- Rockies starting pitcher Chad Bettis sees pitching in the big leagues this season as a “realistic goal” as he continues to recover from testicular cancer, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. “The way I see it, it’s going to happen,” Bettis says. “At what point in time during the season I would be coming back is all kind of up in the air. But it’s something that I’m going to be pushing to get to.” Bettis had surgery during the offseason but learned in Spring Training that the cancer had returned, weeks before his wife gave birth to his first child. Since then, he’s had several rounds of chemotherapy, although those ended earlier this month. Now, he’s working on throwing at 75 feet and doing cardiovascular work. There’s still no date for his return, however, and he’s watched the Rockies’ strong start from the sidelines. “[I]t’s hard,” he says. “I so wish that I was a part of it.”
- Rockies prospect Forrest Wall, who had moved from second base to the outfield this year, is slated to miss the rest of the season after suffering a dislocated left shoulder, Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America writes. The 21-year-old needs surgery, bringing an end to what had been a promising campaign. Taken 35th overall in the 2014 draft, Wall had struggled in 2016. But he was slashing a robust .299/.361/.471 through 98 plate appearances at High-A at the time of his injury.
The Rockies have reached a new minor-league contract with outfielder/first baseman Stephen Cardullo, per a club announcement. He had been released recently, even as the sides contemplated a new contract.
The 29-year-old Cardullo is expected to miss several months with a fractured wrist. That, evidently, explains the procedural moves; Cardullo will leave the 40-man roster entirely rather than going on the 60-day DL (for reasons that remain unclear). But he’ll still be able to rehab with the organization in hopes of representing an option when he returns to health.
A long-time independent ball player, Cardullo joined the Rockies organization last year and quickly became a fairly notable part of the team’s plans. He has slashed .308/.371/.516 over 483 plate appearances at Triple-A, though he has struggled in brief action at the MLB level.
Recently, I took a quick look at all of the players with vesting options for the 2018 season, noting that many of the outcomes within will have significant ramifications for both the upcoming free-agent market and the future of those players’ respective teams. The implications are even greater for the eight players that have opt-out provisions of some type at the end of the current season. In some cases, the opt-out in question could either liberate that player’s team from more than $80MM in future commitments or saddle them with that same burdensome amount. (And, in most cases, if the player isn’t opting out, the remaining salary is indeed a burden, as the player either performed too poorly to opt out and/or got hurt.)
Here’s a look at the opt-out decisions that are looming at season’s end…
- Justin Upton, Tigers: The disastrous start to Upton’s six-year, $132.5MM contract now looks like a distant memory. After struggling to a .228/.286/.369 batting line through his first three months in the Motor City, Upton has surged with a .255/.342/.535 slash and 31 home runs over his past 471 big league plate appearances. Strikeouts are still an issue for Upton, but he’s also walking more than ever (15 percent in 2017). He’s on pace to finish the season right around the 30-homer mark, and if he can do so with an OBP in the mid-.300s and respectable marks in left field — he’s currently at +4 DRS and +3.4 UZR — then the remaining four years and $88.5MM on his contract will pose an interesting decision for Upton, who is currently playing out his age-29 season.
- Johnny Cueto, Giants: Cueto looked like an ace in his first year with San Francisco but has stumbled to a 4.50 ERA through his first 58 innings with the Giants in 2017. He’s still averaging better than eight punchouts per nine innings to go along with solid (but diminished) control. However, he’s seen his ground-ball rate plummet from 50 percent to 39 percent, and paired with the increase in walk rate (1.8 BB/9 to 2.5 BB/9), that has led to some issues. There’s still plenty of time for Cueto to get back on track, but the remaining four years and $84MM on his contract doesn’t look quite as easy to walk away from as it did just seven weeks ago. He’ll be 32 next season.
- Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: Cueto’s slow start looks Cy Young-worthy when juxtaposed with Tanaka, who has logged a ghastly 6.56 ERA through 48 innings in 2017. Like Cueto, Tanaka has seen his control take a step back, though his strikeout and ground-ball rates are consistent, and his velocity is fine. Tanaka’s average on balls in play is up, however, and his homer-to-flyball rate has skyrocketed from 12 percent to 24.5 percent. Given his age (29 in November), Tanaka would be a virtual lock to opt out of the remaining three years and $67MM on his contract with a good season. If he can’t overcome his home-run woes, however, he may instead opt for the substantial amount of guaranteed cash remaining on his deal.
- Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins: Chen’s opt-out is perhaps the easiest to determine of any player on this list. Unfortunately for the Marlins, that’s due to the fact that he’s currently sidelined indefinitely due to arm troubles. Chen is on the disabled list with arm fatigue, though it’s been reported previously that he’d been pitching through a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, which was sustained in 2016. Chen hasn’t pitched well as a Marlin even when healthy, and at this point it would take a quick recovery and a dominant finish for him to even consider opting out of the remaining three years and $52MM on his contract.
- Ian Kennedy, Royals: Kennedy has logged a solid 3.74 ERA in 233 1/3 innings since signing a five-year deal with Kansas City, but he’s already in his age-32 season. His strikeout rate and control have taken a step back in 2017 as well, and he’s remained homer-prone despite pitching half his games at the spacious Kauffman Stadium. Kennedy turned in a very strong final four months in his last contract season — which helped him land this surprising contract in the first place — but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll opt out of the remaining three years and $49MM on his current contract.
- Greg Holland, Rockies: To be clear, Holland cannot technically opt out of his contract just yet. The one-year, $7MM contract that he signed with the Rox contained a $10MM mutual option that can vest as a $15MM player option if Holland finishes 30 games. At this juncture, though, it seems as if an injury is all that can stop Holland’s player option from vesting. He’s already finished 20 of the 30 games he needs, and he’s currently boasting a preposterous 0.96 ERA with a 26-to-6 K/BB ratio through 18 2/3 innings. Apparently, pitching at Coors Field suits Holland just fine, though if he keeps this up, it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll turn down the one year and $15MM he’d receive for a second season at Coors and hit the market in search of a lucrative three- or four-year contract.
- Matt Wieters, Nationals: The stagnant offseason market for Wieters’ services culminated in a two-year, $21MM contract with the Nats that offers Wieters the opportunity to test free agency once again next winter, if he wishes. To this point, it’s looking likely that Wieters will pass on that player option. His walks, hard-hit rate and BABIP are up, none of which has come at the expense of his strikeout rate. Wieters is hitting a solid .283/.358/.442 with four homers on the year. His caught-stealing rate is down (23 percent), and his framing remains questionable, but the improved offense makes it seem likely that, even if Wieters again struggles to find the strong multi-year deal he craves, a contract comparable to the one year and $10.5MM he can opt out of will once again be available on the open market.
- Welington Castillo, Orioles: Castillo’s two-year, $13MM contract with the Orioles was a pleasant surprise for a player who had previously been locked into arbitration in Arizona before surprisingly being non-tendered. He’s off to a torrid .348/.375/.543 start to the season with four homers and six doubles through 96 plate appearances. There’s a fair bit of luck involved in that production, as evidenced by the 30-year-old’s .418 BABIP. But his strikeouts are down this season, and he’s thrown out a career-best 41 percent of attempted base thieves. His framing marks, while still below average, have improved on a per-pitch basis as well. His glove may prevent him from fully cashing in, but Castillo’s bat could make the remaining one year and $7MM on his contract easy enough to walk away from, assuming he’s healthy.
The Rockies have released outfielder/first baseman Stephen Cardullo, as Thomas Harding of MLB.com reports (Twitter links). But the sides are already in discussions on a new minor-league deal to bring Cardullo back into the fold.
Because Cardullo is out for a few months with a broken wrist, the organization has apparently worked out an arrangement with his reps. It’s not entirely clear why he couldn’t simply have been shifted to the 60-day DL, but clearly it sounds like something is being worked out that will be acceptable for all sides regardless.
Cardullo, 29, made a stunning run to the majors last year with Colorado. He had never played above the Rookie ball level before signing with the organization after a four-year indy ball run. But he excelled at Triple-A and soon found himself playing at the game’s highest level.
Though the Rox obviously like what he brings to the table — and the production has been good at Albuquerque — Cardullo hasn’t yet delivered much in his brief time in the majors. Over 91 total plate appearances over the past two years, he owns only a .190/.253/.321 batting line.
Rockies right-hander Chad Bettis shared some good news today, via Instagram, announcing that he’s wrapped up his final session of chemotherapy. Bettis has yet to pitch this season after learning in Spring Training that the testicular cancer for which he underwent surgery this offseason had unexpectedly spread. While it’s not clear when he’ll be ready to return to a big league mound, Bettis noted that he’s now “excited to move forward and start the process of getting back.” Best wishes to Chad in his continued recovery.
- In other Rockies news, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes that David Dahl, Tom Murphy and Trevor Story are all progressing toward a return to the lineup. Dahl is now cleared to take batting practice and will move to full baseball activities if that goes well. He’ll obviously require a notable minor league rehab stint before returning from a stress reaction in his ribcage, as he’s been out since early Spring Training. Murphy, meanwhile, has been throwing and is also nearing clearance to take “legit” batting practice, per manager Bud Black. And Story recently took ground-balls and is on the brink of baseball activities as well. After being shut down for a few days, Story tells Saunders that his ailing shoulder once again feels normal.
- Rockies staff ace Jon Gray is also taking longer than had been hoped, as Nick Groke of the Denver Post writes. Gray is still in a walking boot while his broken left foot heals, though the hope seems to be he’ll be ready to shed that soon. While Gray has been able to continue throwing, he’ll obviously need to boost his conditioning and ensure his foot is at full health before undertaking at least some kind of rehab assignment.
It’s one of those sayings managers have when they address their players every spring: “Play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. And play for the other organizations out there. You never know who’s going to be watching you.”
While players might hear that speech but not really listen to it, that axiom tangibly meant something 25 seasons ago.
Two organizations – the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins – were out there in force. Their scouts were doing their player evaluations at the major league and minor league levels. They were doing their homework. They were doing their prep work. They were looking for any reason to have interest in a player – or not have interest at all.
This is the 25th anniversary of the one full year that the Rockies and Marlins spent scouting and preparing for the November 17, 1992, Major League Baseball expansion draft – when the two organizations would be selecting players from the existing 26 major league clubs. A total of 72 players would be chosen – since 50 more major league jobs were becoming available for the 1993 season.
Hundreds of players were auditioning for major league jobs. The truth is … most did not realize it. And when their names were called on expansion draft day, they were stunned.
– – –
On paper, the Marlins and the Rockies had just under 14 months to get ready for the expansion draft – from the time their general managers were hired to the day they arrived in New York City for the initial building of their first big league rosters.
“I found the whole process to be exhilarating … that all the work we had accomplished was ready to move forward,” said Dave Dombrowski, the first general manager in Florida Marlins history. “Our goal was … you want to start an expansion team. You want to get players on board. But ultimately, you’re trying to build a world championship. We knew it would be a while down the road.
“But we were now in the position where finally you were going to have a chance to start adding some players – and all that work that had taken place would come to fruition. So I found it a very exciting time.”
While the Marlins went into the expansion draft knowing they had some money to spend, Colorado Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard and his organization were operating under a tight budget.
“We went into New York with our small group of people who we felt were going to help us make the right selections,” Gebhard said. “But the unknowns were who was going to be available – and could we afford them?
“We felt that we were going to draw some people in Denver. But one of the things the owners brought to my attention is they really thought we needed to win some ball games right away. We were competing in a football city, we were the new team in town, and we really needed to be competitive. We certainly didn’t want to lose 100 games that first year. So we were trying to pick carefully so that, No. 1, we had a team that was affordable, and No. 2, that we had a team that could compete in the 1993 season. We were trying to do both. It was difficult knowing that we didn’t have a lot of money to spend.”
– – –
How would the two teams be put together?
The rules were pretty simple – and pretty complex. All players in the 26 existing organizations were eligible to be drafted, except those with no prior major league experience who had less than three years of service if signed at age 19 or older – or less than four years of service if signed at age 18 or younger.
Cutting to the chase, any “under contract” player who had big league service time was in play if he wasn’t protected. From the minor league side, in layman’s terms, it all depended on when you were drafted – but the drafts of 1990, 1991 and 1992 were off limits. If you were a college kid selected in the 1989 draft with no big league time – you were eligible if an organization didn’t protect you. As an example, Trevor Hoffman, Cincinnati’s 11th-round pick that year, was not on the Reds’ protected list – leaving him available to be selected. If you were a high school kid chosen in the 1988 draft without major league experience (for instance, Yankees minor leaguer Carl Everett), or an undrafted young international player signed that year (the Cubs’ Pedro Castellano), you too were eligible if left unprotected.
What constituted a protected player? Major league teams were able to protect 15 players prior to the draft. Players with 10/5 rights (10 years of major league service, the last five with the same team) and players with no-trade clauses in their contracts had to be protected unless they waived those rights.
The procedure for the three-round expansion draft:
- Before the draft, a coin flip determined which team selected first in the first round and second in rounds two and three – or second in the first round and first in rounds two and three. The Rockies won the coin flip and opted to choose first.
- In the first round, the Rockies and the Marlins alternated turns, with each of the existing 26 teams losing one player. In theory, both teams were alternately selecting who they considered to be the 16th-best player on every other team’s roster. At the conclusion of the round, both Colorado and Florida would have selected 13 players each.
- Prior to the second round, the existing National League teams were able to pull back an additional three players, while American League teams were able to protect four more. The second round proceeded in the same manner as the first, with each existing major league organization losing a second player. At this point, both expansion teams would have selected 26 players each.
- Prior to the third round, the N.L. teams once again were able to protect three more players, while the A.L. teams were able to protect four. During the third round, 20 total players were selected – with each N.L. team losing one player and eight A.L. clubs losing a player. At the conclusion of the round, both the Marlins and the Rockies would have made 36 selections.
Not only were the Rockies and Marlins drafting players, they literally were playing a dice game. If you wanted a player from a specific team, and the other expansion club drafted a player from that club, then you likely lost out on an opportunity. You had to roll the dice when making your selections.
– – –
The Rockies’ trip to New York became eventful before the big event.
After his arrival in the Big Apple, Gebhard was able to engineer a franchise-shaking move before the team had any players on its roster.
“Jim Bronner, the agent for Andres Galarraga, called me and said, ‘I’ve got a first baseman for you.’ And he told me it was Andres,” Gebhard said. Galarraga, a veteran of seven seasons in Montreal and one in St. Louis, had an All-Star appearance, one Silver Slugger Award and two Gold Gloves on his resume. “I told him, ‘You know, I have a very limited budget. I’ve been told I have $8 million to spend on a 40-man roster, so I have to be careful who I make commitments to – because this would be a salary hit.’ So we negotiated a contract for $500,000.
“The day before the draft, we signed Andres Galarraga.”
The 32-year-old Galarraga would go on to hit a National League-best .370 in 1993 and become an early builder of the Rockies’ “Blake Street Bombers” identity that Don Baylor wanted to establish. Galarraga spent five years in a Rockies uniform – finishing in the N.L. Top 10 in Most Valuable Player voting four times.
A second aggressive right-handed offensive presence that Gebhard coveted was Dante Bichette – who had fallen out of favor in Milwaukee.
Gebhard also had an affinity for Milwaukee’s Darren Holmes, a right-handed reliever who had experienced some success in 1992 (2.55 ERA and 6 saves in 41 games) – but was not protected by the Brewers.
The question for Gebhard was … could he get both players? The Rockies believed that if they took one, the other would either be protected after the first round – or selected by the Marlins early in the second round.
“We decided we needed pitchers who could pitch in Denver, so we were going to take Darren Holmes early in the draft,” Gebhard said. “But we had also zeroed in on Dante Bichette. It was a little bit of a mystery how we could get him.”
As fate would have it, “the morning of the draft, I went downstairs for coffee and ran into (Milwaukee GM) Sal Bando,” Gebhard said. “We had some discussions, and then I asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’ He said he needed a left-handed DH, and I asked him if he had any interest in (Texas’ Kevin) Reimer. He said, ‘Absolutely.’ So I asked him, ‘What if we draft him, and after the first round, you pull Dante Bichette back so we didn’t lose him to Florida? We can announce the trade after the draft.’ And he said, ‘That’s a deal.’ That’s how we got Dante Bichette.
“All of a sudden we had the big first baseman in Galarraga and now we had Bichette. We had the makings of a middle of the lineup with two power hitters. The rest of it just sort of fell into place.”
Bichette went on to play seven years for the Rockies, going to the All-Star Game four times. Holmes showed he could keep the ball in the park, surrendering only 34 homers in 263 games during his five years in a Colorado uniform.
We’ll track the day’s minor moves right here…
- Former big league right-hander Barry Enright, who has been pitching for the Padres’ Double-A affiliate, was traded to the Rockies in a minor swap, according to the Pacific Coast League transactions page. (Enright himself confirmed the move on Twitter). The 31-year-old hasn’t appeared in the Major since a 2013 stint with the Angels, though he’s pitched with various Triple-A clubs and in the Mexican League since that time. Enright owns a career 5.57 ERA in 148 2/3 Major League innings and a 4.86 ERA across parts of nine minor league seasons.
- The Mariners have signed infielder Danny Muno to a minor league deal and assigned them to their Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma, according to Rainiers broadcaster Mike Curto (Twitter link). Muno, 28, got a brief taste of the Majors with the Mets in 2015 (32 plate appearances) but hasn’t returned to the big leagues since. He opened the 2017 season with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League, where he posted a .744 OPS through 13 games. Muno doesn’t have much power but has a history of getting on base in Triple-A, where he’s logged a .257/.363/.377 batting line in parts of three seasons. He’ll bring some defensive versatility to the Mariners’ Triple-A club, as he’s well-versed at second base, shortstop and third base.
- The Mariners have purchased the contract of righty Tyler Cloyd from the Somerset Patriots, the indy ball club announced. Cloyd had been throwing quite well, racking up 16 strikeouts over a dozen frames while allowing just two earned runs on eight hits and three walks. Soon to turn 30, Cloyd had struggled in two seasons of work with the Phillies and then bounced around in recent years. He returned from a stint with Korea’s Samsung Lions to join the Yankees last year on a minors deal, but missed the bulk of the season due to injury after a promising start. Over 440 2/3 total Triple-A innings, Cloyd owns a 3.49 ERA with 6.6 K/9 against 2.1 BB/9.
- The Rockies have placed shortstop Trevor Story on the 10-day DL due to a strained left shoulder, as Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post reports. Story initially suffered the injury two nights ago in at-bat against the Cubs, though his struggles at the plate have been an ongoing issue since Opening Day. Story took Major League Baseball by storm in 2016 when he hit 27 homers through just 415 plate appearances as a rookie, though a torn ligament in his thumb cut his season short in early August. It’s possible that there are some lingering effects of that issue, as Story has batted a woeful .180/.289/.396 with a 37.5 percent strikeout rate through his first 33 games in 2017.
Times were much different when Dave Dombrowski began his baseball career.
The year was 1978, and Dombrowski – a recent graduate of Western Michigan University – had just started working for the Chicago White Sox as a scouting and player development assistant. He arrived in the majors only one year after the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays joined the American League as baseball’s 25th and 26th teams.
Dombrowski quickly caught the eye of legendary general manager Roland Hemond, who became a mentor to him. After just four years with the White Sox, Dombrowski was promoted to assistant general manager – at the age of 25.
It was the first step in the many staircases Dombrowski wanted to climb in the game.
“I remember at that time in my life, there were certain things that I would have liked to have experienced during my career,” said Dombrowski, who is now the president of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox. “The thought process for me was … if I ever had the opportunity to be a general manager, it was something I really wanted to do. And of course, I wanted to be on a club that won a world championship and be in a position where you could put together a very successful organization for an extended time.
“But one of the things that was always intriguing to me was to be with an expansion club and to run an expansion club. I thought the opportunity to start a franchise from the very beginning would be one of the most challenging and exciting situations that you could partake in.”
Dombrowski’s baseball career – which has also included serving as the general manager of the Montreal Expos and the GM and president of both the Florida Marlins and Detroit Tigers – would grant him the opportunity to be a part of a championship team and to build an organization from Day One.