- Speaking of the Tigers, the organization evidently considered quite a few other deals before largely holding pat. The Mets “seriously discussed” giving up Michael Conforto for the final season of control over star slugger J.D. Martinez, but ultimately backed down. While the Astros reportedly checked in on Miguel Cabrera, they were asking for “more than half of the $150 million remaining on Cabrera’s contract” to be paid by Detroit and apparently never offered enough for the front office to bring a deal to ownership. And both the Twins and Padres made inquiries on shortstop Jose Iglesias, but clearly nothing developed with either team.
Arbitration decisions on several first-year arb-eligible starting pitchers have been released. According to prior reports, the outcomes of the pending cases were being held until all had been heard and decided, to avoid earlier results impacting later decisions.
Three starters won their cases:
- Collin McHugh, Astros: With his victory, McHugh will earn $3.85MM rather than the $3.35MM that the team had argued for, as Brian McTaggart of MLB.com first reported on Twitter.
- Jake Odorizzi, Rays: In another relatively high-dollar case, the right-hander will get his requested $4.1MM payday over the club’s $3.825MM submission, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter).
- Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays: Stroman takes home $3.4MM in his Super Two year instead of the team’s $3.1MM proposal, also via Heyman.
Teams prevailed against three others:
- Taijuan Walker, Diamondbacks: The new Arizona rotation member, who’s also a Super Two qualifier, will earn $2.25MM instead of his filing figure of $2.6MM, per Jack Magruder of Fan Rag (via Twitter).
- Chase Anderson, Brewers: Anderson, the final Super Two member of this bunch, will settle for the team’s $2.45MM proffer rather than the $2.85MM he sought, according to Heyman.
- Michael Wacha, Cardinals: In his first year of eligibility, Wacha will take home $2.775MM, falling shy of his $3.2MM request, per Heyman.
Cuban left-hander Osvaldo Hernandez has been declared a free agent and can now sign with any team, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports (via Twitter). Several teams are already interested in the 18-year-old southpaw, including the Astros, Braves, Mets, Padres, Rangers, Reds and Red Sox.
Due to Hernandez’s young age, his signing is subject to international bonus pools. (As a reminder of how the international signing system has been altered by the new collective bargaining agreement, check out this refresher from Baseball America’s Ben Badler). One factor that hasn’t changed is that teams who exceeded their international spending limits in the last two July 2 classes are still serving their previously-mandated penalties, i.e. limited to spending no more than $300K on any pool-eligible player. By waiting until this July 2 to sign, Hernandez could open his market up to teams like the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Angels, Rays, Yankees and Red Sox, as those six clubs would no longer be held to the $300K limit. Boston, it should be noted, can’t sign Hernandez at all until July 2 since the Sox were banned from signing any pool-eligible players whatsoever during this signing class.
With significant interest in Hernandez’s services already, however, the young southpaw may not feel the need to wait. Also, since the old CBA’s rules are still in effect until the 2017-18 international signing period begins, Hernandez probably stands a better chance of scoring a richer contract now than he will when the stricter pool rules are instituted after July 2. Of the teams connected to Hernandez already, the Braves, Astros, Reds and Padres have already surpassed their bonus pools for the 2016-17 international signing period, so they would be paying a 100 percent tax on Hernandez’s signing bonus if a deal was reached.
Hernandez didn’t appear on any of the top prospects lists from Baseball America, Fangraphs or MLB.com for the current international signing period, though BA’s list didn’t include players who weren’t already eligible to sign. The 18-year-old does already possess a fastball clocked between 92-94mph, according to Sanchez.
- The Astros have been in pursuit of a front-line starter via trade all offseason, though nothing has materialized and general manager Jeff Luhnow doesn’t expect anything to come together this spring, he told MLB Network Radio on Sunday. However, Luhnow mentioned that having two extra draft picks resulting from ex-Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa’s hacking of the Astros and five top 100 prospects could help him swing a deal at some point (Twitter links).
The Astros have avoided arbitration with utility infielder Marwin Gonzalez, agreeing to a $3.725MM salary for the upcoming season, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports (via Twitter). Gonzalez will also have a $5.125MM team option tacked onto his contract. If the club declines that option, he’ll still be controllable via arbitration next winter. Gonzalez had reportedly been set for a hearing on Feb. 14, but the two sides will now avoid that fate.
As can be seen in MLBTR’s 2017 Arbitration Tracker, the Astros had filed for a $3.25MM salary against Gonzalez’s submission of $4.2MM. The $3.725MM sum at which the two sides settled represents the exact midpoint between those filings, and the 2018 option gives the two sides an easy means of circumventing this process again in Gonzalez’s final offseason of arbitration eligibility — assuming he performs at a reasonable level in 2017.
Gonzalez, 28 in March, was a Rule 5 pick back in 2011 and has become a fixture on the Houston roster over the past three seasons as his bat has taken a step forward. After hitting just .227/.266/.323 in his first two seasons as an Astro, Gonzalez has posted roughly league-average production at the plate across the past three seasons, hitting .268/.309/.413 in just under 1200 plate appearances.
Gonzalez has nearly 1700 innings of shortstop under his belt at the Major League level, though the emergence of Carlos Correa has limited his time at that position in recent years. In 2016, he spent the bulk of his time in the field (677 innings) at first base but also saw time at third base, both middle infield positions, both outfield corners and one lone inning in center field.
With Gonzalez’s salary now set, the Astros have resolved seven of their eight arbitration cases. Right-hander Collin McHugh, who filed for a $3.85MM salary against the team’s submission of $3.35MM, is set for a hearing on Feb. 10, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle recently reported.
TUESDAY: The Brewers, Reds, Indians, Orioles, Astros and Twins also sent scouts to observe Maness’ workout, according to Goold.
MONDAY: Scouts from at least 16 Major League clubs were on-hand today to watch free agent right-hander Seth Maness work out, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Instagram). Per Goold, the Royals, Cubs and Nationals were all represented at Maness’ audition.
Maness’ showcase is especially intriguing due to the circumstances surrounding his injury. The 28-year-old suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament last summer and underwent surgery in August, but he elected to undergo an experimental “primary repair” surgery that, if successful, could represent a potential alternative to Tommy John surgery. Not every pitcher with a torn UCL can turn to the primary repair procedure as an alternative — the operation is dependent on the location and extent of the ligament tear — but certainly a return to health for Maness in seven and a half months would pique the interest of others with similar diagnoses around the league. (Those who are interested in the matter and missed Goold’s column on Maness last month should absolutely take the time to read through his breakdown of the operation itself and the larger-reaching potential implications of the surgery.)
The 28-year-old Maness was a fixture in the St. Louis bullpen from 2013-16, racking up 237 1/3 innings with a 3.19 ERA, 5.8 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a hefty 59.4 percent ground-ball rate along the way. Last season, however, he logged a 3.41 ERA with career worst K/9 and BB/9 rates of 4.6 and 2.3, respectively. Following the August operation, the Cardinals non-tendered him rather than pay him a projected $1.6MM via arbitration (projection via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz).
As an added bonus for any club that ultimately signs Maness, if he is indeed able to return and pitch at a high level, he’d remain under club control not just for the 2017 season but through the 2019 season. Maness wrapped up the 2016 campaign with three years and 154 days of Major League service time, so he’d be arbitration-eligible in each of the next two winters before hitting free agency in advance of his age-31 season.
FEB. 6: FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweets that Harris’ 2019 option will increase to $6.5MM with 15 games finished in 2018. It’ll increase to $7.5MM if Harris finishes 25 games and $8.5MM if he finishes 35 games.
FEB. 3: The Astros have avoided arbitration by striking a two-year deal with righty Will Harris, per Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle (links to Twitter). He’ll receive a $5MM guarantee ($2.2MM in 2017 and $2.8MM in 2018) in the pact, which also gives Houston a club option for the 2019 campaign. The value of the option will be determined by how many games Harris finishes in the 2018 season, with a range of between $5.5MM and $8.5MM.
The sides had been slated for an arbitration hearing, with Harris (via his agent, Gavin Kahn) filing at $2.3MM and the club countering at $1.95MM. MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz had projected a $2.5MM payday for the 2017 season. Instead of settling, or accepting the decision of an arbitration panel, the sides decided upon a multi-year arrangement that provides some cost certainty to the club while offering some protection to a late-blooming player.
Harris, 32, has largely flown under the radar since breaking into the majors in 2012 — at least until his brief recent stint as the Houston closer last year. But he has produced rather compelling peripherals for quite some time, and that has shown up in the results column since he was claimed by the ’Stros from the Diamondbacks just after the conclusion of the 2014 campaign.
Over the past two seasons, Harris owns a 2.07 ERA over 135 innings. He carries a sturdy 9.1 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9, and has induced grounders on more than half of the balls put in play against him. That makes him one of the game’s better setup men, even if he’s rarely recognized as such.
Though there’s no added control in the arrangement, Houston could certainly stand to save quite a bit of money. Anything close to a repeat of his 2016 season would otherwise have lined Harris up for a big raise. And though he’ll retain a bit of upside in the option year, that too could prove a bargain (both in the arbitration context and more generally). That being said, it’s also easy to see the merit in the arrangement for the righty, who has earned at (or just over) the league minimum to this stage of his career. Given his age and the injury risk inherent to his trade, securing an added season worth of guaranteed money obviously made for a compelling opportunity.
- After a 15 1/3-inning cup of coffee in the majors last season, right-handed reliever Jandel Gustave has a strong chance to make the Astros out of camp this year, writes Jake Kaplan of Baseball America (subscription required and recommended). Manager A.J. Hinch is bullish on the hard-throwing Gustave, who racked up 16 strikeouts against four walks and yielded six earned runs on 13 hits last year with Houston. “I think he’s right in the mix to make our bullpen, both by improvements that he’s made in the last couple of seasons but also the first impression in the big leagues,” Hinch said of the 24-year-old. “He has an elite fastball and a developing breaking ball.”
Free agent left-hander Travis Wood worked almost exclusively out of the Cubs’ bullpen over the previous two seasons, but he could return to the rotation with a new club in 2017. “Multiple teams” are offering Wood a chance to start, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link). Wood, who will turn 30 on Monday, combined for 133 starts with the Reds and Cubs from 2010-15 and registered a 4.19 ERA, 7.11 K/9 and 3.15 BB/9 in that 776-inning span. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported Friday that Wood could sign sometime this weekend.
More pitching-related notes:
- Right-hander Chase Anderson and his representatives don’t expect to avoid arbitration with the Brewers, who are employing a file-and-trial approach, a source told Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. The two sides are set to argue their cases sometime before Feb. 14, which would be the Brewers’ first arbitration hearing since 2012. Anderson, who’s arbitration eligible for the first time, is seeking $2.85MM as his 2017 salary, while the Brewers have offered $2.45MM (MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected a $3.1MM award entering the offseason). The 29-year-old is coming off a season in which he amassed 151 2/3 innings, totaled nine wins and recorded a 4.39 ERA – the three statistics arbitrators examine when dealing with starting pitchers.
- The Braves are loaded with bullpen options going into the spring, opines MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, who expects there to be plenty of “buzz” centering on left-handed prospect A.J. Minter. A second-round pick in 2015 (a few months after he underwent Tommy John surgery), the hard-throwing Minter received his first professional action last season and laid waste to hitters at both the Single-A and Double-A levels.
- David Laurila of FanGraphs had a lengthy, pitching-focused chat with Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias. The two discussed the value of in-person scouting, the Astros’ curveball usage and the risk associated with drafting high school pitchers, among other subjects. On 6-foot-7 righty Forrest Whitley, whom the Astros selected 17th overall out of high school in last year’s draft, Elias observed: “When you see a kid that long and lean be as coordinated, and able to repeat his delivery as well as he was, at the age of 18… that’s a big reason we took him with our first pick. We were really impressed with how he coordinates himself when he’s going down the mound. And he goes down the mound pretty aggressively.”
Though the Rangers supposedly renewed interest in White Sox lefty Jose Quintana has already been largely shot down by the Dallas/Fort Worth media, general interest in the 28-year-old lefty “has remained strong throughout the offseason,” writes Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. The Sox would prefer to trade Quintana prior to Opening Day so as not to risk any scenario in which his value deteriorates, per Hayes, but GM Rick Hahn has steadfastly refused to drop his asking price.
On a related note, Astros owner Jim Crane suggests to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision to award the Astros the top two picks remaining in the Cardinals’ draft (following the infamous Ground Control data breach scandal) could impact Houston’s willingness to part with young talent in trades.
“We’re hoping something will break,” Crane tells Nightengale. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that … getting two picks from the Cardinals gives us more depth in the system. We’re still looking into it. The thing about pitching is that it keeps games under control. And you got to have someone who can slam that door.”
Chicago reportedly asked the Astros for a package including young right-hander Joe Musgrove and top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker when the two sides last engaged in serious Quintana talks, and that package was deemed too steep by Houston. Musgrove, after all, made his big league debut at age 23 last year and threw 62 solid innings with a 4.06 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 43.4 percent ground-ball rate. He’d be controllable for at least another six seasons and possibly seven, depending on how much service time he accumulates in 2017. Martes and Tucker, meanwhile, are considered two of Houston’s best prospects and both ranked within the game’s top 35 prospect in MLB.com’s recent rankings. (Both were within the top 60 on this week’s top 100 rankings from ESPN’s Keith Law, as well.)
While the extra draft picks do give the Astros a quicker avenue to replace some of the talent they’d lose in a theoretical Quintana trade, it does seem somewhat unlikely that the addition of two new draft selections will prompt GM Jeff Luhnow to part with Musgrove, Martes and Tucker. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the two sides can’t find an alternative package, but as Hayes notes, Hahn flatly said, “…we’re not going to compromise on this,” on CSN’s SportsTalk Live last week when asked about the asking price on his remaining trade assets. Per Hayes, there’s a belief that the Sox are looking for two elite prospects and a high-quality third piece, which would align with the reported initial proposal to Houston.
As has been mentioned on numerous occasions in the past, the White Sox aren’t necessarily under any sort of deadline to move Quintana. The lefty has four years of club control remaining at an eminently affordable total of $36.85MM. Only two of those seasons and a total of $16.85MM are guaranteed to Quintana, with the remainder coming via club options, further enhancing his appeal. So long as he remains healthy, Quintana will carry enormous value at any point in the next several seasons — particularly come this summer’s trade deadline. But even if he spends a full season with the Sox, Quintana would carry significant value next winter, when he could be controlled for another three years at a total of $29.85MM.