It has been a confounding few years for Blue Jays righty Aaron Sanchez, who has seen his promising career sidetracked by a series of finger problems. Of course, at just 26 years of age, there’s still every chance he can regain his trajectory — so long, that is, if he’s able to get back to full health. As John Lott of The Athletic examines (subscription required), Sanchez is preparing for Spring Training with ample optimism after undergoing surgery on his right index finger last fall. He first threw earlier this month but says he feels immense improvement already. Lott explains that Sanchez has found initial success with a steady, daily stretching program to prepare his joints — one that’ll need to be integrated into a new, broader preparation regime once camp opens (and the season begins thereafter). Pitching through pain last year, Sanchez exhibited some velocity loss and a distinct lack of effectiveness. Though he actually managed a career-high 9.5% swinging-strike rate, due perhaps to ramped-up usage of his change at the expense of his once-dominant sinker, Sanchez drew less grounders than usual (a still-strong 49.1%) and struggled with free passes (5.0 per nine) as he struggled to stay in the zone (career-worst 40.5% zone rate). Needless to say, it would benefit both the Jays and Sanchez himself quite a bit if he’s able to author a turnaround. He’s slated to earn $3.9MM in his second-to-last season of team control.
Blue Jays Rumors
At one point, the former sixth-overall draft pick looked to be among the game’s better young pitchers — a quality rotation piece who could handle a big innings load, even if not an ace. But his career spun out in surprisingly quick and conclusive fashion, and he was never able to get it going again.
Upon breaking into the majors in 2009, Romero turned in a string of productive seasons, improving his bottom-line results as he went. He inked a $30.1MM extension in the midst of the 2010 campaign, a significant contract that nevertheless seemed destined to be a good one for the organization after the ensuing campaign.
Romero’s third season in the majors was his best — a 225-inning, 2.92 ERA gem in 2011. He earned an All-Star nod and placed tenth in the American League Cy Young voting. Though he was not then and never would be much of a strikeout pitcher, Romero induced loads of grounders (54.7%) and certainly seemed capable of continuing to deliver strong results for years to come.
Unfortunately, disaster struck in 2012. Romero pitched a full season, but that may not have been wise. As he discussed with Vice Sports more recently, he was battling through pain over the course of that season. Romero ended the year with a 5.77 ERA, an ugly combination of 6.2 K/9 and 5.2 BB/9, and lingering health issues — he ultimately required surgery for matching torn quad tendons — that he never fully recovered from.
As it turned out, Romero would only throw 7 1/3 MLB frames after the end of his age-27 season. The Blue Jays ended up cutting their losses and absorbing the remainder of the money they owed Romero. He ended up landing with the Giants in an effort to find himself, but never managed to gain traction during his three years with the organization. A brief run in the Mexican League also fizzled out.
As the above-linked piece documents, Romero had tried more recently to get on track by engaging a few trusted advisers and trying to get his flow back. Obviously, that attempt did not enable the southpaw to make it back to the major league hill, but it certainly can’t be said that he fell short for a lack of trying. MLBTR wishes Romero the best in his future undertakings.
- Veteran reliever John Axford is making no secret of his desire to return to the Blue Jays for the coming season, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca writes. With his family rooted in Toronto, the Canadian hurler says it’s where he’d like to be. Axford’s pitch is that he’d be a good mentor for a young team — and, perhaps, will again turn into a summer trade asset. There’s certainly an argument to be made that Axford would be a good fit, particularly if he’s again willing to take a minor-league deal. As Nicholson-Smith notes, Axford is delivering plenty of heat with his fastball, and the Jays still appear in need of some pitching depth.
In the final installment of our 3 Remaining Needs series, let’s take a look at the division that boasted the best and worst teams of the 2018 season. The AL East perfectly reflects the class warfare plaguing the American League, as the gap between the competitive upper class and, well, the Orioles could not be more stark. Even within the upper crust, however, there is plenty of variance, as the low-payroll Rays have done their best to keep pace with payroll behemoths in Boston and New York. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have taken a step back but are still looking to prepare their roster for an anticipated influx of premium young talent.
- Trade Mychal Givens. It’s a no-brainer for the Orioles to sell off their veteran pieces for prospects, only they don’t have much to sell off. Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner can be shopped, but they’d be salary dumps if they’re moveable at all and they might be better off providing a veteran base for a rotation that should have younger arms auditioning for at least two turns out of every five. The O’s have invested too much in Dylan Bundy over the years to trade him now for pennies on the dollar; better to hang onto the upside. That leaves Givens (10.3 K/9) as the most attractive piece on an otherwise barren roster. Once the major free agent bullpeners are off the market, teams should come calling for a hard-throwing late-inning arm with three seasons of control remaining.
- Sign trade bait for July. With a hugely uncertain roster situation, the Orioles should be willing to take some risks and snap up whatever the market leaves. While they’re not likely to snag any major free agents, even on pillow deals, they should be scouring the bargain bin for vets on one-year deals that could potentially bring something back at the trade deadline. Frankly, the particular position doesn’t matter so much as the value opportunity that’s presented. Needless to say, the same reasoning also supports active waiver-wire scanning, such as the team’s recent claims of Rio Ruiz and Hanser Alberto.
- Boost their international operations. The O’s longstanding aversion to spending on international amateur talent is well-documented. That was beginning to change before the club turned over the reins to new GM Mike Elias, but the org’s initial foray onto the market did not exactly go without a hitch as the club’s top reputed targets (Sandy Gaston and the Mesa brothers) landed elsewhere. That served as a reminder that bringing in top talent — not to mention, unearthing lower-cost gems — involves more than having and spending the available funds.
Boston Red Sox
- Replace/re-sign Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox haven’t done much work to rebuild their bullpen as of yet, but the degree to which they’ll need to is still unknown. With no clear market developing for Kimbrel at this time, a reunion is not at all out of the question. If they don’t bring him back to Boston, they’ll need to do something to bolster a unit currently over-reliant on holdovers Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes.
- Explore upgrades at catcher. Boston somehow managed to win a World Series in a season where its catchers batted a combined .194/.246/.288 in 619 plate appearances. Regardless of the defensive Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon can frame and throw with the best of them, and Blake Swihart (if he ever catches) may yet turn into something if given any semblance of an opportunity, but the catcher position in Boston was an utter black hole on offense last season. It wasn’t quite as bad as having a pitcher hit each time through the order, but it was closer than any AL team should be. That the team hasn’t done anything to this point suggests it may not be at the top of the priority list, but it’s hard to deny that there’s an opportunity to improve. Speaking of backstops …
- Resolve the status of Blake Swihart. The Red Sox need to finally determine if Swihart has any kind of real role with the team. Again, it’s tough to criticize a team that won a World Series in 2018, but even Boston’s most steadfast defenders have to concede that the team didn’t exactly manage its roster all that effectively as pertains to Swihart. Boston wouldn’t put Swihart behind the plate, wouldn’t put him in the field and wouldn’t DH him. Swihart had just 48 plate appearances through May 31 in 2018 despite not spending a single day on the disabled list or in the minors. He had 99 PAs prior to the All-Star break — again, without a DL stint or any time in the minors. He can’t be optioned, and the Sox clearly don’t have a spot for him. It may have worked in 2018, but the Sox were effectively operating with a 24-man roster for a good chunk of 2018. They need more flexibility, and Swihart probably would like a chance to actually play somewhere.
New York Yankees
- Trade Sonny Gray. Once Brian Cashman began the offseason by declaring Gray would be traded, there seemed little room for negotiation. The market for Gray may not fully materialize until all of the top starting arms are off the market, but there doesn’t seem to be much value in bringing him back to New York. There’s no room in the rotation at present, even if there are questions around the age and durability of their top five. Still, the Yanks are not shy about in-season acquisitions and they have depth in Triple A they can rely on. Specifically, Domingo German (5.57 ERA) and Luis Cessa (5.24 ERA) underperformed last season relative to advanced metrics like FIP and xFIP.
- Seriously pursue a premium free agent. No, the Yanks do not need Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The club won 100 games last year and is a threat to do so again (in a highly stratified American League) without making further upgrades. Still, this division — more so than the two other wings of the AL — promises to host a year-long battle. And … well … this is the Yankees we are talking about. What good is it being a financial behemoth if you can’t use your might to elbow out other teams when rare market opportunities come along? We’re not here to say that the Yankees must land one of these two players, or that they simply have to pursue both even if it makes a mess of the team’s roster and financial planning. But it would be odd if the Yanks didn’t at least put in a strong bid for either or both. With the allure of the pinstripes and New York City helping the cause, they just might come away with a bargain.
- Add another relief arm. Whether or not the club makes any other notable roster moves, this seems like an easy way to improve. The bullpen has been a notable strength in the Bronx of late, and that promises to continue. But the deeper the unit is, the more support it can provide to a highly talented but somewhat risky rotation. Limiting the wear and tear on the starting unit will not only max out its results all year long, but give the Yankees the best chance of having a powerful staff when crunch time comes late in the season.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Make another free agent splash. A big name would surely help the club draw some fans to the park, and perhaps help jump start a still-flagging ballpark effort. More importantly, the team can still tap into some funds to improve its chances of sneaking up on the BoSox and Yanks. As things stand, there’s still just under $60MM on the books for 2019. With a number of quality free agents still out there and awaiting a deal, the Rays should be willing to be aggressive in doling out short-term money to get significant pieces. Charlie Morton could deliver great value, and adding Avisail Garcia may be a decent risk, but there’s no reason to stop there.
- Make a run at J.T. Realmuto. Whether or not the free agent market offers another golden opportunity, the Rays should see if they can pull of an intra-state coup by coaxing the Marlins to send their star backstop up the coast. There’s nothing wrong with a Mike Zunino–Michael Perez pairing behind the dish, but Realmuto is the game’s best. The Tampa Bay front office would have flexibility in resolving the preexisting options, particularly since Perez can still be optioned. He’d be a nice depth piece and could perhaps also remain on the roster as part of a three-catcher mix. Alternatively, the Rays could still deal away Zunino.
- Add some veteran bullpen pieces. The Rays’ fascinating bullpen usage has shown no small amount of promise. Part of the strategy, of course, is to lean on a high volume of young pitching. But it’s hard to deny the value of veteran leadership and of established, steady performance. The current Tampa Bay bullpen unit features just one player — Chaz Roe — with more than three years of MLB service time. Allocating some remaining funds to one or more quality free agents would seem to make sense. Old friend Sergio Romo is among the many remaining possibilities.
Toronto Blue Jays
- Prepare for potential spring trades. Entering the winter, it seemed that veteran first baseman Justin Smoak would pop up in the rumor mill with some frequency. We broke down his potential suitors in anticipation of just that, but nothing of note has materialized to this point. There has been more chatter surrounding righty Marcus Stroman, but no indication to date that there’s any momentum toward a deal. Things may be quiet now, but more and more of the offseason business is stretching up to and into Spring Training, when teams will see their rosters in the flesh and injuries will begin to pop up. The Jays should anticipate some late-breaking interest in these players and be ready to pounce on any good opportunities that come up.
- Put the payroll space to work. Neither Smoak nor Stroman need to be moved for purely financial reasons. Indeed, the Jays should also be willing at least to poke around for bargains on the market. The Jays are only projected to have a payroll of roughly $110MM next season right now, well below recent levels of spending. The team has a variety of players who have a decent amount of MLB experience but who have yet to establish themselves fully. It’s fine to give opportunities to players of that kind, but that shouldn’t be allowed to clog things up if there’s a chance to add better talent — even if it costs a bit of money. The Toronto organization could find some opportunities to acquire talent as teams make final payroll decisions, whether that takes the form of snagging unwanted arbitration-year players or taking on an under-water contract that’s packaged with prospects.
- Add to the bullpen. The Jays have little in the way of established arms at the back of the ’pen, and even if they don’t realistically expect to contend, there’s value in having a few stabilizing pieces to prevent a constant churn of DFAs and other various 40-man machinations throughout the course of the season. Scooping up some useful arms on one- or even two-year deals can also always yield a viable summer trade chip. Last year, the club enjoyed some opportunities at the trade deadline due to its arsenal of veteran relievers, and there’s good reason to pursue a similar course again.
- Free-agent reliever John Axford said Saturday that he hopes to rejoin the Blue Jays, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet tweets. A native of Canada, Axford signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays last February and stuck in Toronto up until the club traded him to the Dodgers at the July 31 non-waiver deadline. All told, the 35-year-old right-hander pitched to an ugly 5.27 ERA in 54 2/3 innings. Much of the damage came in Axford’s 3 2/3 frames as a Dodger, though, and he did pair playable strikeout and walk numbers (8.89 K/9, 3.62 BB/9) with an appealing groundball rate (54.6 percent).
The deadline for players and teams to exchange arbitration figures passed at 1pm ET yesterday, meaning over the next few hours, there will be a landslide of settlements on one-year deals to avoid an arbitration hearing. We’ll track today’s minor settlements from the American League in this post. Once all of the day’s settlements have filtered in, I’ll organize them by division to make them a bit easier to parse.
It’s worth mentioning that the vast majority of teams have adopted a “file and trial” approach to arbitration, meaning that once arbitration figures are exchanged with a player, negotiations on a one-year deal will cease. The two parties may still discuss a multi-year deal after that point, but the majority of players who exchange figures with their team today will head to an arbitration hearing.
- Yankees 1B Greg Bird will make $1.2 MM next season, per Bob Nightengale on Twitter.
- The controversial Roberto Osuna will make $6.5MM next season, per Feinsand. Teammate Jake Marisnick, who again scuffled in ’18 after a promising 2017, will make $2.2125MM.
- Per Mark Feinsand on Twitter, A’s lefty Sean Manaea $3.15MM in what’s sure to be an injury-marred 2019.
- Hard-throwing reliever Mychal Givens will make $2.15MM, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter), with additional incentives for making the All-Star team or placing in the Top-3 for the Rivera/Hoffman Reliever of the Year Awards, added MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter).
- The Mariners agreed on a $1.95MM deal with outfielder Domingo Santana, per MLB.com’s Greg Johns (via Twitter). Santana is the second and last of the Mariners’ arbitration-eligible players.
- The Angels agreed to contracts with a pair of players yesterday, per Maria Torres of the LA Times (via Twitter). Reliever Hansel Robles signed for $1.4MM. Robles threw 36 1/3 innings of 2.97 ERA baseball after the Angels claimed him off waivers from the Mets in June. Luis Garcia, acquired via trade from the Phillies this winter, signed for $1.675MM.
- The Tigers and reliever Shane Greene settled on $4MM, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (via Twitter).
- The Yankees reached an agreement with Sonny Gray for $7.5MM, per Nightengale. Gray, of course, has been involved trade rumors most of the winter, but for the time being, he stands to play a role in the Yankee pen while providing insurance for the rotation.
- Didi Gregorius has also come to an agreement with the Yankees on a one-year, $11.75MM deal in his final season before free agency, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (Twitter links).
- New Yankee James Paxton signed for $8.575, per Nightengale (via Twitter). Paxton is under contract for the 2020 season as well.
- The Houston Astros came to an agreement with Collin McHugh for $5.8MM, per Nightengale (via Twitter). McHugh could be moving back into the rotation after a stellar season in the pen, either way this will be his final season of arb eligibility before hitting the open market.
- Jonathan Villar comes away with $4.825MM for what will be his first full season in Baltimore, per Nightengale (via Twitter).
Jan. 12, 2:07 PM: Per a team announcement, the signing is now official.
Jan. 10, 10:25 PM: The Blue Jays have agreed to a contract with righty David Phelps, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link). It’s said to be a one-year deal that comes with a club option.
Phelps will receive a $2.5MM guarantee, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (links to Twitter). The deal also dangles a variety of incentives along with a floating option value depending upon how many frames Phelps throws in the season to come.
The terms reflect the fact that Phelps, a client of Jet Sports Management, is coming off of a season lost to Tommy John surgery. The 2020 option price will start at just $1MM. It goes up to $3MM if he appears in 30 games and hits $5MM if he makes his 40th outing. If Phelps reaches fifty appearances the option will jump to $7MM; it can climb by another $1MM if he also finishes forty games, which obviously would not take place unless he earns and keeps the Jays’ closer job for much of the season.
In terms of incentives, Phelps can boost his 2019 pay quite a bit if he’s able to get on the hill early and often. He’ll get a quarter-million boost upon throwing his 25th, 30th, and 35th games, then take home successive $350K payouts if he can reach appearances 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60. The option year also has available incentive pay.
All told, the contract generally reflects an optimistic view about Phelps’s outlook. The 32-year-old had been on a great run when he ran into arm troubles during the 2017 season. Unfortunately for him and the Mariners, the issues reached a breaking point last spring, when it was decided he’d require Tommy John surgery just before the start of the 2018 campaign.
Before things went south, Phelps had been on an excellent run of success. Something of a non-descript starter earlier in his career, Phelps caught fire in a relief role in 2016 and never really looked back. He ultimately threw 142 1/3 innings of 2.72 ERA ball, with 11.1 K/9 against 4.0 BB/9, over the 2016 and 2017 campaigns.
Looking ahead, it seems fair to presume that Phelps will be looked upon to play a significant role in a generally inexperienced Blue Jays bullpen. He joins veteran hurlers Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard as recent veteran additions who will head to Toronto in search of a rebound. Though Phelps has plenty of experience as a starter — including an intriguing but brief return to the rotation late in 2016 — it seems from his incentive structure that he will not be joining Shoemaker and Richard in the competition for a starting job.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Yesterday’s arbitration deadline wasn’t a firm date for agreeing to terms. Rather, it was the end of the period to negotiate before submitting numbers for possible hearings. Negotiations can continue thereafter, but teams and players will now have to defend their submission numbers if they can’t bridge the gap before a hearing. Baseball arb panels simply pick one side’s number; that aspect of the process is designed to force the parties to the bargaining table.
Here’s what we know thus far about the still-unresolved cases:
- The Yankees have yet to come to a deal with ace starter Luis Severino, and they may be heading to arbitration. The Yanks have submitted their bid at $4.4MM, while Severino has asked for $5.25MM, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (via Twitter).
- Tommy Pham and the Rays have submitted their numbers for arbitration, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (via Twitter). Pham filed at $4.1MM while the Rays submitted a bid of $3.5MM. Pham has had no problem expressing his honest opinion about the Rays fanbase of late, and it will be interesting to see if he gets an equal portion of honest feedback in return in his arbitration hearing.
- The Oakland A’s and their closer Blake Treinen have both submitted their numbers, with the team coming in at $5.6MM while Treinen files for $6.4MM, per Fancred’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter). It’s not a shock to see these sides far apart, given Treinen’s remarkable 2018 and how far above his usual standard of production last season’s numbers fell.
- Washington Nationals filed at $1.725MM for newcomer Kyle Barraclough, who counters at $2MM, per Nightengale (via Twitter). The former Marlin was acquired in an uncommonly early offseason trade that sent international bonus pool money the Marlins’ way.
- The Diamondbacks have only one player they did not reach an agreement with, lefty reliever T.J. McFarland. The Dbacks submitted a bid of $1.275MM, while McFarland is asking for $1.675MM, per Nightengale (via Twitter).
- Alex Wood submitted $9.65MM for his 2019 salary, while his new club the Cincinnati Reds countered at $8.7MM, per Nightengale (via Twitter). Wood will be a free agent at season’s end.
- The Detroit Tigers reached agreements with all of their arbitration eligible players except for right-handed starter Michael Fulmer. Fulmer comes in at $3.4MM with the team countering at $2.8MM, the difference being 600K, per Nightengale (via Twitter).
- Ryan Tepera has filed for $1.8MM while the Blue Jays submitted their bid at $1.525MM, per Nightengale (via Twitter). Tepera has been a reliable bullpen arm for the Jays through his first four seasons. He has two more seasons of arbitration remaining, set to reach free agency in advance of the 2022 season.
- Reserve outfielder Michael A. Taylor and the Washington Nationals are a 250K apart, per Nightengale (via Twitter). Seems like a rather small sum to quibble over in the grand scheme of things, but every cent counts right now in Washington, it seems. Taylor submitted a bid of $3.5MM, with the Nats countering at $3.25MM.
- Rockies star Nolan Arenado is headed for a record arb salary, unsurprisingly. The question is by how much. He has filed at a whopping $30MM, with the club countering at $24MM, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). Even the lower figure would represent a record. It doesn’t seem as if the sides will go to a high-stakes hearing on this one; Jeff Passan of ESPN.com tweets that the odds are good they’ll find common ground. MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz projected Arenado to earn $26.1MM, though he also explained that it’s not hard to see that number swaying in either direction based upon a close examination of the (few relevant) comps.
- Despite a monster 2018 season, Phillies righty Aaron Nola isn’t seeking to set a record first-year arb starter salary. (That belongs to Dallas Keuchel, at $7.25MM, when he was coming off of a Cy Young season.) Nola did file at a hefty $6.75MM, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia (via Twitter), while the club entered just $4.5MM. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out. The Keuchel salary represented a sea change for young starters, but few others have tested the process since. MLBTR’s projection system spit out a $6.6MM figure for Nola.
- Righty Gerrit Cole filed at $13.5MM, while the Astros countered at $11.425MM, according to Jon Heyman of Fancred (Twitter link). Teammates Carlos Correa and Chris Devenski have also yet to agree to terms. MLBTR projected Cole to earn $13.1MM in his final arb season, Correa to check in at $5.1MM in his first arb year, and Devenski to take home $1.4MM his first time through the process.
- Indians righty Trevor Bauer is seeking a $13MM payday, while the club will argue instead for $11MM, per Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer (via Twitter). The Cleveland org has long utilized a file-and-trial approach on a case-by-case basis. It’s not totally clear whether that’ll be the approach here, but as Hoynes notes, the sides did go to a hearing already last year. (Bauer won.) MLBTR projected a $11.6MM payday; Swartz also explained why he thought the model was likely in the right ballpark for Bauer in a detailed post.
- Passan provides a list of other players who have yet to agree to terms and who could therefore still end up before a panel. There are fifteen in total, including those already noted above as well as Kyle Barraclough and Michael Taylor (Nationals), Michael Fulmer (Tigers), T.J. McFarland (Diamondbacks), Tommy Pham (Rays), Luis Severino (Yankees), Ryan Tepera (Blue Jays), Blake Treinen (Athletics), and Alex Wood (Reds).
5:48pm: Los Angeles will take on $3.6MM of Martin’s salary, with the Jays paying the other $16.4MM of what’s still due, per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link).
1:12pm: The Dodgers have reached an agreement on a trade with the Blue Jays that will bring veteran catcher Russell Martin back to Los Angeles, reports Arash Madani of Sportsnet (via Twitter). Martin will earn $20MM in 2019 — the final season of a five-year, $82MM contract with the Jays. Presumably, Toronto is paying down a hefty portion of that remaining salary as part of the trade.
The addition of Martin shouldn’t strictly take the Dodgers out of the running for Marlins star J.T. Realmuto, though there’s certainly less urgency for Los Angeles to meet Miami’s lofty asking price with this deal in place. Still, it’s not inconceivable that president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman could make a strong offer for Realmuto even with Martin and Austin Barnes on the roster. Barnes has a minor league option remaining and is capable of playing the infield, and some reports have indicated that Miami would like a catcher with MLB experience as part of a Realmuto deal (in addition to multiple top prospects); Barnes could fit that description, speculatively speaking.
Soon to turn 36, Martin will bring a keen eye a the plate and strong defensive skills to the Dodgers, who of course originally drafted and developed the four-time All-Star. While last season’s .194/.338/.325 batting line obviously looks ugly, Martin walked at a nearly 16 percent clip, one of the highest rates in the league, and demonstrated that he still has a bit of pop — certainly enough to make him comparable to other catchers throughout the game. Martin hit 10 homers and recorded a .133 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average), the latter of which checked in only slightly south of the mark of a league-average catcher (.141 ISO).
Martin did hit the ball on the ground (51.2 percent) and pop up (19.4 percent of his fly-balls were pop-ups) at career-high rates in 2018, so the .234 average on balls in play he posted last season may not be as much of a fluke as it would seem at first glance. But, if he’s able to correct either of those issues in a return to Chavez Ravine, he’ll give the Dodgers a high-quality defender with excellent on-base skills. Martin’s caught-stealing numbers have dwindled recently (22 percent in 2018), but he remains a premium pitch framer and was among the best in baseball at blocking pitches in the dirt, per Baseball Prospectus’ metrics.
The trade of Martin to Los Angeles will open the door for Jays catching prospect Danny Jansen to audition as a long-term piece behind the dish. The 23-year-old Jansen has long rated as one of the organization’s better prospects and enjoyed a solid late-2018 debut with a .247/.347/.432 slash and three homers in 95 plate appearances. Jansen will team with 27-year-old Luke Maile, a strong defensive backstop who had a career-best .248/.333/.366 batting line in 231 plate appearances last season.
Brito, 20 in March, signed with the Dodgers for a $2MM bonus as a 16-year-old amateur and has yet to ascend beyond Rookie ball. He split the 2018 season between the Dominican Summer League (eight games) and the Pioneer League (53 games), posting a combined .295/.359/.496 batting line with 11 homers and 14 doubles in 262 plate appearances. He’s quite a ways from big league relevance, but he did enjoy solid production against older competition in the Pioneer League this past season.
Sopko is a 24-year-old righty whom the Dodgers selected in the seventh round of the 2015 draft. He opened the 2018 season at Class-A Advanced and ascended to Double-A midway through the season. Between those two levels, Sopko notched a 3.52 ERA with 9.3 K/9 against 2.1 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9. As a fly-ball righty with a low-90s heater who relies on control, his realistic ceiling is more along the lines of a back-end starter, but his success in Double-A means he shouldn’t be too far from getting a look at the big league level.
The Rays have acquired right-hander Oliver Drake from the Blue Jays in exchange for cash considerations, as per an announcement from the Jays. In order to open a spot for Drake on the 40-man roster, Tampa Bay announced that fellow righty Jaime Schultz has been designated for assignment.
Toronto designated Drake for assignment last week to open a spot on the roster for newly acquired southpaw Clayton Richard. It’s the second time Drake has landed with the Rays this offseason; Tampa Bay claimed him from the Twins on Nov. 1, only to later lose him to the Jays via waivers.
Drake, 32 next week, is baseball’s most well-traveled player over the past calendar year. The right-hander pitched for a record-setting five teams in 2018, spending time with the Brewers, Indians, Blue Jays, Angels and Twins. Though he struggled with four of those clubs, Drake actually pitched quite well in Minnesota, giving the Twins 20 1/3 innings of 2.21 ERA ball with 22 strikeouts against seven walks over the life of 19 relief appearances.
Many were puzzled that Drake continually was claimed on waivers despite sub-par results for much of the 2018 campaign, but Drake’s blend of missed bats (13.2 percent swinging-strike rate, 9.6 K/9), solid control (3.2 BB/9) and ability to keep the ball on the ground at a roughly league-average rate (44.6 percent) continue to hold appeal around the league. He’s not a spin rate savant by any stretch of the means, but fielding-independent pitching metrics like FIP (3.24), xFIP (3.51) and SIERA (3.48) all paint a much better picture of Drake than his unsightly 5.29 ERA. His strong finish with Minnesota likely only further enhanced his appeal.
As for Schultz, the 27-year-old was once considered one of Tampa Bay’s more promising minor league arms. However, he struggled to a 5.64 ERA in 30 1/3 innings last year, and while he racked up 35 strikeouts in that time, he also issued 17 walks and hit three batters. He also underperformed in Triple-A last season and has never been able to consistently avoid issuing free passes in the upper minors. Schultz does have a nice track record of missing bats, though, and he averaged a solid 94.9 mph on his heater last year, so perhaps another club will be interest in taking a look.