- The Twins were among the finalists for reliever Kirby Yates before he agreed to join the Blue Jays on Tuesday, Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News relays. It’s not surprising the Twins were in on one of the open market’s highest-profile relievers, as their bullpen has taken hits this offseason with Trevor May, Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard getting to free agency. May signed with the Mets, though Romo and Clippard remain without contracts.
- Anibal Sanchez and Julio Teheran will be throwing in front of scouts during a showcase today, and several teams will have personnel on hand. The list of confirmed attendees includes the Rays (as per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times), Twins (SKOR North’s Darren Wolfson), Marlins (MLB.com’s Christina De Nicola), and Mets (the New York Post’s Mike Puma).
- Speaking of Odorizzi, he is still among the “many” pitchers the Twins are still considering, SKOR North’s Darren Wolfson (Twitter links). Back in December, Wolfson reported that other teams were more fervently pursuing Odorizzi than Minnesota, though with Odorizzi still unsigned, it seems like the Twins still have some kind of a shot at a reunion. Beyond the Twins and Blue Jays, the Red Sox and Giants have also been linked to Odorizzi’s market, though the free agent righty lost a notable suitor in the Mets after New York instead opted to acquire Carlos Carrasco. Minnesota was also known to be interested in Corey Kluber, and Wolfson reports that the Twins indeed made Kluber an offer before he ended up signing with the Yankees.
The 2020-21 international signing period is officially underway, and though this signing period is open until Dec. 15, 2021, many of the big names have already signed. Teams have long since lined up deals with newly eligible teenage players, so the news today largely represents confirmation of what was anticipated. Still, it’s a day of no small moment, particularly for the young men embarking upon professional careers.
Let’s round up some of the most notable signings of the day. Most of these agreements have been known for awhile, as both Baseball America’s Ben Badler (signings tracker; scouting links) and MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (Twitter feed; rankings) have listed each club’s expected landing spot and approximate signing bonus on their rankings for months. You can find each team’s total bonus pool and other information on the process right here. Check the above links for further information and other signings. Despite today’s announcements, many of these deals won’t become official for even a couple of weeks, notes Sanchez. Here are a few key deals:
- Yoelqui Céspedes, OF, White Sox: The half-brother of outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, the Cuban outfielder joins a strong international tradition in Chicago with the White Sox, who currently field Cuban stars such as reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, centerfielder Luis Robert, and third baseman Yoan Moncada. MLB.com has Céspedes ranked as the top international prospect in this class thanks to being a “a five-tool player with above-average tools across the board.” Baseball America is slightly less bullish, putting him at No. 12 on their board, noting that the pandemic limited opportunities for scouting. The 23-year-old will be one of the older prospects from this class to sign, and though he has the ability to play center, Robert’s presence in Chicago means he is probably ticketed for right. The White Sox also signed Cuban hurler Norge Vera for $1.5MM. Vera came in at No. 15 on MLB.com’s rankings. Fangraphs has Cespedes as Chicago’s new No. 25 ranked prospect, and Vera at No. 14.
- Armando Cruz, SS, Nationals: Cruz officially joined the Nationals today for the most money the Nationals have ever paid out to single player during the international signing period, with The Athletic’s Britt Ghiroli (via Twitter) pegging the final number at $3.9MM. BA writes in their scouting report, “He’s a defensive wizard with phenomenal hands and a strong arm, combining the ability to make acrobatic, highlight plays along with the internal clock and game savvy well beyond his years.” The Nationals signed 11 international players in total, notes Ghiroli.
- Pedro Leon, OF, Astros: Houston will pay $4MM to add MLB.com’s 7th-ranked international prospect to their system, per Sanchez. Baseball America has Leon as the top prospect of his class. Like Céspedes, the Cuban outfield is one of the older members of this class, but he brings plus speed, power, and the ability to stick in centerfield.
- Manuel Beltre, SS, Blue Jays: The Blue Jays added perhaps the most advanced hitter of the class in Beltre. MLB.com has Beltre as the No. 24 ranked prospect in the class, signing for $2.6MM, though Shi Davidi of Sportnet.ca (via Twitter) pegs the final number to be closer to $2.35MM. The Dominican shortstop could ultimately end up at second base, Sanchez writes, but he has arm enough to stay at short.
- Pedro Pineda, OF, Athletics: MLB Insider Jon Heyman (via Twitter) has Pineda signing with Oakland for less than $4MM, but the sum isn’t likely to fall far below that threshold. Baseball America has Pineda as the No. 11 ranked prospect in this class, writing, “Pineda is a strong, athletic, physical center fielder with a loud tool set and a power/speed threat. He has excellent speed, a fast bat and the power potential to hit 25-plus home runs.”
Several other well-regarded prospects also secured bonuses of $2MM or more, with the specifics provided here by Sanchez:
Jan. 14: ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets that Kluber’s market could come together rather quickly with one throwing session for teams in the books. He’s not expected to require a second showcase to further demonstrate his health.
Jan. 13: Free-agent right-hander Corey Kluber held a showcase for interested teams today, and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that relievers Anthony Swarzak and Steve Cishek both threw for teams as well. (All three are clients of Jet Sports Management, so it’s natural that they’d host the workout together.) As many as 25 teams were present, per The Atheltic’s Britt Ghiroli (Twitter link).
ESPN’s Jeff Passan notes that Kluber’s velocity topped out at 90 mph, though given where he is in the rehab process from last year’s injuries, it wasn’t expected that he’d be up to peak velocity just yet. Eric Cressey, whose strength and conditioning facility hosted the showcase, told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers yesterday that Kluber was at 87-89 mph in the prior session. Cressey suggested that Kluber is already ahead of many pitchers who’ve not yet ramped up their throwing to this point. Kluber averaged 92 mph on his heater back during his excellent 2018 campaign.
The full list of teams in attendance isn’t known, although given that this was an open look at a two-time Cy Young winner and a pair of relievers with considerable late-inning MLB experience, it’d be more notable to learn which few teams weren’t in attendance than to know which clubs were. Still, it’s at least worth noting that each of the Mets, Yankees, Nationals, Red Sox, Rays, Twins, Cubs, Rangers, Marlins, Tigers, Pirates, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Indians were all reported to be attending the showcase. Obviously, it’s not an all-encompassing list.
Broadly speaking, if Kluber is indeed at a point in his rehab that inspires confidence, one would imagine the market for him will be robust. The extent to which clubs are willing to bet on a guaranteed contract on the two-time Cy Young winner will vary, but he should easily command a big league deal with plenty of incentives on top of whatever base the highest bidder will commit.
Kluber may be something of a lottery ticket at this point, but few gambles come with such pronounced upside. From 2014-18, the right-hander was one of the game’s premier pitchers, working to a combined 2.85 ERA while striking out 28.5 percent of the hitters he faced against just a 5.2 percent walk rate. Only three of the 179 qualified starting pitchers in that time period — Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer — topped Kluber’s 23.3 K-BB%.
Since that time, however, he’s been limited to 36 2/3 innings by a fractured forearm (sustained when he was hit by a line drive), an oblique strain and a teres major strain. Traded from Cleveland to Texas last winter, Kluber pitched just one inning for the Rangers in 2020.
While most of the focus is understandably on Kluber, the presence of Swarzak and Cishek is certainly notable as well. Both righties are looking for rebounds of their own. Swarzak signed with the Phillies last winter but was released at the end of summer camp and didn’t sign with another club. A two-year, $14MM deal he signed with the Mets prior to the 2018 season proved regrettable, as shoulder issues torpedoed both of those seasons. However, back in 2017 Swarzak tossed 77 1/3 frames with a 2.33 ERA with 91 punchouts against just 22 walks.
Cishek, meanwhile, rattled off four straight seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA from 2016-19, leading to a $6MM deal with the White Sox last winter. He didn’t last on Chicago’s South Side, however, as he was roughed up for a 5.40 ERA in just 20 innings. Cishek’s control has been trending in the wrong direction the past couple of seasons, but he missed bats at his typical levels and didn’t see a velocity dip in 2020.
At the outset of the offseason, Nelson Cruz was said to be seeking a two-year deal, in theory from the Minnesota Twins. Not much has changed on that front, though as time wears on, it seems less and less likely the Twins will meet his demand. Coming off back-to-back silver slugger awards as the Twins’ designated hitter, it would seem a given that Minnesota would do whatever necessary to bring back Cruz, even as he enters his age-40 season. He’s a team leader, a fan favorite, and a standout citizen, evidenced by being the Twins’ Roberto Clemente Award nominee in 2020 and in winning the Marvin Miller Man Of The Year Award for being the player who has earned the “most respect based on his leadership on the field and in the community,” as explained the Star Tribune’s La Velle E. Neal III back in October.
Under a different context, the opportunity to add a 163 wRC+ hitter for two years at $14MM per season would be almost too good to believe. Under the current context, however, the Twins have yet to sign Cruz, nor even has there been much in the way of dialogue, per Neal’s newest piece for the Star Tribune. Neal consulted with multiple sources to provide a timeline of Cruz’s negotiation with the Twins so far this winter.
The Twins made a one-year offer during the opening weeks of free agency, then pulled it off the table after a couple of weeks. A second contract offer was made during the holidays that went nowhere as Cruz’s camp waited for word on the NL. There hasn’t been a lot of back-and-forth negotiating between the sides.
The assumption is there will be no designated hitter in the National League in 2021, which limits the field of potential Cruz suitors, but if the Twins wait long enough, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be more opportunities for Cruz. Interestingly, Neal names the Padres as one NL team that would be interested in Cruz were there to be a DH in the NL. Adding Cruz to any lineup ought to be a boon for that team, though putting him on a Padres roster with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado could very well make the Friars one of the more highly anticipated rosters MLB has seen in some time. Over the past two seasons, Cruz slashed .308/.394/.626 with a monstrous .318 ISO, 11 percent walk rate, 25.7 percent strikeout rate, 163 wRC+, and 6.2 fWAR over 735 plate appearances.
- Kyle Schwarber drew interest from at least a half-dozen teams before agreeing to a one-year, $10MM contract with the Nationals today, according to ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers (Twitter link). The Twins, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Angels were some of the teams linked to Schwarber in earlier reports, and the level of interest is further evidence that there is “always a market for lefty sluggers,” as Rogers notes.
- Several of the most prominent names from the Twins’ 2020 bullpen have entered free agency, with Trevor May (Mets) and Matt Wisler (Giants) already signed to other rosters. On top of these departures, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune considers it “unlikely” that Sergio Romo will be re-signed, while Tyler Clippard is a “maybe.” The Twins declined their $5MM club option on Romo’s services for 2021 and now could poised to move on entirely from the veteran. Minnesota has already signed Hansel Robles to add some experience to the bullpen, and while the Twins are hoping some of their younger arms also step up, Neal figures the club is continuing to explore the relief market since their current group “could use an additional hard thrower.”
Speculatively, Riddle could eventually help insure against the departure of free agent Marwin Gonzalez. Riddle plays all over the diamond, with his market advantage being capable glovework at both shortstop and centerfield. He has appeared at every position besides pitcher and catcher over his four year career, with a majority of his playing time coming up the middle.
Though he appeared in 23 games for the Pirates last season, the bulk of Riddle’s career was with the Marlins from 2017 to 2019. In total, Riddle owns a career triple slash of .222/.261/.355, just a 63 wRC+. Therein lies the rub for Riddle, as he has yet to come anywhere close to producing league-average offense. For his career, a 5.0 percent walk rate, 21.9 percent strikeout rate, and .133 isolated power mark all fall below league averages.
Add the Pirates to the clubs planning to attend for Corey Kluber’s January 13th workout, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Athletic (via Twitter). The Nationals and Diamondbacks were previously mentioned as two among many planning to view Kluber in Florida. The Pirates don’t seem like the likeliest team to sign Kluber, though he could conceivably provide some veteran stability with the upside of becoming a mid-season trade chip. It’ll be interesting to see how Kluber shows after two mostly lost seasons. Before he ran into health troubles, the 34-year-old reeled off an exceptional five-season run.
Here are a few other items of open-market chatter …
- Though there’s no evidence of recent progress, there’s still cause to remain bullish on the odds of a reunion between the Twins and slugger Nelson Cruz. The match, after all, has worked out well for both sides to date. In an appearance on the Locked On Twins podcast, Darren Wolfson of KSTP 5 indicated that mutual interest remains strong. But the club and the 40-year-old DH could also be eyeing alternatives. Wolfson suggests the Padres would have interest in Cruz if it turns out that the DH will remain in the National League. Remaining uncertainty in that regard has iced the market for lumbering sluggers. Depending upon how things shake out, per Wolfson, the Twins may have interest in a slate of options that includes Michael Brantley, Kyle Schwarber, and even Marcell Ozuna.
- Several of those players would also be of interest to the Nationals, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. It seems that Ozuna is likely to require too much space on the balance sheet. But Brantley and Schwarber, along with Joc Pederson, are each seen as possibilities to take up a post in the D.C. corner outfield. The Nats have an opening after allowing Adam Eaton to depart.
- Free agent righty Jake Odorizzi appears to be in position to land a three-year deal, an executive tells Rosenthal. The expectation from that industry source is that the veteran starter could secure a guarantee in the realm of $36MM to $42MM — just where MLBTR predicted he’d land. There’s still no clarity as to Odorizzi’s slate of suitors, but it stands to reason he’ll have fairly widespread appeal given that Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman each accepted qualifying offers, removing two primary targets from the market.