- Mariners prospect Sam Carlson is going to be out for quite some time after undergoing Tommy John surgery, as Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. GM Jerry Dipoto explains that the organization made every effort to keep the 2017 second-rounder off of the surgeon’s table. Ultimately, though, there was no alternative to a full replacement of his ulnar collateral ligament. As Dipoto notes, the youngster will still only be twenty years of age when he’s nearing a return, though it’s certainly possible he won’t see competitive action until the 2020 campaign.
- While the Mariners’ new commitment to Wade LeBlanc will surely have some impact on the team’s near-future rotation planning, Dipoto also says the just-announced extension won’t constrict the organization at the deadline, as MLB.com’s Greg Johns reports. Though Dipoto says he’s rather bullish on LeBlanc’s ability to remain a quality rotation piece, he also says that the club will still consider additions to bolster its starting staff. At the same time, he didn’t sound like he feels compelled to add an arm. “I think if there is an opportunity for us to expand or augment our pitching group, wherever that is, then we’re going to be attentive to that,” says Dipoto. “If there is the ability to go out and find a guy who we feel like either takes some of the inning stress off our starters in the second half or can give us that late punch at the back end of our bullpen, then we’ll go that route. And if that opportunity doesn’t present itself, we probably won’t chase it.”
The Mariners have announced an extension with southpaw Wade LeBlanc. It’ll include a guaranteed salary for the 2019 season and a trio of club/vesting options thereafter. LeBlanc is represented by Joe Rosen.
LeBlanc, 33, will be guaranteed $2.75MM in total, according to reports from ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter) and Jon Heyman of Fancred (Twitter links). That includes a $300K signing bonus and $2MM salary for 2019.
The club options are priced at $5MM apiece and come with $450K in total buyouts. They’ll vest if LeBlanc reaches 160 innings in the immediately preceding season or 310 innings in the two prior years. If all the options are exercised and all potential bonuses and escalators are achieved, the deal could reach a total of $32MM over its four possible seasons.
For the Mariners, the move adds three seasons of control without much in the way of risk. LeBlanc was actually slated to be eligible for arbitration in 2019, so the deal will technically buy out an arb year and give the Seattle organization control over three would-be free agent campaigns.
Needless to say, this is rather an unusual contractual arrangement. Then again, LeBlanc isn’t a typical extension target. He’ll soon turn 34 years of age and is earning just $650K this year after joining the M’s in the middle of camp when he was released from his minors deal with the Yankees.
Indeed, it wasn’t long ago that LeBlanc joined the MLBTR podcast to discuss his search for another MLB opportunity. He has thrown 202 frames in the majors since that time, but it wasn’t until recently that he showed enough to make an agreement of this kind seem possible.
Thus far in 2018, LeBlanc carries a 3.38 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 72 frames for the Mariners. In addition to five relief outings, he has now taken the ball for 11 starts. That level of success isn’t likely to continue. He doesn’t throw a pitch that averages even 87 mph and has below-average rates of swinging strikes (8.8%) and groundballs (35.6%).
That said, LeBlanc has looked like a solid MLB hurler this year. Despite the frequency of fly balls, he has not surrendered too many dingers (1.13 per nine but on a below-average 9.8% HR/FB rate). And though he has likely been fortunate on batted-ball results, his spread of Statcast numbers (.337 xwOBA vs. .309 wOBA) isn’t particularly extreme.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
With the 2018-19 international signing period kicking off today, there will be dozens of six- and seven-figure bonuses handed out to teenage prospects, primarily out of Latin America, filtering in throughout the day today. Many of these have been in the works for quite some time, as is reflected by the fact that most of the top players’ destinations and signing bonuses have been previously reported/projected (and by the fact that the top agreements will all be reported in one swift avalanche today).
We’ll keep track of the notable National League signings here and the notable American League signings in a separate post. Note that you can read up on each of these players with the dedicated international coverage available from Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required), Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com and Kiley McDaniel & Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, each of whom has scouting info on the top echelon of international amateurs. Badler is also tracking the all of the signings from all 30 teams.
Onto some of the more notable signings…
Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez’s contract expires after next season, but he doesn’t expect it to be his last deal. “Oh yeah, I’ve got more years to play. I’m not going to retire,” Hernandez told Jon Heyman of Fancred, adding that he has an affinity for Seattle and would like to continue his career in the only major league city he has ever called home. Whether the Mariners feel similarly is up in the air, as Hernandez has fallen off in recent seasons since inking a seven-year, $175MM extension prior to the 2014 campaign. Hernandez was among the game’s best starters then, but he’s now sporting a career-worst 5.11 ERA over 100 1/3 innings in his age-32 season.
Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz not only plans to keep playing in 2019, but Fancred Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that Cruz has hopes of landing a multi-year contract as a free agent this winter. Cruz will be an interesting test case within a market that has been increasingly unkind to veteran bat-only players over the last two offseasons. He turns 38 tomorrow and his list of suitors is almost surely limited to American League teams since Cruz has become a full-time DH. On the plus side, Cruz is still hitting as well as ever, with 21 homers and a .273/.358/.569 slash line through 288 PA. Teams are increasingly preferring to rotate several players through their DH spot rather than employ a full-time designated hitter, though Cruz’s production has been so excellent in recent years that you’d think at least a couple of clubs would be willing to trade lineup versatility for a big bat.
FRIDAY, 12:17am: The Mariners have engaged in some “dialogue” regarding Hamels, Morosi tweets, though there’s no indication at present that they’re particularly likely to end up with him.
THURSDAY, 8:37pm: It’s “increasingly possible” that the Rangers will strike a deal involving veteran starter Cole Hamels in advance of the All-Star break, according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). This year’s mid-summer classic is scheduled for July 17th.
It has long been apparent that Hamels was in position to be traded. The Rangers stumbled out of the gates and never made up ground. Meanwhile, the 34-year-old southpaw has produced good results with good-enough peripherals. With just one option year left on his high-priced contract, he’s a clear trade candidate.
While this evening’s report hints at some movement, much is still unknown. It’s largely unclear just which teams have interest, though there are a limited number of “buying” organizations and most of them could stand to add a rotation piece. It remains to be seen whether any will really push to get Hamels on board well in advance of the deadline. There’s no indication that a single suitor has emerged to this point.
It is also not yet apparent how much of an obstacle Hamels’s contract situation will pose. He can block trades to twenty teams. While he indicated a willingness to facilitate a move, he also could still seek some additional inducement. Teams will surely not be enthused with the fact that Hamels is earning a hefty $22.5MM salary this season. There’s yet greater potential for complication from his $20MM club option for 2019, which comes with an unusually large $6MM buyout.
Of course, those matters wouldn’t be quite so important were it not for the fact that Hamels is no longer the pitcher he was when the Rangers originally acquired him. We examined some of these limitations a month back. For the most part, the situation remains the same: Hamels has restored most of his lost ability to get swings and misses, but he’s giving up far too many homers and has perhaps been a bit fortunate to carry a 3.61 ERA. Opponents this year own only a .266 batting average on balls in play (well below the mark Hamels has allowed in his career) despite making hard contact at a lofty 44.1% rate (by far the highest Hamels has permitted).
To be sure, Hamels still warranted a top spot in our recent list of the top fifty summer trade candidates. But that’s due in no small part to the fact that few high-end rental starters seem likely to be made available. Other pitchers — J.A. Happ and Tyson Ross, in particular — are arguably preferable given their strong numbers and cheaper contracts.
In fairness, there are some factors that point in favor of Hamels, too. He has a lengthy track record as a standout pitcher and had reeled off seven-straight 200+ inning campaigns before missing some starts last season. Hamels also has ample postseason experience, carrying a composite 3.48 ERA in 98 1/3 total playoff innings.
Though Werth declined to describe the situation in precisely those terms, he told Heyman: “I’m done … whatever you want to call it.” That statement does not seem to leave much room for interpretation, so it seems fair to assume that Werth will not look to return from the hamstring injury that recently put him on the shelf at Triple-A Tacoma.
Werth, 39, had signed on with the Seattle organization after wrapping up a seven-year, $126MM contract with the Nationals. That monster contract marked one of several turning points over Werth’s long professional career.
Drafted 22nd overall by the Orioles in the 1997 draft, Werth did not exactly race to the majors. And he did not stick immediately upon reaching the game’s highest level. He bounced from the Baltimore organization to the Blue Jays and then on to the Dodgers, moving from behind the dish to the outfield along the way and receiving relatively meager opportunities in the majors.
Werth posted strong numbers in a partial season of work with Los Angeles in 2004, but ended up suffering a significant wrist injury during camp in the ensuing spring. He played poorly upon returning and the issue failed to dissipate. Werth ended up missing all of the 2006 campaign and being set loose by the Dodgers.
At that point, clearly, there was a high likelihood that Werth would simply never make good on his original promise. But he drew major-league contract offers and ultimately landed with the Phillies, as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explained at the time.
Needless to say, things turned up from there. Werth ended up slashing a robust .282/.380/.506 in over two thousand plate appearances over four seasons in Philadelphia, swatting 95 home runs and swiping sixty bags along the way. He was a key piece of the organization’s magical run in that span, including a 2008 World Series victory.
When free agency arrived, both team and player decided to make other plans — not that the Phillies fans ever forgave Werth for leaving. As MLBTR’s Zach Links wrote, it took an eye-popping number to convince him to head to D.C., a surprising decision for a Nationals organization that was then a perennial cellar dweller.
Werth’s first season with the Nats did not go according to plan. And he missed time with a wrist injury in the one that followed. But his play picked up quite a bit. And the tide soon turned in the division, with the Washington organization rising as the Phillies fell apart. From 2012 through 2014, Werth made good on his hefty salary, posting a cumulative .303/.394/.479 slash with 46 home runs. Unfortunately, that output — and Werth’s good health — would not last. Over the final three years of his deal with the Nationals, he managed only a .233/.322/.402 batting line in 301 games.
While postseason success wasn’t to be in D.C., Werth will be remembered well for his leadership role in an important time in the organization’s history. Now, he tells Heyman, he’ll head off to spend more time with his family — and, perhaps, take up some organic farming. Both sound like worthy pursuits, and we at MLBTR wish him the best of fortune.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Left-hander Matthew Boyd “is one of the Tigers’ most coveted players in trade talks,” MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi writes. Even after a rough outing against Cleveland today, Boyd still has solid overall numbers this season, with a 4.15 ERA and 7.54 K/9 through 82 1/3 innings. Advanced metrics aren’t nearly as high on Boyd’s work, however, so Detroit could explore a trade when Boyd is at his peak value, even though he is just 27 and isn’t eligible for arbitration until this winter. Morosi speculates that the Mariners could target Boyd based on their past attempt to trade for him in the 2016-17 offseason, when GM Jerry Dipoto offered Taijuan Walker and prospects to the Tigers for Boyd and J.D. Martinez.
The Yankees and Mariners are among the clubs interested in Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ, tweets Jon Morosi of MLB.com. Happ figures to be one of the top rentals available on the starting pitching market this summer, if not the top rental, so it’s hardly a surprise to see a pair of contending clubs with some rotation question marks eyeing the 35-year-old southpaw. Presumably, most contending clubs have at least considered making a run.
Happ is in the final season of a three-year, $36MM contract that has proven to be a bargain for the Jays. In 423 innings since signing that deal, he’s worked to a 3.36 ERA, averaging 8.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9 with slightly above-average ground-ball tendencies. Happ’s 2018 season is among his best yet, as he’s sporting a career-best 10.2 K/9 mark and a 10.4 percent swinging-strike rate. Lefties haven’t stood a chance against him (.159/.188/.246), while the efforts of right-handed opponents have been relatively futile in their own right (.217/.294/.346). Cole Hamels may have Happ topped in name value, but Happ is the better pitcher and this point and looks like one of the clear prizes of the summer trade market.
Happ is earning $13MM this season, and there’s still about $7.3MM of that sum remaining to be paid out before season’s end. That’s hardly an insignificant sum, but it’s not a backbreaking total for most contending clubs, either. And, of course, the Blue Jays could help to facilitate the trade by agreeing to pay down a portion of Happ’s remaining salary as a means of helping to extract the best possible return.
Both New York and Seattle have had some issues in their rotation, even though both clubs have received above-average results from their starting pitching. The Yankees, for instance, recently lost left-hander Jordan Montgomery to Tommy John surgery and have received inconsistent contributions from Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka. Domingo German has not seized the fifth spot in the rotation in Montgomery’s absence.
The Mariners, meanwhile, have received just 9 2/3 innings from Erasmo Ramirez in 2018. Felix Hernandez has been hammered for a 5.44 ERA, and while Wade LeBlanc has been terrific in the fifth starter’s role, there are questions about the 33-year-old’s ability to sustain his current level of production.
As for the Blue Jays, despite the fact that they just completed sweeps of the Nationals and Orioles, it still seems likely that they’ll be open to selling off veteran assets this summer. Even after going 7-3 in their past 10 games, the Jays are sitting at 33-38 on the season, placing them 15 games out of first place in the American League East and a similarly daunting 12.5 games back of a Wild Card spot in the American League. Toronto also has just six games against sub-.500 teams remaining between now and the All-Star break, so their upcoming schedule doesn’t present an easy road back to contention.
- Although he shifted from the diamond to a front office role with the Mariners last month, Ichiro Suzuki intends to earn a roster spot with the team in 2019, Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reports. Given that the future Hall of Famer has struggled in recent seasons (a productive 2016 with Miami notwithstanding) and will be 45 when next spring rolls around, accomplishing his goal seems like a long shot. But with the Mariners scheduled to open next season with a series against the A’s in Ichiro’s homeland of Japan, it’s worth a try.