Baseball News Source Sat, 20 Dec 2014 19:31:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Boston Red Sox Analysis: Still Some Work To Do Sat, 20 Dec 2014 19:19:48 +0000 sandovalIn his attempt to spearhead back-to-back worst-to-first claims in the American League East, Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington continues to revamp his club’s 40-man roster.

On Thursday, the Red Sox acquired veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan from San Diego for third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Yet to be formally announced is the reported re-signing of 34-year-old left-handed reliever Craig Breslow, who was a vital part of the bullpen in Boston’s 2013 World Series championship campaign but scuffled to a career-worst 5.96 ERA and 1.86 WHIP in 60 appearances last season.

Before the Breslow signing is official, the Red Sox will have to make a move to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, which is fully occupied. This can be accomplished by parting ways with a minor leaguer (catcher Dan Butler and recently acquired reliever Zeke Spruill are possibilities) or implementing another trade. The latter is probable since multiple media reports indicate that Boston is talking to interested teams about first baseman/corner outfielder Allen Craig.

Though a foot injury significantly contributed to Craig’s dismal 2014 performance (.215 batting average, .279 on-base percentage and .594 OPS in 505 plate appearances between St. Louis and Boston, he is considered a prime candidate for a bounce back season. In 2013, Craig batted .315 with 13 home runs, 97 RBI and a .830 OPS in 563 plate appearances for the Cardinals. He injured his foot/ankle late in the season and missed the ALDS and ALCS, but he did return to the St. Louis lineup for the World Series when he hit .375 (6-for-16) against the Red Sox.

Craig and right-handed pitcher Joe Kelly were traded to Boston for veteran starting pitcher John Lackey and minor leaguer Corey Littrell at last July’s deadline. Interestingly, both players are potential trade chips for Cherington this offseason.

With the additions of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, Boston’s Opening Day lineup is likely set. As of today, it is projected to be:

  1. Mookie Betts, RF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. David Ortiz, DH
  4. Hanley Ramirez, LF
  5. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
  6. Mike Napoli, 1B
  7. Xander Bogaerts, SS
  8. Rusney Castillo, CF
  9. Christian Vazquez, C

There is still a logjam in the outfield that includes Craig, Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino. One will be traded, and Craig has the most value because of his offensive upside and since Nava is considered a part-time player while Victorino is a seasoned veteran rehabbing from back surgery.

The Red Sox bench will likely include the valuable and versatile Brock Holt (who can play every position except pitcher and catcher), Hanigan and two of Craig, Nava and Victorino.

The picture of Boston’s rotation and bullpen is not so clear. After watching Jon Lester sign a long-term deal with the Chicago Cubs, the Red Sox made a flurry of moves to acquire Wade Miley from Arizona, Rick Porcello from Detroit and free agent right-hander Justin Masterson.

Red Sox NewsIf the season opened today, the rotation would feature:

  1. Clay Buchholz
  2. Rick Porcello
  3. Wade Miley
  4. Joe Kelly
  5. Justin Masterson

Though that group lacks a clear No. 1 starter, it does feature arms with upside, guys like Porcello and Miley who have the potential to emerge as frontline starters, and names like Buchholz and Masterson who have pitched like aces when they are healthy.

The offseason in Major League Baseball is called the Hot Stove League for good reason. Opinions are fiery among baseball pundits and fans about their respective teams’ roster makeup. Media members and Red Sox fans alike are adamant about Boston’s need for a proven No. 1 starter. Rumors persist that the Red Sox are exploring trades with Philadelphia for Cole Hamels and Washington for Jordan Zimmermann. Talk also continues about signing free agent right-hander James Shields, who was a key part of Kansas City’s march to the World Series this year.

The Red Sox undoubtedly have the prospect package it would require to land Hamels or Zimmermann, yet Cherington could choose to keep the prospects and either sign Shields to a deal that would not exceed four years, or enter Opening Day with the current five starters.

Not dealing for Hamels or Zimmermann, and letting Shields sign elsewhere, would not hamper Boston’s 2015 World Series title aspirations. Buchholz, Porcello, Miley, Kelly and Masterson can emerge as a group of durable and productive starters who pound the strike zone, induce lots of grounders and pitch deep into games. And considering that the Red Sox farm system boasts five starters (right-handers Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes; and left-handers Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson) who are highly regarded, the club has enviable rotation depth.

The Red Sox also have payroll flexibility, so signing Shields and moving Kelly to the bullpen is an option that would keep the prospects (a list that also includes position players like catcher Blake Swihart, shortstop Deven Marrero, second baseman Sean Coyle, and young Major Leaguers like Betts and Bogaerts). At the end of 2015, the Red Sox can buy out Buchholz’s remaining contract for $245,000, and Masterson is just signed for one season. At that point, Boston could pursue free agents to be Zimmermann and Cincinnati right-hander Johnny Cueto.

Cherington has also incorporated changes to the bullpen this offseason. Closer Koji Uehara was re-signed to a two-year, $18 million deal. The Red Sox attempted to bring back power left-hander Andrew Miller only to see him ink a four-year, $36 million contract with the New York Yankees. Though the Sox are re-signing Breslow, they could add another left-handed reliever via trade. Veteran journeyman Tommy Layne and 25-year-old Drake Britton, who is out of options, will compete for bullpen spots as will 22-year-old Edwin Escobar, who the Red Sox acquired from San Francisco in the Jake Peavy trade last summer.

Earlier this week, Cherington acquired 30-year-old right-handed reliever Anthony Varvaro from Atlanta for minor league reliever Aaron Kurcz. Over the last two seasons, the sinkerballer has logged ERAs of 2.82 and 2.63 and WHIPs of 1.27 and 1.08 over 62 and 61 appearances respectively. Varvaro is a younger and less expensive version of free agent Burke Badenhop, who pitched effectively for the Red Sox last season.

Red Sox RumorsCurrently, the Red Sox Opening Day bullpen would include:

Red Sox manager John Farrell could opt for one left-hander and add another right-hander like knuckleballer Steven Wright or Heath Hembree. Or, if the Red Sox sign Shields, they could move Kelly to the pen.

As currently assembled, the Red Sox roster is one that can contend for the American League East title. Cherington’s blueprint is likely not finished. The question that lingers revolves around the rotation and whether Boston will add a proven No. 1 starter or enter the season with a rotation that has potential frontline names but none that are proven at that level.

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Red Sox, Padres Swap Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Hanigan – Analysis Sat, 20 Dec 2014 17:44:00 +0000 Red Sox NewsFormerly considered a likely long-term fixture at third base for the Boston Red Sox, Will Middlebrooks is getting a much-needed fresh start with a new club for which he has a chance to fill the hot corner role in 2015.

On Thursday, the Red Sox traded the 26-year-old Middlebrooks to San Diego for veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan. The teams agreed on the deal’s framework early in the day but did not announce the transaction until late last night once Boston’s former top overall prospect passed his physical in San Diego.

Though the Padres have reworked their outfield this week by acquiring Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers in separate moves; and they acquired a starting catcher in Derek Norris from the Oakland A’s, they still wanted to upgrade at third base where Yangervis Solarte was projected as the Opening Day starter.

Middlebrooks is not a sure bet to produce, but the Padres believe he can fulfill the 25 home run, 100 RBI annual potential the Red Sox anticipated in the fifth round pick out of a Texas high school in 2007. The right-handed slugger belted 15 home runs with 57 RBI, a .288 average and a .835 OPS in 286 plate appearances in his first taste of Major League action for Boston in 2012. A hand injury abruptly ended his rookie campaign, and he has struggled since.

Though he clubbed 17 home runs in 374 plate appearances and saw time as the starting third baseman in Boston’s 2013 World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, Middlebrooks batted just .227 that year with a .696 OPS and 98 strikeouts. The Red Sox were not pleased with his plate discipline and his penchant for swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone.

Last season, Middlebrooks’ decline escalated. He hit .191 with two home runs, a .522 OPS and 70 strikeouts in 234 plate appearances at the Major League level and .231 with four home runs, a .652 OPS and 30 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances at Triple-A Pawtucket. Injuries hampered his progress as he was limited to 63 games by a fractured finger, a strained calf and a severely bruised hand.

Since Opening Day in 2013, Middlebrooks is tied for the fourth-worst on-base percentage among all hitters with 500 or more plate appearances at .265. Only free agent catchers J.P. Arencibia (.231) and Jose Molina (.264) and Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa (.255) have lower OBPs.

The Red Sox could have stashed Middlebrooks at Pawtucket. He has one option remaining. Yet the club signed veteran third baseman Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, $95 million contract earlier this offseason, and 23-year-old Garin Cecchini is a highly regarded prospect slated to open the 2015 campaign at third base for Pawtucket. Middlebrooks could have been moved to first base, but the Red Sox have Travis Shaw, a 24-year-old left-handed hitter who they would like to further develop.

In Hanigan, the Red Sox get a 34-year-old catcher who is well-respected for his defense and signal calling. While Middlebrooks is one year away from arbitration, Hanigan will receive $3.5 million in 2015 and $3.7 million in 2016 with a $3.75 million team option or an $800,000 buyout for 2017.

The veteran will serve as a backup catcher and a mentor to 24-year-old Christian Vazquez, who made his Major League debut last season and drew tremendous praise for his strong, quick and accurate throwing arm; his defense behind the plate and his work with pitchers. Vazquez is slated to start for the Red Sox in 2015. The club also has top catching prospect Blake Swihart, a 22-year-old switch-hitter projected to open 2015 behind the plate at Pawtucket.

Like Middlebrooks, Hanigan has battled injuries over the last two seasons. He spent the first seven years of his Major League career with Cincinnati, and in 2013 he was limited to 75 games, batting .198 with a .567 OPS in 260 plate appearances. A trade sent him to Tampa Bay, where he batted .218 with five home runs, 34 RBI and a .642 OPS in 85 games and 263 plate appearances. Those numbers are a marked decline from when he hit .300 over 243 plate appearances in 2010 and .274 in a career-high 371 plate appearances in 2012.

With Vazquez poised to embark on his first full season as the Red Sox starting catcher, Hanigan will likely serve a role similar to what David Ross filled over the last two years. Ross signed a free agent deal on Thursday with the Chicago Cubs.


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New York Yankees Making Trades to Contend in the Future Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:25:15 +0000 The New York Yankees became creative in its search for starting pitching on Friday, trading 28-year-old swing-man David Phelps and 31-year-old Martin Prado for 24-year-old, Nathan Eovaldi, backup 1B/OF, Garrett Jones and 22-year-old pitching prospect, Domingo German, ranked 20th in the Marlins’ farm system and last seen pitching at the A level.

The trade at face value seems like a head-scratcher for New York. Phelps is a homegrown and proven commodity for pitching depth, Prado was arguably the best all-around hitter down the stretch and Eovaldi and Jones were nothing to write home about in 2014.

Make no mistake, this trade sent a few specific messages about the state of the Yankees: By shipping Prado away, it implies the Yankees will be giving a rookie a shot at second base (raise your hand if you remember the last middle infielder the Yankees actually let try to start his rookie season), will completely limit Alex Rodriguez to the DH position, and will take the Yankees out of the high-end pitching market. They don’t send a versatile player with multiple years of control like Prado away and then spend big on a free agent to fill the same hole they’re filling with this deal.

Brian Cashman seems to have a very clear goal in mind; acquire young pitching, and on that front he has accomplished that. Eovaldi had a 4.47 ERA and lead the NL in hits surrendered, but he is also only now 24-years-old, has three years of control left and throws in the upper 90’s. He’s essentially a younger Michael Pineda. Pineda, much criticized for not having better secondary stuff, having a big fastball and diminishing velocity in his rookie season, is another young pitcher the Yankees have under control. Those two will join Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova and all of a sudden the Yankees have four starters who can throw into the mid 90’s in the middle of their primes or heading into it.

In other words, the Yankees are concentrating on the future, and not just 2015 in this case.

Joining them will be Chris Capuano, CC Sabathia (now all of a sudden soft throwing and old comparatively) and MLB ready depth in Brian Mitchell and Manny Banuelos. These eight names made Phelps completely expendable and despite being a homegrown pitcher, nothing more than a trade piece. Mitchell could take over Phelps’ role on Opening Day and the Yankees wouldn’t miss a beat.

So really this comes down to trading a versatile, gritty, 31-year-old who had a great couple of months in the Bronx for a young starter and a younger starting pitching prospect in German, another pitcher who throws into the mid 90’s and has a high ceiling. With Jose Pirela essentially a younger and less-proven Prado, this deal has a pretty clear silver lining. The Yankees have likely given Pirela and potential opening day second baseman, Rob Refsnyder keys to roster spots.

This off-season is exactly what Yankees’ fans wanted and naysayers feared and yet each trade has been criticized every step of the way.

All of a sudden, the Yankees have players in their prime starting at third base, shortstop, catcher, left and center-field with a potential rookie at second base and a young and versatile bench. They have limited A-Rod to a DH role he should have been in years ago and with Chris Young, Pirela and Jones under contract in 2015, have ample insurance policies for Carlos Beltran should he go the injury route again.

Meanwhile, in the rotation the Yankees offer four starters who throw hard and are on the right side of 30-years-old with Sabathia’s role quickly diminishing in terms of importance. In the bullpen, they replaced David Robertson with Andrew Miller and will likely give Dellin Betances the role he was called up for eventually, to close for the team.

Now all of a sudden the designated hitter and one position player along with one starter (unless Hiroki Kuroda returns and when Nova is healthy) are all in their primes. The Yankees have gotten younger, defensively superior and look to have another solid bullpen.

Without a true middle of the order bat, New York will still continue to struggle driving in runs but even that took a shot in the arm with Didi Gregorious’ defense and limited offensive ability still likely to eclipse a retired Derek Jeter‘s final season, Chase Headley here for a full season and A-Rod returning and likely to out-produce a washed-up, Alfonso Soriano.

This team will go as far as its health as usual but this year nobody will be able to say the team is old or un-athletic or that the rotation doesn’t at least have the potential to be lethal if it can stay healthy.

If you are willing to concede that and not get too torn up about a player headed out of his prime (Prado), an easily replaceable reliever (Phelps) and a promising but unproven young starter without a good minor league track record (Shawn Greene) no longer being on the team, than you have to admit this off-season has taken a distinct and different turn in terms of the Yankees’ future outlook.

Imagine what will happen if guys like Greg Byrd or Aaron Judge reach the bigs in the next couple of years and bring power as advertised?

Or furthermore, with every position under contract already in 2016, imagine what happens next off-season when the Yankees have the pieces and only have to spend money on improving them?

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Giants set to acquire Casey McGehee from Marlins Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:18:10 +0000 The San Francisco Giants have found a replacement for Pablo Sandoval at third base for the 2015 season, at least they hope so. The Giants announced they have acquired  third baseman Casey McGehee from the Miami Marlins in a trade that sends right-handers Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo to Miami.

Earlier this off-season Sandoval signed a free-agrect deal, $95 million over five years with the Boston Red Sox, leaving the Giants with a huge hole to fill. McGehee is expected to serve more or less as a bridge at the position until the team can find a more long-term solution.

McGehee, 32, hit .287/.355/.357 with four home runs and 76 RBI during the 2014 season, and would have played third again for the Marlins had the team not completed a trade yesterday to acquire infielder Martin Prado and pitcher David Phelps in exchange for Nathan EovaldiGarrett Jones and Domingo German.

The Giants are suddenly busy this off-season announcing Right-hander Jake Peavy reached agreement on a $24 million, two-year contract and reliever Sergio Romo on a $15 million, two-year contract over  the past two days.


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Yankees Add Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones In Trade With Marlins Fri, 19 Dec 2014 22:10:42 +0000 eovaldiThe New York Yankees and Miami Marlins have agreed on a trade that will send infielder Martin Prado and pitcher David Phelps to Miami in exchange for Nathan EovaldiGarrett Jones and Domingo German. Miami also received an undisclosed amount of cash in the deal.

Featuring a high-ocatane fastball Eovaldi threw nearly 200 innings, finishing 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA with the Marlins in 2014. He will join a rotation that has question marks with with Masahiro TanakaCC SabathiaMichael PinedaChris Capuano and Ivan Nova. Tanaka and Nova had elbow injuries last year and Sabathia will be attempting to return from a knee injury suffered last summer.

Prado hit .282 with 12 homers and 58 RBI in 143 games played between the Yankees and Diamondbacks. Phelps went 5-5 with a 4.38 ERA and 92 strikeouts over 113 innings pitched. In his three-year career, Phelps, 28, is 15-14 with a 4.21 ERA.

Jone is expected to play first base and the outfield and could fill in for Mark Teixeira. The move could also further diminish the role of Alex Rodriguez, who is due back this spring after being suspended for the 2014 season.

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Padres Set to Acquire Justin Upton From Braves Fri, 19 Dec 2014 15:12:48 +0000 Braves NewsThe San Diego Padres continued an aggressive off-season this time acquiring Atlanta Braves outfielder Justin Upton in a trade that will send the 27 year old slugger back to the National League West Division. The Padres earlier traded for Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays, acquired Derek Norris  re-signed Josh Johnson and signed Brandon Morrow. The trade was first reported by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.

Left-hander Max Fried and second baseman Jace Peterson are headed to the Braves in the trade, reports ESPN’s Jim Bowden as are third baseman Dustin Peterson and outfielder Mallex Smith.

In 2014 Upton hit .270/.342/.491 over 566 at-bats. He slashed 267/.348/.478 through his first two seasons with the Braves. The 27-year-old entering the final year of his contract and is expected to make $14.5 million in 2015 before becoming a free agent.

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Kansas City Royals Agree with Edinson Volquez on Two-Year Deal Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:28:33 +0000 The Kansas City Royals have agreed to terms with free agent pitcher Edinson Volquez on a two-year deal worth $20 million reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Volquez spent last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates who picked him up on a one-year deal after he spent 2013 with the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.

The 31 year-old Volquez has just one season of more than +1 WAR. That came in 2008 when he made 32 starts and posted a 3.21 ERA with a strikeout rate of 24.6 percent. Since then he’s posted a 4.48 ERA over more than 750 innings. In both 2011 and 2012 he had a walk rate of greater than 13 percent, and his struggles with the Padres were so bad that he was released partway through the 2013 season.

Volquez did experience something of a comeback season in 2014 as he authored a 3.04 ERA with the Pirates. However, his underlying numbers showed little or no improvement from prior years. His strikeout rate dipped again, this time to 17.3 percent, and his FIP and xFIP were basically the same as in the 2012-13 seasons. Though he pitched to a 2.20 ERA in the season’s second half, his xFIP sat at 4.13. He did regain his fastball velocity, which registered an average of 93.2 miles per hour, which was more in line with his 2005-12 seasons than his 2013 campaign when it dropped to 92.5 miles per hour.

Throughout his career Volquez has dealt with command issues. His career walk rate is 11.3 percent. While he’s managed to lower the rate of free passes issued, Volquez has also seen a reduction in his strikeout rate. Projection systems aren’t buying the comeback season. Steamer projects a 4.60 ERA in 29 starts, and ZiPS is substantially similar. Those are numbers befitting of a No. 5 starter, and at $20 million, a pricey one.

Still, Volquez will have the benefit of pitching in front of an excellent defense. The Royals are strong up the middle with Alcides Escobar, and their outfield tandem of Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Rios and Jarrod Dyson cover more ground than any other group. If he’s to have success in 2015, Kansas City is the place to be.

So far this offseason the Royals have seen Billy Butler sign with the Oakland Athletics and free agents James Shields and Norichika Aoki are all but certain to sign elsewhere. In their place they have added Kendrys Morales, Volquez and Rios. The Royals are betting on a bounceback season from Morales, and perhaps from Rios as well. But, at least on paper these are significant downgrades. 2014 was a remarkable season for Kansas City, but they will have a tough road to get back to the postseason in 2015.

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Rays Deal Wil Myers in Blockbuster Trade with Padres, Nationals Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:20:15 +0000 Rays NewsThe Tampa Bay Rays sent outfielder Wil Myers to the San Diego Padres as part of a three team trade that involved 11 players. Myers heads to San Diego as the centerpiece of the trade.

San Diego also receives young minor league arms Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo along with big league catcher Ryan Hanigan as part of the deal. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay will get catcher Rene Rivera, right-hander Burch Smith and first base prospect Jake Bauers from the Padres. In addition, the Rays get outfielder Steven Souza and lefty pitcher Travis Ott from the Washington Nationals, who receive righty Joe Ross and recent draft pick Trea Turner from the Padres by way of Tampa.

This is a complicated deal, but the big piece is Myers. The Rays acquired him from the Kansas City Royals along with Jake Odorizzi prior to 2012 in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. A consensus top five prospect, Myers had a solid rookie campaign, batting .293/.354/.478 in 88 games and posting more than +2 WAR. However, he struggled with a wrist injury in 2014, and batted just .222/.294/.320 in 87 games. Myers has struck out in nearly a quarter of his 734 career big league plate appearances, and he’s posted high strikeout rates in the minor leagues as well.

If his wrist injury is fully healed and the power he’s displayed in the minor leagues shows up, Myers should be a very strong player. Without the power, he’s more of an average to above-average player rather than a potential star. Steamer projects a .251/.327/.418 batting line for Myers with +2.5 fWAR. He recently turned 24, so there’s time for him to realize his potential, but a disappointing 2014 season has taken some of the shine off his top prospect status.

Steven Souza doesn’t have the same prospect billing as Myers but he’s had his way with minor league pitching. Last season he batted .350/.432/.590 in 407 plate appearances in Triple-A. He had a brief stint with the Nationals. Steamer likes Souza nearly as much as Myers, so from at least one point of view the Rays aren’t downgrading. There’s reason to doubt this projection, as Souza has all of 26 major league plate appearances.

Hanigan, whom the Rays traded for last offseason, is a strong defender and receiver who consistently posts low strikeout rates. He doesn’t make a whole lot of solid contact though and the 34 year-old owns a career slash line of .256/.353/.341. The 31 year-old Rivera had a strong 2014 season, knocking 11 home runs in 329 plate appearances and batting .252/.319/.432. Prior to that he had never received more than 114 plate appearances in a season. Like Hanigan, Rivera is a strong defender and receiver.

Most of the remaining players in the deal are a long way from the major leagues. Right-hander Burch Smith flashed some swing and miss stuff in 10 appearances with the Friars in 2013, but had issues with the long ball. A forearm injury held him to just 11 minor league appearances in 2014.

Trea Turner was a standout shortstop at North Carolina State, and he was selected with the 13th overall pick by the Padres last June. He possesses elite speed and the glove and arm required to stay at shortstop. There are definitely questions about his ability to hit big league pitching, but with the defense and speed, there’s a low bar for him to be a useful major league player.

The Padres are shaking things up. This is the second major trade they have been involved in as they sent Matt Kemp to San Dieg last week. With their current glut of outfielders, expect them to make more moves before the offseason is over.

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San Francisco Giants Re-Sign Sergio Romo Wed, 17 Dec 2014 20:31:38 +0000 Giants NewsThe San Francisco Giants have re-signed reliever Sergio Romo, reports Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Romo will receive two years and $15 million. It’s the first significant move of the offseason for the Giants, who were unable to bring back free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval and lost out on the bidding for Jon Lester.

The 31 year-old Romo has served as the Giants closer over the past three years. Prior to that he worked as a devastating back-end reliever. Romo made 133 appearances between 2010 and 2011 and authored a 1.88 ERA with a shocking 40 percent strikeout rate in 2011.

Romo took over the closing job partway through the 2012 season and posted a dazzling 1.79 ERA with 14 saves in 69 appearances while striking out 29.3 percent of hitters. Romo added four more saves in the postseason and allowed just one run in 10 appearances, as the Giants were World Series victors.

Romo notched 38 saves in 2013 though his ERA rose to 2.54 and his strikeout rate dipped to 23.2 percent. He lost the Giants closing job partway through the 2014 season, as he struggled to an ugly 4.74 ERA in the first half of the season. The Giants reliever had much better results in the season’s second half, as he allowed only four runs in 20 innings with 23 strikeouts and only three walks. During the playoffs he gave up only one run in nine outings, as the Giants were World Series champs again.

Romo doesn’t possess typical closer stuff. His fastball sits in the upper 80s. He relies heavily on a sweeping slider, which he’s thrown on nearly 50 percent of his pitches over the course of his career. That’s allowed him to manage a career swinging strike rate of 13.6 percent. It also fits in well with a Giants bullpen that has tended to rely heavily on offspeed pitches rather than high velocity fastballs. Since 2010, only three teams have a lower average fastball velocity than the Giants relief corps.

As a former 28th round draft pick in 2005, Romo has made a very nice career for himself. He’s been with the Giants for seven big league seasons over which he has posted a 2.51 ERA in 405 appearances with a 28.4 percent strikeout rate. By signing with the Giants he will get himself a nice raise from previous arbitration salaries while maintaining a level of comfort with the team that drafted him.

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Houston Astros Sign Jed Lowrie Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:43:58 +0000 lowrieThe Houston Astros have agreed to a three year deal with shortstop Jed Lowrie which will guarantee him $23 million. Lowrie was previously a member of the Astros in 2012 after the Boston Red Sox traded him along with Kyle Weiland in exchange for Mark Melancon. He spent the last two years with the Oakland Athletics.

The 30 year-old Lowrie has battled injury troubles throughout his seven year big league career. He debuted with the Red Sox in 2008, and made a nice impression, batting .258/.339/.400 in 81 games. Lowrie was limited to just 32 games the next season, and he hit a miserable .147/.211/.265 before landing on the disabled list for the remainder of the year.

2010 was a breakout year of sorts for the shortstop, as he hit .287/.381/.526 but once again injuries hampered him and he played in only 55 games. He still managed to accumulate +2 WAR in that time. The next year he managed only 88 games, and the Sox sent him to the Astros that winter. After a solid season in Houston where he hit 16 home runs and produced +2.5 WAR in only 97 games, the Astros traded him to the A’s with Fernando Rodriguez for Chris Carter, Max Stassi and Brad Peacock.

Lowrie’s two year run with Oakland has been the healthiest of his big league career. He played in 154 games in 2013, and 136 this past season. His offensive numbers took a big dip from 2013, when he hit .290/.344/.446 with a career-best 16 home runs but he still managed nearly +2 WAR and a respectable .249/.321/.355 slash line.

Lowrie is generally regarded as a poor defensive shortstop who would be best suited at third or second base. While UZR doesn’t grade him too harshly, Defensive Runs Saved rates him as one of the worst shortstops in baseball. The Astros aren’t set on winning this year, so Lowrie will man the shortstop position for them. Top prospect Carlos Correa won’t be ready for the big leagues until 2016 at the earliest.

It’s a little surprising that the Astros had the winning bid for Lowrie. At three years and $23 million, he isn’t getting a big financial outlay. For that price, it seems that a contending team in need of infield help such as the Washington Nationals or Toronto Blue Jays would have signed Lowrie to play second base.

Steamer projects a .258/.325/.397 slash line for Lowrie in 2015 which would be a 105 wRC+. That’s solid offensive production for a shortstop. While Steamer may have an overly optimistic view of Lowrie’s ability to play the position and stay healthy, getting a +2 WAR player for under $8 million a year is a surprise in today’s cash-filled market.

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Miami Marlins Sign Michael Morse Tue, 16 Dec 2014 20:14:39 +0000 MorseThe Miami Marlins have signed Michael Morse to a two year deal worth $12 million reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Morse, 32, could slot into first base with the Marlins, either as a platoon partner with Garrett Jones or in a full-time role. A $12 million price tag seems attractive after seeing designated hitters Billy Butler and Kendrys Morales garner $30 million and $18 million, respectively.

After an injury-marred 2013 campaign where he hit a miserable .215/.270/.381, Morse signed a one year, $6 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. His 2014 campaign was much more respectable, as Morse hit .279/.336/.475 while playing half his games in the offensively-challenged environment that is AT&T Park. He carried a solid line against right-handers as well.

The lead-footed slugger owns a career .281/.335/.473 slash line but just 3.6 fWAR in a little more than 2500 career plate appearances. Other than a strong 2011 campaign with the Washington Nationals, he’s been just a little better than replacement level. In 2011, Morse mashed his way to 31 home runs and a .303/.360/.550 batting line.

Morse’s defensive deficiencies are well-documented. Since 2011 he’s graded out as one of the worst defensive players in baseball. The Marlins appear to be intent on limiting his playing time to first base, which will prevent him from doing too much damage with the glove. Injuries have hampered Morse for much of his career, so perhaps a move to first base will be good for his health.

Morse doesn’t offer much as an all-around player. He’s a bat-first guy in every sense of the term. If he’s healthy, he should be able to provide some punch to the Marlins lineup as a first baseman or pinch hitter. Steamer projects a batting line of .259/.312/.444 with 16 home runs in 97 games. His defensive projection is miserable, but with a full offseason to get acclimated to first base and less time in the outfield, he may be able to cut it.

The Marlins have engaged in a series of moves this offseason with the hopes of contending for a playoff spot in a division that, with the exception of the Nationals, appears to be quite weak. Earlier in the offseason they signed Giancarlo Stanton to a huge extension, and since then they have traded for Dee Gordon and Mat Latos. Morse doesn’t move the needle very far in their favor, but signing him helps them upgrade a very weak first base position.

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Angels Acquire Rays Matt Joyce For Kevin Jepsen Tue, 16 Dec 2014 20:06:41 +0000 Rays NewsThe Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bays agreed to a trade that will send fan favorite Matt Joyce to the west coast for reliever Kevin Jepsen. Joyce, who was an All-Star in 2011, spent six of his seven seasons in the majors with Tampa Bay coming to the Rays in a trade with the Detroit Tigers. He will join Los Angeles with a .250/.342/.441/.783 slash line in 725 career games.

“Matt was an important part of this team for the last six seasons. We appreciate his many contributions to the Rays on the field, and the professionalism he brought to the ballpark,” Rays vice president of baseball operations Erik Neander said. “We’re excited about the experience Kevin brings to the bullpen, and his ability to pitch in key moments of the game.”

Jepsen is 13-18 with a 3.94 ERA over seven seasons for the Angels. He had a career-high 75 strikeouts in 65 innings in 2014, while posting a career-low 2.63 ERA.

The trade will save the Rays some payroll with Joyce expected to make near $5million in salary arbitration. Jepsen’s  projected arbitration salary is $2.6 million.

Jepsen will join the back in of a Rays bullpen and could help with the loss for Rays closer Jake McGee who underwent elbow surgery and will start the year on the DL

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New York Yankees, Chase Headley Reach Agreement on four-year deal Mon, 15 Dec 2014 20:16:20 +0000 Yankees The New York Yankees and Chase Headley have reached an agreement on a four-year deal worth $52 million according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Headley spent the 2014 season between the San Diego Padres and Yankees, batting .243 with 13 home runs, 20 doubles and 49 RBI in 135 games. He hit .262 with six home runs, eight doubles and 17 RBI in 58 games with New York. Headley has a career .265/.347/.409/.756 slash line in eight MLB seasons. The deal is pending Headley passing a physical.

Alex Rodriguez is due back after a year long suspension for PED’s use and with Headley signing may indicate Rodriguez may see considerable time at DH.

Earlier Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman spoke tho the possibility of adding Headley.

“If I signed a Chase Headley, he would be the starting third baseman,” Cashman said then. “[Rodriguez] is going to compete for at-bats and for a position. The position would be third, and obviously DH, and that’s it. Maybe some time at first base. He may be eventually the everyday third baseman, he may be the everyday DH; I just don’t know.”

“That has nothing to do with devaluing Alex or disrespecting Alex or anything of that nature,” Cashman said at the GM meetings in November. “It’s just a fair assessment of the unknown. You can’t quantify the unknown right now until you get him out there on a consistent basis to see if he can actually remain on the field, stay healthy, be productive and be that middle-of-the-lineup threat and force that we’ve all come to see for years gone by.”

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Chicago White Sox, Melky Cabrera Reach Agreement on three-year deal Sun, 14 Dec 2014 13:35:06 +0000 cabreraThe Chicago White Sox and free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera have reached an agreement on a three-year deal reportedly worth $45million, pending a physical. Cabrera rejected a qualifying offer earlier this offseason form Toronto and the Blue Jays will receive a compensation pick at the end of the 2015 MLB draft. For the White Sox that means surrendering their third round selection. The Blue Jays eight overall pick is protected and they gave up their second round pick already when they signed David Robertson.

The signing is somewhat surprising as many media outlets were reporting the Seattle Mariners were seen as the favorite to sign the 30 year old switch hitter, but Cabrera chose the White Sox.

Cabrera hit .301/.351/.458 in 568 at-bats in 2014 with Toronto. Cabrera has spent most of the past three seasons in left field, where he’ll presumably line up for the White Sox.

His best season was in 2012 when Cabrera was the All-Star Game MVP and was leading the NL with a .346 average in mid-August while posting a .390 OBP. However I positive test for PED’s leading to a 50 game suspension. MLB and the Player Union agreed to disqualify him form the batting title. He was left off the post season roster by the Giants as well.

After that season he signed a two year deal with Toronto worth $16 million.

Cabrera joins a lineup that already featured reigning AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu, and earlier in the offseason added veteran Adam LaRoche

The White Sox have been very busy this offseason. Signing LaRoche, David Robertson and Cabrera, the Sox have now spent over $113 million on three key free agents while filling holes at DH, closer and left field.

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Boston Red Sox, Justin Masterson reunite with one-year deal Thu, 11 Dec 2014 22:15:52 +0000 MastersonEarly Wednesday evening, the Boston Red Sox starting rotation consisted of Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly and an array of promising young Major League arms and top prospects. Less than 24 hours later, the club has acquired Wade Miley and Rick Porcello in separate trades, and now they have signed veteran right-hander Justin Masterson to a one-year, $9.5 million deal.

The 29-year-old Masterson, who will be 30 in March, returns to the organization that drafted him in the second round in 2006 out of San Diego State University. As a rookie in 2008, he was a valuable part of Boston’s march to the American League Championship Series, where it lost in seven games to Tampa Bay. That year, he was 6-5 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP over 36 games (nine starts) and 88.1 innings.

The Red Sox reluctantly included Masterson in the 2009 trade deadline transaction that netted Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians. A southwest Ohio native, Masterson thrived with the Indians, especially in 2013, when he was 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP, allowing 156 hits in 193 innings. Last season, injuries plagued the sinkerballer and he posted the worst numbers of his seven-year Major League career with a 7-9 record, a 5.88 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in 28 games (25 starts) and 128.2 innings between Cleveland and St. Louis. Masterson is expected to be fully healthy by spring training.

Likely, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is not finished with constructing the rotation. Buchholz, Masterson and Porcello will probably be part of the 2015 Opening Day five, but the Red Sox could include Miley or Kelly in a trade package for a frontline starter. Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels is perceived to be Boston’s most prominent target, or the club could sign veteran right-hander James Shields and keep the remaining arms for depth.

The Red Sox have five intriguing starting pitching prospects slated to open 2015 at Triple-A Pawtucket in right-handers Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo; and left-handers Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson. They also have right-hander Brandon Workman, who has served as a starter during his ascent through the minors but has seen starts and relief appearances in his brief Major League tenure. Acquiring Hamels would probably necessitate parting ways with Owens as well as Miley or Kelly as part of a bountiful trade package.

Signing Shields would continue Cherington’s trend this week of bringing in pitchers who log innings, induce ground balls and pound the strike zone. Shields, though, is not considered a clear-cut No. 1 starter like Hamels. The Red Sox could also tap into their prospect depth and pursue Washington Nationals’ right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto was considered a potential Red Sox trade target, but he will now likely remain with the Reds since that club traded Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon on Thursday.


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Twins, Ervin Santana Reach Agreement on 4-year Deal Thu, 11 Dec 2014 21:47:51 +0000 santanaLast year right-hander Ervin Santana signed a one year deal with Atlanta, unable to find a multi-year offer, at the value of the qualifying offer. After turning in a solid 2014, going 4-10 with a 3.95 ERA in 31 starts Santana took advantage of a suddenly strong pitchers market inking a 4-year deal worth $54 million with the Minnesota Twins, with a conditional option worth $14 million in 2019 if he throws more than 200 innings. He will receive a $1 million buyout if the Twins don’t exercise the option.

Santana pitched for the Los Angeles Angels for the first eight years of his career and the Kansas City Royals in 2013.

As always the deal is contingent on Santana passing a physical. He is 119-100 in his career and has surpassed 200 innings in five of his 10 seasons. The Twins will surrender their second round pick,currently No. 44 overall, for signing Santana.

Santana joins a rotation that features, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson and either Trevor May/Mike Pelfrey/Alex Meyer or LHP Tommy Milone. The Twins previously signed free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter earlier this winter, but the Santana signing Thursday marked the first pitching acquisition of the offseason.

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Tigers Acquire Alfredo Simon from Reds Thu, 11 Dec 2014 18:32:21 +0000 simonThe Detroit Tigers have acquired pitcher Alfredo Simon from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for shortstop Eugenio Suarez and pitching prospect Jonathan Crawford, reports Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. It’s the second trade the Tigers have made today. Earlier they sent Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

Simon, a veteran right-hander, made a career-high 32 starts for the Reds last season. Prior to that he pitched in their bullpen. In 2010, he served as the closer for the Baltimore Orioles, notching 17 saves though he owned a bloated 4.93 ERA. The 33 year-old has a big fastball, but hasn’t generated a lot of strikeouts over the course of his career.

Simon won 15 games for the Reds in 2014, and pitched to a strong 3.44 ERA. However, his underlying numbers were far less impressive. He struck out just 15.5 percent of hitters while posting a walk rate of 6.9 percent. An opponents in-play batting average of .265 and a strand rate that approached 80 percent helped to keep his ERA down. For his career the big right-hander owns a career 3.86 ERA over 529.1 innings with just 1.2 WAR. He may factor into the Tigers 2015 rotation, but he’s best looked at as a No. 5 starter. At 33 years old and with just one year of team control remaining, Simon doesn’t offer a whole lot of upside if any.

Suarez made a strong first impression in his first few games as the Tigers shortstop. He cooled off though, and ended up hitting .242/.316/.336 in 85 games. The 23 year-old has authored some impressive stat lines in the minor leagues. Suarez has potential as a average or above-average hitting shortstop who can field the position adequately. Most likely he’ll compete for the Reds starting job right away and should beat out incumbent Zack Cozart.

Crawford was the 20th overall pick in the 2013 draft. He spent the 2014 season in Single-A where he managed a 2.85 ERA but had some command issues. The right-hander possesses a good fastball that works in the mid 90s and a slider with strikeout potential. If the Reds see him as a future starter, his development could take some time. However, he could move quickly in a relief role.

The Reds are clearly looking to rebuild. Earlier today they sent pitcher Mat Latos to the Miami Marlins for a couple of prospects, and with this deal they’ve traded away another member of their 2014 rotation. It’s possible that they could continue to wheel and deal. Johnny Cueto would be an attractive target for any number of teams.

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Kansas City Royals Sign Kendrys Morales Thu, 11 Dec 2014 18:17:10 +0000 Royals trade rumorsThe Kansas City Royals have signed designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a two year deal worth $17 million, reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. The deal could be worth up to $18.5 million with performance incentives. Morales will slot into the DH role left vacant when Billy Butler signed with the Oakland Athletics.

Morales was one of the more interesting stories last offseason. He declined the qualifying offer extended to him by the Seattle Mariners and reportedly was seeking a four or five year deal in the range of $15 million. With teams unwilling to meet his financial demands and burdened by the draft pick compensation, he went unsigned until June when the Minnesota Twins snatched him up.

Morales performed miserably in his stint with Minnesota and when the Twins fell out of playoff contention, they traded him to the Mariners. He didn’t fare much better there, and posted a combined batting line of .218/.274/.338 with just eight home runs. Overall he was worth nearly -2 WAR despite playing only 98 games.

Prior to his disastrous 2014 season, the switch-hitting Morales had a reputation as a solid hitter. In 2013 with the Mariners he slugged 23 home runs and batted .277/.336/.449, and he posted nearly identical numbers in 2012 with the Los Angeles Angels. He is constrained to DH and perhaps occasional first-base duty and is a liability on the basepaths.

In 2015 Steamer projects a .259/.316/.421 slash line for the 31 year-old Morales. That comes out to a 106 wRC+, which would make him little more than a replacement level player as a designated hitter. The Royals are betting strongly that he can bounce back closer to his 2012-13 performance.

It’s odd that the Royals would decline the $12.5 million option on Butler’s contract and then turn around and sign Morales. Both are coming off of poor seasons, though Morales’ year was much worse. Neither can play the field or run the bases. They do have track records that offer reason to believe they will improve on their 2014 performances, though Butler is also three years younger and produced a .313/.373/.510 slash line as recently as 2012.

This isn’t a huge financial commitment, even for a smaller market team such as the Royals. But, it sure doesn’t seem like the best use of the resource they do have.

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Marlins Acquire Mat Latos from Reds Thu, 11 Dec 2014 18:15:40 +0000 Red NewsThe Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Mat Latos from the Cincinnati Reds reports Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. In exchange the Reds will receive pitcher Anthony DeSclafani and catcher Chad Wallach. It’s been a busy couple of days for the Marlins who acquired second baseman Dee Gordon from the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday night.

Latos, who turned 27 earlier this week, is coming off an injury-plagued year. He made just 16 starts as an elbow injury limited him significantly. Prior to that he had posted four straight solid seasons as a member of the San Diego Padres and Reds. The big right-hander authored a 3.27 ERA between 2010-13 with a 22.7 percent strikeout rate. Over that time he ranked in the top 20 among major league pitchers in WAR.

While Latos posted a 3.25 ERA in 2014, there are some red flags in his profile. His strikeout rate dipped all the way down to 17.6 percent, and after years of seeing his fastball sit in the low to mid 90s, his average velocity fell to 90.7 miles per hour. It’s possible that Latos came back without fully recovering from his elbow troubles. Perhaps it’s an issue that will continue to dog him, or maybe he just needs a full offseason to get back to full strength. Latos with a healthy elbow is a very good pitcher, albeit one that is just one year away from hitting free agency.

The 24 year-old DeSclafani pitched to an ugly 6.27 ERA in 33 big league innings in 2014. Still, his strikeout and walk rates of 17.8 percent and 3.4 percent, showed some promise. He’s a fastball-slider pitcher who will likely have his struggles with opposite-handed hitters. Cincinnati will surely give him a shot in the rotation, but it’s more likely he ends up in a relief role.

A 5th round pick in 2013, Wallach doesn’t come with much of a prospect pedigree. However, the 23 year-old backstop had his way with minor league pitching in 2014. In 78 games in Single-A he batted .321/.430/.476 with more walks than strikeouts. He followed that up by hitting .328/.436/.375 in 19 games in High-A. He’s a long way from the big leagues but his minor league numbers give some cause for hope.

The Marlins have been aggressive this offseason, apparently with hopes of competing in 2015. They’re a long shot to compete, which made the trade for Gordon somewhat puzzling. Miami brass is hoping that Latos can return to his 2010-13 form, which could make this trade look pretty good for them.

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Dodgers Trade for Howie Kendrick, Sign Brandon McCarthy Thu, 11 Dec 2014 16:36:44 +0000 kendrickThe Los Angeles Dodgers added Howie Kendrick via trade with the Los Angeles Angels and signed free agent pitcher Brandon McCarthy to  a four year deal worth $48 million. Earlier Wednesday night the Dodgers completed a blockbuster deal with the Miami Marlins that allowed them to add pitching prospect Andrew Heaney. They then shipped Heaney to the Marlins in exchange for Kendrick.

Swapping out Dee Gordon for Howie Kendrick gives the Dodgers a substantial upgrade at the second base position, at least for 2015. The 31 year-old Kendrick is in the last year of a four year contract worth $33 million. He’s been a steady hitter for quite some time that also plays solid defense. 2014 was one of Kendrick’s best seasons as he batted .293/.347/.397 and totaled just under +5 WAR.

For his career Kendrick has hit .292/.332/.424 which comes out to a 107 wRC+, very good numbers for a second baseman. Steamer projects a .275/.323/.397 line for 2015, which is significantly better than Gordon’s projection. He’ll team up with the newly-acquired Jimmy Rollins to form the Dodgers double play combo.

mccarthyThe 31 year-old McCarthy made 30 starts in 2014 for the first time in his career. He was dealt to the New York Yankees in July and authored a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts for the Yankees. McCarthy had trouble with the longball while with the Arizona Diamondbacks, which led to a bloated 5.01 ERA. Nevertheless, he did post a career-best strikeout rate of 20.9 percent while walking just 4.0 percent of batters.

Over the last two years McCarthy’s ERA has been rather pedestrian. But, he made some significant adjustments prior to the 2014 season which helped him improve his strikeout and groundball rates. McCarthy added two miles per hour to his fastball. He credits a more strenuous offseason lifting routine with helping him make this progress while also staying healthy.

Four years and $48 million looks like a lot for a pitcher who owns a 4.24 ERA over the last two years. The Dodgers are betting that the gains McCarthy made in velocity and health will carry over into 2015 and beyond. His park-adjusted xFIP was much better than his ERA and on par with pitchers such as Madison Bumgarner and Hisashi Iwakuma. Fortunately, the Dodgers don’t need him to perform at that level to live up to his contract. Steamer projects a 3.51 ERA in 163 innings. Dodger Stadium will likely suppress McCarthy’s HR/FB ratio, and if he maintains the increased fastball velocity, he could easily beat those numbers.

The Dodgers have been very busy this offseason. Their rotation which now features Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu in addition to McCarthy looks like one of the best in baseball. Also, they’ve filled the hole at shortstop left by Hanley Ramirez and improved the second base position. Look for them to acquire some more relief help before this offseason is over.

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Red Sox, Tigers swap Yoenis Cespedes, Rick Porcello Thu, 11 Dec 2014 15:53:03 +0000 porcelloBoston’s rotation reconstruction continued Thursday morning. The Red Sox acquired 25-year-old right-hander Rick Porcello from the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, right-handed reliever Alex Wilson and a minor leaguer, according to multiple media reports.

The 29-year-old Cespedes was traded to Boston at last July’s deadline in the transaction that sent Jon Lester to Oakland. At the time, the A’s were one of the best teams in baseball, but subtracting the Cuban-born slugger from their lineup proved detrimental. Cespedes belted 22 home runs and knocked in 100 runs in 2014 to accompany a .269 average and .719 OPS.

His free-swinging nature did not fit into Boston’s preference for a patient plate approach, and Cespedes is expected to explore the free agent market at the end of the 2015 campaign. At least for next season, he gives the Tigers another middle of the order power bat to pair with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

Dealing Cespedes also frees space in the Red Sox crowded outfield, which is projected to include Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts. Shane Victorino is returning from an injury while the roster also features Daniel Nava and Allen Craig. Several teams have talked to the Red Sox about Craig, who could be dealt before Opening Day.

Like Wade Miley, the left-hander Boston obtained on Wednesday night from Arizona, Porcello is an innings-eater who induces ground balls and pounds the strike zone. Last season, he was 15-13with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP over 32 appearances (31 starts) and 204.1 innings.  A first round pick o the Tigers out of Seton Hall University in 2007, Porcello is under team control through 2016. In 2014, he received $8.5 million and is eligible for arbitration once again.

Wilson is a 28-year-old right-hander who was Boston’s second round pick out of Texas A&M in 2009. He has limited Major League experience but thrived with the Red Sox in 2014, posting a 1.91 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP over 19 games and 28.1 innings. He is considered a middle reliever and is expected to compete for a spot in the Tigers bullpen, which was ineffective last season.

Not only has Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington added two rotation arms in the last 24 hours, but he has also cleared more space on the 40-man roster, which now sits at 37.

Considering that the Red Sox still need a No. 1 starter, the club might include Kelly or Miley in a trade package with Philadelphia for Cole Hamels or Cincinnati for Johnny Cueto since both pitchers are effective and are under affordable team control for a few more years. Boston could also keep Kelly, Miley, Porcello and Buchholz and add a frontline starter like Hamels, Cueto or free agent James Shields.

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Padres Acquire Matt Kemp from Dodgers Thu, 11 Dec 2014 14:57:28 +0000 Dodgers NewsThe San Diego Padres have acquired outfielder Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. As part of the deal, the Dodgers will eat $30 million of the $107 million remaining on Kemp’s contract, which runs through 2019. Catcher Tim Federowicz will accompany Kemp to San Diego while catcher Yasmani Grandal, righty Joe Wieland and pitching prospect Zach Eflin will go to Los Angeles. This is the latest in a flurry of activity for the Dodgers, who completed a six player trade with the Miami Marlins, have a deal for Jimmy Rollins in the works, and acquired second baseman Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Angels. In addition, they have a rumored four year deal with Brandon McCarthy.

Kemp was one of baseball’s best players in 2011. The big outfielder slugged 39 home runs and swiped 40 bases, falling just shy of the vaunted 40-40 club. Since then he’s struggled with injuries which have robbed him of his speed. In 2013 he played in just 73 games and hit a mere six home runs with a rather average .270/.328/.395 slash line. Overall, he was below replacement level thanks to poor outfield defense. He had something of a rebound year in 2014, at least from an offensive standpoint. The 30 year-old played in 150 games and smashed 25 home runs with a .287/.346/.506 batting line. His outfield defense graded terribly, and despite very good offensive numbers he had just +2 WAR.

Looking forward Kemp is a strong offensive player, and Steamer projects a .272/.339/.469 slash line which would round out to a 128 wRC+. But, he’s no longer able to play center field, and it’s unclear whether he can even man a corner spot. While he’s a formidable offensive force, he’s probably not much more than an average player, for which the Padres paid dearly.

The 26 year-old Grandal has struggled with injuries as well, and he’s played just 216 games in three seasons with the Padres. He had a strong debut year in 2012, batting .297/.394/.469 in 60 games and posting +2.5 WAR. Since then his offensive production has dropped from that lofty peak, though he did hit 15 home runs last year. All in all, Grandal is a strong hitter for a catcher, and he projects for a .237/.335/.389 slash line. Furthermore, he is an excellent pitch-framer, a skill that Dodgers front office man Andrew Friedman values highly from his days in Tampa Bay.

The other pieces in the deal appear to be of less consequence. Wieland, a 24 year-old right-hander, has pitched 39 major league innings since 2012. He’s had success in Triple-A, and might factor into the Dodgers bullpen plans. Eflin, the 33rd overall pick out of high school in 2012, showed some promise in High-A with the Padres and has a chance to stick as a starting pitcher. Federowicz has served as the Dodgers backup catcher. In parts of four seasons he owns a .194/.247/.300 batting line.

After an offseason that had quiet up to this point, the Dodgers have engaged in a flurry of moves. It appears that their new front office is intent on overhauling the roster.

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Red Sox Begin Rotation Rebuild, Acquire Wade Miley Thu, 11 Dec 2014 05:25:21 +0000 mileyHours after Jon Lester signed with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told reporters that his club would make multiple moves to bolster the starting rotation. One transaction was initiated on Wednesday night when the Red Sox acquired 28-year-old left-hander Wade Miley from the Arizona Diamondbacks for right-handed pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.

Miley, who was projected to serve as Arizona’s Opening Day starter, will join a rotation that also includes Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox are likely to pursue two additional starting pitchers. A supplemental first round selection (43rd overall) out of Southeastern Louisiana in 2008, Miley has shown durability in his first three full Major League seasons. He logged 194.2 innings and posted a 16-11 record, a 3.33 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 2012, when he was named a National League All-Star and finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting. He has eclipsed 200 innings in the last two seasons, including an 8-12 record and a 4.34 ERA in 2014. Miley’s ERA was reportedly not helped by an atrocious Diamondbacks defense which lacked range.

De La Rosa, 25, and Webster, 24, were two of the players Boston acquired in the blockbuster deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline in 2012. De La Rosa has upside as a starter or a late-inning reliever, but he struggled with command in 2014, posting a 4-8 record, a 4.43 ERA, a 1.48 WHIP and a 2.11 strikeout to walk ratio in 19 games and 101.2 innings with the Red Sox.  Webster has battled with control issues as well, recording a 5.03 ERA, a 1.46 WHIP and a dismal 1.29 strikeout to walk ratio in 11 games and 59 innings with Boston.

The deal opens an additional 40-man roster spot for the Red Sox and clears the way for the myriad of high-ceiling starting pitching prospects to get a chance. Right-handers Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo; and left-handers Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson are slated to compose Triple-A Pawtucket’s Opening Day rotation if they all remain in the organization. All five are considered promising arms. Owens is the highest-rated pitching prospect in the Red Sox farm system and is a probable trade chip in discussions with Philadelphia for Cole Hamels, Cincinnati for Johnny Cueto or Washington for Jordan Zimmermann.

As for the Diamondbacks, they continue to stockpile young pitchers. Earlier this week, the club traded catcher Miguel Montero to the Chicago Cubs for right-handers Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley. De La Rosa and Webster will compete for back of the rotation roles with Robbie Ray (who was recently obtained from Detroit in the three-team trade that sent shortstop Didi Gregorius to the New York Yankees), Trevor Cahill, Chase Anderson and Vidal Nuno. Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson (who was brought in earlier this offseason from Tampa Bay) are projected to anchor the rotation. Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo are rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and could be ready after the All-Star break.


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Dodgers Ship Dee Gordon to Marlins in Six Player Trade Thu, 11 Dec 2014 05:10:48 +0000 gordonThe Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins have agreed to a six player trade reports Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Dee Gordon and Dan Haren will go to the Marlins while left-hander Andrew Heaney, second baseman Enrique Hernandez, reliever Chris Hatcher and catching prospect Austin Barnes are on their way to Los Angeles.

Gordon, the Dodgers second baseman and a 2014 All-Star and Heaney, a 23 year-old hurler who was picked 9th overall in 2012, are the main pieces in the deal. Earlier this offseason Haren, who exercised his $10 million player option for 2015, stated that he would retire if he was not playing for the Dodgers or Los Angeles Angels. The Dodgers will pay his salary as part of the trade.

After several poor seasons in a part-time role with the Dodgers, Gordon broke out in 2014. The 26 year-old got off to a blazing start which resulted in his selection to the All-Star game. He cooled off as the season wore on, but ended up with a solid .289/.326/.378 batting line for a 101 wRC+. Gordon also stole 64 bases, the most in the major leagues. Overall, he totaled +3 WAR.

However, the Dodgers may have taken advantage of this opportunity to sell high on the speedster. Looking to 2015 Steamer projects a rather pedestrian batting line of .256/.307/.331 and just +1 WAR. Meanwhile, Heaney was ranked as the No. 30 overall prospect by Baseball America entering the 2014 season. He’s performed well in the minor leagues, and while he struggled in his 29.1 major league innings in 2014, there is plenty of promise for the young arm who could mature into a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

Hernandez, a 23 year-old second baseman who has also played third, short and all three outfield spots, could be a solid bench piece for the Dodgers. He made his major league debut in 2014 with the Houston Astros, and was sent to the Marlins as part of the Jarred Cosart deal. In 42 games he batted .248/.321/.421.

Hatcher, a 29 year-old reliever, enjoyed his first full big league season as a member of the Marlins bullpen. He pitched in 52 games, throwing 56 innings and authoring a 3.38 ERA with strikeout and walk rates of 25.9 percent and 5.2 percent. The right-hander features a mid 90s heater with a slider and changeup and should be a solid add to a Dodgers bullpen that has struggled to bridge the gap to closer Kenley Jansen.

Barnes isn’t regarded as a high upside prospect, but the 24 year-old catcher produced some impressive numbers in Double-A. In 78 games he batted .296/.406/.507 with more walks than strikeouts. With his positional versatility (he’s also played second base) he stands a good chance of making a major league roster in some capacity.

Overall, the Dodgers got a good pitching prospect in Heaney and some useful pieces in exchange for Gordon and the willingness to eat Haren’s salary. This looks like a savvy move for the Dodgers revamped front office.

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Phillies Start Restructure by Dealing Jimmy Rollins to Dodgers Thu, 11 Dec 2014 01:54:32 +0000 rollinsQuestions have lingered about the Philadelphia Phillies’ off-season plans. Will they unload veterans and rebuild or keep their prominent names and make one final run at a Natioanl League East title with the current group? Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro delivered an answer Wednesday afternoon when he traded shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The 36-year-old Rollins has spent his entire 15-year Major League career in Philadelphia. A second round pick out of an Oakland area high school in 1996, Rollins made his big league debut in late 2000 and secured the starting shortstop job the next season when he was named a National League All-Star and finished second in NL Rookie of the Year balloting.

A four-time All-Star, Rollins was named NL Most Valuable Player in 2007 and a season later helped the Phillies win their first World Series championship since 1980. The switch hitter has a career .267 average to accompany 216 home runs, 2,306 hits and four Gold Gloves. Though he batted just .243 in 2014, Rollins belted 17 home runs in 609 plate appearances and delivered a 3.9 WAR, his highest number since 2008.

As of Wednesday evening, it was unclear who the Phillies will receive in the trade. Media reports indicate that the package could include some of the prospects the Dodgers acquired from the Miami Marlins in another prominent deal today that sent infielder Dee Gordon and right-handed starting pitcher Dan Haren to Miami for highly regarded left-hander Andrew Heaney, second baseman Enrique Hernandez, right-handed reliever Chris Hatcher and catcher Austin Barnes.

Rollins is projected to replace Hanley Ramirez, who departed the Dodgers and signed with the Boston Red Sox, his original organization.

The trade of Rollins could enhance the chance that the Phillies deal Cole Hamels to Boston since the Red Sox have top shortstop prospect Deven Marrero, who would be part of a bounty of players Philadelphia would gain. In addition to Hamels, the Phillies could part with longtime veterans like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee before spring training. Earlier today, the club also dealt left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo to Pittsburgh for a minor league pitcher.


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How the Chicago Cubs Are Building a Future Empire Thu, 11 Dec 2014 01:13:34 +0000 lesterIf you’re not careful, you might miss it. Gradually, the Chicago Cubs, six years without a legitimate contender (a 97 win team in 2009 who would become a first round knockout), five years without a .500 record and owners of back to back last place finishes, are rising. One might look at the standings and see 73 wins in 2014, 12th in the NL in runs, 13th in OBP, 13th in ERA and owners of 20 blown saves and struggle to see the silver lining. But it’s there, and on Wednesday it had a bow on top with a “Happy Holidays” greeting from Jon Lester‘s left arm.

The Cubs will rise again and already have started emerging from the dirt, this time in a fashion most of us have never witnessed executed to such perfection.

To understand where Chicago is headed we should understand where they have come from. That picture includes terrible General Management, a poor fan experience, a suffocating history of losing and underachieving, aging and hapless rosters and a lack of inspiration. If a picture is worth a thousand words this one doesn’t contain very nice ones.

maddonStarting with plans of stadium renovations, a $575 million dollar project underway for the next four years, a renewed interest in making Chicago a premiere franchise and, shocking to most, a cap on needless spending, Chicago started to turn it around. After all, you need to feel good to look good and to paint a masterpiece, you need a blank canvas.

They followed it up with putting the right people in place, from President, Theo Epstein, to GM, Jed Hoyer, and now to Manager Joe Maddon, a “horse whisperer” of sorts for young players ready to break out and meet expectations, the exact position these Chicago Cubs find themselves in in 2015 and beyond.

Now those three are proud owners of a staff ace and a guy who knows a thing or two about bringing a major market into prominence. Jon Lester isn’t a solution, nor is he going to magically make the Cubs contenders or even playoff participants this season, but his arrival does act like a barometer for the storm that is about to hit Major League Baseball in the next couple of years. His presence will not only attract more free agents no longer afraid to make the leap in the Future Cubs, but his actual performance should be the official gunfire into the air the team needs to hit the accelerator.

Truth be told, Chicago has improved three years in a row in terms of record and next year are are almost guaranteed to keep the streak going. With the right decision makers in place, the Cubs have managed to put the right people on the right side of competition, starting with acquiring left-handed power bat, Anthony Rizzo, in a deal with then Padres’ GM, yup, you guessed it, Jed Hoyer. The deal? Rizzo, a perennial 30-home run hitter (who has panned out so far) for (now) often injured Andrew Cashner and a couple of prospects. With Rizzo in the fold joining homegrown, Starlin Castro, the Cubs at least had a semblance of what could become.

Last season, the franchise took its next step, calling up Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, two top-five Cubs’ prospects in a farm system with seemingly unlimited depth. They received breakout years from Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija and then promptly traded them to beefen an already fat pipeline, knowing those guys weren’t part of the overall plan.

Gone are names like: Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez (all on the 2009 roster). Nothing against those guys but this team is looking to build a team of perennial All-Stars from the inside, all in their prime, all under cost control, all at once. We haven’t seen that since the Yankees’ dynasty of 20 years ago.

And while we’re on the topic, let’s discuss finances.

In 2003, the last time the Cubs seriously threatened to snap its now 107 year championship drought, Chicago boasted a payroll just under $80 million, good for 11th in all of Major League Baseball. To put that in perspective, the Yankees lead MLB with a payroll north of $152 million and the Dodgers were fourth at $105 million.

Last season, the Cubs boasted the 23rd highest payroll at $89 million, less than $10 million higher than its version over a decade ago. The Yankees? $203 million. The Dodgers? $235 million.

So do the Cubs have money to spend?

Yes, Chicago’s payroll was a whopping $125 million as recently as 2011 and topped out at $146 million in 2010. Assuming Chicago would go that high for a potential World Series contender instead of the 75 wins and fifth place it earned them in 2010 (they would), it’s safe to say the Cubs entered this winter with half of its payroll in tact. That means extending guys like: Soler, Rizzo, Baez, Arismendy Alcantara (an outfield prospect called up last year with big potential) and Jake Arrietta is on the table without much of a wince.

Cubs NewsLooking over the Cubs’ roster reads like top prospects from everywhere, not just Chicago. Though overall top prospect, Kris Bryant, is due to be in Chicago most of 2015, former top prospect, Mike Olt, will play into the third base mix in some capacity as well. Even though Miguel Montero was just signed this winter to be the starting catcher, Welington Castillo lurks as extra long-term depth.

Lester is in the fold joining former  high Oriole prospect, Arietta, coming off a career year, and they are flanked by high potential in: Jacob Turner, Travis Wood still in his prime, and Felix Doubront, a cast-off from Boston who never quite put it together but remains on the right side of 30-years-old.

Chicago boasts two top five prospects in all of baseball,  three top 10 (including Soler) and seven in the top 100 going into this season.

That’s a lot of depth.

And the flipside is, a lot of potential. It makes the Cubs World Series winners of the future in theory only, unfortunately not a consolation for long-term struggling fans.

But if ever the lovable losers we’re going to be wealthy winners, now is the time. A loaded farm system, young talent at the major league level with successful early results, smart management, a smart front office and money to burn is the recipe for success and the Cubs have a balance of it unlike anything we’ve seen recently. And the team is even built right for the economy. In a climate where power hitting is most coveted, it was just about the only thing Chicago did do well last season, slugging 157 homeruns last season, good for second in the league. The young power bats are already there, and more are on the way.

Now everything just needs to fall into place, which with the way the Cubs are set up is akin to owning a paid off Ferrari and making sure you don’t accidentally lose it in a gambling debt.

The Cubs have attacked this rebuild from all angles, right down to putting themselves in a position to spend and with securing Lester to inevitably get a second ace next offseason in a deep year. In year two of Lester’s six year contract, he could be joined by any of the following, all available as of right now at the end of a year Chicago is likely to challenge a .500 record: Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Wei-Yin Chen, Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mat Latos, David Price and Jordan Zimmerman.

With Bryant, Castro, Baez, Rizzo and Montero locked up for a number of years, the infield seems set with depth coming from the majors to be used as replacements for injury or trade bait. This is a time where Chicago can rebuild its bullpen, sure up its outfield lock up a few core players, grab another starter or two and put themselves in position for a dynasty.

Or blow it all and continue being the Chicago Cubs.

That’s why they play the games.


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Phillies ship Bastardo to Pirates for minor league pitcher Wed, 10 Dec 2014 23:29:45 +0000 bastardoWith Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett signed to solidify the rotation for 2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates shifted their attention to the bullpen by acquiring 29-year-old left-hander Antonio Bastardo from the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league pitcher Joely Rodriguez.

Earlier this week, the Phillies were reportedly talking to the Boston Red Sox about trading Bastardo for minor league infielder and Philadelphia area native Sean Coyle.

Bastardo has spent all six of his Major League seasons with the Phillies. He surrendered just 43 hits in 64 innings over 67 games last season when he recorded a 3.94 ERA and struck out 11.4 hitters per nine innings along with walking 4.8 per nine innings. Effective against hitters from both sides of the plate, Bastardo limited lefties to a .175 average and righties to a .195 mark. His road ERA was 3.58, markedly better than his 4.21 ERA at Citizen’s Bank Park.

The 23-year-old Rodriguez is a left-hander who has pitched for six seasons in the Pirates minor league system, spending 2014 at Double-A Altoona.

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What Would a Cole Hamels to the Red Sox Deal Look Like? Wed, 10 Dec 2014 18:50:58 +0000 Phillies ClearwaterNow that Jon Lester has inked a lucrative deal with the Chicago Cubs, the team with which he earned two World Series rings is shifting its focus to construct a starting rotation for 2015 and beyond.

The Boston Red Sox are in prime position to add at least two starters, and there is a possibility they will add a third. Currently, the club has right-handers Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly slated to occupy two-fifths of the rotation. With an abundance of highly regarded young arms, Boston could feasibly reserve the final rotation spot for one of Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo or Matt Barnes. The Red Sox could also give one of their high-ceiling left-handers a shot in Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez or Brian Johnson. Likely, though, two or three of those arms will be included in an inevitable trade that general manager Ben Cherington will implement over the current Hot Stove League.

Since Buchholz and Kelly are better suited for the No. 3 and No. 4 rotation spots, Boston needs a reliable No. 1 starter to replace Lester, and a viable No. 2 arm. The Red Sox are setting their vision on Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, who makes sense as a trade target since he is a proven ace, is still in his prime (he will be 31 on December 27) and is signed to a contract that is appealing to Red Sox ownership in terms of duration. The left-hander will receive $23.5 million through 2018, and in 2019 he has a $24 million vesting option,  a $20 million team option or a $6 million buyout. Hamels’ contract is more enticing to Boston because it will expire when he is 35 (if he remains with his team in 2019).

Unlike Lester, who was signed by the Cubs for a hefty check, Hamels’ acquisition will cost the Red Sox a bounty of prospects. Fortunately for Boston, it has one of best farm systems in baseball. Here is what a Hamels to Boston trade might look like:

To Boston: Cole Hamels, LHP, and Antonio Bastardo, LHP

Hamels would anchor the Red Sox rotation and Bastardo is a power left-handed reliever who would replace the void left when the club traded Andrew Miller to the Baltimore Orioles last July.

To Philadelphia: Henry Owens, LHP: Rubby De La Rosa, RHP; Deven Marrero, SS; Sean Coyle, 2B; Garin Cecchini, 3B; Jackie Bradley or Bryce Brentz, OF

The Phillies will undoubtedly ask for Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts or switch-hitting catcher Blake Swihart, but it is believed that these three players are deemed by the Red Sox as untouchable.

Of those three, Betts is the least likely to be traded. The Red Sox could deal Bogaerts and insert Marrero into the starting shortstop’s role, but Bogaerts is projected to be an annual 25 to 30 home run bat, so Boston would like to keep him. The Red Sox have defensive wizard Christian Vazquez slated to start at catcher in 2015, but they would like to keep Swihart as depth since he has more offensive upside, is proficient behind the plate and has the athleticism to move to another position. The Red Sox envision Betts as an impact player who can move around the diamond to a variety of positions, including right field next season.

Owens is Boston’s most prized pitching prospect, and he could immediately slide into the Phillies rotation. The Red Sox have left-handers Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez at Triple-A Pawtucket, so losing Owens would not sap the depth. The Phillies could ask for Anthony Ranaudo or Matt Barnes instead of De La Rosa. All three are promising right-handers.

With Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley nearing an end to their Philadelphia tenure, Marrero and Philadelphia area native Coyle could serve as the club’s middle infield of the future. Philadelphia does have Cody Asche and Maikel Franco as current young third basemen, but Franco can be moved to first base. Cecchini is a third baseman who can play first base and also has the athleticism to play left field, and he has a disciplined plate approach and is projected to be a .300 hitter at the Major League level.

As for Bradley or Brentz, the Phillies need outfielders. The left-handed hitting Bradley is already one of the game’s best defensive outfielders, though he has not duplicated his .290 average and .850 OPS over four minor league seasons in the majors, where he has a .196 average and a .548 OPS to accompany 152 strikeouts in 530 plate appearances. Philadelphia might prefer the 25-year-old Brentz, who provides right-handed power. Brentz hit .308 over 26 plate appearances in a September cameo for the Red Sox. Over five minor league seasons, he has clubbed 83 home runs.

If the Phillies’ asking price is considered too high for the Red Sox, Cherington could turn his attention to Cueto. The Reds are reportedly insistent on trimming payroll, and four starters (Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon) are eligible to become free agents after the 2015 campaign. Media reports indicate that the Reds are dangling Latos, Leake and Simon, but not Cueto.

Even if the Red Sox do not acquire Cueto, they could pursue Latos for the No. 2 rotation spot.

Other pitchers the Red Sox are reportedly inquiring about include right-handed free agents James Shields and Justin Masterson, and Detroit Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello. Multiple media reports on Tuesday indicated the potential for a trade that would send Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and De La Rosa to the Tigers for Porcello, who is not considered a frontline starter but rather a No. 4 type.

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Astros Sign Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson to Bullpen Wed, 10 Dec 2014 18:19:29 +0000 gregersonThe Houston Astros upgraded their bullpen by signing relief pitchers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. Gregerson’s deal is for three years and $18.5 million and Neshek is under contract for two years and $12.5 million. After two consecutive seasons of having one of the worst relief corps in the major leagues, the Astros are making a push to shore up the staff.

The 30 year-old Gregerson spent last season with the Oakland Athletics where he pitched to a 2.12 ERA in 72 appearances. The right-hander struck out 20.8 percent of hitters, down from 23.9 percent the previous season. Gregerson’s best weapon is his slider, and for his career he’s thrown the pitch over 50 percent of the time. His fastball comes in around the high 80s, but with his slider he’s managed solid strikeout rates. In the 2012 and 2013 seasons he struck out 24 percent of hitters. For his career opposing batters have managed to hit just .211 against Gregerson.

The St. Louis Cardinals brought in Pat Neshek on a minor league deal last offseason. Neshek not only made the big league roster, he was named to his first career All-Star game. The 34 year-old sidearmer posted a 1.87 ERA and a 26.7 percent strikeout rate to go along with a minuscule 3.5 percent walk rate. Despite throwing from a low arm angle, Neshek’s fastball came in at an average of just over 90 miles per hour in 2014, his best mark since his debut season in 2006. He’s always had his way with right-handed hitters but in 2014 Neshek limited lefty bats to a meager .192/.237/.304 slash line. Over the course of his career he’s fanned 25 percent of hitters, a strong rate.

neshekThe Cardinals struck gold by signing Neshek to a minor league deal last year. Now he’s set to make a solid payday after he enjoyed the best season of his career in 2014. Both he and Gregerson and taking advantage of what appears to be a lot of cash flowing around the free agent market. Relief pitchers have done very well thus far this offseason.

Gregerson and Neshek will improve an Astros bullpen that has pitched to a 4.87 ERA and -5 WAR over the last couple of seasons. Furthermore, it’s very possible that the Astros will seek to move either or both of them as the July trade deadline approaches. General Manager Jeff Luhnow has shown a pattern of acquiring players in the offseason to swap at the deadline. Though Gregerson and Neshek are upgrades on what has been a miserable Astros relief staff, they’re not about to make this team into a contending one. Look for them to be shopped actively once the Astros fall out of contention.

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Jon Lester agrees to deal with Chicago Cubs Wed, 10 Dec 2014 12:39:24 +0000 lesterJon Lester has finally made his decision. After deliberating for days, the 30-year-old left-hander has agreed to a six-year, $155 million deal with the Chicago Cubs, according to multiple media reports. Lester will earn a $25.83 annual average salary.

Over the last 24 hours, Lester eliminated the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers from his list of potential destinations, leaving the Cubs and Red Sox. Lester was an instrumental part of Boston’s World Series titles in 2007 and 2013. Reports indicate the the Red Sox offered him six years and $135 million.

After posting a 110-63 record over nine seasons in Boston, Lester was traded to Oakland at last July’s deadline with Jonny Gomes and cash for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance pick. The left-hander logged a 0.43 ERA in three World Series starts during his tenure in Boston, and A’s general manager Billy Beane anticipated Lester guiding Oakland deep into the playoffs. Lester was on the mound when Kansas City rallied for a win in the wild card game.

Lester’s signing with the Cubs reunites him with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who were in the Red Sox front office during his time in Boston. He joins a rotation that currently includes the recently inked Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta. Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront will also compete for spots.

Still needing a No. 1 starter, the Red Sox will likely turn their attention to acquiring Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels via trade and/or signing free agent right-hander James Shields. The club is not expected to pursue Max Scherzer, who is represented by Scott Boras and is reportedly asking for a minimum of $200 million for his next contract.

Right-handers Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz are expected to be part of Boston’s rotation next season. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told the media on Tuesday that the team has reached out to numerous starting pitchers who are free agents and trade candidates. Detroit’s Rick Porcello; Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake; and San Diego’s Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are among the arms that could be acquired for the right package of prospects.

The Red Sox have a deep and talented farm system rich with young pitching and position players, and with Lester’s decision, Cherington will undoubtedly tap into that depth to build the 2015 rotation.

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Red Sox-Phillies talking swap for lefty Antonio Bastardo Wed, 10 Dec 2014 12:36:59 +0000 bastardoAfter their ill-fated attempt to reunite with Andrew Miller, the Boston Red Sox are discussing a deal with Philadelphia to acquire another power left-hander. According to Sean McAdam of, Boston is interested in landing 29-year-old lefty Antonio Bastardo for infield prospect Sean Coyle, who is from the Philadelphia area.

At the trade deadline last July, the Red Sox traded Miller to Baltimore for highly regarded left-handed starting pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. Boston pursued Miller this offseason before the veteran inked a four-year, $36 million contract with the New York Yankees. Currently, 30-year-old journeyman Tommy Layne is the only left-hander slated to open the 2015 campaign in the Red Sox bullpen. Layne posted a 0.95 ERA in 30 appearances and 19 innings for Boston in 2014, but he does not possess a power arm. Bastardo does.

A veteran of six Major League seasons, all with the Phillies, Bastardo allowed 43 hits in 64 innings over 67 games last season. He logged a 3.94 ERA and struck out 11.4 hitters per nine innings along with walking 4.8 per nine innings. Effective against hitters from both sides of the plate, Bastardo limited lefties to a .175 average and righties to a .195 mark. His road ERA was 3.58, markedly better than his 4.21 ERA at Citizen’s Bank Park.

The Red Sox are expected to add a left-handed reliever since Layne does not have a proven track record. Neither does 25-year-old Drake Britton, who did not allow a run in 6.2 innings and seven games last year at the Major League level but struggled at Triple-A Pawtucket.

A third round pick out of a Philadelphia area high school in 2010, Coyle has climbed the Red Sox prospect rankings. The 22-year-old infielder batted .295 with an .883 OPS, 16 home runs and 61 RBI at Double-A Portland and was impressive in the Arizona Fall League. Coyle’s primary position is second base, and the Red Sox, of course, have Dustin Pedroia signed long term.

Bastardo would serve as a primary set-up man to Koji Uehara along with Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica. Coyle could compete for a spot on the Phillies Opening Day roster if the club trades veteran Chase Utley. At the least, Coyle would give the Phillies a second baseman of the future when they part ways with Utley.

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Pittsburgh Pirates re-sign Francisco Liriano Tue, 09 Dec 2014 19:16:37 +0000 Pirates RumorsThe Pittsburgh Pirates have re-signed Francisco Liriano to a three year deal worth $39 million, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Earlier in the offseason Liriano rejected the Pirates qualifying offer of $15.3 million. The Pirates added veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett back in November. He and Liriano were a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the Pirates rotation in 2013.

The 31 year-old Liriano revitalized his career in Pittsburgh. After a couple of lackluster seasons with the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox in which he posted ERAs north of 5.00, Liriano authored a solid 3.02 ERA in 161 innings of work with the Pirates in 2013. Last season he managed a 3.38 ERA while striking out 25.3 percent of hitters. By signing with Pittsburgh he’ll stick with pitching coach Ray Searage who has been credited with helping to resuscitate the careers of Liriano and Burnett.

Liriano’s biggest issue has been staying healthy. He’s never reached 200 innings in a season and only once has he made 30 starts. In two seasons with the Pirates he’s made 55 total starts. Furthermore, his control has always been an issue. His 11.7 percent walk rate was one of the highest in the major leagues, and his career rate sits at 10.1 percent. But, he possesses outstanding raw stuff as evidenced by a career strikeout rate of 23.9 percent.

With the Pirates Liriano has displayed excellent fastball velocity, and his trademark slider has been as devastating as ever. He’s also bought into the Pirates strategy of generating groundballs, as shown by his 54.4 percent groundball rate in 2014. Pittsburgh is the ideal environment for Liriano.

Three years and $39 million looks like a relative bargain especially considering the big money that pitchers such as Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields are sure to bring in. Liriano isn’t on the level of Lester and Scherzer, but when healthy he’s one of the most difficult pitchers to hit in baseball. At that price he doesn’t need to stay healthy for a full season, so long as he’s effective while on the mound.

That kind of commitment is a lot of money for a smaller market team such as the Pirates. However, Liriano looks like an ace at times, and he’s being paid like an average pitcher. It’s a deal that won’t sink the Pirates if it goes foul, and could carry a high reward if he pitches like he has over the last two seasons. It was surprising to see Liriano sign when the pitching market seems to be waiting for Lester to blink, but the Pirates appear to have picked a winner with Liriano.

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Chicago White Sox Set Acquire Jeff Samardzija Tue, 09 Dec 2014 13:19:04 +0000 The Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s are set to announce a trade that will send right-hander Jeff Samardzija to the Sox for infielder Marcus Semien and prospects and righer-handed starter Chris Bassitt, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Samardzija ends up spending half a season with Oakland joining the team along with Jason Hammel last summer in a trade that sent Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to the Chicago Cubs.

Hammel signed with the Cubs yesterday.

The White Sox now have Chris Sale, Samardzija and Jose Quintana on top of their rotation. Samardzija went a combined 7-13 with a 2.99 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 2014, splitting time between the Cubs and A’s.

Earlier the team added closer David Robertson on a four year deal as the new closer.


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Chicago White Sox Sign David Robertson Tue, 09 Dec 2014 12:52:49 +0000 YankeesThe Chicago White Sox have reached an agreement on a four-year deal with free agent closer David Robertson. The deal will reportedly pay Robertson $46 million. Robertson immediately becomes the teams closer who had been had not has a named closer since since Addison Reed was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks last offseason.

He was paid $5,215,000 million in 2014.

The Yankees made a one-year qualifying offer of $15.3 million to Robertson for 2015, ensuring them draft-pick compensation if he signs with another team. However, that pick will be a second round pick because their first picks is in the top 10.

The Yankees receive an extra pick between the first and second rounds.

Robertson went 4-5 with 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA after taking over the closer role in New York last year from Mariano Rivera. The 29-year old has a 2.81 ERA over seven seasons. He performed admirably, notching 39 saves and registering a 3.08 ERA. His xFIP of 2.13 was a career-best mark, as was his strikeout rate of 37.1 percent. Opposing batters managed to hit just .191 against Robertson.

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Oakland Sends Brandon Moss To Cleveland For Prospect Joe Wendle Mon, 08 Dec 2014 18:14:18 +0000 ALDSThe Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians have completed a trade that will send slugger Brindon Moss to the Indians in exchange for second base prospect Joe Wendle.

Moss has hit more than 20 home runs in three straight seasons. Moss is a career .248 hitter with a .326 on-base percentage, .460 slugging percentage and .786 OPS in 625 games.

Wendle, who will turn 25 in April, hit .265/.326/.425 in 93 minor league games in 2014, including .253/.311/.414 with eight home runs and 20 doubles in 87 games for Double-A Akron.

Oakland Athletics Rumors

As the A’s continue to retool, numerous teams, including the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox remain interested in Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija is arbitration eligible for 2015 and many believe the Oakland A’s the team will move him this winter. Of course Jon Lester deciding on a destination may delay any trade for a bit.

Cleveland Indians Rumors

According to Joel Sherman the Indians have expressed interest in Atlanta Braves outfielder Justin Upton, as are a number of other teams including the Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, and Texas Rangers. Doesn’t it seem like the Rangers have been on Upton for years now?

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Chicago Cubs Reach Agreement with Jason Hammel Mon, 08 Dec 2014 16:48:53 +0000 HammelThe Chicago Cubs have reached an agreement with right-hander Jason Hammel on a two-year deal for $18 million that includes an option year.

Hammel started 2014 with Chicago with a one year deal worth $6 million, and went 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA for them, before a trade to the A’s.

Overall, he was 10-11 with a 3.47 ERA. Hammel played for new Cubs manager Joe Maddon on the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team, so certainly there is some familiarity with Hammel there as well.

Hammel was part of the deal that sent Jeff Samardzija to Oakland and brought Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to the Cubs organization.

The signing of Hammel solidifies the middle of the Cubs rotation but the team is still looking to add a front line starter where it be whether it be Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields and something may happen this week at the Winter Meeting in San Diego.

Chicago Cubs Rumors

One player who is not likely to be moved in shortstop Starlin Castro. The Cubs informed the Mets, the Yankees and other teams that Castro won’t be going anywhere. Castro hit .292 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI in 2014.

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MLB Free Agent Profile: David Robertson Rumors Sun, 07 Dec 2014 15:39:22 +0000 YankeesFree agent closer David Robertson is set to make big money this offseason. The New York Yankees recently signed reliever Andrew Miller to a four year deal worth $36 million. Robertson reportedly has an offer for three years and $39 million in hand but expect him to sign for more than that.

The 29 year-old Robertson has been one of the top strikeout artists in baseball over the course of his seven year career with the Yankees.

In that time frame he’s fanned 32 percent of hitters, the 10th best mark and the highest among relievers that have thrown at least 350 innings.

After several years of serving as the setup man to Mariano Rivera, Robertson took over the closer role with the Yankees in 2014. He performed admirably, notching 39 saves and registering a 3.08 ERA. His xFIP of 2.13 was a career-best mark, as was his strikeout rate of 37.1 percent. Opposing batters managed to hit just .191 against Robertson.

In the last four seasons Robertson has authored a 2.20 ERA and 7.6 fWAR. He’s established himself as one of the best relievers in baseball, and he had no issues with transitioning to the closer role last season. At 5’11 he might not look like a typical closer, and his fastball sits in the low 90s.

However, Robertson makes his living with an excellent cutter and a devastating knuckle curve. Over the years he’s grown to rely more and more on the cutter to the point where he utilized it on 55 percent of his pitches in 2014.

The four-seam fastball constituted less than 10 percent of his pitches. Robertson’s go-to secondary pitch is the knuckle curve, which he will throw upwards of 30 percent of the time. It combines excellent velocity at 80-85 miles per hour with true 12-6 break, making it very difficult for both right-handed and left-handed batters.

Giving big money to relief pitchers has often proved unwise. The Philadelphia Phillies decision to hand out four years and $50 million to Jonathan Papelbon is not looking pretty as the veteran closer has seen his fastball velocity dip into the low 90s. Plenty of other examples exist. But, Robertson is elite and relatively young. A deal such as the one he’s seeking would not be out of the question.

Though the Yankees have already dipped into their deep pockets to sign Miller, re-signing Robertson is not off the table. With Dellin Betances and Miller, the back end of their bullpen is already frighteningly good. Keeping Robertson in the mix would make the late innings downright unfair.

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MLB Free Agent Profile: Melky Cabrera Rumors Sat, 06 Dec 2014 15:41:17 +0000 cabreraThe market for free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera is heating up, with the Seattle Mariners reportedly leading the pack. Cabrera became a free agent after declining the qualifying offer extended to him by the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s looking to get four or five years and $55-65 million.

The 30 year old Cabrera played the last two seasons with the Blue Jays after he signed a two year $16 million commitment with them. Prior to that he had a career season with the San Francisco Giants, posting a .346/.390/.516 batting line. However, his season was shortened by a PED suspension.

In his first year with the Jays, Cabrera struggled mightily, and was limited to 88 games. Over that time he batted just .279/.322/.360 and hit only three home runs. A tumor in his spine hampered his play significantly, and 2013 ended up being his worst season since the woeful 2010 campaign with the Atlanta Braves.

Cabrera bounced back in 2014, slugging 16 home runs and batting a solid .301/.351/.458 and playing in 139 games. His outfield defense graded out poorly, and he’s best valued as a bat-first player. Overall though he mustered +2.6 fWAR, a nice rebound from the prior year.

Cabrera offers above-average pop with the bat, and consistently posts one of the lowest strikeout rates in the major leagues, which allows him to hit for a high average. He doesn’t provide much value on the bases or elsewhere, and he’s been hampered by injuries over the last two years. Looking to 2015, Steamer projects a batting line of .291/.340/.430, good for a 116 wRC+.

After signing Nelson Cruz to a four year deal, the Mariners could double down on free agents with draft pick compensation attached. Signing Cabrera would cost them a second round pick, whereas other teams would lost a first-rounder. Still, a four or five year commitment in the range of $15 million per year appears steep, especially for a player who projects for just under +2 fWAR in the first year of the deal.

It’s been a curious offseason for the Mariners, who recently sent outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays for left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ. While Saunders has battled injury troubles, he’s two years younger than Cabrera. He’s making his second run through the arbitration process and accordingly is much cheaper. Steamer offers very similar projections for both players.

The Mariners are looking for an outfielder to replace the outfielder they just traded away. One thing is clear, a replacement for Saunders will be much more expensive. It’s less clear whether that replacement will be an upgrade.

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New York Yankees Sign Andrew Miller, Acquire Didi Gregorius In Trade Fri, 05 Dec 2014 21:43:06 +0000 The New York Yankees completed a very busy day signing free-agent southpaw Andrew Miller to a four-year deal reportedly worth $36 million. Earlier today the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Tigers finalized a three-way deal that sent shortstop to Didi Gregorius to New York.

Miller weighed offers from several teams before settling on the Bronx Bombers. Miller split time with Boston and Baltimore last year, giving up just 33 hits in 62 1/3 innings with 17 walks and 103 strikeouts. Miller will be a setup man or share the closing duties with Dellin Betances.

The team could still bring back closer David Robertson, however Robertson won’t come cheap and the team may choose to spend those resources elsewhere.

The 24 year old Gregorius hit.226 with five triples, six home runs, nine doubles and 27 RBI in 80 games in 2014 and is expected to take over shortstop for the Yankees , replacing living legend Derek Jeter.  The lefthanded hitter has a significant platoon split — he bats .247 against righthanded pitchers but just .137 against lefties.

The Yankees still would like to find a third baseman but seemingly have cooled on bringing back Chase Headley.

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Tampa Bay Rays all in with Kevin Cash Fri, 05 Dec 2014 18:16:06 +0000 cashAccording to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link), the Tampa Bay Rays are expected to name Kevin Cash as the teams manager, replacing the popular Joe Maddon who opted out of his deal with Tampa Bay on October. Cash, 36, spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons as the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen coach.

A Tampa native and a former Devil Rays catcher in 2005, he spent eight seasons in the majors, mostly within the American League East. Before taking his current role with the Indians, he was a major-league advance scout with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Cash beat out a list of 10 candidates for the job that included, now former bench coach Dave Martinez, longtime major leaguer Raul Ibanez, who withdrew his name during the process, former Washington and Cleveland manager Manny Acta, Milwaukee special assistant Craig Counsell, minor league manager Charlie Montoyo, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, former Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu, Hall of Famer Barry Larkin and former major league outfielder Doug Glanville.

Cash, Wakamatsu and Ibanez were chosen as the three finalsts.

“Kevin brings so much to an organization, brings great leadership. I know his title is bullpen coach, but he does far more than that within our organization. I have no doubt when that time comes he’ll be an extraordinary major-league manager.”  Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said recently.

“His energy and dynamic personality will fit seamlessly with our clubhouse,” Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement. “We are fortunate to have such a talented individual, and Tampa Bay native, to lead our club as we strive to achieve new heights as a team and organization.”

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Atlanta Braves Sign Nick Markakis Thu, 04 Dec 2014 12:04:57 +0000 Baltimore Orioles newsThe Atlanta Braves have agreed to a four year deal with free agent oufielder Nick Markakis that is worth $44 million, reports Jeff Passan. It’s yet another move in what has already been a busy offseason for Atlanta. Earlier they dealt outfielder Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals, and they are actively shopping outfielder Justin Upton.

The 31 year-old Markakis rebounded from a poor 2013 season to post above-average numbers in 2014. After hitting a weak .271/.329/.356 in 2013, the rightfielder improved to .276/.342/.386. His fWAR jumped from replacement level to +2.5.

Still, Markakis is years removed from being a star player. As a second year man in 2007 he ripped 23 home runs and slashed .300/.362/.485. The next season he improved on those numbers hitting .306/.406/.491 and producing +6 WAR.

Since that time his power production has declined significantly. Markakis has never again reached 20 home runs, and he hasn’t been above 15 in the last five seasons. His WAR numbers have ranged right around +2, though they dipped all the way to replacement level in 2013.

Markakis has won Gold Glove awards in 2011 and 2014. However, both UZR and DRS have graded him out as below average in nearly every season since 2009, with the exception being this year, where he came in slightly above-average. He possesses a strong arm, but there are valid concerns about his range. He’ll have very big shoes to fill in right, as the departed Heyward was a phenomenal defender.

In addition, Markakis is tough to strike out. In an era where strikeouts are on the rise, that might be seen as a valuable skill. Unfortunately though Markakis does not make much damage when he puts the ball in play. Other than his injury-shortened 2012 season, his Isolated Slugging Percentage hasn’t been above .138 since 2010. In the last two seasons his power output is lower than players such as Michael Bourn and Zack Cozart.

It’s a curious move by the Braves to commit $44 million towards an under-powered corner outfielder on the wrong side of 30. When you consider that the franchise appears to be heading towards a rebuilding phase it’s even stranger. Looking to 2014 Markakis projects for a .268/.334/.381 batting line and just over +1 WAR. That’s not worth $11 million a year, and the next three years don’t figure to be any better.

The Braves have found a replacement for Jason Heyward. Unfortunately they had to commit significant money to a player that is average with little upside.

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Busy Blue Jays Sign Justin Smoak, Trade For Michael Saunders Thu, 04 Dec 2014 03:37:29 +0000 Mariners trade rumorsThe Toronto Blue Jays signed first baseman Justin Smoak to a one-year, $1 million deal, and sent lefty J.A. Happ to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for outfielder Michael Saunders, The Blue Jays claimed the 27-year-old Smoak in October, but non-tendered him on Tuesday to avoid paying him approximately $3 million in arbitration.

Smoak played in 80 games last season for the Seattle Mariners, batting .202 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs.

Happ, 32, went 11-11, with a 4.22 ERA, in 28 starts for the Blue Jays this year and solidifies a rotation in the event the Mariners are forced to give up a younf arm such as Taijuan Walker or James Paxton to obtain an outfield bat they so covet, like Justin Upton. The Blue Jays are no longer pursuing outfielder Melky Cabrera, according to Sportsnet.

While that was expected following the team’s trade for Michael Saunders, General manager Alex Anthopoulos confirmed that this move takes them out of the race for Cabrera.

Saunders played in only 78 games this season, batting .273, with a .791 OPS and eight home runs.

Late last month the Jays acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for third baseman Brett Lawrie, international free agent Franklin Barreto and pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman and also signed catcher Russell Martin to a five year deal.

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Minnesota Twins Sign Torii Hunter to One-Year Deal Wed, 03 Dec 2014 14:19:46 +0000 hunterThe Minnesota Twins have signed veteran outfielder Torii Hunter to a one-year deal worth $10.5 million, reports Ken Rosenthal. Hunter returns to the team where he began his career all the way back in 1997. The veteran outfielder will turn 40 during the 2015 season. Nevertheless, he’s managed to produce offensive numbers at least ten percent better than the major league average in every season since 2006.

After a five year stint with the Los Angeles Angels from 2008-12, Hunter spent the last two seasons with the Detroit Tigers. Only two years ago Hunter authored one of his best seasons as a major leauger. At age 36 he ripped the ball to the tune of a .313/.365/.451 slash line with 16 home runs and strong defense in right field. All told he posted +5 WAR.

In his time with the Tigers Hunter has still produced well at the plate but his outfield defense has deteriorated significantly. He batted .304/.334/.465 for a 117 wRC+ in 2013 but graded out as well below-average in right field. This season Hunter had very similar offensive stats, batting .286/.319/.446 with 17 home runs but he rated as one of the worst outfield defenders in baseball. Despite owning a 113 wRC+, he come out as just a shade above replacement level.

It’s clear that Hunter’s outfield defense has declined with age. He no longer makes the highlight reel catches he so often made in his first go-round with the Twins. Defensive metrics aren’t quite as reliable as offensive ones but by any account Hunter is a below average corner outfielder. Still, it’s unlikely that he’ll post similarly poor numbers in the outfield in 2015. Even at his age, he can still make an impact with the bat.

Steamer projects Hunter to hit .284/.328/.427 in 2015, which would continue his stretch of producing offensive numbers at least ten percent better than the major league average. Steamer also forecasts poor outfield defense, but not nearly as bad as graded by UZR in 2014. Overall, a projection of about +2 WAR would make Hunter a roughly average player.

This could be Hunter’s last major league season. It’s somewhat curious that he would sign with the Twins, who are unlikely to contend for a playoff berth this season. Also, it’s odd that the Twins would allocate upwards of $10 million to an aging outfielder when they are in the middle of a transition towards a more youthful team. But, Hunter is very well respected as a veteran leader and perhaps the Twins are placing a lot of weight on his ability to be a positive influence in the clubhouse.

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MLB Free Agent Profile: Francisco Liriano Tue, 02 Dec 2014 13:26:52 +0000 Pirates RumorsJon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields are the big names available in this offseason’s free agent pitching market. The rest of the market appears to be waiting for these dominoes to fall. Lurking behind this trio are a few solid options.

Francisco Liriano declined the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ qualifying offer of $15.3 million. The 31 year-old lefthander has spent the last two seasons with the Pirates, and rejuvenated his career. While Liriano has struggled to stay healthy and has never thrown 200 innings in a season, he possesses excellent stuff and is one of the game’s better strikeout pitchers.

Liriano broke into the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins, and posted a stellar 2.16 ERA in his 2006 rookie season. However, injuries limited him to just 76 innings over the next two seasons, and he had a brutal 5.80 ERA in 2009. That began a string of inconsistent seasons. The lefty had a great 2010 season, striking out 24.9 percent of hitters and producing nearly +6 WAR. However, he struggled greatly in 2011 and 2012, walking almost 13 percent of hitters.

The Pirates picked up Liriano for a song after the Chicago White Sox declined to tender him a contract. He was a big reason for the Pirates first playoff appearance since 1990 as he authored a 3.02 ERA and +3 WAR despite making only 26 starts in 2013. Liriano picked up the win in the Wild Card game against the Cincinnati Reds, throwing seven strong innings.

Liriano missed time with an injury in 2014, and had an ugly first half ERA of 4.27. But, he had a strong second half, and finished the year with a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts and a 25.3 percent strikeout rate. His swinging strike rate of 13.6 percent was once again one of the best marks in the game.

In his two campaigns with the Bucs, Liriano has a 24.9 percent strikeout rate that is the 9th best mark in baseball. His walk rate will always be on the high side, and since 2013, only Ubaldo Jimenez has issued free passes at a higher rate. Still, he owns a 3.20 ERA and opposing hitters have hit just .218 against Liriano.

While health is a concern, especially with all the sliders he throws, he’s one of the toughest pitchers in baseball to hit. He owns the highest swinging strike rate in baseball over the last two years at 13.4 percent, nearly a full percentage point ahead of Clayton Kershaw, the next best whiff generator. Since he debuted in 2006, Liriano has the lowest rate of contact allowed among all qualified starting pitchers.

Giving Liriano a multi-year deal is a big risk with his spotty health record. But, he possesses top notch stuff, and his fastball hasn’t lost velocity. He’ll make at least $15 million a year, and a three or four year offer will likely be in play.

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Mariners To Sign Nelson Cruz to four-year deal Mon, 01 Dec 2014 16:30:38 +0000 cruzThe Seattle Mariners and free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz have reached an agreement on a four-year, $57 million deal that also includes a $1 million signing bonus. The deal was first reported by’s Jerry Crasnick. The deal is pending a physical.

The 34 year old Cruz led the majors with 40 home runs and finished third in the American League with 108 RBIs, after signing a one year deal worth $8 million with the Baltimore Orioles last February.

The Orioles made a one-year qualifying offer of $15.3 million to Cruz for 2015, which he rejected, and will receive draft pick compensation from the Mariners.

Safeco Field is not nearly as hitter friendly as Camden Yards so some regression is likely. Steamer has Cruz projected for +1.5 WAR in 637 plate appearances in 2015, based on a 119 wRC+ and minimal defensive value.

In 52 career games at Safeco Field, Cruz has a .234 average, .440 slugging percentage, .749 OPS, nine home runs, 11 doubles and 19 RBI.

Cruz has previously played with the Milwaukee Brewers (eight games in 2005) and Texas Rangers (2006-2013).

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Blue Jays All in After Acquiring Josh Donaldson from A’s Sun, 30 Nov 2014 14:33:41 +0000 donaldsonThe Toronto Blue Jays acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for third baseman Brett Lawrie, international free agent Franklin Barreto and pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman.

It’s been a busy offseason for the Jays, who signed catcher Russell Martin to a five year deal earlier. They’re serious about reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Meanwhile, the A’s continue to retool their roster as they always seem to do under General Manager Billy Beane.

The 29 year-old Donaldson is one of the top players in baseball. Over the last two seasons, only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen have more WAR than the A’s third baseman. Furthermore, the Jays will own his rights for the next four seasons in which he’ll receive arbitration salaries.

He’s an excellent defender who has knocked 53 home runs in the last two years despite playing half his games in spacious Oakland Coliseum. Along with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, he’ll provide pop to the middle of the Jays lineup. Steamer projects nearly +6 WAR for Donaldson in 2015, which would make him one of the top 5-10 players in baseball.

Lawrie, the major piece for the A’s, has had trouble staying on the field. He appeared in only 70 games last season, and has never played in more than 107. After a phenomenal 43 games debut stint in 2011 in which he hit .293/.380/.573, the 24 year-old has had difficulty meeting expectations. Like Donaldson, he’s a great defender, and his career offensive numbers have been above-average. Steamer is very high on Lawrie, as it projects a .263/.324/.425 batting line and +4 WAR.

The biggest question surrounding Lawrie is whether he can remain healthy. He hasn’t been able to do that thus far in his young career. If he does manage to play 130-140 games or more, this deal might look a lot better for the A’s. Lawrie is a good player who should have upside left.

Of the prospects received by the A’s, Barreto is the most promising. He’s only 18, but he possesses some impressive tools. Barreto runs well, and could stick at shortstop. Most importantly, his hitting ability has drawn raves. At 18, he’s a long way from a major league roster, but he’s handled low minors pitching with ease.

Graveman and Nolin each had cups of coffee with the Jays last season. Both are potential back-end starters, though the bullpen may be more likely. Historically, the A’s have done a good job getting value out of these types of pitchers, and their home park is very pitcher-friendly. Still, they have several rotation pieces, so it doesn’t appear that either one will get much time in the rotation this year.

Right now the return on Donaldson seems a little light for the A’s. He’s one of the top players in baseball, and though he’s nearing 30, he’ll get arbitration salaries for the next four years which should make him very affordable. Lawrie is talented but injury prone, and with the exception of the very young Barreto, none of the prospects has big upside. However, this appears to be just one of several moves the A’s will make. It’s best to reserve judgment till the conclusion of their offseason.

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Seattle Mariners Looking To Raise the Bar in 2015 Sun, 30 Nov 2014 13:03:09 +0000 canoSeattle Mariners enjoyed a reasonably successful 2014, improving on the number of wins they achieved the season before by 16. The aim this offseason is to find the right blend that can help them build upon that success because, despite their improvements, the Mariners fell just short of the postseason.

Despite having little to shout about in the way of real success, the Mariners fans enjoy MLB as much as anyone. The 40,000 that packed Safeco Field for what was to become the final game last season— a 4-1 victory over Los Angeles Angels—still gave their heroes a standing ovation to show their appreciation.

This offseason, then, provides a chance for the Mariners to show that they aim to repay those loyal fans.

The big story so far this offseason has been Kyle Seager. His seven year extension deal makes him just the third M’s player to reach the $100 million threshold. The last two seasons saw Felix Hernadez sign a seven year deal for $175 million and Robinson Cano 10 years for $240 million.

David Schoenfield, writing for ESPN, thinks that the move is a good piece of business.

“You might not view Seager as a $100 million player, but he’s one of the most underrated players in the game, putting up good offensive numbers in a tough park and improving each season he’s been in the majors.”

Locking Seager into a deal might be a good move but there still remains a lot of work to be done by general manager Jack Zduriencik—not least in the search to redress their lack of right-handed hitters.

Offers were made to Victor Martinez, who re-signed for Detroit Tigers, and also Hanley Ramirez—who chose to go to Boston.

FoxSports Jon Morosi tweeted recently about the trade talks that the Mariners have been involved in which included multiple right-handed outfielders such as Matt Kemp, Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton.

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale agreed on Upton, although he thought the M’s would be exploring free agents such as Nelson Cruz first.

FoxSports blog Just a Bit Outside pinpointed the problem for the Mariners:

“The problem is that free-agent hitters, especially right-handed hitters who have seen the ball regularly die in left-center field at Safeco Field, are not rushing to join the Mariners.”

Their targets might not be rushing to join them but, come April, those passionate supporters will still be there—making tickets as hard to find as a right-handed power hitter. There is still time for the Mariners to find the right deals and fans can find here sold out Seattle Mariners tickets to judge the new-look team for themselves.

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Red Sox Sign Hanley Ramirez to four-year deal Mon, 24 Nov 2014 19:39:41 +0000 NLDSYou can’t say the Boston Red Sox are taking the holiday week off. Already in agreement with free-agent Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox have reached an agreement with Hanley Ramirez on a four-year $88 million deal that will bring the talented but injury prone 30 year old back to Boston.

Ramirez was dealt  to the Marlins as part of the trade package that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston back in 2005.

Ramirez, is a career .300 hitter, batted .283 with 13 homers and 71 RBIs in 128 games last season. Ramirez projects as the everyday Red Sox third baseman, but is open to changing positions, perhaps to the outfield with Sandoval on board.

More likely than not, the Red Sox will look to trade from a a crowded outfield, that includes a mix of mix of Yoenis CespedesRusney CastilloShane VictorinoAllen CraigBrock HoltJackie BradleyMookie Betts and Daniel Nava in an attempt to land a front line starter.

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Seattle Mariners, Kyle Seager Reach Agreement on $100 million Extension Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:44:39 +0000 seagerThe Seattle Mariners have reached an agreement with third baseman Kyle Seager on a seven year extension worth approximately $100 million. Seager, 27 posted career highs in home runs (25), RBI (96), batting average (.268), slugging percentage (.454) and OPS (.788) in 2014.

He has a .262/.328/.429 slash through his first four seasons in the majors.

Seager also made his first All-Star team in 2014 and won a Gold Glove Award.

The contract includes an eighth-year club option that could be worth up to $20 million, based on Seager achieving certain escalators. Seager must pass a routine physical before the deal is final.

Seager would join Mike Trout, Buster Posey and Freddie Freeman as the only players in their first arbitration-eligible season or before to lock in a $100 million-plus deal.

With  Robinson Cano, starting pitcher Felix Hernandez and Seager, the Mariners will have committed more than half a billion dollars to three players.

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Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox Reach Agreement on Five-Year Deal Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:02:54 +0000 sandovalThe Boston Red Sox and free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval have reached and agreement on a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $100 million, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

The Red Sox are close to a deal with Hanley Ramirez, as well. Ken Rosenthal of reported he is on the verge of a deal with Boston and is traveling to Boston to finalize an agreement.

The Red Sox could “win” the trifecta if former ace Jon Lester returns. Boston’s initial offer is believed to be about $110 million to $120 million for Lester, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported.

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