Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr. Expected To Sign With Marlins

Cuban prospect Victor Victor Mesa and brother Victor Mesa Jr. are expected to sign with the Marlins at some point in the next few days, according to Jorge Ebro of the El Nuevo Herald.  The news is certainly not official yet, but an unnamed source claims the brothers have passed physicals and will be introduced ’imminently’ at Marlins Park.

More to come . . .

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NL Notes: Marlins, Machado, Rockies

MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro tweeted today that the Marlins have announced a press conference for Monday at Marlins Park. No news yet as to the specifics, but with Derek Jeter and President of Baseball Ops Michael Hill planned to be in attendance, speculation is there will be news regarding the Mesa brothers. Still, it’s only speculation as of now, and we’ll have to wait for tomorrow’s press conference to confirm the specifics. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, a couple of other notes…

  • Fancred’s Jon Heyman talks to executives around the league about Manny Machado’s upcoming free agency and whether or not his recent antics will adversely affect his earning potential. Machado’s recent character issues trouble many around the league, but his on-field talent continues to speak for itself. One executive suggests the Phillies may be the only team willing to give Machado the monster payday many have expected, but at this stage any specific prediction remains speculative. People close to Machado have suggested he wants to return to the East Coast – specifically the Yankees – but it remains to be seen how exactly the market will shape up for the talented infielder.
  • Kyle Newman of the Denver Post suggests the Rockies could push right-handers Yency Almonte and DJ Johnson into bigger roles next season. Newman presuppose the departures of  Seunghwan Oh, back to Korea, and Adam Ottavino to free agency, but they’re interesting names to dig into regardless. Baseball America listed the 6’3” Almonte as the 8th best prospect in the Rockies system last season prior to his debut in June, while Johnson is an undrafted 29-year-old rookie having spent time in four organizations. Almonte was a starter in the minors, but a 97-98 mph fastball and power slider certainly play well late in games if that’s how the Rockies choose to deploy him. Johnson’s stuff isn’t as overpowering, but he nevertheless produced a gaudy 13.66 K/9 while pitching in Triple-A this season. That nearly doubles his strikeout rate of the previous two seasons, but he kept it up across 6.1 innings as a September callup (12.79 K/9). Neither Almonte nor Johnson are locks to take on major roles in the Rockies bullpen, but especially in a bullpen with quite a few overpriced, underperforming veterans already on the books, they represent valuable low-cost options that manager Bud Black may turn to in 2019.

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Jose Altuve Undergoes Knee Surgery

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve underwent surgery on his right knee Friday, Mark Berman of Fox26 and MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported (Twitter links).

McTaggart pointed out yesterday that the 2017 AL MVP played through knee pain throughout the second half of this season. Still, the exact diagnosis has not yet been revealed by either Altuve or the team, and the Astros have yet to confirm the surgery. As of right now, Altuve is expected to make a full recovery in time for Spring Training.

Altuve was the DH for the final three games of the ALCS against Boston, but manager AJ Hinch said the injury would have sent Altuve to the disabled list had it been the regular season. Presumably, the knee worsened as the year wore on. Altuve originally injured the knee while sliding into second base in a game against Colorado all the way back in July.

Before the injury, Altuve hit .329/.392/.464, whereas after the injury he hit .276/.366/.409. Nevertheless, the three-time AL batting champ still finished the season with an overall slash line of .315/.384/.449 and 134 wRC+.

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AL Notes: Verlander, McCullers Jr., Orioles

Justin Verlander doesn’t plan on shutting it down any time soon, it seems. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle quotes Verlander in a tweet: “I’m going to play until the wheels fall off.” In 2018, Verlander surpassed 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for the third straight season while accumulating 6.8 fWAR and achieving a career-best 3.03 xFIP. In other words, the wheels are secure. Verlander’s current deal runs one more season in Houston at $28MM, after which he will become a free agent in advance of his age-37 season. 

More from around the American League…

  • In another quote posted by Rome (via Twitter), starter Lance McCullers Jr. suggests that he and the Astros will be examining the state of his current health in the next couple of weeks. With rumblings about his arm health, McCullers addressed a potential injury by admitting that he’s “been pitching through some stuff.” The 25-year-old McCullers has never started more than 22 games in a season, but nevertheless he’s been a valuable swingman for Houston’s recent playoff runs, starting three postseason games while pitching in relief seven times over the past two Octobers. McCullers is arbitration eligible for the second time this offseason, though as a Super Two player, he is not due to be a free agent until after the 2021 season.
  • It’s not the sexiest of front office work, but the Orioles face a significant challenge in shaping their 40-man roster in advance of the Nov. 30 non-tender deadline. Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com notes (via Twitter) that the 40-man roster, currently full, will require some finagling to open a minimum of four spots for pitchers Dillon Tate, Luis Gonzalez, Branden Kline, and catcher Martin Cervenka. Additionally, there are five other players currently on the O’s 60-day DL who will need to be added back to the 40-man if Baltimore wants to keep them. Those players – Richard Bleier, Pedro Araujo, Gabriel Ynoa, Mark Trumbo, and Austin Hays – figure to make the roster, with Ynoa being the most likely of the group to be let go. One spot should open when Adam Jones files for free agency, but that still leaves eight players Baltimore will need to non-tender, trade, or waive prior to December’s Rule 5 draft.

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MLBTR Poll: Should Rockies Issue DJ LeMahieu A Qualifying Offer?

The Rockies hold the distinction of making arguably the single most aggressive deployment of the qualifying offer. Back in 2014, they extended one to aging corner outfielder Michael Cuddyer after an injury-limited season. Perhaps even more surprisingly, he declined it — a QO wouldn’t be accepted by anyone until the following offseason — and not long thereafter signed with the Mets, leaving the Rox with a first-round pick for their troubles.

These days, teams are generally less willing to go out on a limb with the QO. For one thing, we’ve seen several players decide they’d rather take the sure payday for one season of work than roll the dice on landing a big, multi-year deal. For another, teams have less to gain for their risk under the modified QO rules.

So, where does that leave the Rockies and free-agent-to-be DJ LeMahieu? The 30-year-old has been a steady presence for the Colorado organization, holding down the second base job on a regular basis for the past five seasons.

Defense has always been the calling card for LeMahieu. He has at times graded as one of the best defenders in the sport. And he did so again in 2018, with both DRS and UZR boosting his scores after three years of merely above-average ratings.

While he has produced at about ten percent below league average with the bat in three of the past four seasons, the outlying campaign (2016) saw LeMahieu post a stellar .348/.416/.495 slash. And he was able to drive a career-high 15 balls out of the yard in 2018.

Though his walk rate fell a bit, and LeMahieu ended with only a .321 OBP, it’s worth noting that he managed only a .298 batting average on balls in play. That’d be normal for most players, but DJLM has a long history of carrying much higher numbers. In the majors, his career BABIP is .343. This does seem tied to his dinger boost, as LeMahieu hit far more flyballs (29.5%) than ever before. It’s fair to wonder, then, whether LeMahieu will ever be able to deliver much power while also delivering his core skill — an abundance of solid contact and a lofty batting average — at the plate.

All things considered, it’s not as if LeMahieu doesn’t have his strengths on offense. He’s fourth in all of baseball in batting average over the past four seasons, after all. And the glove is good enough to support him regardless. If you believe UZR, he’s a 2-win player who topped out at 4.4 fWAR in 2016. By measure of DRS-applying rWAR, however, LeMahieu is more a 3-win annual performer who has topped five WAR at his peak.

The Rockies do have some options to fill in. Garrett Hampson has always hit in the minors and had a nice first taste of the majors in 2018. Ryan McMahon has struggled in the bigs but could also be a factor. And top prospect Brendan Rodgers is nearing MLB readiness even as Trevor Story blocks him at shortstop.

Of course, there are loads of second basemen to be found on the market. That hurts LeMahieu’s outlook and makes it likelier he’d accept. Paying him $17.9MM for a single season may be reasonable, in theory, but it’d also severely constrain the club as it seeks other improvements. While the Rockies could land a first-round pick if he rejects it, that’d only occur if LeMahieu secures at least a $50MM contract.

As ever, the decision boils down to what the Rockies believe LeMahieu thinks of his market. If the team expects he’ll reject the QO, issuing it is a no-brainer. If that’s unclear, the question becomes whether the team finds it palatable to imagine him accepting.

There are a lot of factors, but ultimately it’s a yes/no proposition whether to extend the qualifying offer. What do you think the Rockies ought to do? (Poll link for app users.)

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2018-19 Market Snapshot: Left-Handed Relievers

This is the latest installment in our Market Snapshot series. We have now completed our run-down of position players, so we’ll turn to the pitching staff — beginning with left-handed relievers.

Teams In Need

There figures to be plenty of demand for lefty relief help. The Astros, Cubs, Mariners, Mets, Phillies, Red Sox, Rockies, and Yankees each could clearly stand to improve in that area. The Braves, Cardinals, and Nationals have some options but could be intrigued by the possibility of adding a high-quality set-up southpaw. You could perhaps argue the same for the Dodgers, though they have quite a volume of possibilities in house. Numerous clubs other could stand to add additional lefties, including the Pirates and Twins, but don’t seem quite as likely to spend big money to do so.

Free Agents

High-leverage arms: Zach Britton and Andrew Miller are the big names here, though both have had plenty of injury questions and neither was in top form in 2018. The former is more youthful (30) and still racks up ridiculous numbers of groundballs, though his combination of 7.5 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9 hardly inspired and his sinker velo is down. Miller, 33, still gets the K’s (11.9 per nine) but has seen his swinging-strike rate move southward (13.2%) along with his own average fastball speed (93.6).

Middle relievers: Justin Wilson still can’t find his command, allowing 5.43 walks per nine for the second-straight campaign, but he’s also still hard to square up. Tony Sipp got as many good bounces in 2018 as he did bad bounces in the season prior. All told, he showed quite well but is already 35 years of age. Oliver Perez, who is two years Sipp’s senior, had an even more stunning bounceback campaign that featured a career-high 14.2% swinging-strike rate. Zach Duke, Jake Diekman, and Aaron Loup all underperformed their peripherals and seem likely to draw interest. It was the opposite situation for Jorge De La Rosa, though he still figures to land somewhere after a useful campaign. Speaking of potential converted starters, Jaime Garcia struggled badly in the rotation but produced a 3.54 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .181/.280/.278 batting line in 20 1/3 innings as a reliever. Jerry Blevins had a poor platform season, but he’s a bounceback candidate.

Depth: Tim Collins, Danny Coulombe, Boone Logan, Tyler Lyons, Tommy MiloneHector Santiago

Trade Candidates

High-leverage arms: If the Giants decide to cash in some assets, Will Smith and Tony Watson look to be highly appealing pieces after both turned in excellent 2018 efforts. The Twins could perhaps consider selling high on Taylor Rogers if there’s an opportunity to get value on this market, though they have good reason to stand pat as well. He has plenty of value to the Rays, but Jose Alvarado could draw big offers after an eye-opening sophomore campaign.

Middle relievers: Richard Bleier could be a fascinating chip for the O’s, but he’ll first need to recover from a serious lat injury. Andrew Chafin and T.J. McFarland will draw interest if the Diamondbacks decide to throw in the towel on 2019. Rangers groundball/command artist Alex Claudio could hold some appeal despite a down 2018 showing in the results department. Marlins southpaw Adam Conley showed some spark at times in a relief role.

A variety of potentially useful pitchers could come available from contenders, either via trade or free agency, if those clubs decide they don’t really want to commit a roster spot and pay them what they’ll likely command in arbitration. Vidal Nuno (Rays), Sam Freeman & Jonny Venters (Braves), Xavier Cedeno & Dan Jennings (Brewers), Sammy Solis (Nationals), Luis Avilan & Adam Morgan (Phillies), and Chris Rusin (Rockies) are all possibilities. It’ll be interesting to see what the Dodgers decide to do with Tony Cingrani, who missed a lot of time and carried a 4.76 ERA but also sported an impressive combination of 14.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. (The smart money is probably on him being tendered and kept in Los Angeles.)

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Joe Girardi Withdraws From Reds’ Managerial Search

Joe Girardi has withdrawn from the Reds’ managerial search, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). He had the inside track on the job, per the report, but will instead continue working as a television analyst for the time being.

It is not clear at this point how the Reds will adjust to the news. The organization was said to have narrowed down its search to three candidates, with David Bell and Brad Ausmus also reported as finalists.

Girardi, who previously managed the Yankees and Marlins, is still interested in returning to the dugout in the future, per Rosenthal.

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Joe Musgrove Undergoes Abdominal Surgery

The Pirates announced today that righty Joe Musgrove has undergone surgery to address the abdominal issue that bothered him late in the 2018 season. He is expected to be “on or close to a regular schedule” for the coming spring.

Musgrove’s campaign came to an early close owing to a pelvic bone stress reaction and abdominal wall strain. At the time, the decision was made to allow him six weeks of rest before the situation would be reassessed.

A recent medical evaluation showed “less than the desired amount of clinical healing,” per the Bucs’ announcement. Accordingly, a surgical course was recommended.

Clearly, the hope had been to avoid this procedure, though it seems there’s still optimism that it won’t create any near or long-term problems for the 25-year-old. While his season debut was delayed due to shoulder problems, Musgrove ended up turning in 115 1/3 innings of 4.06 ERA pitching — quality results that may still have lagged his true effectiveness (3.59 FIP, 3.92 xFIP, 3.93 SIERA).

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AL Central Notes: Twins, Greiner, McCann, Indians, White Sox

While the hires of chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine brought a more analytical approach to the Twins’ roster construction process, Minnesota is also overhauling its strength & conditioning and sports medicine staffs to make greater use of data and analytics, as Dan Hayes of The Athletic explores in a fascinating look at the changes to the department (subscription link). “We’ve added some analytical resources to our performance staff,” director of baseball operations Daniel Adler tells Hayes. “…We’re learning where we can trust the data, where it’s good, where it’s not as good. … Who knows if in 10 years teams may have medical-focused R&D departments that are as large as entire R&D departments are today. I don’t know. But it’s not crazy to imagine that.” The Twins have done extensive research on giving players proactive rest and implemented programs surrounding that effort. Minnesota’s R&D staff is also examining the manner in which elements such as indoor vs. outdoor batting practice, early infield work and other training activities impact a player’s ability to recover.

The newer initiatives help to explain some of the turnover on the Twins’ minor league staff in recent years, as Falvey emphasized to Hayes the importance of making sure the minor league coaches, player development staff and the rest of the front office all share a similar vision and philosophy. Once the team has hired a new skipper to replace Paul Molitor, they’ll also hire a new director of player performance to help oversee all of these areas, per Hayes.

Here’s more out of the division…

  • Tigers catcher Grayson Greiner has been diagnosed with a bone chip in his right wrist and will undergo surgery to remove it next week, the team announced. While the injury shouldn’t impact his availability for Spring Training, it likely gives the team added incentive to retain arbitration-eligible catcher James McCann, writes Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press — even on the heels of a sub-par season at the plate. The 28-year-old McCann hit a career-worst .220/.267/.314 in a career-high 457 plate appearances this past season, but GM Al Avila ad others in the organization still believe there’s more potential in his bat, Fenech notes. While McCann’s trade value is at a low point, the Tigers likely still see some value in retaining him to work with a young pitching staff. MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projects a $3.5MM salary for McCann next season.
  • MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian fields a number of offseason-related questions in his latest Indians mailbag column, most notably exploring Danny Salazar’s role with the team in 2019. Salazar missed the 2018 campaign due to shoulder surgery and would require a $5MM commitment via arbitration this offseason, but with both Cody Allen and Andrew Miller perhaps departing via free agency, he could be an intriguing bullpen candidate next year. The Indians plan to bring Salazar and righty Cody Anderson to camp as starters, per Bastian, though either could be shifted to a relief role. The Cleveland rotation, after all, looks largely set with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber all in the fold, though certainly an injury could change that mix. Bastian also looks at some other impending free agents, speculating that Michael Brantley could well receive a $17.9MM qualifying offer.
  • Right-hander Nate Jones tells Scott Merkin of MLB.com that he hopes to remain with the White Sox despite the team’s rebuilding status and several injury-shortened seasons. The ChiSox have a $4.65MM club option on Jones that comes with a $1.25MM buyout, making the overall $3.4MM decision on his services seem relatively straightforward. Jones, 32, has long been a quality bullpen piece, though injuries have held him to 41 2/3 innings over the past two seasons. Still, given the modest price tag and the upside, he seems plenty worth keeping around, if for no other reason than he has a second club option for the 2020 season and would be an undeniably appealing trade asset next summer if he can avoid the disabled list. The White Sox figure to be in the market for veteran additions to the relief corps this offseason anyhow, Merkin adds.

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Morton Plans To Continue Playing, Would “Love” To Return To Astros

If there was any doubt as to whether Charlie Morton would continue his playing career following comments in which he openly pondered retirement, the right-hander indicated last night that he hopes to return for a 12th big league season at the very least (Twitter link via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). “I’d love to keep playing,” Morton said after last night’s game. “I’d love to be an Astro. I’d love to be a part of this again. Ultimately, it’s not really up to me. It’s not solely up to me.”

Morton’s most recent indications were that, so long as he didn’t suffer any notable injury in the season’s final month, “chances are” he’d continue his career. His intentions seem all the clearer now. Set to turn 35 next month, Morton has previously indicated that he’ll be selective about the team with which he signs and has emphasized that if he were to continue pitching, the Astros are his ideal fit. Thursday night’s comments seem to double down on that line of thinking. If a return doesn’t come together for whatever reason, Morton indicated earlier this year that proximity to his wife’s family in Delaware could be an important geographic factor should he look at offers from other teams.

It seems all but certain that the Astros will issue a $17.9MM qualifying offer to Morton, so speculatively speaking, perhaps that’ll be a simple avenue for him to return to Houston in 2019. However, there’s little doubt that if he wanted to seek maximum value in free agency, Morton could trounce that figure on the heels of a pair of eye-opening campaigns with the ’Stros. Morton has made 55 starts for Houston across the past two seasons, pitching to a pristine 3.36 ERA with 10.4 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9 and a 49.6 percent ground-ball rate. At this point, he’s probably among baseball’s 25 to 30 best starting pitchers — an ascension that seems rapid and out of the blue but is no more sudden than the surge that netted a 37-year-old Rich Hill a three-year deal in free agency two offseasons ago.

It’s not clear exactly how long Morton wishes to continue his career, and the right-hander himself may not even truly know the answer to that question at this time. But it’d be a surprise if he didn’t receive a qualifying offer, and if chooses to explore the open market rather than agree to a quick return to Houston, it’s at least plausible that he could more than double the $40.7MM he’s made in his career on his next contract. One way or the other, he’s about to cash in on a massive raise from the modest two-year, $14MM deal that initially brought him to Houston.

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