- The Red Sox seem to be inclined to carry the out-of-options Blake Swihart on the active roster to open the season, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston reports. While the club obviously feels it doesn’t want to lose out on his upside, that decision would also create some constraints elsewhere — perhaps forcing the Sox to make a move instead with one of their utility infielders. Indeed, as Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal writes (subscription link), the Sox have begun putting out feelers with other organizations regarding Deven Marrero (who is also out of option) and Brock Holt. While it’s not clear that either has drawn significant interest, it seems the team is preparing to move one of them or another similar player as part of its roster-maintenance efforts at the tail end of camp.
- Manny Machado’s move back to shortstop was inspired by his love for the position, the Orioles star tells ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick, not as a way to better position himself for free agency next winter. “I think a lot of people are saying, ’He’s going over there because he wants more money or more value.’ It doesn’t come down to money or more value,” Machado said. “I’ve already established myself as a player. I’m worth what I’m worth already. It doesn’t matter if I’m at short or third. The transition over there is because that’s where my heart is. That’s what I do.” Machado’s preparation for the position switch included changes to his diet and offseason training regimen, and scouts have given promising early reviews about Machado’s defensive prowess at shortstop.
- Kendrys Morales lost weight in the offseason and is hoping to adjust his swing so that he hits fewer grounders in 2018, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca writes. Due to his lack of speed and opposing fielders playing the shift, Morales grounded into 22 double plays last season, which helped contributed to his below-average 97 wRC+ despite 28 homers and lots of hard contact. The subpar offensive performance and Morales’ lack of defensive contributions made him a sub-replacement level (-0.6 fWAR) player in his first year with the Blue Jays.
The minor league contract left-hander Wade Miley signed with the Brewers last month contains a March 22 opt-out clause, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com tweets. Miley can ask for his release if the Brewers don’t inform him that he has made the club by then, McCalvy adds. The latest we’ll know Miley’s fate is March 24, as he’s an Article XX(B) free agent whom Milwaukee must either cut loose or put on its roster by that date. The 31-year-old Miley has a legitimate chance to win a spot in the Brewers’ rotation, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentintel suggested Saturday.
- More on the Brewers, who are “monitoring the catching market,” according to Haudricourt. Their backstops at the moment are Manny Pina and Jett Bandy, while Stephen Vogt will open the season on the disabled list, manager Craig Counsell told McCalvy and other reporters Sunday. Assuming the Brewers don’t change their minds and release Vogt, his $3.065MM salary will become guaranteed on Opening Day. Vogt has been out since late February with a capsule strain in his right shoulder. He has a fan in Brewers general manager David Stearns, who said (via Haudricourt): “We want him here. Stephen brings a lot to this team.”
- Even after acquiring Brandon Drury from the Diamondbacks in late February, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the team would give Miguel Andujar a chance to win its starting third base job. That bid officially came to an end Sunday, as the Yankees optioned the highly touted Andujar to Triple-A, setting up Drury to start at the hot corner. The 23-year-old Andujar held his own during spring action, though, with a .916 OPS in a team-leading 42 at-bats.
- Red Sox infielder Deven Marrero is drawing interest from other clubs, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. Marrero’s out of options, meaning the Red Sox will have to roster him, deal him or risk losing him for nothing in the coming week-plus. The 27-year-old saw action across the infield with the Red Sox from 2015-17, but he produced a meager .208/.259/.309 batting line over that 258-plate appearance sample size.
- Before reliever Justin Grimm signed with the Royals on Sunday, he consulted with his friend, former Cubs teammate and ex-KC closer Wade Davis, per Maria Torres of the Kansas City Star. Davis, a Royal from 2013-16 (and a World Series champion in ’15), offered glowing reviews for the franchise and the city, which helped the Royals reel in Grimm. “He had really nice things to say about the city of Kansas City, the organization, the training staff, the coaches, from the top down,” Grimm said. “That’s one guy that I look up to … It definitely swayed my decision.”
With J.D. Martinez heading to Boston, the Red Sox are facing somewhat of a roster crunch, writes Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston. It is not, however, at first base as many have suggested. Manager Alex Cora suggested Tuesday that he views Hanley Ramirez as his No. 3 hitter and primary first baseman, even though the team re-upped Mitch Moreland on a two-year deal this winter. As Drellich points out, though, each of Moreland, Ramirez and Martinez have dealt with injury issues in recent years, so Moreland still figures to get his share of at-bats.
Rather, Drellich observes, the bigger crunch will be on the bench. Sandy Leon is the favorite to serve as the backup catcher, and one of Moreland or Ramirez will be on the bench most days. The Sox have two out-of-options players in Deven Marrero and Blake Swihart that are current bench options, but they also have Brock Holt who agreed to a $2.2MM arbitration salary earlier this winter. That deal, like the vast majority of arb deals, is non-guaranteed, but Holt’s versatility has been valuable for the Sox in recent seasons and he seems unlikely to be cut loose. Holt does have minor league options remaining, though obviously paying him to play in Triple-A is suboptimal as well.
A bit more on the Sox and their division…
- The Red Sox are unlikely to trade Jackie Bradley after signing J.D. Martinez this week, tweets MLB.com’s Jon Morosi. That’s not much of a surprise, as Bradley’s name hasn’t come up on the rumor circuit much in recent months, and the trio of Bradley, Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts should be among the best defensive outfield units in all of baseball.
- The Blue Jays are still seeking upgrades after last week’s signing of lefty Jaime Garcia to round out the rotation, and GM Ross Atkins suggested to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet that there’s a strong likelihood that they’ll make a move before Opening Day (Twitter links). Atkins somewhat candidly said he felt there’s about a 90 percent chance the Jays have another addition in store, citing a reliever as the likeliest pickup. Notably, Atkins added that improving at backup catcher, where light-hitting Luke Maile projects as the reserve behind Russell Martin, “is less likely at this point.”
- Troy Tulowitzki is making progress from last year’s ankle injury, which included torn ligaments in his foot as well as a compression factor, writes Nicholson-Smith in a full column. However, he has yet to begin running this spring. Tulowitzki’s goal is to be ready for Opening Day, though the 33-year-old veteran said he’s not putting any timelines on his recovery and won’t risk a setback by pushing himself too far. He fielded grounders thrown to him by the coaching staff today, though the drills “weren’t designed to test his range too much” just yet, per Nicholson-Smith. Even if Tulo isn’t ready for Opening Day, the Blue Jays are much better prepared from a depth vantage point up the middle, where they’ll have offseason trade acquisitions Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz backing up Tulowitzki and Devon Travis.
- Following the trade of Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, the Rays plan to use a four-man rotation of Chris Archer, Nathan Eovaldi, Jake Faria and Blake Snell for the first six weeks of the season or so, manager Kevin Cash tells Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The increased amount of off-days in the schedule this year due to the season’s earlier start will allow the club to use fifth starter Matt Andriese as a multi-inning reliever. The Rays, unsurprisingly, plan to keep top prospects like Brent Honeywell in the minors to begin the season, which will allow them to gain extra control and avoid Super Two status for arbitration purposes.
- The most likely scenario for the Yankees and newly acquired Brandon Drury is that Drury opens the season as the team’s starting third baseman, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. That’d allow the Yankees to go with either Ronald Torreyes or veteran Danny Espinosa at second base and avoid rushing prospects Miguel Andujar or Gleyber Torres early in the season. Interestingly, despite the fact that Torres missed half the 2017 season with Tommy John surgery (in his non-throwing arm), the Yankees view Torres as closer to the Majors, per Sherman. Andujar is nearly two years older than Torres and has twice the Triple-A experience, though neither has even appeared in 60 games at the top minor league level yet.
It’s likely too soon to expect the Red Sox to make any significant moves — indeed, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said yesterday that the market hasn’t really developed yet, as Alex Speier of the Boston Globe tweets. But that doesn’t mean the club is not readying for the deadline. As Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes, third base is an obvious area to target — even with Pablo Sandoval returning from the DL. Dombrowski acknowledged that the veteran’s “so-so” play early on has left the organization feeling unsettled at the hot corner. “We think he can do it,” said Dombrowski. “But now he’s got to go out and do it for us.” Of course, there are some other internal possibilities. Deven Marrero has impressed with the glove and hit two home runs last night, though his overall offensive work (in the both the majors and at Triple-A) remains uninspiring. And then there’s top prospect Rafael Devers, who’s playing at Double-A at twenty years of age.
While we watch to see how the third base situation shakes out in Boston, here are some more notes from the AL East:
- It’ll be interesting to see whether and when the Yankees make their own decisions in the infield. As ESPN.com’s Andrew Marchand writes, top prospect Gleyber Torres could represent an alternative to Chase Headley at third base. Torres, who draws big praise for his poise, just earned a promotion to the highest level of the minors after posting a strong .273/.367/.496 batting line (with 17 walks against 21 strikeouts) in 139 plate appearances at Double-A.
- The Yankees will soon face a decision on veteran reliever Ernesto Frieri, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag notes on Twitter. Frieri, 31, can opt out from his minors deal tomorrow. He has been effective through twenty Triple-A frames, allowing five earned runs on just 11 hits while compiling 23 strikeouts against eight walks. Frieri was last a reliable MLB contributor in 2013.
- Blue Jays outfielder Steve Pearce is still “at least” a few more weeks away, manager John Gibbons tells MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm (Twitter link). The 34-year-old went to the DL recently with a calf strain. He had been off to a rough start to the season, slashing just .205/.256/.373 with 24 strikeouts and just five walks through 90 plate appearances. Fortunately for Toronto, Ezequiel Carrera has hit well in Pearce’s stead.
- It seems that Orioles closer Zach Britton is proceeding as hoped as he works back from a forearm strain. Per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, via Twitter, Britton is now ramping up his throwing on flat ground. It doesn’t appear that he has taken to the mound as of yet, though there also haven’t been any setbacks so far. While the club isn’t yet ready to put a specific timeline on the lefty, the original schedule still seems reasonable.
The Red Sox have designated catcher Erik Kratz for assignment and optioned struggling right-hander Joe Kelly to Triple-A Pawtucket, the team announced. (CSN New England’s Sean McAdam tweeted the Kratz DFA prior to the announcement.) Additionally, Dustin Pedroia has landed on the 15-day DL due to a hamstring injury. In a series of corresponding moves, Boston has recalled Jackie Bradley Jr. from Pawtucket and selected the contracts of shortstop Deven Marrero and right-hander Jonathan Aro.
The biggest item of note in this story, for Red Sox fans, will be the departure of Kelly from the rotation, at least for the time being. One of two players acquired from the Cardinals in what now looks to be a lopsided John Lackey trade (the other was Allen Craig), Kelly has made 24 starts in a Red Sox uniform, with the cumulative result being a 4.96 ERA to go along with 6.7 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9. His 4.20 ERA in 2014 was significantly better than his 5.67 mark this season, but his FIP and xFIP marks over the two seasons are pretty similar, each pegging his true talent in the 4.10 to 4.40 range.
Kelly’s struggles this year have come largely as a result of an inability to strand hitters, but some pundits have suggested that he may simply be better off being converted to a relief pitcher in the long run. Whether that outcome proves to be the case remains to be seen, but one can imagine Kelly’s fastball (currently averaging 95.7 mph) playing up even better in the bullpen. For the time being, at least, Kelly will work in the Pawtucket rotation, tweets the Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato.
Kelly has already accumulated enough service time in 2015 to reach three years of Major League service and thus qualify for arbitration following the season. As such, there’s no risk of this option — even if he’s left in the minors for a significant amount of time — delaying his path to free agency. The struggles and demotion will, however, undoubtedly impact his earning potential in his first trip through the arbitration process.
As for the 35-year-old Kratz, he was claimed off waivers from the Royals on Sunday due to some concern over an injury to Blake Swihart. However, Swihart is healthy and back in the lineup, so Kratz’s time in a Boston uniform will end without so much as a single in-game appearance over the few days that he was on the roster. A career .217/.270/.400 hitter, Kratz has proven himself capable of hitting for power but at the cost of questionable batting average and OBP marks. Defensively, Kratz’s 31 percent caught-stealing rate is above average, and he’s received plus ratings in terms of pitch framing.
Here’s the latest trade buzz about Phillies lefty Cole Hamels…
- “The Cubs have continued to touch base with the Phillies” about Hamels, sources tell Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. The likes of Kris Bryant or Addison Russell are “unquestionably off the table,” yet Chicago has enough prospect depth to get the Phillies’ attention. Whether it’s Hamels or another notable arm, Wittenmyer expects the Cubs to target starting pitching at the trade deadline.
- The Red Sox have long been connected to Hamels in trade talks, and while those rumors have primarily swirled around Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe notes that the Phillies also “like” Sox youngsters Jackie Bradley, Deven Marrero, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson and possibly others. The Phillies have been insisting on Swihart or Betts in any Hamels deal and the Sox have been firm that neither player is being traded. Also from Cafardo’s mailbag piece, he feels Boston should add an ace but thinks the team will give Rodriguez or Johnson a shot in the rotation before they make a major trade to upgrade their pitching.
- Of course, there is no evidence that the Phillies will trade Hamels (or Jonathan Papelbon) any time soon, if at all. GM Ruben Amaro said as much to MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, noting that “I have no mandate to trade players. These are not financial deals. These are baseball deals. That’s the beauty of the flexibility our ownership group is giving us. This is really about doing baseball deals. We don’t have to move money.”
The Marlins’ best offer for Francisco Rodriguez was for two years and $10MM, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. While that was not enough to convince K-Rod to part from the Brewers, it does represent a relatively significant chunk of change that the team could presumably tap into at some point in the future.
Here’s more from the eastern divisions:
- Braves owner Liberty Media continues to provide some interesting insight into the club through its legally-required Securities and Exchange Commission filings, as Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains. In addition to ticking through the accounting for last year’s emergency pickup of Ervin Santana and release of Dan Uggla, the filing documents that the organization has already borrowed about $100MM from credit facilities arranged to help fund its portion of the funding of its new stadium.
- Atlanta’s biggest write-off may be yet to come, as struggling and now injured center fielder Melvin Upton could eventually go the way of Uggla. For now, the team is focused on finding a temporary replacement and getting him back up to speed as soon as possible, as David O’Brien of the AJC reports. One possible fill-in, prospect Todd Cunningham, says that the players in camp “can kind of smell blood in the water,” while Eric Young Jr. called it an “unfortunate situation” but acknowledged that “you’re kidding anybody if you don’t see it as an opportunity.” The most interesting possibility could be Eury Perez, who is just 24 and has a solid track record in the upper minors but never had a real chance with his prior clubs.
- The Phillies have had one of their top advisers, Charlie Kerfeld, watching Red Sox prospects as the clubs continue to eye one another over left-handed pitching, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. There is a sense now that Cliff Lee could be dealt before Cole Hamels, Cafardo adds, though that doesn’t necessarily mean Boston is the inevitable destination.
- As Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reports, there are no signs of progress on a Hamels deal. The Sox are more likely to be willing to part with players like Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero, and Jackie Bradley Jr. in any trade scenarios than they are some of their other top young players, Mastrodonato adds.
The Yankees aren’t looking into the Padres’ trio of starters (Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and former Yankee Ian Kennedy) right now, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News tweets. San Diego is known to be listening to offers on the three right-handers but the Yankees aren’t sure any of them are actually available. Here’s some more from around the AL East…
- The Rockies contacted the Orioles about a trade that would’ve sent Drew Stubbs to Baltimore in exchange for pitching, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko reports (Twitter link). The departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis has left the O’s thin in the corner outfield spots, with Alejandro De Aza, David Lough and Steve Pearce (who will also see a lot of DH time) as the current candidates. The right-handed hitting Stubbs seems like a good complement for De Aza and Lough, who both hit left-handed.
- In an interview with MLB Network Radio yesterday (hat tip to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun), Orioles executive VP Dan Duquette said he is looking to add catching depth. Matt Wieters may not be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in time for Opening Day, so the O’s may pursue a veteran backup to at least share the job with Caleb Joseph.
- Prospect Deven Marrero makes sense as a trade chip for the Red Sox to offer to teams in need of a young shortstop, though WEEI.com’s Alex Speier reports that the Mets and Athletics have doubts that Marrero can hit enough for an everyday role.
Jake Peavy acknowledges that he had an up-and-down season and tells Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com that he feels he has a lot to prove in free agency. However, the 33-year-old righty tells Crasnick that he actually enjoys the skepticism surrounding him after his struggles in Boston and in the postseason with San Francisco. “I need to have people doubting me, because that’s when you dig deep and find out what you’re made of,” Peavy explains. Crasnick spoke to a number of scouts and executives that all feel Peavy is a perfectly capable fourth starter at this point in his career, even if he’s not capable of being the ace he once was. “He’s not a No. 1 or a 2 by any stretch,” a scout tells Crasnick. “But if you have a deep team and you can give him a [Tim] Hudson type of deal and plug him into the 4 or 5 spot, I think he’s worth that.” (Hudson signed for two years and $23MM.) Crasnick hears that the Marlins have already had discussions with Peavy’s camp this offseason. Crasnick’s article has several excellent quotes from scouts and execs on Peavy’s current free agent stock and abilities on the mound.
Here’s more from baseball’s Eastern divisions…
- John Harper of the New York Daily News still isn’t convinced that the Yankees won’t make a run at Max Scherzer, and he spoke with one executive (that he describes as “friendly” with GM Brian Cashman) who shares that view. The exec noted that while Cashman would love to build from within and hates the idea of surrendering a first-round pick, turning to Scherzer and Andrew Miller while letting David Robertson sign elsewhere would net the Yankees a fairly similar selection to their No. 19 overall pick. Harper also wonders if the leak of the Yankees’ interest in Miller was, to some extent, a deliberate tactic to put extra pressure on Robertson to re-sign.
- Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that the Yankees are currently more likely to sign Miller than Robertson, though he eventually notes that the Bombers haven’t ruled out signing both relievers to pair with the electric Dellin Betances as a dynamic bullpen trio. Heyman, too, notes that the Yankees likely see some merit in the idea of pursuing the slightly cheaper Miller while letting Robertson walk to earn a compensatory draft pick.
- Though much has been made about the Cubs, Rockies, D’Backs and Mariners as a potential trade partner to fill the Mets’ hole at shortstop, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that the Red Sox are an interesting partner as well. Prospect Deven Marrero is said to be available in trades, Martino writes, and the Red Sox have a well-documented need for starting pitching, making the two sides a good fit on paper.
- The Orioles have lost Nelson Cruz to free agency and are facing the possibility of losing Nick Markakis as well, prompting Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports to list a short-term deal with Colby Rasmus as a possibility for the O’s should Markakis land elsewhere (Twitter link).
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that some in the Red Sox organization see Xander Bogaerts as a young Hanley Ramirez. “They are both fun-loving kids who love playing the game,” Red Sox first base/outfield coach Arnie Beyeler said. “I didn’t see Hanley after the Dominican League, but I remember him as a kid who once he got his chance just did things better than everyone else. He ran better, threw better, hit better. It was easy to see that he was going to develop into a very good baseball player. And you see the same things with Xander.” More from today’s column..
- Major league sources tell Cafardo that the Cubs are very serious about Jon Lester while the Giants are becoming more serious about him. Meanwhile, the Yankees are thinking about getting serious about Lester but haven’t committed to doing so. The Red Sox remain interested but it remains to be seen how far they’ll go.
- If the Red Sox sign Jon Lester, Cafardo can see them moving Yoenis Cespedes for a No. 2 or No. 3 starter such as Reds hurlers Mat Latos or Mike Leake. The Reds would have a need for Cespedes’s bat, but they would also probably have a need for shortstop Deven Marrero. Meanwhile, Johnny Cueto would cost Cespedes and maybe two top prospects, but it would be tempting for Boston.
- The Tigers could also be a match in a Cespedes deal. If those talks were to take place, the Red Sox would have more interest in Rick Porcello than Anibal Sanchez. David Price could be a possibility if the Red Sox whiff on Lester, but that would be costly.
- It’s strange to some that the Yankees haven’t re-signed closer David Robertson by now. One rival AL East GM wonders if the Yankees might change direction and go after someone like Andrew Miller, a power lefty, to go along with Dellin Betances.
- It’s hard to tell whether the Nationals are serious about trading Jordan Zimmermann because they have the resources to sign him and he’s their best pitcher. “It doesn’t hurt to listen,” said one NL executive about GM Mike Rizzo’s strategy. “If you get overwhelmed, you do it. If you don’t, you keep him. Pretty simple, actually.” Cafardo writes that the Red Sox, Rangers, and Cubs seem to have the pieces to get a deal done.
- There are teams interested in Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz. “There’s a lot of talent there that hasn’t come out,” one NL scout said.