Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Mets infielder Jed Lowrie still isn’t close to making his 2019 debut, manager Mickey Callaway told Tim Healey of Newsday and other reporters Wednesday. Lower body injuries have kept Lowrie from playing this season after he joined the Mets on a two-year, $20MM contract over the winter. With the season now at the halfway point, Callaway doesn’t even seem willing to commit to Lowrie taking the field at all in 2019. Asked if he expects to see Lowrie this year, Callaway said: “That’s hard to say. There’s so much of the season left. We’ll just have to play that by ear.”
In case you haven’t noticed, the Tigers are rebuilding. General manager Al Avila has spoken often in the past about the need to build toward a better tomorrow, and he was frank during Spring Training about Nicholas Castellanos’ trade candidacy. MLB.com’s Jon Morosi wrote today that the Tigers are willing to listen on veteran players, but that’s already a well-known fact — not exactly a new revelation.
The greater question is: just how many appealing pieces do the Tigers even possess? Morosi lists the usual suspects, citing Castellanos, Matthew Boyd and Shane Greene as potentially movable assets. Beyond that trio, appeal in Detroit veterans will be limited.
Most of the one-year signees the Tigers added over the winter have minimal value because they’re on the injured list and/or performing poorly. Josh Harrison underwent hamstring surgery this month and didn’t hit when healthy. His double-play partner, Jordy Mercer, is on the IL for the second time and has turned in the worst offensive rates of his career in the 19 games he’s managed to play. Tyson Ross is out indefinitely. Matt Moore looked great for two starts… before he had season-ending knee surgery. Jordan Zimmermann’s contract has looked impossible to move since 2016, and now he has a UCL injury (though he’s trying to pitch through it). Miguel Cabrera? No one was touching that contract even before the Tigers announced the “chronic changes” to his knee that will impact the rest of Cabrera’s career. Aside from Greene, the bullpen’s numbers aren’t especially impressive.
Detroit does have a pair of somewhat interesting, relatively young options it could market in addition to Boyd, Greene and Castellanos, although neither is anywhere near free agency.
Super-utilityman Niko Goodrum has played all four infield positions and all three outfield slots since the Tigers picked him up as a minor league free agent in the 2017-18 offseason. In 740 plate appearances as a Tiger, Goodrum has batted .241/.315/.419 with 22 homers and 16 steals. This season, his average exit velocity (89.3 mph) is in the 77th percentile, while his average sprint speed is in the 93rd percentile of MLB players, per Statcast. In some respects, he’s like Detroit’s version of Marwin Gonzalez — albeit with a lesser overall track record. He’s controlled for four years beyond 2019, so there’s no urgency to move him, but teams looking for a versatile upgrade on the bench could look at Goodrum as an intriguing possibility.
In the outfield, Detroit has seen JaCoby Jones explode at the plate recently. On May 4, the 27-year-old Jones’ OPS sat at a lowly .413. In 127 plate appearances since that time, he’s mashed to the tune of a .315/.389/.595 slash with 16 extra-base hits (eight doubles, a triple, seven homers) and a perfect 5-for-5 in the stolen base column. He’s had his share of BABIP luck, but Jones’ K/BB numbers have improved over that stretch as well. Contact seems like it’ll always be an issue, but there’s a fairly interesting blend of power and speed with Jones. Stastcast puts him in elite company (93rd percentile) both in hard-hit rate and average exit velocity. He’s in the 81st percentile in terms of sprint speed.
Defensively, Jones was excellent in 2018 (10 DRS, +6.1 UZR, 7 Outs Above Average), but those same metrics have soured on his center field glovework in 2019 (-7, -6.4 and 0, respectively). Like Goodrum, he’s controllable through 2023. I don’t know that teams are going to line up to acquire Jones based on what amounts to five weeks of strong offensive output, but he’s at least worth monitoring over the next several weeks. There aren’t going to be too many appealing center fielders on the trade market, after all.
As for the three most logical chips — Boyd, Greene and Castellanos — they’ll face varying levels of interest. Boyd is appealing to any club within a stone’s throw of contending, as he’s in the midst of what looks to be a legitimate breakout season. The 28-year-old is controlled through 2022 and has thus far pitched to a 3.08 ERA with 11.2 K/9 against 1.6 BB/9. Fielding-independent metrics are buying him as a breakout star (2.91 FIP, 3.20 SIERA), and only five qualified pitchers have a better K-BB% than Boyd’s 26.2 percent mark. The cost to acquire him should be enormous, given the time he’s still controlled.
Greene won’t carry as high a price tag, given that he’s controlled through 2020. But he’s sitting on a 1.00 ERA with career-best marks in strikeout percentage (27.4 percent), walk percentage (6.6 percent) and ground-ball rate (52.2 percent). He’s unequivocally elevated his stock in 2019, making the Tigers’ decision not to move him at last year’s deadline look wise. Like Boyd, Greene is appealing to any contender.
Castellanos, meanwhile, faces a less robust market. Defensive metrics suggest he’s improved in right field but is still below average there. More concerning is the fact that Castellanos hasn’t hit that much in 2019. His 21 doubles lead the AL, but his overall .263/.315/.454 slash is roughly league average, per OPS+ and wRC+, and he’s on pace for fewer home runs than last year’s 23. Casteallnos has seen his line-drive rate dip by more than seven percent, and his hard-hit rate has fallen off a bit as well. Corner bat rentals never yield all that great a return these days — as the Tigers learned in trading J.D. Martinez two years ago — and Castellanos’ downturn in production won’t help the team’s cause. There’s certainly time for a rebound, but it’s tough to see Castellanos fetching a sizable return even if his bat wakes up in the next few weeks.
The general expectation is that the Tigers will continue their tear-down this summer, but the pieces they have to market, in the end, aren’t that plentiful. Greene seems like a lock to be moved for a decent haul, and because Castellanos isn’t playing like a qualifying offer candidate, it’s probably best to move him even if the return is modest. But the Tigers’ best asset, Boyd, is controlled for three more years and the only other somewhat interesting pieces are controlled even longer. If the team doesn’t move Boyd between now and July 31, the summer market might not boost the Tigers’ farm as much as fans would hope.
TODAY: Mahtook cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A, the Tigers announced.
THURSDAY: The Tigers announced this morning that they’ve designated outfielder Mikie Mahtook for assignment. His spot on the 25-man roster will go to fellow outfielder JaCoby Jones, who has been reinstated after opening the season on the injured list due to a shoulder sprain.
Mahtook, 29, had a promising first year with the Tigers in 2017 after being acquired in a minor trade with the Rays in the preceding offseason. The 2011 first-round pick slashed .276/.330/.457 with a dozen homers in 379 plate appearances and gave the organization some hope that he could be a useful pieces for years to come, given the amount of club control he had remaining.
Unfortunately, Mahtook’s production cratered in 2018 as his strikeout rate soared north of 26 percent while the .324 BABIP he turned in a year prior cratered to a career-low .238. Mahtook saw his hard-contact and line-drive rates both decline, while he hit infield pop-ups at a career-worst clip as well.
Things haven’t gone better for Mahtook in the early stages of the 2019 campaign, either. He’s hitless through 25 plate appearances, including 11 strikeouts, and a recent misplay in center field turned a routine Eric Stamets single into a little league homer.
Detroit will have a week to either trade Mahtook or run him through outright waivers, at which point he’d remain under organizational control should the team wish to assign him to a minor league affiliate. Mahtook has never been previously outrighted and doesn’t have the requisite three years of big league service to reject an outright assignment, so electing free agency wouldn’t be an option for him.
Mahtook’s DFA means that Jones can be penciled in for everyday at-bats in center field, while former Padres and Braves prospect Dustin Peterson, whom Detroit claimed off waivers last September, will stick on the big league roster as the primary reserve outfielder for the time being. That’ll leave Detroit without a true backup center fielder; Peterson and utilityman Niko Goodrum are the only players on the big league roster with experience at the position, though that pair has combined for just 331 innings of work at the position (nearly all in the minor leagues). It’s possible that another move is coming to add a more natural backup, but for now Jones, who hit .207/.266/.364 in 467 PAs last season, appears ticketed for a heavy workload.
The Indians received a scare when Jose Ramirez fouled a ball off his left knee during the third inning of today’s game against the White Sox. Ramirez had to be carted off the field, though it seems as though the worst was avoided, as x-rays came back negative on the injury. (ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan was among those to report the news.) It isn’t clear if the knee contusion could still cause Ramirez to miss regular-season time or even require an IL stint — if the latter, it would another big blow to a Tribe infield that is already without Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis for the start of the season. As per the team’s official Twitter feed, Ramirez will remain at the Tribe’s Spring Training camp for treatment, and his status is undecided for Opening Day.
Some more from the AL Central…
- Hanley Ramirez is looking like a strong bet to break camp with the Indians, as manager Terry Francona told MLB.com’s Mandy Bell and other reporters that “if we stay put” with roster moves, Ramirez will make the team. Today was the opt-out date in the veteran slugger’s minor league contract with Cleveland, though it looks as if a quality Spring Training performance (.844 OPS in 38 PA) has earned Ramirez the opportunity to appear in his 15th Major League season. Ramirez is something of a limited resource on the 25-man roster, as the team intends to use him only as a designated hitter, though his presence allows Jake Bauers to be spelled against tough left-handed pitching. Assuming Ramirez does officially make the roster, he’ll earn $1MM in guaranteed salary.
- JaCoby Jones will start the season on the IL after suffering a left shoulder sprain while diving for a ball on Saturday. Speaking with media (including Chris McCosky of the Detroit News), Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire hinted at a rough 2-3 week timeline for Jones’ recovery, though Gardenhire’s estimate seemed speculative. Jones and Mikie Mahtook were slated to share center field duties for the Tigers, though Niko Goodrum will now see some time in center with Jones out, plus outfielder Dustin Peterson could now factor into Detroit’s Opening Day plans.
- Eloy Jimenez’s record-setting extension with the White Sox was almost completed last November at the GM Meetings, GM Rick Hahn told MLB.com’s Scott Merkin and other reporters, but the final details weren’t put into place until the two sides held face-to-face meetings over the last few days. The result was a six-year, $43MM pact, the biggest extension ever given to a player who has yet to play a Major League game. There has yet to be official word about whether or not Jimenez will be with the Sox on Opening Day, though there wouldn’t seem to be any service-time obstacles now that the White Sox control Jimenez for as many as his first eight big league seasons.
The White Sox announced on Wednesday that they’ve optioned top outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez to Double-A Birmingham. The 21-year-old homered twice and hit a triple in nine spring plate appearances with the Sox, but he was never viewed as a candidate to break camp with the team. Jimenez has just 18 games of Double-A ball to his credit and has yet to play Triple-A, so he’ll head to the minors for additional development. The centerpiece of last summer’s Jose Quintana blockbuster with the crosstown Cubs, Jimenez figures to be a critical long-term piece on the South Side of Chicago, though ChiSox fans will likely have to wait at least a few months before getting a look at him in the Majors. That’s just fine with Jimenez, as Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com writes, though the youngster also made clear he thinks he is ready to play at the game’s highest level.
More from the division…
- Another top prospect, Indians catcher Francisco Mejia, could actually end up seeing some action in the outfield as part of a plan to utilize him in the majors in the near term, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports. Mejia has previously been tried out at the hot corner, which Hoynes says “didn’t take,” so clearly the Cleveland organization isn’t fully committed to keeping him behind the dish. Regardless, he’s seen as a high-quality hitting prospect who could soon make an impact. The impression made by outfielder Abraham Almonte was not quite as positive, Hoynes notes, as he is not in shape and has already been optioned despite toting a $825K arb contract into camp.
- At one point, Hunter Dozier of the Royals had that kind of lofty billing. But the eighth overall pick of the 2013 draft has seen his star fade over the years. As MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan writes, the organization now seems to see Dozier mostly as a first baseman, which doesn’t necessarily boost his long-term value outlook as he prepares to open the season at Triple-A. That said, the organization is obviously focused primarily on finding a path for Dozier to contribute to the majors. That won’t happen out of camp, but the 26-year-old remains one of the Royals’ better-regarded prospects. Injuries robbed him of a full 2017 season, though he did impress with a .296/.366/.533 overall slash in the upper minors in the prior campaign.
- As many have observed, the Twins appear to be one of the prime beneficiaries of the collapse of free-agent demand this winter. Both Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn agreed to surprising one-year deals with Minnesota; as MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger reports, both elected to go there in no small part owing to the hope that their single season would be with a winning organization. While those two veterans surely anticipated quite a bit more earning power, it seems there are good vibes all around in Twins’ camp.
- The Tigers are deliberating over the fate of Rule 5 pick Victor Reyes, as Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press writes. Skipper Ron Gardenhire says it’s “honestly a really big one” — decision, that is — for the rebuilding organization. It could come down to Reyes and fellow outfielder JaCoby Jones, who has had a strong spring but can still be optioned. Interestingly, Fenech says the Tigers tried and failed to get Reyes in the J.D. Martinez trade, despite the fact that he came available just months later via the Rule 5. Gardenhire discussed the matter at some length, noting that Reyes could be a functional player even though he’s clearly not quite as polished as would be hoped. “I know where we’re at as an organization,” said Gardenhire. “We’re talking about developing and all those things so I think I can use him.”
The Tigers announced this morning that they’ve placed second baseman Ian Kinsler on the 10-day DL with a left hamstring strain. In addition, they’ve optioned lefty Chad Bell to Triple-A Toledo, recalled outfielder JaCoby Jones from Toledo, purchased the contract of righty Arcenio Leon and designated righty William Cuevas for assignment.
Kinsler left a game last Saturday due to hamstring trouble, but returned to play this week. He generally struggled, however, batting 4-for-22 since Saturday. It isn’t clear how long he’ll need to be out. The team has Andrew Romine and Dixon Machado to take his place. Jones also played shortstop during his early years in the minors, but has never played second base as a pro and figures as more of a third baseman and outfielder at this point.
The 30-year-old Leon pitched well for Toledo (3.15 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 in 20 innings, earning what could be his first taste of big-league action after 12 seasons in the Astros, Brewers, White Sox and Tigers systems. His roster spot comes at the expense of Cuevas, who posted a 4.06 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 34 1/3 innings in the Mud Hens’ rotation. Cuevas also appeared once for the Tigers this year, allowing four runs in just a third of an inning.
Saturday’s minor moves from around baseball:
- The Giants have outrighted catcher Tim Federowicz to Triple-A, tweets Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area. The club designated Federowicz for assignment Tuesday, and he subsequently cleared waivers. San Francisco no longer had a need for Federowicz after Buster Posey returned from the seven-day concussion DL. Federowicz appeared in two games during Posey’s weeklong absence.
- The Tigers have placed center fielder JaCoby Jones on the 10-day disabled list and selected the contract of first baseman/outfielder Jim Adduci from Triple-A Toledo. Jones took a 90 mph fastball to the mouth from Twins reliever Justin Haley on Saturday, after which he received nine stitches and underwent a CT scan, per Evan Woodbery of MLive.com. The scan ruled out a major injury for Jones, who will nonetheless miss at least a week and a half. The 24-year-old has batted a subpar .150/.244/.300 with 18 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances this season. Jones’ absence should leave center to Andrew Romine, who has fared somewhat better despite not having drawn any walks in 40 PAs (.231/.250/.410). The 31-year-old Adduci’s only big league action came as a Ranger from 2013-14, when he combined to hit .189/.259/.242 in 148 trips to the plate. Adduci owns a respectable .283/.352/.401 line in 1,203 Triple-A PAs.
Here’s the latest on some final roster decisions being made in the AL Central:
- Rule 5 righty Justin Haley will crack the Twins’ Opening Day roster, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reported on Twitter and skipper Paul Molitor later confirmed. He and Michael Tonkin will round out the Minnesota pen to start the season. Though Haley allowed nine earned runs on 19 hits in his 16 1/3 frames this spring, he carried a 13:4 K/BB ratio and evidently showed enough to warrant a shot at holding a MLB roster spot for the full season.
- The Twins will likely place infielder Ehire Adrianza on the DL to open the season, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press tweets. He is dealing with an oblique issue. That injury may help the club resolve some of its final roster decisions; both Adrianza and fellow utility candidate Eduardo Escobar are out of options. Minnesota is expected to announce its remaining roster calls tomorrow.
- Though he’s still going to be on the Opening Day roster, righty Bruce Rondon has shown diminished velocity this spring. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said he has some concerns about the once-hyped reliever, as Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports on Twitter. Rondon has issued six walks and allowed six earned runs over his 6 1/3 spring innings. Meanwhile, as MLB.com’s Jason Beck tweets, Ausmus confirmed that Matt Boyd will join the rotation to open the year, with Anibal Sanchez very likely heading to the pen, as was reported yesterday (though as noted below, there’s still some uncertainty in the staff).
- Veteran infielder Omar Infante was among the Tigers’ camp cuts today, possibly setting him up to opt out from his deal next week, as Beck notes on Twitter. Infante showed well in camp, slashing .351/.368/.486, and Beck suggests it’s unlikely he’ll pass on an opportunity to test the open market if Detroit doesn’t change its mind about his roster placement. Ausmus did say, though, that he believes Infante would be willing to take a Triple-A assignment if he can’t find a major league job elsewhere, Evan Woodberry of MLive.com tweets.
- The Tigers also sent out 31-year-old outfielder Alex Presley, despite the fact that he put up a ridiculous .452/.528/.839 batting line in camp. Ausmus says he told Presley to be prepared for a call-up at any time, though, as Woodberry tweets. Otherwise, Ausmus played things close to the vest, Woodberry writes, as the skipper declined to give clarity to the team’s intentions in the outfield. With Presley out of the picture, it seems that Tyler Collins and JaCoby Jones could share time in center while Mikie Mahtook and Steven Moya do the same to cover for the injured J.D. Martinez in right. But Ausmus seemingly hinted there could be some moves in the works that would change the complexion of the roster, so there’s still plenty of uncertainty.
- The Indians will place Lonnie Chisenhall on the 10-day DL to open the year, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian tweets. But the shoulder injury he suffered in a recent collision with the outfield wall doesn’t seem likely to keep him out for much more than the minimum. For the time being, at least, Abraham Almonte will take a spot on the active roster.
The Tigers are continuing to scan the market for center field upgrades, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Detroit has been looking around for more options throughout camp, though perhaps the time isn’t quite ripe to make a move with other organizations holding onto their depth until their own situations are resolved. Rosenthal notes that JaCoby Jones has shown most impressively thus far among the in-house competitors with a .346/.393/.615 batting line. Alex Presley has also hit well this spring, though he has spent most of his time in the majors in a corner spot, while fellow competitors Tyler Collins and Mikie Mahtook have each struggled at the plate in game action.
Here’s more from the central divisions:
- Miguel Cabrera left yesterday’s WBC action with back tightness, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said he’s not concerned with his star’s health, as Evan Woodberry of MLive.com reports. Team Venezuela skipper Omar Vizquel, who’s also a member of the Detroit coaching staff, notified Ausmus that it’s nothing more than a minor issue.
- The Indians received positive health updates on two critical players, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Carlos Carrasco is ready to begin throwing again, with the organization expressing optimism that his elbow soreness was little more than a blip. Meanwhile, outfielder Michael Brantley “feels good” after a five-inning appearance on the minor-league side of camp. His shoulder health remains a major variable for the defending American League champs.
- The Brewers pulled center fielder Keon Broxton from the team’s game today after he experienced soreness in his surgically repaired wrist, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports (Twitter links). Fortunately, though, it’s just a minor bone chip that’s said not to represent a significant concern. Broxton impressed in his limited time in the bigs last year and is hitting a scorching .395/.489/.737 in 14 games this spring, so the club is undoubtedly relieved that it can still look forward to a full season from the 26-year-old.
- Of course, the Brewers are also hoping that another wave of young outfielders will push Broxton and others before long. The organization plans to field a Triple-A outfield of Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell, and Brett Phillips, Haudricourt further writes. That’s at least somewhat surprising in the case of Phillips, Haudricourt notes, given his rough 2016 campaign at Double-A.
- Twins GM Thad Levine spoke with MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand about a variety of topics in his first spring with his new organization. He says the Twins are hoping to avoid the lengthy rebuilding processes that some other organizations have pursued in recent years, citing the “wealth of young talent” the club will field at the major league level. The 103-loss 2016 campaign was something of an anomaly, he suggests, given the talent level. While the hyped Minnesota position players are well known, Levine also suggests there’s some cause for optimism in the pitching staff. He suggests there’s “some burgeoning pitching talent” on hand and also notes that he expects better health — and results — from Phil Hughes and others. There’s plenty more to digest from the interview for the Twins’ faithful.
Center field has been a question mark for the Tigers since trading Cameron Maybin to the Angels on the first day of the offseason, and to this point, the most logical scenario has looked to be a platoon between the out-of-options Tyler Collins and trade pickup Mikie Mahtook. Anthony Gose was previously outrighted off the 40-man roster — though he remains in the organization — and although JaCoby Jones was a frequently mentioned candidate, he’s still rather inexperienced at the position after shifting there from shortstop. Nonetheless, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press tweeted today that Detroit manager Brad Ausmus offered high praise for Jones’ glovework thus far in camp and characterized him as a legitimate candidate to land the job. That said, Fenech also tweets that scouts have told him that the Tigers are continuing to monitor other teams in search of potential center field alternatives to their in-house candidates.
A bit more on the Tigers…
- Right fielder J.D. Martinez tells MLB.com’s Jason Beck that he was “really bothered” by the precipitous drop-off in his defensive ratings from 2015 to 2016. Martinez went from a Gold Glove finalist with very sound grades from Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved (in 2015) to one of the worst defensive outfielders in all of Major League Baseball in the estimation of those same metrics just one year later. Beck points out, though, that Martinez’s outfield assist total plummeted from 15 to three, while his error total rose (despite tallying fewer innings). Martinez expressed frustration with the downturn and said he’s placed an increased emphasis on his defense in an attempt to rebuild his reputation in the outfield. While the slugger did acknowledge that defensive prowess is becoming an increasingly important factor in free agency — and Martinez will hit the open market next winter — he stressed that his focus on improving his defense is to help the Tigers’ 2017 performance.
- Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes that the Tigers are looking to add some more catching depth and wonders if their recent back-to-back pair of games with the Phillies could offer a potential solution. Salisbury notes that the Phillies have a number of catching options in camp, including veteran Ryan Hanigan, whom the Tigers saw quite a bit when he started consecutive games against them this week. Former Tiger Bryan Holaday is also vying to be the backup to Cameron Rupp in Philadelphia, as are younger options Andrew Knapp and Logan Moore (though Knapp isn’t considered a trade candidate). James McCann and Alex Avila are currently lined up to be the primary backstops for Detroit in 2017, with minor league veteran John Hicks also on the 40-man roster as a Triple-A depth option. Barring an injury to McCann or Avila, I’d imagine that any catching addition would be Triple-A bound himself, though certainly there’s value in accruing additional depth at a thin position.