- While domestic violence charges against Mets closer Jeurys Familia may soon be dropped, that doesn’t mean he won’t face league discipline. That possibility must be considered by the organization as it charts its offseason, GM Sandy Alderson says, as ESPNNewYork.com’s Adam Rubin reports. Of course, it still seems unlikely that the club will be motivated to spend big on a new late-inning arm, particularly with Addison Reed capable of filling in for the ninth inning after an excellent 2016 season. It’s possible that a reliever, or perhaps some array of young talent, could end up moving to New York if (or, more likely, when) the team deals one of its left-handed-hitting corner outfielders, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports. The Mets’ strong preference is still to trade Jay Bruce rather than Curtis Granderson; it seems that the latter player may be expected to share time in center with Juan Lagares.
- Alderson also said in an appearance on MLB Network Radio today (Twitter link) that he’d be “surprised” if the Mets got involved with a top-level center fielder in free agency due not only to the draft pick they’d have to forfeit (referring to Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond) and also due to the fact that the team has other needs on the roster. Following the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets are looking to move an outfielder, with reports indicating that Jay Bruce is the name they hope to shed. However, Curtis Granderson is reportedly drawing more interest, and FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that the Orioles are among the teams with interest in Granderson (Twitter link). Baltimore doesn’t appear to have much interest in Bruce, however, he adds.
- The Braves put in a strong pursuit of righty Edinson Volquez before he went to the Marlins, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted yesterday. The team’s interest in Volquez came after it had already landed both R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon, but the Braves have been said to be focused on acquiring short-term assets in the rotation or front-of-the-rotation arms that would require enormous trade packages. As such, it’s possible that Atlanta only had interest in Volquez on a one-year deal, but he received two years and $22MM from the Marlins. Atlanta acted quickly to grab another short-term rotation commodity with tonight’s Garcia trade.
- The Marlins, too, still appear to be shopping for arms, as Heyman reports that they have potential interest in free-agent right-handers Jason Hammel and Doug Fister. The Fish are also looking for bullpen help, Heyman notes, which has been a priority in Miami for much of the offseason. Tim Healey of the Miami Sun-Sentinel writes that Miami is hoping to keep right-hander David Phelps in the bullpen following his dominance in that role in 2016. “Ideally, if we can keep a deep bullpen, we can keep him as that multi-inning effective bridge to the back-end guys,” said president of baseball ops Michael Hill to Healey. “He impacts more games for us that way. But we know he has the versatility if he has to move into the rotation to do that seamlessly and not miss a beat.”
- The Nationals are still looking for a closer, tweets Heyman, but it’s likely that they consider Aroldis Chapman to be too expensive. The Nats are interested in a reunion with Mark Melancon, however, he notes, adding that Washington “loved” Melancon’s clubhouse presence in his short stint with the team following a trade-deadline rental this past summer.
The Yankees’ top relief target this winter is their own former closer Aroldis Chapman, but they have made contact with other stars at various positions as well, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports writes. The Yankees have also been in touch with closer Kenley Jansen (although they prefer Chapman, since he’s pitched for them before and since signing him wouldn’t cost them a draft pick) as well as hitters Carlos Beltran, Edwin Encarnacion, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Bautista, as has been previously reported. They’ve also likely spoken to representatives for starters Rich Hill (in whom top Yankees exec Brian Cashman has stated interest) and Jason Hammel (about whom the Yankees were previously known to be gathering information).
Encarnacion, Heyman writes, could be a high priority for the Yankees, although he also reports that the team has spoken with Cespedes’ agent up to five times already. As has been previously noted, the Yankees are involved in Beltran’s market, along with the Astros, Red Sox and perhaps Rangers.
Heyman also adds a few new names to the mix: those of Dexter Fowler, Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli and Brandon Moss. The Yankees currently have Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Judge in the outfield and Tyler Austin at DH, but Judge and Austin are inexperienced, and the Yankees could trade Gardner to clear playing time and payroll space for an impact bat.
Heyman cites Napoli, who is coming off a solid .239/.335/.465 season in Cleveland, as one option who could be particularly intriguing. Napoli or Holliday could help the Yankees at DH, while Fowler would likely play the outfield, and Moss could help in the outfield or first base, or at DH. Either way, it’s unclear to this point whether the Yankees are looking for one player for outfield and DH or two.
The Yankees have received trade inquiries about both third baseman Chase Headley and left fielder Brett Gardner, GM Brian Cashman told reporters (including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch). “They’re still here and they’re here for a reason, but we’ll see,” Cashman said. “We have our interest in getting younger and stronger and more flexible, and improve our present and our future. If all that provides that opportunity, then I think I’ll be talking to our owner and see if he’ll consider it.”
The switch-hitting Headley hit .253/.331/.385 with 14 homers over 529 PA last season, as he sandwiched four months of pretty good hitting between a dreadful April and a mediocre September. While he posted below-average numbers at the plate (92 wRC+) for the second consecutive year, Headley rebounded from a poor defensive year in 2015 to deliver his usual strong performance at the hot corner in 2016, with +7 Defensive Runs Runs Saved and 8.6 UZR/150.
Powered by his defense and a tremendous year on the basepaths (3.9 on Fangraphs’ Baserunning metric), Headley was worth 2.6 fWAR in 2016, which made him more than worth his $13MM salary. The veteran will earn $13MM in each of the next two seasons and turns 33 in May, however, so it makes sense that New York is at least open to listening to offers for Headley’s services as part of the club’s continuing effort to get both younger and cheaper. Since the Yankees don’t have another obvious third base option immediately ready to step in, trading Headley could be a precursor to another move to adding a third baseman.
Gardner is also entering his age-33 season, and is guaranteed $25MM over the next two seasons (counting the $2MM buyout of his $12.5MM club option for 2019). The veteran outfielder hit .261/.351/.362 with seven home runs over 634 PA and ended up with a pretty similar season to Headley — 2.4 fWAR built on excellent defense and baserunning moreso than hitting. Aside from his injury-shortened 2012, Gardner has produced at least 2.3 fWAR in every season since 2009, so it’s no surprise that teams looking for an outfield upgrade have been in touch with Cashman.
If Gardner is dealt, the Yankees could replace him in a big way in left field with Yoenis Cespedes. Cashman confirmed that he had spoken to Cespedes’ representatives and that he expects more talks to take place now that the Yankees have freed up some payroll by dealing Brian McCann.
Signing the 31-year-old Cespedes (MLBTR’s top-rated free agent on the market) would obviously cost the Yankees over $100MM and commit them to a deal well into Cespedes’ mid-30’s, which may not jibe with the team’s overall desire to get younger. Cespedes is quite a bit younger and probably more likely to remain productive in 2017 than veterans like Carlos Beltran or Jose Bautista, though those older players would also be available on much shorter contracts. Cespedes in particular would be able to replace Gardner’s defense as well, while Beltran or Bautista have defensive limitations.
“I’m going to be open-minded to what’s available,” Cashman said. “We now will pursue bats, but we’ll see if it takes us anywhere. It could be a DH-only situation; obviously the preference always is going to be someone that can provide positional ability so you have more flexibility on your roster. We’ll see where it takes us.”
The general manager acknowledged interest in reunions with Beltran and Aroldis Chapman, both dealt by the Yankees in the leadup to last year’s trade deadline.
Hoch also reports that “the Yankees have started the information-gathering process” in regards to both Rich Hill and Jason Hammel. Hill was already known to be a potential New York target this winter, while this is the first time Hammel has been linked to the Yankees (or any team) since the Cubs surprisingly declined his option after the World Series. The 34-year-old Hammel is a reliable and productive innings-eater who would be a good fit in the Yankees rotation, though his price tag could be driven up since free agent pitching is so scarce this offseason.
TODAY: Chicago allowed Hammel to decide whether he’d be back for one more year or test the market, according to ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers. That was no doubt an easy call for him, at least financially.
YESTERDAY: The Cubs have declined right-hander Jason Hammel’s $12MM option for 2017 in favor of a $2MM buyout, according to a team announcement. Hammel is now a free agent.
The World Series champions’ decision to cut the reasonably priced Hammel comes as a surprise, as he at least looked like a trade candidate prior to Sunday. However, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced that the team had no plans to pick up Hammel’s option just to shop him.
“The intent was never to exercise the option and then trade Jason, so we will not consider that path,” said Epstein. “Instead, Jason will have the opportunity to enter free agency coming off an outstanding season and the ability to choose his next club.”
Hammel, 34, contributed 166 2/3 innings of 3.83 ERA pitching to go with a 7.78 K/9, 2.86 BB/9 and 42.1 percent ground-ball rate in 2016. He experienced elbow tightness late in the regular season, though, and the club subsequently left him off its roster during playoff victories over the Giants, Dodgers and Indians.
This ends Hammel’s second stint with the Cubs, who signed him to a one-year contract entering the 2014 season and then sent him and Jeff Samardzija to Oakland in a July deal that brought shortstop Addison Russell to Chicago. Hammel subsequently returned to the Windy City in free agency the next winter, ultimately collecting $20MM from the team on what would have been a three-year, $30MM pact had the Cubs exercised his option.
For Hammel’s earning power, the Cubs’ move to buy him out comes at a fortuitous time. Given the weakness of this winter’s free agent class, he’ll return to the open market as one of the top starters available. Going back to 2014, Hammel has logged a 3.68 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and 40 percent grounder mark over 513 2/3 innings.
Barring offseason acquisitions, the Cubs’ removal of Hammel from their roster will leave them with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey and Mike Montgomery as their starting five entering 2017. That quintet should form one of the majors’ premier rotations next season if healthy, though the Cubs’ depth took an obvious hit with Hammel’s exit.
Cubs starter Jason Hammel struggled during his outing in a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday, yielding three earned runs on five hits in 2 1/3 innings, but the right-hander was upset with manager Joe Maddon for pulling him so early. As a result, Hammel and Maddon had a closed-door meeting after the game, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I didn’t even pitch today in my mind. I barely threw 40 pitches,” said Hammel, who tossed 39 pitches and was a victim of a quick hook at times last year. “It was a side day for me pretty much.”
Maddon, who also managed Hammel in Tampa Bay, stated after the meeting, “Of course he didn’t like what I told him, but I had to tell him. He was not happy with me taking him out that early.”
Saturday’s start was the second poor one in a row for Hammel, who allowed 10 runs (six earned) on 10 hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings of an 11-4 loss to the Rockies last Sunday. Hammel had previously gone three straight starts (20 innings) without giving up a run, though, and has produced quality results for the Cubs this season. The 33-year-old has compiled a 3.21 ERA, 7.52 K/9, 2.88 BB/9 and 44 percent ground-ball rate in 137 2/3 frames, but his future in Chicago doesn’t seem secure, as Wittenmyer notes.
The Cubs have four strong bets to occupy rotation spots next season in Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and John Lackey, and recent acquisition Mike Montgomery could jockey for position behind them.
Regarding Montgomery, Maddon said Friday (via Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago), “I think he is a major league starter, regardless of what happens tonight. This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.”
Montgomery ended up surrendering three earned runs, six hits and four walks against five strikeouts Friday, so it was merely a mediocre performance. Nevertheless, he seems to have Maddon’s confidence, and the lefty’s presence could help push Hammel out of Chicago after the season.
Hammel will not reach the 200-inning mark necessary for his $12MM option for 2017 to automatically vest. Thus, it will become a club option and leave the Cubs to decide after the season whether to exercise it or buy Hammel out for $2MM. Given that Hammel has been a more-than-capable starter in recent years, he should have trade value – particularly during a winter set to feature few appealing choices in free agency. The Cubs, therefore, could pick up Hammel’s reasonably priced option and shop him around the majors, writes Wittenmyer.
Hammel is in the midst of his second stint with the Cubs, who signed him to a one-year contract entering the 2014 season and then sent him and Jeff Samardzija to Oakland in a July deal that brought shortstop Addison Russell to Chicago. Hammel subsequently returned to the Windy City in free agency the next winter. In 417 innings with the Cubs, Hammel has logged a 3.32 ERA, 8.44 K/9 and 3.21 BB/9.
Every player has different priorities, many of which go beyond maximizing earnings, though that’s not always easy to discern from publicly available information. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports provides an interesting recent example, though, in Jason Hammel of the Cubs. The right-hander and his wife were disappointed to be dealt away from Chicago at the trade deadline in 2014, with Hammel telling Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein that he would “pitch well enough that you bring me back” even as he departed for the A’s. Though Hammel wasn’t as good in Oakland as he had been before the deal, that’s just what happened, as Hammel inked a two-year, $18MM deal in the offseason. It looked like a nice value for the team at the time, and the veteran has rewarded the Cubs with 204 2/3 innings of 3.43 ERA pitching since his return.
Here’s more from the NL Central:
- Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta has been cleared to begin swinging a bat, as MLB.com’s Jen Langosch reports on Twitter. Peralta’s thumb injury looked like a major blow at the time, and while his loss has been softened by the stellar play of Aledmys Diaz, he should still provide a boost for a club that’s hovering around .500 while their division rivals to the north lay waste to the rest of the league. Fellow middle infielders Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko haven’t been nearly as effective as Diaz, and could cede playing time to Peralta when he’s healthy.
- Shane Victorino is active at Triple-A Iowa for the Cubs, but he might not spend much time there before a decision is made on his future with the organization. Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register tweets that Chicago has informed the veteran outfielder that his status will be reevaluated after a few weeks with the team’s top affiliate. Victorino is off to a solid start, with five hits — including two doubles and a triple — in his first four games.
- There’s long been talk that Epstein would sign a new deal with the Cubs before reaching executive free agency after the season, but he tells Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link) that there are no imminent extensions — either for himself or with any of the team’s players. Nevertheless, the presumption still seems to be that Epstein will re-up with the organization at some point.
- It was always expected to be a difficult season for the Reds, but the organization has dealt with more injuries than might’ve been hoped. C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer provides updates on several situations. Righty Michael Lorenzen is just now returning to the hill after experiencing elbow issues this spring and then suffering a bout with mono. Fellow pitchers Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, and Jon Moscot are all making progress with their own injury matters, but certainly that’s not a list of arms that the club hoped to see on the DL at this stage of the year. DeSclafani, like Lorenzen, has yet to appear in the majors this season.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed the Chicago media today, one day after his team’s season came to an end at the hands of the National League Champion Mets. Some highlights from Epstein’s media session, courtesy of Carrie Muskat of MLB.com and Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune…
- Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the press conference was Epstein definitively stating, “We would like to add more quality pitching. … We need more pitching, that’s obvious.” He would go on (as can be seen in this video link from Gonzales) to point out that the team’s rotation and pitching staff as a whole ranked third in ERA, first in FIP and first in wins above replacement. Epstein called the free agent market for pitching a “necessary evil” but stopped short of definitively stating that would be the route the club goes this winter. “…whether it’s through trade or free agency, we would like to add at least one quality starting pitcher this winter.” Not only will the team focus on adding to the pitching staff, though, they’ll also focus on improving their pitchers’ abilities to hold runners on base. The Mets exposed that flaw significantly in the NLCS, as Gonzales points out in the second of his two above-linked columns.
- Epstein said that the Cubs “certainly” have interest in re-signing Dexter Fowler as a free agent, as the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan tweets. “[Fowler] made a big impact on the field and off,” Epstein said of Dexter (MLB.com video link), “and we love having him around.” Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com has more of Epstein’s comments on Fowler and notes that the Cubs are expected to make a qualifying offer to Fowler, though he’ll assuredly reject that and test the open market.
- The Cubs would be “foolish” not to pursue a long-term deal with Jake Arrieta this offseason, Epstein said. “I’m sure there will come a time where we approach Jake and his agent, Scott Boras, about seeing if we can extend that window. … More than anything, we’re just appreciative of the person he is and the year that he had, and what, at the very least, the next two seasons in a Cub uniform look like for him.” Arrieta is controllable through arbitration for two more seasons, and while extensions for Boras clients that are so close to free agency are rare, but the Cubs do have a new TV deal coming in the near future, which can’t hurt their cause in trying to lock up one of the game’s best pitchers.
- Epstein briefly acknowledged that the TV deal will give the team some additional flexibility down the line, though he didn’t get into specifics. “The 2016 payroll is not going to be as big as the 2020 payroll because of the TV deal, but what we accomplished this year should help,” he said in reference to the added revenue from the team’s NLCS run. “We’ll have an aggressive mindset.” Epstein did also acknowledge, however, that the arbitration salaries facing the team will limit some of the resources. MLBTR projects the Cubs’ nine arb-eligible players to combine for $33.4MM in salaries (Arrieta’s $10.6MM projection accounts for nearly one-third of that sum), though obviously some of those players could be non-tendered or traded.
- The Cubs won’t yet forecast how Kyle Schwarber’s defensive career will play out, Epstein said (via Gonzales). Schwarber will continue to work out as a catcher next spring, putting in extra time with catching coach Mike Borzello. Chicago will continue to allow Schwarber to work out behind the plate and in the outfield “until we reach a point where we think it’s not the right path,” Epstein said.
- Epstein also noted that despite a rocky second half and postseason, Jason Hammel will return as an important piece of the 2016 rotation. The organization is confident that he can be the pitcher he was in the first half of the 2015 season once again.
- Gonzales tweets that Epstein also offered praise for Starlin Castro and the manner in which he handled his initial benching and eventual shift to second base as well as the way in which he rebounded at the plate late in the regular season and into the playoffs.
- The entire coaching staff has been invited back for the 2016 season, as ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers tweets.
- Asked about a new contract for himself — Epstein’s current deal runs through 2016 — Epstein downplayed that as a priority (via Muskat’s second piece above), saying it’s “not anywhere near” a top priority this winter. He also emphasized that the same conversation must be had with a good deal of the front office: “I’m sure this winter, at some point, we’ll talk not just about me but about a lot of the guys in the front office who contribute behind the scenes and make sure this group can stay together for a while and finish what we started.”
Here’s a glance at the latest out of Wrigley..
- Good news for the Cubs and Jason Hammel as his MRI results were promising, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune tweets. The hurler is expected to make his next start after the All-Star break. Hammel, 32, owns a 2.86 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 through 17 starts this season. If Hammel was sidelined for a significant amount of time, the Cubs likely would have had to ramp up their pitching search even more.
- The Cubs survived a scare when it came to Hammel’s injury but that situation only underlined the team’s need for starting pitching help, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun Times writes. “Scare’s probably a good word,” GM Jed Hoyer said. “It makes you realize every team, every pitcher can go down at any time, and you have to have the depth to handle it. … We know we still have to continue to push that.”
- Javier Baez has been cleared to swing a bat but there’s no timetable for his return just yet, Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com tweets. The Cubs have been on the lookout for pitching and it was reported last last month that one possible deal was disrupted when Baez suffered a broken finger.
A trio of notable players left tonight’s action early. It’s too soon to speculate in any of the situations, but all are worthy of note with the All-Star break right around the corner.
- Royals skipper Ned Yost indicated that he is fearful of a prolonged absence for Gordon, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports (Twitter links). Though McCullough adds that the training staff does not believe Gordon’s groin muscle detached from the bone, the 31-year-old is said to have heard a pop from the muscle.
- The Royals may have dodged a bullet, as the team announced that star left fielder Alex Gordon was carted off with a groin strain. It appeared that his left leg buckled as he chased a ball to the wall, and Gordon’s obvious pain contributed to the impression that he may have suffered a significant leg injury. Regardless, a groin strain can itself still be rather a serious problem, and it is too early to know the long-term implications. Needless to say, any lost time from the outstanding veteran would create a significant hole in the Kansas City lineup.
- Athletics lefty Scott Kazmir left his start tonight after just three innings with triceps tightness. But after the game, he told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jane Lee, on Twitter) that the issue is “super minor” and should not cause him to miss any time. As Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reminds us, via Twitter, this is not the first time that the veteran has been forced out early from a start. And indeed, there may not be cause for concern. But the timing is obviously not great, with Kazmir shaping up to be one of the market’s more appealing rental arms.
- The Cubs’ starter this evening, Jason Hammel, also left quite early with what the team called left hamstring tightness, as John Jackson writes for ESPN.com. Chicago turned to lefty Clayton Richard, who was just added in a trade. While it’s obviously less concerning to hear of an injury of this nature than the two noted above, the Cubs will surely still proceed with caution, and Hammel will undergo an MRI, per a tweet from Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Chicago’s rotation is not the deepest part of its roster, and Hammel makes up a key part of an effective top three, having put up 102 2/3 innings of 2.89 ERA pitching.
Astros righty Roberto Hernandez has finally received his visa an is set to report to spring camp for a physical, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart tweets. Hernandez has a bit of catching up to do if he hopes to make the roster after inking a minor league deal earlier in the offseason.
Here are some notes from the AL West:
- A rough 2014 season for Elvis Andrus of the Rangers has left some looking askance at his eight-year, $120MM extension, which officially kicks in this season. As the Associated Press reports (via ESPN.com), Andrus says that he is ready for a better campaign after reporting out of shape last year. “This year I took it a thousand times [more] seriously than I did the year before,” he said. “… That was an offseason that I hope never happens again. In spring training I wasn’t ready.” A turnaround from Andrus would go a long way toward restoring the once-promising trajectory of the Rangers, to say nothing of his own. It would also increase his appeal as a trade chip, though Texas no longer has quite the middle infield logjam it once did.
- Coco Crisp is set to play left field this year for the Athletics, manager Bob Melvin tells reporters including Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). That shift, which was occasioned by a desire to protect the team’s investment in Crisp by reducing the toll on his body, will result in Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld platooning in center. In turn, that probably also puts an end to the notion that Oakland could look to acquire a second baseman and move Ben Zobrist to the outfield.
- While it is hard to deny (and not entirely surprising) that the Athletics got less back for Jeff Samardzija than they gave to acquire him (along with Jason Hammel), the team feels good about the young players that it picked up from the White Sox, MLB.com’s Phil Rogers writes. “Look, both of those deals are difficult,” said assistant GM David Forst. “You never like trading a guy like Addison [Russell], but Jeff and Jason filled a particular need for us at that time. Then to turn around and lose Jason and feel like trading Jeff is the best option is never an easy decision to make. Jeff is a guy who has his best years ahead of him still. He’s right at the age you want to get a pitcher. He knows his game. His stuff is without question. It was not an easy decision to make. It was part of the balancing act we are forced to make.”