To clear room, the Cubs announced several 40-man departures. Utilitymen Robel Garcia and Daniel Descalso are both off of the list; the former was designated for assignment and the latter was placed on the 45-day injured list. Also moving off of the MLB roster was outfielder Mark Zagunis, who opted out of the 2020 season.
Theo Epstein has largely led his clubs with positive, progressive messaging that, if anything, lands on the overly-diplomatic end of the spectrum. True to form, he and the Chicago Cubs organization are encouraging their players to speak their minds as they so choose, writes Tim Stebbins of NBC Sports. Though Epstein’s comments may come off as hollow, there’s little to suggest he’s being anything but sincere. He’s been up front about wanting to organizationally (and personally) take a long, inward look at themselves for traces of the systemic racism that’s been at the fore of the country’s cultural conversation. These comments stemmed from a tweet from Adbert Alzolay that voiced some of his concerns about camp in South Bend. That tweet, however, was deleted after some of his facts proved to be inaccurate, per The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. This Here’s more from Chicago…
- Epstein more-or-less put the kibosh on any potential extensions for Chicago’s many popular, star players, per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. After Kris Bryant recently re-iterated his desire to stay in Chicago, it’s a little disquieting to hear Epstein so thoroughly shut down the idea of extending much-beloved Cubs like Bryant, Javier Baez, or Willson Contreras. On the other hand, it’s certainly a confusing time in baseball, and there are plenty of logistics to keep the organization busy just in trying to keep players safe and return to the game of baseball. The market for star players like Bryant and Baez could not be any more uncertain, and with at least two seasons before any of their core players reach free agency, the Cubs have the luxury of time. If nothing else, next offseason will offer a fascinating data point as Mookie Betts hits the open market. The Cubs certainly have the funds to re-up their stars, but they might just want to wait to see the going rate for a superstar in these uncertain times.
- On the field, manager David Ross is mulling the possibility of carrying three catchers once the season starts, per Bastian (via Twitter). Given the somewhat chaotic terms of the 2020 season, it would not be surprising to see many teams go this route. For the Cubs specifically, Victor Caratini proved enough with the bat last season to get some at-bats at first base or designated hitter while Contreras continues to serve as the everyday catcher. The switch-hitting Caratini, 26, hit .266/.348/.447 across 279 plate appearances. He saw 23 starts at first base and 2 at third base to go along with 59 starts behind the plate. Josh Phegley would figure to be the third catcher. Phegley hasn’t rated all that well defensively, but the former Oakland Athletic did pop 12 homers with a .411 slugging percentage last season.
The Cubs have signed catcher Josh Phegley to a minor-league contract, reports Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). No further details are available, although it seems likely Phegley will receive an invite to MLB spring training. Phegley is represented by Pro Star Management.
Phegley (32 in February) has been with the A’s the past four seasons. He got his most extensive MLB action in 2019, logging 342 plate appearances of .239/.282/.411 hitting (82 wRC+). That’s passable work at the dish for a catcher, but Phegley’s framing metrics were among the league’s worst. With top prospect Sean Murphy reaching the big leagues last September, Oakland elected to non-tender Phegley after the season.
The Cubs’ catching tandem of Willson Contreras and Víctor Caratini is among the league’s best, so Phegley could have an uphill battle cracking the roster. Contreras, though, has been bandied about as a potential trade candidate this offseason.
The A’s have non-tendered reliever Blake Treinen, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). He’d been projected for a $7.8MM salary, which the low-payroll A’s evidently found too steep. Additionally, the club is parting ways with reliever Ryan Buchter and catcher Josh Phegley, Slusser adds (via Twitter). Phegley had been projected for $2.2MM, while Buchter was in line for around $1.8MM.
Today’s news perhaps isn’t too surprising; MLBTR’s Jeff Todd and Steve Adams identified Treinen as a non-tender candidate last week. Oakland doesn’t figure to have much wiggle room in the budget this offseason, no doubt contributing to their efforts to find a taker for Treinen, Jurickson Profar ($5.8MM projection), and Phegley before tonight’s non-tender deadline. Profar ultimately landed in San Diego, while Treinen and Phegley were let go. Despite some late interest from the Yankees, though, the A’s were unable to match up on a Treinen deal.
Such an outcome would have been unthinkable a year ago. Treinen finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting in 2018, reflecting his otherworldly season. That year, he tossed 80.1 innings with a 0.78 ERA and sparkling peripherals. His 31.8% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate were easily the best numbers he’d put up since moving to the bullpen for good in 2015. Toss in Treinen’s typically strong ground ball ability (51.9% ground ball rate) and he was quite arguably baseball’s best reliever just a season ago.
Unfortunately, everything went backwards in 2019. Treinen’s ERA jumped more than four runs per nine to an unsightly 4.91. His strikeout rate regressed to a pedestrian 22.2%, while his walk rate more than doubled to a career-worst 13.9%. On top of all that, Treinen’s ground ball rate- his calling card dating back to his time as a National- fell nearly ten points. All that said, Treinen still boasts a high-90’s fastball and is one year removed from utter dominance, so he’ll surely attract interest. New York could be expected to touch base with his camp now that he’s a free agent, but almost any team in baseball could seek to add his upside to their bullpen.
Phegley, like Treinen, evidently failed to drum up significant trade interest. The 31-year-old slashed .239/.282/.411 (82 wRC+) in 342 plate appearances this season. While that’s actually solid for a catcher, he rated extremely poorly as a pitch framer, per Baseball Prospectus, which placed him 107th out of 113 backstops leaguewide. With the A’s acquiring Austin Allen to back up Sean Murphy in today’s Profar trade, the writing was on the wall for Phegley.
Buchter, meanwhile, pitched to a 2.98 ERA, making today’s news a bit surprising at first glance. However, that was the product of an unsustainable 91.4% strand rate, as Buchter’s 4.96 FIP suggests. His walk rate spiked to an alarming 11.6%, and Buchter’s always been a fly-ball pitcher. The home run finally caught up to him in 2019. Nevertheless, he comes with an additional season of arbitration control beyond 2020 and has sported an above-average strikeout rate in four consecutive seasons, so teams looking for left-handed bullpen help could certainly take an interest in him in free agency.
The Athletics swung a notable trade this past weekend, sending right-hander Jharel Cotton to the Cubs. But that may not be the last near-term trade the A’s make, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link) reports the team’s “discussing” moves involving reliever Blake Treinen, infielder/outfielder Jurickson Profar and catcher Josh Phegley. Barring trades, they could all be non-tender candidates for low-budget Oakland, which is projected to owe Treinen $7.8MM, Profar $5.8MM and Phegley $2.2MM in 2020.
Whether there’s an appealing piece here is up for debate, but Treinen’s just a year removed from enjoying one of the best seasons in the history of relievers. Treinen posted an eye-popping 0.78 ERA across 80 1/3 innings in 2018, but just about everything went backward for him in 2019. While the 31-year-old continued to throw in the 97 to 98 mph range, his strikeout rate fell from 11.2 per nine to 9.05, his walk rate skyrocketed from 2.35 to 5.68, his groundball percentage dropped from 51.9 to 42.8, and his home run-to-fly ball percentage shot from 4.4 to 16.4. All of that helped lead to a 4.91 ERA/5.14 FIP during an injury-shortened, 58 2/3-inning effort for Treinen, who lost his closer role to Liam Hendriks and whose days with the A’s are likely over as he approaches his final season of arbitration control.
The switch-hitting Profar, 26, was supposed to solidify second base in 2019 for Oakland, which acquired him from division-rival Texas in a high-profile trade last winter. Instead, though, Profar batted a mere .218/.301/.410 in 518 plate appearances. Even though Profar did slug 20 home runs, this past season still went down as yet another disappointing campaign for a player who was once an elite prospect.
Phegley, 31, recorded yet another underwhelming offensive season in 2019, as he hit just .239/.282/.411 with 12 homers in 342 trips to the plate. The right-handed Phegley did, however, slash a strong .284/.320/.526 in 103 PA versus lefties, continuing a career-long run of managing respectable production against southpaws. Defensively, Phegley was a mixed bag, as he threw out 32 percent of would-be base-stealers (league average was 27 percent) but finished dead last in the majors in Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average metric.
In the cases of Treinen and Phegley, the Athletics are well-equipped to move on even if it means non-tendering the two. The team has Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria and Ryan Buchter among its top late-game possibilities in the bullpen. It also boasts highly promising youngster Sean Murphy as its No. 1 choice behind the plate. But there’s less certainty at second, where Chad Pinder, Sheldon Neuse, Franklin Barreto and prospect Jorge Mateo comprise a largely unproven group of options. Of course, should the A’s part with Profar, they could sign one of the many veteran second basemen on the open market to take his place.
Change is afoot behind the dish for the Athletics. The club announced today that it has designated Dustin Garneau for assignment, clearing the way for the return of Josh Phegley from the injured list.
Garneau, who recently turned 32, had a nice run in seven games with the A’s. But he was obviously seen mostly as a roster patch for the Oakland org, which is now going back to its preexisting arrangement. In parts of five seasons in the majors, Garneau carries a .207/.290/.343 batting line over 381 plate appearances.
Injured Athletics catcher Nick Hundley is within 10 days of a rehab assignment as he recovers from back and knee issues, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Once Hundley comes back in August, though, the team could jettison him or one of the other three catchers on its 40-man roster, per Slusser. Indeed, when Hundley’s healthy enough to return, the Athletics “seem likely” to designate him, Chris Herrmann, Josh Phegley or Beau Taylor for assignment, Slusser observes. With the exception of Taylor, all of those backstops are out of minor league options.
The A’s goal entering the season was to roll with Hundley and Herrmann – both free-agent signings – as their two catchers, Slusser writes, but that plan changed when the latter underwent right knee surgery March 6. Herrmann sat out the first couple months of the season recovering from the procedure, only just coming off the IL on Tuesday. The 31-year-old emphatically introduced himself to Oakland that night, smashing a grand slam in a win over Minnesota (one of his ex-teams), and added a 4-for-4 performance in another victory against the Twins on Thursday.
While the lefty-swinging Herrmann’s off to a propitious start as an Athletic, he didn’t bring much of a big league track record to his new team. Also a former Diamondback and Mariner, Herrmann has hit just .206/.283/.354 (69 wRC+) in 903 major league plate appearances. He also hasn’t been a tower of strength behind the plate.
Hundley’s much more of an established commodity in the majors, where the well-traveled 35-year-old has typically provided solid offense for his position. That hasn’t been the case in 2019, though. Before Hundley headed to the IL with back spasms June 8 and then underwent arthroscopic left knee surgery on the 18th, the righty batted an unappealing .200/.233/.357 (54 wRC+) with 18 strikeouts against two walks in 73 PA. At the same time, Hundley threw out a mere 5 of 23 would-be base stealers and earned poor pitch-framing marks.
Herrmann’s absence helped reopen the door for Phegley, an Athletic since 2015 who entered this season off three straight low-impact years in the majors. Phegley’s now enjoying what could go down as a career offensive season, however, with a .259/.303/.463 line (102 wRC+) and nine home runs in 219 attempts. The righty-hitting Phegley has been particularly tough on lefties, whom he has teed off on for a .939 OPS, though his overall offensive production has nosedived since the start of June. Like Hundley, Phegley has not garnered rave reviews as a framer this year. Worsening matters, the 31-year-old rates as Baseball Prospectus’ second-worst blocker.
Taylor, 29, hasn’t gotten much of a chance in the majors since the A’s chose him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. Dating back to his brief MLB debut last year, Taylor has collected 30 plate appearances at the game’s highest level. The lefty’s now at Triple-A Las Vegas, where he has slashed an excellent .306/.463/.524 (149 wRC+) across 160 tries this season. Despite that production, the A’s may not regard Taylor as a major league-caliber option, in which case his time on their 40-man could soon end.
There’s little doubt that Rangers slugger Joey Gallo has drastically increased his career earnings outlook with a massive start to the current season. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News takes a look at the state of affairs on the extension front for baseball’s reigning three-true-outcomes king. The organization is obviously impressed, with manager Chris Woodward tabbing Gallo the club’s “best player” and GM Jon Daniels saying that he’s “mentally in a great spot.” Gallo says he’s not thinking about contracts, but agent Scott Boras surely is. As Grant notes, Boras’s assessment of Gallo’s season to date — “we are seeing the evolution of a superstar player” — offers a hint as to the kind of contract it might take to lock him up.
More from the American League West:
- Angels righty JC Ramirez is set to launch a rehab assignment later this week, Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Ramirez underwent Tommy John surgery last April. With his 30-day rehab clock set to be triggered, Ramirez is now back on the map as a near-term roster piece for the Halos. The club owes him $1,901,000 this year, with two more arb campaigns remaining. Though he has had some struggles in his time in the majors, Ramirez has given the Halos 200 1/3 innings of 4.04 ERA ball and showed he could stick in the rotation in 2017.
- As ever, there are other updates to the Angels rotation mix. Nick Tropeano will beat Ramirez back to the big leagues; as Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register tweets, Tropeano is coming up to pitch today’s ballgame. He was optioned after working back from a shoulder strain, and has been tagged in the run-happy PCL, but the innings are needed now. That’s due in no small part to the issues surrounding Matt Harvey, who just hit the injured list with a back strain after an awful stretch on the hill. Harvey didn’t have much of a timeline to offer reporters, as Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports (Twitter link). With more to sort out than an injury, there’s no reason to think Harvey will be rushed back.
- For the Mariners, there are a few incremental health updates of note, as Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports (all links to Twitter). Rehabbing relievers Sam Tuivailala and Hunter Strickland are still a ways off. The former, who is working back from Achilles surgery, has come down with dead arm and may need to re-start his rehab rather than heading back to the majors. The latter is readying for his first mound work since leaving with a lat injury earlier this year. Starter Felix Hernandez, who’s on the IL with a shoulder strain, is also nearing mound work. The club is still taking it slow with corner infielder Ryon Healy, who has yet to resume baseball activity after recently hitting the shelf due to a balky lower back. That’s a less promising outlook than had been indicated when he was first sidelined, but the club no doubt hopes to avoid a lingering problem.
- Athletics backstop Chris Herrmann is nearing a rehab assignment, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link). Herrmann inked a one-year, $1MM deal over the offseason but hasn’t yet debuted with his new organization owing to knee surgery. It remains to be seen how the Oakland club will manage its roster once Herrmann is ready; Josh Phegley has hit well all year and Nick Hundley has turned it on after a dreadful start. It’s possible the A’s could ultimately carry all three, at least for a stretch, as Herrmann does have experience playing in other parts of the field.
- It still doesn’t seem the Astros have cause for alarm regarding righty Collin McHugh, but he’s not going to be ready to return within the minimum ten-day window. Manager A.J. Hinch tells reporters, including Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link), that McHugh is in need of “a little more down time” to let his elbow stop barking. “He’s played catch a couple days and has not seen any progress,” says Hinch. “He’s not any closer than he was a few days ago.” McHugh has been a bit homer-prone, which explains his rough 6.04 ERA on the year, but otherwise has impressive peripherals. That he has been moved out of the rotation and into a relief role is testament to the depth of the talent on hand in Houston.
The Athletics announced Tuesday that they’ve selected the contract of catcher Nick Hundley. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, fellow catcher Chris Herrmann was placed on the 60-day injured list. Beyond those moves, the A’s placed outfielder Nick Martini and righty Jharel Cotton on the 10-day IL.
Hundley’s selection makes official what has long bee apparent: he’ll pair with Josh Phegley to comprise the primary catching tandem in Oakland following the departure of Jonathan Lucroy, who signed as a free agent with the division-rival Angels. Hundley originally signed a minor league pact with the A’s back in February, and he’ll now be paid a $1.25MM base salary after being added to the MLB roster.
Hundley, 35, batted .241/.298/.408 with 10 homers in 305 plate appearances last season for the Giants and posted a combined .243/.285/.413 slash with San Francisco in the two seasons he spent there. While he’s lacking in terms of on-base skills, he nonetheless has a bit of pop in his bat and will bring 11 years of MLB experience to an Athletics roster that figures to feature quite a few young arms over the course of the season.
TODAY: Herrmann’s surgery was a success. Per a team release, “The surgery was performed by Dr. Douglas Freedberg and involved a chondroplasty procedure to Herrmann’s central trochlea of his right knee as well as cleaning up loose bodies in the knee.” He is set to be reevaluated sometime in the coming couple of weeks.
March 6: Athletics catcher Chris Herrmann is headed for arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, manager Bob Melvin and trainer Nick Paparesta revealed to reporters Wednesday (Twitter links via Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle). There’s no timetable for Herrmann’s return at present, as the extent of the damage won’t be fully clear until doctors are performing the operation. What’s currently known is that Herrmann requires a cartilage cleanup, the removal of some bone spurs and the repair of a fissure in the problematic knee.
The Herrmann injury likely ensures that non-roster invitee Nick Hundley will make the Opening Day roster alongside holdover Josh Phegley. Top prospect Sean Murphy could conceivably have been an option, though Slusser tweets that the organization doesn’t want to rush him at this point. The 24-year-old Murphy has logged just one full season in Double-A and only three games of Triple-A ball to this point in his career, so it’s not a surprise that the organization feels he’s in need of continued development. If the A’s choose to look outside the organization, defensive standout Martin Maldonado remains unsigned and could certainly give the Oakland organization an experienced, glove-first option behind the dish.
Herrmann, 31, signed a one-year, $1MM contract with the Athletics back in early December after being non-tendered by the division-rival Astros, who’d previously claimed him off waivers from the Mariners. Last season was a productive one for Herrmann with Seattle — albeit in a small sample at the MLB level. In 87 trips to the plate as a Mariner, he slashed .237/.322/.421 with two homers, four doubles and a pair of triples. While he’s had some brief flashes of success in the Majors — most notably with the D-backs in 2016 — Herrmann’s career .205/.282/.351 batting line in 898 PAs between Minnesota, Arizona and Seattle doesn’t exactly stand out.
Both Herrmann and Phegley are out of minor league options, so once Herrmann is healthy, the A’s will need to make a decision as to how to proceed with their catching corps, as it’s highly unlikely that Oakland would look to carry that pairing and Hundley for a significant period of time. Beyond that, Murphy may well force his way onto the big league roster in 2019, which will only add another layer to the decision.