- Speaking of injured hurlers from the division, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe tweets that Red Sox righty Tyler Thornburg began his offseason throwing program earlier than usual this winter, adding that Thornburg’s shoulder has “tested out well” in the early-going. Boston has done nothing to address its bullpen this offseason after Joe Kelly left to sign with the Dodgers and Craig Kimbrel hit the open market, and if that pattern holds, they’ll need Thornburg and others to step up and contribute more than most would’ve expected heading into the offseason. Boston president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski recently went on record to suggest that he doesn’t anticipate spending heavily on a closer, and recent reports have implied that the Sox may prefer to remain south of the top luxury tax line.
Red Sox Rumors
12:20pm: Kelley is drawing interest from roughly 10 teams, including the Reds, per Jon Heyman of Fancred.
11:32am: The Red Sox and free-agent reliever Shawn Kelley “have been in contact,” Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com reports. Meanwhile, Boston is unlikely to sign either Sergio Romo or Adam Warren in free agency, Cotillo hears.
With Joe Kelly having signed with the Dodgers and Craig Kimbrel currently a free agent, acquiring bullpen help is likely the Red Sox’s top priority at the moment. But president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has suggested the reigning world champions aren’t going to splurge on a reliever, which means their union with Kimbrel could be over. Kelley would represent both a far more affordable but less exciting option, on the other hand, and could give the club a solid late-game arm for a low cost.
While Kelley has experienced some down seasons during his career, the journeyman has typically performed well in recent years. In 2018, which he split between the Nationals and Athletics, Kelley overcame tumbling velocity to post a 2.94 ERA/3.71 FIP and register 9.18 K/9 against 2.02 BB/9 across 49 innings. He did log an unappealing groundball rate (30.2 percent), however, which has been the case throughout his career. Kelley also saw his Nats tenure end unceremoniously when the team designated him for assignment Aug. 1, a day after he allowed a home run and slammed his glove to the ground during a 25-4 loss to the Mets. Upon designating Kelley, general manager Mike Rizzo noted, “If you’re not in, you’re in the way.”
Even though his Washington stint concluded in embarrassing fashion, Kelley was unfazed in Oakland, where he put up tremendous results in a 16 2/3-inning span. The Red Sox will hope for more of that from Kelley if they sign him, though they’re no doubt mindful it would be risky to count on the right-hander. After all, Kelley’s a soon-to-be 35-year-old with a pair of Tommy John surgeries under his belt, and he’s only two seasons removed from recording a hideous 7.27 ERA in 26 frames.
Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston reported earlier this month that the world champion Red Sox had been discussing a contract extension with an unnamed player. It turns out that player was shortstop Xander Bogaerts, according to Drellich, though he adds that the two sides never came close to an agreement during their talks. The 26-year-old Bogaerts is now slated to make $12MM in 2019, potentially his last season with the Red Sox. Meanwhile, outfielder Andrew Benintendi – who, according to industry speculation, was an extension target for the Red Sox earlier this offseason – said Saturday he and the team haven’t talked about a new pact, Drellich relays. The 24-year-old Benintendi still has another pre-arbitration season remaining, meaning the Red Sox aren’t in danger of losing him for a while.
- As with Bogaerts, the Red Sox are at risk of losing outfielder and reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts in the near future. Betts, 26, is entering his penultimate year of arbitration control, in which he’ll earn $20MM (a record for a player in Year 2 of arb eligibility). Unsurprisingly, though, the Red Sox want to keep Betts in the fold for the long haul. CEO Sam Kennedy stated Saturday (via Drellich) that “we’ve made it crystal clear that we want him a part of the Red Sox organization long term.” Betts, for his part, said: “Contract things are kind of tough to come up with, especially with both sides and kind of how the economics and all those things work. I love Boston, love my teammates, love the fans and all those types of things, so we’ll just continue to see what happens.” While Betts does appear open to signing an extension with the Red Sox, he doesn’t seem averse to testing the open market, per Drellich.
- Two key members of Boston’s starting staff, left-hander Chris Sale and righty Rick Porcello, could each hit free agency a year from now. The soon-to-be 30-year-old Sale suggested Saturday that he’s willing to discuss an extension, but the Red Sox haven’t broached the subject yet. “My phone is on if they call me,” he said (via Ian Browne of MLB.com). “Obviously nothing has happened up until this point. If they call, I’d answer.” Sale also indicated that his left shoulder – which was a problem at times late last season, when he dealt with a massive drop in velocity – is no longer an issue. As for Porcello, 30, he also revealed that no extension talks have taken place, though he’d “love to” discuss a new contract with the club, Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com tweets. For now, Porcello’s on track to wrap up the four-year, $82.5MM pact he signed with the Red Sox in April 2015.
- Having lost Joe Kelly to the Dodgers and Craig Kimbrel to the open market, Boston’s “actively engaged with multiple free-agent relievers,” Cotillo writes. While Cotillo doesn’t rule out a Kimbrel re-signing, he notes an addition could come in the $2MM to $3MM neighborhood. Kimbrel will certainly earn far more than that, though there are several other free agents who could be possibilities for the Red Sox in that price range.
- Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Thursday he doesn’t expect that all three of the team’s catchers – Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart – will be on its Opening Day roster, Sean McAdam of BostonSportsJournal.com reports (subscription required). Because all of those players are out of options, a trade is likely coming. Dombrowski noted that “there’s interest, but we still haven’t made a deal we feel comfortable making.” All three catchers had abysmal offensive seasons over 200-plus plate appearances in 2018, but if defense is Boston’s main concern, the odd man out may be Swihart. After all, the former high-end prospect has accrued little playing time as a backstop over the past few years.
The Padres have done a tremendous job in recent years growing the top farm system in the game, but the organization underwent a financial reshaping that was just as important to long-term stability, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Mired in the debt inherited from previous owner John Moores, Executive Chairman Ron Fowler led the charge in two important ways: refinancing the debt (thereby lowering interest rates and freeing up money to funnel into baseball ops), and opening the organization’s spending ledger to the public – an uncommon degree of transparency for an MLB club. Acee’s entire article is well worth a read as it paints a fairly complete picture of San Diego’s battle to build a winning franchise that is also fiscally sustainable. Essentially, the Padres followed the structural rebuilding approach popularized by Theo Epstein in Chicago: improve fan experience with additions/renovations to the ballpark while pouring roster resources into the acquisition and development of amateur and international talent. Epstein’s focus on improving the ballpark itself was a strategy he employed in Boston with Fenway Park, and again with Wrigley Field in Chicago. Speaking of…
- The Red Sox are treading awfully close to the penalty-inducing $246MM tax threshold, and Masslive.com’s Christopher Smith wonders if that might be why they didn’t make a push to sign reliever Adam Ottavino. Dave Dombrowski has said there’s no mandate from ownership to avoid the highest tax bracket – but that’s still the goal. It’s easy to wonder why the Red Sox haven’t made more of a push to reinforce the back end of their bullpen, but it’s not totally fair to assume Ottavino was available to them for $9MM a year, as merely matching the Yankees offer doesn’t steal the contract like a white elephant gift. Still, with Joe Kelly in LA and Craig Kimbrel twisting in the wind, there is a surprising lack of urgency to add to the current stable of arms in the bullpen, especially considering the narrow margin for error in the AL East.
- Much has been made of the Cubs lack of activity this winter as well, burnished by Theo Epstein’s early-offseason assertion that the offense was broken. Owner Tom Ricketts, however, doesn’t see any room for an addition in the lineup, writes the Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. Considering the overall youth of their core and the injuries that limited star Kris Bryant to 102 games last season, Epstein and Ricketts might both be right. The team clearly isn’t willing to give up on Jason Heyward yet, so you can pencil him into the starting spot in right, with Ian Happ in center and Ben Zobrist at second, Albert Almora Jr., Addison Russell, David Bote and Daniel Descalso make up the remaining bench unit, ostensibly filling the roster. Outside of fringe roster types, the Cubs offense might be a one-man-in, one-man-out situation for the rest of the winter.
- There’s cause enough to be concerned about the Cubs offense in 2019, certainly, between Russell’s suspension, Zobrist’s age, and Willson Contreras’ obvious exhaustion near the end of last season, but internally, there’s much to be excited about. At the Cubs Convention this week, Bryant and Epstein both talked up new hitting coach Anthony Iopace, whom Epstein calls “the ultimate fox-hole guy,” per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). As the Cubs former minor league hitting coordinator, he has a rapport with many Cubs hitters already and should be able to hit the ground running. Bryant, for one, is excited about a new season under the infectious energy of “’Poce,” per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. The Cubs brain trust appear firm in their belief that tinkering of internal processes is all the team needs to bounce back from a “disappointing” 95-win season and challenge for the top spot in the NL Central once again.
- The Red Sox are continuing to tamp down expectations of a move to add a closer. As Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com writes, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski referred to free agent closer Craig Kimbrel’s Boston tenure in the past tense in comments today. He also suggested the team feels comfortable with its existing options to handle the ninth inning, naming Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Tyler Thornburg, and Steven Wright as possibilities. Needless to say, that’s an interesting foursome for the defending World Series champs to propose as a slate of Kimbrel successor candidates. If there’s still a chance of a reunion with the all-time great reliever, Dombrowski didn’t hint at it. “Sometimes, you have to evaluate where you’re going to spend your dollars,” he said. “We decided to keep back the rest of the core of the club. We like our team a great deal and we think some of the guys internally can do the job. Can we get better? Perhaps. But we’ll see what takes place.”
In the final installment of our 3 Remaining Needs series, let’s take a look at the division that boasted the best and worst teams of the 2018 season. The AL East perfectly reflects the class warfare plaguing the American League, as the gap between the competitive upper class and, well, the Orioles could not be more stark. Even within the upper crust, however, there is plenty of variance, as the low-payroll Rays have done their best to keep pace with payroll behemoths in Boston and New York. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have taken a step back but are still looking to prepare their roster for an anticipated influx of premium young talent.
- Trade Mychal Givens. It’s a no-brainer for the Orioles to sell off their veteran pieces for prospects, only they don’t have much to sell off. Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner can be shopped, but they’d be salary dumps if they’re moveable at all and they might be better off providing a veteran base for a rotation that should have younger arms auditioning for at least two turns out of every five. The O’s have invested too much in Dylan Bundy over the years to trade him now for pennies on the dollar; better to hang onto the upside. That leaves Givens (10.3 K/9) as the most attractive piece on an otherwise barren roster. Once the major free agent bullpeners are off the market, teams should come calling for a hard-throwing late-inning arm with three seasons of control remaining.
- Sign trade bait for July. With a hugely uncertain roster situation, the Orioles should be willing to take some risks and snap up whatever the market leaves. While they’re not likely to snag any major free agents, even on pillow deals, they should be scouring the bargain bin for vets on one-year deals that could potentially bring something back at the trade deadline. Frankly, the particular position doesn’t matter so much as the value opportunity that’s presented. Needless to say, the same reasoning also supports active waiver-wire scanning, such as the team’s recent claims of Rio Ruiz and Hanser Alberto.
- Boost their international operations. The O’s longstanding aversion to spending on international amateur talent is well-documented. That was beginning to change before the club turned over the reins to new GM Mike Elias, but the org’s initial foray onto the market did not exactly go without a hitch as the club’s top reputed targets (Sandy Gaston and the Mesa brothers) landed elsewhere. That served as a reminder that bringing in top talent — not to mention, unearthing lower-cost gems — involves more than having and spending the available funds.
Boston Red Sox
- Replace/re-sign Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox haven’t done much work to rebuild their bullpen as of yet, but the degree to which they’ll need to is still unknown. With no clear market developing for Kimbrel at this time, a reunion is not at all out of the question. If they don’t bring him back to Boston, they’ll need to do something to bolster a unit currently over-reliant on holdovers Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes.
- Explore upgrades at catcher. Boston somehow managed to win a World Series in a season where its catchers batted a combined .194/.246/.288 in 619 plate appearances. Regardless of the defensive Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon can frame and throw with the best of them, and Blake Swihart (if he ever catches) may yet turn into something if given any semblance of an opportunity, but the catcher position in Boston was an utter black hole on offense last season. It wasn’t quite as bad as having a pitcher hit each time through the order, but it was closer than any AL team should be. That the team hasn’t done anything to this point suggests it may not be at the top of the priority list, but it’s hard to deny that there’s an opportunity to improve. Speaking of backstops …
- Resolve the status of Blake Swihart. The Red Sox need to finally determine if Swihart has any kind of real role with the team. Again, it’s tough to criticize a team that won a World Series in 2018, but even Boston’s most steadfast defenders have to concede that the team didn’t exactly manage its roster all that effectively as pertains to Swihart. Boston wouldn’t put Swihart behind the plate, wouldn’t put him in the field and wouldn’t DH him. Swihart had just 48 plate appearances through May 31 in 2018 despite not spending a single day on the disabled list or in the minors. He had 99 PAs prior to the All-Star break — again, without a DL stint or any time in the minors. He can’t be optioned, and the Sox clearly don’t have a spot for him. It may have worked in 2018, but the Sox were effectively operating with a 24-man roster for a good chunk of 2018. They need more flexibility, and Swihart probably would like a chance to actually play somewhere.
New York Yankees
- Trade Sonny Gray. Once Brian Cashman began the offseason by declaring Gray would be traded, there seemed little room for negotiation. The market for Gray may not fully materialize until all of the top starting arms are off the market, but there doesn’t seem to be much value in bringing him back to New York. There’s no room in the rotation at present, even if there are questions around the age and durability of their top five. Still, the Yanks are not shy about in-season acquisitions and they have depth in Triple A they can rely on. Specifically, Domingo German (5.57 ERA) and Luis Cessa (5.24 ERA) underperformed last season relative to advanced metrics like FIP and xFIP.
- Seriously pursue a premium free agent. No, the Yanks do not need Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The club won 100 games last year and is a threat to do so again (in a highly stratified American League) without making further upgrades. Still, this division — more so than the two other wings of the AL — promises to host a year-long battle. And … well … this is the Yankees we are talking about. What good is it being a financial behemoth if you can’t use your might to elbow out other teams when rare market opportunities come along? We’re not here to say that the Yankees must land one of these two players, or that they simply have to pursue both even if it makes a mess of the team’s roster and financial planning. But it would be odd if the Yanks didn’t at least put in a strong bid for either or both. With the allure of the pinstripes and New York City helping the cause, they just might come away with a bargain.
- Add another relief arm. Whether or not the club makes any other notable roster moves, this seems like an easy way to improve. The bullpen has been a notable strength in the Bronx of late, and that promises to continue. But the deeper the unit is, the more support it can provide to a highly talented but somewhat risky rotation. Limiting the wear and tear on the starting unit will not only max out its results all year long, but give the Yankees the best chance of having a powerful staff when crunch time comes late in the season.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Make another free agent splash. A big name would surely help the club draw some fans to the park, and perhaps help jump start a still-flagging ballpark effort. More importantly, the team can still tap into some funds to improve its chances of sneaking up on the BoSox and Yanks. As things stand, there’s still just under $60MM on the books for 2019. With a number of quality free agents still out there and awaiting a deal, the Rays should be willing to be aggressive in doling out short-term money to get significant pieces. Charlie Morton could deliver great value, and adding Avisail Garcia may be a decent risk, but there’s no reason to stop there.
- Make a run at J.T. Realmuto. Whether or not the free agent market offers another golden opportunity, the Rays should see if they can pull of an intra-state coup by coaxing the Marlins to send their star backstop up the coast. There’s nothing wrong with a Mike Zunino–Michael Perez pairing behind the dish, but Realmuto is the game’s best. The Tampa Bay front office would have flexibility in resolving the preexisting options, particularly since Perez can still be optioned. He’d be a nice depth piece and could perhaps also remain on the roster as part of a three-catcher mix. Alternatively, the Rays could still deal away Zunino.
- Add some veteran bullpen pieces. The Rays’ fascinating bullpen usage has shown no small amount of promise. Part of the strategy, of course, is to lean on a high volume of young pitching. But it’s hard to deny the value of veteran leadership and of established, steady performance. The current Tampa Bay bullpen unit features just one player — Chaz Roe — with more than three years of MLB service time. Allocating some remaining funds to one or more quality free agents would seem to make sense. Old friend Sergio Romo is among the many remaining possibilities.
Toronto Blue Jays
- Prepare for potential spring trades. Entering the winter, it seemed that veteran first baseman Justin Smoak would pop up in the rumor mill with some frequency. We broke down his potential suitors in anticipation of just that, but nothing of note has materialized to this point. There has been more chatter surrounding righty Marcus Stroman, but no indication to date that there’s any momentum toward a deal. Things may be quiet now, but more and more of the offseason business is stretching up to and into Spring Training, when teams will see their rosters in the flesh and injuries will begin to pop up. The Jays should anticipate some late-breaking interest in these players and be ready to pounce on any good opportunities that come up.
- Put the payroll space to work. Neither Smoak nor Stroman need to be moved for purely financial reasons. Indeed, the Jays should also be willing at least to poke around for bargains on the market. The Jays are only projected to have a payroll of roughly $110MM next season right now, well below recent levels of spending. The team has a variety of players who have a decent amount of MLB experience but who have yet to establish themselves fully. It’s fine to give opportunities to players of that kind, but that shouldn’t be allowed to clog things up if there’s a chance to add better talent — even if it costs a bit of money. The Toronto organization could find some opportunities to acquire talent as teams make final payroll decisions, whether that takes the form of snagging unwanted arbitration-year players or taking on an under-water contract that’s packaged with prospects.
- Add to the bullpen. The Jays have little in the way of established arms at the back of the ’pen, and even if they don’t realistically expect to contend, there’s value in having a few stabilizing pieces to prevent a constant churn of DFAs and other various 40-man machinations throughout the course of the season. Scooping up some useful arms on one- or even two-year deals can also always yield a viable summer trade chip. Last year, the club enjoyed some opportunities at the trade deadline due to its arsenal of veteran relievers, and there’s good reason to pursue a similar course again.
It was a quiet day on the minor moves front, but there is one to catch up on …
- Lefty Daniel Schlereth has landed with the Red Sox on a minors deal, per Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com (via Twitter). He’ll have to earn his way into MLB camp, as the deal doesn’t include an invite. The 32-year-old Schlereth hasn’t seen the majors since 2012, but has kept at it over the intervening years. Mot recently, he appeared briefly last year with the Mariners organization. In parts of nine seasons at Triple-A, the former first-round pick carries a 3.50 ERA with 9.7 K/9 against 6.9 BB/9.
The deadline for players and teams to exchange arbitration figures passed at 1pm ET yesterday, meaning over the next few hours, there will be a landslide of settlements on one-year deals to avoid an arbitration hearing. We’ll track today’s minor settlements from the American League in this post. Once all of the day’s settlements have filtered in, I’ll organize them by division to make them a bit easier to parse.
It’s worth mentioning that the vast majority of teams have adopted a “file and trial” approach to arbitration, meaning that once arbitration figures are exchanged with a player, negotiations on a one-year deal will cease. The two parties may still discuss a multi-year deal after that point, but the majority of players who exchange figures with their team today will head to an arbitration hearing.
- Yankees 1B Greg Bird will make $1.2 MM next season, per Bob Nightengale on Twitter.
- The controversial Roberto Osuna will make $6.5MM next season, per Feinsand. Teammate Jake Marisnick, who again scuffled in ’18 after a promising 2017, will make $2.2125MM.
- Per Mark Feinsand on Twitter, A’s lefty Sean Manaea $3.15MM in what’s sure to be an injury-marred 2019.
- Hard-throwing reliever Mychal Givens will make $2.15MM, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter), with additional incentives for making the All-Star team or placing in the Top-3 for the Rivera/Hoffman Reliever of the Year Awards, added MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter).
- The Mariners agreed on a $1.95MM deal with outfielder Domingo Santana, per MLB.com’s Greg Johns (via Twitter). Santana is the second and last of the Mariners’ arbitration-eligible players.
- The Angels agreed to contracts with a pair of players yesterday, per Maria Torres of the LA Times (via Twitter). Reliever Hansel Robles signed for $1.4MM. Robles threw 36 1/3 innings of 2.97 ERA baseball after the Angels claimed him off waivers from the Mets in June. Luis Garcia, acquired via trade from the Phillies this winter, signed for $1.675MM.
- The Tigers and reliever Shane Greene settled on $4MM, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (via Twitter).
- The Yankees reached an agreement with Sonny Gray for $7.5MM, per Nightengale. Gray, of course, has been involved trade rumors most of the winter, but for the time being, he stands to play a role in the Yankee pen while providing insurance for the rotation.
- Didi Gregorius has also come to an agreement with the Yankees on a one-year, $11.75MM deal in his final season before free agency, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (Twitter links).
- New Yankee James Paxton signed for $8.575, per Nightengale (via Twitter). Paxton is under contract for the 2020 season as well.
- The Houston Astros came to an agreement with Collin McHugh for $5.8MM, per Nightengale (via Twitter). McHugh could be moving back into the rotation after a stellar season in the pen, either way this will be his final season of arb eligibility before hitting the open market.
- Jonathan Villar comes away with $4.825MM for what will be his first full season in Baltimore, per Nightengale (via Twitter).
4:05pm: The Boston org has wrapped up deals with all of its dozen arb-eligible players, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe (via Twitter). We’ve covered several other players elsewhere. Notably, shortstop Xander Bogaerts ($12MM) and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. ($8.55MM) have agreed to big salaries.
11:20am: The Red Sox and American League MVP Mookie Betts have settled on a one-year deal worth $20MM, tweets Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. The salary figure is a record for a player in his second year of arbitration eligibility. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Betts could earn an additional $400K via awards (Twitter link). Betts, who will remain under team control through 2020, had been projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $18.7MM.
Fresh off a historic 2018 campaign in which he slashed an otherworldly .346/.438/.640 en route to a World Series title, Betts earned himself a $9.5MM raise from his previous salary. His record-setting deal will establish the new standard for players with four-plus years of MLB service time. In fact, notes Jeff Passan of ESPN, Betts’s new contract has been exceeded only by players in their fourth year of arbitration by virtue of the Super Two rule.
Furthermore, this development could be notable for the Red Sox in that the team failed to reach an agreement with their superstar outfielder last winter, leading to an arbitration hearing to determine his salary. It is possible that this settlement could signify an increased willingness to discuss a potential contract extension, for which it appears talks have yet to substantially progress, in the future. However, should the two sides fail to agree to a multi-year extension next offseason–Betts’s last arbitration-eligible season before reaching free agency–the three-time All-Star could command an astronomical salary in his final year of team control; at the very least, Betts appears poised to eclipse–if not shatter–the $23MM record set by Josh Donaldson one year ago, which currently marks the highest one-year arbitration salary ever.
- The Red Sox have brought outfielder Bryce Brentz back to the organization on a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training, the team revealed in announcing a series of non-roster invitations. Now 30 years old, Brentz was drafted by the Red Sox in 2010 and stuck with the organization through 2017 before landing with the Mets. He batted .264/.332/.580 with 15 homers and 16 doubles for the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last season. Brentz saw brief MLB action with Boston in 2014 and 2016, hitting a combined .287/.311/.379 in 90 trips to the plate.