Heyman’s Latest: LoMo, Braves, Moustakas, White Sox, CarGo, Lynn, Arrieta

There’s enough talent left on the free-agent market — including seven of the top twenty players on MLBTR’s list of the top 50 free agents — that the overall assessment of spending could yet be swayed by contracts that have yet to be reached. (As always, you can review the action to this point in our 2017-18 MLB Free Agent Tracker.) As we wait for the final data points to be registered, it’s worth considering this recent piece from The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh regarding the debate over player spending in comparison to revenue (as well as this earlier AP examination of spending and revenue from the spring of 2016). Calculating the players’ slice of the pie — and the size of the pie itself — is certainly a nuanced undertaking, and one for which complete public data is lacking.

The markedly sluggish timing of this year’s market, of course, is something that has already been established quite clearly. With an unprecedented number of top players still awaiting new deals as Spring Training opens, let’s take a look at a few of the most notable bits of information from Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (from his latest notes column, unless otherwise noted):

  • At least as of a few days back, says Heyman, first baseman Logan Morrison was not sitting on any open offers. While LoMo’s representatives surely have an idea of what might be available, it’s rather notable that no organizations seem to be making a concerted effort to draw him. MLBTR’s Connor Byrne recently argued in favor of Morrison as a worthy free-agent target, but it certainly isn’t doing him any favors that the market still holds a few other quality slugger types. Still, Morrison’s excellent recent work at the plate would unquestionably hold out the promise of real improvement for a variety of organizations.
  • There’s still no evidence that the Braves are particularly likely to agree to terms with third baseman Mike Moustakas, but Heyman says there has been some amount of engagement — even if “there’s no common ground” to this point. The Atlanta organization, which Heyman says even considered Lorenzo Cain at one point, may have reduced 2018 flexibility after a salary swapping deal with the Dodgers moved some obligations forward. But it seems the team is still at least hunting around for interesting possibilities. As for Moustakas, Heyman notes he has “plenty of one-year opportunities,” but it’s not clear at this point whether a significant multi-year deal will be forthcoming. That’s surely disappointing after he turned in a strong 2017 season, though it is not atypical for some quality players to run into problematic market circumstances.
  • The White Sox have been linked, albeit loosely, to Moustakas, and it still seems as if the Chicago organization could have some tricks up its sleeves. While the focus, no doubt, remains on the future, the club is going to have some solid veterans and high-end young talents on the roster for the coming season. With just over $70MM on the books for 2018, perhaps the organization could yet pursue some one-year or multi-year deals that would hold out the promise of delivering excess value. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is a “possibility” for the South Siders, per Heyman. It stands to reason that the Sox might hold added appeal to players such as Gonzalez if they are willing to offer more playing time than might be available elsewhere.
  • With several starters locking in solid rates of pay of late, and the bullpen market heating up earlier in the offseason, pitchers seem generally to have had an easier go of things on this winter’s wacky market. Heyman writes that veteran righty Lance Lynn has not been forced to significantly drop his asking price. Indications are that the Twins, per the report, “seem to prefer” Lynn to other still-available starters. Heyman further reports that Jake Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, still seems to believe that Arrieta compares more reasonably with pitchers who have landed mega-deals than he does with the recently inked Yu Darvish, who received a $126MM guarantee. Of course, we’re still waiting to see how those and a few other top open-market pitchers will end up doing when all is said and done.

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NL Central Notes: Dickerson, Reds, Senzel, Braun

Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested today that he expects new acquisition Corey Dickerson to handle the bulk of the action in left field for he coming season, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry report on Twitter. No doubt the Bucs will end up giving Dickerson some time off against lefties; while he performed well against southpaws last year, he has long carried wide platoon splits. But it seems the plan is to give him an opportunity to function as something approaching an everyday player, with the Pittsburgh organization evidently willing to stomach the less-than-stellar glovework Dickerson is reputed to deliver. Perhaps the biggest question will be whether the powerful 28-year-old can overcome an interesting problem identified by Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs in a piece today: a tendency to swing and miss at four-seam fastballs.

More from the NL Central:

  • Upon his arrival in camp, Reds star Joey Votto made clear he hopes the team can begin pushing toward consistent contention, as Gary Schatz writes in the Dayton Daily News. Votto’s stellar 2017 season was not enough to keep the club out of the NL Central cellar. Clearly, ending up anywhere near a winning record is going to require quite a lot of internal improvement given the organization’s limited additions over the winter. At some point, though, the Reds organization will surely look to outside acquisitions to help take the next step, a topic covered by Rian Watt of Fangraphs.
  • One key piece of the Reds picture, both in the near term and especially in the future, is top infield prospect Nick Senzel. Notably, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon writes, Senzel will see action at shortstop in what ought to be an interesting storyline to keep an eye on. Craig Edwards of Fangraphs looks at Senzel’s possible move up the scale of defensive difficulty and puts it in a broader context. Needless to say, the possibility is quite intriguing for the Reds. In other Senzel-related news, Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer has the fun story of the 22-year-old’s conquest of minor-league skipper Pat Kelly, the Reds’ house wrestling champion who had long fended off challengers from the farm system. No doubt the front office is just relieved that everyone has emerged unscathed.
  • The Brewers’ plans regarding Ryan Braun are perhaps an underappreciated spring storyline. As Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes, the veteran slugger is going to find time at first base and perhaps also second. That would potentially allow the club to balance the demands of finding enough time for Braun after adding Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich to an outfield that already featured Domingo Santana (with Brett Phillips and others also pushing up from the farm). As a long-time star corner outfielder who is now 34 years of age, Braun is an unusual candidate to turn into a utility player of sorts. But it’s also interesting to consider the potential upside as well as the merits of limiting the load on Braun, who has had his share of nicks and scrapes over the years. Just how things look on Opening Day, though, still aren’t clear. It still seems possible Santana could be dealt. And Jon Heyman of Fan Rag argues the organization still needs to add a significant rotation piece if it hopes to keep pace.

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Rangers Seen As Favorites To Land Julio Pablo Martinez

The Rangers are now considered the favorite in the pursuit of Cuban prospect Julio Pablo Martinez, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter). Martinez is not technically eligible to put pen to paper until March 6th, but it seems the Texas organization is working to line up a deal once he can formally sign.

Martinez, 21, will likely command a $2.7MM to $2.8MM bonus, according to the report. That’s a far sight shy of what similarly situated young players have earned in recent years, though that’s a reflection of newly restrictive signing rules (which place a hard cap on total bonus spending) rather than Martinez’s promise as a player.

The Rangers did not seem to have quite that much pool availability when last we checked, though it is always difficult to keep close tabs on international expenditures. Evidently, the Texas organization had more to work with than we realized, and also acquired an additional $350K just days ago, immediately sparking indications that the move was designed to facilitate the acquisition of Martinez.

Given that we’re still weeks away from Martinez even being able to sign, it seems reasonable to expect that we’ll have to wait to learn of his destination with any real certainty. But from the tenor of tonight’s report and the recent swap, all signs are that Texas is indeed set to land Martinez. That said, the Yankees and Marlins have also been closely tied to the talented youngster (by Ben Badler of Baseball America). He may be a year or two away from the majors, but that’s closer than most amateurs. And Martinez is said to possess an enticing blend of speed and power.

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Dee Gordon Among Players Moving To Rep 1 Agency

Mariners center fielder Dee Gordon is among the notable players that will be joining Rep 1 Baseball, the agency announced today. Veteran agent Nate Heisler has joined the Rep 1 ranks as a vice president, bringing with him an array of clients.

In addition to Gordon, the players going with Heisler to his new agency include major leaguers Liam Hendriks and Chase Whitley. Several prospects are coming along as well, including Nick Gordon (Dee’s younger brother), Jesus Luzardo and Jacob Pearson.

The elder Gordon is obviously the most notable name on this list. He’s also under contract through at least 2020, pursuant to the extension he inked with the Marlins back in 2016. Now with the Mariners following a December swap, Gordon has been tasked this winter with moving from his accustomed middle infield role into center field in Seattle.

Hendriks is earning $1.9MM this year and will qualify for arbitration one final time at season’s end. Whitley, also a reliever, recently agreed to a $800K deal in his first trip through the arb process. Among the younger players, both Gordon and Luzardo have received top-100 leaguewide prospect billing.

Rep 1 Baseball already represents such prominent major leaguers as Edwin Encarnacion and Miguel Montero. Its new clients are reflected in MLBTR’s Agency Database.

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Minor MLB Transactions: 2/22/18

Here are Thursday’s minor moves from around baseball…

  • Former big league outfielder Jose Tabata has signed with the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League, the team announced today. Tabata, 29, once looked like a building block for the Pirates after hitting .299/.346/.400 with four homers, 19 steals and terrific outfield defense as a 21-year-old rookie back in 2010. Pittsburgh was bullish enough on the former top prospect that they inked him to a six-year, $15MM contract extension that offseason, but even that modest guarantee proved to be a misstep, as Tabata’s production declined in the coming years. The outfielder went on to hit .267/.333/.369 with diminishing value on the basepaths and in the outfield in 407 games over the next five seasons. He hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2015 and hasn’t performed well in Triple-A in recent seasons, either. He’ll now look to follow in the footsteps of dozens of other big leaguers who have used the independent circuit (the Atlantic League, in particular) as a stepping stone back into affiliated ball.

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Rays’ Top Prospect Brent Honeywell Diagnosed With Forearm Strain, Undergoing Further Tests

Rays top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell exited today’s workout with an arm injury that is of “potential major concern” to the team, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (all Twitter links). Per Topkin, Honeywell threw eight to 10 pitches before cursing loudly and walking off the mound with a trainer. Manager Kevin Cash tells Topkin that the early diagnosis is a forearm strain, and Honeywell is set to undergo further evaluations.

Honeywell, 22, is considered among the game’s elite minor leaguers, ranking among bsaeball’s top 20 or so overall prospects on virtually every major publication. The former No. 72 overall draft pick enjoyed a terrific season in Triple-A against older competition in 2017, tossing 123 2/3 innings with 11.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 and a 41.2 percent ground-ball rate en route to a 3.64 ERA, a 2.84 FIP and a 2.77 xFIP.

While most consider Honeywell to be ready for Major League action, or at least very close to MLB readiness, Tampa Bay wasn’t expected to break camp with Honeywell in the rotation. Rather, he figured to open the season in Triple-A — both to finish off his development and also to buy the Rays an additional year of club control by delaying his service clock, as many teams tend to do with their top young talent. The forearm issue could well delay his start to the season and, of course, could be a portent to a more severe injury.

Tampa Bay recently thinned out its rotation mix by trading Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, though they quickly replenished the lost depth by picking up Anthony Banda — another largely MLB-ready young starter — in the Steven Souza trade with the D-backs and Yankees. Any lengthy absence for Honeywell would deprive the organization of its highest-upside minor league arm, but the Rays do possess a considerably deep stock of big-league-ready starters, even if many of them are lacking in Major League experience.

[Related: Tampa Bay Rays depth chart]

The Rays are set to open the season with Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jake Faria and Nathan Eovaldi in a four-man rotation, Topkin recently reported, with Matt Andriese beginning the year as a multi-inning reliever and eventually sliding into the fifth spot in the rotation. Looming in the upper minors are Banda, Jose De Leon, Ryan Yarbrough and  Yonny Chirinos, each of whom has had a full season of Triple-A work under his belt at this point. Both Yarbrough and Chirinos enjoyed particularly strong years in the rotation for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate last year, and each of that group is already on the 40-man roster. Righties Jose Mujica and Hunter Wood have less experience and success in the upper levels, but each is on the 40-man roster and could plausibly see MLB time in 2018.

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AL East Notes: Drury, JDM, Rasmus, Travis

While Brandon Drury may be the favorite, at present, to open the season as the Yankees’ third baseman, GM Brian Cashman made clear in speaking with the New York Post’s George A. King III that there will still be a competition for that spot. “Nothing has been handed to anybody, so the competition will play its way out,” said Cashman. “…You have horses coming into races as favorites and I think the experience that Drury has along with his abilities should give him a leg up going into this process. But we will wait and see what it looks like and how it plays out.” Miguel Andujar will still be given a chance to win the job this spring, per the GM, who also notes that the team still views Andujar as a player that will have a major long-term role with the Yankees. Both Cashman and new skipper Aaron Boone suggested that they’ll focus on third base as Drury’s primary position for now. Drury spent most of the 2017 season playing second base in Arizona, but the hot corner is his natural position.

More from the division…

  • While J.D. Martinez is expected to be the Red Sox’ primary designated hitter, the team did tell him during negotiations that he’ll see some time in the outfield, per Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston. Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts will obviously still shoulder the bulk of that workload, but Drellich notes that first-year manager Alex Cora wants to keep that group as fresh as possible. Drellich also reports that the Red Sox were not initially willing to give Martinez an opt-out provision after both the second and third year of the contract. The year-two opt-out was a particularly crucial tipping point in negotiations, he adds, and seemingly one that may have pushed the deal across the finish line.
  • Colby Rasmus, who signed a minor league contract with the Orioles yesterday, candidly spoke to the Baltimore media about his decision to step away from baseball last season while on the disabled list with the Rays (links via MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko and the Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo A. Encina). Rasmus and his wife were expecting their third child at the time, and the outfielder ultimately prioritized spending time with his young family above all else last season. The 31-year-old Rasmus has suggested in the past that he may not play into his late- or even mid-30s, but he felt pulled back to baseball this offseason as he began working out. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, so I got back to working out and mentally I feel good,” said Rasmus. ” I feel like I still have a little bit left to give to the game and show the game some respect and go out in a good way.”
  • Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis missed the final 100 games of the 2017 season following knee surgery, but he’s healthy and participating in a full slate of baseball drills thus far in Spring Training, writes Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith“You watch him move around, and if you didn’t know he’d had an injury, you wouldn’t think anything of it,” said manager John Gibbons. “Really, he looks that good.” Travis only just began running in January but has worked his way up to being able to go full speed, though he implies that he’s tempering the aggression of his workouts rather than pushing himself unnecessarily at this point. Injuries have limited Travis to 213 games over the first three seasons of his big league career.

 

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