- Michael Fulmer’s rehab from Tommy John surgery is on track, and the Tigers right-hander would likely be ready for a minor league rehab stint in early July if play has resumed by that point, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. Fulmer’s 2018 season was cut short due to knee surgery, and he sustained the UCL tear that led to his Tommy John surgery last spring. A late start to the year and an pushed-back end date would give Fulmer some additional innings, though he’s quick to say that he “[doesn’t] think there are any positives to take out of” the COVID-19 pandemic, even while acknowledging that it could allow him to get in more work in 2020. Fulmer, the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year (159 innings, 3.06 ERA, 5.4 rWAR), hasn’t pitched since September 2018 and will be arbitration-eligible for the third time next winter. He’s a Super Two player and remains under club control through the 2022 season.
It’s now official: MLB rosters are frozen. We won’t see any players coming and going for some times. And it’s unlikely that any new long-term extensions will be announced. But that doesn’t mean such deals won’t be explored. Some may already have advanced nearly to completion before the global pandemic intervened.
While we may have to wait to learn who the targets are and see what deals get done, there’s a silver lining: more time for rampant speculation! Okay, we’re not going to speculate here; rather, we’ll tick through some interesting possibilities on paper. Remember, we’ve seen an increasing prevalence of deals with less-experienced players (even some without any MLB service) and with new player types (early-career relievers and utilitymen).
In the present MLB environment, value is king and the old forms are fading. We’ve already checked in on the NL East, NL Central, NL West, AL East, and AL West. To round things out, here are some possible extension candidates from the AL Central …
Francisco Lindor is the big story. Unfortunately, that ship seems to have sailed: he informed the team he’d like to halt talks since the sides weren’t making progress. Unless there’s a change of heart and another attempt during the current pause, Lindor is not going to sign onto a long-term deal (at least, before he has reached his final season of arbitration eligibility later in 2020).
There are a few other interesting candidates. Top hurlers Mike Clevinger and Brad Hand would be of interest, but the Cleveland org may not be able to afford these high-end veterans. Perhaps a few others would be more achievable targets for the cost-efficient Indians. Outfielder Oscar Mercado has only 139 days of service under his belt, meaning he’s two full seasons away from likely Super Two arbitration qualification. Young starters Shane Bieber and Adam Plutko are each in the 1+ service class, so they shouldn’t cost all that much and could convey significant upside.
There are certainly some interesting questions for the K.C. organization to consider. Slugger Jorge Soler had an eye-popping 2019 … but is he going to keep it going and should the team lock into a player who profiles best as a DH? And how about exciting young shortstop Adalberto Mondesi? There’s no real limit to his ceiling but he had some struggles last year and is still working back from a shoulder injury.
The situation is equally uncertain on the pitching side. Righty Brad Keller has had success through two full MLB seasons but isn’t exactly a top-of-the-rotation arm. You could perhaps make a case for relievers Scott Barlow and Tim Hill, though there doesn’t seem to be a pressing reason to push for a deal with either.
The Detroit MLB roster turned in a roundly awful 2019 season. But it still has a few potential targets. The versatile Niko Goodrum could be a part of quite a few rosters around the game, though there’s no particular need to lock into him for the long haul. There are more interesting candidates on the pitching side: starter Matthew Boyd and reliever Joe Jimenez. The former has a whole lot of upside and three more seasons of team control remaining; perhaps the club could take a bit of a gamble. As for Jimenez, 2020 is something of a boom or bust year — rack up a lot of saves and he’ll get a big first-time arbitration payday; stumble and he may not do very well at all. Perhaps he and the club could take share the risk over a longer term.
It’s probably a bit too soon to consider the top of the farm system for deals. But this time next winter, the Tigers could have a host of interesting candidates.
Both of last winter’s extensions turned out well; the team struck again more recently with Miguel Sano. Perhaps the most obvious remaining candidate is quality young righty Jose Berrios, who is entering his first season of arbitration eligibility. Now that he’s in line for bigger money, it’ll cost more to do a deal. The sides have struck out in previous talks. Byron Buxton is also a 3+ service-class player. There’s likely too much uncertainty in his outlook to structure a deal, but it’s not out of the question.
It’s tempting to stake out a case for a deal with breakout catcher Mitch Garver, but he’s already 29 years of age and still a full season away from arbitration eligibility. Outfielder Eddie Rosario is two seasons from the open market, but that also gives him greater leverage for a higher price tag. Would the Twins really want to commit?
How about a few wild cards? Infielder Luis Arraez should at least be a nice utility player for years to come. There might be upside in an early deal for the plate-discipline magician. And reliever Taylor Rogers is another interesting target. He’s still three seasons from free agency but gets more impressive with each successive campaign. The Twins will owe him a big raise on his $4.45MM salary if he keeps racking up saves; perhaps a deal could suit both sides.
The South Siders have already extended a wide swath of their roster. You might wonder whether there are any candidates left. But the team is exceptionally aggressive in this arena and can’t be counted out on exploring deals with just about anyone of interest.
The most obvious candidate at this point is righty Lucas Giolito. We recently broke down his case for an extension. You could perhaps argue for fellow starters Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease, or even injury rehabbers Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon, but there’s likely too much uncertainty in each of those situations for the sides to see eye to eye. The same is true of outfielder Nomar Mazara.
If you’re looking for a sleeper candidate … how about second baseman Nick Madrigal? The Sox haven’t been shy at all with pre-MLB extensions and the former fourth-overall pick is just about ready for a run at the game’s highest level.
The delayed start to the 2020 season will obviously have a wide range of massive effects on Major League Baseball. Among them: a totally different promotional timeline for some of the game’s most exciting young players. We will never know how things would’ve unfolded. And we don’t yet even know what the parameters are for an altered season. But there’s no doubting the impact.
Typically, opportunities open as rosters evolve over the course of a grueling, 162-game season. Some top prospects force their way up to the majors; others are called upon because a need arises. In a shorter campaign, there’ll be less attrition … though we may also see relaxed roster rules and changes to allocation of service time that could create opportunities.
Still, with more time to examine rosters and think about the state of the game, there’s an opportunity to stop and appreciate the young talent on the cusp of the majors. We’ll run through the most interesting prospects pressing for near-term MLB action. Having already looked at the American League West, let’s head to the AL Central:
Third baseman Nolan Jones won’t be tasked with a big league job out of the gates, but could be an option if there’s a need and/or he develops as hoped. Soon to turn 22, Jones has done nothing but produce in the minors. He’s due for a bit more seasoning at Triple-A but is close to ready.
Otherwise, most of the best-regarded Cleveland farmhands are further off. But there are some other prospects of note who are immediate factors. Relievers Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak could hold key bullpen roles, though the former will first need to get to full health. Southpaw Logan Allen is a swingman option. First baseman Bobby Bradley and outfielder Daniel Johnson are both on the 40-man roster and ready for MLB chances after strong seasons in the upper minors. (Bradley also made a brief 2019 debut but struggled in the bigs.)
The rebuilding Royals need not be in any rush, but top pitching prospects Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar could force the organization’s hand. The former sprinted to Double-A in his first professional season; the latter in his second. They both looked plenty comfortable at the penultimate level of the minors and will likely dictate their own timelines.
Otherwise, there are only a few players with significant “prospect” billing who seem likely to be near-term options. Outfielder Nick Heath and third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez are both on the 40-man roster, so could be called upon to fill any injury gaps. Outfielder Khalil Lee is considered a higher-upside young player, though he’ll need to polish some things up if he’s to force his way onto the MLB roster in 2020. The pitching staff could call upon inexperienced arms including Scott Blewett, Chance Adams, and Richard Lovelady.
The Minnesota organization just keeps getting more intriguing. Depending upon the development of some top prospects and needs at the MLB level, it could be another year for interesting graduations … or one to watch and wait.
Top prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff both have the ability and the positioning to press for the majors in the near term. But will they force the issue … or will there be an opening? The Twins aren’t in need of help at shortstop or in the outfield, at least on paper, but both have star-level upside and will get their chance when the time is right.
Outfielder/first baseman Brent Rooker doesn’t have a clear path to the bigs just yet but could get a look if a need arises. Though he is no longer considered an elite prospect, infielder Nick Gordon is also a near-term option. His situation is helped by the fact he already has a 40-man roster spot. Likewise, having already debuted, lefty Lewis Thorpe is perhaps the best-regarded Minnesota pitching prospect who’s an immediate possibility for the majors, though we’ll surely see fellow lefty Devin Smeltzer and right-hander Randy Dobnak in 2020 as well. Both impressed in their 2019 debuts. Flamethrowing righty Jorge Alcala allowed two runs in 20 innings between Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors after moving to the ’pen in late July.
The Detroit organization is banking on its pitching factory. We’ll begin to see the results in the immediate future. Top starting prospects Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Beau Burrows, and Alex Faedo are all nearing readiness. And the team also has some promising relievers on tap, including Bryan Garcia, Anthony Castro, and perhaps Rule 5 choice Rony Garcia. Precisely when and how these arms will be slotted into the MLB staff remains to be seen. In the starting staff, especially, the organization has others in line first. But mid-season movement is highly possible (depending, in no small part, upon what shape the 2020 season takes).
Though the position-player side of the farm isn’t as loaded, there are quite a few near-term candidates for MLB roles. Infielders Isaac Paredes, Willi Castro, and Sergio Alcantara all have 40-man spots and can be called upon as soon as there’s a need or desire to do so. Ditto outfielder Daz Cameron, a player who has had ups and downs in the minors but still possesses a fairly lofty ceiling. Catcher Jake Rogers had an abysmal debut with the bat but hit well in the upper minors last year and is considered a quality defender.
Last but certainly not least … the South Siders are stacked with young players who’ll be given MLB trials in the near term. Recently extended center fielder Luis Robert leads the charge as one of the game’s most touted prospects. But there are other blue-chippers as well. Given the delay in the season, high-upside righty Michael Kopech will have a chance to finish rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. And recent first-rounder Nick Madrigal has little left to show in the upper minors. He could take over at second base and push Leury Garcia into a utility role.
Those are the big names, but there are others as well. Infielder Danny Mendick had a nice cup of coffee last year and could also be a platoon option at second base or take on a utility job. With a 26th roster spot to work with, bat-first catchers Zack Collins and Seby Zavala could play interesting roles. Righties Zack Burdi and Ian Hamilton will have to overcome health troubles but could end up playing significant roles in the bullpen if they’re able.
- The Tigers announced this week that catcher Jake Rogers was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. That move shouldn’t come as a surprise, particularly after Detroit signed longtime Yankees backstop Austin Romine earlier this winter. The Tigers hope that Rogers can be the catcher of the future, but he floundered in 128 big league plate appearances upon debuting last year. Rogers is only 24 and only had 191 career plate appearances in Triple-A when he was summoned to the Majors last year, so there’s still plenty of hope — particularly considering the manner in which he ripped through Double-A competition last year (.302/.429/.535 — 179 wRC+). Tigers general manager Al Avila suggested this winter that Rogers needs some more seasoning in Triple-A, though, so he’ll get that while Romine and Grayson Greiner comprise the catching tandem at the MLB level.
Tigers lefty Joey Wentz has undergone Tommy John surgery, according to a team announcement. He’s expected to be sidelined for 14 to 16 months, the team provides.
This decision didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, as Wentz had dealt with forearm issues this spring. But the 22-year-old had gone back on the mound recently in hopes of moving past the health problems and preparing for the season.
Just what precipitated the decision on a surgical approach isn’t know. It’s certainly possible that Wentz suffered a setback or that the decision tipped towards an invasive procedure given the delay of the 2020 campaign.
Regardless, it’s now clear that Wentz won’t take the mound again for competitive action until the middle of the 2021 season. The Tigers won’t have any 40-man roster issues to worry about for the 2020 season, as Wentz wasn’t yet on it. But he would be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this coming winter if he isn’t protected.
It’s unfortunate timing for Wentz, who trended up after last summer’s swap. In his five Double-A outings with the Tigers organization, he spun 25 2/3 innings of 2.10 ERA ball while racking up an impressive 37:4 K/BB ratio.
Ilitch Holdings, the entity that owns the Tigers and a host of other sports and entertainment ventures, has announced the creation of a $1MM fund to assist part-time employees, as Tony Paul of the Detroit News first reported. Precise details aren’t yet known, but Paul provides many key facets of the initial effort.
The fund will go to a wide range of workers employed by the Ilitch empire, not just those whose jobs relate to the staging of Tigers games. At least initially, the fund will cover cancelled Spring Training contests but not any games that had been scheduled at Comerica Park.
While there seems to be some room for this effort to expand, it is a welcome first step in the baseball world towards assisting those whose livelihood depends upon the staging of contests that have been postponed (and may end up being canceled in some part). As the Ilitch announcement notes, “reassurance” of this kind is important in such a “time of uncertainty.”
We have previously seen some efforts on the ownership and player levels in the NBA, which just suspended its regular season. MLB Opening Day had been scheduled to begin later in March, so the immediate impact was felt at Spring Training sites in Florida and Arizona.
- Chris McCosky of The Detroit News pegs right-hander Jose Cisnero and left-hander Gregory Soto as potential difference-makers in the Tigers’ bullpen. Manager Ron Gardenhire seems pleased that Cisnero’s fastball reached 97 mph on Tuesday. “That’s the first time we’ve seen him get up to mid-90s,” Gardenhire said. “He’d been 91-92 and we were getting a little concerned.” As for Soto, he hit 100 mph on the gun three times during the same game, impressing pitching coach Rick Anderson. “That was fun to watch,” he said. The Tigers have a lot of uncertainty in their bullpen, even after naming Joe Jimenez the closer Tuesday. Having a couple of fireballing relievers take a step forward would be a welcome addition to a squad that mustered only 47 victories in 2019.
This hardly rates as a surprise. Gardenhire had already made clear he viewed Jimenez as the top ninth-inning option heading into camp (as The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen tweeted late last year).
Still, the confirmation of Jimenez’s role is worthy of note, as it wasn’t fully assured when camp opened. The 25-year-old has a dozen saves under his belt but hardly entered Spring Training with a lengthy history of locking down victories. After four scoreless appearances, Jimenez remains on track for the gig.
More importantly, the decision is critical to Jimenez’s contractual future. He’s readying for a key platform season. Reliever arbitration salaries are highly dependent upon saves tallies, so the opportunity to accrue them from the jump promises to boost his earning power substantially.
It’s possible to imagine some different outcomes for Jimenez’s future. The Tigers could consider approaching him about an extension. It’s also possible to imagine a mid-season trade.
Jimenez was reportedly asked about by contending teams at last year’s trade deadline. While he ended the season with only a 4.37 ERA, his second-straight campaign in that ballpark, Jimenez racked up a hefty 12.4 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 while delivering a 14.8% swinging-strike rate. If he can make a few tweaks — such as limiting the long ball (nearly two per nine in 2019) — Jimenez could emerge as a truly dominant late-inning reliever.
The Royals and Tigers have “shown interest” in A’s utilityman Jorge Mateo, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. Other clubs, too, have seemingly checked in, although one A’s source tells Rosenthal overall interest in the 24-year-old is “tepid.”
Mateo hit a decent .289/.330/.504 with 19 home runs and 24 stolen bases in Triple-A in 2019. That marked a significant step up from his abysmal showing there the year prior. He’s in the mix with Franklin Barreto, Vimael Machin and Tony Kemp for the seemingly wide open second base job in Oakland. There’s some upside in that group, but none of the players involved are yet established. More challenging, it’s not a group that comes with a ton of roster flexibility.
Mateo, Barreto and Kemp are out of minor-league options, meaning each has to make the active roster or be exposed to waivers. Machin, meanwhile, is a Rule V pick; he, too, must spend the entire season on the 26-man or be exposed to waivers (and if unclaimed, offered back to the Cubs’ organization).
It’s difficult to imagine a situation in which all of Mateo, Barreto, Machin and Kemp make the season-opening roster. There’s little reason not to explore the trade market for whomever the front office isn’t comfortable with making the roster.
Mateo and Barreto, also 24, would figure to draw some interest. Each was once a highly-touted prospect with youth still on his side. Neither has a strong MLB track record- Mateo has yet to reach the majors at all- but there are likely teams intrigued by their physical tools and generally solid minor-league performances.
The Royals and Tigers each seem like sensible matches if the A’s were to part with Mateo (or Barreto for that matter, although there’s no indication either team has expressed interest in him). Unlike Oakland, neither K.C. nor Detroit has much of a chance of contending for a playoff spot in 2020. There’d be limited harm in giving Mateo an extended MLB look in hopes he can make good on his past prospect status. He wouldn’t fetch nearly as much in trade as he would’ve a few years ago, but it’s not hard to imagine the A’s extracting something of value, whether from the Tigers, Royals, or another organization.
Notably, the Tigers have season-opening waiver priority leaguewide. (They’re followed by the Orioles, Marlins, then the Royals). If Oakland can’t come to an agreement on a trade but decides not to carry Mateo on the season-opening roster, Detroit would have first crack at him on waivers. That could inspire some urgency on Kansas City’s part to make a deal, depending on the extent of their interest in the speedster.
We’ve already looked at potential bounce-back candidates from the American League West and the AL East. Let’s now move to the AL Central and begin with established hitters who may be able to rebound in 2020.
Eddie Rosario, OF, Twins:
The free-swinging Rosario was a 32-home run hitter last season, but despite that, his fWAR plummeted from 3.5 in 2018 to 1.2. His overall line in 590 plate appearances (.276/.300/.500 – good for a 103 wRC+) was close to average, owing in part to the sport’s fifth-lowest walk rate (3.7 percent). And whereas Rosario received positive marks as a fielder in 2018, he notched minus-8 Defensive Runs Saved, a minus-5.6 Ultimate Zone Rating and the game’s worst Outs Above Average mark (minus-17) a year ago.
Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians:
Ramirez was one of the most valuable players in baseball from 2017-18, though a slow start and a 5 percent-plus drop in walk rate last year doomed the switch hitter to a mediocre .255/.327/.479 line in 542 plate appearances. That said, Ramirez still finished with 23 homers, 24 steals and 3.3 fWAR, so he wasn’t exactly a drain on Cleveland’s lineup. And Ramirez was infinitely better after the All-Star break (176 wRC+ in the second half, 68 in the first), giving the Indians hope he’ll be at his best from the get-go this year.
Franmil Reyes, DH/OF, Indians:
While Ramirez came alive in the second half of the season, Reyes was somewhat disappointing after the Indians acquired him from the Padres in July. The 24-year-old still concluded with 37 HRs, but he saw his wRC+ (109) drop by 20 points from the prior season and his on-base percentage go down by 30 points. In all, he was a .249/.310/.512 hitter. Nevertheless, the powerful 24-year-old did rank in baseball’s 98th percentile in hard-hit rate and its 99th percentile in average exit velocity.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B/DH, Tigers:
Cabrera is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters of all-time, but it’s fair to say he’s nowhere near the offensive force he was during his halcyon days. Thanks in part to knee problems, the 36-year-old was pedestrian at the plate in 2019, when he batted .282/.346/.398 with 12 home runs and a career-low ISO (.116) across 549 appearances. Cabrera also posted one of the lowest walk percentages of his career (8.7) and, according to Statcast, saw his average exit velocity fall by 4 mph and his hard-hit rate drop by 10 percent compared to the numbers he logged during an injury-shortened 2018. Regardless of whether Cabrera rebounds, the Tigers aren’t going to contend in 2020. However, it would be reassuring for the team to see a glimpse of vintage Cabrera, who’s still owed $132MM through 2023.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Tigers:
One of Cabrera’s newest teammates in Detroit, Cron’s coming off a so-so season with the division-rival Twins. Although Cron did hit 25 home runs, the type of production he recorded as a Ray the previous season wasn’t really there. He wound up with a .253/.311/.469 line (101 wRC+, down from 123 in 2018) over 499 trips to the plate. There were some positive signs, though: Cron’s strikeout rate went down by 4.5 percent, his swinging-strike percentage declined by roughly 2 percent and he was a Statcast darling, ranking near the top of the league in several categories – including hard-hit percentage (82nd percentile), average exit velocity (84th) and expected weighted on-base average (86th).
Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Tigers:
Candelario was a 2.5-fWAR player in 2018, his first full season in the majors, but devolved into a replacement-level performer last season. The switch-hitting 26-year-old batted a weak .203/.306/.337 with eight homers in 386 PA, and the Tigers banished him to the minors for a good portion of the season because of his uninspiring output at the sport’s highest level. Statcast didn’t offer any reasons for hope, either, ranking Candelario in the game’s 17th percentile in xwOBA, its 24th percentile in hard-hit rate and its 31st percentile in average exit velocity.
Salvador Perez, C, Royals:
The typically durable Perez, 29, didn’t play at all last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, though it seems he’s coming along well in his recovery. Assuming he does stay on track, the Royals will have to hope for better numbers than what the highly respected six-time All-Star offered when he last took the field in 2018. Back then, Perez registered an unspectacular .235/.274/.439 line in 544 PA and earned bottom-of-the-barrel grades as a pitch framer; however, he did throw out an incredible 48 percent of would-be base stealers.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Royals:
Once a quality prospect, Franco seldom lived up to the hype in Philadelphia from 2014-19. Last season was especially rough for Franco, who hit a disastrous .234/.297/.409 in 428 attempts en route to minus-0.5 fWAR. The rebuilding Royals then bought low on Franco in free agency, signing him for a $2.95MM guarantee. Franco’s still just 27, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration in 2021, so he’s worth a shot for Kansas City.
Ryan O’Hearn, 1B, Royals:
O’Hearn was fantastic during his 170-PA major league debut in 2018, but things fell apart over a much larger sample size last season. The 26-year-old amassed 370 PA and stumbled to a .195/.281/.369 showing. A 63-point drop in batting average on balls in play (.230) didn’t help, though, and O’Hearn did put up above-average exit velocity and hard-hit marks. However, he only ranked in the league’s 24th percentile in xwOBA (.308, compared to a .279 real wOBA).