- Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins discussed several topics during a conference call with reporters (including Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith and MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm), including his team’s recent acquisitions of Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard. Atkins said the two veteran hurlers will likely be used in the rotation if physically able, though he stopped short of fully confirming that usage, noting that “both guys have the potential to start,” and “I do think there could be a scenario where either one of them or potentially both could be used in a (different) role.” The Jays still have a need for pitching, and Atkins said that the club will continue to look at adding more starters and relievers as the offseason continues, both in free agency and perhaps in trades, as Toronto continues to receive interest from other teams. “We’ll continue to consider any opportunities to move players potentially off of our roster. It’s not something we are proactively looking to do, but we do have a great number of players that other teams are interested in,” Atkins said. He also specifically noted that catcher Russell Martin is “interesting to a lot of teams.”
Blue Jays Rumors
4:54pm: Toronto will pay half of Richard’s $3MM salary, AJ Cassavell of MLB.com suggests.
4:15pm: Both teams have announced the trade. The Blue Jays are also getting cash considerations in the deal.
3:55pm: Richard’s going to Toronto, Nicholson-Smith tweets. The Blue Jays will give up minor leaguer outfielder Connor Panas, per Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. The 25-year-old Panas, a Toronto native whom the Blue Jays chose in the ninth round of the 2015 draft, got his first taste of Double-A action last season and hit .232/.296/.359 with nine home runs in 407 plate appearances.
3:35pm: The Blue Jays are close to acquiring left-hander Clayton Richard from the Padres, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet reports. Richard has been in limbo since the Padres designated him for assignment on Dec. 20.
The 35-year-old Richard has been a useful starter at times since his major league career began with the White Sox in 2008, but he’s now coming off an ugly season. Over 158 2/3 innings and 27 starts in San Diego, Richard pitched to a 5.33 ERA/4.68 FIP with 6.13 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 before undergoing season-ending left knee surgery in late August. On the bright side, Richard posted an excellent groundball rate (56.8 percent), which has been a staple throughout his time in the majors.
Needless to say, Richard – who’s owed a guaranteed $3MM in 2019, the last season of a two-year contract – wouldn’t be a particularly exciting acquisition for Toronto. If healthy, though, he could eat innings for a retooling Blue Jays team which may have multiple questions in its rotation next season. The Jays look to have four-fifths of their rotation set with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki and the just-signed Matt Shoemaker in the fold. However, Stroman has frequented trade rumors throughout the offseason, Sanchez battled injury and performance issues from 2017-18, and Shoemaker was neither healthy nor especially effective with the Angels over the previous couple years.
Drake only lasted a few weeks on the 40-man roster in Toronto, which claimed him off waivers from the Rays on Nov. 26. By now, the 31-year-old Drake is used to short-lived stints on major league rosters. Drake saw action with a record five teams (including the Blue Jays) in 2018, and has pitched for a total of seven clubs since debuting with the Orioles in 2015.
Over 137 1/3 major league innings, including 47 2/3 last season, Drake has offered signs of encouragement. While Drake does own a below-average ERA (4.59), he has notched 9.9 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9, generated ground balls at a 47.3 percent clip and recorded a 3.48 FIP/3.63 xFIP. And Drake has been dominant at the Triple-A level, where he has posted a 1.80 ERA with 12.7 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 across 110 innings. Perhaps yet another major league team will take a chance on him via waivers, then.
3:25pm: Shoemaker will earn an additional $250K if he gets to 150, 160, 170 or 180 innings, Jon Heyman of Fancred tweets.
12:20pm: The Blue Jays have announced the signing.
10:24am: Shoemaker can earn an additional $1MM via incentives, Passan tweets, which would push his 2019 earnings up into the same range as his previous arbitration projection.
9:50am: The contract will pay Shoemaker $3.5MM, tweets Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.
9:25am: Shoemaker’s guarantee falls in the $3MM to $3.5MM range, tweets MLB.com’s Jon Morosi.
8:51am: The Blue Jays are in agreement on a one-year, Major League contract with free-agent righty Matt Shoemaker, reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). Toronto has an open spot on the 40-man roster, so a corresponding roster move won’t be necessary. Shoemaker is represented by ISE Baseball.
Shoemaker, 32, was a late addition to the free-agent market on Nov. 30 after the Angels decided to non-tender the oft-injured righty rather than pay him a projected $4.3MM salary in arbitration.Because of that non-tender, he ht the open market with four years, 166 days of Major League service time under his belt, meaning he’ll be controllable through the 2020 season, via arbitration, if he can reestablish himself in Toronto.
A series of forearm strains torpedoed Shoemaker’s 2017-18 seasons, limiting him to just 108 2/3 innings over that two-year span. He wasn’t especially effective in that time, either, pitching to a combined 4.64 ERA (4.62 FIP) with 8.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and an ugly 1.5 HR/9 mark.
That said, there’s also reason for optimism with Shoemaker. Though his 4.94 ERA in 31 innings this past season won’t impress anyone, he averaged a career-high 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings in that brief span and recorded a career-best 13.6 percent swinging-strike rate, as well. Perhaps there’s some small-sample noise at play there, but Shoemaker’s splitter was a demonstrably more effective pitch in his limited time on the mound in his final season with the Halos.
It’s also worth noting, of course, that Shoemaker was a solid mid-rotation starter for the Angels from 2013-16, working to a combined 3.75 ERA (3.76 FIP) with averages of eight strikeouts, 1.9 walks and 1.2 home runs per nine innings pitched.
Shoemaker figures to slot into a rotation that also includes Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Borucki, with right-hander Sean Reid-Foley and southpaw Thomas Pannone vying for the fifth spot in new skipper Charlie Montoyo’s starting five.
7:03pm: The San Diego organization has held some talks regarding Kluber as well as Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune (via Twitter). But while “the Padres could still add a starting pitcher for 2019,” he says, “it won’t be one of those two.”
Needless to say, that’s a rather forthright rebuke of the earlier reporting this evening, which had characterized the Padres as active and strong pursuers of Kluber.
3:59pm: The Padres are among the teams discussing a trade for two-time AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber with the Indians, reports Jon Morosi of MLB.com. Morosi further tweets that several other NL clubs — the Dodgers, Reds, Phillies and Brewers — are also involved in Kluber talks to varying degrees. San Diego, he notes, is not believed to be any sort of favorite at the moment.
However, the Padres do have a number of interesting young, MLB-ready pieces to include in a potential Kluber deal. Any of center fielder Manuel Margot, right fielder Hunter Renfroe or catcher Austin Hedges could potentially be involved in a Kluber swap, per Morosi, although it’s difficult to see how any of that trio would headline a package for for a pitcher as accomplished as Kluber.
Margot and Hedges are quality defenders, though neither has hit in the Majors yet and both have already topped two years of big league service (meaning they have four years of control remaining). Renfroe has demonstrated significant power and is controlled for another five seasons but walked at just a 6.8 percent clip last season and barely kept his on-base percentage north of .300. Furthermore, Morosi suggests that the Padres would be reluctant to include either of their top two prospects — shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and lefty MacKenzie Gore — in a trade. Presumably, then, San Diego would need to include additional MLB-ready talent and deal from its next tier of prospects in order to make the best offer for Kluber, who can be controlled for another three seasons at a total of $52.5MM (with the final two of those seasons coming in the form of club options).
Kluber, of course, was originally a Padres farmhand after being selected in the fourth round of the 2007 draft. The Padres, under a previous regime and not the current A.J. Preller-led front office, shipped Kluber to Cleveland in a three-team swap that sent Jake Westbrook to St. Louis and Ryan Ludwick to San Diego. Kluber, at the time, wasn’t even considered a top prospect but nonetheless flourished in his new environs, blossoming into a bona fide ace and one of the very best pitchers of the past decade.
The Indians have won three straight division championships and made a World Series appearance along the way, but they’ve seen their payroll inflate to levels that are beyond ownership’s comfort threshold along the way. President of baseball ops Chris Antonetti, GM Mike Chernoff and the rest of the staff have already cut payroll by trading Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes, though the Indians also took back Carlos Santana in that Encarnacion trade, which lessened the overall financial relief they received in that trio of trades. It’s not clear whether ownership has given a mandate to further reduce payroll, but it’s evident that Antonetti, Chernoff & Co. at the very least remain open to moving a top-tier starter in an effort to add multiple, controllable and affordable pieces to the big league roster.
Managers and front office bosses are always doing their best to progress their teams forward, though this particular list of names could be feeling a bit more pressure this coming season, as 2019 is their final guaranteed year under contract.
As always when compiling this list, a pair of caveats should be noted. Firstly, several teams don’t publicize the lengths of management contracts, and some teams don’t even announce when new contracts have been finalized. It could very well be that at least some of the executives listed have already quietly reached extensions beyond the 2019 season, or there could be some other names with unknown contract terms who have 2019 as their end date.
Secondly, lack of an official contract doesn’t always mean that a manager or an executive is lacking in job security. Some clubs have unofficial handshake agreements in place with the skipper or GM/president of baseball operations, wherein the job is promised as theirs, with the specific contractual details to be hammered out at some point in the future. In the case of managers, specifically, many do prefer some type of public agreement, if for no other reason than to avoid being perceived as a “lame duck” who lacks authority within a clubhouse.
With a big tip of the cap to Cot’s Baseball Contracts for many of these details, here are the managers and executives who are believed to be entering their final seasons…
Angels: General manager Billy Eppler is three years into his original four-year contract to run the Halos’ front office, a term that has yet to result in a winning record. Much has been made about the Angels’ inability to build a contender around Mike Trout during the outfielder’s Cooperstown-level prime years, and time is running short in that regard, given that Trout can become a free agent the 2020 season. In Eppler’s defense, he has added quality pieces like Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, and Shohei Ohtani as GM, though he has been hampered by a seemingly endless list of pitching injuries, not to mention some payroll-albatross contracts (Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, and the ongoing Albert Pujols deal) left over from the tenure of previous Angels GM Jerry Dipoto. Longtime manager Mike Scioscia had reportedly always had quite a bit of influence within the front office, though with Scioscia not returning, Eppler had the opportunity to make his own managerial hire in the form of Brad Ausmus. There hasn’t yet been any indication that Eppler could be in particular danger of not being extended, though it’s worth noting that neither of Eppler’s predecessors in the job (Dipoto and Tony Reagins) lasted more than four years.
Blue Jays: Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi noted in September that general manager Ross Atkins was likely to receive an extension, and that such a deal wasn’t likely to receive public acknowledgement. So, Atkins may already be locked up beyond the original end-date of his four-year deal prior to the 2016 season. Atkins and president Mark Shapiro have planted the seeds for a rebuild over the last two seasons, and with the Jays now in full-fledged retooling mode for at least one more year, it makes sense that Atkins would continue to hold the reigns as Toronto prepares for the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. era.
Brewers: This one is a bit speculative, as terms of GM David Stearns’ original deal with the Brewers weren’t released, though The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported in October that “Stearns has at least one year left” under contract. Stearns was hired prior to the 2016 season, so a four- or five-year deal seems pretty standard for a new general manager, particularly one that was seemingly facing a rebuild upon taking the position. Needless to say, things are ahead of schedule in Milwaukee, as the Brewers were just a game away from the World Series last October. Even if Stearns’ deal runs through 2020 rather than just 2019, it seems likely that Brewers ownership will have some talks about an extension this offseason given Stearns’ immediate success.
Cubs: There has already been quite a bit of speculation about Joe Maddon’s future at Wrigley Field, as the Cubs aren’t planning to discuss a new contract with the manager. Though Maddon himself seems unperturbed about the situation and president of baseball ops Theo Epstein denied rumors of any hard feelings with his skipper, it does seem like a dugout change could be made unless the Cubs make another deep postseason run.
Diamondbacks: With two winning seasons and the 2017 NL Manager Of The Year Award on his resume in two years as manager, Torey Lovullo seems like a prime candidate for a new deal. Though Arizona is now moving into a semi-rebuilding phase, this actually seems closer to the situation Lovullo was expected to inherit when he initially took the job, before he led the D’Backs to their surprise postseason berth in 2017. I’d expect Lovullo to have an extension in hand by Opening Day at the latest.
Dodgers: Since president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman signed his five-year, $35MM deal to take over the Dodgers’ front office in October 2014, the club has extended its streak of NL West titles to six in a row, and finally got over the postseason hump to return to the World Series, capturing the NL pennant in each of the last two seasons. While the Comissioner’s Trophy has remained elusive, Friedman has managed to keep the Dodgers competitive even while cutting salaries, getting the team under the luxury tax threshold last season after payrolls touched the $300MM mark earlier this decade. This is probably another instance of an extension being just a matter of time, as the Guggenheim Baseball ownership group seemingly has every reason to want to keep Friedman in the fold for several years to come.
Giants: The leadership shakeup that installed Farhan Zaidi as the Giants’ new GM didn’t extend to the dugout, as longtime manager Bruce Bochy will return for the last year of his current contract and his 13th overall season in San Francisco’s dugout. Bochy turns 64 in April and he has dealt with heart issues in the past, leading to some whispers that he could move into retirement and hand the job over to a new manager. Longtime coaches Hensley Meulens and Ron Wotus have both been mentioned as possible managers-in-waiting, or Zaidi could prefer to hire a new face from outside the organization. It also wouldn’t be a shock to see Bochy stick around in 2020 or beyond, should he want to continue managing and he forms a solid relationship with Zaidi. Given Bochy’s championship-winning track record and the large amount of respect he holds within the organization, the possibility exists that he has already been promised the opportunity to end his tenure on his own terms.
Indians: General manager Mike Chernoff reportedly agreed to an extension with the team in November, though this is technically still an unknown situation since there wasn’t any official confirmation from either side. That said, since Cleveland is one of the organizations that generally stays quiet about contract details for management figures, we can probably consider this one a done deal. Chernoff was promoted to general manager in October 2015, so he could have been at the end of a three-year contract or the Tribe was getting an early jump on extending his four-year contract. It’s also worth noting that president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti signed an extension of indeterminate length back in 2013 and we haven’t heard any further contract news since, so Antonetti could also be approaching the end of a deal…unless he also signed an unreported extension at some point. It’s safe to assume that big changes aren’t in the offing for a team that has won three straight AL Central titles.
Marlins: “There are indications the Marlins would like to retain [Don] Mattingly beyond 2019,” MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro recently reported, though Mattingly said that he had yet to hear from the team about extension negotiations. Mattingly has managed the Fish through three tumultuous years in the organization’s history, and the fact that he is one of the few members of the Jeffrey Loria regime still in Miami could indeed be a sign that Derek Jeter and company have interest in keeping the veteran manager around to help mentor and develop young players during the franchise’s latest rebuild.
Red Sox: Principal owner John Henry recently noted that the team was “running out of time” in regards to an extension with president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, whose five-year contract is up after the 2019 season. (Since Dombrowski was hired in August 2015, the deal can probably be more accurately described as 4.5 years in length.) Regardless of when the specific end-date may be, Dombrowski could hardly be in better position to land an extension in the aftermath of Boston’s World Series triumph.
Rockies: 2019 is the last guaranteed year of Bud Black’s contract as manager, though he has a bit of extra cushion since the Rockies hold a club option his services for 2020. Since Black has led Colorado to the postseason in each of his first two seasons as manager, it seems like he’ll at least get that option exercised to add a bit more security, plus the team is likely to discuss a longer-term deal as well.
Royals: GM Dayton Moore has often reiterated that manager Ned Yost will decide on his own when to step away from the dugout, though that won’t happen for at least one more year, as Yost agreed to a one-year extension last September. As Fancred Sports’ Jon Heyman put it, however, there is “strong belief” that Yost won’t manage beyond 2019. The Royals’ recent hiring of Mike Matheny to a special advisor role could be another sign that the team already has a successor in place for the 2020 season.
The ongoing trade discussion would not include the uppermost echelon of Padres’ prospects, though Morosi names pitchers Logan Allen and Michael Baez as two prospects who could be on the table. Baez and Allen rank #7 and #8, respectively on MLB.com’s rankings of the Padres farm system, widely considered to be the best system in all of baseball.
For the Padres, it’s a good time to “buy-low” on Stroman, who is coming off easily his worst season in Toronto. He lost time to shoulder fatigue and a blister issue, finishing the year 4-9 with a 5.54 ERA in only 102 1/3 innings. GM A.J. Preller has been on the lookout for a veteran starter to help anchor their otherwise youthful rotation. At 28, with two years of team control remaining, Stroman certainly fits the mold.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, appear ready to move on from their erstwhile ace. Though it was a rough 2018 for Stroman, he carries a 3.62 career FIP, marking a career worst 3.91 last year. The Reds were previously thought to be a logical trade partner, but the Padres young arms might be an ever better fit for the Blue Jays, who are a couple years from contending in a ruthless AL East. Already armed with some of the best position player prospects in the game, namely Vlad Guerrero Jr. and to a lesser degree, Bo Bichette, Toronto may view the arms in San Diego’s system as a better fit for their current timetable than Stroman.
It’s not a done deal by any means, but on the surface this appears like a solid match.
Outfielder A.J. Pollock may be looking for six years on the open market, Jon Heyman of Fancred reported among many other recent notes. That seems an optimistic target, though certainly it doesn’t hurt to aim high, at least initially. Still, finding the perfect fit to pony up even four years for Pollock isn’t easy, despite his lofty position in an otherwise barren center field market. The teams linked to Pollock so far this offseason – the Reds, Mets, Astros and Braves – have by and large augmented their lineups through alternative means. The Reds just added two fairly notable outfielders in a trade with the Dodgers, the Mets filled their need for a righty bat with Wilson Ramos, and the Astros signed Michael Brantley. While none of these necessarily precludes these teams from bringing on Pollock, they certainly lessen the urgency for the Reds, Mets and Astros, respectively. Speculatively speaking, the White Sox, Giants or Indians are teams that could be fits for Pollock moving forward.
Meanwhile in the free agent market…
- Speaking of top free agents, backstop Yasmani Grandal is believed to “have four years somewhere if he wants it,” per Heyman, which seems to indicate that the veteran is sitting on some strong offers already. The Reds are among the clubs with interest, though the long-term presence of Tucker Barnhart means Cincinnati can be patient.
- Elsewhere on the catching market, there was a bit of drama yesterday involving Pirates receiver Francisco Cervelli. Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic tweeted that the team was “very, very close” to sending the veteran to the Dodgers, querying whether medical problems scuttled the deal. GM Neal Huntington offered a rare public rebuke of that rumor, however, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (Twitter links). Huntington says the Bucs never “discussed any name with the Dodgers” regarding a possible Cervelli swap. He says that “the implication that a trade was nullified due to a failed medical review is completely wrong.”
- Heyman writes that the Athletics sought to bring back veteran receiver Jonathan Lucroy, offering him $4MM for the 2019 season, but he seems to be holding out in hopes of getting more elsewhere. Lucroy signed late last offseason, inking his deal with Oakland in March, so both sides have shown a willingness to take the patient approach in waiting out the market.
- A number of trade possibilities still seem to be swirling, though it’s tough to say at this point what likely will or will not get done. Yankees infielder Miguel Andujar “appears to be on the block, for the right price,” says Heyman. Of course, the Yanks are likely looking for high-end MLB assets in any swap involving the young third baseman, who had an impressive debut season in 2018. Despite concerns about his defensive handle at third, the 129 wRC+ and 27 bombs Andujar posted as a 23-year-old ought to have no trouble returning major league talent for New York.
- Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca examines the situations of Blue Jays hurlers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, noting that president Mark Shapiro made clear recently that the organization does not feel compelled to reduce its asking price on either pitcher. The Reds have been the most eager in pursing Stroman, but their recent acquisitions of Tanner Roark and Alex Wood may lessen the likelihood of a deal. Given that both pitchers still have multiple years of team control, it might behoove Shapiro and the Blue Jays to start the season with the pair of righties in their rotation. A strong start to the 2019 season might be enough to generate the type of return Shapiro desires.
- The Mets have some new potential schemes in the oven, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. It seems the club is getting hits on backstops Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. A backup outfielder was the intended target in a deal for either backstop, but a spare infielder who could back up Amed Rosario at short might be a better fit. They were eyeing Rangers southpaw Mike Minor, but that push has “stalled” as the Mets aren’t eager to put together the type of package that fits the Rangers’ ask. If anything, GM Brodie Van Wagenen has proven an action-oriented approach, so it’s safe to assume the Mets aren’t done dealing yet this offseason.
The Blue Jays are in agreement on a minor league contract with veteran second baseman Eric Sogard, per Robert Murray of The Athletic (Twitter link). He’ll head to Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. Sogard is represented by Octagon.
Sogard, 33 in May, floundered through the worst season of his career in 2018, hitting just .134/.241/.165 through 113 trips to the plate before being designated for assignment and subsequently released by the Brewers. He’s posted terrific defensive marks at second base throughout his career, though the Brewers played him more at shortstop this past season. He did give Milwaukee a strong performance in 2017, slashing .273/.393/.378 through 299 plate appearances.
In 1743 career plate appearances at the MLB level, Sogard is a .238/.309/.314 hitter whose value has been derived almost entirely from that aforementioned defensive prowess at second base. He’ll give the Jays a potential utility option following the trade of Aledmys Diaz to the Astros, the non-tender of Yangervis Solarte and the release of Troy Tulowitzki.
- The Blue Jays are known to be looking for some veteran rotation help, though they apparently weren’t “serious bidders” for the recently-signed Charlie Morton or Lance Lynn, Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes. Morton signed a two-year, $30MM deal with the Rays that includes an option year, while Lynn reportedly got a three-year, $30MM commitment from the Rangers. It would be somewhat surprising if Toronto signed an experienced starter to such a contract, either in price or perhaps anything longer than two years, given how the Jays are in a rebuilding phase. The Blue Jays reportedly at least checked in on Lynn, though it isn’t surprising that they balked at giving him a three-year deal. Toronto’s lack of moves on the pitching front makes them a team to watch as various hurlers continue to come off the board, particularly if the team is also weighing offers for Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.