When the Astros promoted top prospect George Springer earlier this week, it ended a mini-drama that cut to the heart of Major League Baseball's rules concerning Super Two status and free-agency eligibility. MLB, of course, allows players to become free agents after six full years of service. By waiting two weeks after the start of the season to promote Springer, the Astros ensured that they could control his rights through 2020. But by promoting him before June, they also gave him the chance to become a Super Two player. That meant he could be eligible for arbitration following the 2016 season, and go to arbitration four times instead of three, potentially making several million more dollars than he would have made had the Astros waited just two more months to promote him.
The circumstances surrounding Springer's promotion are complex. The Astros offered Springer a seven-year, $23MM deal last September, a deal that would have allowed the Astros to have Springer break camp with the team this spring without concern about Super Two status or the timing of his free-agency eligibility. Springer turned the contract down, and the Astros decided to send him to Triple-A Oklahoma City to start the season, reportedly leading the MLBPA and Springer's agent, Greg Genske, to consider the possibility of a grievance against the Astros.
It isn't clear, of course, whether Springer's service time was the primary consideration in the Astros' decision to send Springer to the minors, or even whether it was a consideration, period. Springer began the season with only 266 (admittedly brilliant) career plate appearances in Triple-A, so it wouldn't have been outlandish for an organization to make the somewhat conservative decision to have him get more seasoning at that level before promoting him.
But many fans and commentators couldn't help wondering about how Springer's status had been affected by MLB's rules. "If Springer was good enough to be offered $23 million, why isn't he good enough to crack the 25-man roster of a team that has finished with the worst record in the majors in each of the past three seasons?" wrote FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. "Some on the players' side have long felt that clubs act in bad faith when they keep major-league-ready players in the minors for financial reasons."
The timing of Springer's promotion in mid-April thus feels like a compromise. By keeping Springer in the minors for two more weeks, the Astros received an extra year of control, preventing Springer from becoming eligible for free agency after the 2019 season. But they will likely pay Springer more through 2020 than they would have if they had waited a bit longer. Of course, the Astros were within their rights not to compromise -- they could have just kept Springer in the minors until June. And again, there may have been developmental considerations at work, too.
The service-time issue is hard to ignore, however, as the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich explains in a good piece about why not everyone agrees with the Astros' timing. Drellich quotes analyst and former MLB pitcher C.J. Nitkowski (via Twitter): "It's about the culture & the message you're sending to players/fan[s]: We don't promote on merit, winning is secondary to FA status [seven years] away."
It also appears that the Astros' decision may have been at least somewhat spontaneous. As Drellich points out, the Astros had Springer travel to Colorado Springs for one game with Oklahoma City, only to then join the big-league team in Houston. A planned promotion might well have had Springer play his first big-league game on the road, in order to limit the pressure on Springer. Maybe, Drellich suggests, the Astros intended to wait until June to him, thus avoiding Super Two status, but the Astros offense's awful performance to that point made them change their minds.
From the perspectives of Springer and the Astros, the precise timing of Springer's promotion may not matter much in the long run. If Springer is upset right now (and aside from the talk of a grievance, there's no indication that he is), the Astros will have almost seven years to make it up to him. Regardless, there are likely to be episodes similar to Springer's until or unless MLB and the MLBPA address the service-time issue -- and even if they do, it's hard to imagine what solution they might come up with that would allow teams to promote players as soon as they deem them ready, without fear of paying them piles of extra money or worrying about them leaving a year early.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Mets have announced that they will promote former star outfielder Bobby Abreu from Triple-A Las Vegas tomorrow. Abreu is 40 and hasn't played in the big leagues since 2012, which he spent with the Angels and Dodgers. But he made a good impression in Vegas, hitting .412/.500/.529 in 40 plate appearances there, and the Mets have space for a left-handed bench player after trading Ike Davis to the Pirates. As Newsday's Marc Carig tweets, that means the Mets' active roster will include Abreu, Bartolo Colon, Kyle Farnsworth, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jose Valverde. Here are more notes from around baseball.
- Zack Thornton, the reliever the Mets acquired (along with a PTBNL) in the Davis trade, made his debut in the Mets organization on Sunday, pitching two innings for Las Vegas against El Paso. Thornton allowed a solo homer to Kyle Blanks, but allowed no other runs while striking out one in two innings. The player to be named is reportedly the "key piece" in the deal.
- The Twins' decision to claim Sam Fuld could impact Aaron Hicks, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Twins assistant GM Rob Antony says the Twins are considering having Hicks get fewer at-bats against righties. If they do, Fuld, a lefty, is a likely candidate to take Hicks' playing time. Hicks is hitting just .179/.299/.214 in 67 plate appearances so far this season.
SUNDAY: Doolittle will receive about $14MM guaranteed, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The value of the deal could increase to over $20MM with the 2019 and 2020 options. It also includes bonuses for games finished from 2015 through 2017.
FRIDAY: The Athletics have agreed to a five-year contract extension with left-handed reliever Sean Doolittle, the club announced (via Twitter). The deal covers the current season and runs through 2018, after which time Oakland will have a pair of options for the 2019 and 2020 campaigns. Doolittle is represented by Jason Cook.
Doolittle, 27, is entering his third year of MLB action and came into the year with 1.122 years of MLB service. Take with the 41st-overall pick out of the University of Virginia (where he was a two-way player) back in 2007, Doolittle started his professional career as a first baseman. He switched to the hill after knee problems, and wasted little time in getting to the bigs.
Since cracking the A's pen in 2012, Doolittle has thrown 125 innings of 3.10 ERA ball. The fireballing southpaw has racked up 9.3 K/9 against 1.7 BB/9 over that stretch, though he has averaged only a 32.7% ground-ball rate. (Advanced metrics have pegged his big league time at 2.56 FIP, 3.41 xFIP, and 2.76 SIERA.) Primarily a fastball pitcher, Doolittle has gone to his curve more frequently this year. Given his late turn back to pitching, it could be that the A's see more room for him to grow; Doolittle was a starter in college.
While it is hard to pass any judgment on the extension without knowing its financial terms, it is obviously a surprisingly lengthy pact for a reliever. Obviously, the possibility of Doolittle driving up his arbitration cost by accumulating saves could be a consideration here. It would be surprising if Oakland did not achieve a significant discount in return for guaranteeing future salary for a reliever with such little service time.
Regardless how much it is worth, this contract lands in relatively uncharted territory. MLBTR's Extension Tracker reveals only three reliever extensions of four-year durations, and none that have gone to five. Of course, given that the 2014 season is already underway, it is probably best to view Doolittle's new deal as a four-year pact. Of those prior deals, two were for established closers (Craig Kimbrel and Joe Nathan) with significantly more service time and very different situations. The other -- the four-year, $8.025MM deal (plus two options) signed by Manny Corpas and the Rockies when he had 1.076 years of service -- appears to be the only clear comparable. (Corpas was coming off of a 19-save, 2.08 ERA campaign in his age-24 season.)
Due to his back injury, Marco Scutaro still isn't playing in extended spring training games, but it's unlikely the Giants will make a trade to replace him anytime soon, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. This week's Ike Davis trade aside, deals involving valuable players generally aren't made in April, and the Giants would likely have to pay heavily to acquire a talented infielder. Later this summer, the Giants still might not make second base their top priority, Schulman suggests -- they may instead focus on their bench. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- The Astros are excited about first baseman Jonathan Singleton's performance at Triple-A Oklahoma City, writes MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. The Astros recently promoted top prospect George Springer, and Singleton, who is hitting .343/.449/.776 so far, might not be far behind. "When we sent him down at Spring Training, we told him he was going to let us know when he was ready to come up here by his performance, and so far he's doing an outstanding job," says assistant GM David Stearns. "We'd like to give him more time to continue to work on the aspects of his game that we identified with him that needed some improvement. So far he's addressing them."
- Former Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez is making a strong case to make it back to the big leagues with the Tigers, MLive.com's James Schmehl writes. Martinez is hitting .308/.366/.846 with a remarkable ten home runs in 71 plate appearances for Triple-A Toledo, and the Tigers are currently playing with only three bench players. The Astros somewhat surprisingly released Martinez last month, even though he wasn't on their 40-man roster at the time and was a 26-year-old with 975 plate appearances of big-league experience. Martinez's salary at Triple-A was apparently a factor in the Astros not being able to find another organization for him.
A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR this past week:
- Zach Links examined the issue of the advance consent form in speaking with agent Joel Wolfe (his client, Randy Wolf, sparked the recent debate by refusing the Mariners' request to sign one as a condition of securing a 25-man roster spot out of Spring Training), as well as club and union officials.
- Steve Adams previewed next offseason's class of free agents with the first installment of MLBTR's 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings.
- Charlie Wilmoth opines the Pirates would be wise to forego a long-term contract extension for Pedro Alvarez due to concerns regarding how he will age, with a complicating factor being the third baseman's agent, Scott Boras.
- Zach was the first to report Manny Ramirez has drawn interest from several MLB teams and is only considering a return to the majors, minors, or Japan.
- Steve hosted this week's live chat.
- Zach assembled the best of the baseball blogosphere for you in Baseball Blogs Weigh In.
The Orioles are in Boston for a wraparound series with the Red Sox culminating tomorrow on Patriots' Day. Mike Seal, the agent for J.J. Hardy is in Boston this weekend, but the Orioles shortstop says it's not for extension talks. "He's here because his wife is running in the marathon, so he came out for this series to watch his wife run," Hardy told reporters, including MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko. "There's been nothing. My agent's here now and he hasn't said anything to me the last month or so. There's been no contact. Usually, he gives me the 'still nothing.' I think it's even past that now to where it's like, he doesn't even need to tell me."
Elsewhere around baseball this Easter Sunday:
- Tigers President/CEO/General Manager Dave Dombrowski couldn't wait any longer to see if Alex Gonzalez would turn things around, writes Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press.
- A reader asked John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer (on Twitter) if there's any chance the Reds might go after Gonzalez in light of Zack Cozart's struggles. That's doubtful, in Fay's mind, because Gonzalez doesn't offer much range at the shortstop position. Fay, in a second tweet, also doesn't see the Reds signing Joel Hanrahan.
- In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe speculates, after impressing teams in his latest audition, Hanrahan could hold out for a Major League contract. The veteran worked out for 18 clubs and impressed with the depth of his secondary pitches.
- There's no guarantee Ike Davis will see another 32-home run season with the Pirates; but, if it happens, the Mets will be reminded about it frequently, writes David Lennon of Newsday. However, the Mets finally decided on a course of action rather than have uncertainty at first and they must be prepared to live with the fallout.
- Davis is eager to play more often as a member of the Pirates, writes Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It was pretty negative over there [with the Mets] for me for a little while," Davis said. "Hopefully, I can come here and hear some positive energy and start building forward and start playing better."
- Did the Indians make a mistake by not keeping Aaron Harang? The veteran pitched seven hitless innings for the Braves on Friday, but Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer defends the Tribe's decision. The 36-year-old, he notes, didn't set the world on fire last season and his release allowed the Indians to see what Carlos Carrasco can offer as a starter.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
On this date three years ago, Bud Selig announced that MLB would be taking over operations of the Dodgers because of concerns over team finances and the ability of Frank McCourt to run the franchise. The team was facing substantial debt payments which the owner planned to meet by using funding from the club's new $2.5 billion, 20-year media-rights deal with News Corp.'s Fox Sports, but the Commissioner withheld his approval of the deal. It's amazing what a difference three years can make. Here's this week's look around the baseball blogosphere..
- Blue Jays Plus caught up with Sal Fasano, the Blue Jays' hidden gem.
- IR Fast introduces you to Yuki Matsui.
- Camden Depot contemplates the 2016 Orioles.
- Inside The Zona reflects on the Kevin Towers saga.
- Mariner Brainstorm reflects on the 2011 draft.
- Hidden Vigorish is bullish on Pedro Alvarez.
- Replacement Level Red Sox runs the numbers on a possible Jon Lester extension.
- Outside Pitch looks at the ten hardest throwers in baseball.
- Chicago Now discusses the usage of Mike Olt.
- MLB Reports talks Moneyball at its best.
- True Sports Blog says the Astros should move Scott Feldman now.
If you have a suggestion for this feature, Zach can be reached at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.
Fuld, 32, appeared in just seven games for the A's, hitting .200/.273/.433 in 33 plate appearances. He has a career .233/.312/.334 line in 841 career plate appearances, most of them with the Rays and Cubs. He signed a minor league deal with Oakland in February and made the team out of Spring Training when fellow defensively-savvy outfielder Craig Gentry was injured. Fuld became expendable with a healthy Gentry, who returned to the A's lineup last week, and Coco Crisp, but he'll be joining a Twins squad which badly needs outfield depth.
"He can steal a base. He’s a good defender. Puts together pretty good at-bats,” Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said of Fuld (as quoted by Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press). "He’s not a power guy. He is a gamer, a guy who comes to play everyday. Hopefully he can add a little life to the offense and (Twins manager Ron Gardenhire) can use him in different spots in the outfield as well."
To make room for Fuld on the 40-man and 25-man roster, the Twins announced they have designated outfielder Darin Mastroianni for assignment. Mastroianni has gone 0-for-11 with five strikeouts in seven games since having his contract selected from Rochester on April 10th. The Twins now have 10 days to either trade, release, or outright the 28-year-old, who can opt for free agency instead of accepting a minor league assignment since he has been outrighted previously (per a Berardino tweet). Berardino notes this move may not have been necessary had Jason Bartlett's retirement been finalized one day sooner with the Easter weekend also working against the Twins.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
The Yankees have designated right-hander Matt Daley, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (on Twitter). In related moves, New York activated Mark Teixeira, recalled right-handers Preston Claiborne and Bryan Mitchell, placed right-hander Ivan Nova on the 15-day disabled list with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, and sent infielder Scott Sizemore to Triple-A.
Daley, 31, pitched for the Bombers yesterday and allowed six runs (four earned) as a part of their 16-1 blowout loss to Tampa Bay. Daley has spent the bulk of his career at the Triple-A level, pitching to a 3.90 ERA with 11.1 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 124 career appearances. For his big league career, Daley has a 4.72 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 across 100 outings.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
The Tigers acquired Gonzalez in late March in exchange for utility player Steve Lombardozzi, who was shipped to the Orioles less than four months after arriving in Detroit as part of the Doug Fister deal. With Lombardozzi in Baltimore, the Fister deal amounted to Detroit receiving left-handers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray plus a few weeks of Gonzalez. The Tigers had hoped the 37-year-old would serve as a capable replacement for shortstop Jose Iglesias, but his spotty defense and lack of range left much to be desired.
"We thought we'd take a little chance on it," Tigers President/CEO/General Manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters, including MLB.com's Jason Beck. "We thought it was something worth taking the gamble. As we had a chance to watch him, had a chance to get a feel, we just didn't see it getting better, so we thought, with the emphasis on defense for us at shortstop, we thought it was important to get someone who had a little bit more range."
Jon Morosi of FOX Sports notes (via Twitter) the Tigers will pay Gonzalez $1.1MM for only nine games. In that small sample size of 32 at-bats, Gonzalez slashed .167/.219/.233. For his career, Gonzalez owns a .245/.290/.395 line across 16 big league seasons.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
Service time is often among the most important factors when determining when to promote a top prospect, a new analysis by Baseball Prospectus suggests (via FOX Sports). For followers of teams such as the Astros, who recently netted themselves an extra year of control of George Springer by waiting two weeks into the season to call him up, the findings don't come as a surprise. The study did produce an interesting data point, however. "Fourteen times in the last seven years, a player who ranked No. 1 on one of our Top 10 prospect lists debuted in April," BP's Zachary Levine writes. Among that group, eight were on their club's Opening Day roster, meaning the team valued that player's potential early-season contributions over the possibility of an extra year of control down the road. While the gaming of service time of top prospects is common, it's perhaps not as rampant as you might expect, the study suggests. Here's a look elsewhere around the majors:
- Being traded to the Pirates is an excellent opportunity for Ike Davis to maximize his considerable talent, Richard Justice writes for MLB.com, praising the clubhouse environment, management and fan support in Pittsburgh.
- The Brewers and Mets had several conversations about a potential Davis trade, but never got close, Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash tells Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. McCalvy reports that the Mets wanted young starting pitching, such as righty Tyler Thornburg, in return.
- Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan examined what might be fueling Edinson Volquez's early-season success for the Pirates. In addition to showing an improved ability to throw strikes, the right-hander is also throwing better-quality balls when he does miss the zone, Sullivan concludes. If Volquez can maintain these improvements, it'll be yet another successful reclamation project for Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage.
Mets manager Terry Collins says he expects Lucas Duda to settle in and produce now that the Ike Davis trade has opened up the club's full-time first base job, MLB.com's Spencer Fordin reports. Duda, however, says he doesn't feel much has changed. "If I don't produce, I'm not going to play. No matter what the situation is, if I don't get the job done, somebody else will," the slugger commented. More NL East links ...
- A competing GM told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News (via Twitter) that the Mets were right to choose Duda instead of Davis. "They're both platoon guys, but Duda [is] a little better against lefties," the GM said.
- One MLB executive speaking with Newsday's David Lennon (Twitter link) guesses that the Mets may receive either the Pirates' 2013 fifth- or sixth-rounder as the player to be named later in the Davis deal. That would be either fifth-round pick Trae Arbet, a shortstop drafted out of high school, or sixth-round draftee Adam Frazier, a college shortstop. Neither player was ranked among the Pirates' top 30 prospects by Baseball America this offseason.
- The Braves brought on Aaron Harang near the end of Spring Training to eat innings in the season's early going, but now that he's posted a Majors-leading 0.70 ERA in four starts, their plans have changed. In fact, Harang was removed after giving up zero hits through seven innings against the Mets yesterday to help preserve his arm. Manager Fredi Gonzalez says he wants 25-27 more starts from the veteran, according to David O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Jason Lane, a 37-year-old converted outfielder pitching at the Padres' Triple-A affiliate, is turning heads early in the season after posting a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings. Jeff Sanders of U-T San Diego suggests that Lane could be an option for the big league club if the Padres need to add depth later in the year. "If you took away the age factor, I think people would be really fired up about him," Padres Farm Director Randy Smith said. "But for us, age is irrelevant because his arm is fresh." Here's more out of baseball's Western divisions ...
- Sean Doolittle's five-year deal with the Athletics is out of step with Billy Beane's traditional approach to relief pitching, SBNation's Steven Goldman says, adding that it's generally advisable not to go long-term with relievers. However, Doolittle does have his merits, Goldman says, noting his lack of a platoon split and relatively fresh arm. Ultimately, the move may be aimed at saving on arbitration costs if Doolittle starts racking up saves for the A's as the team's closer, his article notes. MLBTR's Jeff Todd offered the same theory in his writeup of the Doolittle deal.
- Albert Pujols doesn't want to distract his Angels teammates as he nears 500 career home runs, but tells MLB.com that he's "pretty sure I'm going to be pretty emotional about" reaching the milestone. As MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez notes, Pujols is at 498 total homers after adding his sixth of the season today.
SATURDAY: Lannan has accepted the assignment, ESPN's Adam Rubin tweets.
WEDNESDAY: The Mets have outrighted left-hander John Lannan to Triple-A Las Vegas and purchased the contract of right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, tweets MLB.com's Anthony DiComo. Lannan will have the option to reject the outright assignment in favor of free agency. ESPN New York's Adam Rubin tweets that Matsuzaka will work out of the bullpen for now.
Lannan, 29, appeared in five games for the Mets this season, allowing seven earned runs on seven hits and a pair of walks in four innings of work. Of those seven hits, three cleared the fence for a home run. The veteran has never pitched outside of the NL East, but he's donned the uniform of three teams in that division: the Mets, the Phillies and the Nationals. After posting a 4.01 ERA in 783 2/3 innings with the Nationals from 2007-12, Lannan has struggled. With Philadelphia and New York, he's managed a combined 5.86 ERA with a 40-to-29 K:BB ratio in 78 1/3 frames.
Matsuzaka spent some time with the Mets in 2013 after signing a minor league deal midway through the season. He started slow but fared well down the stretch, yielding just four earned runs over his final 26 1/3 innings while striking out 21 and walking nine. Matsuzaka then signed another minor league deal with the Mets this winter. He's allowed two runs and punched out 12 hitters in 12 Triple-A innings this season. Matsuzaka's minor league deal calls for a $1.5MM base salary in the Major Leagues, and he also received a $100K retention bonus at the end of Spring Training after he did not make the Opening Day roster.
The Braves don't get as much attention as the Cardinals, Athletics or Rays for being well-run teams, but perhaps they should, the New York Post's Joel Sherman suggests. The Braves' relative lack of postseason success may be one factor, says Sherman, but they've made the postseason three times in the past five seasons. Consistency may be one secret to their success. "They have had strikingly little turnover on the baseball side and their philosophy has been consistent throughout," says one NL scout. "They are very clear about the type of player they are looking for and acquire those types." The Braves are off to a great start this season despite losing Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery, and Sherman contrasts the Braves' decision-making heading into the season with that of the Mets. When Medlen and Beachy went down, the Braves acted decisively to replace them, quickly signing Ervin Santana even though he had declined a qualifying offer. The Mets, meanwhile, still have a need at shortstop, and Stephen Drew is still available on the free-agent market. Here are more notes from throughout the National League.
- Cubs GM Theo Epstein will watch NC State pitcher Carlos Rodon pitch on Friday, 670TheScore.com's Bruce Levine tweets. Rodon currently appears highly likely to be the first overall pick in the draft in June, and the Cubs pick fourth. Much can change between now and then, however, and it makes sense for the Cubs to do due diligence.
- Dontrelle Willis, who was recently released by the Giants, is considering becoming a pitching coach, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. That might seem a little surprising, given Willis' own unorthodox mechanics (as MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez joked), but coaching isn't merely teaching what one used to do, so there's no reason a pitcher with an idiosyncratic delivery couldn't teach pitchers whose deliveries are more typical.