- Mariners southpaw James Paxton, on the disabled list due to a forearm strain, has already been cleared by doctors to begin throwing, tweets Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. Word of Paxton’s injury — particularly the ever-ominous forearm strain — was a disheartening blow the Mariners and their fans, though GM Jerry Dipoto expressed optimism that Paxton would only miss two starts at the time of the injury. While it’s not yet certain that his absence will be that brief in nature, a return to throwing just six days after landing on the DL is certainly encouraging.
The Mariners have claimed righty Casey Lawrence from the Blue Jays, as Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune first reported on Twitter. The club has announced the move, with Evan Scribner moving to the 60-day DL to create 40-man space.
The 29-year-old Lawrence will report to Triple-A Tacoma, where he’ll provide the Seattle organization with an additional depth option. He had made two starts and two relief appearances at the MLB level for the Jays, though those didn’t go particularly well.
Over 13 1/3 innings frames with Toronto — the first of his career in the big leagues — Lawrence surrendered 13 earned runs on 21 hits with a less-than-ideal 7:11 K/BB walk rate. That said, Lawrence has also turned in three strong starts at Triple-A this year (allowing just one earned in ten innings) and has been a sturdy (if unspectacular) performer in the upper minors in recent years.
The Rays have acquired an international signing slot from the Mariners in exchange for minor-league righty Bryan Bonnell, per an announcement from the M’s. While the announcement doesn’t specify, it seems that the international money will be for the current season.
Tampa Bay will pick up the 71st international pool slot, which gives the team $321,100 in added bonus money. The Rays are sitting in the penalty box this year after loading up on the 2014-15 draft class, so the team is capped at $300K in spending on any given player. But the organization has still moved aggressively, as Ben Badler of Baseball America writes (subscription required and recommended), with 36 players already under contract.
As for the Mariners, the club evidently didn’t see the merit in utilizing that cash before the close of the current signing period on June 15th. Instead, they’ll pick up the 23-year-old Bonnell, who came to the Rays as a 36th-round draft pick in 2015. Bonnell has worked as a reliever in the minors, opening the current season at High-A. Through 11 frames this year, he has allowed five earned runs on 11 hits while compiling 10 strikeouts against just one walk.
The Mariners announced that they’ve traded right-hander Casey Fien to the Phillies in exchange for cash. Because Fien wasn’t on the Mariners’ 40-man roster, Philadelphia does not need to make a corresponding 40-man move. Fien will report to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, per an announcement from the Phillies.
Fien, 33, has been designated for assignment and outrighted off the 40-man roster by the Mariners twice this season. He’s struggled immensely through six big league innings this year, surrendering 10 earned runs on nine hits (three homers) and four walks with six strikeouts. That marks a continuation of the difficulties that Fien had with the Dodgers and Twins in 2016, when he posted a 5.49 ERA through 39 1/3 innings. (Notably, Fien did improve considerably upon moving from Minnesota to Los Angeles, recording a 4.21 ERA with 8.1 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 in 25 2/3 innings.)
Though he’s struggled since the onset of the 2016 season, Fien was a reliable middle relief/setup option for the Twins from 2012-15, logging 223 2/3 innings with a 3.54 ERA, 7.9 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9. Fien’s velocity is down a bit this season, but he’s also registered an impressive 17.8 percent swinging-strike rate and is subsequently sporting a career-best 66.7 percent contact rate. The long ball has plagued Fien since early in 2016, and while a move to the homer-happy Citizens Bank Park (in the event that he is promoted to the Majors at some point) may not help in that regard, it could also do Fien some good to get out of the America League.
Each year, the free-agent class is impacted by the performance of players with vesting options (as is the financial future of players with said provisions in their contract). For those unfamiliar with the option, a vesting option is typically (though not always) a club option that can automatically trigger based on the player’s health and/or performance. Meeting pre-determined criteria for games played, innings pitched and plate appearances are the most common ways of triggering a vesting option. Some also require that a player avoid the DL at the end of the season and/or for a certain number of games over the course of the year.
Here’s a look at all of the 2018 player options that can automatically trigger based on the players’ 2017 performance…
- Matt Cain: The 2017 campaign is the final season of a six-year, $127.5MM extension that Cain signed with the Giants on April 2, 2012. Prior to that point, Cain had been one of the most durable and efficient starters in the NL, but injuries have completely derailed Cain’s career since that 2012 season. Cain hasn’t thrown more than 90 1/3 innings since 2013, and so far he’s delivered just a 4.64 ERA in 455 1/3 innings over the five extra years of control the Giants bought out. If he can reach 200 innings this season and is not on the disabled list due to elbow or shoulder troubles to end the year, his $21.5MM club option would become guaranteed. However, he’s averaging fewer than 5 1/3 innings per start in 2017, and his previous health woes make that decidedly unlikely. His option comes with a $7.5MM buyout, which seems like an inevitable outcome.
- Andre Ethier: Ethier batted .273/.351/.429 through the first three seasons of his five-year, $85MM extension (including particularly strong efforts in 2013 and 2015), but he played in just 16 games last season and has been on the disabled list for the entire 2017 season (herniated disk in his lower back). His $17.5MM club option would automatically vest with 550 plate appearances this season, but that’s obviously not going to happen, so he’ll receive a $2.5MM buyout instead.
- Matt Garza: Garza’s four-year, $50MM contract with the Brewers contained one of the more convoluted vesting options in recent memory. Injury concerns surrounding Garza allowed the club to land a team option valued at a base of just $5MM. However, had Garza made 110 starts over the contract’s four years, pitched 115 innings in 2017 and avoided the DL at the end of the 2017 season, the option would’ve become guaranteed at $13MM. On the other side of the coin, the Brewers would’ve been able to pick it up at just $1MM had Garza missed 130 or more days during any single season of the contract. Neither of those scenarios will play out at this point, though. All of that is a long-winded way of saying that Garza’s option won’t be vesting at $13MM and will come at a potentially reasonable rate of $5MM.
- Gio Gonzalez: Gonzalez’s five-year, $42MM extension came with a $12MM club option for the 2017 season (which was exercised) and a $12MM club/vesting option for the 2018 campaign. If the left-hander reaches 180 innings this season, he’ll be locked in at $12MM next season. For a player as durable as Gonzalez, who averaged 31 starts per year from 2010-16, that seems simple enough. But, Gonzalez has had difficulty working deep into games and has not crossed the 180-inning threshold since 2013. This season, though, he’s already racked up 44 1/3 innings through seven starts — an average of about 6 1/3 frames per outing. He’d need only 29 starts at that pace to trigger the option. And even if he doesn’t sustain that innings pace, if he can avoid the DL and average even 5 1/3 to 5 2/3 innings per start for the rest of the year, he’d accrue enough innings to guarantee that option. Of course, if Gonzalez delivers anything close to the 3.57 ERA he’s turned in through parts of six seasons as a National, the team will likely pick up the option even if it doesn’t vest.
- J.J. Hardy: Hardy decided to forgo the open market at the end of the 2014 season, instead re-upping with Orioles in early October on a three-year, $40MM deal. His contract comes with a $14MM club option ($2MM buyout) that could automatically vest in the event that Hardy reaches 600 plate appearances this season. Hardy, however, has reached that total just twice in six previous seasons with the Orioles, and he’s hitting a mere .196/.232/.252 through his first 113 plate appearances in 2017. Based on his recent health track record, it could be considered unlikely that he stays healthy enough to trigger the option. But if he does remain healthy and doesn’t turn things around at the plate, the O’s won’t have a hard time justifying a reduction in playing time to prevent the option from vesting.
- Greg Holland: Holland signed a one-year, $7MM deal with a mutual option for the 2018 season, though so long as he remains healthy it’s effectively a two-year, $22MM contract with a player option/opt-out provision. Holland’s $10MM mutual option becomes a $15MM player option if he appears in 50 total games or finishes 30 games in 2017. He’s come out of the gate roaring as a dominant closer in Colorado, just as he was in Kansas City. Holland has already finished 14 games, meaning he needs just 16 more to trigger that player option and secure the right to re-enter the open market. An injury seems like the only thing that will stand in Holland’s way, as he’s currently sporting a 1.29 ERA with a 17-to-5 K/BB ratio, a career-best 51.6 percent ground-ball rate and a 93.9 mph average fastball through his first 14 innings.
- Hisashi Iwakuma: After injury concerns stemming from Iwakuma’s physical caused the Dodgers to back out of a reported three-year, $45MM agreement in the 2015-16 offseason, Iwakuma instead returned to the Mariners on a one-year deal with a pair of vesting options. Iwakuma needed 162 innings to trigger his 2017 option, and he needed either 162 innings in 2017 or 324 innings between 2016-17 to trigger his $10MM option for the 2018 season. The 36-year-old racked up 199 innings last year, meaning he now needs just 125 innings in 2017, though he must also avoid the disabled list at season’s end as well. Iwakuma has barely averaged five innings per outing (31 through six starts), but he also needs just 94 more innings this year for that option to kick in.
- Ricky Nolasco: Nolasco’s option isn’t a standard vesting option, but his $13MM club option would become a player option with 400 innings pitched between 2016-17. The 34-year-old logged 197 2/3 innings last year, meaning he’d need 202 1/3 innings in 2017 in order to convert his option. That’s a total that Nolasco has reached only twice in his career, and he’s not on pace to approach that number through his first seven starts of the season. If Nolasco were to make the same number of starts as last season (32), he’d need to average nearly 6 2/3 innings per outing for the rest of the season to reach that level. If he ties his career-high with 33 starts, he’d need to average 6 1/3 frames through season’s end. It’s technically possible that Nolasco does end up with a $13MM player option, but the likelier scenario is that the Halos will choose between a $13MM club option and a $1MM buyout. (Thanks to MLBTR commenters paytoplay and jdobson1822 for pointing out Nolasco’s option.)
Cot’s Contracts was used in the creation of this post.
- The Mariners have made a few pitching changes, selecting Christian Bergman’s contract from Triple-A Tacoma, optioning Rob Whalen to Triple-A and moving Shae Simmons to the 60-day disabled list, per an announcement from general manager Jerry Dipoto. Bergman, who signed a minor league deal with the Mariners over the winter, spent 2010-16 with the Rockies organization. The swingman debuted in the majors in 2014 and has since posted a 5.79 ERA, 5.49 K/9 against 1.89 BB/9, and a 36.7 percent ground-ball rate in 147 2/3 innings. He got off to a strong start this year with Tacoma, tossing 29 innings from the Rainiers’ rotation and logging a 2.17 ERA. Simmons has been dealing with a right forearm strain since March, which has prevented the offseason trade acquisition from taking the mound this year. The Mariners acquired Simmons, a hard-throwing reliever, from the Braves in a January deal that also included Mallex Smith and Luiz Gohara.
The Mariners have sent catcher Mike Zunino down to Triple-A on optional assignment, the club announced (h/t Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, on Twitter). He’ll be replaced on the active roster by Tuffy Gosewisch, who’ll pair with veteran Carlos Ruiz behind the dish.
It’s no doubt disappointing for both player and team that he’s heading back down. There was plenty of renewed optimism for him after a resurgent late-2016 run in which he slashed .207/.318/.470 and hit a dozen home runs in 192 plate appearances.
Of course, at that point the former third-overall draft pick was already returning from a demotion. His power numbers and abilities behind the dish haven’t been enough to make up for a big problem with strikeouts. Through 80 plate appearances in 2017, the power has also dissipated. Zunino has gone down on strikes in 37.5% of his plate appearances and is hitting just .167/.250/.236 on the year.
The 33-year-old Gosewisch was acquired over the winter in order to provide depth. His track record in the majors — .199/.237/.286 through 416 plate appearances — doesn’t give much reason to think he’ll provide a major offensive boost. But perhaps he’ll be able to put up somewhat more palatable numbers while Zunino again looks to iron things out at Triple-A.
4:39pm: Per GM Jerry Dipoto, the hope is that Paxton will only miss two starts with what has been diagnosed as a grade 1 strain, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune (Twitter links). It’s likely that either Christian Bergman or Dillon Overton will step in for him temporarily. Seattle also has some promising news on Hernandez, it seems, as Dipoto says he’s almost ready to begin a throwing program and could return by the middle of the month.
4:03pm: The Mariners have announced that lefty James Paxton has been placed on the 10-day DL with a forearm strain. While his prognosis is not known at this time, that’s obviously concerning news for the club.
Paxton, 28, has made six eye-opening starts thus far, spinning 37 2/3 innings of 1.43 ERA ball with 10.8 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9. With the club already missing Felix Herandez and Drew Smyly, his presence was all the more critical.
It’s not at all clear at this point that Paxton will require a lengthy DL stint. But the M’s can ill afford any missed time from the big lefty given the other injuries and with six games already separating them from the top of the AL West standings. And it’s always concerning to hear about forearm strains, which can be precursors to more significant ligament and tendon problems.
Prior to acquiring Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer (plus some cash to offset Nolasco’s salary) in the trade that sent Hector Santiago to the Twins last summer, the Angels had the opportunity to trade Santiago to the Orioles for lefty Ariel Miranda, according to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. The Orioles were seeking a veteran arm for their rotation and dangled Miranda in talks with both the Angels and Mariners, ultimately flipping Miranda to Seattle in exchange for Wade Miley. Fletcher notes that the Halos were seeking more upside than Miranda brings to the table and felt that Meyer fit the bill. Indeed, the 27-year-old former first-rounder was a mainstay on Top 100 prospect lists throughout the industry several years ago, though shoulder injuries have derailed his career to date. Meyer will get a start for the Halos this week, while Nolasco has at the very least been a durable source of innings for manager Mike Scioscia. Miranda is currently in the Mariners’ rotation, though that’s out of necessity due to injuries throughout the Seattle pitching staff.
- Though the Mariners optioned first baseman Dan Vogelbach back to Triple-A Tacoma fairly quickly after promoting him in late April, manager Scott Servais voiced a strong belief that the young slugger is still a part of the club’s future, per Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Via Dutton, Vogelbach said that he lost his timing after getting off to a hot start to the season in the minors. Dutton adds that Danny Valencia is in line for another “extended look” at first base, though Servais also added that Taylor Motter, who has showed surprising pop thus far, will also be mixed into the first base picture as well. The 32-year-old Valencia got off to a terrible start this season but entered play tonight hitting .240/.321/.560 over his past 28 plate appearances (an admittedly minuscule sample). MLB.com’s Greg Johns writes that the M’s remain confident in Valencia due to his track record, and as Johns notes, there are some encouraging Statcast numbers that point to a potential rebound.