- Remarkably, after missing almost all of the previous two years because of shoulder problems, Dodgers southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu is making a strong case to crack their season-opening rotation, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Ryu threw four scoreless, one-hit innings against Milwaukee on Tuesday, giving him nine frames of one-run ball for the spring. Manager Dave Roberts made it clear afterward that the Dodgers want him in their rotation, saying: “When we look back a year, where he’s come from, he’s done nothing but allow us to be very optimistic. Every time he’s gotten better and we’re building him up to be a starter and break camp with us. That’s the plan on our end. He worked hard to put himself in a position where he’s at right now. We’re a better team if he’s in the starting rotation.” With Julio Urias likely to begin the season in extended spring training and Scott Kazmir looking for his lost velocity, two of Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood figure to claim the Dodgers’ available starting spots.
Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has been diagnosed with a “mild” herniated disk in his lower back, and manager Dave Roberts told reporters (including MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick) that “it’s going to be tough” for Ethier to be ready for the start of the season. Ethier will be held out of baseball activities for the next 7-10 days after receiving an epidural injection in his lower back, so while Roberts said the Dodgers are “definitely not closing that door” on Ethier’s Opening Day availability, they could face a bit of a roster crunch.
If Ethier is indeed headed for a DL stint, it would mark his second consecutive season opener missed due to injury. Ethier broke his leg during last year’s Spring Training and didn’t return to the field until September, appearing in just 16 games in 2016. While this back injury doesn’t appear to be nearly as serious, Roberts said the team’s obvious priority is to make sure Ethier is healthy, so there won’t be a rush to get him ready for Opening Day.
L.A. has quite a few extra outfielders to handle left field in Ethier’s absence, with Andrew Toles, Trayce Thompson, Franklin Gutierrez and Enrique Hernandez all on the 25-man roster and Brett Eibner and Scott Van Slyke providing additional depth in the minors. Even with all this depth, however, the Dodgers were already mixing and matching platoon options to best cover themselves in the outfield. Ethier is entering his age-35 season and coming off a virtual lost year, center fielder Joc Pederson is best served by having a platoon partner to handle left-handed pitching and right fielder Yasiel Puig is also not a sure thing after his inconsistent play in recent years.
Ethier is entering his 12th season, all with the Dodgers, and 2017 will be the final year of a five-year, $82.5MM extension signed in June 2012. Los Angeles holds a club option for $17.5MM ($2.5MM buyout) on Ethier’s services for next season. That option can vest into a guaranteed deal should the outfielder make 550 plate appearances this year, so any significant amount of time missed due to his back injury could be quite costly for Ethier.
- Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has a stiff back and will have an MRI today, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com tweets. Ethier himself does not seem particularly worried about the situation and says the team simply wants more information so that it knows how to treat him, tweets Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times. Nonetheless, Ethier has already missed time due to back and hip issues this spring, and he collected just 26 plate appearances last season thanks to a broken tibia.
- Andre Ethier will undergo an MRI on his back on Monday, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters (including Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register). Ethier has been bothered by lower back stiffness over the last two weeks and, since this is an unfamiliar injury for the veteran outfielder, Roberts said the club will “take it slow” in giving Ethier time to recover. Ethier played just 16 games last season due to a broken leg, and he is entering his last guaranteed year under contract with L.A. He needs at least 550 plate appearances for his $17.5MM option to vest for 2018, and while that much playing time may have been questionable anyway given the crowded Dodgers outfield, a significant back injury would certainly put it out of reach.
Some rumblings out of Tampa Bay…
- Alex Cobb is drawing “potential interest” from the Cubs, Dodgers, and other teams as a trade target, The Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin writes. The determining factor, as Topkin notes, is how Cobb performs in his first full season back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2015. The righty returned late last season to make five starts (and post an 8.59 ERA in 22 IP), and still drew some offseason trade buzz as teams likely were looking to buy low. The Cubs and Dodgers, of course, both have past connections to Cobb and the Rays in the form of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman. If Cobb returns to his 2012-14 form and Tampa is out of contention, he’ll be a prime trade chip at the deadline.
- Cobb is entering his last year before free agency, and he tells Topkin that he is being realistic about the possibility that he’ll be dealt since the Rays rarely retain top players hitting the open market. “It’s just the way things unfold here. If you were a betting man, [a trade] probably would be the way to go,” Cobb said. The fact that 2017 could be his last year in a Rays uniform has been weighing on Cobb due to the “life-changing stuff” that has taken place over his 13 years with the franchise. “Then you go into the clubhouse and you see all the faces, people that I’ve seen since I was 18, that really have been your family since then….You think about it, and it’s sad. It’s sad that it’s a possibility I could no longer be around here,” Cobb said.
- Rickie Weeks’ minor league deal with the Rays will pay him $1.5MM if he makes the big league roster, Topkin reports in another item, with $600K more available to the veteran in incentives. In that same piece, Topkin looks through some of the roster decisions facing the Rays during the spring, as the club’s choices are complicated by several out-of-options players. Nick Franklin, for instance, could lose his utility job to Daniel Robertson, or Erasmo Ramirez could be dealt to a team in need of starting depth.
- Chase Whitley, who also underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2015, pitched four scoreless innings in Spring Training action on Saturday. Manager Kevin Cash told reporters, including Roger Mooney of the Tampa Bay Times, that while Whitley is slated for a relief job, “we’re not ruling out him starting, either. It depends on how the numbers and how the injuries pan out, but right now, we saw last year what he can do coming out of the bullpen. There’s a lot of value to that.” The pen (specifically a long relief role) is still Whitley’s best bet to make the roster, and a spot could open up should Brad Boxberger start the year on the DL. Boxberger has been sidelined all spring with a bad back, but expects to pitch in a minor league game on Tuesday.
- The Padres have so many prospects in camp after their international spending splurge that some players (including highly-touted Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon) have been used in simulated games since they don’t have enough roster space for proper minor league games, ESPN’s Keith Law writes in his latest subscription-only piece. Law provides an in-person analysis of several Padres and Dodgers prospects, with particularly good reviews given to Morejon, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Dodgers righty Walker Buehler.
Dodgers left-hander Scott Kazmir threw a five-inning simulated game today and told reporters after the outing that he felt better (Twitter links via Andy McCullough of the L.A. Times). However, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expressed concern over Kazmir’s velocity to the L.A. media, noting that the southpaw’s fastball was sitting between 82 and 84 mph. Roberts adds that Kazmir is healthy (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick) but now needs to build up sufficient arm strength to restore his velocity. The 33-year-old Kazmir has been slowed this spring by hip tightness that has limited his mobility and hindered his mechanics. He’s vying for a spot at the back of the Dodgers’ rotation and is owed a combined $32MM over the final two seasons of a three-year, $48MM contract (although some of that money is deferred).
- It’s a similar situation with the Dodgers, though young stars Corey Seager and Joc Pederson will earn somewhat more than their peers in Colorado. As Heyman reports, both players were renewed after highly productive seasons, with Seager receiving $575K and Pederson checking in at $555K. Though the latter was nearly as productive offensively as the former, and is one service class ahead, the club likely saw fit to recognize Seager’s NL Rookie of the Year nod and third-place finish in the MVP voting. Meanwhile, exciting young southpaw Julio Urias was also renewed, per J.P. Hoornstra of the Orange County Register. He’ll receive $540K during whatever portion of the season he ends up playing in the majors.
Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams gave an interesting interview to David Laurila of Fangraphs that’s worth a read. The top Cincy baseball decisionmaker noted that it’s harder for clubs of that market size to pay solid veterans on short-term deals during a rebuilding campaign, which is one of several factors that tends to make the process more painful. But the organization is plainly committed to doing it and doing it right. Williams detailed many different initiatives underway after an exhaustive review of “where we thought dollars would have a better return on investment than at the major league payroll level.” You’ll want to give the post a full read.
Here’s more from the National League:
- With Ian Desmond set to miss a chunk of time early in the season, the Rockies are sorting through their options for filling in, as Nick Groke of the Denver Post writes. Mark Reynolds is the obvious choice as a primary replacement, of course, but the team will need to line up some bodies behind him. With manager Bud Black saying the club hopes to “take advantage” of the versatility of some of their own players, he lined up each of Jordan Patterson, Stephen Cardullo, and Cristhian Adames at first in drills. Whether the organization might look at external names isn’t known, but Black did say that he has not heard any discussion surrounding former Rockies first bagger Justin Morneau.
- Righty Matt Wisler is still trying to establish himself for the Braves, Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. The 24-year-old has been hit hard this spring, as he was in the majors last year, and there doesn’t seem to be much chance that he’ll crack the MLB rotation unless there’s an injury or big performance downturn during the season. Still, manager Brian Snitker says he’s a believer — at least in the quality of Wisler’s offerings. “[I]t’s just location– fastball location,” Black said of Wisler’s struggles. “He’s just got to keep working on location. The stuff is there. The kid’s stuff is too good not to be successful.”
- Jordan Schafer’s efforts to make the Cardinals roster as a lefty reliever have run into some difficulties, as MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch Reports. The 30-year-old is dealing with forearm soreness, with the root cause yet to be determined. He hadn’t been particularly effective in his five outings anyway, and struggled upon reaching Triple-A briefly last year with the Dodgers organization. But Schafer was actually quite impressive at Double-A in 2016, working to a 3.15 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 over forty frames.
Dodgers star Corey Seager won’t appear in a game for the team at all this week, manager Dave Roberts told reporters (Twitter links via Andy McCullough of the L.A. Times). Roberts said over the weekend that Seager, who finished third in last season’s MVP voting thanks to a .308/.365/.512 batting line and strong glovework at short, is dealing with an “oblique-ish” injury. While there’s still time for Seager to ramp back up for the season, oblique issues have a tendency to linger. Seager hasn’t played since March 3 and now seemingly won’t get into action until the final third of the month. McCullough adds that lefty Scott Kazmir also isn’t likely to pitch in a game this week as he continues to tweak his delivery after leaving his most recent Cactus League outing due to tightness and limited mobility in his hip.