Toronto Blue Jays

White Sox Get Melk, Headley Re-Ups With Yankees

The Melkman is back delivering across the border.

The Melkman is back delivering across the border.

The latest free agents are comprised of a player moving on to his sixth team in seven years and one that is staying where he was two-month rental. The Chicago White Sox have been busy this offseason and they continued their re-tooling over the weekend with the free agent signing of outfielder Melky Cabrera. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees agreed, on Monday, with Chase Headley to keep the free agent third baseman for the next four years (at a cost of $52MM).

Cabrera, who played four full seasons with the Yankees, then spent one season in Atlanta, one in Kansas City, one in San Francisco, and two years in Toronto. He’ll replace the lackluster bat of Dayan Viciedo in left field and join newcomers Jeff Samardzija and former Yankees teammate David Robertson on the list of big time acquisitions by GM Kenny Williams.

The Melkman was suspended for 50 games in the second half of the 2012 season due to his involvement in the Biogenesis Clinic scandal. The Giants could have brought him back for the playoffs, but chose not to. With the suspension impacting a new deal, Cabrera signed a two-year, $16MM contract with the Blue Jays prior to the 2013 season. 2014 saw him produce the second best home run (16) and RBI (73) totals of his career.

Cabrera had his best season to date when the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, but he was sent with pitchers Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino to Atlanta for pitchers Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan. The deal was a disaster for both teams. Cabrera produced a .671 OPS with 4 HR and 42 RBI with the Braves. A year later he was a new man, and maybe Biogenesis was the reason.

The then-26-year old put up career numbers in batting average (.305), HR (18), RBI (87), hits (201), and stolen bases (20). With free agency to come after the 2011 season, the Royals dealt Cabrera to San Francisco for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo.

Headley played his first six-plus seasons with the San Diego Padres until the 2014 trade deadline came around. The Yankees, who had been interested in Headley since his 2012 MVP-like season. (31 HR 115 RBI, .875 OPS, 17 stolen bases) Headley had never approached those caliber numbers before 2012 and has not after. The price to obtain the third baseman was much lower than during or initially after his magical season. The Yankees were able to acquire Headley for rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte and pitcher Rafael De Paula.

While the Yankees’ defense on the left side of the infield has improved drastically with Headley and the two-headed platoon at shortstop with Brendan Ryan and Didi Gregorius, the production of the lineup has not. In fact, it’s gone in the opposite direction.

The move has produced some head scratching, particularly the length of the contract.  A four-year deal based on a very good September after a terrible August. Two months in pinstripes, one good, one bad. It also shows that Headley most likely did not have a four-year, $65MM offer from another team.

The Yankees starting nine hitters, for now, are

1B Mark Teixeira
2B Martin Prado
SS Brendan Ryan/Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
RF Carlos Beltran
C Brian McCann
DH Alex Rodriguez

Not exactly intimidating.

Traded: A’s, Jays Swap Donaldson For Lawrie Plus 3

Donaldson

Friday evening rumors swirled, via the SF Chronicle’s Susan Slusser and FoxSports Ken Rosenthal, that the Oakland A’s were in the midst of putting together a blockbuster trade. At first it was thought that pitcher  Jeff Samardzija was to be involved, but that rumor was quashed by the two reporter’s sources. But a deal was being discussed and was finalized Friday night.

The A’s sent their All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays for third baseman Brett Lawrie and three minor leaguers – shortstop Franklin Barreto, and pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin.

Donaldson adds another serious power bat to a Blue Jays lineup that already features Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.  It also does damage to an A’s lineup that was weakened at the past trade deadline when they sent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for rent ace Jon Lester.

Donaldson, who will be 29 in a little over a week, hit 24 home runs and drove in 93 runs in 2013. He followed that up with 29-98 year this past season, though his OPS dropped nearly 100 points.  The Alabama native made a mere $500K in his third full year in the Major Leagues and is arbitration eligible. Needless to say, he will earn a large raise for 2015 and it is likely the Blue Jays will try to sign him long term.

Lawrie, who began his career in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, was dealt to the Blue Jays for pitcher Shaun Marcum in 2010. The former 16th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Lawrie has been a disappointment up to this point. Injuries have limited the 24-year old to 177 total games the last two seasons.

After posting an OPS over .900 in 43 games in his first year in the Majors, Lawrie has recorded .729, .712, and .722 OPS numbers the last three seasons. He had begun to develop a good power stroke last season – 12 HR in 259 at-bats – but was shut down the last two months of the season due to a strained oblique. He had broken a finger earlier in the year that caused him to miss six weeks.

Like Donaldson, Lawrie is in his first year of arbitration eligibility, but will make substantially less than Donaldson for the 2015 season. He earned $516K and change in 2014.

As for the minor leaguers acquired, Barreto put together a .311/.384/.418 slash line last season for Vancouver (‘A’ ball). The 5’9″ shortstop was signed out of Venezuela and has two seasons in the Jays’ organization under his belt.

Graveman, a 6’2″ right-hander, was drafted in the 8th round of the 2013 MLB amateur draft. He made his Major League debut this past September and appeared in five games with mild success. The Mississippi State product made a combined 27 starts this past season in four different minor league levels. Overall, he finished 14-6, 1.83 with 115 strikeouts in 167.1 innings pitched. He also averaged less than a hit per inning and issyed just 1.7 walks per nine innings. In his call up, Graveman averaged about 93 mph on his fastball and used a cutter and slider as his secondary pitches.

Nolin was the Blue Jays 6th round pick (2010) out of San Jacinto College in Texas. He made one start for Toronto in 2013 (He didn’t make it out of the first inning.) and one relief appearance in 2014. Nolin made 17 starts for Triple-A Buffalo last season, finished 4-6, 3.50, and averaged 7.6 K’s per nine innings. He has a low 90s fastball and relies heavily on his changeup.

UPDATE – Josh Donaldson took to Twitter to thank the A’s fans.

Donaldsonthanks

Rumors: Lester, Bogaerts, Hamels

Lester

Big Papi would love to welcome home Jon Lester.

 

Arguably, only the 1977 album “Rumors”, Fleetwood Mac’s greatest (in sales) album, was more entertaining and talked about than baseball’s hot stove. Believing the validity of MLB rumors is only slightly more dicey than the relationships in one of rock and roll’s longest lasting quintets.

The Boston Red Sox had a big day on Monday, signing infielders Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. One would assume that meant shortstop Xander Bogaerts would be used as part of a package to obtain a front line starter. But two team sources told the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham that Bogaerts is still considered the team’s starting shortstop. That would mean a position switch for Ramirez. Do you buy that?

With Dustin Pedroia entrenched at second base, it would mean Ramirez would move to the outfield. Yoenis Cespedes is in left field with Rusney Castillo in center.  Boston has right fielder Shane Victorino under contract for one more season (at $13MM). With David Ortiz at DH, something has to give.

Despite adding an average of $41MM over the next four years (Only Sandoval has a guaranteed 5th year), Abraham reported that the Red Sox are also said to still be in play on their former ace Jon Lester.  With the Sox going nowhere this past season, the team dealt Lester to the Oakland A’s  for the slugging Cespedes.

Lester made $13MM last season and is likely to land at least a five year deal that tops $20MM per season. Do you buy that Boston can still afford that?

It’s possible Lester will give the Sox, for whom he played with for parts of nine seasons, a hometown discount. But this is a chance for Lester, who turns 30 in January, to land the biggest deal of his career and one of the largest in baseball. (The Yankees truly are crazy if they are not in on trying to signing him.) Boston, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, has also had serious talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for lefty Cole Hamels. (The Dodgers are reportedly also in on the fray.)

Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. – how does this man keep his job? – is trying to unload salary. He failed to move anyone making substantial money at last season’s deadline – Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee (who injured his elbow during the post-deadline waiver period) – and needs to now. Hamels is owed $90MM over the next four years and has a possible 5th year (2019) at $24MM (vesting) or $20MM (team option).

Despite the claim by team sources, Bogaerts would most certainly have to be part of any package sent to Philadelphia along with one of Boston’s top catching prospects, Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez. It would all depend on how much money is picked up by Boston.

The feeling here is that if the Red Sox can’t land Hamels or bring back Lester at a discount, they’ll try to sign a cheaper option like James Shields.

There is action going on elsewhere in the AL East. Toronto, who already overpaid catcher Russell Martin, is said to be pursuing the Cincinnati Reds versatile outfielder, Jay Bruce.

Blue Jays are, however, working to add a left-handed bat to their lineup. One name they are talking about: Jay Bruce.

The left-handed hitting Bruce would be a great addition to any team. The Reds would have to be blown away by any offer though, since the 27-year old outfielder is under contract for the next two seasons at an average of $12.25MM and has a team option for a third year at a minuscule $13MM.

The outfielder is coming off a miserable year in which he hit just .217 and had a sub-.700 OPS. But in the three years prior to that, Bruce topped 30 home runs and averaged 101 RBI.

UPDATE – ComcastSportsNet’s (CSNChicago.com) Dave Kaplan is reporting that the Chicago Cubs have made a “significant offer” of six years and a salary figure “north of $135MM” to free agent pitcher Jon Lester.

Free Agents: Blue Jays Open the Vault for R-Martin

rmartin

Russell Martin has $82 million reasons to smile.

 

by Drew Sarver

Few things these days can make my head explode. Having to hear about that family with the woman with the big ass. That’s more of a nagging headache actually. But things like what the Toronto Blue Jays did on Monday was definitely a “cranial cramper”.

Catcher Russell Martin, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two seasons, agreed to terms with the Toronto Blue Jays on a reported five-year, $82MM. (Even Linda Blair’s head would stop spinning after hearing about that contract.)

Except for the ability to hit the long ball, Martin had struggled at the plate for four straight seasons (2010-2013) and with three teams – the LA Dodgers, New York Yankees, and the Pirates. Martin’s OPS during that stretch ranged from a low of .679 to a high of .732.

With free agency pending, Martin had his best season at the plate in six years. A .290/.402/.430 slash line helped him finish 13th in the National League MVP voting. Defense and pitch calling has never been an issue for Martin, who threw out 39% of would-be base-stealers, second only to his personal best of 40% in 2013. It was also well above his career mark of 32%.

It all sounds good, right? Someone coming off a season like that and will be 32 when the 2015 season begins, should get a good contract. Maybe three years, $36MM. If you want to go five years you pay him $60MM. Apparently Blue Jays ownership and GM Alex Anthopoulos thought otherwise.

The deal falls just a few million dollars short of the five-year, $85MM deal the Yankees gave Brian McCann prior to last season. I thought that deal was a bad one too when it was announced, as in too much money and too many years.  Once a catcher has passed 30, a five year contract is a big gamble.(McCann will be 31 when the 2015 season begins).

The Blue Jays know they have an opportunity to win the AL East or gain a wild card in 2015, and signing Martin was a smart move. An average salary in excess of $16MM makes no sense though. Blowing everyone out of the water to sign a player should only be done if you have a major shot at competing for the World Series and that player better be a damn good one.

Are the Blue Jays there? Let’s take a look at last year’s team and what the team is shaping up to be in 2015.

The Blue Jays offense is powered byright fielder Jose Bautista (35 HR, 103 RBI) and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (34 HR, 98 RBI) and set up by shortstop Jose Reyes (94 runs, 30 steals, .328 OBP).

Outfielder Melky Cabrera is likely to leave as a free agent and third baseman Brett Lawrie’s young career has been marred by injury and inconsistency.

The starting rotation is not one that jumps out you. 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey is the ace of the staff (14-13, 3.71 215.2 IP) and manager John Gibbons will be counting on second year hurler Marcus Stroman, who didn’t receive any AL Rookie of the Year votes despite an 11-6, 3.65 record and a four to one strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

The rest of last year’s rotation was mediocre. Veteran Mark Buehrle won nine of his 10 decisions and allowed less than two and one-half runs per game. But his ERA was closer to six in July and August and dropped eight of nine decisions after his tremendous start.

J.A. Happ and Drew Hutchinson were no better than .500 pitchers, though Hutchinson presents a much bigger upside than Happ and was a year removed from Tommy John surgery.)

Antropolous made a good low risk/possibly high reward move by sending first baseman Adam Lind to the Milwaukee Brewers for starter Marco Estrada. While the 30-year old didn’t have the best 2014 season, he’s worth a shot to compete for a rotation spot. The Blue Jays are also said to be looking to sign one of the bigger name free agents (e.g. Jon Lester).

The bullpen needs improvement as well. Closer Casey Janssen isn’t your prototypical closer – he recorded just 28 strikeouts in 45.2 innings pitched and is a free agent. While Janssen kept his walk total down, the remainder of the pen struggled with their control.

Youngster Aaron Sanchez looked solid in relief in September – he saved three games – but Antropolous wants him in the starting rotation next season. As for a set up man/lefty specialist, the Blue Jays are also thought to be interested in free agent Andrew Miller. The  reliever, who has averaged better than 14K’s per nine innings over the last four seasons, is said to be seeking closer money. Considering the money the Blue Jays gave Martin, it’s not out of the question for them to go overboard with a contract offer to Miller.

So what have we gleaned from this? The Blue Jays have a pretty nucleus and are looking to strengthen their weaknesses. Which means they probably should have spent money on the bigger fixes to the team before doling out money, crazy money at that, for a catcher.

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.