- Last summer’s trade of Wade Miley for Ariel Miranda last summer hasn’t worked out for the Orioles, Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com writes, though Connolly notes that the deal is a microcosm of larger problems for the O’s. Since the Orioles have been unable to both develop their own starting pitching and build up a good stockpile of minor league talent, the team has been forced to settle for middle-of-the-road acquisitions like Miley rather than a starter that could provide a clear rotation upgrade. Connolly writes that the Orioles will likely pursue a similar move at this trade deadline if they choose to address their still-struggling pitching staff. It also doesn’t help that Miranda has pitched well for the Mariners this year and is far cheaper than Miley with more years of control, though Connolly notes that Miranda was seen as “a fringe big leaguer” by many, and Miranda’s performance is perhaps boosted by Safeco Field (as per his stark home/away splits).
It’s been more than a month since we last looked in on the crop of eight players that can opt out of their current contracts and reenter the free-agent market following the 2017 campaign. With more than half the season in the books, a few cases look relatively certain, but there are plenty of questions surrounding several such players…
[Related: 2018 Vesting Options Update]
- Greg Holland, RP, Rockies: Holland’s $10MM mutual option became a $15MM player option when he finished his 30th game of the season for the Rox a little more than a week ago. His recent brush with wildness is of mild concern, but Holland has a ridiculous 1.48 ERA with 11.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 and a 39.7 percent ground-ball rate. In a year when homers are being hit more than ever and he’s tackling Coors Field for the first time, Holland has managed to limit opponents to just one big fly in 30 1/3 innings. So long as his arm holds up for the remainder of the season — no sure thing considering this is his first year back from 2015 Tommy John surgery — he’ll 100 percent turn down that player option in search of a huge multi-year deal. Agent Scott Boras will undoubtedly look to vault Mark Melancon’s four-year, $62MM pact and could seek a five-year deal.
- Johnny Cueto, SP, Giants: Cueto is still a workhorse, by today’s standards, as he’s on pace to reach 200 innings for the fourth straight year if he can make 33 starts. He’s logged a 3.97 ERA in eight starts since we last looked at the opt-out crop, though he continues to be abnormally homer prone (though that’s a league-wide trend, as homers are up across the board). Cueto has a 4.26 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 2.7 40BB/9 and a 40.3 percent ground-ball rate. If he can rediscover his pinpoint control and/or his grounder rate from previous years (1.8 BB/9, 50.2 GB% in 2016), he could make this an easier decision come October. Cueto still ranks third on MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings, and FanRag’s Jon Heyman has reported that he’s still planning to opt out of the remaining four years and $84MM on his deal. I think there’s a decent chance he once again hits the open market in search of a five-year deal in the Jordan Zimmermann mold.
- Welington Castillo, C, Orioles: Castillo’s bat has seen a precipitous decline in effectiveness since our mid-May check-in on opt-out clauses, as he’s batted .205/.250/.349 in 88 plate appearances since that time. He perhaps deserves somewhat of a pass, given the cringe-inducing groin injury he suffered on an ill-placed foul ball deflection that landed him on the DL for 10 days in late May/early June. His overall .272/.307/.439 slash is solid for a catcher, and he’s thrown out a ridiculous 48 percent of opposing stolen base attempts (12-for-25). Framing will probably never be his strong suit, but he’s made some incremental improvements in recent years (though he still grades out below average). With a fairly small one-year, $7MM player option on his deal, it’s certainly plausible that Castillo hits free agency this winter and scores a better payday than that option would afford.
- Justin Upton, LF, Tigers: I understand the doubt around the possibility of Upton turning away an extra four years and $88.5MM to once again test free agency this winter; he’s 30 years old with questionable defensive value and a strikeout that has soared since his peak year in Arizona. Corner-limited sluggers also fared quite poorly on last year’s market, for the most part. Nonetheless, Upton is having his best offensive season since 2014 and is hitting .267/.351/.500 with 15 homers. Dating back to last year’s All-Star break, he’s slashing .264/.344/.537 with 37 bombs in 575 plate appearances. He’d need a big finish to be confident enough to top four years and $88MM, but that’s the same mark Hanley Ramirez signed for in Boston when he was a year older. If Upton’s camp feels that there’s a chance to approach the $110MM that Yoenis Cespedes received on a four-year pact last winter (again, when he was a year older than Upton), Upton’s reps could elect to search elsewhere. He can’t receive a qualifying offer this time around.
- Matt Wieters, C, Nationals: Wieters is hitting .205/.224/.328 through 125 plate appearances since the last time we checked in on this group. Overall, he’s batting .244/.293/.384 with a substandard 22 percent caught-stealing rate and the worst framing marks of his career. It’s possible that the one year, $10.5MM player option on his contract is still beatable in a thin market for catching this coming winter, but opting into the deal and remaining with a competitive team is going to look pretty appealing if he can’t get his bat going once again.
- Masahiro Tanaka, SP, Yankees: Tanaka has picked a poor time to have the worst season of his career, though he’s showing signs of life on the mound. He’s tossed 14 innings with a 14-to-4 K/BB ratio and a huge ground-ball rate in his past two starts and also gone without a home run allowed in that brief stretch. Tanaka is still sitting on a 5.56 ERA with an awful 2.1 HR/9 mark, but he’s averaging 8.9 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 with a 49.3 percent ground-ball rate. xFIP is much more favorable than his ERA at 3.87, and SIERA agrees with a 3.91 mark. Three of his past four starts have been brilliant, and if he can continue that momentum he could still do better than the three years and $67MM remaining on his contract and hit the open market in search of a larger deal. Age is on his side as well. He’ll turn just 29 this winter.
- Ian Kennedy, SP, Royals: The 32-year-old Kennedy’s walk and strikeout rates have gone in the wrong direction by a substantial amount this season, and he’s more homer-prone than ever (1.9 HR/9). Starting pitching is almost always in heavy demand on the free-agent market (as Kennedy’s five-year, $70MM deal and opt-out clause illustrate), but he’s sporting a 4.72 ERA with FIP, xFIP and SIERA marks all well north of 5.00. Barring a miraculous turnaround, he’s not topping the remaining three years and $49MM on his deal as a free agent this winter, so expect him to stay in Kansas City.
- Wei-Yin Chen, SP: Marlins: Chen hasn’t thrown a single pitch since we last checked in on May 22, as he continues to attempt to work his way back from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. With three years and $52MM remaining on his contract, he’s a lock to forgo his opt-out provision.
The Orioles have made a pair of trades, according to a team announcement. They’ve acquired right-hander Matt Wotherspoon from the Yankees and left-hander Jason Wheeler from the Dodgers, surrendering international signing bonus slots for both players. Wotherspoon and Wheeler will report to Triple-A Norfolk.
Trading international money for players is nothing new for the Orioles, who took that route before Sunday to acquire the likes of Damien Magnifico, Paul Fry and Alex Katz earlier this season. Their aversion to spending on the international market has led to criticism from Baseball America’s Ben Badler, who laid into O’s ownership back in April for their “antiquated” approach.
The 25-year-old Wotherspoon has mostly served as a reliever in the minors since the Yankees chose him in the 34th round of the 2014 draft. He debuted at the Triple-A level last season and has been quite effective since, having logged a 2.10 ERA, 6.8 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 34 1/3 innings.
Unlike Wotherspoon, Wheeler comes with major league experience. An eighth-rounder of the Twins in 2011, the 26-year-old made his debut earlier this season with Minnesota. He fared poorly over three innings, though, yielding three earned runs on six hits and four walks, with no strikeouts. The Twins then traded him to the Dodgers on June 2, but Los Angeles designated him for assignment on June 18. Wheeler pitched exclusively with their Triple-A affiliate, recording a 10.38 ERA over 8 2/3 innings. Overall, Wheeler owns a 4.74 ERA, 6.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 281 Triple-A frames and 51 appearances (48 starts).
The Dodgers and Yankees both began Sunday, the opening of the 2017-18 international signing period, with $4.75MM available. LA is unable to sign anyone for more than $300K, however, while New York ate into its total by agreeing to deals with Venezuelan outfielder Everson Pereira and shortstop Roberto Chirinos for a combined $2.4MM. The Yankees are also likely to sign Dominican shortstop Ronny Rojas in August for a projected $1.05MM.
2:19pm: Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that the two sides are reviewing medicals of the players that will be involved. Topkin hears that outfielder Braxton Lee and right-hander Ethan Clark are among the names being discussed.
11:45am: Crasnick reports that if the Rays are to take on all of Hechavarria’s salary, they’d like the Marlins to include a cheaper, controllable power arm to help facilitate the deal (Twitter links). Crasnick notes that Barraclough would fit that bill, though he adds that it’s not clear if the Rays have actually singled Barraclough out as a target.
Meanwhile, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that the Rays and Marlins are optimistic that they can reach an agreement to send Hechavarria to Tampa Bay in exchange for “fringe prospects” at some point today.
JUNE 26, 8:40am: The Marlins are close to a trade of Hechavarria, tweets MLB.com’s Jon Morosi. Like Frisaro, Morosi hears that the Rays are the likeliest landing spot for Hechavarria.
10:42pm: The Rays seem to be the “frontrunners” in talks, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro tweets. Miami is looking for young pitching in return for Hechavarria.
JUNE 25, 10:20pm: The Padres have joined the Rays in the Hechavarria sweepstakes, Clark Spencer reports (via Twitter). The Cardinals are no longer involved in talks.
JUNE 24, 12:07pm: The Orioles are no longer involved, per Spencer (Twitter link). But he hears that the Cards (as well as the Rays) are still in talks for Hechavarria.
8:26am: There’s at least one mystery team involved, per MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (via Twitter).
JUNE 23: The Marlins have informed other clubs that they expect to trade Hechavarria within the next 24 to 48 hours, Spencer reports (on Twitter). It seems the push from the Marlins’ side is driven by an ownership effort to save salary rather than a baseball ops assessment, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick notes on Twitter.
It appears that the Rays appear to have “created some traction” in structuring a deal, sources suggest to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (Twitter link). Meanwhile, the Cardinals don’t seem to be pursuing Hechavarria at this point, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick tweets. St. Louis had at least spoken to the Marlins about Hechavarria, tweets Spencer.
- The Orioles are reportedly out of the running for Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, and ESPN’s Buster Olney (subscription required) writes that a lack of payroll flexibility may have scuttled Baltimore’s chances. From the Marlins’ standpoint, the O’s wanted to move a comparably salary in a trade to fit Hechavarria’s remaining salary (around $2.17MM for the year) into the budget. It isn’t clear whether the O’s are lacking in flexibility altogether, or simply weren’t willing to stretch payroll for Hechavarria, who is a quality defender but has delivered virtual replacement-level value in three of the last four seasons.
- The goal is for Orioles closer Zach Britton to return by July 5, manager Buck Showalter told Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com and other reporters on Sunday. Forearm problems have forced Britton to the disabled list twice this year, limiting the two-time All-Star to just nine innings (he last pitched on May 4). While Brad Brach has filled in with aplomb as Baltimore’s closer, the team’s Britton-less bullpen hasn’t been great overall. Orioles relievers entered Sunday ranked 13th in the majors in ERA and 23rd in fWAR.
- The Orioles will pay a $1.3MM bonus to Adam Hall, according to Mayo (on Twitter). It’s an above-slot deal for Hall, who had a slot value of $1,068,700 as the 60th overall pick.
- The Orioles will also add supplemental second-round selection Zac Lowther for the $779.5K slot value of the 74th overall pick, Callis tweets.
Even with the Orioles in a tailspin over the last six weeks, executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette said it was “a little premature” to consider whether or not his team will be sellers at the trade deadline, Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun writes. If anything, the O’s are still considering making an upgrade to their struggling rotation.
“Our pitching hasn’t been up to standards,” Duquette said. “We’re going to keep our eye out and try to get our pitching back to a competitive level, and see if we can make some additions to the team and see where we are in terms of contending for a playoff spot.”
The Orioles held the top spot in the AL East for much of the early part of the season, and had a 22-10 record after a victory on May 9. Since that date, however, Baltimore has just a 13-28 mark. Some notable injuries (Zach Britton, Chris Davis, Darren O’Day) have been a factor, and top hitters like Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo have been below-average contributors at the plate.
The Orioles’ biggest weakness, however, has been a lack of reliable starting pitching. Baltimore starters have combined for the second-worst fWAR (1.6) and ERA (5.79) in all of baseball, ahead of only the Reds in both categories. Orioles starters aren’t missing bats (6.69 K/9, third-lowest of any rotation in the league) while also posting a league-high 4.13 BB/9.
The O’s have acquired the likes of Wade Miley, Scott Feldman and Bud Norris in deadline trades under Duquette’s time running the front office, and the summer trade market is flush with pitching options for teams looking for rotation help. On the other hand, as Meoli notes, the Orioles’ farm system is thin on major trade chips for opposing teams.
Of course, there won’t be any buying at the deadline if the Orioles don’t turn things around in fairly quick fashion. Welington Castillo will only return in 2018 if he exercises a player option, so the Orioles could consider moving him as a rental for other teams. For bigger-picture moves, Meoli points out that Machado, Jones, Britton and Brad Brach are all free agents after 2018. While dealing Machado or Jones would portend at a larger rebuild, it’s possible Baltimore could explore trading one of the relievers for prospects and then keeping the other as the closer for next season (when the team would presumably be looking for a quick return to contention).
One bright side for the Orioles is a crowded American League table, so Baltimore entered today’s action six games behind the Red Sox in the AL East and just 3.5 games out of the second wild card spot. The question would be how much the O’s want to invest in midseason trades when a best-case scenario might be the one-game playoff, though for Duquette, the wild card is still an attractive target.
“If we get a little bit more time, maybe the second wild card gives a lot of teams hope,” Duquette said. “And once you get into that playoff situation, a lot of teams have advanced from that wild-card spot and done well in the playoffs. There’s more baseball to play, and our aim is to try to get back to playing the kind of baseball that fans are used to from the Baltimore Orioles.”
- Despite a lack of starting pitching and a very rough stretch over the past month, the Orioles still view themselves as contenders, GM Dan Duquette tells FanRag’s Jon Heyman. “We have a number of players who are capable of playing better and contributing more to the 2017 team than they have to date,” says Duquette. “…They have all played to a much higher level than they have played at so far this season. We are still contenders and we look forward to these players contributing to the club.” Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Mark Trumbo and Darren O’Day are among the rebound candidates listed by Duquette, whose Orioles are 13-28 in their past 41 games.
- The Orioles’ rotation remains a major question mark, with righty Chris Tillman now seemingly at risk of losing his spot. As Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun writes, team and player seem to be running out of ideas; Tillman has limped to a ghastly 8.39 ERA with just 5.9 K/9 against 5.0 BB/9 through 39 2/3 innings on the year since returning from injury. While manager Buck Showalter says he’s “hoping Chris can solve this as a starter,” he hinted that the patience is running thin while noting that Tillman is operating without “a lot of crispness” or “a real confident presentation” on the mound. While Tillman says he’s healthy, Meoli notes that he’s struggling to maintain his release point — with a velocity drop and command troubles on his secondary offerings seemingly resulting. All told, it’s a big problem for the O’s, who lack obvious internal solutions, and for the pending free agent.