Needless to say, the signing of Blanton to a two-year, $15MM contract last year has not worked out for the Halos. Blanton, 33, threw to a 6.04 ERA in 132 2/3 innings last year, though there was at least some hope of a rebound given his 3.18 K:BB ratio and 3.84 mark in both xFIP and SIERA. Then again, Blanton has consistently underperformed against those metrics in recent seasons. While there had been some consideration of Blanton starting out in the bullpen, the club apparently decided to cut ties after a spring in which he surrendered 16 earned runs in just 20 1/3 innings.
Baseball personnel believe Billy Beane of the Athletics is the best GM in the game, the New York Post's Joel Sherman writes in a survey of scouts and executives. "He continues to find ways to be ahead of trends," says one scout. Joe Maddon of the Rays and Mike Matheny of the Cardinals got the most votes for best manager, and the Angels' Mike Trout got the most votes for best player. Here are more notes from around the West divisions.
- New Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler doesn't understand Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd offseason comments questioning his passion for the game, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. "I'm still trying to figure out where they're coming from," Fowler says. " 'Passion for the game' – I mean, you see me each and every day. This will never change. So I don't know where that was coming from." Fowler also tells Drellich he didn't know whether O'Dowd was even the Rockies' GM, or whether it was assistant GM Bill Geivett. (O'Dowd runs baseball operations, while Geivett runs big-league operations.) The Rockies traded Fowler to Houston in December.
- Joe Blanton is bracing for an uncertain future with the Angels, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez writes. "Whatever happens, happens," says Blanton. "All I can do is just go pitch and try to make the adjustments in-game and keep working hard." Blanton has $7.5MM plus a $1MM buyout remaining on his contract, and does not have a spot in the Angels' rotation after a miserable 2013 season. The Angels could release him, or move him to the bullpen while they wait for their relief corps to get healthy.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow was in attendance for North Carolina State pitcher Carlos Rodon's start Friday, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports. The left-hander is widely considered the top talent in this summer's draft. In his outing, Rodon allowed two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings, walking four but striking out 12. While Luhnow wouldn't discuss Rodon specifically, he commented that the trip "made me miss my scouting days." Here are two more AL West notes:
- A source tells MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo that the Mariners feel "no urgency" to trade infielder Nick Franklin, who appears to be without a position following the Robinson Cano signing. There's healthy interest in Franklin after the 23-year-old flashed promise in his 2013 Major League debut, but a trade "doesn't seem like a given at this point," Cotillo writes.
- Joe Blanton could change minds in the Angels organization with another strong start, Bill Shaikin writes for the Los Angeles Times. The team previously "did not even pretend" that Blanton was in competition for a rotation job, and he struggled in his early spring outings. The Angels' limited pitching depth will likely be a factor in their ultimate decision on Blanton.
- Alternately, If the right-hander continues to show improvement and the Angels begin receiving calls on him, they would probably eat most of his salary in a trade, Shaikin says.
The Mariners announced today that Taijuan Walker will be shut down for the next week due to shoulder inflammation. It's a precautionary move, it would seem, based on manager Lloyd McClendon's comments. Said McClendon (via the Tacoma News Tribune's Bob Dutton on Twitter): "This guy, we’re not just talking about 2014. Hopefully, we’re talking about the next 15 years." The injury doesn't appear major for the Mariners right now, but it's another reason for some concern in the wake of a finger injury to Hisashi Iwakuma. The Mariners will learn the results of his tests on that injury tomorrow. Here's more on the Mariners and the AL West…
- Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio feels that the Mariners should sign both Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales (ESPN Insider required). Bowden feels that the competitive nature of the AL East will make it too difficult for two Wild Card teams to come from that division. Assuming one Wild Card from the East, the Mariners could compete with the Rangers, Angels, Indians and Royals for the second spot, in Bowden's opinion. Adding that pair would also allow the club to hang onto Nick Franklin for the time being, allowing him to serve as a strong fallback option in the event of an infield injury.
- The Angels aren't committed to carrying a long reliever in their bullpen, and as such they could trade or release Joe Blanton prior to Opening Day, writes Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times. Blanton could slot into the rotation in the event of an injury or should Tyler Skaggs need further minor league time, but his contract doesn't make him a lock for the roster in Shaikin's mind.
- Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports discusses Prince Fielder's impact on the Rangers' lineup as he analyzes the merit of lineup protection. Morosi also acknowledges the statistical evidence that it may be somewhat of a myth. Morosi spoke with several executives and players in his in-depth piece, with Rangers backstop J.P. Arencibia specifically stating: "Robinson Cano is a guy that, hey, we’re going to pitch around him, bottom line," when referring to the division-rival Mariners.
Nelson Cruz's market seems almost non-existent in the eyes of Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan, who goes through every team in baseball to try and find a home for the outfielder. Twenty-nine teams are "stretches" or "not a fit," while only the Orioles are a "decent" candidate, and Kendrys Morales might be a better fit for them. A return to the Rangers would be a "stretch," and GM Jon Daniels recently said that he expects Cruz to sign elsewhere now that Shin-Soo Choo is in the fold. MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth also took a crack at examining Cruz's market a few days ago — a reader poll pegged the Mariners as the best contender to sign Cruz, though they garnered just over 23% of the vote.
Here's the latest from around the AL West…
- Neftali Feliz wants to be a reliever for the rest of his career and he's intent on regaining his old job as the Rangers' closer, the righty tells MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan via a translator. Feliz said he is "finally" recovered from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for most of 2012 and 2013, cutting short his stint in the Texas rotation at the start of the 2012 season. Feliz has pitched well out of the bullpen in the Dominican Winter League and he'll compete with Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers for the closer's job in 2014.
- The Angels will bring Joe Blanton to Spring Training and if they can't find a trade for the veteran hurler, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez opines (via Twitter), Blanton will simply be released. Blanton posted a career-worst 6.04 ERA in 2013, though the advanced metrics (3.84 xFIP, 3.92 SIERA) indicate that ERA was inflated thanks to an ungainly 19.1% home run rate and a .346 BABIP. The Halos would eat $8.5MM if they released Blanton — his $7.5MM salary for 2014 and the $1MM buyout of his $8MM 2015 option.
- Gonzalez also tweets that he expects the Angels to sign another free agent pitcher to their rotation.
- Since the Astros have been in full-on rebuilding mode for virtually all of GM Jeff Luhnow's tenure, some player agents told Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle this offseason that they were simply weren't that familiar with Luhnow. “All of our current players have representatives, and I’ve dealt with a lot of the agents and agencies through the draft over the years…But yeah, it’s a different position that we’re in this year relative to last year. Remember, in 2011, I was hired in December, and at that point things were fairly far along and there was not a lot of flexibility of doing much except for trades we did," Luhnow said. "To a certain extent, having the position flexibility and financial flexibility to participate in the free-agent market has been a new experience for me as a general manager, and a good one.”
- With all the big moves in the AL West this offseason, Drellich opines that some of the would-be contenders in the division could have already peaked in a couple of seasons' time, when the Astros will be ready to step up and contend themselves.
- In AL West news from earlier today, Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson found a new agent and we got some updates on Mark Mulder's contract with the Angels.
In an article for ESPN.com, Jayson Stark collects opinions from around baseball on the new wild card game. While the arrangement motivates teams to win their divisions, Braves catcher Brian McCann, a veteran of last year's NL wild card contest, tells Stark that the game doesn't have a playoff atmosphere. "I just feel like, you play 162 games, you win 90-plus, and all of a sudden, it's one game and you're home?" McCann said. Stark's article also covers suggestions on how to address complaints with the one-game format. Here's more links from around the majors:
- For the Rangers, the season is increasingly looking like a troubling repeat of last year's collapse down the stretch. Looking ahead at possible free agent targets, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweets that the team could pursue one of the top international free agents — first baseman Jose Abreu and pitcher Masahiro Tanaka — but not both. Brian McCann will be the team's primary target, however, Grant predicts in another tweet.
- The Angels' decision to give Friday's start to minor-leaguer Matt Shoemaker isn't an encouraging sign for Tommy Hanson or Joe Blanton, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times writes. Hanson was recalled from Triple-A on Monday, while Blanton has spent the last two months in the bullpen. Though manager Mike Scioscia indicated the club merely wanted to get a look at Shoemaker, DiGiovanna says there's a good chance that Blanton will be released before the 2014 season, while Hanson is a non-tender candidate.
- The Astros' Chris Carter is aware of his high strikeout total this season, which currently sits at 202 and is the highest in the majors, Gene Duffey writes in an article for MLB.com. "Everybody's talking about it, but I just try to have good at-bats," Carter said. "I want to be around .290. I want to be a complete hitter. I've got to get the strikeouts down and the average up." While Carter's batted just .221 this season, he leads the Astros with 67 walks.
- White Sox GM Rick Hahn addressed his team's long-term plans in an interview with Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Two of the most significant items in the Sox's budget will be spending in the draft and international market, Hahn says. "Spending to our max in those two areas is important to the long-term sustaining of our success that we are trying to build to," the GM said. "Those will be kind of the first two items, and [they will be] significantly more than the past."
- Cubs righty Scott Baker says he'd like to return to the club next season, Manny Randhawa of MLB.com reports. "I think it's a wonderful place to play," Baker said. "I kind of feel like with these last few starts, there's less of a question mark about me next year than there was going into this year … Hopefully, whether it's the Cubs or other teams, [they] feel the same way." Baker made just three starts for the Cubs in 2013 after spending most of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.
As noted earlier today, the Angels' acquisition of infielder Grant Green from the Athletics looks to be a sound move thus far, but the team still has plenty of holes, namely in the pitching department. Here's more on the Halos…
- Asked by Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times whether or not GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia would return next season, owner Arte Moreno declined comment. Not surprisingly, Scioscia told Shaikin that he wants to remain with the Angels. He says he has not given any thought to one day managing his hometown Phillies now that Charlie Manuel has been fired.
- One general manager told Peter Gammons of the MLB Network that the Angels have the two most unmovable contracts in baseball in Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols. The same GM added that they "have no farm system" after trading for Zack Greinke and forfeiting their 2013 first-rounder to sign Hamilton, and they've wasted the inexpensive years of Mike Trout's career.
- Dipoto failed on his four offseason pitching acquisitions, writes Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times. Ryan Madson, Sean Burnett, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton have contributed very little for the Halos, which Dipoto himself acknowledged. The team is confident that Burnett will be healthy for 2014, but DiGiovanna writes that Blanton could be released in the offseason and Hanson non-tendered. The thin market for free agent pitching might ultimately lead the Halos to consider trading Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Erick Aybar or Howie Kendrick for young, controllable pitching help.
Joe Blanton will start for the Angels against the Dodgers Tuesday night, and with the imminent returns of Jered Weaver and Tommy Hanson, it would appear to be a crucial start. But that's not how Blanton sees it, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reports. "I don't have anything to prove," says Blanton. "This is my ninth [full season]. If I have to prove something my ninth year … you know, obviously I want to throw the ball well." Blanton has a 6.19 ERA with 5.7 K/9 in 56 2/3 innings, although he has only walked 2.1 batters per nine. "I feel like I've pretty much thrown the ball the way I want to throw. Stuff's been fine, and they've just hit balls where people aren't," Blanton says. Here are more notes from the American League.
- Shohei Otani made his NPB debut as a starting pitcher last Thursday, and a member of the Rangers' front office was in attendance, Sponichi reports. "I was aware of him, but his pitching really left an impression," Scott Littlefield, a special assistant to Rangers GM Jon Daniels, said. "I think he's got a bright future ahead of him if he can stay healthy." Otani, who at one point seemed likely to sign with an MLB team directly out of high school, gave up two earned runs over five innings in his debut, striking out two and walking three. Sponichi also notes that Littlefield was on hand to watch Masahiro Tanaka's start on Wednesday. Tanaka, 24, has a career 2.47 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 in seven seasons for Rakuten.
- The Indians' bullpen is a bit banged-up right now, but with the trade deadline still two months away, GM Chris Antonetti is optimistic about the relievers he has, the Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes reports. Closer Chris Perez headed to the disabled list Monday with a shoulder injury. "Losing your closer is never easy, but we still feel the solutions are in our clubhouse," says Antonetti. Perez's replacement, Vinnie Pestano, has had lower velocity since his own return from the disabled list two weeks ago. Still, trading for a reliever at this early point in the season would be a little unusual. Hoynes mentions signing Brian Wilson as a possibility, but Wilson had Tommy John surgery last year and hasn't pitched in 2013.
Aaron Steen contributed to this post.
Twins general manager Terry Ryan spoke with Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN recently and told Mackey that he's not yet ready to pat himself on the back for last season's Francisco Liriano trade. Mackey opines that the Twins look like clear winners already, noting that the White Sox paid $2MM for lackluster results from Liriano, who didn't even re-sign with the team. In exchange, Minnesota has a serviceable utility infielder in Eduardo Escobar and a 23-year-old lefty in Pedro Hernandez who already has four solid MLB outings under his belt for the Twins. Mackey notes what a breath of fresh air a good trade is after recent missteps including the Johan Santana trade, the Wilson Ramos trade and the J.J. Hardy-for-Jim Hoey swap. Here are more highlights from Mackey's excellent piece…
- Ryan told Mackey that he's embracing statistical analysis far more in his second run as the team's GM than his first. Ryan consults with Twins' stat guru Jack Goin on every personnel decision, but Mackey notes that "…Ryan's background is still firmly entrenched in traditional scouting."
- When asked by Mackey if he could form opinions on 18 college players he'd never seen after attending just one college game, Ryan replied: "That's what you're supposed to do, and if you go into that college game and you can't do that then you need to get out of the business, because you're paid to evaluate and make a decision."
- Ryan feels that lack of command, not lack of stuff, has been the reason for Mike Pelfrey's early struggles in his first season with the Twins. Pelfrey is still less than one year removed from Tommy John surgery. Ryan isn't surprised by the early problems and feels that Pelfrey "will be fine" in the long run, which implies to yours truly that Pelfrey will have a fairly long leash.
- The Twins have two weeks to make a decision on right-hander Tim Wood, whom they signed to a Major League contract this offseason following his dominant season for the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate in 2012. Mackey reports that Wood's stuff has looked good but notes that the Twins will have to expose him to waivers if he's not on the 25-man roster at the end of his 30-day rehab window because he is out of options.
- Minnesota "flirted pretty heavily" with Joe Blanton this winter, but it looks like they dodged a bullet when Blanton picked the Angels instead. Mackey notes that Blanton has allowed as many homers (nine) as the entire Twins rotation combined.
- The Twins will be cautious with how quickly they promote top prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, as the organization wants to see how they fare when facing pitchers in their respective leagues for a second time. Mackey adds that Sano — Baseball America's No. 9 overall prospect — doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season.
- Burnett’s 2015 option vests if he pitches in 110 total games from 2013-14, Mike DiGiovanna of the LA Times reports (all Twitter links). The 2015 option is valued at $4.5MM. The Angels recently agreed to sign Burnett to a two-year, $8MM contract that includes incentives. The option becomes a club option with a $500K buyout if it doesn't vest, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (Twitter links). Burnett obtains a $250K signing bonus, $3.5MM in 2013 and $3.75MM in 2014, Rosenthal reports.
- Blanton’s two-year, $15MM contract with the Angels calls for a $6.5MM salary in 2013 and a $7.5MM salary in 2014, DiGiovanna reports. The deal includes an $8MM club option for 2015 with a $1MM buyout.
- Randy Choate will earn base salaries of $1.5MM in 2013, $3MM in 2014 and $3MM in 2015 on his three-year, $7.5MM contract with the Cardinals, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports. Langosch has all of the details on the deal, which was agreed upon one week ago.