The Indians are awaiting the results of an MRI on flamethrowing relief prospect Emmanuel Clase, the team told reporters Wednesday (link via Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer). The 21-year-old righty has been feeling discomfort in his latissimus dorsi recently, including during yesterday’s throwing session, per GM Mike Chernoff. Clase, armed with a triple-digit sinker, was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Corey Kluber to Texas over the winter. Cleveland received the young righty and backup outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. in that swap, so any notable injury for Clase would leave the team with a part-time outfielder (and, of course, salary relief) as the immediate return for Kluber. If healthy, Clase should factor prominently into the Cleveland ’pen in 2020. He made his MLB debut in 2019, pitching to a 2.31 ERA with a 21-to-6 K/BB ratio in 23 1/3 innings of relief for the Rangers.
Fortunately, there hasn’t been much in the way of negative health news to this point of Spring Training. Let’s check in on a few issues that have arisen …
- Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez is feeling both excitement and some trepidation as he nears readiness to test his recently tweaked shoulder, as Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Indication remains that Suarez could conceivably be ready to roll on Opening Day. He says he’s getting his timing down even as he avoids throwing or swinging full-bore. But there are also some nerves as he prepares to ramp up. “Just a little bit because I know I have something there,” Suarez said when asked whether he’s nervous. “I don’t want to get hurt again. I have to be careful. We’ll see what happens.”
- After a disappointing 2019 season, the last thing Athletics outfielder Stephen Piscotty wants to deal with is another injury issue. Right now, the hope is that his oblique/rib cage problem isn’t going to represent a major limitation, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. But Piscotty might be down for another week and it’s beginning to look like Opening Day readiness could be in doubt. That’d be a disappointment, of course, but it’s surely better than rushing back and ending up with a bigger problem.
- Neck tightness kept Pirates righty Chris Archer from making a scheduled outing today, as Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic was among those to report on Twitter. There hasn’t been a substantial update just yet, but there’s no reason to believe that this is more than a minor blip.
- It’s a similar situation in Indians’ camp, where righties Emmanuel Clase and Aaron Civale have been limited. As MLB.com’s Mandy Bell tweets, the former is dealing with lat discomfort and the latter a sore groin. While Clase is going to slow his build-up to let things calm down, Civale is preparing to throw a sim game.
Lonnie Chisenhall is retiring after eight MLB seasons. As reported by J.J. Smith of the Carteret County News-Times, the former Indians third baseman/outfielder discussed his decision while attending a jersey dedication ceremony in his honor at his former middle school in Newport, North Carolina.
“I’ve only played 29 games in the past two years. So between that, and I have three kids at home, they are all in school, traveling around the country wasn’t practical anymore. It was a pretty easy decision,” Chisenhall said during a question-and-answer portion of the assembly with Newport Middle School students.
The 31-year-old hangs up his cleats after 688 Major League games, all with Cleveland from 2011-18. Chisenhall was a highly-touted young player, drafted 29th overall by the Indians in 2008 and given high placements (31st in 2010, 25th in 2011) on Baseball America’s top-100 prospect lists. Unfortunately, injuries were a constant presence in Chisenhall’s career and perhaps prevented him from fully living up to that top-prospect status, though he still managed to be a productive player over his eight seasons.
Chisenhall hit .268/.320/.427 with 64 home runs over 2360 career plate appearances, good for a 102 OPS+ and wRC+. Most of that success came against right-handed pitching for the lefty-swinging Chisenhall, though he produced good numbers against both lefties and righties over his final two seasons, which saw him post an .872 OPS over 365 PA while battling numerous injuries.
The most notable of those injuries was a series of nagging calf problems that, ultimately, brought an end to Chisenhall’s career. As he noted while talking to Newport’s students, he was limited to only 29 MLB games in 2018 and then didn’t appear at all in the big leagues last season, playing just seven games with the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate after signing a one-year, $2.75MM deal with Pittsburgh last offseason.
MLB Trade Rumors wishes Chisenhall congratulations on a fine career, and wishes him well in his post-playing endeavors.
Let’s keep up to date with the latest minor moves from around baseball…
- The Indians announced that they’ve inked left-hander Ty Boyles to a minor league contract. The 23-year-old southpaw, a 2013 draftee of the Reds, has spent his entire 7-year professional career in the Cincinnati organization, reaching as high as the Double-A level last year. After beginning his career as a starter, Boyles transitioned to a full-time relief role last year, getting into 47 games and working 66 total innings. He struck out 64 batters against 34 walks, notching a 4.36 ERA in his first full season in the bullpen. He was a 2018 participant in the Arizona Fall League. He’ll report to minor league camp with his new organization.
The status of top remaining free agent Yasiel Puig remains up in the air as Spring Training baseball kicks off today. The mercurial and ever-entertaining pugilist got everyday at-bats in 2019 after a couple years of more judicious playing time with the Dodgers – but the results don’t have teams lined up with contract offers. Puig hit .267/.327/.458 across 611 plate appearances with the Reds and Indians with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs. Puig’s singular personality makes his on-field contributions just a part of the overall package, but even after a year of modest production (101 wRC+), Puig ought to be able to find a job somewhere. Latest reports have the White Sox and Rockies as potential landing spots for Puig, per Hector Gomez of Deportivo Z 101. The Athletic’s Nick Groke downplays the Rockies interest (via Twitter), however.
- CAA agent Jeff Berry lost two arbitration cases this week. Arbitration panels chose the team award amount in cases for J.T. Realmuto and Josh Hader, two transformative performers trying to make their cases to earn beyond the scope of their positional historical comps, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Said Berry of the proceedings, “This was about two guys (Hader and Realmuto) willing to go to the mat to fight for what’s right, and hopefully other players take notice.” It’s possible to look at the results and presume that Berry overestimated his cases for both superstars (within the confines of the current system). It’s surely a fine line between fighting for the best result in an uneven system and politicking for change. Either way, the arbitration panel could use some work. Rosenthal brought a particularly interesting point to the foreground, noting that either the players’ union or MLB “can unilaterally fire any arbitrator at any time.” That’s certainly an inflection point for turning a supposedly unbiased system into one rife for manipulation.
- After trading for Cubs’ swingman Mike Montgomery in July, the Royals believe he can reach another gear when settled into a starting role, per Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star. The Cubs thought the same thing when they acquired Montgomery in the middle of 2016. Though the Cubs never found consistent work for Montgomery in the rotation, he played an important role as a swingman for Chicago. And of course, never forget, he earned the save in game seven of the 2016 World Series. Not for nothing, but Montgomery has desired a rotation slot for some time now, and it could be that the consistency and trust the Royals plan on giving him in his role will have the desired effect – but only time will tell. In 13 starts after the trade last season, Montgomery went 2-7 with a 4.64 ERA/5.23 FIP while striking out 7.2 batters per nine innings.
February 21: Indians fans can breathe a sigh of relief, it seems. Bell tweets that the MRI revealed a mild strain of Carrasco’s hip flexor but nothing more serious. The club has listed him as day-to-day.
February 20: In more ominous news surrounding an already banged-up Indians rotation, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tweets that righty Carlos Carrasco is slated to undergo an MRI on his right leg. MLB.com’s Mandy Bell tweets that Carrasco entered the clubhouse this morning using a crutch after experiencing discomfort in his most recent workouts. The club offered no further specifics, Hoynes adds.
Carrasco, 33 next month, won American League Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2019 after stepping away from baseball in May following a leukemia diagnosis but returning to great (and well-deserved) fanfare just three months later. He struggled in a bullpen role down the stretch, but the results were secondary to the rapid, remarkable recovery for one of the game’s best and most respected pitchers.
Cleveland is already down a starter following Mike Clevinger’s meniscus surgery. There’s hope that he won’t be sidelined for much of the regular season, but he’s still very early in the recovery process. Regardless, the pair of injuries to two of the Indians’ three most notable starters is a worrisome development — particularly in light of the offseason trade that sent Corey Kluber to Texas.
Right-hander Shane Bieber is the top healthy name in the rotation mix at present. The Indians have a characteristically deep mix of alternatives from which to draw. Right-handers Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Jefry Rodriguez and Adam Plutko all threw in the big leagues last season. Lefties Logan Allen and Scott Moss could be options, too, and well-regarded prospect also Triston McKenzie looms in the upper minors. If the Indians want to add some depth from outside the organization, there are still a few notable names who’ve yet to sign (e.g. Jason Vargas, Andrew Cashner, Clay Buchholz, Clayton Richard, Matt Harvey).
- Indians closer Brad Hand turned in excellent overall production yet again in 2019, but his effectiveness waned to a worrisome degree from late June through the end of the season. That was thanks in part to injuries that limited him to 57 1/3 innings – his fewest in more than a half-decade. Hand dealt with left arm fatigue that kept him out of action for a large portion of September, and he ended the year with his worst average fastball velocity (92.9 mph, compared to 94.1 in 2018) since 2012. “For whatever reason this tired arm affected my arm slot and pitches,” Hand told Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com, adding, “This year I’ll probably take a few more steps and stay ahead of it.” Manager Terry Francona’s hopeful that Hand will build up his velocity slowly this spring, as opposed to maxing out before the season starts. This is the last guaranteed year on Hand’s contract, but if he continues to hold his own, it’s hard to believe the Indians (or, if they trade him, another team) won’t exercise his $10MM club option for 2021.
For a team that has averaged 95 wins a year over the last four seasons, the Indians have consistently taken a mix-and-match approach to their outfield amidst this run of success. Of course, having star infielders (i.e. Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez) and a seemingly neverending pipeline of starting talent can allow a club to put less of a focus on its outfielders, and Cleveland would’ve ideally hoped that more of its highly-regarded outfield prospects would have taken the leap to everyday status by this point. Still, the Tribe is now entering a fifth season of outfield uncertainty, and hoping that at least one of its question marks can enjoy a true breakout campaign.
Let’s begin with the one everyday lock in Oscar Mercado, though Mercado’s actual position on a game-by-game basis could be in flux. The 25-year-old is coming off a solid rookie season that saw him perform decently well at the plate (95 wRC+, 96 OPS+) and impressively well with the glove in 698 2/3 innings in center field — +6 Outs Above Average, +5.8 UZR/150, +9 Defensive Runs Saved. It’s safe to assume that Mercado will get the lion’s share of time in center again in 2020, though his ability to play all three positions will allow manager Terry Francona to shift other players into the outfield based on matchups.
Those other players? It’s quite a long list:
- Delino DeShields: Depending on your defensive metric of choice, DeShields was either slightly behind (UZR/150, DRS) Mercado in defensive value last season, or ahead (Statcast ranked DeShields tied for fifth among all outfielders in baseball with +12 OAA in 2019), plus DeShields has a longer track record of outstanding glovework. It stands to reason that DeShields will handle center when Mercado is used in the corners, though it remains to be seen if DeShields will hit enough to move beyond mere fourth-outfielder duty. The 27-year-old hit only .246/.326/.342 over 1936 career plate appearances with the Rangers, though it’s possible the change of scenery from Texas to Cleveland could help.
- Domingo Santana: Signed to a one-year MLB contract (with a 2021 club option) earlier this week, Santana is decidedly not an option in center field, and even the corner outfield might be a stretch for a player who posted some of the worst defensive numbers of any player in baseball. If Santana does indeed end up being used mostly as a designated hitter, the fact that he was signed at all could hint at the Tribe’s belief that…
- Franmil Reyes is capable of better things as a right fielder after two seasons of mediocre fielding. Acquired as part of the three-team Trevor Bauer blockbuster last summer, Reyes hit .249/.310/.512 with 37 home runs over 548 PA between the Padres and Indians in 2019. The power is already there and the overall hitting potential has shown some flashes of improvement, and though Cleveland used Reyes almost exclusively at DH after the trade, the team surely hopes that they can get at least a couple of seasons’ worth of passable fielding work from Reyes to maximize his overall roster value (even if a mostly-DH role is ultimately in his future).
- Jordan Luplow: Among all qualified hitters in 2019, only J.D. Martinez and Alex Bregman had a higher wRC+ against left-handed pitching than Luplow, who crushed southpaws to the tune of a .320/.439/.742 slash line and 198 wRC+ over 155 PA. Even with other big righty bats like Santana and Reyes on hand, Luplow’s incredible splits will ensure that he’ll at least see platoon action, and Luplow has the added defensive edge of being able to play the corners decently well (and could even handle center field in a pinch). If Luplow is to play a larger role, he’ll have to greatly improve his desultory .596 career OPS over 225 PA against right-handed pitching.
- Greg Allen: The switch-hitting Allen offers a bit of balance to all of these right-handed hitters, though he hasn’t much from either side of the plate over 586 Major League plate appearances. Allen can technically play all three outfield positions, though his glovework in the corners is much more highly regarded than his performance in center field. Assuming at least one of the left-handed bats remaining on this listing emerges, Allen may find himself beginning the 2020 season in the minors.
- Tyler Naquin: He likely won’t factor into the Opening Day picture, as much as Naquin is making excellent progress after suffering a torn ACL at the end of August. Still, Naquin looks on pace to return on the shorter end of his original seven-to-nine month recovery period, which adds another left-handed bat to the Indians’ mix. 2019 was shaping up as easily Naquin’s best season since his 2016 rookie year, so a post-hype breakout might yet be in the cards for Naquin if he can get healthy.
- Jake Bauers: Acquired as part of last offseason’s three-team deal that brought Carlos Santana back to Cleveland, Bauers’ first year with the Tribe was a disaster, as he posted an overall sub-replacement season (-0.4 fWAR) while struggling at both the plate and in the field. Bauers is still only 24 years old and is a former top-100 prospect, so it’s clearly far too early for the Indians to give up on him, but he’ll be on a much shorter leash than last season.
- Bradley Zimmer: Speaking of former top prospects, Zimmer missed almost all of the 2018-19 seasons due to shoulder surgery. MLB.com ranked Zimmer as the 22nd-best prospect in baseball entering the 2017 campaign, but a forgettable rookie season and then his extended injury absence turned Zimmer from building block to afterthought. He could be the biggest wild card of any player on this list, assuming Zimmer is healthy.
- Daniel Johnson: A part of the three-player package the Indians received from the Nationals in the November 2018 Yan Gomes trade, Johnson’s first season in Cleveland’s farm system was a successful one, as he hit .290/.361/.507 over 547 combined PA at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. MLB.com’s scouting report notes that Johnson’s strong throwing arm and overall defense alone could earn him steady work as a fourth outfielder at the big league level, so if he can manage to hit as well, there’s certainly room for Johnson gain playing time with the Tribe.
One bit of good news for the Indians in sorting out all these players is that they don’t face any specific roster crunch, as Santana is the only one of these players who no longer has a minor league option. That affords Francona and the front office the opportunity to freely evaluate these players during Spring Training without feeling forced into a tough roster choice based on team control. Given the sheer number of outfielders on hand, it also wouldn’t be entirely shocking if the Tribe dealt away from this surplus. If a few of these names really stand out during camp, Cleveland might feel comfortable enough in its depth to consider one of the other players expendable if another outfield-needy team came calling with an interesting trade offer.
Velazquez, a 25-year-old switch-hitter, has only minimal MLB experience. In 648 total plate appearances at the Triple-A level, he owns a .260/.316/.415 batting line with 16 home runs.
If Urena clears waivers, he’ll likely end up competing for a job with Velazquez … among others. Both of these players have similar backgrounds — including that they primarily came up as shortstops. Velazquez has greater experience at other spots, particularly the outfield.
The field is rather broad. Urena had himself been claimed off waivers recently. With that move, the O’s dropped Pat Valaika, who’s also still in camp — as is fellow recent addition Ramon Urias. Other utility candidates with MLB experience include Stevie Wilkerson, Jose Rondon, Dilson Herrera, and Jesmuel Valentin. Those and perhaps still other players will be looking to win spots in the bench mix, as the O’s appear set to go with a double-play combo of Jose Iglesias and Hanser Alberto.
FEBRUARY 19: The Pads are indeed interested in both Lindor and Senzel, Dennis Lin of The Athletic reports (subscription link). It’s even possible that the Myers talks with the Red Sox could morph into a three-team arrangement involving the Reds, Lin adds.
FEBRUARY 18: Spring Training is now upon us. Prior talks failed to result in a deal. And yet the Red Sox are still holding talks with the Padres about a potential deal that would send first baseman/outfielder Wil Myers to Boston, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Details are about as firm as you could ever hope to see them in a rumor of a potential swap. As before, the Friars want the Sox to take over about half of Myers’s salary (total guarantee of $61MM) over the next three years. Young talent would go to Boston to sweeten the pot. Players that have been discussed include Cal Quantrill, Luis Campusano, and Gabriel Arias, though it’s not clear which would be included and the Sox wouldn’t be able to obtain all of them just to take on half of what’s owed Myers.
That leaves out one major component of the as-yet-uncompleted trade talks: what would come back from the Red Sox? The original chatter between these teams involved Mookie Betts, who is no longer in the Boston stable. There’s no real indication just yet as to what current Red Sox might pique the interest of Padres GM A.J. Preller.
Yet more intriguing? The real goal, per Acee, is to swing a blockbuster for a high-level talent. He notes Nick Senzel of the Reds and Francisco Lindor of the Indians as longstanding targets, but it’s not really clear whether either is realistically available at this point. There aren’t many other conceivable candidates to be acquired who’d meet the description of a “difference-making” performer.
It’s fair to hold some skepticism here, especially as to the possible second prong of this scenario. Then again, Preller once pulled off a trade for Craig Kimbrel just before the start of a season, so it’s tough to rule out any mid-spring fireworks.