- Marlins righty Dan Straily enjoyed perhaps the best season of his career last year, when the then-Red totaled 191 1/3 frames of 3.76 ERA ball with 7.62 K/9 and 3.43 BB/9, and he attributes much of his 2016 success to analytics, writes Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. One of Straily’s friends, a banking analytics specialist who “loves baseball,” helped the 28-year-old determine “which are the best pitches to throw against certain hitters.” Straily also studied one pitcher per division with similar velocity, spin rate and spin angles. “Now going into the game, there’s not a lot of guesswork,” Straily told Jackson. “I have a plan. I had a big change in terms of pitch selection more than anything else. I threw way more changeups last year. Just mixing speeds a lot more; not being predictable.”
- Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald tells the interesting tale of an unlikely Marlins pitcher, righty Tayron Guerrero. A towering, hard-throwing reliever, Guerrero hails from a tiny island in Colombia; learning to play ball there required a two-hour walk through the jungle and a boat ride to the mainland. Guerrero cracked the majors briefly with the Padres before being shipped to Miami as part of last summer’s Andrew Cashner trade. If he can refine his control — he averaged a career-low 4.0 BB/9 in the upper minors in 2016 — Guerrero could turn into a factor in the Marlins’ pen.
- Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports that Marlins left-hander Jeff Locke underwent an MRI to examine his left shoulder, though the team is optimistic that there’s nothing seriously wrong with the southpaw. Manager Don Mattingly noted that Locke has been feeling better of late but “was still feeling something” when he played catch yesterday. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna is also nursing some shoulder discomfort, though his situation sounds less concerning; Mattingly said Ozuna is getting “an extra day” before jumping into Grapefruit League play.
- Spencer also notes that the Marlins are still keeping an eye on the market for unsigned starting pitchers, including Henderson Alvarez, Jake Peavy, Colby Lewis and Doug Fister. However, they’re doing so on an “in case of need” basis, suggesting that they won’t add a notable name without an injury or unforeseen issue with a current member of the starting rotation.
- Tim Healey of the South Florida Sun Sentinel writes that Marlins offseason signee Junichi Tazawa is happy to be reunited with Juan Nieves, his former Red Sox pitching coach who now occupies the same role in Miami. As Healey notes, Nieves was Tazawa’s pitching coach for the best two seasons of his career — the 2013 and 2014 seasons. During that time, the righty turned in a 3.02 ERA with 9.3 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9 over the life of 131 1/3 innings. Nieves observed that Tazawa’s arm angle has risen since the two worked together, which could have had an adverse effect on his performance.
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.
- Another player who steered clear of the open market, Marlins third baseman Martin Prado, discussed his decision to take an extension last fall. As Tim Healey of the Sun-Sentinel reports, Prado wasn’t sure he wanted to consider a new deal with just a few weeks left in the season. But the terms (three years and $40MM) were favorable enough for him to consider it, and he says he ended up preferring to stay in place after bouncing around a fair bit in prior seasons. As Healey writes, Prado had reasons both personal and professional for remaining in Miami. “I know I could probably get more money somewhere else if I go to a different team,” said Prado, “but I truly believe in this group of guys. They have fun. They play hard. I feel comfortable.”
- Meanwhile, Marlins lefty Jeff Locke is dealing with biceps tendinitis, as Healey further reports in the above-linked post. A few days’ rest is all that’s required at present, with Locke calling the brief shut-down a matter of taking a precaution early in camp. The southpaw struggled to a cumulative 4.90 ERA over the past two seasons, allowing the Marlins to grab him for $3.025MM on a one-year deal. While it seems reasonable to hope that the ailment won’t limit Locke, he already faces something of an uphill battle to win a rotation spot; Jason Martinez of MLBTR and RosterResource.com currently projects Locke to end up in the Miami pen to start the year.
The Tigers have announced that they’ve hired former utilityman Don Kelly as a pro scout and assistant to player development. It would appear, then, that the 37-year-old Kelly, who played briefly for the Marlins in each of the last two seasons, has retired, or at least put his playing career on hold. He spent much of last season with Triple-A New Orleans, batting a modest .198/.284/.233. Kelly is best known for his six-year tenure with the Tigers from 2009 through 2014, during which he played mostly outfield, first and third while serving as one of Jim Leyland’s favored bench pieces. In nine years in the Majors, Kelly has batted .230/.294/.334. Here’s more from the AL Central divisions.
Plenty of players are still looking for opportunities as Spring Training gets underway in earnest. Among them is former White Sox lefty Scott Snodgress, who worked out for teams this week and will likely choose his landing spot tomorrow, per MLBTR’s Zach Links (via Twitter). Snodgress played indy ball last year after a rough 2015 season in the upper minors with the Angels.
Here are the latest minor moves from around the game, featuring a host of other southpaws:
- The White Sox have added lefty Tyler Matzek on a minors pact, per Matt Eddy of Baseball America (via Twitter). A 2009 first-rounder, Matzek worked through control problems and showed promise upon reaching the majors in 2014 with the Rockies. But his struggles with the strike zone returned with renewed vigor the next year, and Matzek was ultimately diagnosed with anxiety. Though he was able to make 33 minor-league appearances in 2016, he was outrighted off of Colorado’s 40-man and ended up issuing as many walks as strikeouts (11.1 per nine) on the year.
- Former first-round pick Chris Reed has decided to retire from the Marlins, Eddy tweets. Just 26 years of age, Reed worked to a 3.65 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 81 1/3 innings in the upper minors last year. That represented progress after he struggled badly with control in 2015, but it seems that Reed will move on to other pursuits. The Dodgers, who originally took him 16th overall in 2011, will still get something out of their investment, though, as the trade that sent Reed to Miami netted southpaw Grant Dayton.
- Outfielder Slade Heathcott has landed with the Giants on a minor-league deal that includes a camp invite, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). The 26-year-old, who was taken after Reed in the first round in 2009, has long been viewed as a talented player but hasn’t yet earned a full MLB opportunity. He showed well in his lone stint in the bigs, in 2015, but hit only .254/.359/.380 in his 247 Triple-A plate appearances last year.
- Lefty Hung-Chih Kuo is attempting a comeback with the Padres, as Bill Plunkett of the Orange County-Register reports on Twitter that he has struck a minor-league deal with San Diego. Now 35 years of age, the Taiwanese native provided the division-rival Dodgers with 292 1/3 innings of 3.73 ERA ball over 2005 through 2011. Kuo has been pitching in Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League for the past two campaigns.
Last week, Mike Ozanian of Forbes reported that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria had a “handshake agreement” in place to sell the team to a New York-based real estate developer, which was later reported (by Steven Wine of the Associated Press) to be Joshua Kushner — the brother of Jared Kushner, who serves as a senior advisor to his father-in-law, president Donald Trump.
In a new and fairly astonishing wrinkle to the story, Daniel Halper of the New York Post reports that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus pushed for and received sign-off to name Loria the United States ambassador to France. The decisions were made without the approval of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, sources tell Halper, despite the fact that Tillerson was promised a say in the appointment of ambassadors.
In response to this story, the the Kushner group issued a statement to the press suggesting that it will not pursue the purchase of the Marlins if Loria is indeed a nominee or appointee to that post. Via Maggie Haberman of the New York Times (on Twitter):
“Our family has been friends with Jeff Loria for over 30 years, been in business together, and even owned an AAA baseball team together. Although the Kushners have made substantial progress in discussions for us to purchase the Marlins, recent reports suggest that Mr. Loria will soon be nominated by the President to be Ambassador to France. If that is true, we do not want this unrelated transaction to complicate that process and will not pursue it. The Kushners remain interested in purchasing a team and would love to buy the Marlins at another time.”
The potential appointment of Loria is just the latest complication in the potential sale. The initial report of the agreement noted that the Kushner group does not currently have enough liquid assets to meet the $1.6 billion price point that the two sides have reportedly agreed upon. Beyond that, Charles Kushner — Joshua’s father — served a two-year prison sentence last decade, which could have proved problematic when the Kushner group sought ownership approval from the office of Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. Furthermore, the commissioner’s office released a statement shortly after the initial wave of reports which indicated that it had “not heard directly or indirectly of any conversation involving Charles Kushner.”
Wine’s report indicated that the deal between Loria and Joshua Kushner was made independently of Charles or Jared Kushner, though certainly one would imagine that the Manfred’s approval process would’ve nonetheless been extensive given the circumstances.
- Marlins manager Don Mattingly says that Justin Bour will be a regular at first base, as Tim Healey of the Sun-Sentinel reports. Though Bour’s limited trips to the plate against left-handed pitching thus far haven’t been very promising, the organization seems intent on giving him a chance to show he can be more than a platoon player. “This is a guy who has an opportunity,” said Mattingly. “We think he’s getting better.”
The latest from the Marlins, as per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald…
- The Marlins only have interest in bringing back Jeff Francoeur or Chris Johnson if there’s an injury on the current roster. The two veterans haven’t generated much buzz this offseason, as Johnson has only been linked to the Marlins while Francoeur has at least received some interest from both Miami and Atlanta. It seems like the Marlins will go into Spring Training and possibly the season itself with just a four-man bench, something president of baseball operations Michael Hill calls “a calculated risk on our part. We’re comfortable with where we sit right now.” That said, Hill told Jackson and other reporters that the door wasn’t totally closed on another addition: “There are still players out there and that’s not to say we still may not do something before Opening Day.”
- Though signing another hitter “was definitely discussed,” Hill believes his club already has the personnel to deliver a big improvement at the plate. Hill cited the hiring of new hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo as one reason for this belief, not to mention full seasons from Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Bour and Dee Gordon. “This organization has supreme confidence in our core position players. You go position by position, and you have talent and players that are championship caliber players. Ultimately, that’s why we chose to focus on our pitching,” Hill said.
- Last week, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wrote about the impact that the controversial and partially-reversed Marlins/Padres trade had on both clubs and on the NL East as a whole, as Miami would’ve instead acquired Jeremy Hellickson from the Phillies. Rosenthal reported that while MLB offered the Marlins the chance to reverse the entire trade, Miami chose to just take a partial rescind (re-acquiring Luis Castillo and sending Colin Rea back to San Diego) since the Fish believed the league “preferred” that the two sides work out a solution between themselves. Jackson adds a different twist, reporting that the league “told” the Marlins to make a new arrangement with the Padres rather than cancel the original trade entirely, which was the solution Miami wanted.