Atlanta Braves

Twins Sign E. Santana, Royals Ink Morales

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Ervin Santana joined his 4th team in 4 years.

 

One former Royal is going to Minnesota and one former Twin is going to Kansas City. Starting pitcher Ervin Santana and 1st Baseman/DH Kendrys Morales have found new teams for the 2015 season.

Santana is coming off a one-year, $14.1MM deal he signed with the Atlanta Braves last March after injuries had depleted the Braves starting rotation. Santana, who turns 32 on Friday, won 14 games in 31 starts. Except for a rough patch in May, Santana kept the Braves in most of the games he started and was 3-0, 1.95 in four April starts. The Twins rewarded him with a four-year deal worth about $55MM. While the average is less than the pay he got from Atlanta, he gets the long term deal he sought prior to last season. This is Santana’s fourth team in four years.

Morales was just starting to become a star in the league when he broke his leg celebrating a game winning grand slam home run for the Los Angeles Angels in 2010. He missed the rest of the season (111 games) and all of the 2011 season as a result.

He hit well in his return in 2012 (.787 OPS, 22 HR 73 RBI in 134 games), but the Halos dealt him to Seattle in December for pitcher Jason Vargas. He was a player without a team in 2014 until early June when the Twins signed him to a deal for the remainder of the season. At the deadline, he was sent back to Seattle for pitcher Stephen Pryor.

Morales’ deal with the Royals is for two years and $17MM. The 31-year old will replace Billy Butler at DH and occasionally spell Eric Hosmer at first base.

Signed: Markakis Joins a Brave New World

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Over the years Baltimore has lost a number of long-time Orioles to free agency. Guys like Mike Mussina who the fans hoped would spend their whole careers in the orange, black, and white uniforms. Right fielder Nick Markakis can now be added to the list, though he didn’t have much choice.

Markakis, who signed with the Orioles after they took him with the 7th overall pick in the 2003 MLB Amateur draft, has departed Baltimore to join the Atlanta Braves after the two sides agreed on a four-year deal. The money has not been officially announced,  but ESPN.com’s Buster Oleny estimates that the nine-year veteran will earn around a total of $45MM. That would represent a pay cut from the $15MM Markakis earned the last two seasons.

The 31-year old became a free agent after the Orioles turned down their portion of a mutual option that would have cost the club $17MM for the coming season. Instead the team bought Markakis out for a mere $2MM.

Though he holds a career .358 on-base pct. and a .436 slugging pct., Markakis’ never reached the offensive heights that the early part of his career might have indicated. Granted, he played on some awful Orioles squads, but Markakis averaged 20 home runs, 45 doubles, and 100 RBI from 2007 – 2009. He hasn’t reached 20 home runs since then and had the worst OPS numbers of his career (.685, .729) over the last two seasons.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Markakis’ superb defense and rocket-like arm. He won his second Gold Glove Award this season after he captured one in 2011. He did not commit an error in either of those two years as well as in 2013, and has made just 18 errors in his career to date. Markakis is expected to replace right fielder Jason Heyward, who was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Shelby Miller, in the Orioles outfield.

The Orioles have lost two outfielders to free agency, with Nelson Cruz having agreed to a deal with Seattle this past Monday.

Nick Markakis among the Orioles All-Time hitters

Hits – 7th
Games played – 13th
Home Runs – 15th
Doubles – 7th
Runs scored – 11th
RBI – 13th
Walks – 11th
At-Bats 10th

Rumor: Samardzija Could Be Next To Leave Oakland

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The Oakland A’s dealt All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night, will not be able to resign ace Jon Lester, who was picked up at the 2014 trade deadline for Yoenis Cespedes, and are now rumored to be talking to the Atlanta Braves about outfielder Justin Upton and catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis.

According to John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group, the price would be a high one. Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who was picked up at the July trade deadline from the Chicago Cubs for a package that included starting pitcher Dan Straily and shortstop prospect Addison Russell.

Samardzija is under control for one more season before he reaches free agency. He earned over $5.3MM last season and will get a significant boost based on his performance between the Cubs and A’s in 2014.

Should he go to arbitration, Samardzija’s case will be further proof that a starting pitcher’s won-loss record is not very meaningful. Prior to being dealt to the A’s, the Notre Dame product was 2-7 despite a 2.83 ERA and 8.6 Ks per nine innings. As you would expect his ERA rose in the AL, but only to 3.14. He had an eight to one strikeout to walk ratio and a .262 BABIP or Batting Average on Balls in Play with the A’s and still finished just 5-6 in the W-L columns.

The Braves, who have already acquired starting pitcher Shelby Miller from the St. Louis Cardinals, would probably like to hold on to Upton, but can’t because of another player’s contract that is an albatross around their collective necks. Ironically, that contract belongs to Upton’s older brother B.J. Upton, who the Braves erroneously signed to a five-year, $75.25MM contract prior to the 2013 season.

The deal has been a disaster, with the 30-year old Upton posting OPS numbers you would expect from a pitcher – .557 and .620. Needless to say, the Braves can’t unload him.

The 27-year old Justin, on the other hand, has surpassed an .800 OPS in his two seasons in Atlanta and won a Silver Slugger Award last season after he hit 29 home runs and drove in a career high 102 runs.

The 28-year old Gattis  hit 21 and 22 home runs in his first two seasons in the bigs, despite not reaching 400 at-bats in either year. Though he only caught and DH’ed this past season, Gattis played 48 games in the outfield in 2013. With just two years of Major League experience, Gattis is under the Braves control until 2019, which makes his inclusion in a deal (even for Samardzija) a head-scratcher.

While the team’s rotation would be bolstered by the addition of Samardzija – he would join Miller, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, and Alex Wood – the Braves would be hurting for runs scored. It’s understandable that the Braves would rebuild their starting staff,pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are expected to miss the entire 2015 season after both underwent their second Tommy John surgeries this past Spring.

The acquisition of Miller cost the team outfielder Jason Heyward, which means Atlanta would be down three starters from their 2014 lineup, though perhaps someone like outfielder Josh Reddick could be sent along with Samardzija.

If the deal goes through, this is the Braves 2015 lineup at a glance:

C Christian Bethancourt
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Philip Gosselin
SS Andrelton Simmons
3B Chris Johnson
LF
CF B.J. Upton
RF

The Braves added former Yankees prospect Zoilo Almonte this offseason and outfielders Jose Constanza, Joey Terdoslavich, and Todd Cunningham on their 40-man roster.

Meanwhile the A’s starting rotation would be left with Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. Like the Braves rotation, the A’s had two pitchers – Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin – undergo Tommy John surgery this past Spring and can’t be counted on in 2015. Prospect Raul Alcantara, who has just two games of experience at Triple-A, could join the rotation some time during the season.

TRADED: Cards, Braves Swap Former Top Prospects

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The Atlanta Braves had high hopes for outfielder Jason Heyward, the 14th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur draft. Those expectations were wratched it up a notch three years later when Heyward finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting with an 18 HR, 72 RBI, .849 OPS campaign. But after belting 27 HR with 82 RBI in 2012, Heyward’s offense dropped, but Atlanta’s expectations did not, especially considering what they were paying Heyward. The Braves traded the 25-year old to the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday for right-hander Shelby Miller, the 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft.

The Cardinals also received reliever Jordan Walden, while minor league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins was sent to the Braves’ organization.

Miller was third in the National League Rookie of the Year vote in 2013 when he won 15 games with a 3.01 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 173.1 innings pitched. This past season, Miller’s ERA rose to 3.74 and his strikeouts per nine innings dropped from 8.8 to 6.2.

Heyward is due to make $8.3MM for the coming season and the Braves, apparently, are not willing to pay more than that for the future. Miller, by comparison earned $521K and is not arbitration eligible until 2016. He will earn substantially less in 2015 than Heyward.

The Braves outfielder posted .776 and .735 OPS the past two seasons and slugged a career-low .384 in 2014. He won his second Gold Glove this year and will join Matt Holliday as a corner (RF) outfielder in the Cardinals lineup. Considering the length of time (four years)  that the Cardinals had Miller under control, the deal had to come as much of a surprise to Cardinals fans as it did to Braves fans. Miller will replace Ervin Santana, a free agent, in the Braves’ starting rotation.

Though he has a propensity to walk too many hitters, Walden was solid out of the pen in his second season in Atlanta. The hard throwing righty struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings and held opposing hitters to a .541 OPS. Walden, who did not fare successfully as a closer in his younger days for the Angels, could have a chance to win the job in St. Louis from Trevor Rosenthal.

Jenkins was a supplemental pick (50th overall) by the Cardinals in the first round of the 2010 draft. The 6’4″, 22-year old right-hander missed the first half of the 2014 season with shoulder surgery. He finished the season 6-5, 3.28 in 13 starts for the Cardinals’ Palm Beach (Florida State League) affiliate.

Trade Bait: B.J. Upton

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Another at-bat, another out for B.J. Upton

When discussing baseball players, the media, the fans, and the players themselves all go to the numbers. But the numbers for B.J. Upton are misleading. He’s not been as productive, and certainly not as consistent, as his career figures might indicate.

The Atlanta Braves, and more precisely ex-GM Frank Wren, did not use their heads when they signed Upton  (along with a good signing of B.J.’s younger brother Justin) to a five-year, $75.25MM after the 2012 season. Upton’s career splits in his eight seasons in Tampa Bay were average – .255/.336/.422 and despite averaging 25 HRs, 79 RBI, and 38 stolen bases his last two season with the Rays, there were warning signs.

The elder Upton’s home splits in 2011 were .209/.300/.374; a year later he posted an .814 oPS at home, but .687 on the road. He had also had a miserable first half in 2012 with a .679 OPS in 71 games. His second half surge (21 HR 49 RBI in 71 games) made his overall numbers look better and certainly influenced Atlanta’s decision to sign him.

Politics can play a big part in awards and rewards, but Upton never made an All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger Award or a Gold Glove. The Braves paid the then 28-year old as if he was that type of player. His two years in Atlanta couldn’t have been much more disastrous than they were. A Brendan Ryan-like .557 OPS in 2013 (including a .184 batting average), followed by a .620 OPS last season. He had 33 doubles and 21 home runs…in two seasons combined.

The Braves can’t get rid of Upton fast enough, but who is going to take him? The Braves will have to eat much of the $46MM-plus  still owed to him to have any chance of a deal. Even then, they are not going to get more than middling prospects and no Major League talent, unless it’s swapping one bad contract for another. Justin Upton becomes a free agent after the 2015 season. The Braves may have to deal the “good” Upton in order to keep the senior Upton.

Let the buyer beware.

Lester Scratched as MLB Deadline Nears

Will Lester get the ball back in Boston?

Will Lester get the ball back in Boston?

by Drew Sarver

We’re less than two days away from the Major League Baseball trade deadline and the number of rumors is starting to add up. The biggest name among them is Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester. The veteran left-hander has been scratched from his Wednesday start, which means Boston will be making a heavy push to trade him for a boatload of prospects and/or Major Leaguers prior to Thursday’s 4 pm EDT deadline.

With the team and Lester unable to agree on a new contract to keep the left-hander in Boston beyond this year – he becomes a free agent after this season – a trade is now very likely.

Lester’s a grade ‘A’ player; a top performer, team leader, and whose departure would leave a major vacancy in the Red Sox rotation. The 30-year old, who beat anaplastic large cell lymphoma eight years ago, holds a 110-63 (.636) record as of this writing and is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. His K’s per nine innings (9.4) is the highest in four years and he has career bests in ERA (2.52) and WHIP (1.119).

He’s also been solid in the post-season. Last year he helped lead the Red Sox to their third World Series title in 10 years. He won four games, including two in the World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. It will be difficult to cut the cord, but if the Red Sox truly feel they cannot resign him, they might as well try to deal him. Needless to say, they’ve getting calls from many teams. That includes the Pittsburgh Pirates, who last night emerged as a “dark horse favorite”.

Lester could be part of a Boston fire sale now that the Red Sox have dropped 12 games out in the AL East and 9.5 games out of the second wild card position. The team, which dealt starter Jake Peavy to San Francisco on July 26, has been fielding calls on John Lackey, Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, and Jonny Gomes.

The Red Sox are also rumored to be interested in Matt Kemp, which makes no sense whatsoever. The injury-plagued LA Dodgers outfielder is owed $107MM over the next five seasons. The Red Sox would be better off spending money on starting pitcher. They don’t have to look that far back to see how injured and/or overpaid players (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez) failed in Boston.

The next best pitcher available is Cole Hamels. After not being able to pull off a Cliff Lee deal so far, the Phillies have reportedly either been shopping Hamels or steadfastly refusing to trade him. Even if Hamels is dealt, the Phillies would like to deal Lee and the minimum $37.5MM he stands to make the next two years. He’s also owed the remainder of $25MM this season. Lee will not command the return of players he once was able to unless Philly eats the majority of the salary.

Hamels stands to make $90MM through 2018, with a possibility of making an addition $20MM-$24MM in 2019. Like Lester, Hamels is 30-years old and is having a very good season. Tuesday night he tossed eight shutout innings in a win against the New York Mets. It lowered his career-best ERA to 2.55 and a very good ratio to 1.128 His 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings is his highest total since 2006. The Phillies certainly won’t give him away and are probably going to hold on to him.

Like the Red Sox, the Phillies could move several players. Outfielder Marlon Byrd is in high demand and inquiries have been made about A.J. Burnett. The Phillies would love to rid themselves of Ryan Howard’s remaining $60MM over the next three years (the last year is an option with a $10MM buyout.), but that’s not likely to happen.

Other pitchers that could move today are the Mets’ Bartolo Colon, who has one year and $11MM remaining on his contract. The Minnesota Twins would part with Kevin Correia, though there isn’t much demand for a pitcher who leads the AL in losses and whose ERA is over 5. The Twins have also been fielding calls for catcher Kurt Suzuki and outfielder Josh Willingham.

The Kansas City Royals will likely lose James Shields to free agency after the season, but with the team five games behind Detroit in the AL Central and 3.5 games behind Toronto for the second wild card, how could they not keep him?

The Cleveland Indians face a similar dilemma. They’re 6.5 behind Detroit and sit five games in back of Toronto. Do they think they can make a run and become buyers or do they go ahead and become sellers? The Indians are a team that might try to do a little of both. Rumor has it they are trying to move starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who is having a disastrous season. Another player having a bad year is Nick Swisher (.615 OPS as of this writing), though the two years and $30MM will make it harder to move him. Add on his failure in several post-seasons, and Swisher won’t bring much return at this point. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera could be in a new home by Friday, as he enters free agency after this season.

The Padres are reportedly shopping reliever Joaquin Benoit, who can either set up or close. Other players that could move on are pitcher John Danks, outfielder Dayan Viciedo, and 1B/DH Adam Dunn of the White Sox, pitcher Colby Lewis and outfielder Alex Rios of the Rangers, Cubs’ Pitcher Edwin Jackson, Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, and Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra.

Stay tuned!

Done Deals

Cleveland sent Justin Masterson to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfield prospect James Ramsey. Masterson has been having an off-year in a contract year, but the Cards are hoping he can be the second coming of Jake Westbrook. The Cardinals depth in the outfield allowed them to deal Ramsey, the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 draft.

The Red Sox have traded a left-handed pitcher, but it’s not Jon Lester..yet. They’ve sent Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later.  A Cubs official told Peter Gammons that Doubront was getting “One more change to grow up.”

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

MLB Preview: Injuries Could Haunt 2014 Braves

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Atlanta will need big production from the likes of Freddie Freeman to make up for a rash of injuries.

by Christopher Wenrich

Key acquisitions:  Ryan Doumit, Gavin Floyd, Mat Gamel

Key losses:  Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Paul Maholm, Luis Ayala, Eric O’Flaherty

Since the 1990s, the Atlanta Braves have always fielded a competitive team and shown the ability to overcome adversity.  But with the rash of injuries already taking a toll on the squad, the adversity may prove to be too much.  Pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen are out for the year and will be undergoing Tommy John surgery (Beachy’s second in three years).  Tim Hudson – formerly of the Braves – signed with the San Francisco Giants.  Pitchers Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd are also injured and may not be back until late April or early May.

THE LINEUP
C:  Evan Gattis
1B:  Freddie Freeman
2B:  Dan Uggla
3B:  Chris Johnson
SS:  Andrelton Simmons
LF:  Justin Upton
CF:  B.J. Upton
RF:  Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward should lead off for the Braves, as he is the only hitter they have – aside from Freddie Freeman – who can get on base consistently.  B.J. Upton is not qualified for the role, as he registered a sub-.300 on-base percentage in back-to-back seasons.  In 2013, Upton hit a paltry .184 and struck out 151 times in only 391 at-bats.  Justin Upton (161 strikeouts in 558 at-bats) and Dan Uggla (171 strikeouts in 448 at-bats) round out the Braves’ swing-and-miss brigade.  The threesome provide the Braves with plenty of potential for home runs; however, they swing more violently than a screen door in a tornado.  Their penchant for strikeouts render their offense inconsistent and unpredictable.

Freeman will provide consistency and all-star numbers.  Chris Johnson is a steady contact hitter.  Although it is unlikely that Johnson will repeat last season’s breakout .321 average, it would not be entirely surprising (.289 career average).  Outside of Heyward, Freeman and Johnson, there is little consistency in the lineup.  Andrelton Simmons is perhaps the best defensive shortstop in baseball, but he is not a spectacular hitter.  Simmons does have the potential to grow as a hitter and has decent pop in his bat.  Hitting 15-20 home runs is not out of the question for Simmons, and his average may improve as he gains more experience.

Catcher Evan Gattis is another feast-or-famine hitter in the Braves lineup.  Should Gattis struggle mightily or suffer injuries, Ryan Doumit could replace him in the lineup.  Doumit was a shrewd signing for the Braves, as he can catch, play first base and the outfield.

THE ROTATION
Julio Teheran
Ervin Santana
Alex Wood
David Hale
Aaron Harang

With Beachy and Medlen out for the year, Julio Teheran gets the nod for opening day.  Teheran struggled in his few Major League starts in 2011 and 2012, but he followed with a strong 2013 season and has secured his spot in the Majors.  Teheran posted a 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 30 starts last season.  The youngster has tremendous potential and will continue to grow as a pitcher.  In the wake of the Beachy/Medlen injuries, the Braves signed Ervin Santana to provide some semblance of stability in their rotation.  Santana has displayed bouts of both brilliance and ineptitude in his inconsistent career.

Alex Wood – the Braves’ second-round draft choice in 2012 – will start the season in the rotation.  Wood has looked impressive this spring, as he currently sports a 0.45 ERA.  Wood may be moved to the bullpen when/if Floyd and Minor return.  If Wood continues to impress during the regular season, the Braves may opt to keep him in the rotation and could move Floyd to the bullpen.  The Braves recently released Freddy Garcia and signed veteran Aaron Harang.

THE BULLPEN
Craig Kimbrel
Jordan Walden
Luis Avalan
David Carpenter
Anthony Varvaro
Cory Gearrin

Craig Kimbrel – widely regarded as the best closer in baseball – will again serve as closer.  Jordan Walden will likely serve as the setup man.  The Braves had perhaps the best bullpen in baseball for years, but it looks like it may be a shadow of its former self now.  Jonny Venters will start the season on the disabled list and may be out until late May or early June.  Eric O’Flaherty is now with the Oakland Athletics.  An inconsistent lineup combined with a lack of proven depth in the bullpen may add up to many losses for the Braves this year.  The injuries to the starting pitchers  may also lead to the bullpen being overworked.

THE BENCH

Despite the injuries, the Braves will not be lacking catchers.  Doumit can catch, play first base and the outfield and Gerald Laird will serve as a backup catcher.  Ramiro Pena will back up Uggla at second base and may steal the job if Uggla has another challenging season.  Tyler Pastornicky – who tore his ACL last August – will back up Simmons at shortstop.  Mat Gamel provides a power bat on the bench and can play first base and the outfield.  Gamel was once a top prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization, but he struggled with injuries and was an underachiever.

Outfielder Jordan Schafer will likely start the season on the bench.  If B.J. Upton underperforms, he may lose his starting job to Schafer, who hit .247 last season but registered a respectable .331 on-base percentage.  Despite appearing in only 94 games and 234 at-bats as a part-time player last season, Schafer led the Braves with 22 stolen bases and was caught six times.

The Braves could finish second in the National League East if their offense shows more consistency and if they get another Herculean effort from Freeman, but a fourth place finish is more likely.  When top relief pitchers like Venters go down with an injury, O’Flaherty signs with another team, and Gamel is a key acquisition, all signs point to a troubled season.  Look for the Braves to be surpassed by the New York Mets this season and battle with the Philadelphia Phillies for third place.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).