- With a number of veterans in camp on minor league deals and quite a few jobs still to be decided, the Giants’ final roster cuts “are going to come down to the end of camp,” Bruce Bochy told reporters (including MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom). “I’ve already had some guys tell me, ’I’m glad I’m not you.’ I mean, they’re all good guys, experienced guys, and they’re doing a good job,” Bochy said. As Bloom notes, versatility will be a big factor in the Giants’ decision, as a player who can handle multiple positions is a necessity given the team’s needs and lack of bench space. Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Hill, and Mike Morse are a few of the notable veteran names still fighting for jobs.
- Gregor Blanco received interest from the Orioles and Tigers this winter, but the outfielder tells Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic that he chose to sign a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks in part because of their running game and aggressive style of play. Detroit’s connection to Blanco was previously reported, and while this is the first time the O’s have been linked to Blanco this winter, he makes sense as a target given how Baltimore searched the market for left-handed hitting, versatile outfielders for much of the offseason.
- Austin Voth has been somewhat of an overlooked figure behind the Nationals’ other star prospects, though as Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post writes, Voth could now emerge in an important role as Washington’s top piece of starter depth. Voth is battling with A.J. Cole, Vance Worley, and Erick Fedde for the “sixth starter” role, which is of no small importance given the injuries that inevitably crop up for a pitching staff over the course of a season. A fifth-round pick for the Nats in 2013, Voth has a 2.84 ERA, 3.33 K/BB rate and 8.7 K/9 over 487 1/3 career innings in the minors.
- With so many young Cubs stars already in place around the diamond, prospect Ian Happ is looking to help his chances of finding a regular role by playing multiple positions a la Ben Zobrist, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com writes. “He’s a perfect example to a young player on how to stay in the game and contribute. That’s who I want to emulate,” Happ said. Originally drafted as an outfielder and second baseman as the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Happ has already played second and all three outfield spots in the minors, plus he has been doing some work as a third baseman this spring. In another piece on Happ, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat notes that Happ is developing well at second and is already showing some fine skills at the plate. Happ is yet another impressive youngster in the Cubs’ pipeline, as he featured on top-100 prospect lists from MLB.com (28th), Baseball Prospectus (54th), Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law (both 63rd).
Longtime Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco has agreed to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training, Blanco’s agent, Wil Polidor, tells Manolo Hernandez of BeisbolPorGotas.com (Twitter link). SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets that Blanco would receive a $1MM base salary upon making the Major League roster. He adds that the deal contains $2.7MM worth of incentives and an April 1 opt-out date.
Just this afternoon, Blanco had been linked to the Tigers, but it instead appears that he’ll remain in the NL West and compete for a backup job with the D-backs. Arizona is slated to deploy David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Yasmany Tomas in the outfield. Jeremy Hazelbaker and Socrates Brito are among the fellow outfielders against whom Blanco will compete for a reserve job under new manager Torey Lovullo. While each is already on the 40-man roster, the veteran Blanco could certainly give him a run for that roster spot in Spring Training.
Blanco, who turned 32 last month, has spent the past five season in San Francisco. Though he struggled to a .224/.309/.311 batting line last season, he’s been a largely productive reserve outfielder with the Giants. From 2012-15, Blanco slashed .264/.343/.367 with 18 homers and 69 stolen bases across 1780 plate appearances while spending time at all three outfield spots. The bulk of his outfield work in the Majors has come in center field, where he’s graded out as a roughly average defender, but Blanco has more than 2000 innings in left field and another 900+ in right field as well.
The Tigers have opened a dialogue with free-agent outfielders Peter Bourjos and Gregor Blanco, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter links). There’s no agreement close with either player, but the two are under consideration as the team looks to fill its void in center field.
Detroit opened the offseason by trading incumbent center fielder Cameron Maybin, which seemed at the time to be one of several potential moves to shed veterans. But further deals have not been forthcoming, in part due to larger market forces as well as complications with the contracts of the team’s established players (many of which are significant deals that include no-trade protections).
[RELATED: Tigers Depth Chart]
As things stand, then, the Tigers appear set to host a camp battle featuring some internal options and whatever veterans they add. Current players in the mix include the right-handed-hitting JaCoby Jones and lefties Anthony Gose, Tyler Collins, and Alex Presley.
Clearly, there’s little in the way of established production in that group, so it stands to reason that Detroit would at least seek to build out the group heading into Spring Training. Beyond Bourjos and Blanco, current free agents with substantial experience in center include righty bats like Austin Jackson, Desmond Jennings, and Drew Stubbs as well as southpaw hitters such as Michael Bourn and Sam Fuld. Switch hitter Angel Pagan could conceivably also be an option, though perhaps he’ll cost more than Detroit is inclined to spend.
As for the two names now known to be possibilities, it’s easy to see the potential for a match. Bourjos, 29, has long been known for his speed and glovework, though he’s an uneven performer at the plate. All told, he ended an up-and-down 2016 season with 383 plate appearances of .251/.292/.389 hitting. Bourjos hits from the right side, while the 33-year-old Blanco is a lefty. He had turned in two straight quality campaigns before a downturn in 2016, when he slashed .224/.309/.311 over 274 trips to the plate. After grading as a sturdy defender for much of his career, Blanco hasn’t drawn great reviews for his glove in recent seasons.
No-trade protection (whether in the form of contract clauses or 10-and-5 rights) have long been a factor in deal-making. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince chronicles some famous instances throughout baseball history of players blocking trades, and some current players mentioned on the rumor mill whose ability to be moved is complicated by their own full or partial no-trade clauses. Here’s more from around baseball…
- Mets center fielder Juan Lagares suffered an injury while making a diving catch for his Dominican winter league team, ESPN’s Adam Rubin reports. X-rays were negative, though Lagares will return to New York to be examined by team doctors. Lagares has himself received some trade attention this offseason but New York wants to keep the slick-fielding but light-hitting outfielder in a backup role.
- It doesn’t look like the Giants will be re-signing free agents Gregor Blanco, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Angel Pagan, Jake Peavy or Sergio Romo, CSNBayArea.com’s Alex Pavlovic writes. Romo has received “at least a couple of offers” from other clubs, according to Giants sources. Lopez is likely to retire unless he gets “a great offer” from an East Coast team so he can stay close to his home in Georgia.
- GM David Stearns declined to say whether or not the Brewers were one of the teams Greg Holland personally met with at the Winter Meetings, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports. The Brewers did scout Holland’s showcase last month, however, so the Crew can be added to the long list of teams that have some degree of interest in Holland after his return from Tommy John surgery. The Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees, Giants, Red Sox, Indians, Rays, Mariners, Nationals, Padres, Twins, Mets, Phillies, Tigers, Blue Jays and Royals are all known to have sent scouts to the showcase or have other been linked to Holland this winter.
- Gerrit Cole tells MLB.com’s Adam Berry that he has yet to talk to the Pirates about his 2017 contract. MLB Trade Rumors projects Cole to earn $4.2MM in his first time through the arbitration process following a season that saw him post a 3.88 ERA, 2.72 K/BB rate and 7.6 K/9 over 116 innings. While the numbers are solid, they were also Cole’s worst in his four big league seasons, as he suffered through an injury-plagued year. This performance dip and rather checkered health history could be reasons why the Pirates aren’t planning to discuss an extension with Cole and agent Scott Boras over the winter, though Cole said he is healthy and will begin his offseason throwing program on Monday.
Padres GM A.J. Preller is back on the job now that his 30-day suspension has ended, though both Preller and the organization may need more time to repair their reputations around baseball. ESPN’s Buster Olney (subscription required) reports that several teams will adjust how they negotiate with San Diego from now on, while one team has simply refused to consider any trades with Preller and the Padres. There is also still “a river of industry speculation” that the Padres could face lawsuits about their handling of player medical information. Here’s some more from around the NL West…
- In a reader mailbag piece about several Giants-related topics, MLB.com’s Chris Haft doesn’t see San Francisco re-signing free agents Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Angel Pagan or Jake Peavy, though there’s a chance Gregor Blanco could return. The probable departures of Romo and Lopez could be part of a wider bullpen shakeup for the Giants, as GM Bobby Evans has said that finding a closer is a top offseason priority.
- The Rockies’ managerial search is discussed by Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post as part of his own reader maibag. Saunders feels the team’s new skipper should come from outside the organization in order to bring a fresh perspective. It seems like Colorado is more apt to hire a manager who leans more towards the front office’s analytical mindset. Former manager Walt Weiss “embraced the statistics and analytics to a large degree,” though ultimately preferred to rely on gut-level calls and felt he was being interfered with by the front office. The well-documented discord between Weiss and GM Jeff Bridich also didn’t help things, as you might expect.
- The Diamondbacks lost three members of the scouting department in part due to the front office uncertainty prior to hiring of new GM Mike Hazen, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. Assistant director of scouting Brendan Domaracki and longtime scout Howard McCullough (who had been with the D’Backs since the franchise began operations) both left for positions with the Mariners, while amateur scout Frankie Thon Jr. will join the Angels as their new international crosschecker and assistant director of international scouting.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw tossed a 40-pitch bullpen session today and is slated to throw a 60-pitch simulated game against live hitters later this week, writes J.P. Hoornstra of the L.A. News Group. There was talk of Kershaw making a pair of rehab starts, manager Dave Roberts tells Hoornstra, but that number has been dropped to one. Kershaw could head out on a minor league rehab assignment in the next week or two, Hoornstra writes. Kershaw himself said that he felt comfortable between simulated innings — a positive step from where he was prior to his placement on the DL. Hoornstra’s piece includes a series of video clips of Kershaw discussing his health and rehab, for those who wish to hear a first-hand account of his progress.
More from the NL West…
- The Giants announced today that outfielder Gregor Blanco has been placed on the 15-day disabled list due to an impingement in his right shoulder. Blanco tells Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle that he initially injured his shoulder all the way back in May, but it’s become so painful that it’s even impacting his ability to run (links to Twitter). The second half of the season has been a tremendous struggle for Blanco, who is hitting just .130/.203/.148 in 59 plate appearances since the All-Star break.
- In his latest Rockies mailbag, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post addresses the reasons behind the Rockies’ decision to hang onto trade candidates Boone Logan and Jorge De La Rosa. There was plenty of interest in Logan, per Saunders, but GM Jeff Bridich elected to hold onto the southpaw because the Rockies were still within arm’s reach of the playoffs and were playing quite well. Saunders adds that he heard very little in the way of interest in De La Rosa, who has performed admirably since returning to the rotation earlier this summer. The 35-year-old De La Rosa has a 3.56 ERA over his past 13 starts (78 1/3 innings) and, like Logan, is a free agent at season’s end. Both left-handers are logical trade candidates over the final eight days of the month, now that the Rockies are out of the playoff picture.
After discussing the Mets’ budget-conscious offseason spending thus far — and questioning the team’s choice of an apparently conservative route after a run to the World Series last year — Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports runs through a variety of notes from around the league. Here are some highlights:
- Even as the Dodgers pursue Kenta Maeda, the team is continuing to show interest in Scott Kazmir, per Rosenthal — despite an already heavily left-handed rotation. And there is some sentiment among rival executives that L.A. could make a play for yet another southpaw, Wei-Yin Chen.
- The Giants remain unlikely to play at the top of the free agent outfield market, according to the report, but might look at the next level down. Two names in play are Dexter Fowler and Gerardo Parra, with another possibility being the addition of a right-handed-hitting platoon partner for Gregor Blanco. San Francisco is also in communication with the Rockies on their outfielders, Rosenthal’s colleague Jon Morosi reports.
- The Cardinals did not sign Mike Leake with intentions of spinning off another starter for outfield help, says Rosenthal. As he notes in another post, signing Leake — while allowing John Lackey to walk — came with some draft benefits, as the club didn’t have to sacrifice a pick to add the former and will gain a selection for losing the latter.
Last week, the Giants surprised many when they inked starter Johnny Cueto to a six-year, $130MM deal. Now that the rotation has been bolstered, GM Bobby Evans says that he’s moving on to addressing the team’s left field situation.
“I given our commitments in pitching, I think now is a good time to look at left field and versatility there has value for us,” Evans told MLB Network Radio (audio link). “We look at [Gregor] Blanco and, he’s been our starting left fielder in the World Series and our starting center fielder in the 2014 World Series so we don’t want to dismiss his ability to help us for a ton of at-bats and a ton of games but if we could put him more in a fourth outfield spot, we feel like we would be stronger.”
When discussing the possibility of further additions this winter, Evans pointed out that the team still has “flexibility” to spend, even after the significant contracts given to Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. The GM says that the Giants will be open to exploring both the free agent market and the trade market for ways to make the team better, but it doesn’t sound as though the bullpen will be among their top priorities.
“You always want to find a way to get better in the bullpen, [but] I think it’s the one area of the farm system that’s most ready to help us,” said Evans. “We saw that in [Hunter] Strickland and Josh Osich. Osich, in many ways, replaces Jeremy Affeldt in the fact that he can pitch to both lefties and righties and pitch in any point in the game. But, with that said, we’re at least going to keep our antennas up. It’s not where I want to spend my next dollar, necessarily, because we have depth in the minor leagues, but I recognize that you win with a good bullpen and we need to make sure we’re strong there.”
Ultimately, we shouldn’t expect to see the Giants make a run at a higher-priced free agent reliever such as Tyler Clippard. By the same token, after dropping big bucks on a pair of free agents already this winter, it’s safe to say that the Giants aren’t going to get involved on an expensive left fielder like Justin Upton, unless his market takes a surprising and drastic nosedive.
Young Angels lefty Andrew Heaney has become the first professional baseball player to sell a piece of his future earnings through Fantex, a company which markets shares of that interest to individual investors, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Heaney, 24, will sacrifice ten percent of all his future “brand” earnings — including dollars earned through his MLB contracts as well as endorsements and appearance fees — in exchange for $3.34MM. (The agreement has been approved by the league and the union, but is still dependent upon financing.) We’ve seen an increasing willingness of players (and teams) to consider creative ways to lock in earnings over recent years. This could be a new frontier in that regard, though the model is obviously still in its infancy and other methods of locking in salary (such as insurance and early-career extensions) have greater traction at present. Heaney has shown plenty of promise in his first year with the Halos, throwing 84 1/3 innings of 3.52 ERA ball with 6.6 K/9 against 1.8 BB/9, but he won’t achieve real earning capacity until he qualifies for arbitration in 2018. Free agency will have to wait until 2021, but he certainly has the potential to take down quite a bit of cash over his career — if he can maintain his performance trajectory and avoid injury, of course.
Here are some more notes to round out the evening:
- The Giants have shut down outfielder Gregor Blanco after he was diagnosed with a concussion, as Chris Haft of MLB.com tweets. Manager Bruce Bochy said today that the team may not receive any more contributions this year from Blanco, Nori Aoki, and Hunter Pence, as John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group adds on Twitter. It’s been that kind of year for the San Francisco outfield, with center fielder Angel Pagan also having dealt with a fairly significant injury lay-off. While the club won’t reach the postseason regardless, barring a miracle, that group of maladies represents one of several areas where the team will hope for better fortune in 2016.
- As the Padres look ahead to what could be another offseason of change, the club intends to take its time in addressing its managerial situation, GM A.J. Preller tells MLB.com’s Corey Brock. Interim manager Pat Murphy could get the permanent post, or the organization could look elsewhere, but the latter course would involve competition with a number of other teams that will be looking for new dugout leaders. “It’s an important decision for us,” said Preller. “We just want to make sure we make a good call and we don’t feel pressure from what’s going on in the industry or anything like that. We’ll get to a spot where we’re comfortable making a good decision and we will make a good hire.”
- Among the many other questions facing the Padres, deciding on a course with righty Tyson Ross could be among the most impactful. The 28-year-old has once again been excellent — in part, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes, due to the addition of a cutter to his arsenal. He had used the pitch previously, but relied almost entirely on a fastball-slider combination in the majors before this season. “I just think it’s a different look,” Ross said. “It’s movement (away from) the barrel, trying to get poor contact and just avoiding the hitters being able to sit on anything.” The successful re-introduction of that offering represents another feather in the cap of the sturdy hurler, who was in high demand at the trade deadline and would be again if marketed this winter. Since the start of the 2013 season, he’s thrown nearly 500 frames and carries a strong 3.05 ERA with 9.0 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 to go with a well-above-average groundball rate (61.5% this year). Ross can be controlled for two more seasons via arbitration after earning $5.25MM in his first trip through the process this year. It remains to be seen, of course, whether San Diego will have any real interest in moving him. If not, Ross could profile as an extension candidate.
In his latest notes column for FOX Sports, Ken Rosenthal looks at the failed attempt to acquire Chase Utley made by both the Angels and Cubs. Anaheim “blew it” by not adding Utley, opines Rosenthal, as the Halos had more playing time to offer than the Dodgers but didn’t pull the trigger on a deal despite only having acquired “complementary hitters” in July. (That seems harsh, as there’s no guarantee that the current iteration of Utley is anything more than a complementary piece himself.) As for the Cubs, they initially showed interest while Utley was still hurt, but Utley wasn’t comfortable being traded while on a rehab assignment, says Rosenthal, so the Phils waited to put him through waivers. By the time he returned, Howie Kendrick had been hurt in L.A., creating a match with the Dodgers.
Some more highlights from the column…
- As others have noted, the Angels’ GM opening is a tough sell to prospective candidates because Arte Moreno is more involved than the average owner, and Mike Scioscia has more power than the average manager. One rival general manager described the Angels’ GM role to Rosenthal as such: “You take all of the beatings (from Moreno) and you’ve got no power (due to Scioscia).” Jerry Dipoto resigned from his post this summer due to reported clashes with Scioscia.
- The Blue Jays tried to trade for Ben Zobrist, but the Athletics’ asking price was Matt Boyd plus other pieces, Rosenthal hears, which was too steep for GM Alex Anthopoulos. Boyd was ultimately one of three pieces used to acquire David Price from the Tigers.
- Rosenthal reports that the Giants are likely to pursue right-hander Jordan Zimmermann as they look to bulk up their rotation this offseason. However, he notes that the Wisconsin native may prefer to return to the Midwest. Zimmermann ranked eighth on the most recent edition of MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings, though he’s had a couple of rough starts since then.
- The Giants may also consider attempting to unload the final year of Angel Pagan’s contract this winter. Pagan is slated to earn $10MM next season in the final season of a four-year, $40MM contract after playing in just 167 games from 2013-14 and struggling at the plate in 102 games to this point in 2015. San Francisco could use Gregor Blanco in center field in the event that they’re able to move Pagan.
- The recent trend of teams promoting an assistant GM to GM and a current GM to president (as the White Sox and Giants have done) could continue this offseason as teams try to prevent their top AGMs from departing for GM vacancies elsewhere, Rosenthal writes. The Rangers could promote Thad Levine to GM (and presumably elevate Jon Daniels), for instance, and the Cardinals could promote Mike Girsch (presumably promoting GM John Mozeliak as well). And, should Mark Shapiro end up with the Blue Jays, the Indians could bump Mike Chernoff to GM and make Chris Antonetti president (Cleveland previously did his by moving Shapiro from GM to president and Antonetti from AGM to GM). Levine, Girsch and Chernoff could all attract interest from other teams this winter.