- MLB Pipeline unveiled the latest edition of its top 100 prospects list today, with the Rays’ Wander Franco receiving the nod as the game’s top minor leaguer. Franco’s long list of plaudits includes a rare 80 grade for his hitting, the highest possible mark on the 20-80 scouting scale. “If you were to build a hitter from scratch using all of the physical attributes and skills that have come to define great hitters, he’d probably end up looking something like Franco,” details Pipeline’s scouting report on the 18-year-old shortstop. The Rays placed six prospects on the top 100 list, the most of any team. The Dodgers’ Gavin Lux, White Sox outfielder Luis Robert, the Orioles’ Adley Rutschman, and the Padres’ MacKenzie Gore rounded out the rest of the top five. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo (who compiled the list along with colleagues Jim Callis and Mike Rosenbaum) details how the list was compiled, the new faces joining the top 100, the prospects from past lists who were omitted from this year’s ranking, and many more details.
As we covered earlier this week, almost all of the prominent free agents in this year’s class have already exited the board. Because of that, we’ll see more and more minor league signings and fewer and fewer major league deals in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season. This has been an aggressive offseason in terms of spending, though. To this point, which teams have handed out the most guaranteed money via the open market? We’ll examine both leagues, but let’s begin with the AL (reminder: This exercise excludes trades, club options, extensions, waiver claims and Rule 5 selections)…
Rays: $12MM on one player (Yoshitomo Tsutsugo; top 50 signings: zero)
Athletics: $7.5MM on one player (Jake Diekman; top 50 signings: zero)
Indians: $6.25MM on one player (Cesar Hernandez; top 50 signings: zero)
Orioles: $3MM on one player (Jose Iglesias; top 50 signings: zero)
- The Rays could use openers much less frequently than in recent seasons, per MLB.com’s Juan Toribio. With Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough fronting a deep group of pitchers, there’s less urgency for manager Kevin Cash to get creative at the beginning of games. Beyond that quintet, two-way player Brendan McKay could be in line for some starts as well, although Toribio notes it’s possible he returns to Triple-A Durham to start the season.
Herrmann joins Kevan Smith as incoming backstops who’ll compete for spots on the depth chart. It’s possible the club could carry a third catcher on its active roster, given the presence of a 26th man, but otherwise Herrmann and Smith will face an uphill battle to unseat Michael Perez as the backup to Mike Zunino.
There’s some built-in advantage here for Herrmann: he’s a left-handed hitter (as is Perez) and has experience in the outfield, increasing his utility. The 32-year-old has also shown well at times with the bat, though he’s only a .205/.282/.344 hitter through nearly a thousand MLB plate appearances.
LaMarre will provide some outfield depth. The 31-year-old hasn’t seen much big league action. He carries a .281/.349/.415 batting line in 1,513 trips to the plate over parts of seven Triple-A seasons.
Both of the pitchers are 27 years of age. The right-handed Slegers spent last year with the Tampa Bay organization, making one MLB appearance and throwing 112 1/3 innings of 5.05 ERA ball at Triple-A. Snelten, a southpaw, worked in the indy ball ranks in 2019. Over twenty starts for the Chicago Dogs, he carried a 3.12 ERA with 112 strikeouts and 43 walks in 118 1/3 innings.
The Rays have signed free-agent catcher Kevan Smith to a minor league deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training, per MLBTR owner Tim Dierkes. Smith is represented by Fusion Sports Agency.
Smith, 31, spent the 2019 season with the Angels, appearing in 67 games with the club. He posted a solid .251/.318/.393 batting line, which is especially respectable compared to the collective lack of offense from the catcher position. He slugged five homers in 251 plate appearances, and he owns a career 89 OPS+, not bad for his position group. The Angels non-tendered Smith in December after coming over from the White Sox as a waiver claim in 2018. However, he’s regarded as a below-average defender behind the plate and has consistently graded as a poor framing catcher.
Smith will join a Tampa catching mix that has an established starter in Mike Zunino. The former is in line for the bulk of the playing time, and he’s joined on the 40-man roster by Michael Perez and rising prospect Ronaldo Hernandez. Smith will have to compete with that pair, but even if he’s unable to break camp with the club, Smith can no doubt serve as a solid depth option in the upper minors.
Entering the day, there were more than 150 players on the clock to exchange arbitration figures with their respective teams prior to a noon ET deadline. As one would expect, there’ll be an utter landslide of arbitration agreements in advance of that deadline. We already ran through some key facts and reminders on the arbitration process earlier this morning for those who are unfamiliar or simply need a refresher on one of MLB’s most complex idiosyncrasies, which will hopefully clear up many questions readers might have.
We’ll track the majority of the American League’s settlements in this post and split off a separate one for NL settlements as well. Note that all projections referenced come courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz:
- Newly acquired Angels righty Dylan Bundy receives a $5MM salary, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter links). He had projected at a $5.7MM price tag. Teammate Hansel Robles gets $3.85MM, per Heyman, just shy of his $4MM projection.
- The Yankees have worked out deals with all of their eligible players. The team has a hefty $8.5MM pact with Aaron Judge, per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter). Backstop Gary Sanchez settled for $5MM, per Feinsand (via Twitter). The New York org will pay righty Luis Cessa $895K and Jonathan Holder $750K, Murray reports (Twitter links). Fellow reliever Tommy Kahnle will earn $2.65MM, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). And star lefty James Paxton has settled at $12.5MM, Heyman adds via Twitter. Chad Green and Jordan Montgomery have also agreed to terms, the former at $1.275MM and the latter at $805K, per Heyman (Twitter links).
- The Twins announced that they struck deals with Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton. Jon Heyman of MLB Network followed up with salary terms (all links to Twitter). May earns $2,205,000; Rogers takes home $4.45MM; Rosario lands at $7.75MM; and Buxton receives $3.075MM. While the first and last of those land rather close to the projected amount, Rogers got $550K more and Rosario got $1.15MM less than the calculators predicted.
- Shortstop Carlos Correa settled with the Astros for $8MM, per MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (via Twitter). Righty Brad Peacock lands at a $3.9MM salary, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). The former went for more than his $7.4MM projection, while the latter ended up shy of the $4.6MM mark produced by the computers. The ’Stros also have agreed with closer Roberto Osuna as well, per an announcement. It’s a $10MM deal, slotting in just $200K shy of his projection, per Rome (via Twitter).
- The Orioles have a deal with outfielder/first baseman Trey Mancini, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets. It’s for $4.75MM, per Dan Connolly of The Athletic (via Twitter), well south of the $5.7MM projection.
- Outfielder Jorge Soler has agreed to a $7.3MM deal with the Royals, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan tweets. That’s well off of the $11.2MM that MLBTR’s model projected, though it is likely that the cause of the gulf lies in the interpretation of the correct baseline to start from in building Soler’s salary. He’s in the 4+ service class but had been playing on the original deal he signed out of Cuba.
- The Tigers have a deal in place with southpaw Matthew Boyd, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter). It’ll pay him $5.3MM, per Chris McCosky of the Detroit News (Twitter link). That falls comfortably below the $6.4MM, suggesting that Boyd’s camp was concerned with the way his suboptimal ERA would play in the arb process. Fellow lefty starter Daniel Norris will earn $2.96MM, McCosky tweets.
The Astros have acquired right-hander Austin Pruitt from the Rays in exchange for outfielder Cal Stevenson and righty Peyton Battenfield, per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. Robert Murray first reported Stevenson was headed to the Rays. This is the second trade of Thursday night for the Rays, who previously swung a major deal with the Cardinals.
As the only player with major league experience in this trade, Pruitt’s the headliner. He’s also a Texas native, making this deal a homecoming of sorts. The 30-year-old saw action with the Rays in each season from 2017-19, though preventing runs was difficult for him. Pruitt posted a 4.87 ERA (with a much better 4.17 FIP) and recorded 6.63 K/9, 2.25 BB/9 and a 48.9 percent groundball rate over 199 2/3 innings. However, he ranked near the top of the majors in spin rate last year, and that’s something the Astros are known to greatly value.
Most of Pruitt’s major league work has come as a reliever so far, but the ninth-round pick from 2013 was once a full-time starter in the minors. And Pruitt could return to a rotation in the majors this year, as Astros president of baseball operations/general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters (including McTaggart) that they intend “to give him a chance” to earn a rotation spot entering 2020. Unlike in the previous couple seasons, the Astros’ rotation has some question marks. Sure, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are great, but Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley are gone, and Lance McCullers Jr. is returning from Tommy John surgery. Brad Peacock and the relatively unproven Jose Urquidy could be the front-runners for the four and five positions in Houston’s starting staff.
The 23-year-old Stevenson didn’t last long with the Astros, who acquired him from the Blue Jays last July in a trade centering on right-hander Aaron Sanchez. Stevenson had a productive year at the High-A level between the two teams, as he slashed .288/.388/.384 with five home runs across 490 plate appearances.
A 10th-round pick of the Jays in 2018, FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen ranked Stevenson as the Astros’ 39th-best prospect earlier this week, citing his “great contact and on base skills.” Stevenson has a chance to amount to a fourth outfielder, according to McDaniel and Longenhagen.
Battenfield, 22, was a ninth-round draft selection last summer. He amassed 39 1/3 innings with the Astros’ low-A affiliate in 2019 and fared quite well, putting up a 1.60 ERA/2.21 FIP with 10.53 K/9 against 3.43 BB/9.
The Rays and reliever Chaz Roe have avoided arbitration with an agreement worth $2,185,200, Jeff Passan of ESPN tweets. That’s in line with the $2.2MM salary MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected at the outset of the offseason.
The slider-heavy, right-handed Roe was a valuable member of the Rays’ bullpen over the previous two seasons. Most recently, Roe put up a 4.08 ERA/3.31 FIP with 11.47 strikeouts per nine and a 44.6 percent groundball rate across 51 innings in 2019. However, control was a problem for the 33-year-old Roe, who issued just under 5.5 walks per nine frames.
The upcoming season will be the penultimate arbitration-eligible year for Roe. He’ll remain a key part of a relief corps that stood out in 2019, when he, Emilio Pagan, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo were among the playoff-bound Rays’ go-to options late in games.
The Rays have acquired first baseman/outfielder Jose Martinez, outfielder Randy Arozarena, and the Cardinals’ Competitive Balance Round A draft pick in exchange for left-handed pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore, the Rays’ pick in Competitive Balance Round B, and a catching prospect from the lower levels of the minors, ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link). Edgardo Rodriguez is the catcher going to the Cardinals, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal tweets. Passan reported earlier today that Liberatore was headed to St. Louis, with Rosenthal adding that the trade involved six assets and at least two draft picks.
Tampa Bay was known to be looking outfield depth beyond its starting trio of Austin Meadows, Kevin Kiermaier, and Hunter Renfroe, especially after the club non-tendered Guillermo Heredia, its primary fourth outfielder from 2019. Heredia’s role will be filled by Arozarena, who also brings added potential and some strong hitting numbers in his native Cuba, in the minor leagues, and even in his brief 23-plate appearance cameo with the Cardinals last season.
An international signing in the summer of 2016, Arozarena has a .292/.377/.477 slash line and 38 homers over 1302 minor league PA. MLB Pipeline ranked him as the tenth-best prospect in the St. Louis farm system, with a scouting report that expressed some concerns about Arozarena’s aggressiveness at the plate and on the bases, as well as his ability at “making swift adjustments at the plate.” Nonetheless, Arozarena’s hitting approach has only delivered good results thus far, and his speed makes him a solid center field option at least in the near future, if he might be better suited for the corners down the road.
Martinez is also technically a depth option for the Rays in the corner outfield, but given Martinez’s longstanding defensive issues, he has long been tabbed as an ideal candidate to play for an American League team with DH at-bats on offer. The right-handed hitting Martinez will now join three left-handed hitters (Nate Lowe, Ji-Man Choi, and the newly-signed Yoshitomo Tsutsugo) in the first base/DH mix, though Tampa expects Tsutsugo to see some action at third base.
While it remains to be seen how the Rays will fully shuffle and adjust their lineups, Martinez’s primary role seems pretty simple — he’ll be called upon to mash southpaws. The 31-year-old late bloomer has hit .331/.405/.570 with 15 homers over 298 career PA against left-handed pitching, and also solid career numbers against righties, though Martinez’s same-sided productivity declined last season. With fielding no longer a concern, however, the Rays (who have been linked to Martinez on the rumor mill for well over a year) are hoping that Martinez can concentrate fully on being a force at the plate.
The Cardinals entered the offseason with a clear goal of reducing their surplus in the outfield, and between today’s trade and dealing Adolis Garcia to the Rangers last month, St. Louis has achieved that goal without making any significant impact on its 2020 roster. Perhaps most importantly, the Cards were able to move their excess parts while picking up one of baseball’s more promising pitching prospects in Liberatore, whose credentials we detailed earlier today.
Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas, Tyler O’Neill, and utilityman Tommy Edman all figure to play notable roles in the Cardinals’ outfield next season, with top prospect Dylan Carlson on the cusp of his MLB debut and utilitymen Rangel Ravelo and Yairo Munoz also capable of playing on the grass in a pinch. It’s still possible St. Louis could further trade from this collection….or, perhaps, add to it. The Cards have been linked to free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna all winter long, and re-signing Ozuna would allow the club to put a proven everyday performer in the midst of an outfield group that, besides Fowler, is young and pretty inexperienced at the big league level.
The draft pick swap is also a major component of this deal, as Tampa Bay will now have the 38th overall selection in the 2020 draft and St. Louis moves to 66th overall. (Here is the current draft order, as well as the outline of the Competitive Balance Round selection process.) The Competitive Balance Round picks are the only types of draft selections that can be traded, and the Rays have now boosted their standing next June by almost a full round’s worth of picks. The Cards may see their 28-slot drop as the cost of acquiring a major prospect like Liberatore, who likely wasn’t available for only Martinez and Arozarena.
The 19-year-old Rodriguez has hit .338/.389/.495 with six home runs over his first 244 PA as a professional, two seasons with the Rays’ teams in the Dominican Summer League and rookie-ball Gulf Coast League (though he missed over six weeks this season due to injury). Signed out of Venezuela during the 2017-18 international signing period, Rodriguez was ranked prior to the 2019 season as the 53rd-best prospect in Tampa Bay’s system, as per Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen. It remains to be seen if Rodriguez can remain as a catcher, though Longenhagen/McDaniels were impressed by his hitting ability.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
6:16PM: Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas aren’t expected to be part of the trade, Passan reports. Fowler also isn’t thought to be part of this deal, though he could eventually be on the move elsewhere since the Cardinals have been discussing him in other trade negotiations.
5:37PM: The trade is shaping up as a multi-player blockbuster, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter links) reports that the Cardinals and Rays are each sending three “pieces” to the other in the deal. “At least two of those pieces are draft picks,” Rosenthal notes, indicating that Competitive Balance Round selections (the only type of draft picks that can be traded) are in play. The Cards are slated to pick in Competitive Balance Round A following the first round of the draft, whereas the Rays draw after the second round in Competitive Balance Round B, so there is roughly a 30-slot gap between the two picks.
4:57PM: The Cardinals have discussed Tyler O’Neill with the Rays and other teams this offseason, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, though there isn’t yet any indication that O’Neill could be involved in the Liberatore trade.
3:53PM: The Cardinals have acquired left-hander Matthew Liberatore from the Rays, ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link). The return headed back to Tampa Bay is expected to include at least one player from the Cards’ Major League roster, and hints at a very notable trade given Liberatore’s status as one of the top prospects in the Rays’ system.
Picked 16th overall in the 2018, Liberatore has gotten off to a solid start in his young career, with a 2.59 ERA, 9.2 K/9, and 2.57 K/BB rate over his first 111 professional innings. That includes a 3.10 ERA over 78 1/3 IP at the A-ball level in 2019, though Liberatore missed a bit of time with a minor back injury.
It was a performance that did nothing to dim Liberatore’s stock in the eyes of evaluators, as the most recent prospect rankings from Baseball America (31st), Baseball Prospectus (37th), MLB.com (41st), and Fangraphs (63rd) all place Liberatore solidly among the sport’s top minor leaguers. MLB Pipeline ranks Liberatore fourth on its list of the best left-handed pitching prospects, with a scouting report touting his potential for as many as three 60-grade pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale. In fact, Liberatore’s fastball, changeup, and slider all earned a 55 grade from Pipeline, while his “swing-and-miss hammer” of a curveball gets a 60 grade.
Liberatore is only 20 years old, and at 6’5″ and 200 pounds, might still need to add some bulk to withstand the workload of a Major League starting pitcher. He’ll now immediately become the most promising young arm in the St. Louis farm system, now that the likes of Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson have graduated to the big leagues, and Alex Reyes’ injury concerns continues to cloud his future. Many of the Cardinals’ current top youngsters are position players, which could be addressed by whatever player or players are sent back to Tampa Bay.
As Passan notes, the Rays have been looking for outfield help, so it’s logical to guess that the outfielder-heavy Cards could be dealing from their logjam on the grass. It’s probably safe to assume that the Rays aren’t taking on Dexter Fowler’s big contract (unless this is part of a much larger trade), but St. Louis has a wealth of younger outfielders that could be fits for Tampa Bay — Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, Jose Martinez, or utilityman Tommy Edman could all be part of this trade. One can’t even rule out top prospect Dylan Carlson, as while the Cardinals have been resistant to offers, it would take a promising young arm like Liberatore to even get the Cards’ attention on a Carlson deal. Still, St. Louis is probably less likely to deal a player who could help their team as early as 2020 in order to land a pitcher who is still at least a couple of years away.