Toronto Blue Jays

Rumors Flying As Winter Meetings Approach

Headley

You would be fired up too if someone offered you more than $16MM a year.

Baseball’s Winter meetings will convene in San Diego this weekend…SoCal in December vs Northeast in December…sigh…’nuff said. A number of rumors concerning free agents and possible trades have been floated out there as the weekend approaches.

The latest is a reported (by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan) four-year, $65MM offer for free agent third baseman Chase Headley. No matter how much the owners complain, they still make ridiculous offers and this is certainly one. Headley, who has a fabulous glove, has not been productive at the plate since his one huge year that made baseball stand up and take notice.

Maybe it was fear that the Mayans would be right, but Headley hit in 2012 like his life depended on it. The Padres third baseman hit 31 home runs, had 115 RBI, and an .875 OPS. Numbers that Headley has not approached before or after 2012. Prior to his trade to the Yankees at this past season’s deadline, Headley had a .651 OPS in 77 games with San Diego. In 58 games for the Bronx Bombers, Headley had a respectable .768 OPS, but he was a non-factor in August before a hot streak in September gave him decent numbers, in a small sample (58 games), in pinstripes.

The Yankees made the mistake of giving Ichiro Suzuki a two year deal after one hot month in 2012. While Headley is much younger than the Ichiro, he has nowhere near the Hall of Fame career the Yankees gambled on when they gave Ichiro a new contract prior to the 2013 season. Headley seems like a good guy and flashes the leather with the best of them, but I would not be happy if that four-year, $65M deal was offered by a team I was a fan of.

Lester nearing a decision?

CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam reported on Wednesday that free agent pitcher Jon Lester was “likely” to make a decision on his future by the end of the week. Why McAdam felt that way remains to be seen – is this from a source or sources, or a hunch? – but there are reportedly four teams in on the bidding.

FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal stated Wednesday evening that the Los Angeles Dodgers were making a late, hard push for Lester’s services. The Chicago Cubs had reportedly made Lester a six-year, $138MM offer on Tuesday. The Boston Red Sox, who Lester played for in parts of nine seasons before his deadline deal to Oakland, and the San Francisco Giants are the other two teams trying to sign the lefty. (It’s still a mystery how the New York Yankees have not been involved since a relatively young left-handed pitcher is always a need in the Bronx.)

Speaking of the A’s, they are reportedly shopping Brandon Moss, who had offseason hip surgery. Moss, once touted as a prospect, floundered in the Major Leagues until he arrived in Oakland. He had 21 HR and 52 RBI in a little more than half a season in 2012 and followed that up with 30-87 and 25-81 the last two seasons as a first baseman and outfielder. He was selected to his first All-Star team in 2014.

In his second year of arbitration eligibility Moss would get a bump from the $4.1MM he earned last season. The kind of money that does not fits into GM Billy Beane’s budget.

Jays and Mariners Swap Players

The deal that took place Wednesday night between the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners flew under the radar, but could have a fairly significant impact on both teams. Seattle sent outfielder Michael Saunders to Toronto for left-handed starter J.A. Happ.

Saunders missed 1-1/2 months of baseball due to a strained oblique, which was unfortunate since he was arguably having his best season in the Majors. He finished with a career-best .791 OPS and had 8 HR and 34 RBI in 78 games. With Jose Bautista entrenched in right field, Saunders will slide over to left field to replace Melky Cabrera. GM Alex Anthopoulos made the move knowing that the Melkman preferred not to return to Toronto.

It’s the third time that Happ has been traded, with his value diminished in each deal. He was part of a package that the Philadelphia Phillies sent to the Houston Astros for Roy Oswalt at the 2010 trade deadline. He was part of a deadline deal again two years later, when Houston sent him, and pitchers Brandon Lyon and Dan Carpenter to Toronto for outfielder Ben Francisco, reliever Francisco Cordero, and five minor leaguers.

Happ made 26 starts and four relief appearances for the Blue Jays last season and finished with an 11-11, 4.22 record. He struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings, which was down nearly 1.5 strikeouts since 2012. Happ made just 18 starts in 2013 after being struck in the head by a comebacker off the bat of Tampa’s Desmond Jennings.

So if Happ is to start, who does he replace? Seattle’s rotation, prior to the deal, consisted of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and Roenis Elias. Paxton was limited to 17 starts – 13 with the Mariners, four in the minors – after undergoing left shoulder surgery in October, 2013, but he’s still highly thought of. There have been rumors that Seattle was shopping Iwakuma, but GM Jack Zduriencik flatly denied that was the case.

Taijuan Walker was the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 draft and is one of the top prospects in baseball. That leaves Elias, who was a surprise rookie success in 2014. In 29 starts, the Cuban-born right-hander struck out 7.6 hitters per nine innings pitched, gave up less than a hit per inning and put together a respectable 3.85 ERA. He finished 10-12 three years after the Mariners signed him as a free agent.

Advertisements

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.