- Before the Indians signed him to a minor league deal this past Thursday, reliever Alex Wilson “had interest from 10 or 11 different clubs, different minor league options,” he tells Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com. The presences of now-injured shortstop Francisco Lindor and catcher Roberto Perez helped influence Wilson’s decision to sign with the Tribe, the right-hander added. The 32-year-old Wilson spent the past few years with the AL Central rival Tigers, with whom he logged a terrific 3.20 ERA and posted 5.85 K/9 against 2.11 BB/9 over 264 2/3 innings.
The Indians have agreed to terms with reliever Alex Wilson, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN.com (via Twitter). The right-hander receives a minor-league deal with an invitation to MLB Spring Training.
Wilson will need to earn his way onto the Indians roster this spring. If he can do so, he would stand to earn $1.25MM for the 2019 season. The deal also includes a $750K incentives package.
The 32-year-old Wilson was a perennial contributor to the Tigers bullpen over the prior four seasons. All told, through parts of six MLB campaigns, he carries a 3.23 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 along with a 44.8% groundball rate. The bottom-line numbers were similar last year, when Wilson ran a 3.36 ERA in his 61 2/3 frames while boosting his groundball rate to 49.2%.
Any team would certainly love to have a durable, low-3 reliever in its pen. The issue with Wilson is whether that sort of performance can really be anticipated moving forward. The Detroit organization obviously wasn’t optimistic, as it non-tendered him rather than paying a projected $2.8MM salary. And the rest of the league declined to come forward with a 40-man spot before the start of camp.
Wilson sits in range of 93 mph with his four-seam and two-seam fastballs. He throws breaking balls as well but relies most heavily on cutter/slider offering. Wilson’s hard-to-classify main pitch was more effective than ever last year even as he boosted its usage to the point that he utilized it in half of the pitches he delivered.
To date, Wilson has maxed out that arsenal and done just enough to get outs, even without a swing-and-miss offering or sustained, elite groundball production. He doesn’t issue many walks and has historically not outperformed Statcast’s expectations (career .317 wOBA-against vs. .314 xwOBA-against), but ERA estimators haven’t been enthused (career 3.81 FIP, 4.39 xFIP, 4.14 SIERA).
Those interested in learning more about where Wilson has been and where he might be headed would do well to check out this lengthy look from SB Nation’s Brandon Day.
Spring Training isn’t even underway, but the Indians have already announced a bit of tough news for fans, revealing Friday that star shortstop Francisco Lindor suffered a right calf strain in prepping for camp. Per the team’s announcement, Lindor will be ready to return to “Major League game activity” in seven to nine weeks. Seven weeks would put Lindor on track to be ready for the beginning of the regular season, though if his rehab takes closer to the longer end of that timetable, he’d miss the first couple of weeks of the year.
If Lindor is to miss time early on, the Indians can turn to one of Max Moroff or Yu Chang as a short-term stopgap. While the short-term nature of Lindor’s injury doesn’t necessarily force Cleveland into making a major addition. However, looking at the current assortment of bench options, the argument could already be made that the team is in need of some additional infield depth. At the very least, adding a player such as Adeiny Hechavarria, Alcides Escobar or Jose Iglesias in a reserve role now seems a bit more prudent than it already did, especially given the possibility for lingering effects that are inherent to any injury.
Even missing out on Lindor for a couple of weeks could prove quite detrimental for the Indians, given that the level of payroll approved by ownership forced the front office into a series of moves that have actively weakened the roster. Meanwhile, both the Twins and White Sox have made some improvements, with the latter still actively pursuing some big-name upgrades.
Lindor, one of the game’s most dynamic players, turned in a brilliant .277/.352/.519 slash with 38 homers and 25 steals en route to a sixth-place finish in American League MVP voting. Paired with his defense at shortstop, Lindor was worth nearly eight wins above replacement. The 25-year-old paced the Majors in plate appearances and runs scored, though it’s now decidedly less likely that he’ll be able to replicate either feat.
11:16am: Joyce’s contract comes with a $1.25MM base salary if he makes the roster, and he can earn an additional $500K based on his number of plate appearances, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (Twitter link).
8:10am: It’s a minor league pact for Joyce, Joe Noga of Cleveland.com reports. He’ll be in Major League camp with the Indians this spring and look to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.
The 34-year-old Joyce will join Cleveland in search of a rebound campaign after struggling through a down season with the A’s in 2018. Last year, in the second season of a two-year deal worth $10MM, Joyce hit just .208/.322/.353 with seven home runs and nine doubles in 246 plate appearances across 83 games. Back troubles hampered him along the way, as he spent nearly two months of the summer on the disabled list due to a lumbar strain.
That said, Joyce is just a year removed from turning in a .243/.335/.473 slash with a career-best 25 homers in 541 plate appearances with Oakland. That type of production would be a welcome sight for an Indians organization whose current outfield mix is expected to feature Greg Allen, Leonys Martin, Tyler Naquin, Jordan Luplow and, if healthy, Bradley Zimmer. Joyce doesn’t exactly bring stability to that uncertain mix, given questions about his own production following last year’s rough results, but if he’s healthy there’s a good chance he’ll be among the club’s more productive options.
Joyce, after all, turned in decidedly above-average offensive output in seven of the eight seasons leading up to 2018 and is a career .250/.351/.451 hitter against right-handed pitching. He’s best deployed in a platoon capacity (.184/.267/.306 career slash against lefties), making him a potentially nice pairing with the right-handed-hitting Luplow.
On the defensive side of the coin, Joyce is limited to the outfield corners, although he did log 16 innings in center for the A’s in a pinch across the past two seasons. He’s generally received average or better marks for his range in both left field and right field, and he has more than 2900 innings of big league experience at both positions.
Many Braves fans were encourage by a hot start to the 2018 season from Flaherty, though his early heroics never appeared sustainable and were largely a function of a .450 average on balls in play through his first 60 trips to the plate. Following that hot streak, Flaherty crumbled and hit .147/.223/.193 through season’s end. Flaherty, a career .216/.286/.347 hitter through parts of seven MLB seasons (1452 PAs) will give the Indians some depth at second base, shortstop and third base.
Navarro, meanwhile, didn’t appear in the big leagues or even in affiliated ball in either of the past two seasons. He’s a career .250/.309/.370 hitter in part of 13 MLB campaigns but will need to reestablish himself — be it in Spring Training or in Triple-A — after an underwhelming showing with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League in 2018. With the Ducks, Navarro batted .268/.299/.437 — albeit it in just 20 games.
If Cole’s time with the Cleveland organization is up, his stay will have been brief; the Indians only claimed him off waivers from the Yankees back on Jan 11. He’d have been in line to compete for a bullpen job in Spring Training and may still have that opportunity, though he’ll first need to clear outright waivers. If another club claims Cole, that new team will have to open the season with him on the Major League roster or else once again expose him to waivers, as Cole is out of minor league options.
Cole, who turned 27 earlier this month, gave the Yankees 38 innings of 4.26 ERA ball after being acquired from the Nationals in 2018, pitching in primarily a multi-inning relief role. Along the way, he averaged a strong 11.6 K/9 and registered an enormous 15.9 percent swinging-strike rate with a very good 34.3 percent opponents’ chase rate on out-of-zone pitches. However, he was also immensely susceptible to home runs, as he averaged 2.13 homers per nine innings pitched with the Yankees. In all, between New York and Washington, Cole yielded a staggering 15 home runs in 38 innings.
That said, Cole was at one point considered to be among the most promising pitching prospects in all of baseball, and surely the strikeout rate, swinging-strike rate and chase rate could hold appeal to another team — particularly one that is thin on rotation depth and/or has multiple bullpen spots up for grabs. He’ll need to learn to keep the ball in the yard, but the level at which Cole missed bats in 2018 would be elite if he proved it to be sustainable; the 15.9 percent swinging-strike rate he logged as a Yankee would’ve ranked 12th in the game among qualified relievers last year.
2:55pm: The Marlins have announced the trade, revealing that they’ll acquire fellow righty Jordan Milbrath from Cleveland in the deal.
Milbrath, 27, reached Triple-A for the first time last season but was hit hard in a small sample of 13 2/3 innings. He spent the bulk of the season in Double-A, where he notched a 3.42 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a gaudy 60.9 percent ground-ball rate. Milbrath’s ground-ball rate has exploded over the past two seasons — he was north of 70 percent in 2017 — though his success to date has come against younger competition. He’ll turn 28 on Aug. 1, making him a bit too old to be considered a “prospect,” perhaps, though his ground-ball tendencies still make him an intriguing bullpen candidate for the Marlins.
1:50pm: The Indians have reached a deal to acquire right-handed reliever Nick Wittgren from the Marlins, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets. Cleveland will send a minor league pitcher to Miami in return.
Wittgren, 27, was somewhat surprisingly designated for assignment by the Marlins last week. On the surface, the righty pitched quite well, working to a 2.94 ERA with 8.3 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 0.27 HR/9 and a career-best 46 percent ground-ball rate in 33 2/3 innings for the Fish. It’s unlikely that he’d be able to replicate the good fortune he had in terms of allowing home runs (one allowed; 2.7 percent homer-to-fly ball ratio), however, and the four walks he averaged on a per-nine-inning basis was the highest mark of his career.
Nonetheless, Wittgren has a career 3.60 ERA, 8.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 127 2/3 of big league relief and still has a minor league option remaining, so the Indians will be able to shuttle him back and forth between Cleveland and their Triple-A affiliate in Columbus this season if need be. Wittgren doesn’t throw especially hard, averaging a bit better than 92 mph on his heater, and he doesn’t generate gaudy spin rate totals. However, he’s still managed solid results to this point in his career and represents a sensible addition for a Cleveland club that is facing enormous uncertainty in the bullpen while also navigating payroll concerns.
The importance of having a dominant bullpen was on display in 2018, when four of the majors’ five best relief units in terms of fWAR helped pitch their teams to the postseason. On the other hand, four of the league’s five worst relief corps (and nine of the game’s bottom 10) watched the playoffs from home. So now, with the spring fast approaching, where do last year’s bottom-feeding bullpens stand? As you’ll see below, at least one has made major improvements this winter, but the rest look iffier. While there’s still time for these teams to add help from a free-agent class that remains awash with veterans, this quintet’s bullpen-related heavy lifting may be all but complete for the offseason.
Royals (minus-2.2 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen via Jason Martinez of Roster Resource ): Going by fWAR, the Royals’ 2018 bullpen was among the five worst of the past decade, though the unit “only” posted the majors’ second-highest ERA (5.09) a year ago. Those hideous numbers came in spite of the presence of Kelvin Herrera, who logged a near-spotless 1.05 ERA over 25 2/3 innings before the Royals traded the then-pending free agent to the Nationals in June. They also came thanks in large part to Brandon Maurer, who’s now a Pirate after pitching to a ghastly 7.76 ERA/6.58 FIP in 31 1/3 innings out of Kansas City’s bullpen last season.
Heading into the upcoming campaign, there’s a lot of work to be done to turn this Herrera-less group into a strength, but the Royals haven’t addressed it in any major way this offseason. However, considering they’re coming off a 58-win season and also won’t approach contention in 2019, it’s not surprising the Royals have shied away from major league free agency. They’ve instead taken less expensive routes to acquire potential bullpen pieces, having pulled in Michael Ynoa on a minor league deal, Sam McWilliams and Chris Ellis in the Rule 5 Draft and Conner Greene via waivers. Unfortunately, going by ZIPS projections, no one from that quartet looks like a promising bet to produce much in 2019. Likewise, ZIPS doesn’t have particularly high hopes for the majority of the Royals’ bullpen holdovers from 2018. The system does, however, like 23-year-old left-hander Richard Lovelady – who has turned in excellent minor league numbers but hasn’t yet reached the majors.
Marlins (minus-2.1 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen): At 5.34, the Marlins’ relief corps managed the game’s worst ERA last year and the sport’s third-highest mark since 2009. The main culprits were Ben Meyer, Junichi Tazawa and Tyler Cloyd, who combined for 56 2/3 innings and each registered an ERA of at least 8.68. Tazawa and Cloyd are now out of the organization. Meyer, meanwhile, is still around, but he’s not even on Miami’s 40-man roster. But neither is righty Nick Wittgren, who led Marlins relievers in ERA (2.94) and FIP (3.13) in 33 2/3 frames last year. The Marlins made the odd choice to designate the 27-year-old Wittgren for assignment earlier this week to make room for the signing of infielder Neil Walker, who’s six years Wittgren’s senior and only under control for one season. Other notable contributors no longer in the mix include Kyle Barraclough (who nosedived in 2018 and was dealt to the Nationals in October), Brad Ziegler (Miami traded him to Arizona last July, and he has since retired) and Javy Guerra (now a Blue Jay after putting up a 5.55 ERA in 2018).
The best returning pieces in Miami’s bullpen look to be Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley, who each registered solid seasons in 2018. Otherwise, it’s a largely unproven cast – one that hasn’t picked up any major league free agents and seems likely to once again record below-average numbers this year. As with the Royals, the Marlins are rebuilding, so they’ve explored alternative paths for help. Thus far, they’ve acquired Nick Anderson (via trade with the Twins), Tyler Stevens (via trade with the Angels), minor league free agents R.J. Alvarez and Brian Moran, Rule 5 selection Riley Ferrell, and intriguing waiver claim Julian Fernandez.
Mets (minus-0.6 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen): Unlike the Royals and Marlins, the Mets are making a real effort to win in 2019. As a result, the bullpen has been a key area of focus for new Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who has swung a blockbuster trade to reel in arguably the best closer in baseball (ex-Mariner Edwin Diaz) and spent a combined $40MM on free agents Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson this winter. Diaz, Familia and Wilson will join Seth Lugo, who was outstanding in 2018, and Robert Gsellman to give the Mets no fewer than five capable relievers.
Perhaps the Mets will also benefit from less heralded pickups in Luis Avilan and Arquimedes Caminero, whom they signed to minors deals, and Rule 5 pick Kyle Dowdy. Regardless, New York’s new cast of relievers looks a whole lot better than last year’s bullpen, which relied too much on the likes of Paul Sewald, Jerry Blevins, Jacob Rhame, Tim Peterson and Anthony Swarzak, among other ineffective options, en route to a 4.96 ERA. Sewald, Rhame and Peterson are still in the organization, albeit as depth pieces, while Blevins and Swarzak are now gone. All things considered, ZIPS expects the Mets’ revamped bullpen to end up as one of the majors’ best in 2019.
Indians (plus-0.4 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen): Cleveland found its way to another division title in 2018 despite its weak bullpen, which limped to a 4.60 ERA as innings leaders Cody Allen, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Neil Ramirez and Andrew Miller scuffled. Allen, McAllister and Miller are now gone, leaving the Indians with a bullpen that, in spite of the great Brad Hand’s presence, still looks somewhat questionable. The club did well to re-up lefty Oliver Perez, whose 2018 renaissance earned him a guaranteed deal last month, though he’s the only major league free agent Cleveland has signed. The team also made a waiver claim for A.J. Cole, whose penchant for surrendering home runs led both the Nationals and Yankees to give up on him in the past eight months, and brought in veterans Justin Grimm and Brooks Pounders on minor league accords. Big league success has eluded Grimm and Pounders over the past couple years, however, so the Indians surely aren’t expecting significant contributions from either. Instead, their relief corps will count on returning Indians – potentially including flamethrower Danny Salazar, a starter from 2013-17 who missed all of last season because of shoulder problems. While Salazar could factor in at some point, it won’t be at the start of the season.
Nationals (plus-0.4 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen): Washington, another prospective contender, has made a couple of interesting bullpen moves this offseason after last year’s underwhelming showing. In addition to trading for the hard-throwing Barraclough, who held his own from 2015-17, they inked fellow high-velocity righty Trevor Rosenthal to a $7MM guarantee in free agency. Rosenthal, 28, sat out all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the former Cardinals closer was mostly tremendous out of their bullpen from 2012-17.
Should a healthy Rosenthal return to form, it would be an enormous boon for the Nationals, who saw a different ex-Cards reliever – Greg Holland – experience a rebirth in their uniform last season. But after logging a microscopic 0.84 ERA in 21 1/3 innings in D.C., Holland joined the Diamondbacks in free agency. The Holland-less Nats are now slated to rely mostly on elite but oft-injured closer Sean Doolittle, Barraclough, Rosenthal, Justin Miller, Koda Glover, Sammy Solis and Matt Grace, with Tanner Rainey (acquired from the Reds for Tanner Roark) and minor league signings Vidal Nuno and J.J. Hoover around as depth. All said, it’s a high-risk, high-reward bunch, given the injuries Doolittle and Rosenthal have dealt with and the up-and-down performances of Barraclough, Miller, Glover, Solis and Grace.
Speaking alongside President and CEO Larry Baer, Farhan Zaidi rationalizes the Giants’ winter action thus far, saying “Our goal this offseason has been to surround our core of players, which we still believe is a championship core of players, with the right complementary players.” Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle provides the clip (via Twitter), wherein Zaidi charms a crowd with good-natured humor, referring to his title as “the guy who reports to [Baer],” while also holding firm to an offseason strategy that has preached patience above all else. To hear him refer to the roster as having a “championship core” feels a tad hopeful, though to his credit, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, did quite literally form the core of two World Series winners – three for Posey, Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval, who were all on the 2010 squad. So while Zaidi’s not wrong, one might also point out they also have the core of an 84-win team, an 87-win team, a 64-win team, and a 73-win team. Let’s check in on the goings-on from a couple other NL clubs…
- While the Mets continue to keep tabs on lefty Gio Gonzalez, their interest has not reached the “multiyear level,” per sny.tv’s Andy Martino (via Twitter). The Mets are emboldened by a strong second half from Jason Vargas, who combines with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler to form the presumptive starting five for the Amazins. Given the injury history of that group, starting depth is an important consideration for GM Brodie Van Wagenen, but Gonzalez should land a clearer path to a guaranteed rotation role elsewhere. If Gio’s market never does materialize, the Mets could circle back, but for the time being they appear content with the likes of Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt and Hector Santiago providing the rotation depth. Martino notes that Seth Lugo, who started 31 games for the Mets across the past three seasons, will not be considered for the rotation, as they plan on deploying him solely as a reliever in 2019. Lugo, 29, impressed in a swing role last year as his strikeout rate saw a year-over-year increase from 7.5 K/9 to 9.1 K/9.
- The Reds have been active on the trade market all winter, especially in hunting starting pitching. They were one of the teams with early noted interest in Corey Kluber before swinging separate deals for Alex Wood, Tanner Roark, and Sonny Gray. They have also kept tabs on J.T. Realmuto, still one of the teams in the running for the Marlins’ star backstop. One name that both the Indians and Marlins have asked about is Jonathan India, the Reds top draft choice from a year ago. Per Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel (via Twitter), top prospects Nick Senzel, Hunter Greene, and Taylor Trammell are viewed as tough gets, leading teams to ask for India instead, but Cincinnati has as of yet refrained from including India in any kind of deal. It certainly makes sense for the Reds to hold onto India in the event that Scooter Gennett departs in free agency after 2019, but they’ll have a tough time getting a talent of Kluber’s or Realmuto’s caliber without surrendering any of the four aforementioned youngsters.
- The Indians ran a franchise-high payroll in every season from 2016-18, each of which included an AL Central title, but that degree of spending “was unsustainable,” president Chris Antonetti said Saturday (per Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com). “So we did need to reposition ourselves financially, which we were able to do with a series of moves earlier in the offseason and provide ourselves that necessary financial flexibility that we needed (for 2019 and beyond).” After opening last year with a payroll in the $135MM range, the Indians are projected to begin 2019 near $119MM, according to Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. Obviously, then, Cleveland hasn’t been aggressive in upgrading its roster this winter, though it’s still the favorite in its division. If the Indians find themselves in contention during the summer trade season, they should be in position to bolster their roster from outside, Antonetti noted. For now, though, any further offseason additions will be modestly priced, Hoynes writes.