soo Kim, neither is capable of playing center. Bourn figures to compete with Joey Rickard and minor-league signees Craig Gentry and Logan Schafer for a bench spot in camp.
With elbow health continuing to generate headlines, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports takes a look at the variety of new treatments — generally grouped under the header of orthobiologics — that pitchers, teams, and medical professionals have turned to in an effort to avoid the necessity of going under the knife. Stem-cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma treatments are now increasingly being deployed throughout the game, though it remains to be seen whether they’ll prove effective. You’ll certainly want to give this piece a full read to understand the state of the science. Those interested in the general subject will also want to read up on the surgical alternatives to the traditional Tommy John approach to torn ulnar collateral ligaments, as we recently discussed here.
Here’s the latest on some injury and health matters around the league:
- Veteran Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton is headed for a visit with his surgeon after feeling pain in his recently repaired left knee, as Jeff Wilson of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram was among those to report on Twitter. It’s unclear as yet how serious a concern the latest knee issue is, though it’s far from the first time that Hamilton has dealt with problems in that joint. The 35-year-old, who last appeared in 2015, is in camp on a minor-league deal. He has been expected to compete for a reserve role as a left-handed-hitting option in the corner outfield, at first base, or in the DH slot.
- There’s promising news on Orioles closer Zach Britton’s potential oblique issues, which came to light yesterday. He told reporters, including Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (links to Twitter), that he’s not overly concerned with the issue and would still be available to throw were it the regular season. Britton’s comments largely echo those made yesterday by manager Buck Showalter, serving to further reduce the volume on the alarm bells. The key southpaw adds that he finds it encouraging that he has not experienced any pain while throwing.
- Mariners righty Steve Cishek has picked up a ball for the first time since his hip surgery last fall, as MLB.com’s Greg Johns reports. For now, he’ll only throw lightly off of flat ground every other day, though hopefully he’ll ramp up from there. “It felt pretty good, surprisingly,” said Cishek. “There’s some discomfort, but the joint has to get used to that motion again. I was surprised how good it actually felt.”
- Likewise, Mets third baseman David Wright is only beginning to throw the ball, though in his case too it represents an important first step. As Mike Puma of the New York Post reports, manager Terry Collins says it’s likely that Wright won’t take to the field until the middle of March as he continues to work back slowly from serious back and neck issues. Wright is expected to receive opportunities to hit, likely on the minor-league side of camp, in the interim. New York is understandably taking a cautious approach to the veteran. While it still seems unlikely he’ll be ready for Opening Day, the hope may be that he can return to strength in time for MLB action in a relatively early stage of the coming season.
- Mets righty Zack Wheeler is back on the bump and was able to throw thirty pitches today without incident, as Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News tweets. He, too, will surely be handled with kid gloves after a slower-than-hoped return from Tommy John surgery and some elbow discomfort earlier this month. It’s a good sign that Wheeler has been able to return to the mound relatively swiftly, though it remains anyone’s guess just how much the club will get from him in 2017.
- There’s some cautious optimism in Braves camp about the health of lefty Paco Rodriguez, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Though Rodriguez “has understandably shown occasional signs of rust” as he works back from his own TJ procedure, writes Bowman, the health signs have been encouraging. Atlanta agreed to a $637,500 salary with Rodriguez to avoid arbitration, seemingly leveraging the possibility of a non-tender to secure a deal that fell below MLBTR’s projection of $900K.
- Likewise, Braves righty Dan Winkler is attempting a return, though in his case it’s from a somewhat scarier elbow fracture, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains. The 27-year-old, who had already battled back from Tommy John surgery, faced a much different recovery process after his second procedure. Now, he’s working on refining his delivery to avoid future problems. Because of the time he’s missed, the 2014 Rule 5 draftee still must stay on Atlanta’s active roster for about two months in order for the organization to take full control of his rights.
- Twins righty Kyle Gibson is also seeking to make mechanical changes this spring, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports. The 29-year-old, who’s set to earn $2.9MM through arbitration, is seeking to tamp down persistent shoulder problems. As Berardino writes, a new training regimen has been designed in order “to teach Gibson’s arm to pronate properly at the end of his delivery” and thus “keep the humerus from rubbing on the shoulder’s connective tissues.”
- Orioles closer Zach Britton won’t pitch in Wednesday’s intrasquad game because he’s showing symptoms of an oblique injury, manager Buck Showalter told reporters, including Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. Showalter downplayed the severity of the ailment, saying the O’s are only holding out the star left-hander for precautionary reasons. While oblique injuries often lead to disabled list stints during the year, Showalter indicated that Britton would be able to pitch through this if it popped up in the regular season.