- Speaking to Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link), Rays GM Erik Neander says his team “will continue to have an open mind” about moving another starting pitcher. Trade rumors have swirled around Tampa’s rotation all winter, seemingly culminating in the deal that sent Drew Smyly to the Mariners earlier this week. Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb also drew interest, so it’s not out of the question that the Rays would deal another starter if they can score a significant return.
Many teams use the arbitration exchange as a hard deadline for negotiations on one-year deals — a “file and trial” approach which effectively means that once figures are exchanged, the only option they’ll pursue before a hearing is a multi-year deal. (The Mets and Orioles are both adopting that approach this year, and other teams to use that strategy in the past include Astros, Blue Jays, Braves, Marlins, Rays, White Sox, Pirates, Reds and Nationals.)
- The Rays have now announced that they’ve avoided arbitration with all of their arb-eligible players except Jake Odorizzi. That means that in addition to Beckham, Kiermaier, Dickerson and Cedeno (all noted below), they’ve avoided arb with Alex Cobb, Erasmo Ramirez, Brad Boxberger, Danny Farquhar and Brad Miller. Roger Mooney of the Tampa Bay Times reports (on Twitter) that Cobb gets $4.2MM, Farquhar gets $900K and Miller gets $3.575MM. Heyman tweets that Ramirez gets $3.125MM and adds on Twitter that Boxberger settled at $1.6MM. Cobb slightly topped his projection by $200K, while Farquhar fell short by the same margin and Miller fell $225K shy of his $3.8MM figure. Ramirez also came up short of his $3.5MM projection. Cobb is a free agent next winter while Miller and Ramirez are controllable for another three seasons and Farquhar can be controlled for four.
- Corey Dickerson agreed to a $3.025MM salary with the Rays, tweets Heyman, which is $350K south of his $3.4MM projection. Dickerson is controllable through the 2019 season.
- Kevin Kiermaier and the Rays have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $2.975MM deal for 2017, tweets Heyman. Kiermaier is fresh off his second Gold Glove season and is considered one of the game’s premier defenders, but he also had a nice season at the plate. In 414 plate appearances, the 26-year-old hit .246/.331/.410 with 12 homers and 21 steals. Kiermaier crushed his $2.1MM projection after sneaking into arbitration eligiblity by exactly one day of service time. He’ll be arb-eligible thrice more before hitting the open market following the 2020 season.
- The Rays and infielder Tim Beckham agreed to an $885K salary for the 2017 season, tweets Heyman. The former No. 1 overall pick hit .247/.300/.434 with five home runs in 215 plate appearances for Tampa Bay last year. He seemed to fall out of favor with the organization late in the year and didn’t receive a September call-up after being demoted to Triple-A. However, he looks to be back in the fold for the 2017 campaign. Beckham is controllable through 2020.
- Lefty reliever Xavier Cedeno and the Rays have agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.3MM, tweets Heyman. That tops his projection of $1.2MM by $100K. Cedeno, 30, logged a 3.70 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 41 1/3 innings this past season and chipped in 19 holds as well. He’s arb-eligible twice more and can be a free agent after the 2019 season.
- The Mariners tried to acquire Mallex Smith from the Braves on multiple occasions this offseason and had talks with Atlanta about him as recently as last Friday. However, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto swung a deal for Jarrod Dyson, instead. Dipoto and the Mariners still saw value in Smith and knew the Rays had interest in him as a potential component in a Drew Smyly trade, so Dipoto circled back with Atlanta counterpart John Coppolella over the weekend to get talks rolling once again. (As an aside, Rosenthal counts a staggering 35 trades for Dipoto since taking over as Seattle’s GM in Sept. 2015. Thanks for always keeping us busy, Jerry.)
- Despite the fact that the Rays now have a fair amount of center-field depth in Smith, Kevin Kiermaier and newly signed Colby Rasmus, a Tampa Bay source tells Rosenthal it’s “very unlikely” that they’ll move Kevin Kiermaier in a trade. Kiermaier won’t turn 27 until April, is controlled through the 2020 campaign and is arguably the game’s top defensive player, making him a highly valuable asset. Defensive metrics are obviously an inexact science, but Defensive Runs Saved pegs Kiermaier at a ludicrous +68 runs in his 2346 Major League innings in center field (and another +13 in his limited corner work). Ultimate Zone Rating has him at +44 in center and +16 in the corners. On top of that, he’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to make an eminently affordable $2.1MM in his first trip through arbitration as a Super Two player this winter. He’s also a plus baserunner, and his bat has been slightly above the league average in his career, as he’s a .258/.313/.425 hitter (105 OPS+ and wRC+).
- In a separate column, Rosenthal writes that while he received some negative feedback from scouts on the Mariners’ decision to move left-handed pitching prospect Luiz Gohara in yesterday’s trades with the Braves (and then the Rays), Seattle may have been more willing to part with the 20-year-old due to medical concerns. The would-be Zack Cozart trade from this past trade deadline fell apart due to the Reds’ concerns over Gohara’s shoulder, Rosenthal hears. Certainly, Atlanta is comfortable enough with Gohara’s shoulder, and GM John Coppolella suggested to Rosenthal that he’s not afraid to move on from a trade due to medical reasons. “We have had to walk away from two trades this offseason because of failed medicals,” said Coppolella. “We feel good about the health of [Gohara and left-hander Thomas Burrows].”
The Mariners have struck yet another two-deal day, as Seattle has announced the acquisition of lefty Drew Smyly from the Rays. Tampa Bay will pick up center fielder Mallex Smith — who was just added by Seattle in a trade with the Braves — along with minor league infielder Carlos Vargas and minor league lefty Ryan Yarbrough.
This move represents a continuation of an immensely active offseason for the Jerry Dipoto-led Mariners front office. The club will surely install Smyly in its rotation, hoping that the 27-year-old southpaw can regain the form that he showed prior to a disappointing 2016 campaign. He’ll slot in alongside fellow newcomer Yovani Gallardo — acquired last week in a straight-up swap that sent Seth Smith to Baltimore — and holdovers Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton.
Despite carrying an ugly 4.88 ERA in 2016, Smyly did post career highs in both starts (30) and innings (175 1/3). And he managed to post a solid 8.6 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9, though his groundball rate sat at just 31.3% and he allowed 1.6 home runs per nine innings. If he can tamp down the long balls and remain healthy, perhaps there’s reason to think that Smyly will return to being a solid mid-rotation piece for Seattle, particularly given the excellent defensive trio that figures to roam the outfield at Safeco Field. Leonys Martin will return in center field and be flanked by trade acquisitions Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger to to provide a strong defensive unit. Another pair of strong defenders, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia, are also present beyond that presumptive starting trio.
The M’s will only control Smyly for two years, as the second-time arb-eligible hurler is set to reach the open market after the 2018 campaign. MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz project him to earn $6.9MM via arbitration for the coming season — his second trip through the arb process as a Super Two player.
Dipoto tells Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times (Twitter link) that he “probably spent more time through the course of the offseason trying to acquire Drew Smyly than any other player.” Clearly, then, the M’s had targeted the lefty all along, though it took another deal to get the assets needed to make it happen.
When Seattle picked up Smith earlier today (along with Shae Simmons) in a trade that cost the team prospects Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows, it obviously did so with intentions to flip Smith. He was evidently targeted by the Rays, despite the continued presence of Kevin Kiermaier in center and the recent signing of Colby Rasmus.
It’s certainly plausible to imagine those players co-existing on the MLB roster, though the presence of Steven Souza, Corey Dickerson, and others could complicate maters. Alternatively, Smith might simply start the year in Triple-A, unless the Rays find yet another deal that shifts some assets.
Smith is primarily valued for his defense and baserunning, though he has put up strong numbers at the plate during much of his minor-league career. He’s most valuable playing up the middle but could also presumably function in a corner spot while occasionally spelling Kiermaier in center. Though Smith is generally regarded as a strong defender, Kiermaier is one of the game’s premier defenders in center field and doesn’t figure to be displaced anytime soon.
In making this deal, Tampa Bay is acquiring at least five years of Smith’s services. The 23-year-old (24 in May) logged exactly one year of service time in the Majors last year. Another full year would put him on track to be arbitration-eligible following the 2019 season and eligible for free agency following the completion of the 2021 campaign, although if he spends even three to four weeks in the minors to open the season, Tampa Bay would gain another year of club control (while also putting Smith on track for Super Two status).
Smith’s big league debut last year was born out of necessity, as he was called up to the Majors when Ender Inciarte hit the disabled list early in the year. Smith didn’t hit much early on, but the Braves liked his speed and glovework enough to keep him around even when Inciarte returned. A fractured thumb would ultimately cost Smith roughly three months of the season. He batted a lackluster .238/.316/.365 in 215 plate appearances on the season as a whole, though he’d rebounded from a poor start to hit .272/.338/.440 in 43 games from late April until the time of his injury in mid-June. Paired with his 80-grade speed, that type of production would likely elate the Rays, though his defensive prowess would allow Smith to deliver value even if he can’t replicate that output over the course of a full season.
Yarbrough, who turned 25 on New Year’s Eve, rated as the Mariners’ No. 11 prospect per MLB.com, and Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper tweets that he’d have placed 12th on BA’s soon-to-be-released list of the Mariners’ top 30 prospects. Per Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis of MLB.com, Yarbrough’s fastball sits 91-93 mph and scrapes the mid-90s at times, and he also has an above-average changeup. The MLB.com duo praises Yarbrough’s “oustanding” command and strong ground-ball tendencies, adding that improvement on his breaking ball could ultimately make him a mid-rotation starter. If not, he projects as a quality lefty relief piece due to his fastball, slider and command.
Vargas is still just 17 years of age — he’ll turn 18 in March — and ranked as one of the top available international prospects on the market a couple of years ago. Cooper tweets that he was set to rank 26th on Seattle’s forthcoming top 30 prospect list, and there’s reason to believe he could carry even more upside than that most ranking would suggest. Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, for instance, tweets that there’s “sneaky” value in Vargas, whom he tabs as eventual third baseman with “big pull power projection” and a good approach.
In writing about Vargas last spring, BA’s Ben Badler noted that he has too many moving parts in his swing but has displayed a strong baseball IQ and an impressive ability to make adjustments at the behest of the Mariners’ staff. Badler also credited Vargas with above-average raw power, an ability to hit the ball the opposite way, and an above-average arm with a quick release. In 62 games/256 plate appearances in the Dominican Summer League last year, Vargas batted .242/.344/.391 with seven homers, 11 doubles and nearly as many walks (32) as strikeouts (35).
Coats, 27 next month, was designated for assignment by the White Sox recently when they claimed fellow outfielder Willy Garcia off waivers from the Pirates. A former 29th-round selection by Chicago, Coats made his Major League debut with the ChiSox in 2016, batting .200/.298/.340 in a tiny sample of 58 plate appearances. Coats has spent more time in right field than any other outfield spot (by a wide margin) in his minor league career, but he does have 350 innings of work or more at all three positions. He’s also coming off a monster year in Triple-A Charlotte, where he batted .330/.394/.519 with 10 homers, 22 doubles and a pair of triples in just 332 plate appearances.
Floro recently turned 26 and, like Coats, made his big league debut in 2016. He picked up 15 innings out of the Tampa Bay bullpen and allowed seven earned runs (4.20 ERA) with 14 strikeouts against four unintentional walks to go along with a 54.7 percent ground-ball rate. Floro averaged a respectable 92.5 mph on his fastball and enjoyed a successful season at the Triple-A level, logging 50 innings with a 2.88 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 1.6 BB/9 and a 56.5 percent ground-ball rate. Given his excellent control (career 1.3 BB/9 in the minors) and strong ground-ball tendencies, it seems as though he could be a candidate to be claimed if the Rays ultimately expose him to outright waivers.
2:47pm: Smith “appears bound for Tampa,” Crasnick adds on Twitter.
2:11pm: The Rays are a possible landing spot for Smith, per Crasnick, who tweets that the teams have held trade talks. That connection opens up all kinds of intriguing theoretical possibilities. Tampa Bay already employs top-notch defender Kevin Kiermaier in center — a reported target of other organizations — and just signed another left-handed hitter capable of playing up the middle in Colby Rasmus. The team has also reportedly dangled a variety of its starters in trade talks, some of whom might well interest the Mariners (as well as other teams). It’s certainly impossible to guess what might be in the works, but any move on Smith could conceivably come with a corresponding swap from the Rays’ perspective.
2:00pm: The Mariners just added outfielder Mallex Smith and righty Shae Simmons in a swap with the Braves, but may not be done with their work for the day, according to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). Seattle could flip Smith to another organization, Crasnick suggests.
That does make some sense at first glance, as Smith joins a long list of center-field-capable players on the Seattle roster. The club just dealt for Jarrod Dyson, who joins Leonys Martin, Mitch Haniger, Guillermo Heredia, and Ben Gamel in a highly athletic outfield mix.
It’s not immediately clear what organization might constitute a trade partner, or what Seattle might be pursuing in return, if it is indeed Smith who’s back on the block. Teams like the Tigers, White Sox, and perhaps the Indians could all conceivably make some degree of sense as teams that might utilize Smith in their respective center field mixes in the near term.
Free-agent righty Greg Holland is arguably the highest-upside reliever left on the open market, and Jon Heyman of Fan Rag provides some notable updates on his situation. The 31-year-old is in a somewhat unusual spot as a free agent, in that he brings a sparkling track record but is also seeking to return from a long layoff due to Tommy John surgery.
Given his health situation and also the evident interest around the league, Holland seeks a two-year deal that would allow him to opt out after the first season, according to Heyman. That’s the same structure that Brian Wilson landed with the Dodgers before the 2014 season, though he had made it back to the hill late in the prior campaign.
In Holland’s case, there’s perhaps greater uncertainty, but also greater upside. He took a step back in his most recent action, in 2015, but that may well have been due to the elbow issues that led to his surgery. Over the prior four campaigns, Holland was one of the game’s very best relievers, as he compiled 256 1/3 innings of 1.86 ERA pitching with 12.6 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9.
There’s interest in Holland’s proposed two-year arrangement, per the report. Among the teams still pursuing him are the Dodgers, Nationals, Rockies, Brewers, Reds, and Rays. While the Cubs showed prior interest, it’s not clear whether they are still in. And the Royals have also indicated a desire to bring back their former closer, though it seems that the team’s payroll situation may not allow for a competitive bid.
That group of organizations would presumably offer Holland a variety of possible roles. The Nationals, Rockies, Brewers, Reds, and Royals (if they’re involved) could all promise him first dibs on closing roles, while the Dodgers and perhaps the Cubs are more likely to view the veteran as a setup man. Tampa Bay, perhaps, might be most interested in the event that it strikes a deal for incumbent closer Alex Colome. Whether and to what extent the chance to take hold of the ninth is an important factor in Holland’s decisionmaking is not immediately clear.
5:05pm: In a full column on the matter, Rosenthal adds to his initial report, noting that the Dodgers are now expected to circle back to the Rays and Tigers on respective trade targets Logan Forsythe and Ian Kinsler. (Kinsler has a no-trade clause, but his agent has previously told Rosenthal that he’d waive the protection in exchange for a contract extension.)
Both Forsythe and Kinsler are right-handed bats, which would fill a significant need for the Dodgers, who rated as the game’s worst offense against left-handers in 2016. Forsythe enjoyed a breakout season with the Rays in 2015 and had a strong (albeit slightly diminished) followup in 2016. Across the past two seasons, the 29-year-old has batted .273/.337/.444 with 37 homers and 15 steals.
Forsythe lacks the power of Dozier (who has homered 70 times in the past two seasons), but he’s comparable from a financial standpoint. Currently, Forsythe is set to earn $14.75MM in the next two years, although the $9MM value of his 2018 option could rise by as much as $1.5MM based on his plate appearances in 2017. He’ll earn $500K upon reaching 550, 600 and 633 plate appearances. With a comparable financial commitment but less power than Dozier, Forsythe could potentially be had for a lower asking price, although the Rays are still likely to ask for quite a bit in return.
Talks between the Twins and Dodgers could pick back up later this offseason, but for the time being, it doesn’t seem as if the two sides will continue talking. Rosenthal writes that the Twins want Dozier to have some increased peace of mind heading into the season, and that meshes with previous reports that cited similar reasoning behind Minnesota pushing for resolution one way or another.
1:35pm: The Twins and Dodgers are at an “impasse” in their discussions over second baseman Brian Dozier, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). Minnesota could still hold further discussions, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today also suggests via Twitter, but it seems that the sides are at a standstill for the time being.
Meanwhile, there’s another intriguing thread to the Dozier saga, courtesy of MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. He says that the Twins have had at least some talks with the representatives for free agent slugger Jose Bautista, as well as other prominent open-market hitters. Particularly if Dozier remains in the fold, it seems, the Twins could perhaps make a slight pivot in their offseason strategy to take advantage of a tantalizing arrangement of power bats still available to the highest bidder.
In a sense, of course, the news on Dozier isn’t new. We’ve been told for some time that the Dodgers were largely standing on their offer of young righty Jose De Leon for the veteran, with the teams bargaining over the additional pieces. While Los Angeles was said to be willing to kick on some more prospect assets, perhaps those pieces aren’t viewed as significant enough to move the ball for Minnesota.
It seems there’s still some opening for talks to continue, but we are at the end of the roughly one-week period within which Minnesota was reportedly set to make a decision. The club has put out the word that it doesn’t intend to drag out negotiations over the rest of the spring, due at least in part out of respect for Dozier. Of course, the organization likely also would like to move on with alternative approaches in the event that Dozier is to remain on hand for at least the first half of the upcoming season.
- Though the Braves have added three veteran pieces to their rotation this winter, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman suggests that the club will continue to pursue a controllable, top-flight hurler. He cites Jose Quintana of the White Sox and Chris Archer of the Rays as the likeliest targets; indeed, Atlanta has long been connected to both, among plenty of other organizations. It would surely represent something of a surprise at this point were the Braves to make a major strike for a starter, but the organization has proved willing and able in the past to pull off significant deals at any stage of the year.
The Rays have agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent outfielder Colby Rasmus, as Jon Heyman of Fan Rag first reported (via Twitter). The deal will guarantee $5MM and come with incentives that could boost its value to $7MM, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via Twitter) and Heyman (in a tweet).
Rasmus, 30, hit just .206/.286/.355 last year for the Astros after accepting a qualifying offer following the 2015 season. He’s coming off of surgeries for a cyst in his ear as well as hip and core muscle ailments — which might help explain his fall-off. Certainly, a .257 BABIP might also have been to blame.
Houston extended the QO after Rasmus turned in an excellent year on a make-good contract. In 2015, he put up a .238/.314/.475 slash and 25 long balls over 485 plate appearances. That was the third-straight season in which Rasmus had hit at an above-average rate, and he averaged 22 dingers annually over that three-year run.
While the Rays will no doubt hope for a return to form at the plate, there’s also potentially some value to be found in Rasmus’s glove and legs. He has at times drawn strong defensive reviews, especially last year, and has typically drawn well-above-average grades on the basepaths despite the fact that he doesn’t often attempt to steal.
[RELATED: Updated Rays Depth Chart]
For Tampa Bay, Heyman notes, Rasmus will represent a power lefty bat capable of slotting in at DH, left field, and even center field on occasion. Rasmus has long carried rather hefty platoon splits, so he’s likely best suited for part-time duty. The Rays could utilize him in some form of rotation with players such as the right-handed hitting Steven Souza and Mikie Mahtook, lefties Corey Dickerson and Brad Miller, and the switch-hitting Nick Franklin. Though the regular center fielder, Kevin Kiermaier, is also a southpaw swinger, Rasmus has spent much of his career playing up the middle.
The Rays have also been connected, at least loosely, to a variety of right-handed hitters, including veteran slugger Jose Bautista. It isn’t known at this point whether adding Rasmus will preclude the club from pursuing one of the various first base/DH types still floating around on the market, but it’s certainly possible to imagine multiple acquisitions if the price is right. Tampa Bay is also still reportedly engaged with other organizations about their surplus of capable rotation arms.
The market was somewhat slow to develop for Rasmus, who never drew strong links to other organizations after Houston replaced him early on by signing Josh Reddick. With Rasmus now off the board, the top left-handed-hitting outfielders still available on the open market are Michael Saunders and Brandon Moss, each of whom ranked among MLBTR’s top 50 free agents. (Rasmus drew honorable mention consideration on that list.)
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.