Mets Owner Steve Cohen Discusses Luxury Tax, deGrom, Stroman

Mets owner Steve Cohen met with reporters (including Mike Puma of the New York Post and Anthony DiComo of MLB.com) yesterday to discuss the team’s outlook in advance of the July 30 trade deadline. Most notably, Cohen was asked whether he’d be willing to sign off on a midseason acquisition that pushes the team’s competitive balance tax outlay north of the first threshold of $210MM.

It’s something to think about because there is a price to pay if you go over for the following year or the year after,” Cohen said. “I am not going to go over for a million or two million. That’s stupid, so if you are going to do it, you are going to do it, so we’ll see what’s available.”

Cohen is alluding to the escalating penalties for teams that surpass the threshold in consecutive seasons. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, a club that exceeds the lowest threshold for the first time is subject to a 20% tax on the overage. Exceeding that threshold for a second consecutive year subjects the team to a 30% tax on the overage, while the club would pay a 50% tax on excess expenditures for a third consecutive season (and beyond) above that mark.

To calculate a team’s CBT ledger, the league takes the sum of the average annual values of each contract on the books in a season- not the actual payroll in any given year. For the Mets, that figure comes in just under $197MM in 2021, in the estimation of Cot’s Baseball Contracts. (Cot’s pegs their actual payroll at approximately $195.4MM). If Cohen is unwilling to go beyond the first threshold, that’d leave New York a little more than $13MM in CBT space for midseason upgrades.

Cohen didn’t explicitly state he’d be unwilling to push the team’s CBT ledger north of $210MM. Rather, he implied that it’d take one (or more) marquee additions for him to deem that worthwhile, based on the belief that the cost of higher potential penalties in future seasons would outweigh the value of making more marginal upgrades. Of course, that assumes the current luxury tax system will remain in the next CBA, which is up for negotiation this winter. The Mets did not exceed the threshold last season under the previous ownership group, so they’d be subject to the first-time payor penalty if they were to do so this year.

New York’s owner also addressed the contractual status of starters Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman. Cohen confirmed the club engaged in preliminary extension discussions with deGrom in Spring Training. Those were never expected to persist into the summer, though, and Cohen indeed shot down the possibility of in-season negotiations. “I’m focused on this year,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the right moment (for extension talks). We’re focused on this year, so obviously it’s something we’re thinking about. We love Jacob.” deGrom is under contract through 2024, but his deal affords him the opportunity to opt out at the end of next season.

Cohen also suggested it was unlikely the Mets would discuss an extension with Stroman during the year. The 30-year-old returned to Queens on an $18.9MM qualifying offer over the winter, and he’s since worked to a stellar 2.34 ERA/3.66 SIERA across 84 2/3 innings. Stroman will hit free agency again next offseason, and the CBA prevents the Mets from tagging with a QO this time around.

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Athletics Expected To Select Domingo Acevedo

The Athletics are planning to select the contract of reliever Domingo Acevedo, reports Robert Murray of FanSided (Twitter link). Oakland already has a vacancy on the 40-man roster, so they’ll only need to make an active roster move to accommodate his promotion.

Acevedo began his career in the Yankees organization. He didn’t sign until he was 18 years old (two years later than is typical for international amateur prospects) but he nevertheless quickly became one of the more well-regarded pitchers in the system. He drew praise for mid-high 90’s velocity and decent control but struggled to stay healthy. The 6’7″ righty spent time on the minor league injured list in each season between 2015-19, slowing his progress. Acevedo briefly earned a spot on New York’s 40-man roster but didn’t get into a major league game.

Oakland signed Acevedo to a minors deal over the winter, and he’s gotten off to a fantastic start at Triple-A Las Vegas. Despite pitching in a hitter-friendly environment, Acevedo has worked to a 2.76 ERA across 16 1/3 innings. More impressively, he’s struck out 27 of 64 batters faced (42.2%) while walking just three (4.7%). That strong showing earns him a place on the A’s roster, where he’ll be making his MLB debut if/when he gets into a game.

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Minor MLB Transactions: 6/20/21

The latest minor moves from around baseball:

  • The Rangers announced that right-hander Tyson Miller has cleared waivers and been assigned outright to Triple-A Round Rock. Texas claimed the 25-year-old from the Cubs earlier this month but designated him for assignment themselves after he made just one Triple-A appearance. Miller, who has five MLB innings under his belt (all with Chicago in 2020), has pitched well up through Double-A but struggled to a 7.26 ERA at the minors’ highest level. He doesn’t have the requisite service time to refuse an outright assignment, so he’ll remain in the Rangers organization without taking a spot on the 40-man roster.

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Blue Jays To Sign John Axford

The Blue Jays are in agreement on a contract with reliever John Axford, reports Jamie Campbell of Sportsnet (Twitter link). The 38-year-old hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2018.

Axford is best known for his early-career stint with the Brewers. He pitched to a 3.35 ERA with Milwaukee between 2009-13, compiling an MLB-leading 46 saves in 2011. As he entered his 30’s, the righty became something of a journeyman. He would go on to suit up for the Cardinals, Indians, Pirates, Rockies, A’s, Blue Jays and Dodgers over the next five years.

A Canada native, Axford signed a minors pact with the Jays in 2019 but spent essentially the entire season on the minor league injured list. His hope of a comeback in 2020 was derailed by the pandemic, but he’ll now return to affiliated ball. The Blue Jays relief corps has scuffled in recent weeks, with general manager Ross Atkins telling reporters today that upgrading the bullpen is a priority. Certainly, the Axford signing won’t stop the front office from continuing to hunt for external options, but there’s little risk in adding the veteran to the organization as non-roster depth.

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Rays To Promote Wander Franco

The Rays have informed top shortstop prospect Wander Franco he’ll be promoted before Tuesday’s game against the Red Sox, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). Franco, 20, is the game’s consensus #1 farmhand.

Tampa Bay has lost six straight games, falling a half game behind Boston in the AL East. With a three-game series against the division leaders upcoming, the Rays have decided it’s time to bring up the league’s most heralded prospect.

More to come.

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Blue Jays Targeting Bullpen Help, Left-Handed Bat

The Blue Jays are “focused on” upgrading the relief corps, general manager Ross Atkins told reporters (including Keegan Matheson of MLB.com). Presumably, that’ll involve acquiring some help from outside the organization, but rival clubs have set high asking prices on potential trade candidates to this point, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.

On the whole, the Toronto relief unit hasn’t fared all that poorly. Jays relievers have posted middle-of-the-road numbers (3.94 ERA, 24.9% strikeout rate, 10.8% walk rate, 3.98 SIERA) over the course of the season. They’ve fallen on harder times recently, though, pitching to just a 5.25 ERA/4.89 FIP since the start of June. Only Jordan Romano and Trent Thornton have backed up strong run prevention numbers with quality peripherals all year. The Jays did just acquire Jacob Barnes from the Mets, but he’s amidst a poor season of his own, so there’s surely room for further additions.

As always, there are a few quality relievers who figure to be available in advance of the July 30 trade deadline. Pirates closer Richard Rodríguez and Orioles southpaw Paul Fry are each having good yearsCole SulserIan Kennedy, José Cisnero, Michael FulmerJohn Curtiss and Mychal Givens (currently on the 10-day IL) are among the other relievers performing well for non-contenders.

There’s also some chance of the Jays deepening the bullpen with internal options. Atkins didn’t rule out the possibility of Nate Pearson and Tom Hatch, both of whom are working out the rotation at Triple-A Buffalo, being recalled to pitch in relief capacities. The GM also suggested (via Matheson) the Jays could welcome back Ryan Borucki and Julian Merryweather from the injured list in the coming weeks. Borucki is expected back sometime around the end of the month, per Atkins, with Merryweather looking at a potential return in early July.

While the pitching staff looks to be the top priority for the 35-35 Jays, the front office is also looking for ways to add to the offense. Toronto is seeking another left-handed bat, according to Nicholson-Smith, who reports they were interested in first baseman Mike Ford before the Yankees traded him to the Rays this week. Toronto’s incumbent lefty first baseman/DH, Rowdy Tellez, has struggled to a .209/.272/.338 slash line across 151 plate appearances.

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Twins Sign Kyle Barraclough

The Twins have signed reliever Kyle Barraclough to a minor league contract and assigned him to Triple-A St. Paul, according to an announcement from the Saints. The right-hander was released from a minors pact with the Yankees earlier this week.

Barraclough has pitched in the big leagues in parts of five MLB seasons. A one-time setup man with the Marlins, Barraclough has always missed plenty of bats. The 31-year-old has struck out a lofty 29% of opposing hitters at the big league level, generating swings and misses on an above-average 12.6% of pitches. He’s always coupled that high-end stuff with poor control, though, walking batters at a higher than average rate in every season en route to a career 14.1% mark. Barraclough’s high-strikeout, high-walk tendencies were even more extreme with the Yankees Triple-A affiliate this year; he punched out 43.6% of batters while walking 20.0% across 14 innings of 3.21 ERA ball with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

The 31-year-old Barraclough couldn’t crack a Yankees bullpen that has been among the league’s best, but there seems to be an easier path to the majors in Minnesota. Twins relievers have compiled a 4.89 ERA that ranks just 26th leaguewide. The Minnesota bullpen has been middle-of-the-pack in terms of strikeout/walk rate differential (15.2 percentage points) and SIERA (3.86).

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Giants Reinstate John Brebbia, Move Aaron Sanchez To 60-Day IL

Just over a year removed from Tommy John surgery, John Brebbia is back in the majors, as the Giants announced that the right-hander has been reinstated from the 60-day injured list.  Left-hander Conner Menez was optioned to Triple-A after yesterday’s game to open a spot on San Francisco’s active roster, while righty Aaron Sanchez was moved to the 60-day IL to create room for Brebbia on the 40-man roster.

Brebbia’s TJ procedure took place on June 3, 2020, so he has returned to action quicker than expected considering the normal 13-to-15 month recovery period.  Brebbia hasn’t pitched in a big league game since he threw two-thirds of an inning for the Cardinals in Game 3 of the 2019 NLCS against the Nationals.

The Cards decided to non-tender Brebbia in December rather than pay a projected $800K in Brebbia’s first year of arbitration eligibility, and the Giants stepped in to sign the righty for a one-year deal worth $800K in guaranteed money.  Since Brebbia is arb-controlled through the 2023 season, the Giants rolled the dice on a long-term investment in a reliever who looked good over his first three MLB seasons.

Originally a 30th-round pick for the Yankees in the 2011 draft, Brebbia played in the minors and in the independent leagues before St. Louis selected him away from the Diamondbacks in the minor league version of 2015 Rule 5 Draft.  That ended up being a tremendous pick for the Cardinals, as Brebbia posted a 3.14 ERA/3.61 SIERA, 27.4% strikeout rate, and 7.5% walk rate over 175 relief innings from 2017-19.

Sanchez has already been on the injured list since May 8 due to biceps inflammation, but the shift to the 60-day IL is a discouraging sign considering that he was already on a minor league rehab assignment.  The other troubling aspect is that the biceps injury may no longer be Sanchez’s chief concern, as he left his most recent outing after only 50 pitches due to a blister on his throwing hand.  Blister problems in 2017 were the first of many injuries that have sidetracked Sanchez’s career over the last four-plus years, though it appeared he was putting things together after signing with the Giants in the offseason.  Sanchez had a 3.18 ERA/4.26 SIERA over 28 1/3 innings before his biceps problem surfaced.

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John Mozeliak Discusses Cardinals’ Slump, Trade Possibilities

The Cardinals didn’t play on Saturday due to a rainout, and team president of baseball operations John Mozeliak admitted to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the unscheduled off-day had the benefit of providing “a timeout or break because right now we’re not playing great baseball.”  A 5-13 slide over their last 18 games has dropped St. Louis to an even 35-35 record for the season, and the Cards sit in fourth place in the NL Central (3.5 games out of first) and 4.5 game in the NL wild card race.

With a minus-39 run differential, an argument could be made that the Cardinals are fortunate to even be a .500 team.  The Cards haven’t really excelled in many areas this season, as the lineup, rotation, and bullpen have all had their share of struggles.  These issues and several injuries have all caught up to the team during this 18-game stretch, with Mozeliak noting that “it’s multi-dimensional, right?  The days you hit, you don’t pitch.  The days you pitch, you don’t hit.  Then some flawed defense.  Where we are — the health question isn’t going away any time soon, unfortunately.”

In response to these problems, the St. Louis front office has been exploring trade possibilities, with starting pitching being a specific priority.  Goold reports that the Rangers and Twins have been among the teams the Cardinals have been in contact with, though at this point in the season, it’s probably safe to assume that most contenders and would-be contenders have checked in with the teams (like Texas and Minnesota) who already look like clear deadline sellers.

Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson are the most intriguing rotation possibilities that could be available for the Twins and Rangers, while impending free agents like Jordan Lyles and J.A. Happ are more readily available but not necessarily representing big upgrades on what St. Louis already has on hand.  Twins righty Michael Pineda is having a good season and is another impending free agent, though he was placed on the injured list this week due to elbow inflammation.

Whatever trade the Cardinals may or may not make, “it’s not all in or we’re going to break up the organization.  That’s not the pressure I feel,” Mozeliak stated.  With well over a month remaining until the July 30 trade deadline, Mozeliak said that it is still a “little premature” that the Cardinals complete a major trade any time soon, and that the team isn’t planning to “take a real chunk out of our farm system” in order to swing a deal.

If, at some point, we look for something outside the organization, we certainly will, but we’re not at a point where we’re only going to define ourselves by 2021,” Mozeliak said. “We’re not feeling that pressure if we don’t win this year that we’re all in trouble.  We must understand that we can all do things better.  We also understand what we thought we’re going to have — because of injuries — hasn’t yet worked out.”

While no executive would publicly admit to a win-or-bust mentality, there is some natural pressure on the Cardinals this season.  Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright both returned to the team last winter on one-year free agent deals, and both longtime St. Louis cornerstones are still playing at a high level.  Beyond that, Nolan Arenado can also opt out of his contract after the season, and as unlikely as it may be that the third baseman could walk away from six years and $179MM, Arenado is certainly eager to win now.

Speculatively, if the Cards can’t start winning over the next few weeks, there would also be a case for the team to look ahead to 2022.  St. Louis will have a lot of payroll space to work with, as Molina, Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Andrew Miller, Kwang Hyun Kim, and the remainder of Dexter Fowler’s contract are all off the books, and Carlos Martinez’s $17MM club option isn’t likely to be exercised.  It’s also possible that the Cardinals could both sell and buy at the same time, perhaps taking on a higher-salaried player controlled beyond 2021 with an eye towards fitting that player more comfortably into their lightened payroll come next season.

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Tigers Release Wilson Ramos, Designate Beau Burrows For Assignment

TODAY: The Tigers have requested unconditional release waivers on Ramos, the team announced.

TUESDAY: The Tigers have designated catcher Wilson Ramos and righty Beau Burrows for assignment, according to a club announcement.  That opens up 40-man roster spots for additions Wily Peralta and Miguel Del Pozo, moves covered in this post.

Ramos, 33, is a 12-year Major League veteran.  The Tigers signed him to a one-year, $2MM deal back in January, and Ramos started the majority of the team’s games at catcher until going on the shelf on May 7th with a back injury.  Ramos started strong, with six home runs in his first nine games.  However, Eric Haase and Jake Rogers have proven themselves capable.  The 28-year-old Haase, who was removed from the Tigers’ 40-man roster back in January, has already blasted eight home runs in 100 plate appearances.

Ramos has had a long, successful career, with his finest years coming as a member of the Nationals.  He’s generally been regarded as a bat-first catcher, and posted a 105 wRC+ over a career-high 141 games for the 2019 Mets.  He’s reached double-digit home runs in nine different seasons and has a pair of All-Star appearances under his belt.

Burrows, 24, was drafted 22nd overall by the Tigers back in 2015 out of high school, two spots ahead of Walker Buehler.  Not long after that, Burrows was rated as a 60-grade prospect by Baseball America.  Though he wasn’t particularly successful in the high minors, prior to this season BA still gave Burrows a 45 grade, saying, “Without a true out pitch, it’s hard to project Burrows as much more than a low-leverage reliever.”  Unfortunately, the most memorable part of Burrows’ lone MLB outing this season was his vomiting on the pitching mound.

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