- Royals left-hander Eric Skoglund discussed his 80-game suspension with Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com and other reporters Saturday, claiming he’s unsure how he tested positive for Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators S-22 (Ostarine) and LGD-4033 (Ligandrol). “I didn’t change anything in my offseason that I did in any other. The only thing I did was eat cleaner,” said Skoglund, who added that “something got in my body without me knowing” and insisted he’s not one to “cheat the game.” Skoglund did not appeal the ban, though, as he figured it wasn’t a fight he could win.
The Royals have announced a minor-league deal with veteran righty Drew Storen, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported (via Twitter). He’ll earn at a $1.25MM level if he makes it to the majors, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter), with $900K in incentives also available, per MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan (Twitter link).
The deal includes an invite to participate in MLB camp. It also allows Storen to opt out on March 25th if he has not been added to the 40-man roster, Flanagan adds on Twitter.
Storen is still working back from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in September of 2017. He missed all of the ensuing campaign. Now, nearly a year and a half removed from the procedure, Storen will look to get back on track.
There’s more than just health to overcome for the former first-round pick, who’s now 31 years of age. Storen hasn’t been effective since wrapping up his time with the Nationals, a six-year run in which he threw 334 innings of 3.02 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9. In the following two seasons, he managed only a 4.82 ERA in 106 1/3 innings.
The biggest change over the years has been a precipitous drop in velocity. While he once sat in the mid-nineties with his pair of fastballs, Storen dropped about 2 mph between 2015 and 2016 and did so again in the ensuing season. That led him to move away from his four-seamer in favor of his sinker, change and slider. While Storen was able to generate grounders on about half of the balls put in play against him in 2016 and 2017, he also lost swinging strikes and allowed more long balls. Without the threat of his full-throated heater to keep hitters honest, Storen got far fewer swings and misses on pitches out of the zone and coughed up a career-high 3.8 walks per nine in his most recent campaign.
- The Royals are considering utilizing veteran starter Ian Kennedy as a bullpen piece this season, and the righty spoke with Rustin Dodd of The Athletic about the potential role change (subscription required). Kennedy took a team-first attitude and said he’s willing to pitch for the Royals in any role, so long as it helps the team win more games. Looking elsewhere on the roster, Dodd writes that Danny Duffy, Brad Keller and Jakob Junis are likely locks for the rotation, while non-roster invitee Homer Bailey will compete for a starter job but likely not a bullpen role (per Yost). The Kansas City Star’s Lynn Worthy also addressed the situation, speaking with newly signed Brad Boxberger about pitching roles. While Boxberger would “love” the opportunity to close, it doesn’t seem as though any such promises were made to him. Ultimately, Yost declined to discuss specific roles and stressed the importance of having multiple options who can be trusted to close out games and thrive in high-leverage spots.
The Royals announced Wednesday evening that they’ve signed left-handed reliever Jake Diekman to a one-year contract with a mutual option for the 2020 season. Right-hander Jesse Hahn has been transferred to the 60-day injured list in a corresponding move. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports that Diekman, a client of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, will earn a $2.25MM base salary in 2019, and there’s a $500K buyout on next year’s option, making for a $2.75MM guarantee (Twitter link).
Diekman, 32, has long shown a penchant for missing bats at a lofty rate but also issuing far too many free passes. Dating back to the 2014 season, he’s averaged an impressive 11.2 strikeouts against an unsightly 4.9 walks per nine innings pitched. In that time, Diekman owns a 3.91 ERA in 246 1/3 innings of relief between the Phillies, Rangers and Diamondbacks. He’s handled both lefties (.255/.346/.346) and righties (.204/.320/.337) reasonably well outside of the obvious proclivity for issuing walks.
Last season, Diekman split the year between Texas and Arizona, working to a combined 4.73 ERA with 11.1 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 0.68 HR/9 and a 47.8 percent ground-ball rate in 53 1/3 innings. That marked the lefty’s first full season back after missing most of the 2017 campaign due to a colectomy procedure that stemmed from ulcerative colitis.
Diekman is the second veteran arm the Royals have added in the past week, joining right-hander Brad Boxberger (a teammate last year in Arizona) as a newcomer to manager Ned Yost’s bullpen. He’ll give Kansas City a much-needed, experienced lefty; prior to this addition, Brian Flynn and Tim Hill were the team’s only southpaw relievers on the 40-man roster.
Diekman and Boxberger will be joined by holdovers Wily Peralta and Kevin McCarthy, at the very least, although the remainder of the relief corps’ composition will be determined in Spring Training. There’s even been talk of utilizing veteran starter Ian Kennedy in relief this season, which underscores the point that Spring Training will be of particular importance in assigning bullpen roles.
While Kansas City technically can control Diekman for the 2020 season, it seems quite likely that this’ll be a pure one-year arrangement. Mutual options are exercised by both parties with the utmost rarity, and the Royals utilize that specific option type regularly as an accounting measure — effectively deferring a portion of free agents’ salaries by a year in doing so.
Beyond that, there’s a good chance that if Diekman pitches well in his new environs, he’ll emerge as a trade chip this summer. Kansas City is fresh off a 58-104 season and has only made some marginal additions as the continue along in a rebuilding process. Diekman netted the Rangers a pair of minor league pitchers last summer and could once again be dangled to contending clubs this June or July if the signing goes according to plan.
At the time of his tragic death in 2017, Yordano Ventura was playing on a long-term deal with the Royals that still included $20.25MM in guaranteed future salary. Sam McDowell and Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star provide an update on the status of that contract and the remaining loose ends of his estate, which has claimed insolvency. Ventura’s daughter, now five, is the sole heir. Fortunately, she did already receive a significant recovery under a life insurance policy. But the estate, which has had to pay down obligations that Ventura incurred while supporting family and friends in his native Dominican Republic, is still pursuing the balance of his contract with the Royals. It appears to present some potentially novel (and likely also fact-intensive) issues. According to the piece, there does not appear to be a prior instance of a player dying during a long-term contract. Those interested in learning about the full story and potential factors in the still-unresolved contract situation will certainly want to read the Star’s full report.
Here are some more notes from the game’s central divisions:
- The Cardinals made clear that they intend to seek a long-term deal with new star Paul Goldschmidt, and the opening of camp also starts the clock on pre-season conversations. That said, there are indications that the St. Louis organization will not impose any timing restrictions on talks, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted in a recent article regarding a host of Spring Training issues. The team is evidently prepared to hold discussions in whatever time and manner Goldschmidt himself prefers, even if that means keeping the line open in the midst of his first (and potentially only) season in St. Louis.
- Pirates righty Jameson Taillon enters the 2019 season facing big expectations, as Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. He also has his eye on the broader player market as a union rep and student of the business of the game. The 27-year-old starter says he’s not only hoping for free agents to earn big salaries, but rooting for those that do to perform well under their contracts. As Gorman notes, the Bucs hold Taillon in high esteem and would surely be interested in working out an extension — particularly given that he’s still a full season away from arbitration. It stands to reason, though, that the former second overall draft pick will not sell his future campaigns for anything less than full value.
- The Royals have interest in veteran righty Drew Storen, The Athletic’s Jayson Stark reports (Twitter link). Storen didn’t pitch last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2017. The 31-year-old was a key figure in the Nationals’ bullpen from 2010-15, though he suffered through a disastrous half-season stint with the Blue Jays in 2016 before righting the ship after a July trade to the Mariners. Prior to his injury, Storen had a 4.45 ERA, 7.9 K/9, and 2.09 K/BB rate over 54 2/3 innings out of the Reds’ bullpen in 2017. Storen won’t carry a heavy price tag as he makes his return from TJ surgery, making him a target for payroll-conscious Kansas City.
Bailey, 33 in May, was part of the pre-holiday Reds-Dodgers swap that sent Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Alex Wood to Cincinnati. There as a salary placeholder only, meant to offset, with the $28MM remaining on his deal, the sizable chunk still owed to Kemp, Bailey was immediately released by Los Angeles upon official approval of the deal by the Commissioner’s office.
After the 2013 season, in which Bailey parlayed a 3.49 ERA/3.31 FIP/3.34 xFIP (4.1 fWAR) campaign into a 6-year, $105MM extension, the former first-rounder has done little to nothing since. A solid, albeit injury-shortened, 2014 campaign was followed by a string of elbow troubles, kicked off by a 2015 Tommy John and culminating with a surgery, two years later, to remove bone spurs in the area.
Bailey’s 2018 was marred by right knee inflammation and a dangerous penchant for surrendering the longball – in 106 1/3 IP, Bailey allowed a staggering 23 bombs for Cincinnati, posting a 6.09 ERA/5.55 FIP mark that was only a slight decline from the year prior. Though his average fastball velocity has remained mostly steady, at 93.8 MPH, its efficacy has waned considerably: by FanGraphs’ measure, the pitch has been among the league’s worst in the category over the last two seasons, with the righty’s swinging strike rate plummeting to below 9%. Bailey, who once relied on the four-seamer over 72% of the time at its peak, has never boasted much in the way of swing-and-miss secondary stuff.
The Royals, who appear primed to enter the 2019 campaign with the underwhelming Brad Keller/Jakob Junis duo at the top of the rotation, may yet have a place for Homer at the rotation’s back end. Lingering gopher-ball issues could certainly be assuaged in the cavernous Kauffman Stadium dimensions, so perhaps the rebuilding Royals are a perfect place for Bailey to attempt a career resurrection.
Thursday: Rustin Dodd of The Athletic tweets that Boxberger has passed his physical and officially signed with the Royals.
Wednesday: The Royals are “closing in” on a one-year contract with free-agent righty Brad Boxberger, according to MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan (via Twitter). A client of the Boras Corporation, he’ll receive a $2.2MM guarantee along with $1MM in potential incentives, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter links).
The 30-year-old Boxberger was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks in advance of his final season of arbitration eligibility. He was projected to earn at a $4.9MM rate, owing in no small part to the fact that he racked up 32 saves last year.
At times, Boxberger has been quite an effective late-inning reliever. In his 284 1/3 total MLB innings, he carries a 3.42 ERA with 11.6 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9.
As those numbers hint, opposing hitters have generally had a tough time making contact with Boxberger’s four-seam/change combo. On occasion, though, he has trouble inducing them to chase out of the zone and ends up doling out too many free passes. That’s what occurred in 2018, when he walked 32 in 53 1/3 innings and ended up with a 4.39 ERA on the year.
To be fair, Boxberger also racked up 12.0 K/9 in 2018, so he’s still capable of rather elite strikeout numbers. But his fastball velocity dropped below 92 mph for the first time in his career. With more time to react, opposing hitters only offered at 27.6% of the pitches that Boxberger left outside of the zone.
It’s not hard to imagine Boxberger competing for the closer’s job in Kansas City this spring. Wily Peralta took over that role last year, locking up saves in all of his 14 chances, but he doesn’t exactly have a longstanding history of success as a reliever and handed out 23 walks in his 34 1/3 innings on the season.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The importance of having a dominant bullpen was on display in 2018, when four of the majors’ five best relief units in terms of fWAR helped pitch their teams to the postseason. On the other hand, four of the league’s five worst relief corps (and nine of the game’s bottom 10) watched the playoffs from home. So now, with the spring fast approaching, where do last year’s bottom-feeding bullpens stand? As you’ll see below, at least one has made major improvements this winter, but the rest look iffier. While there’s still time for these teams to add help from a free-agent class that remains awash with veterans, this quintet’s bullpen-related heavy lifting may be all but complete for the offseason.
Royals (minus-2.2 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen via Jason Martinez of Roster Resource ): Going by fWAR, the Royals’ 2018 bullpen was among the five worst of the past decade, though the unit “only” posted the majors’ second-highest ERA (5.09) a year ago. Those hideous numbers came in spite of the presence of Kelvin Herrera, who logged a near-spotless 1.05 ERA over 25 2/3 innings before the Royals traded the then-pending free agent to the Nationals in June. They also came thanks in large part to Brandon Maurer, who’s now a Pirate after pitching to a ghastly 7.76 ERA/6.58 FIP in 31 1/3 innings out of Kansas City’s bullpen last season.
Heading into the upcoming campaign, there’s a lot of work to be done to turn this Herrera-less group into a strength, but the Royals haven’t addressed it in any major way this offseason. However, considering they’re coming off a 58-win season and also won’t approach contention in 2019, it’s not surprising the Royals have shied away from major league free agency. They’ve instead taken less expensive routes to acquire potential bullpen pieces, having pulled in Michael Ynoa on a minor league deal, Sam McWilliams and Chris Ellis in the Rule 5 Draft and Conner Greene via waivers. Unfortunately, going by ZIPS projections, no one from that quartet looks like a promising bet to produce much in 2019. Likewise, ZIPS doesn’t have particularly high hopes for the majority of the Royals’ bullpen holdovers from 2018. The system does, however, like 23-year-old left-hander Richard Lovelady – who has turned in excellent minor league numbers but hasn’t yet reached the majors.
Marlins (minus-2.1 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen): At 5.34, the Marlins’ relief corps managed the game’s worst ERA last year and the sport’s third-highest mark since 2009. The main culprits were Ben Meyer, Junichi Tazawa and Tyler Cloyd, who combined for 56 2/3 innings and each registered an ERA of at least 8.68. Tazawa and Cloyd are now out of the organization. Meyer, meanwhile, is still around, but he’s not even on Miami’s 40-man roster. But neither is righty Nick Wittgren, who led Marlins relievers in ERA (2.94) and FIP (3.13) in 33 2/3 frames last year. The Marlins made the odd choice to designate the 27-year-old Wittgren for assignment earlier this week to make room for the signing of infielder Neil Walker, who’s six years Wittgren’s senior and only under control for one season. Other notable contributors no longer in the mix include Kyle Barraclough (who nosedived in 2018 and was dealt to the Nationals in October), Brad Ziegler (Miami traded him to Arizona last July, and he has since retired) and Javy Guerra (now a Blue Jay after putting up a 5.55 ERA in 2018).
The best returning pieces in Miami’s bullpen look to be Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley, who each registered solid seasons in 2018. Otherwise, it’s a largely unproven cast – one that hasn’t picked up any major league free agents and seems likely to once again record below-average numbers this year. As with the Royals, the Marlins are rebuilding, so they’ve explored alternative paths for help. Thus far, they’ve acquired Nick Anderson (via trade with the Twins), Tyler Stevens (via trade with the Angels), minor league free agents R.J. Alvarez and Brian Moran, Rule 5 selection Riley Ferrell, and intriguing waiver claim Julian Fernandez.
Mets (minus-0.6 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen): Unlike the Royals and Marlins, the Mets are making a real effort to win in 2019. As a result, the bullpen has been a key area of focus for new Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who has swung a blockbuster trade to reel in arguably the best closer in baseball (ex-Mariner Edwin Diaz) and spent a combined $40MM on free agents Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson this winter. Diaz, Familia and Wilson will join Seth Lugo, who was outstanding in 2018, and Robert Gsellman to give the Mets no fewer than five capable relievers.
Perhaps the Mets will also benefit from less heralded pickups in Luis Avilan and Arquimedes Caminero, whom they signed to minors deals, and Rule 5 pick Kyle Dowdy. Regardless, New York’s new cast of relievers looks a whole lot better than last year’s bullpen, which relied too much on the likes of Paul Sewald, Jerry Blevins, Jacob Rhame, Tim Peterson and Anthony Swarzak, among other ineffective options, en route to a 4.96 ERA. Sewald, Rhame and Peterson are still in the organization, albeit as depth pieces, while Blevins and Swarzak are now gone. All things considered, ZIPS expects the Mets’ revamped bullpen to end up as one of the majors’ best in 2019.
Indians (plus-0.4 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen): Cleveland found its way to another division title in 2018 despite its weak bullpen, which limped to a 4.60 ERA as innings leaders Cody Allen, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Neil Ramirez and Andrew Miller scuffled. Allen, McAllister and Miller are now gone, leaving the Indians with a bullpen that, in spite of the great Brad Hand’s presence, still looks somewhat questionable. The club did well to re-up lefty Oliver Perez, whose 2018 renaissance earned him a guaranteed deal last month, though he’s the only major league free agent Cleveland has signed. The team also made a waiver claim for A.J. Cole, whose penchant for surrendering home runs led both the Nationals and Yankees to give up on him in the past eight months, and brought in veterans Justin Grimm and Brooks Pounders on minor league accords. Big league success has eluded Grimm and Pounders over the past couple years, however, so the Indians surely aren’t expecting significant contributions from either. Instead, their relief corps will count on returning Indians – potentially including flamethrower Danny Salazar, a starter from 2013-17 who missed all of last season because of shoulder problems. While Salazar could factor in at some point, it won’t be at the start of the season.
Nationals (plus-0.4 fWAR; projected season-opening bullpen): Washington, another prospective contender, has made a couple of interesting bullpen moves this offseason after last year’s underwhelming showing. In addition to trading for the hard-throwing Barraclough, who held his own from 2015-17, they inked fellow high-velocity righty Trevor Rosenthal to a $7MM guarantee in free agency. Rosenthal, 28, sat out all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the former Cardinals closer was mostly tremendous out of their bullpen from 2012-17.
Should a healthy Rosenthal return to form, it would be an enormous boon for the Nationals, who saw a different ex-Cards reliever – Greg Holland – experience a rebirth in their uniform last season. But after logging a microscopic 0.84 ERA in 21 1/3 innings in D.C., Holland joined the Diamondbacks in free agency. The Holland-less Nats are now slated to rely mostly on elite but oft-injured closer Sean Doolittle, Barraclough, Rosenthal, Justin Miller, Koda Glover, Sammy Solis and Matt Grace, with Tanner Rainey (acquired from the Reds for Tanner Roark) and minor league signings Vidal Nuno and J.J. Hoover around as depth. All said, it’s a high-risk, high-reward bunch, given the injuries Doolittle and Rosenthal have dealt with and the up-and-down performances of Barraclough, Miller, Glover, Solis and Grace.
Right-hander Dillon Gee took to Instagram on Monday evening to announce that after a professional career that spanned more than a decade and included parts of eight MLB seasons and a season in Japan, he is retiring from the game.
Gee, who’ll turn 33 in April, spent the 2018 season with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball but, prior to that, appeared in eight consecutive MLB seasons with the Mets, Royals, Rangers and Twins.
Gee’s most prominent role came with the Mets, his original organization, from the 2011-14 seasons, during which he was largely a fixture in the team’s rotation. Gee appeared in 101 games, 98 of them starts, across that four-year stretch and gave the Mets a fairly steady stream of reliable innings. While he was oft overshadowed by a series of vaunted arms who were emerging on the scene around that same time (e.g. Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler), Gee turned in 606 2/3 innings of 4.01 ERA ball in that four-year period.
Unfortunately, as is the case with so many pitchers, injuries took their toll on Gee following that run. Gee dealt with a blood clot that required surgery in 2012 and perhaps even more detrimentally underwent the dreaded thoracic outlet surgery following the 2016 season. He’d go on to return with better results than many TOS patients, pitching to a 3.47 ERA through 49 1/3 innings between the Rangers and Twins in 2017, though that also proved to be his last MLB action.
In all, Gee will retire with a career 51-48 record, a 4.09 ERA, 6.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9 over the life of 853 2/3 Major League innings. Though he’ll retire at a relatively young age, Gee still did quite well for himself in baseball, taking home north of $13MM in player salaries — a sum that most 21st-round selections can scarcely fathom.