- Even though White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu could serve as a mentor to fellow Cubans Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, they’re not necessarily inclined to keep Abreu, relays Rosenthal. This summer might not prove to be the right time for Chicago to trade him, however, as fellow first baseman Eric Hosmer (Royals) and Yonder Alonso (Athletics) are likely to end up on the block, thereby weakening Abreu’s market.
The White Sox have officially signed Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, and he’ll receive a $26MM bonus, Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com tweets. The deal is of the minor-league variety, according to the White Sox’ team announcement.
Chicago had long been seen as one of the top suitors for the highly-regarded Robert, with reports noting that the White Sox and Cardinals were the favorites to land the 19-year-old outfielder. The Padres, Reds, Astros, and Athletics were also linked to Robert.
Since Robert is subject to international bonus pools, the White Sox had to far exceed their pool limit ($2.973MM) to make the signing. Since every dollar spent over the pool limit comes at a 100% luxury tax, the Sox will actually pay in the $50-$60MM range to sign Robert, between both his bonus and the overage tax.
In addition, the White Sox will be penalized for exceeding their bonus pool in this international signing period (which ends on June 15) by being limited to signings of no more than $300K in each of the next two signing periods. Notably, the White Sox were the only known Robert suitor who hadn’t yet exceeded their pool limit for the 2016-17 signing period. Baseball America’s Ben Badler recently observed that Chicago hadn’t lined up any deals with highly-touted prospects for the coming July 2 period, which served as a hint that the Sox were planning to take themselves out of the international prospect running by signing Robert.
Since the international bonus pool system will be much stricter under the new collective bargaining agreement, however, Robert was seen as the last blue chip international talent available under the pre-existing rules, which end on June 15. It therefore made sense for him to sign as quickly as possible in order to score a larger payday than he would’ve by waiting until the next July 2 period, and it also made sense for the White Sox to make this last-second splash while they still could. As we’ve seen in recent years, several teams have employed the strategy of far exceeding their pool limit in order to sign one or several highly-regarded international prospects during one signing period, essentially sacrificing two future years under penalty to make one big splurge.
Robert comes with enough promise that it is clear to see why the White Sox felt he was worth the risk. Considered by many evaluators to be the second-best international prospect in the world (behind only Japan’s Shohei Otani), Robert hit .314/.409/.467 over 192 games and 711 plate appearances in the Serie Nacional and playing for a Cuban team in the Can-Am League.
Badler examines Robert’s tools and history in Cuba’s Serie Nacional as part of this scouting report that is well worth a full read. The 19-year-old is already 6’3″ and possesses “premium bat speed” and “plus raw power” when he connects, though Badler notes that Robert has some issues in making contact and is “often pull-oriented.” Robert is a good athlete who should play center field in the minors with a chance to remain at the position, and he also possesses quite a bit of running ability. He was already rated in the 55-60 range (on the 20-80 scouting scale) speed-wise while in Cuba, and Badler said that scouts watching Robert in recent Dominican Republic workouts had clocked him at even faster 60-yard dash times.
Signing Robert is the latest step in White Sox GM Rick Hahn’s rebuilding plan, and Chicago has amassed an enviable amount of young talent just over the last six months. The Pale Hose already added the likes of Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Dane Dunning in two blockbuster trades with the Red Sox (for Chris Sale) and the Nationals (Adam Eaton). Robert will slot right in near the top of Chicago’s prospect ranking list, rivaling Moncada for sheer potential, as MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez recently illustrated.
The Nationals have acquired veteran outfielder Ryan Raburn from the White Sox, according to a club announcement from Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports that the Nats will send cash or a player to be named later back to the White Sox in exchange for Raburn, who will be assigned to Triple-A Syracuse in the Nats organization (Twitter links).
The 36-year-old Raburn, a veteran of 11 Major League seasons, was in camp with the Reds this spring but didn’t make the roster and ultimately latched on with Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate. He’s gotten off to a nice start with the Knights, hitting .277/.419/.434 through 105 plate appearances there and will give Washington some depth and, possibly, an eventual bench option against left-handed pitching. It’s worth noting that outfielder Chris Heisey recently suffered a torn biceps tendon and is waiting to learn whether he’ll require surgery to repair the injury, so Raburn could conceivably give the Nats another veteran option to fill that role on the big league club.
Despite spending the 2016 season playing his home games at the hitter-friendly Coors Field, Raburn struggled through one of the worst years of his career. In 256 plate appearances with the Rox last season, he batted just .220/.309/.404, though he did tally nine homers. Raburn has long been a potent bat against left-handed pitchers, as evidenced by his .261/.341/.487 lifetime batting line when holding the platoon advantage.
- ESPN’s Keith Law wonders (Insider subscription required and recommended) whether the White Sox made a mistake in making such a substantial commitment to Cuban star Luis Robert. As Law notes, position players from Cuba have flopped in the Majors more than they’ve succeeded. Law also adds that he’s spoken to a number of scouts to gauge Robert’s abilities, as he’s yet to be able to see Robert himself, and each scout to whom he spoke offered concerns about Robert’s hit tool. All agreed that he’s athletic and is a plus runner in addition to possessing above-average bat speed and raw power as well, however. Conversely, Law suggests that if one team was going to “overpay” and take such a significant gamble on Robert’s upside, the Cardinals had the best rationale. The Cards are without their top three picks in the 2017 draft after forfeiting one to sign Dexter Fowler and losing another two as punishment in the notorious data breach scandal, thus depriving them of means to add high-impact young talent. While Robert is certainly a risk, the Cardinals’ lack of alternative means of acquiring young talent would’ve made them a better fit to make the gamble. St. Louis was also already over its bonus pool even without Robert, while the Sox only just pushed themselves into the penalty bracket with Robert’s deal.
- Despite a perhaps surprisingly solid start to the year from the White Sox, general manager Rick Hahn is maintaining a long-term outlook as the summer trade season approaches, writes MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom. “We remain very open-minded about whatever opportunities present themselves to make us better for the long run,” said Hahn. “Our focus is on something that is more sustainable than this one season. We’re in the same mode we were in this past offseason, looking for some long-term pieces to put us in position to contend on an annual basis.” David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana are among the top names the Sox could make available, Bloom observes, though the latter two from that trio haven’t exactly gotten off to strong starts in 2017.
- The White Sox have snapped up righty Jake Johansen, who was released recently by the Nationals, according to Eddy. A second round pick back in 2013, Johansen had failed to make the jump to the upper minors and was cut loose after allowing eight earned runs in 11 2/3 innings at Double-A this year.
There’s no more fickle existence in Major League Baseball than that of a relief pitcher. Teams are generally more willing to tinker with their bullpens than their benches, and often need to make changes to account for overworked staffs.
But the tumult also brings opportunity. Relievers who are throwing well at the right moment can find themselves right back in the majors. And there are often wide-open Spring Training battles to be joined and won.
Plenty of relievers signed minor-league deals last winter. And a solid number of them ended up on MLB rosters within the first two months of the season. Despite failing to receive MLB guarantees on the free-agent market, these ten hurlers have provided quite a bit of value in the early going:
Matt Albers, Nationals: With the Nats’ pen struggling badly, Albers has been a desperately need source of reliable frames: 16 2/3 innings of 1.62 ERA ball. A strong 57.8% groundball rate and meager 1.6 BB/9 walk rate tend to support the results, though Albers isn’t getting enough whiffs (7.6 K/9) to keep up quite this level of pitching.
Craig Breslow, Twins: The lefty specialist has been everything the Minnesota front office hoped for when it bought into his new-look delivery over the winter. Like Albers, a minimal BABIP (.217 in this case) helps explain the sub-2.00 ERA, though in both cases the solid early work is enough to entrench these pitchers in their respective pens for the time being.
Jorge De La Rosa, Diamondbacks: A long-time starter, De La Rosa has averaged less than one inning per relief appearance in Arizona. But the results of that change in focus have been quite promising. It’s good enough that De La Rosa carries a 50% groundball rate with 8.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, supporting a 2.35 ERA through 15 1/3 frames. But there could be more in the tank, as he’s also averaging a career-high 94.1 mph with his fastball and generating a huge 19.5% swinging-strike rate.
David Hernandez, Angels: Though he has completed just 11 innings thus far, after making his debut later than most of the names on this list, Hernandez has impressed. He’s showing the same kind of velocity and swinging-strike rates that made him a buy-low option last year for the Phillies, but the real question is whether he can continue to avoid the long balls that have plagued him in recent years.
J.J. Hoover, Diamondbacks: It was anyone’s guess whether the former Reds’ late-inning stalwart would rebound, but he’s showing well through fifteen frames in Arizona. Hoover is walking more than five batters per nine, but has also racked up 12.6 K/9 (on a career-high 12.6% swinging-strike rate) and owns a 3.00 ERA. So far, a new pitch mix (more two-seamers and sliders) seems to be working.
Jason Motte, Braves: After beating out Hernandez to become the next veteran reclamation project in Atlanta, Motte has ascended to the majors and helped stabilize the pen. His peripherals aren’t terribly inspiring — 6.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 53.1% groundball rate — but the results (1.59 ERA) have been there through 11 1/3 innings.
Bud Norris, Angels: The crown jewel of the Halos’ impressive slate of finds, Norris has thrived in the closer’s role that he took over out of necessity. Through 23 2/3 innings, he carries a 2.66 ERA with 11.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, and a 44.2% groundball rate. Norris is bringing more velocity (94.1 mph fastball) and swinging strikes (13.2%) than ever before.
Yusmeiro Petit, Angels: The veteran long man has been stellar, delivering 28 1/3 staff-preserving innings of 2.54 ERA ball through 16 appearances. Petit is carrying 9.5 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 on the year. (As if the trio of arms on this list weren’t enough, the Halos have also benefited from the strong work of Blake Parker, who had been outrighted off the 40-man roster over the winter.)
Anthony Swarzak, White Sox: There are some very strong performers on this list, but perhaps none has been quite as impressive as Swarzak. He has given the South Siders 19 2/3 breakout innings of 1.37 ERA ball, with 10.1 K/9 and just 0.9 BB/9 in that span. At present, he’s working at a 19.8% swinging-strike rate — about double what he carried over the prior two campaigns — making him quite an interesting potential trade candidate this summer.
Jacob Turner, Nationals: Though he isn’t carrying sparkly numbers, Turner has been an important contributor in D.C. He’s functioning in the swingman role that Petit occupied last year, providing 21 2/3 innings (over two starts and six relief appearances) of 3.74 ERA pitching thus far. While Turner is averaging only 5.8 strikeouts and 3.3 walks per nine, he is continuing to carry the velocity boost he showed last year. Interestingly, he is now working in the zone far more than ever before (50.2% versus 42.1% career average) — though it’s also important to note that his swings and misses are way down (4.8%).
- There’s been plenty of talk about the near-trade of David Robertson from the White Sox to the Nationals this offseason, but USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports the most definitive account of the talks in his latest column. According to Nightengale, the Nats were set to send young lefty Jesus Luzardo (last year’s third-round pick that has yet to pitch professionally due to the fact that he underwent Tommy John surgery prior to the draft) and minor league third baseman Drew Ward to the Sox in exchange for Robertson. Chicago was to absorb about half of the remaining money on Robertson’s deal, but the two sides were never fully able to agree on the financial component of the trade. It’s now reportedly been months since the two sides discussed a Robertson deal, and one has to imagine that the right-hander’s dominant start to the season has only helped Chicago’s leverage in talks with any interested parties. Robertson, 32, owns a 2.81 ERA with 22 strikeouts against five unintentional walks in 16 innings.
- White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, No. 1 prospect Yoan Moncada and manager Rick Renteria each played key roles in the team’s signing of highly touted outfield prospect Luis Robert, according to Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. Like Robert, both Abreu and Moncada hail from Cuba, while Renteria is the only Spanish-speaking manager in the majors. The White Sox put together a video presentation for Robert which featured narration in Spanish from Renteria and appearances from Abreu and Moncada, both of whom encouraged Robert to join the franchise. The White Sox’s attitude toward Cuban-born players has impressed Abreu, who told Hayes through an interpreter, “The way this team has treated the Cuban players and the Latino players in general, that’s something that is important and I really, really appreciate it.”
The Orioles have acquired left-hander Alex Katz from the White Sox in exchange for international signing bonus slots #45 and #75, the club announced (Twitter link). The total value of those slots adds up to $756.3K (from Baseball America, here is the full list of slot values for the 2016-17 signing period, which ends on June 15).
A 27th-rounder for the Sox in the 2015 draft, Katz has a 3.09 ERA, 10.1 K/9 and 2.65 K/BB rate over 102 innings in the minors, appearing as a reliever in all but one of his 62 career games. Katz has shown a propensity for keeping the ball in the park, as he has surrendered only two homers during his career. Katz has yet to pitch above the Class-A level, and the Orioles announced that the 22-year-old will be assigned to their Class-A affiliate.
This is the third trade in six weeks that has seen the O’s deal away international signing slots in exchange for players, after April deals that brought right-hander Damien Magnifico to the team from the Brewers and southpaw Paul Fry from the Mariners. The Orioles have rather notoriously spent little on international free agents in recent years (as Baseball America’s Ben Badler recently noted in a severe critique of the club’s practices), so it makes sense that the team would look at its int’l bonus slots as trade chips.
The deal is also notable from Chicago’s end, as the team just spent between $25MM-$30MM in an agreement with Cuban outfielder Luis Robert. Since the Sox had to far exceed their bonus pool limit to make the signing, they owe a 100 percent overage on every dollar spent above their pool threshold. Increasing the size of that pool by $756.3K, therefore, saves the White Sox some money.