- Baseball America’s Ben Badler profiles another batch of international prospects expected to sign with MLB teams when the next international signing window opens (a date that now could be pushed back from July 2 to as late as January 2021). The Orioles, Rangers, Padres, Royals, and Rays are connected to the five players in Badler’s piece, with some contractual bonus information known for two of the youngsters. Kansas City is expected to spend “north of $1.5MM” on Dominican shortstop Daniel Vasquez, while Tampa Bay is expected to spend “a little below $2MM” on Dominican outfielder Jhonny Piron. While the dollar figures for this year’s international spending pools haven’t yet been released, the Rays already figure to have committed a big chunk of their available funds on Piron and Carlos Colmenarez, given that Badler previously described Colmenarez as “making a strong case to be the No. 1 player” in this year’s international class. This would seemingly put Colmenarez in line for a major bonus, though the Rays can always add to their international pool by trading with other teams. It’s also fair to assume that the bonus pool system could also see some type of alteration if and when the signing window doesn’t open until January.
There’s no baseball in the present, which has many fans turning to the past, as broadcasters are helping us addicts get our fix by filling the air with classic games from days gone by. But what about the future? Which players are logical fits for contract extensions for the days yet to come?
The youth movement is in full effect north of the border, as the team currently has no position players on the 40-man roster who have reached their 30th birthday. That means there are extension candidates up and down the line. From the team’s perspective, they would surely love to lock up their young core players of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, all of whom have less than a year of service time and are therefore at least two years away from arbitration. However, since all three are the sons of retired big leaguers who made millions during their playing days, they might not be as motivated as some other players to sign away years of free agency in exchange for the security of having guaranteed money in the bank.
One promising youngster without a famous lineage is catcher Danny Jansen. The team could have some desire to lock him up if they think he’s their catcher of the future. But does the team still believe that after his lackluster offensive numbers in 2019?
On the pitching side, the most promising young arm is prospect Nate Pearson, who hasn’t even made it onto the roster yet. We’ve seen some recent extensions given to players before their MLB debuts, such as Luis Robert, Evan White and Eloy Jimenez, but none for pitchers just yet. One wild card is Ken Giles. The 29-year-old has been lights out since leaving Houston and is one year away from free agency. But because of injury concerns, perhaps the right deal could give him enough peace of mind to forgo the open market.
The Orioles are about as full into rebuild as a team can be. And the path out of the AL East basement seems to be long and arduous. But one way to brighten the light at the end of the tunnel would be to lock in some quality players for the happier days down the road. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of guys that currently meet that description.
The team had four players produce more than 2.0 fWAR in 2019. Two of them are now on different teams (Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Villar). And another, Trey Mancini, is suddenly in an uncertain position after recently undergoing surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon.
That leaves only hurler John Means, who had a fantastic breakout season in 2019. And since he’s about to turn 27 and is two years away from arbitration, he might want to lock up some cash while he can. But from the team perspective, Means might not be worth betting on at this stage. His 2019 ERA of 3.60 was nice, but FIP and xFIP are less bullish, pegging him at 4.41 and 5.48, respectively. It would be prudent for the Orioles to be patient and see if he has the ability to find repeat success.
The cash-strapped Rays are big fans of the extension, having signed 11 of them in the decade that just ended. Since they almost never reel in big fish in free agency, Charlie Morton notwithstanding, extensions are the best way for them to get bang for their buck and keep talent on the roster. Just a few weeks ago, they were reportedly discussions extensions with Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows.
As for Glasnow, he finally had his long-awaited breakout in 2019. He just reached arbitration as a Super Two and could conceivably make some decent money with four trips through arbitration. The club would surely prefer to put a cap on his earnings ceiling if they could. And since Glasnow struggled through his first few years in Pittsburgh, he might welcome the security of guaranteed cash to insure himself against those struggles returning. But because of injuries, he only logged 60 2/3 innings last year. He still hasn’t proven he can maintain his abilities over a full season. Until he does, that limits his leverage in negotiations.
As for Meadows, he had a tremendous season in 2019, putting up the kind of classical power numbers that should reward him well in arbitration. As long as he can stay healthy and repeat them. But since arbitration is still two years away, perhaps a compromise could be worked out wherein he gets more money now but sacrifices the top end of his earning power.
In terms of other guys, there are a whole whack of them that the Rays could try to nail down before they start getting paid real money. The list includes Joey Wendle, Willy Adames, Ryan Yarbrough, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe and a big batch of relievers. But of course, with the Rays, there’s always a decent chance they’ll just trade a guy as soon as they get uncomfortable with his cost.
After trading away Mookie Betts and David Price and then losing Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, it might feel like the Red Sox are a hollowed-out husk. But there’s still a lot of talent on the roster that they should want to keep around. And now that they’ve accomplished their goal of getting under the luxury tax barrier, they should have some room on the payroll to actually do it.
Andrew Benintendi recently signed a two-year deal. But he will still have one arbitration year remaining after that. That means he would hit the free agent market as a 28-year-old, potentially lining himself up for a nice payday, unless the Sox pay him first. Eduardo Rodriguez just had his best season and could also reach free agency at 28. He’s making $8.3MM in 2020 and still has one more pass through arbitration remaining. With Price and Sale gone, and Eovaldi’s injury history, it could make sense to keep Rodriguez around for a few more years for some rotation stability.
Rafael Devers won’t even get into arbitration until after this season. And since he’s only 23, he could bank some cash, give away a few free agent years and still reach the open market before he turns 30. Alex Verdugo is just a bit older but has one more year of team control than Devers. If Boston believed in him enough to make him the centrepiece of their return for giving up a franchise player like Mookie Betts, they must believe he’s capable of helping them down the road.
The big-spending Yankees of old seem to have returned, after they blew way past the luxury tax for 2020. But you can never rule out another dump truck of money coming around the corner. They’re the Yankees, after all.
They already struck gold with the first time they signed DJ LeMahieu. He somehow managed to have his best offensive output during a season in which he turned 31, and after leaving the friendly confines of Coors Field. Last month, it didn’t seem like anything was imminent. But that doesn’t mean a deal couldn’t be reached at some point this year to prevent him going on the block. James Paxton is also just one year away from free agency. But given his persistent injuries, would the Yankees bet on him in a big way?
Of course, the 6’7″ elephant in the room is Aaron Judge. The delayed start to the season is giving him a chance to convalesce and approach full health. The slugger will make $8.5MM in 2020 and still has two passes through arbitration remaining before he hits free agency as a 30-year-old. Will the Yankees shell out the big bucks to keep the fan favorite around? Or does his injury history give them pause? Gary Sanchez is in a similar position, but just a few months younger than Judge and with a slightly smaller salary at $5MM.
In the pre-arb department, Gleyber Torres is the shining star. He is sure to reach arbitration after 2020 as a Super Two, meaning he’ll have four chances to get a raise through arbitration unless the Yanks can fork over enough to get him not to. Since he’s on pace to reach the open market at 27, he could give up a few free agent years and still become a free agent at a relatively young age.
- Thursday was the opt-out date in Wade LeBlanc’s minor league contract with the Orioles, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes. We’re reaching the end of the 48-hour window for the club to put LeBlanc on its 40-man roster or release him, assuming some other arrangement hasn’t been made in the wake of the shutdown. Regardless, Kubatko feels LeBlanc is a lock to make the roster, and getting selected would guaranteed an $800K salary for LeBlanc in 2020.
- In another piece from Kubatko, manager Brandon Hyde told reporters that no Orioles players are set to undergo any medical procedures. This includes right-hander Evan Phillips, who dealt with some soreness in his throwing elbow in early March and recently met with Dr. Neal ElAttrache for a second opinion about the issue.
Here’s the latest from Baltimore…
- Orioles slugger Trey Mancini underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon earlier this month. Fortunately, Mancini is recovering nicely. General manager Mike Elias spoke on the matter Thursday (via Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun), saying Mancini’s “doing really well” and “his physical condition is great.” That’s certainly welcome news for the Orioles and all of those who follow baseball, though it’s unclear when Mancini will be ready to take the field again.
- The Orioles have optioned first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, right-hander David Hess, outfielder Cedric Mullins and utility player Ramon Urias to Triple-A Norfolk, Joe Trezza of MLB.com writes. The most notable player there is Mountcastle, a 2015 first-round pick and current top-100 prospect who ranks as one of the Orioles’ best farmhands. Still just 23 years old, Mountcastle climbed to the Triple-A level for the first time last season and batted .312/.344/.527 with 25 home runs in 553 plate appearances, though that solid production came with below-average strikeout and walk percentages of 23.5 and 4.3, respectively.
- Outfielder Austin Hays figures to enter the season as the Orioles’ leadoff hitter, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes in a piece focusing on their roster. The 24-year-old Hays has dealt with injuries over the past couple seasons, but he racked up 75 plate appearances in the majors in 2019 and posted tremendous numbers. Hays slashed .309/.373/.574 with four home runs, a .265 ISO and seven walks against 13 strikeouts.
The television rights fee battle between the Orioles and Nationals is still generally on track for potential resolution — at least, in significant part. But the ever-expanding saga has grown so massive that it now comes with a range of complications. Its ultimate outcome will ultimately carry widespread implications, especially in the D.C.-Baltimore region.
Dan Connolly and Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic (subscription link) recently examined the underlying dispute and its more recent developments. It’s a worthwhile overview of a contentious issue that has turned an acronym for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network into the name of a monster with a mind of its own: The MASN Dispute.
To be clear, there really isn’t a new development on the legal or the negotiation front. The teams are still at an apparent standstill while they await the outcome of the latest round of litigation.
In terms of the convoluted legal roadmap, it’s best to focus on where things are now rather than looking back … to the extent that’s possible. Last summer, a court upheld an arbitration award in the Nationals’ favor. That judicial decision is presently being appealed. If it’s not upheld, we’re back to square one. If it is upheld, in theory, the initial dispute will in large part be resolved.
Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit more to the situation. The Orioles have injected new legal claims and even launched a separate arbitration proceeding. The initial five-year TV rights fee period has already passed, so even as it remains under dispute there’s another one to consider. And as Connolly and Ghiroli write, there are other complications: tens of millions in legal fees and costs that continue to pile up; the need for the Nats to repay the league a $25MM loan; and a need to recalculate and distribute back revenue-sharing payments from the D.C. organization.
The aforementioned post documents the genesis of the dispute and its connection to the fortunes of these two organizations. The O’s benefited from a near-term cash injection as they controlled MASN and broadcast Nats games at a bargain rate. But the long-term concerns that the Baltimore organization raised at the outset seem largely to be coming to fruition. The Nationals are turning in a consistently competitive product and just captured the 2019 World Series, creating a rosy outlook for drawing new fans from the broader capital region. Meanwhile, the O’s are gasping for air after going all out to take advantage of those aforementioned competitive years, trotting out a low-grade roster and seeing franchise-low attendance figures.
The major question remains whether the two clubs can both thrive at the same time in the same geographic region. They both drew well in successful 2014 seasons, but has the balance shifted south? Connolly and Ghiroli discuss the recent downturn in the fortunes of the Orioles and concerns about the team’s profitability should the Nationals receive a full market rate for their TV rights. There’s no indication at the moment that the O’s are in financial trouble or can’t operate just fine in Baltimore, but the organization’s long-term outlook isn’t clear — particularly with the Nats’ draw creeping northward.
This surely isn’t a zero-sum game; the teams play in separate leagues and could in theory benefit from a friendly rivalry. Cooperation between these teams seems like the best path to mutual success. Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Nationals owner Ted Lerner have handed the operations of their respective franchises off to their sons, which presents some hypothetical opportunity to set aside personal misgivings. But we haven’t seen evwidence of a detente just yet. A return to competitive baseball from the Orioles would obviously help. Baltimore GM Mike Elias says he sees the D.C. organization as a model to follow in building back up the roster.
So … how to sum things up? There’s reason to expect some clear decision points from the courts that will bind both parties. And there are some conceivable pathways to a “more business-like way” of determining rights fees in the future (to reference the words of commissioner Rob Manfred). But it remains largely unclear precisely when and how these ever-broadening relationship problems will be resolved.
Within a span of 37 days back in the 2015-16 offseason, the Cubs granted $184 million to Jason Heyward and the Orioles committed $161 million to Chris Davis. Four seasons in, these have become two of the worst free agent contracts in recent memory. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd breaks down how the players were perceived at the time and what’s gone wrong, in today’s video.
March 13: General manager Mike Elias addressed Mancini’s surgery today (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Joe Trezza), telling Orioles reporters: “[Mancini is] at about as positive as possible in terms of his spirits and physical feeling right now.” Additional information and updates will be available in the days to come.
March 12: Trey Mancini left the Orioles’ spring camp last week in preparation for an undisclosed medical procedure that wasn’t related to baseball. Today, details have emerged on the nature of Mancini’s issue, as the Orioles issued a press release saying that a malignant tumor was discovered in Mancini’s colon during a colonoscopy last week. Mancini underwent surgery today to have the tumor removed, and as per the team’s statement, “lab results and the timetable for Trey’s recovery will not be known until next week.”
Mancini himself made a statement within the Orioles’ release, saying “The outpouring of love and support I have received has made an extremely tough week so much better. I have the best family, friends, fans, and teammates imaginable. I am also eternally thankful for the Orioles front office, our athletic trainers, and the entire medical staff for everything they have done to help me during this time. Finally, I would like to thank everyone for their prayers and kind words, which have furthered my excitement to get back to playing the game I love.”
Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said last week that Mancini would “miss some time” recovering, which seemed to imply that Mancini would miss some regular season action. That is probably a moot point in light of Major League Baseball’s announcement that that Opening Day will be delayed by at least two weeks, though regardless, baseball concerns were already a far distant second to Mancini’s health and well-being.
In three full seasons in the majors, Mancini (who turns 28 later this week) has blossomed into the Orioles’ top hitter, batting .291/.364/.535 with 35 homers over 679 plate appearances in 2019. Between this production and the fact that the O’s are in a rebuild, there was speculation that Mancini could be both an extension candidate and a trade candidate this offseason, though no news on either front emerged.
We at MLBTR wish Mancini all the best in his recovery, as he and his family and loved ones navigate this difficult situation.
Here are the latest minor signings of note from around the game, courtesy of Chris Hilburn-Trenkle of Baseball America …
- The Orioles inked righty Danny Barnes. He’s a 30-year-old reliever who has spent his entire career to date in the Blue Jays organization. Barnes saw only limited action last season but was in the majors for each of the three prior campaigns. In 120 2/3 career frames at the game’s highest level, he carries a 4.33 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9.
- Outfielder Dustin Peterson has joined the Angels. Still just 25 years of age, Peterson has a bit of MLB experience but has spent most of his time in recent seasons in the upper minors. The former second-round pick carries a .267/.320/.389 batting line in 1,107 total plate appearances at Triple-A.
- The Athletics have signed first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi. He got a shot in a reserve role with the Phillies in 2017 but wasn’t able to take advantage, slashing just .167/.278/.295 in ninety plate appearances. Stassi has kicked around the indy ranks, Mexican League, and upper minors since.
- Former MLB righty Allen Webster is on board with the Nationals. He’ll be looking to crack the majors for the third-straight season at 30 years of age. The former top prospect has never managed to carve out a steady role at the game’s highest level, but he has registered 134 1/3 total innings, working to a cumulative 6.03 ERA.
TODAY: Mancini commented on his situation via Twitter (both links), saying “I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone for their kind sentiments and well wishes. It further drives home the fact that I am surrounded by the best family, friends/teammates, and fans that I could ever ask for. Once there is more clarity, I will be sure to keep everyone updated over the next few days. I look forward to a healthy recovery and being back on the field soon!“
MARCH 7: Trey Mancini has left Orioles camp and is set to undergo a medical procedure unrelated to baseball, reports Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun. While manager Brandon Hyde shared as much with the media today, the Orioles have refrained from commenting further out of respect for Mancini’s privacy.
So while further details are unknown, Hyde added that Mancini would “miss some time” as a result of the procedure. As for a more precise timetable, we’ll have to wait and see. And with Opening Day just about three weeks away, Mancini’s status for the beginning of the season is up in the air, but concerns about roster construction seem secondary to Mancini’s overall health at this point.
From a baseball perspective, there’s arguably no player more critical to the Orioles’ roster than Mancini. He serves as the linchpin to an offense that scored the fifth-fewest runs in the American League last year, so removing him from the middle of the order could send the O’s offense into disarray. By all accounts, he’s regarded as a leader in the Baltimore clubhouse and has emerged as the undisputed face of the team.
Last year, Mancini put up career-best numbers in virtually every meaningful offensive category, clubbing 35 home runs, driving in 97 runs, and compiling a .291/.364/.535 slash line. At least some of his growth as a hitter can be attributed to a more discerning approach at the plate: he improved his walk rate to a career-high 9.3% while his strikeout rate dipped to 21.1%, the lowest mark of his three-plus year Major League career. Combine that with his innate ability to hit the ball hard, and you have a recipe for a middle-of-the-order slugger.
While the uncertainty of Mancini’s medical situation is worrisome, his manager had the following to say: “We hate to see Trey miss time, but hope it’s not too long,” Hyde told MASN’s Roch Kubatko. Stay tuned for further information as the situation gains clarity. Here’s hoping that Mancini is back to full-go before too long.
The Baltimore Orioles added Hector Velazquez to their roster today, claiming the right-hander off waivers from the Boston Red Sox, tweets Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. The Orioles PR department has confirmed the move. The Red Sox DFA’ed Velazquez on March 5.
Velazquez, 31, spent the last couple of seasons as a swingman in Boston. After a solid season as a starter in 2017 for for the Pawtucket Red Sox, he made his big league with 8 appearances spread out throughout the year. The total product got Velazquez more involved in the Red Sox’ 2018 title run as he threw 85 innings, appeared in 47 games, and finished with a 3.18 ERA/4.15 FIP. Outside of a couple of stints on the IL, Velazquez spent most of 2018 on the major league roster.
Last season was more of an up-and-down year for Velazquez both in terms of performance and his relationship to Triple-A. The sinkerballer made 34 total appearances for the Red Sox, starting 8 games for the second consecutive season, and finishing with a 5.43 ERA/4.74 FIP. Somewhat nontraditionally, Velazquez threw more changeups in 2019 than any other offering, though on the whole, he invokes a relatively egalitarian mix of sinkers, changeups, fastballs and sliders.
The Orioles will add him to their long relief mix, tweets MASN’s Roch Kubatko. It’s been an offseason-long goal for the Orioles to add pitching depth so as to avoid rushing naive arms to the majors.