The Astros and Phillies have interest in Rays right-hander Chris Archer, joining a slew of previously reported clubs, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The Rays clearly wouldn’t have any trouble finding a taker for Archer, thanks to his track record, age (29) and team-friendly contract (four years, $34MM). Teammate and face of the franchise Evan Longoria, the Rays’ longtime third baseman, is three years older than Archer and costs far more (a guaranteed $86MM over a half-decade). But that doesn’t seem to be a prohibitive price tag, as the three-time All-Star is drawing some interest from the division-rival Yankees as well as the Giants, Mets and previously reported Cardinals, according to Topkin.
Tucker, a seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft, has generally posted strong numbers during his rise through the Houston system. He reached the majors in 2015, hitting for enough power (including 13 home runs in 323 plate appearances) to produce at just over the league-average rate despite carrying only a .297 on-base percentage. But Tucker struggled badly in the following season and has not been back to the big leagues since.
In 2017, playing exclusively at Triple-A, Tucker posted a .250/.333/.465 batting line with 24 home runs over 569 plate appearances. On the promising side, he boosted his walk rate to a career-best 11.4% and struck out just 17.9% of the time. But his overall output was not much better than the mean in the hitter-friendly PCL. Tucker’s .263 batting average on balls in play no doubt had an impact, though he has typically generated a low BABIP.
All told, it seems reasonable to expect that another organization will be glad to risk a 40-man spot on Tucker, who has one more option year remaining. His younger brother, Kyle Tucker, remains in the Astros system and is considered one of the team’s top prospects.
The Astros have inked free-agent righty Hector Rondon to a two-year, $8.5MM pact. Rondon, an Octagon client, was non-tendered by the Cubs earlier this month. Now, he’s lined up for successive $4MM and $4.5MM salaries in Houston, where he’ll represent an arm with closing experience to help fortify the back of the bullpen.
Rondon, 30 in February, saved 77 games with a 2.44 ERA, 9.3 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 with the Cubs fro 2014-16. He initially lost the closer’s role in Chicago through little fault of his own, as he was bumped from that spot when Chicago acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees prior to the 2016 non-waiver trade deadline.
The 2017 season was Rondon’s worst since the 2013 campaign (when he was a Rule 5 pick out of the Indians organization), as he turned in a 4.24 ERA with a 3.1 BB/9 mark — both his highest levels since that rookie season. However, Rondon also logged a career-high 10.8 K/9 and 29.1 percent overall strikeout rate in 2017 while maintaining excellent fastball velocity (average of 96.4 mph) and an above-average ground-ball rate (48.3 percent).
Like many pitchers throughout the league, Rondon has become increasingly susceptible to home runs across the past two seasons, averaging 1.5 HR/9 despite being extremely stingy in that regard throughout the first three seasons of his career. His increased vulnerability to the long ball obviously made the uptick in walks this past season all the more damning, though metrics like xFIP (3.43) and SIERA (3.20) remained generally bullish on his abilities.
Houston has already reportedly added to its supply of late-inning arms by striking a deal for sidearm righty Joe Smith, and Rondon will give them another option to pair with the likes of Ken Giles, Chris Devenski and Will Harris in the late innings. Giles, who served as the team’s closer throughout the season, struggled in the playoffs, though the addition of Rondon wouldn’t seem to supplant him from that ninth-inning role. If Giles’ struggles carry over into the 2018 campaign, though, Rondon would certainly be a plausible alternative for manager A.J. Hinch to get the final few outs of a game, given his extensive experience in Chicago.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
4:36pm: Smith will earn $7MM in 2018 and $8MM in 2019, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets.
6:20am: Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the two-year deal actually guarantees Smith $15MM.
THURSDAY, 2:32am: Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports reports that Smith will be paid $14MM over his two-year pact (Twitter link).
WEDNESDAY, 8:18pm: Smith passed a physical in Houston on Wednesday, Kaplan tweets, and the team has announced the agreement. Financial details aren’t yet available.
5:13pm: The Astros have agreed to a deal with free agent reliever Joe Smith, pending a physical, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com tweets. It’s a two-year pact, per Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). Smith is a client of Excel Sports Management.
Houston will be the sixth team for the 33-year-old Smith, who has served as a more-than-capable reliever since making his major league debut in 2007. The sidearming, soft-tossing right-hander has racked up a combined 624 2/3 innings of 2.97 ERA pitching and posted a 55.7 percent groundball rate with the Mets, Indians, Angels, Cubs and Blue Jays.
While Smith’s success has come in spite of modest strikeout and walk rates (7.88 K/9, 3.17 BB/9), he found another gear in both departments last season. Across 54 innings divided between Toronto and Cleveland, Smith logged 11.83 K/9 against 1.67 BB/9 and recorded an 11.4 percent swinging-strike rate – a vast improvement over his lifetime mark of 8.4. He joins Bryan Shaw, now with the Rockies, as the second proven reliever to depart the Indians via free agency this winter.
While the World Series-contending Indians have seen their bullpen weaken since last season ended, Smith should step in with aplomb for Luke Gregerson, who left the reigning champion Astros for the Cardinals. Along with Smith, Houston has a host of other quality pieces in the fold in Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Joe Musgrove and, if he doesn’t start, Brad Peacock, with Michael Feliz and James Hoyt also in the mix.
All of those hurlers are righties, which could lead the Astros to reel in a southpaw at some point this winter, though their relievers did limit lefty-swingers to a .231/.306/.395 line last season. Smith, meanwhile, has typically been effective against lefties, having held them to a .242/.336/.369 mark during his career.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
With a pair of relief signings being wrapped up, the Phillies seem to feel good about that aspect of their roster. Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, via Twitter, the team will turn its gaze to improving the rotation. Both they and the Yankees checked in with the Diamondbacks regarding right-hander Zack Greinke, Robert Murray of FanRag writes. Greinke ending up with either club is unlikely, however, sources informed Murray. With the Rangers also having shown interest in Greinke, we now know at least three teams have inquired about the expensive 34-year-old this offseason.
Greinke is the latest hurler to land on the radar of the Yankees, who have also eyed Pirates righty Gerrit Cole. Consequently, the Bucs “are gathering names of young, controllable” Yankees they could acquire in a Cole deal, though there’s “nothing close,” Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (on Twitter). Notably, Brink adds that the Yankees are also “looking at” Rays righty Chris Archer. The 29-year-old has drawn significant interest this winter, but it’s unclear whether the Rays will move him.
Plenty more pitching rumors…
- The Royals are giving serious consideration to dealing southpaw Danny Duffy, who’s “extremely popular” on the trade market, Jon Heyman of FanRag tweets. Duffy suggested on Twitter that he doesn’t want to go anywhere, for what it’s worth. “Bury me a Royal,” he declared.
- As the Blue Jays look for pitching reinforcements, they are giving real consideration to veteran CC Sabathia, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca writes. Though manager John Gibbons suggested his own priority is to add bats, he also said he’d welcome the addition of the veteran Sabathia — who has a lengthy history with the Jays’ current front office leadership stemming from their time in Cleveland together.
- Teams have given up on trying to acquire Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, Heyman reports on Twitter. The Reds understandably want an enormous haul back for the 27-year-old star, who’s under affordable control for the foreseeable future.
- The Twins and Rays have chatted about veteran righty Jake Odorizzi, per Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (via Twitter), who adds that Tampa Bay was not interested in Minnesota’s initial offer.
- Although they’re at the beginning of a full, cost-cutting rebuild, the Marlins aren’t feeling any urgency to deal righty Dan Straily, per Joe Frisaro of MLB.com (Twitter link). Miami’s de facto ace will play his first of three arbitration-eligible seasons in 2018. He’s projected to earn a $4.6MM salary, which even the Marlins can afford.
- The Mets are not likely to sign another free agent reliever, at least in the near term, according to GM Sandy Alderson and as MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo tweets. Instead, after landing Anthony Swarzak, the organization expects to begin looking to fill its other needs.
- Brewers GM David Stearns discussed his organization’s situation with reporters including MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy (Twitter links). He said the team was willing to go to two years to get Swarzak, but wasn’t willing to match the dollar amount he ultimately took. The club still has open payroll capacity, which Stearns says he’ll put to good use. “We have spending power this offseason,” he said. “I’m confident we are going to find places to use that effectively.”
- Before the Astros agreed to a deal with Joe Smith on Wednesday, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com hinted on Twitter that the team could have interest in free agent righty Hector Rondon. Whether that still stands remains to be seen, but the Astros are already chock-full of righty relievers as it is.
While the market for starters is still fairly slow to develop, relievers have been flying off the board at the Winter Meetings. Here’s the latest chatter on some hurlers from around the game:
- The Twins are sending signals that they’re serious about their pursuit of free agent righty Yu Darvish. As LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star-Tribune writes, skipper Paul Molitor says the organization has “targeted [Darvish] as somebody we have tremendous interest in.” That follows prior public indications of interest from GM Thad Levine, who, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press examines, has a longstanding relationship with Darvish. That piece is well worth a full read, if only for Berardino’s enjoyable chat with catcher Chris Gimenez, who worked closely with Darvish with the Rangers and has played most recently with the Twins.
- Meanwhile, the Twins are also among the teams looking into righty Steve Cishek, according to Berardino (via Twitter). The sidearmer has been left as one of the top remaining free-agent setup men after a spate of signings at the Winter Meetings. He finished the 2017 season on a strong run with the Rays.
- The Orioles have at least checked in on Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, according to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Certainly, Baltimore isn’t the only organization that would love to add Cole, whose name has arisen in chatter a few times in recent days. Whether the Bucs are really ready to deal him isn’t entirely clear; neither is it certain just what the club would seek in return. Yesterday, though, Buster Olney of ESPN.com gave perhaps the clearest indication yet that Pittsburgh may be prepared to strike an agreement, tweeting that there’s a belief from some around the game that Pittsburgh would pull the trigger if the right deal came across its desk.
- Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto says his team is in the “red zone” on a deal, likely for a reliever, in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (Twitter link). Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio tweets that Juan Nicasio is a “strongly rumored possibility,” though clearly that’s not a firm connection at this point. And it’s certainly worth noting that the M’s have, in fact, struck agreement on a trade since Dipoto went on the air — though it’s not clear whether the minor acquisition was the one he was referring to. Perhaps Dipoto was giving a nod to that swap, but it’s also possible there’s a more significant move still in store. Regardless, the M’s are clearly focused on pitching, as Dipoto has made clear and TJ Cotterill of the Tacoma News Tribune reports.
- The Astros are weighing a reunion with lefty Francisco Liriano, according to Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). Long a starter, the 34-year-old was added by the ’Stros at the 2017 trade deadline and moved into a relief role. He did not exactly thrive in that job initially, allowing seven earned runs and posting an ugly 11:10 K/BB ratio in his 14 1/3 frames over twenty appearances. Liriano will presumably also draw some looks from organizations that would propose to give him a shot at rediscovering his form as a starter.
- Another lefty, Tony Watson, is a possible target for the Athletics, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. The 32-year-old has plenty of late-inning experience and finished strong after a mid-season swap to the Dodgers. In twenty innings with L.A., Watson posted a 2.70 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9.
2:47pm: Other clubs with some level of interest include the Astros, Orioles, and Rockies, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter). Colorado GM Jeff Bridich has previously indicated a desire to “continue conversations” with CarGo, as Nick Groke of the Denver Post tweeted yesterday, though he did not commit to anything beyond that.
12:46pm: Though Carlos Gonzalez hasn’t drawn a huge amount of headlines coming off a down season in the final campaign of his seven-year deal with the Rockies, he’s generating a fair bit of interest from clubs looking to take a flyer on the former MVP candidate, tweets ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Gonzalez is likely to sign a short-term deal to rebuild his value, and Crasnick notes that the A’s, Blue Jays, Rays, Giants and Royals are among the clubs that are “believed” to be keeping tabs on him.
Gonzalez, 32, struggled to a ghastly .221/.299/.338 slash in the season’s first half before erupting with a .314/.390/.531 slash, 21 doubles and eight homers in the second half. That surge was fueled largely by a mammoth spike in CarGo’s BABIP (.390 following the All-Star break). While that level isn’t sustainable over a full season, the fact that Gonzalez’s hard-contact rate spiked by nearly eight percent from the first half to the second half suggests that there was more than mere good fortune at play in his late rebound.
Defensively, Gonzalez hasn’t graded out as an elite right fielder by any means in recent years, but he’s been a bit above average per Defensive Runs Saved and a bit below average in the estimation of Ultimate Zone Rating. Statcast rated him one out above average in the outfield this past season.
Of the teams listed, the A’s are a bit of a surprise, given their desire to add a controllable right-handed-hitting corner bat. However, they do have outfield space to spare, and Gonzalez could be a nice value play for them on a short-term deal. From a hitter’s standpoint, the Coliseum isn’t necessarily a great place to go try to put up big numbers, though Gonzalez is plenty familiar with the setting from his days in Oakland early in his career.
The Rays are an even more curious fit given their payroll crunch, though if the team sheds a significant amount of salary and looks to rebuild, they could reallocate some resources to a one-year pact for Gonzalez with the intent to flip him at the nonwaiver deadline. It’s a similar story in Kansas City, where they have space in the outfield but are reportedly on the path to a rebuild.
The Jays have been eyeing left-handed bats and some outfield help, so there’s certainly a reasonable match there. San Francisco, of course, just missed out on Giancarlo Stanton and will be looking to bolster its offense in other manners now. Depending on the price point at which Gonzalez and agent Scott Boras ultimately settle, other teams could well jump into the mix and hope to sign the Gonzalez that hit 65 homers from 2015-16 as opposed to the one that struggled in 2017 and 2014.
Astros utilityman Marwin Gonzalez has switched representation and is now a client of Scott Boras, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports (on Twitter). Gonzalez’s hiring of Boras comes on the heels of teammate Dallas Keuchel’s decision to join up with baseball’s most famous agent. Both players are scheduled to hit free agency next offseason.
The 28-year-old Gonzalez, a standout with last season’s World Series winners, took an indirect route to prominence. The Venezuelan signed with the Cubs in 2005 and later had an extremely brief stint with the Red Sox, who selected him in the 2011 Rule 5 draft before trading him to the Astros that day. Gonzalez debuted in Houston in 2012 and struggled over his first two major league seasons, batting a miserable .227/.266/.323 in 441 plate appearances as part of a pair of 50-some-win teams.
The rebuilding Astros began making real progress in the win-loss column during a 70-victory 2013 season, when Gonzalez started showing he could be a legitimate contributor. Since then, the switch-hitter has slashed a solid .271/.321/.432 in 1,935 plate appearances, including an excellent .303/.377/.530 with 23 home runs in 515 PAs last season. Gonzalez has added to his value by logging between 78 and 252 appearances at second base, left field (his spot during the Astros’ title run), third base, first base and shortstop.
Both the Astros and Gonzalez and will try to replicate their 2017 success next season, though there’s some skepticism about the latter’s chances. Good fortune on batted balls was a key factor in Gonzalez’s impressive offensive outburst, as Statcast indicates his actual weighted on-base average (.387) far surpassed his expected wOBA (.320). Gonzalez’s lifetime wOBA happens to be .320, and returning to that level next season certainly wouldn’t be an ideal outcome in a contract year. The Astros could attempt to extend Gonzalez before then, but for now, he’s slated to make a reasonable $5.125MM in 2018.
- The reigning World Series champion Astros at least made an effort to acquire 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag (Twitter link). The two sides never came close to a deal before the Yankees landed Stanton, however, Heyman adds. Notably, the Astros were one of four teams to whom Stanton would’ve accepted a trade. He also would’ve added another terrifying force to an all-world lineup headed by AL MVP Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.