- The Rangers are still in touch with free agent right-hander Andrew Cashner, who’s interested in re-signing with the team, TR Sullivan of MLB.com reports. After Cashner joined the Rangers on a $10MM guarantee last winter, the Texas native proceeded to toss 166 2/3 innings of 3.40 ERA ball, but that came with the majors’ worst K/BB ratio among qualified starters. Cashner, 31, is reportedly seeking a three-year contract this time around. If the Rangers ultimately do bring Cashner back, he’d follow Doug Fister, Mike Minor and Matt Moore as the fourth established rotation piece to latch on with them this winter (though Minor hasn’t started a big league game since 2014).
The Blue Jays and Rangers “appear” to be among teams with interest in Marlins center fielder Christian Yelich, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Yelich has landed on several clubs’ radars this offseason, owing to his impressive track record, long-term affordability and age (26), but he may end up sticking with the Marlins. Miami understandably wants an enormous return for Yelich, presumably in the form of prospects, so it’s worth noting that Toronto is ninth and Texas 21st in Baseball America’s most recent farm system rankings (subscription required and recommended).
The Rangers and the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League have announced a partnership. Gerry Fraley of SportsDay wrote a full report on the news, noting that the partnership will include exchanging of “ideas and information” about business, ballpark construction, scouting and player development. Notably, the Fighters will also send one of their own instructors both to Rangers spring training camp and to travel with the team during the regular season. The partnership may have evolved from the depth of scouting personnel that Texas deployed to scout players such as Yu Darvish, Yoshinori Tateyama and Shohei Ohtani. “We look forward to helping each other in a variety of ways,” Rangers President Jon Daniels said of the new alliance. It’s fair to wonder whether this partnership will allow Texas to get its foot in the door with future Fighters talent interested in making the transition to MLB.
More items from the American League’s western clubs…
- The Athletics recently hired 24-year-old Haley Alvarez as their scouting coordinator; she’s the first woman to be hired by the club as a talent evaluator. Alyson Footer of MLB.com wrote a piece on the subject detailing the former intern’s rise to her new position. Alvarez’ journey to scouting began with baseball operations experience she gained during her college days at the University of Virginia, followed by internships with the Commissioner’s Office and the Boston Red Sox organization. Following an internship with the A’s, GM David Forst offered to sponsor her for scout school. Though Alvarez didn’t even know such a thing existed, she was excited about the opportunity, and used it to fuel her career path. She’s now using modern analytics and new advanced technology to help the A’s bring in talent. “You don’t have to have played baseball, which is a common misconception,” says Alvarez, who hopes to inspire other women to pursue career paths in baseball operations.
- In other Athletics news, Jane Lee of MLB.com reports that sophomore Chad Pinder is preparing to play first base for the club on occasion. Because Ryon Healy was shipped to Seattle this offseason, the club needs a backup first baseman. “I think the last time I played first base was in eighth grade,” said Pinder, though he did take ground balls during practice there last season. The Oakland utilityman started at six different positions for the club last season while hitting .232/.292/.457 across 309 plate appearances with 15 homers and 42 RBI. The righty-hitter struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances.
- Angels GM Billy Eppler is headed to Japan in order to help with Shohei Ohtani’s transition process, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register writes. He’ll be bringing three other Angels personnel with him. “We spent so much time saying what we’re about to Ohtani and putting things forward for him,” said Eppler. “The main purpose of this is now to get his input and feedback on things.” Eppler also added that Ohtani is scheduled to get on a mound in two weeks; there don’t seem to be any concerns about his health at this time.
Here are Friday’s minor moves from around the game…
- The Rangers have inked a minor-league pact with right-hander Brandon Cumpton, per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning news (Twitter link). Arm troubles have limited the 29-year-old of late, but he did return to professional action in 2017 after a two-year hiatus. Over 37 1/3 innings, Cumpton pitched to a 3.86 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9.
- As Cumpton leaves the Pirates organization, two other right-handers are on their way in, according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects. Tyler Jones and Bo Schultz have each joined the Bucs on minor-league arrangements, per the report. The former will be looking to crack the majors for the first time. He has often produced quality strikeout rates in the upper minors but only managed a 4.38 ERA in 63 2/3 innings at Triple-A last year with the Yankees organization. As for Schultz, the former Blue Jays reliever will be looking to return from Tommy John surgery. Schultz turned in a useful 2015 season but faltered in the ensuing season — he worked to a 5.51 ERA in his 16 1/3 MLB innings — before going under the knife.
- Righty William Cuevas will join the Red Sox organization on a minor-league pact, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets. The 27-year-old has spent the bulk of his career in the Boston organization but played elsewhere in 2017. He worked to a 4.85 ERA in 104 Triple-A frames in 2017, with 7.0 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. Cuevas has twice cracked the majors, but only briefly.
- Yet another right-handed hurler, Preston Guilmet, is heading to the Cardinals on a minors deal, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets. He’ll get a spring invite and can earn at a $600K rate in the majors. The 30-year-old Guilmet has seen parts of three seasons in the majors but only has 23 career innings at the game’s highest level. He has put up some interesting results of late, though, posting a 2.77 ERA with 10.8 K/9 against 1.6 BB/9 in 68 1/3 Triple-A frames in 2016 before heading to Japan and running a 3.62 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in his 54 2/3 innings for the Yakult Swallows (over four starts and 28 relief appearances).
- The Tigers have agreed to a minor league deal with former Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, reports SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (on Twitter). Kozma, 30 in April, split the 2017 season between the Rangers and Yankees organizations and logged 51 plate appearances in the Majors, though he batted just .111/.200/.178 in that small sample. Long considered an excellent defender with a light bat, Kozma is a career .215/.282/.285 hitter in parts of six MLB seasons but also comes with a career +11 Defensive Runs Saved mark and +9 Ultimate Zone Rating in 1450 innings at shortstop.
- The Braves announced yesterday that right-handed reliever Luke Jackson cleared waivers and was sent outright to Triple-A Gwinnett. Once a well-regarded prospect in the Rangers system, the now-26-year-old Jackson posted an ERA north of 6.00 and walked 16 batters in 24 1/3 innings with Gwinnett last season. He actually performed better in the Majors, logging a 4.62 ERA in 50 1/3 frames, albeit with pedestrian averages of 5.9 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 with a 45.2 percent grounder rate. Jackson does have a history of missing bats in the upper minors and did average 94.7 mph on his heater last year while running up a 10.2 percent swinging-strike rate, so there’s some hope that he could yet figure things out.
- The Rangers announced minor league deals for right-hander Steve Delabar and outfielder Destin Hood (via Twitter). Both players will be invited to Spring Training, per the announcement. Delabar didn’t pitch in 2017 after being popped for an 80-game suspension following a failed PED test. Delabar, 34, was an All-Star with the Blue Jays back in 2013 and served as a very effective member of Toronto’s relief corps from 2012-13 before declining in 2014-15. He has a career 4.07 ERA and has averaged better than 11 strikeouts per nine innings in 194 2/3 MLB frames. Hood, meanwhile, long rated as one of the Nationals’ more promising farmhands, but the former second-rounder’s career stalled in Triple-A. He spent the 2016-17 seasons in the Marlins organization and posted solid, albeit unspectacular numbers in Triple-A.
The Rangers have “ramped up” their pursuit of free-agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). The report from Crasnick comes not long after a morning report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that tied Cain to the Brewers — the team that initially drafted him.
[Related: Free Agent Profile — Lorenzo Cain]
Cain, 31, rejected a qualifying offer from the Royals following a characteristically excellent season, so he’d require the Rangers to part with their second-highest draft selection as well as $500K of next year’s international signing pool. However, Cain would also provide the Rangers with a noted boost in an outfield that saw Carlos Gomez hit free agency at season’s end.
Over the past four seasons, Cain has been at least an average bat and often rated considerably higher. In that time, he’s slashed .300/.352/.437 — numbers that would look considerably better on the surface had Cain not spent his home games playing in one of the league’s more pitcher-friendly settings. His OPS+ in that time, which adjusts for league and park, was a strong 113 (or 13 percent better than a league-average hitter).
Cain also brings sterling defense and baserunning value to the table. Both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating feel his glovework has deteriorated in recent years, but he was still at +5 DRS and +1.6 UZR last season. And, only four outfielders in all of baseball ranked higher than Cain in Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric in 2017. As for his baserunning, Cain has averaged 24 steals in 28 attempts per year over the past four seasons, and Fangraphs ranks him 17th of 289 position players in total baserunning value in that time.
For Texas, the question isn’t necessarily one of whether Cain would fit the roster or better the team, but rather one of whether they can afford him from a financial standpoint. Texas has already signed Mike Minor, Doug Fister, Chris Martin and Tony Barnette this offseason while also acquiring Matt Moore from the Giants. The Rangers currently project to open the year with a payroll just north of $144MM, and reports earlier this offseason indicated that the Rangers hoped to keep their 2018 payroll in the $155MM range. Backloading a multi-year deal for Cain could certainly make that possible, though it’d likely mean that the signing of Cain was the last of the significant moves for Texas GM Jon Daniels and his staff this offseason.
At present, the Rangers figure to have an outfield consisting of Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo, though Choo could move to designated hitter (and the Rangers have reportedly been trying to shed his contract).
Thus far, the Rangers have mostly focused on open-market additions to their pitching staff. A turn to the trade market shouldn’t be expected, GM Jon Daniels tells MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. While there are a variety of enticing possible trade candidates floating around, Daniels says the organization is “making a concerted effort to be more disciplined and stay away from” moves that cost the team its “best young players.” Though the team’s top baseball decisionmaker wouldn’t rule out the trade avenue entirely, he said the team won’t be giving up notable future value for a short-term addition. Speaking of the Rangers’ moves to this point, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News solicited a scouting breakdown of the new arms brought onto the staff.
- The Twins are “still trying to match schedules” to schedule a sit-down with free agent Yu Darvish, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (via Twitter). That’s somewhat odd to read at this stage of the winter; Darvish has already met with other teams, Minnesota has long labeled him a “priority,” and spring camp is just six weeks away. Nevertheless, at this point it seems little has changed in the situation: the Twins are still interested in the top-flight righty, though it’s difficult to determine a favorite in the Darvish sweepstakes. To that end, it’s worth noting that Jim Bowden of The Athletic wrote today that Minnesota “appears … prepared to offer a market deal” for Darvish (though it stands to reason that an in-person meeting would precede such an offer). Bowden also notes that the Astros are still in the Darvish mix, in part due to concerns over their ability to sign Dallas Keuchel long term, and he cites multiple sources in reporting that the Rangers are still alive in the bidding for Darvish as well.
- The Phillies are known to be looking for pitching, though NBCSports.com Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury writes that the team could wait until the July trade deadline to make a big addition to the rotation. Asking prices could be lower for some pitchers by July, or the Phillies could have a better idea of what young players they’d be more comfortable giving up in a trade. Interestingly, Salisbury notes that Cole Hamels could be targeted by the Phils if the Rangers fall out of contention, as both Hamels and the Phillies would have interest in the 2008 World Series hero returning to Philadelphia.
- Shin-Soo Choo is “not really worried about” being mentioned in trade speculation, the Rangers outfielder tells Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Choo’s name was reportedly included as part of the Rangers’ talks with the Diamondbacks about a possible Zack Greinke swap, as Texas was looking to move Choo’s contract to offset some of the salary the club would be taking on by acquiring Greinke. For Choo, such speculation is “part of baseball. That’s part of the deal. Nobody is happy to hear them in trade rumors….I have a great feeling for the Rangers, but at the same time I understand the team’s situation.” Choo has been hampered by injuries during his four years in Texas and is owed $62MM over the next three seasons, though Wilson feels that the Rangers should keep Choo, arguing that the outfielder has been effective when healthy and provides an OBP boost that the Rangers lineup otherwise lacks.
- The Rangers probably lack the prospect depth to trade for a top-tier starting pitcher, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan writes in his latest mailbag piece, in part because the club has already dealt so many other top minor leaguers in trades for Cole Hamels, Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Lucroy, and other established stars in recent years. Moving what few blue chip prospects the team has left for a pitcher like Chris Archer or Michael Fulmer doesn’t seem likely at this point. Texas has beefed up its rotation with the additions of Matt Moore, Doug Fister, and Mike Minor this winter, filling multiple holes in its rotation rather than making a big splash for an ace.
- An American League scout shared his opinion on the Rangers’ three pitching acquisitions (Mike Minor, Matt Moore, and Doug Fister) with Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, noting that the trio’s ability to miss bats will help take pressure off a shaky Texas defense. Most interestingly, the scout suggested that Minor would be most effectively deployed not just as a reliever, but as the Rangers’ closer. Minor has said that he chose to sign with Texas because the club was open to giving him the opportunity to again be a starting pitcher, so while the left-hander has also said he’s fine with continuing as a reliever, rotation work would seem to be his first option. Minor began his career as a starter but shoulder problems cost him all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons before he returned to post excellent numbers out of the Royals bullpen last year.