- Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star takes an interesting look at the manner in which the Royals’ front office is operating amid the suspended state of play. And while the makeshift manner in which the club’s player development staff now has to interact with players is obviously a sub-optimal setup, assistant general manager J.J. Picollo believes that the club “will end up with better processes for our offseason communication” as a result of needing to be more nimble with their interactions. Regular Zoom meetings; webinars on nutrition, pitch grips and new technologies to utilize; and more concrete one-on-one communication schedules have been put into place via a variety of platforms.
It’s now official: MLB rosters are frozen. We won’t see any players coming and going for some times. And it’s unlikely that any new long-term extensions will be announced. But that doesn’t mean such deals won’t be explored. Some may already have advanced nearly to completion before the global pandemic intervened.
While we may have to wait to learn who the targets are and see what deals get done, there’s a silver lining: more time for rampant speculation! Okay, we’re not going to speculate here; rather, we’ll tick through some interesting possibilities on paper. Remember, we’ve seen an increasing prevalence of deals with less-experienced players (even some without any MLB service) and with new player types (early-career relievers and utilitymen).
In the present MLB environment, value is king and the old forms are fading. We’ve already checked in on the NL East, NL Central, NL West, AL East, and AL West. To round things out, here are some possible extension candidates from the AL Central …
Francisco Lindor is the big story. Unfortunately, that ship seems to have sailed: he informed the team he’d like to halt talks since the sides weren’t making progress. Unless there’s a change of heart and another attempt during the current pause, Lindor is not going to sign onto a long-term deal (at least, before he has reached his final season of arbitration eligibility later in 2020).
There are a few other interesting candidates. Top hurlers Mike Clevinger and Brad Hand would be of interest, but the Cleveland org may not be able to afford these high-end veterans. Perhaps a few others would be more achievable targets for the cost-efficient Indians. Outfielder Oscar Mercado has only 139 days of service under his belt, meaning he’s two full seasons away from likely Super Two arbitration qualification. Young starters Shane Bieber and Adam Plutko are each in the 1+ service class, so they shouldn’t cost all that much and could convey significant upside.
There are certainly some interesting questions for the K.C. organization to consider. Slugger Jorge Soler had an eye-popping 2019 … but is he going to keep it going and should the team lock into a player who profiles best as a DH? And how about exciting young shortstop Adalberto Mondesi? There’s no real limit to his ceiling but he had some struggles last year and is still working back from a shoulder injury.
The situation is equally uncertain on the pitching side. Righty Brad Keller has had success through two full MLB seasons but isn’t exactly a top-of-the-rotation arm. You could perhaps make a case for relievers Scott Barlow and Tim Hill, though there doesn’t seem to be a pressing reason to push for a deal with either.
The Detroit MLB roster turned in a roundly awful 2019 season. But it still has a few potential targets. The versatile Niko Goodrum could be a part of quite a few rosters around the game, though there’s no particular need to lock into him for the long haul. There are more interesting candidates on the pitching side: starter Matthew Boyd and reliever Joe Jimenez. The former has a whole lot of upside and three more seasons of team control remaining; perhaps the club could take a bit of a gamble. As for Jimenez, 2020 is something of a boom or bust year — rack up a lot of saves and he’ll get a big first-time arbitration payday; stumble and he may not do very well at all. Perhaps he and the club could take share the risk over a longer term.
It’s probably a bit too soon to consider the top of the farm system for deals. But this time next winter, the Tigers could have a host of interesting candidates.
Both of last winter’s extensions turned out well; the team struck again more recently with Miguel Sano. Perhaps the most obvious remaining candidate is quality young righty Jose Berrios, who is entering his first season of arbitration eligibility. Now that he’s in line for bigger money, it’ll cost more to do a deal. The sides have struck out in previous talks. Byron Buxton is also a 3+ service-class player. There’s likely too much uncertainty in his outlook to structure a deal, but it’s not out of the question.
It’s tempting to stake out a case for a deal with breakout catcher Mitch Garver, but he’s already 29 years of age and still a full season away from arbitration eligibility. Outfielder Eddie Rosario is two seasons from the open market, but that also gives him greater leverage for a higher price tag. Would the Twins really want to commit?
How about a few wild cards? Infielder Luis Arraez should at least be a nice utility player for years to come. There might be upside in an early deal for the plate-discipline magician. And reliever Taylor Rogers is another interesting target. He’s still three seasons from free agency but gets more impressive with each successive campaign. The Twins will owe him a big raise on his $4.45MM salary if he keeps racking up saves; perhaps a deal could suit both sides.
The South Siders have already extended a wide swath of their roster. You might wonder whether there are any candidates left. But the team is exceptionally aggressive in this arena and can’t be counted out on exploring deals with just about anyone of interest.
The most obvious candidate at this point is righty Lucas Giolito. We recently broke down his case for an extension. You could perhaps argue for fellow starters Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease, or even injury rehabbers Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon, but there’s likely too much uncertainty in each of those situations for the sides to see eye to eye. The same is true of outfielder Nomar Mazara.
If you’re looking for a sleeper candidate … how about second baseman Nick Madrigal? The Sox haven’t been shy at all with pre-MLB extensions and the former fourth-overall pick is just about ready for a run at the game’s highest level.
- Baseball America’s Ben Badler profiles another batch of international prospects expected to sign with MLB teams when the next international signing window opens (a date that now could be pushed back from July 2 to as late as January 2021). The Orioles, Rangers, Padres, Royals, and Rays are connected to the five players in Badler’s piece, with some contractual bonus information known for two of the youngsters. Kansas City is expected to spend “north of $1.5MM” on Dominican shortstop Daniel Vasquez, while Tampa Bay is expected to spend “a little below $2MM” on Dominican outfielder Jhonny Piron. While the dollar figures for this year’s international spending pools haven’t yet been released, the Rays already figure to have committed a big chunk of their available funds on Piron and Carlos Colmenarez, given that Badler previously described Colmenarez as “making a strong case to be the No. 1 player” in this year’s international class. This would seemingly put Colmenarez in line for a major bonus, though the Rays can always add to their international pool by trading with other teams. It’s also fair to assume that the bonus pool system could also see some type of alteration if and when the signing window doesn’t open until January.
As noted here at MLBTR earlier this morning, the Royals organization has been weighing how to handle the March 26 opt-out dates that were negotiated into the minor league contracts of Rosenthal and fellow righty Greg Holland. Several other clubs have agreed to push opt-out dates back until exhibition play resumes, although in Rosenthal’s case, it seems his strong spring showing was impressive enough that Kansas City opted to add him to the roster right now rather than risk him triggering the preexisting clause.
By having his contract selected, Rosenthal will lock in a reported $2MM base salary. The Scott Boras client’s deal was also reported to come with an additional $2.25MM via performance bonuses.
Rosenthal was lights out prior to the spring shutdown, hurling five shutout innings with just three hits allowed. Most importantly, he didn’t issue a walk and punched out nine hitters. For a once-elite reliever who missed 2018 due to Tommy John surgery and saw his control completely evaporate in 2019 — 42 walks, nine hit batters in 30 1/3 innings between the big leagues and the minors — that lack of free passes was a particularly heartening development. Of course, incoming Royals skipper Mike Matheny is plenty familiar with what Rosenthal brings to the table when at his best; Matheny was Rosenthal’s skipper for the hard-throwing righty’s peak seasons in St. Louis.
Skoglund, 27, has appeared in 27 games for the Royals across the past three seasons but hasn’t found much success in the Majors. In 109 innings at the big league level, Skoglund has a 6.61 ERA with 5.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 1.6 HR/9 along the way. The southpaw was solid in his first run through the Triple-A level back in 2017 — 4.11 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 in 100 1/3 frames — but he’s struggled in his past two seasons with the Royals’ top affiliate in Omaha as well. Overall, Skoglund has a 4.87 ERA and a 151-to-46 K/BB ratio in 172 Triple-A innings.
The Royals still have a decision to make on Holland — who starred in the Kansas City bullpen during the club’s renaissance several years back. Like Rosenthal, Holland has seen his career take a turn for the worse following Tommy John surgery and that procedure’s arduous rehab process, but he’s looked solid in his own right during Cactus League play; in six innings he’s surrendered three runs but just five hits and a walk while racking up eight strikeouts.
Typically, late March is a time in which we see a lot of roster movement as clubs sort out their Opening Day rosters. Veteran free agents on minor-league deals can often force the action by virtue of opt-out clauses in their contracts. But the situation looks quite a bit different under the unusual circumstances of the delayed 2020 season.
League rosters have not been frozen. And there’s no rule suspending the operation of those opt-out clauses. Accordingly, teams and player agents have been left to sort things out on a case-by-case basis.
MLBTR’s Steve Adams reports (Twitter link) that there are a variety of approaches being taken around the game. In some cases, teams and players have effectively pushed back the decision by reaching new agreements pegged to some future date — from the start of a second Spring Training or eventual Opening Day. The Phillies, Blue Jays, and Pirates are in the latter camp.
In other situations, it seems, the sides have more or less tabled the details, leaving for another day a determination on the operation of the opt-out clause. And in still other cases, there’s still uncertainty. The Royals, for instance, are still trying to decide how best to handle the immediately pending (March 26th) opt-outs of veteran relievers Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal.
It’s certainly possible that those and other players will simply exercise their opt-out rights as originally negotiated. We’ve already seen some players — Joe Panik with the Blue Jays; Ryan Buchter with the Angels — earn 40-man roster spots in recent days, so some clubs have obviously been willing to make commitments.
Curious how this might impact your favorite team’s plans? Our 2019-20 Free Agent Tracker includes links to all of our posts on minor-league signings, with simple filters to help you isolate the signings of interest. At minimum, you’ll see many of the players who were brought into camp as non-roster invitees. And the linked posts on the signings include opt-out details, if they were reported.
The delayed start to the 2020 season will obviously have a wide range of massive effects on Major League Baseball. Among them: a totally different promotional timeline for some of the game’s most exciting young players. We will never know how things would’ve unfolded. And we don’t yet even know what the parameters are for an altered season. But there’s no doubting the impact.
Typically, opportunities open as rosters evolve over the course of a grueling, 162-game season. Some top prospects force their way up to the majors; others are called upon because a need arises. In a shorter campaign, there’ll be less attrition … though we may also see relaxed roster rules and changes to allocation of service time that could create opportunities.
Still, with more time to examine rosters and think about the state of the game, there’s an opportunity to stop and appreciate the young talent on the cusp of the majors. We’ll run through the most interesting prospects pressing for near-term MLB action. Having already looked at the American League West, let’s head to the AL Central:
Third baseman Nolan Jones won’t be tasked with a big league job out of the gates, but could be an option if there’s a need and/or he develops as hoped. Soon to turn 22, Jones has done nothing but produce in the minors. He’s due for a bit more seasoning at Triple-A but is close to ready.
Otherwise, most of the best-regarded Cleveland farmhands are further off. But there are some other prospects of note who are immediate factors. Relievers Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak could hold key bullpen roles, though the former will first need to get to full health. Southpaw Logan Allen is a swingman option. First baseman Bobby Bradley and outfielder Daniel Johnson are both on the 40-man roster and ready for MLB chances after strong seasons in the upper minors. (Bradley also made a brief 2019 debut but struggled in the bigs.)
The rebuilding Royals need not be in any rush, but top pitching prospects Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar could force the organization’s hand. The former sprinted to Double-A in his first professional season; the latter in his second. They both looked plenty comfortable at the penultimate level of the minors and will likely dictate their own timelines.
Otherwise, there are only a few players with significant “prospect” billing who seem likely to be near-term options. Outfielder Nick Heath and third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez are both on the 40-man roster, so could be called upon to fill any injury gaps. Outfielder Khalil Lee is considered a higher-upside young player, though he’ll need to polish some things up if he’s to force his way onto the MLB roster in 2020. The pitching staff could call upon inexperienced arms including Scott Blewett, Chance Adams, and Richard Lovelady.
The Minnesota organization just keeps getting more intriguing. Depending upon the development of some top prospects and needs at the MLB level, it could be another year for interesting graduations … or one to watch and wait.
Top prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff both have the ability and the positioning to press for the majors in the near term. But will they force the issue … or will there be an opening? The Twins aren’t in need of help at shortstop or in the outfield, at least on paper, but both have star-level upside and will get their chance when the time is right.
Outfielder/first baseman Brent Rooker doesn’t have a clear path to the bigs just yet but could get a look if a need arises. Though he is no longer considered an elite prospect, infielder Nick Gordon is also a near-term option. His situation is helped by the fact he already has a 40-man roster spot. Likewise, having already debuted, lefty Lewis Thorpe is perhaps the best-regarded Minnesota pitching prospect who’s an immediate possibility for the majors, though we’ll surely see fellow lefty Devin Smeltzer and right-hander Randy Dobnak in 2020 as well. Both impressed in their 2019 debuts. Flamethrowing righty Jorge Alcala allowed two runs in 20 innings between Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors after moving to the ’pen in late July.
The Detroit organization is banking on its pitching factory. We’ll begin to see the results in the immediate future. Top starting prospects Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Beau Burrows, and Alex Faedo are all nearing readiness. And the team also has some promising relievers on tap, including Bryan Garcia, Anthony Castro, and perhaps Rule 5 choice Rony Garcia. Precisely when and how these arms will be slotted into the MLB staff remains to be seen. In the starting staff, especially, the organization has others in line first. But mid-season movement is highly possible (depending, in no small part, upon what shape the 2020 season takes).
Though the position-player side of the farm isn’t as loaded, there are quite a few near-term candidates for MLB roles. Infielders Isaac Paredes, Willi Castro, and Sergio Alcantara all have 40-man spots and can be called upon as soon as there’s a need or desire to do so. Ditto outfielder Daz Cameron, a player who has had ups and downs in the minors but still possesses a fairly lofty ceiling. Catcher Jake Rogers had an abysmal debut with the bat but hit well in the upper minors last year and is considered a quality defender.
Last but certainly not least … the South Siders are stacked with young players who’ll be given MLB trials in the near term. Recently extended center fielder Luis Robert leads the charge as one of the game’s most touted prospects. But there are other blue-chippers as well. Given the delay in the season, high-upside righty Michael Kopech will have a chance to finish rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. And recent first-rounder Nick Madrigal has little left to show in the upper minors. He could take over at second base and push Leury Garcia into a utility role.
Those are the big names, but there are others as well. Infielder Danny Mendick had a nice cup of coffee last year and could also be a platoon option at second base or take on a utility job. With a 26th roster spot to work with, bat-first catchers Zack Collins and Seby Zavala could play interesting roles. Righties Zack Burdi and Ian Hamilton will have to overcome health troubles but could end up playing significant roles in the bullpen if they’re able.
Royals first baseman Ryan McBroom caught the eye of Mike Matheny before Kansas City even acquired him and before Matheny was the team’s manager, writes Alec Lewis of The Athletic in an interesting profile of the 27-year-old (subscription required). Matheny, a special advisor with the Royals last year, was taking in a Red Sox Triple-A game to watch his son, Tate; Boston’s Triple-A club was playing the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, and Matheny happened to catch the Scranton club on a night when McBroom blasted two of the 26 long balls he hit in Triple-A last year. Two days later — and not through any recommendation of his own — Matheny was further surprised when the Royals acquired McBroom from the Yankees. As Lewis details, McBroom’s play following a September call-up and a very strong spring have positioned him to occupy a bench spot with the Royals at the very least.
Zimmer was granted a fourth option year by the league after missing multiple option seasons due to injury. It’s a somewhat uncommon but hardly unheard of circumstance, and one that’ll benefit both Zimmer and the Royals for the (hopefully) upcoming season. The 28-year-old Zimmer was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft but has been limited to just 331 1/3 career innings between the big leagues and the minors thanks to a wide-ranging slate of injuries. Zimmer has already undergone shoulder surgery and thoracic outlet surgery, and from 2016-18, arm troubles limited him to just 43 1/3 innings in total.
Zimmer returned to the mound in 2019 after missing the entire 2018 campaign, pitching 54 innings of 4.33 ERA ball in Triple-A and eventually making his MLB debut. He was hit hard in the Majors — 22 runs on 28 hits and 19 walks in 18 1/3 innings — but the Royals opted to keep him on the 40-man roster despite those struggles. He’ll apparently open the year in Omaha and hope to work his way into the bullpen mix during the season.
Speier, too, made his MLB debut in 2019, though he also struggled a bit (six runs in 7 1/3 innings). The 24-year-old southpaw has been included in enough notable trades to be the answer to a trivia question, having gone from Boston to Detroit in the Yoenis Cespedes/Rick Porcello swap; from Detroit to Atlanta in a Cameron Maybin deal; from Atlanta to Arizona in the ill-fated Shelby Miller/Dansby Swanson trade; and from Arizona to Kansas City in return for Jon Jay. He’s been successful up through the Double-A level and could be a bullpen option for the Royals at some point in 2020 as well.
The 25-year-old Gutierrez hit .287/.367/.427 in 327 plate appearances with Omaha last year but managed just a .260/.304/.356 slash in a handful of MLB plate appearances. The Royals picked him up from the Nationals in the trade that sent Kelvin Herrera to D.C., and he’s generally considered a quality defender with a good hit tool but limited power. The Royals’ signing of Maikel Franco blocked Gutierrez from getting a longer look at third base, but he’d likely be first in line for a look should Franco land on the IL or struggle extensively.
Teams have taken various approaches in the wake of the coronavirus hiatus. Some more details have emerged about how a few teams plan to handle the unpredictable situation.
- The Cardinals had initially planned to largely disperse, with only ten to fifteen players remaining at the team’s Florida complex. It seems they’ve reversed course somewhat. Fifteen to twenty-five players will stick around for the time being, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They’ll continue to work out informally, but they unsurprisingly plan to pare back the training intensity, especially on the pitching side. Cardinals officials anticipate an eventual abbreviated “2.0 spring training,” in the words of manager Mike Shildt, that’ll last around two weeks in advance of MLB’s official regular season start date. Technically, MLB could return as soon as April 9, but it’s unlikely games will get underway until at least May.
- The Astros will split into two groups to train, pitcher Lance McCullers announced (h/t to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). Some members of the club will remain in the team’s spring complex in Florida, while others are headed back to Houston. The players plan to work out collectively.
- Most of the Mets’ coaching staff will stay at the team’s Florida spring complex, as will many players on the team, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Newsday’s Tim Healey recently reported that most of the team would stay put.
- As of yesterday, the Royals were holding tight at their Arizona spring facility, reports Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star. As pitcher Danny Duffy acknowledged to Worthy, the fluid situation could call for a change in plans at any time.
- A good portion of the Rays’ roster is holding tight at the team’s spring complex for now. 30-35 players took part in an informal workout yesterday, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Unlike some other clubs, Tampa has no plans to conduct any sort of team-wide vote on the matter, Topkin adds, preferring to let players decide on a case-by-case basis their preferred course of action.
- The Royals continue to look at top prospect Brady Singer in big league camp, and there’s still a chance Singer could fill the fifth starter role, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan writes. Singer has a 4.76 ERA over 5 2/3 spring innings, striking out six batters and walking four. Given that Singer has never even pitched at the Triple-A level yet, it would be a surprise to see him in the majors quite so soon, though Kansas City is clearly intrigued by the 23-year-old. Selected 18th overall in the 2018 draft, Singer posted a 2.85 ERA, 8.4 K/9, and 3.54 K/BB rate over 148 1/3 combined innings at the high-A and Double-A levels, and is cited on the current top-100 prospect lists posted by MLB.com (59th) and Baseball Prospectus (64th). There isn’t necessarily any urgency about the Opening Day roster, as since the Royals won’t need a fifth starter until April 8, Singer could continue to work out at extended Spring Training. If not Singer, K.C. could use Jorge Lopez as a fifth starter, or perhaps use an opener rather than a traditional starter to handle the rotation spot.