- While the possibility of the Dodgers stashing Julio Urias in extended spring training to begin the year has come up, they’re now “leaning toward” having the left-hander open the season in their rotation, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. In that scenario, the 20-year-old wunderkind would make shorter starts to tamp down his workload, per Gurnick. Including postseason play, Urias tossed a career-high 127 2/3 innings between the majors and minors last year.
- The Dodgers are seeing signs of life from lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt telling reporters — including Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register (links to Twitter) — that the Korean hurler is ready to throw in a game situation. It’s unclear whether that’ll be a sim game or a Cactus League contest, but it seems the former is more likely. “No negatives to me,” Honeycutt said of Ryu’s showing thus far. “It’s been impressive.” The 29-year-old is looking to return to the excellent form he showed during his first two years with the Dodgers. He has missed all of the past two seasons (except for one ill-fated outing last year) due to persistent shoulder problems.
- The Dodgers explored a deal with the Tigers involving star righty Justin Verlander, per Heyman, who notes that “nothing got close.” Verlander’s hefty salary obligations were considered a barrier, though it seems his no-trade protection may not have been. The veteran righty has suggested he’d be amenable to consider a swap, and his relationship with Kate Upton would likely make Los Angeles an appealing destination. While the Dodgers have a quite a few starters on hand, it’ll be interesting to see whether the pursuit of the resurgent Verlander is rejoined at some point.
- Though the Indians had real interest in Chase Utley, the team’s offer was shy of the ultimately successful bid from the Dodgers. Still, it seems that Cleveland very nearly landed him before L.A. “stepped in late,” per Heyman.
Dodgers top prospect Cody Bellinger is now being represented by agent Scott Boras, reports Robert Murray of FanRag Sports (Twitter link). While the highly touted Bellinger has yet to make his big league debut, he checked in among the game’s top 30 overall prospects in the estimation of ESPN’s Keith Law (No. 6), Baseball America (No. 7), MLB.com (No. 12), Baseball Prospectus (No. 26). Bellinger joins Dodgers superstar Corey Seager and another high-ceiling talent, Julio Urias, among young Dodgers represented by the Boras Corporation — as can be seen in MLBTR’s Agency Database, which houses representation info on more than 2,500 Major League and minor league players.
A few more notes on the Dodgers and Halos…
- Former closer Eric Gagne turned some heads with the news that he’s attempting a surprise comeback. Though he hasn’t thrown in the bigs since way back in 2008, Gagne has already pitched in the presence of the Dodgers front office and is readying to showcase for other organizations, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). He’ll be repped by Scott Leventhal of All Bases Covered Sports Management, who tells Heyman that his client is willing to showcase for teams “on back-to-back days,” presumably to show his readiness to handle a reasonably significant workload at 41 years of age.
- Before the Dodgers traded southpaw Vidal Nuno to the Orioles on Sunday, they offered him back to the Mariners, who declined thanks to a lack of roster space, reports Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Nuno spent most of the past two seasons in Seattle, which sent him to Los Angeles for catcher Carlos Ruiz in November.
The Cubs’ rocky relationship with former star Sammy Sosa — or, perhaps, the lack thereof — has been well documented. But Sosa himself hasn’t been much willing to discuss it, until participating in a chat with MLBTR contributor Chuck Wasserstrom at his personal blog. Sosa admits to some mishandling of the end of his tenure with the Cubs, saying: “My intention was to finish my career in Chicago. … The only thing we cannot do is turn back time. We can’t do that. But hey, we have to move forward. I understand I made a mistake. I regret it, definitely, but I have to move on.” There’s quite a bit of interesting information for Cubbies fans to digest; you’ll want to give the interview a full read.
Here’s more from the National League:
- Nationals manager Dusty Baker strongly hinted that the club will look to find a taker for catcher Derek Norris after agreeing to terms with Matt Wieters, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post tweets. “There’s always someone looking for a front line catcher,” the veteran skipper said of Norris. The addition of Wieters creates an immediate glut at the catching position for the Nats, who also employ reserve Jose Lobaton and prospect Pedro Severino. While the immediate speculation turned to the youthful Severino, who’d be a much more likely candidate to help the Nats address another need at the major league level than is Norris, he still has options and likely maintains an important place in the team’s long-term picture at the catching position.
- Over at Fangraphs, Dave Cameron opines that the Nationals’ deal with Wieters doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. While the price is reasonable enough, says Cameron, it’s just not clear that Wieters represents a significant enough upgrade over Norris to make it worthwhile. I’d note that the maneuvering could make greater sense if Washington were instead considering parting with Lobaton, whose switch-hitting capabilities aren’t as useful with a fellow two-sided hitter joining the mix, though the above-cited comments from Baker suggest that’s not the likely outcome.
- In his own look at the Wieters move, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports suggests that the signing was largely driven by the special relationship between agent Scott Boras and the Nationals’ ownership group. As discussed in our post on the deal, Boras and the Nats have linked up on a variety of contracts in recent years, often coming to fruition when the super agent sits down with principal owner Ted Lerner. As Rosenthal puts it, “Nats ownership … operates to its own rhythm, with Boras frequently calling out the beats.”
- NBA legend and part Dodgers owner Magic Johnson has taken over as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, and you can find all the details at MLBTR’s sister site, Hoops Rumors. Despite his new duties, Johnson’s role with the baseball organization won’t change, Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports (Twitter links). “Whenever we need Magic, he’s been available,” says Dodgers president & CEO Stan Kasten. “That won’t change.”
- Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki suffered a bruised knee in a collision with fellow outfielder Brandon Barnes today, as Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports (links to Twitter), though it was perhaps notable for reasons other than the actual injury. The ageless Ichiro is expected only to miss a few days, but did require — incredibly — the very first training-room treatment of his 16-year MLB career. Teammates used the opportunity not only to mark that occasion, but also to have some fun at Barnes’ expense. A note, signed by Ichiro, was left at his emptied locker informing him that he had been cut loose and wishing him good luck in Korea.
Newly minted Dodgers righty Sergio Romo discussed his interesting journey to joining his hometown team with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Personal trials and the strain of an increasingly high-profile role in the Giants bullpen put a strain on the veteran hurler, he tells Rosenthal. He credits several former teammates, including lefty Javier Lopez, with helping him to find his footing once again. Also of note, Rosenthal says that Romo “reject[ed] a higher offer from the Rays” to head to Los Angeles, due in part to the ability to live closer to his family.
5:03PM: The trade is official, as per a Dodgers press release.
If Baltimore does acquire Nuno, it would be the second trade involving the 29-year-old in the past three-plus months. The Dodgers previously sent catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Mariners in November for Nuno, who has three years of club control remaining and will make a paltry $1.125MM in 2017. The swingman would provide the Orioles someone with extensive experience as both a starter and reliever – something they lost when Vance Worley departed in free agency – and perhaps push out-of-options southpaw T.J. McFarland off their roster.
In stints with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and M’s, the soft-tossing Nuno has combined for 126 appearances (42 starts) of 4.02 ERA pitching with 7.38 K/9 against 2.32 BB/9. He has been particularly tough on left-handed hitters, having held them to a .217/.285/.356 line, while righties have slashed .270/.320/.479. Nuno’s currently coming off a two-year stretch in which he recorded a 3.66 ERA, 8.05 K/9 and 2.01 BB/9 over 147 2/3 innings, though he generated ground balls at just a 39.7 percent clip.
The Orioles will have to create 40-man roster space for Nuno, Encina notes, while Ken Gurnick of MLB.com tweets that dealing the pitcher will enable the Dodgers to open up a spot for newly signed outfielder Franklin Gutierrez. They’ll also pick up the 22-year-old Moseley, whom the Orioles selected in the eighth round of last June’s draft. Moseley disappointed in 2016 at Texas Tech, per Baseball America (subscription required/recommended), which lists a “power-reliever future” as the best-case scenario for the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder. Moseley debuted professionally in short-season ball last year and registered a 3.20 ERA, 8.24 K/9 and 4.12 BB/9 in 19 2/3 innings.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
FEBRUARY 18, 8:21pm: In addition to Utley’s $2MM salary, his deal comes with $600K in incentives for plate appearances and games played, per Heyman (Twitter link).
10:34am: The Dodgers have announced the signing. They have released Darin Ruf, who is set to play in Korea next season, to clear space on their roster for Utley.
FEBRUARY 12: Utley’s contract is believed to include a $2MM salary plus incentives, tweets FanRag’s Jon Heyman.
FEBRUARY 10: The Dodgers have agreed to a one-year deal to bring back infielder Chase Utley, according to Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times (via Twitter). Financial terms are not known at this time.
This represents Utley’s third go-round with the Dodgers. He was first acquired via trade during the 2015 season and then re-signed last year for one year and $7MM. MLBTR rated Utley the 49th-best free agent entering the offseason, predicting he’d land an $8MM deal.
Los Angeles already struck a deal today with another veteran player, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, to occupy a part-time platoon role. Bringing Utley back on board seems driven by much the same purpose. In the latter case, it seems likely that Utley will share time at second and perhaps also third base.
[RELATED: Updated Dodgers Depth Chart]
Of course, the Dodgers already spent big — in cash and prospects — to fill those two positions, which are currently slated to be manned respectively by righty hitting Logan Forsythe and Justin Turner. But Utley, a left-handed hitter, will allow the club to find added platoon opportunities while also helping to keep those regular players fresh over the course of the season. While L.A. did have at least one southpaw-swinging alternative on hand in 28-year-old recent signee Jose Miguel Fernandez, he has yet to suit up at the major league level and has been out of action for quite some time while attempting to transition out of Cuba.
In the 38-year-old Utley, the Dodgers have brought back one of the game’s elder statesman. But there’s certainly more to the move than securing his veteran grit; he proved in 2016 that there’s still something left in the tank. Over 565 plate appearances, Utley posted a .252/.319/.396 batting line that fell just below league average in terms of total, park-adjusted output. He still rates as an approximately average defender and baserunner, and managed 2.0 WAR while being asked to handle near-everyday duties.
Always a somewhat better performer against right-handed pitching, Utley did exhibit a troubling downturn in his work against lefties. Indeed, he posted an anemic .154/.206/.264 batting line when hitting without the platoon advantage. But given the Dodgers’ roster alignment, that doesn’t figure to pose much of an issue.
Dropping Utley and Gutierrez into an already crowded mix seems to foretell some intense competition for what appears to be just one remaining bench spot — if there isn’t some movement to pare down the ranks before camp opens. Barring a trade or an injury, it’s difficult to imagine now that the team will carry more than one of Darin Ruf, Scott Van Slyke, Trayce Thompson, Brett Eibner, Enrique Hernandez, and Chris Taylor, all of whom hit from the right side and occupy 40-man spots. Ruf, who’s out of options, could compete with Van Slyke if the club prefers a power bat on the bench. Excepting Eibner, Thompson is the least experienced player. Both dealt with injuries late in 2016, but have shown real promise in the upper minors and, in Thompson’s case, at the game’s highest level. Hernandez and Taylor, meanwhile, offer added versatility — including the ability to play shortstop. Yet another righty hitting utility option, Charlie Culberson, will also be in camp after agreeing to a minor-league deal to return to the organization.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is dealing with what he has described as a case of tennis elbow, as Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports. The veteran says that he suffered the malady due to an active offseason workout program. While he’s set to be shut down for about two weeks, Gonzalez says he expects to be back to full strength after some rest. Chase Utley is expected to see some time in camp at first, McCullough notes, as the team prepares in the event that Gonzalez does end up missing some time early.