Latest On Miles Mikolas

Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas began a Triple-A rehab assignment this week, and it seems likely he’ll make his 2021 major league debut soon. Mikolas said his last rehab start should be May 16 or 17, after which he figures to return to the majors, Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat tweets.

The Cardinals have gone the past year-plus without Mikolas, who missed 2020 as a result of a flexor tendon surgery and hasn’t pitched this season because of shoulder issues. Mikolas’ health woes have been rather unfortunate for the Cardinals, who haven’t gotten much bang for their buck on the four-year, $68MM extension they signed him to prior to the 2019 campaign. They gave Mikolas that deal on the heels of a tremendous 2018 season in which he logged a 2.83 ERA with an 18.1 percent strikeout rate and a 3.6 percent walk rate across 200 2/3 innings.

Of course, despite his recent injury problems, the Cardinals have received plenty of value from Mikolas since they lured him from Japan on a two-year, $15.5MM guarantee going into 2018. Mikolas owns a 3.46 ERA and a meager 3.9 percent walk rate across 384 2/3 frames with the Cardinals, so they’ll be glad to welcome him back.

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Angels Make Several Roster Moves

The Angels announced several roster moves Thursday: They selected the contracts of outfielder Jon Jay and catcher Jack Kruger, placed backstop Max Stassi (concussion) and right-hander Chris Rodriguez (shoulder inflammation) on the 10-day injured list, and reinstated righty Felix Pena from the IL.

More to come.

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Rockies’ Colton Welker Receives 80-Game Suspension

The Rockies announced Thursday that infielder Colton Welker has received an 80-game suspension without pay for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Welker tested positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, a banned substance, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post tweets.

Welker issued a statement in response to his suspension (via the MLBPA), saying in part: “I want to make it very clear that I have never willingly nor intentionally ingested any substance to enhance my athletic performance. Given the information provided to me by the Players Association and laboratory, the amount detected was so minimal that it would have no effect on enhancing my performance. I understand that a number of other players, like me, have tested positive for this metabolite at microscopic levels, and I intend to join them in seeking answers as to how this is happening in order to clear my name.”

A fourth-round pick of the Rockies in 2016, Welker has slashed .313/.364/.469 with 34 home runs in 1,409 plate appearances during his minor league career. The 23-year-old hasn’t played above Double-A ball, but he was set to open 2021 in Triple-A prior to receiving this suspension. Baseball America and FanGraphs are among the outlets that consider Welker one of the Rockies’ top 10 prospects, with the latter’s Eric Longenhagen writing that he could evolve into a “role-playing corner bat but the power/defensive spectrum shortcomings leave him short of a more regular role.”

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Dodgers Activate Joe Kelly, Place Scott Alexander On 10-Day IL

The Dodgers have activated right-handed reliever Joe Kelly and placed lefty Scott Alexander on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to May 3) with inflammation in his pitching shoulder, Juan Toribio of MLB.com tweets.

Kelly, who’s in the final season of a three-year, $25MM guarantee, hasn’t pitched at all in 2020 on account of ongoing shoulder problems. Those issues played a role in limiting Kelly to 10 innings last season, and he revealed last week that he underwent surgery in November. When healthy, the hard-throwing 32-year-old has given the Dodgers 61 1/3 innings of 4.11 ERA ball with a 26.5 percent strikeout rate, a 10.5 percent walk rate and a stellar 60.6 percent groundball rate.

The addition of Kelly is a step forward for Los Angeles, but the loss of Alexander represents a step in the wrong direction for the reigning World Series champions. Alexander has been one of the Dodgers’ most effective relievers this year, having recorded a 2.31 ERA in 11 2/3 frames. While Alexander has only totaled five strikeouts, he has offset that by allowing one walk, and the 31-year-old has induced grounders at a 63.2 percent clip.

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Red Sox Sign Brandon Workman To Minor League Deal

The Red Sox have signed reliever Brandon Workman to a minor league contract, Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com was among those to report. The right-hander will head to Triple-A Worcester.

There is plenty of familiarity between the Red Sox and the 32-year-old Workman, whom the team chose in the second round of the 2010 draft. Workman made his major league debut in 2013, the beginning of a solid run out of Boston’s bullpen that lasted through 2020. But Workman’s production nosedived when the Red Sox traded him to the Phillies last summer, and he continued to struggle at the beginning of this year with the Cubs. Consequently, Chicago – which signed Workman to a $1MM guarantee in free agency – designated him for assignment a week ago.

For first-place Boston, there’s no harm in taking a minor league chance on Workman, who has enjoyed a solid career despite his recent problems. Workman owns a useful 3.96 ERA/3.87 SIERA with a 25 percent strikeout rate and a 10.9 percent walk rate across 309 major league innings, including 70-plus frames in two different seasons.

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Hernan Perez Elects Free Agency

Veteran infielder/outfielder Hernan Perez went unclaimed on waivers following his recent DFA, the Nationals announced Thursday. Perez rejected an outright assignment to Triple-A and has instead elected free agency. He’s now eligible to sign with any club.

The 30-year-old Perez went just 1-for-19 with a pair of walks in his brief time with the Nationals organization this year and was 1-for-6 in a brief look with the Cubs in 2020. However, he was a frequently used and utilityman with the Brewers from 2016-19, batting a combined .257/.289/.406 with 44 long balls and 63 steals through 482 games (1468 plate appearances).

Perez’s best season came with the ’16 Brewers, when he slugged 13 homers and stole 34 bases. He followed that up with a career-high 14 home runs and 13 steals the following year, but Perez’s average and OBP tumbled in subsequent seasons.

In parts of 10 Major League seasons, Perez is a .250/.280/.382 hitter who has experience at all four infield positions and all three outfield positions. He’s even tallied 9 1/3 innings of mop-up work on the mound, pitching relatively respectably for a position player: six runs on 11 hits and four walks with five strikeouts (5.79 ERA).

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Angels Designate Albert Pujols For Assignment

1:05pm: The Angels formally announced that Pujols has been designated for assignment. The DFA is largely a formality, as Pujols and the remainder of his $30MM salary will go unclaimed on waivers. It’s possible the Halos could work out some kind of trade where they effectively eat all of that remaining salary, but a release is most likely.

“The Angels organization proudly signed Albert Pujols in 2011, and are honored that he was worn an Angels jersey for nearly half of his Hall-of-Fame career,” owner Arte Moreno said in a statement announcing the move. “Albert’s historical accomplishments, both on and off the field, serve as an inspiration to athletes everywhere, and his actions define what it means to be a true Superstar. Since his Rookie of the Year season in 2001, Albert and his wife Deidre have generously given their time and resources to countless charities throughout the world. We are thankful to the entire Pujols Family.”

12:51pm: The Angels will release first baseman/designated hitter Albert Pujols today, reports MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter). He’s in the final season of his historic 10-year contract.

It’s a shocking end to one of the largest contracts in Major League history, although from a pure performance standpoint, it’s hard to fault the move. The 41-year-old Pujols has connected on five homers in 2021 but is batting just .198/.250/.372 overall. He’s drawn only two unintentional walks in his 92 trips to the plate this season. The results in 2020 were similarly disappointing, and Pujols has an overall .214/.263/.387 line across his past 255 plate appearances.

Pujols’ fit on the Angels has become increasingly difficult, given Shohei Ohtani’s flat-out excellence at the plate and the emergence of slugger Jared Walsh. The 26-year-old Ohtani is batting .264/.316/.623 with nine home runs through 114 plate appearances. Walsh, a former 37th-round pick, has built upon last year’s surprise production with a ridiculous .333/.412/.576 line in 114 plate appearances, bringing his overall output dating back to last year to a robust .313/.369/.611 in 222 plate appearances.

Even with Pujols forced into action at first base, this is a stunning development. Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times reports that Pujols was unhappy not only with the fact that he was benched against Rays lefty Ryan Yarbrough last night — against whom he is 6-for-9 with a pair of homers in his career — but that the decision to sit him was made by the front office rather than by manager Joe Maddon. The extent to which that purported frustration contributed to today’s move isn’t clear.

More to come.

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Which Contract Year Players Are Performing The Best?

You’ve seen our 2021-22 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings, but which contract year players are actually performing the best at this point in the young season?  These are the top 2021-22 free agents ranked by FanGraphs WAR.  Note: I’m using Baseball-Reference’s excellent Span Finder frequently in this post.  For the full list of 2021-22 MLB free agents, click here.

Hitters

  • Kris Bryant – 1.8 WAR, 180 wRC+ in 124 PA.  As good as Bryant has been, this level of production has plenty of precedent for him.  He’s hit more than eight home runs in a 29-game span many times, including 12 in a stretch in 2019.  It’s not going to be hard to make a case for a huge free agent contract for the 29-year-old Bryant, who may be traded by the Cubs in July.
  • J.D. Martinez – 1.8 WAR, 215 wRC+ in 126 PA.  Like Bryant, the odd 2020 season is the only recent blip in Martinez’s career.  As Boston’s DH continues to light up Statcast, the question becomes whether he should opt out of the remaining $19.375MM on his contract for 2022, which will represent his age-34 season.  The universal DH would help.
  • Buster Posey – 1.4 WAR, 218 wRC+ in 78 PA.  The last time Posey hit seven home runs in 20 games?  Late in the 2014 season, when he finished sixth in the MVP voting.  He hit seven home runs in 114 games in his previous season in 2019.  Clearly, a year off did the 34-year-old Posey good.  A multiyear deal is materializing for the Giants legend.
  • Nick Castellanos – 1.4 WAR, 166 wRC+ in 114 PA.  Castellanos’ early mashing this year is reminiscent of his brief stint with the Cubs, in which he posted a 154 wRC+ in 225 PA.  If he keeps it up, the 29-year-old right fielder might find it easy to opt out of the remaining two years and $34MM left on his contract with the Reds after this season.
  • Starling Marte – 1.0 WAR, 151 wRC+ in 70 PA.  Things were looking up for Marte until he fractured a rib a couple weeks ago, potentially knocking him out until June.  Assuming a healthy return, trade partners will begin knocking on the Marlins’ door at that point.
  • Other impending free agents playing well in the early going: Yadier Molina, Nelson Cruz, Chris Taylor, Josh Harrison, and Corey Dickerson.

Pitchers

  • Clayton Kershaw – 1.3 WAR, 2.95 ERA in 39 2/3 innings.  Even after a clunker Tuesday against the Cubs, Kershaw leads free agent pitchers in WAR.  Is there any way he’d leave the Dodgers heading into his age-34 season?  Max Scherzer is another elder statesman future Hall of Fame pitcher who is off to an excellent start in his contract year.
  • Matt Barnes – 1.0 WAR, 2.12 ERA in 17 innings.  Generally known for high walk rates, Barnes has posted an excellent 5.1 BB% so far this year.  He’s actually had bouts of strong control before, with similar stretches in 2016 and ’17.  He’s also whiffed a phenomenal 49.2% of batters in 2021.  Barnes got off to a great start in 2019 as well, punching out half the batters he faced and walking only 6% over his first 16 games.  He’d go on to walk more than 15% of batters over the remainder of that season.  The point is that Barnes’ start could hardly be better, but these 17 innings do not prove he’s become a completely different pitcher.  At any rate, he’s positioned for one of the better contracts for free agent relievers.  Mark Melancon, Craig Kimbrel, Kendall Graveman, and Ian Kennedy are also getting it done in the early going.
  • Danny Duffy – 1.0 WAR, 0.60 ERA in 30 innings.  Duffy’s velocity is the highest it’s been since 2016.  His peripherals are strong, though he does owe some of his success to a .247 batting average on balls in play and a 6.1% home run per flyball rate.  As you might expect, this has been the best five-start stretch of Duffy’s entire 197-start career.  Duffy, 32, once tweeted, “Bury me a Royal” in response to December 2017 trade rumors.  So you’d think the Royals will find a way to work out a new deal with him.
  • Lance Lynn – 0.9 WAR, 1.82 ERA in 24 2/3 innings.  Lynn missed a couple weeks with a trapezius strain, but before that he whiffed 21 batters against zero walks in a pair of starts.  Lynn turns 34 next week, but if he remains healthy for the rest of the season he’s setting up for at least a three-year deal.
  • Carlos Rodon – 0.9 WAR, 0.72 ERA in 25 innings.  Lynn’s rotation-mate with the White Sox has been one of the offseason’s best signings at just $3MM.  He tossed a no-hitter against the Indians and has given up only two runs all year.  Among those with at least 20 innings, Rodon ranks eighth in baseball with a 37.9 K%.  He’d never previously whiffed batters at this rate over any prior four-start stretch.  Rodon’s 94.9 mile per hour average velocity is the best of his career, and he won’t turn 29 until December.  With a clean bill of health, Rodon could be one of the winter’s most intriguing free agent starting pitchers.
  • Kevin Gausman – 0.8 WAR, 2.04 ERA in 39 2/3 innings.  Gausman, 30, is underlining the fact that his excellent 2020 season for the Giants was no fluke.  In the era of five-inning starts, Gausman ranks fifth in MLB at 6.53 per outing.  Like Lynn, he’ll come free of a qualifying offer.
  • Anthony DeSclafani – 0.8 WAR, 2.00 ERA in 36 innings.  Of the six pitchers who have made starts for the Giants so far this year, five of them will be free agents after the season.  Four of them have an ERA of 2.04 or lower.  The Giants appear to have another successful reclamation project on their hands in DeSclafani.
  • Several other impending free agent starters currently sport a sub-3.00 ERA: Johnny Cueto, J.A. Happ, Alex Wood, Marcus Stroman, Michael Pineda, Trevor Bauer, and Wade Miley.

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Braves Sign Tyler Flowers To Minor League Deal

The Braves have re-signed veteran catcher Tyler Flowers to a minor league contract, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter). The O’Connell Sports client will head to Triple-A Gwinnett for the time being.

O’Brien reported last month that Flowers had taken a non-playing role in the Braves organization, helping to blend data from the team’s analytics department with game preparation. The door for a potential return was seemingly left open, and the recent injuries to Travis d’Arnaud and Alex Jackson have brought about a more acute need. The Braves recently selected the contract of light-hitting but defensively sound veteran Jeff Mathis, and for now he’s being paired with prospect William Contreras behind the dish.

Flowers, 35, hit just .217/.325/.348 in a tiny sample of 80 plate appearances with the Braves last year. He racked up 1300 plate appearances from 2016-19, however, hitting at a .254/.350/.412 clip along the way. Flowers was one of the early focuses of the game’s increasing interest in pitch framing, as he’s long rated among the game’s best at getting borderline pitches called for his staff.

It’s not clear at this time whether the Braves will get d’Arnaud back in 2021. He’s slated to undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in the thumb on his catching hand, and while the Braves are hopeful he’ll be available late in the year, no official timeline has been provided.

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Mets Select Tommy Hunter, Transfer Carlos Carrasco To 60-Day IL

The Mets announced Thursday that they’ve selected right-hander Tommy Hunter’s contract from Triple-A Syracuse and opened a spot on the 40-man roster by moving Carlos Carrasco from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL. Righty Jordan Yamamoto was optioned to Syracuse to open a spot on the 26-man roster.

Carrasco has yet to pitch for the Mets this season due to a hamstring strain. His move to the 60-day IL means he’ll need to spend a total of 60 days there — not 60 days starting today. Factoring in the month-plus he’s already spent on the IL, this is largely a procedural move, as he’s yet to even formally embark on a minor league rehab assignment. He’ll now be required to be shelved through most of this month, but assuming he’d need multiple rehab starts, he wouldn’t have been available until mid-month at the absolute earliest.

The 34-year-old Hunter opened the year in Syracuse after inking a minor league pact with the Mets. He’s no stranger to the NL East, having spent the past three seasons with the Phillies organization and pitching to a combined 3.64 ERA in 94 innings of work.

Hunter had a rocky run as a starter early in his career, but since moving to the bullpen on a full-time basis back in 2013, he’s been a consistently solid reliever. In 394 innings out of the bullpen since that time, he’s logged a 3.24 ERA while striking out 20.7 percent of opponents against a tiny 5.2 percent walk rate. He’ll give the Mets yet another experienced arm to add to a late-inning mix that includes veterans Edwin Diaz, Trevor May, Miguel Castro, Aaron Loup and Jeurys Familia.

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