- The Giants have released first baseman/outfielder Kyle Blanks, tweets Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area. The 30-year-old Blanks missed the 2016 campaign with foot injuries and inked a minor league pact with San Francisco this winter. Through 34 games and 92 plate appearances, Blanks has yet to deliver much in the way of offense despite the hitter-friendly nature of the Pacific Coast League. He’s hitting .232/.315/.390 with three homers and four doubles. The former Padres prospect does, however, have an excellent track record in Triple-A, having slashed .291/.390/.546 with 40 homers in 770 total plate appearances at that level.
The Giants have promoted 2015 first-round pick Chris Shaw from Double-A to Triple-A, and as Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area writes, the former first baseman will continue his work in left field following the latest promotion. Giants GM Bobby Evans spoke to reporters about Shaw’s impressive run in Double-A (.301/.390/.511, six homers, 10 doubles) and stated that Shaw was simply “ready for the next challenge.” Pavlovic notes that although Shaw is the more highly regarded prospect, fellow minor league outfielder Austin Slater is probably ahead of him in the pecking order when it comes to a potential MLB promotion. Shaw doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster this year in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, but Slater, who is hitting .313/.376/.435 in 40 Triple-A games, does. As for Shaw’s ability to handle the outfield despite his considerable 6’4″, 235-pound frame, Evans noted that Shaw played nearly 100 games in the outfield in college and added that the team wants to see if he can get comfortable in left field. That, of course, is perhaps the Giants’ greatest position of need at the Major League level, and Shaw is blocked at first base by Brandon Belt.
More on the Giants…
- Right-hander Johnny Cueto was hit hard again in yesterday’s start, and he revealed after the game that he’s been pitching through a pair of blisters on his right hand, writes MLB.com’s Chris Haft. Cueto has one blister on his index finger and another on his middle finger, though he wouldn’t point to that issue as the source of his 2017 struggles. “I’m getting hit,” Cueto said bluntly, noting that the blisters are “not an excuse.” To this point there’s been no talk of a quick stint on the 10-day DL for Cueto to allow his fingers to heal up, though other pitchers around the league (e.g. Rich Hill, Aaron Sanchez) have required multiple absences due to blister troubles.
- Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News writes that the Giants are giving Kelby Tomlinson continued work in center field with their Triple-A affiliate as hope that he can emerge as a center field alternative on the big league roster. Presently, Gorkys Hernandez and Justin Ruggiano are the team’s only other options beyond starter Denard Span, but neither has provided much in the way of offense. Ruggiano has displayed some pop but is hitting .244/.273/.415, while Hernandez has posted a woeful .160/.248/.213 batting line through 106 plate appearances.
- Baggarly also notes that Korean star Jae-gyun Hwang is hitting fairly well in Triple-A and is likely to receive a call-up before the July 1 opt-out provision in his contract. Both Evans and manager Bruce Bochy have suggested that they hope to see what they have in Hwang eventually, per Baggarly. Hwang has hit for a respectable average and displayed some power thus far while seeing time at both infield corners and in left field. However, his 32-to-5 K/BB ratio suggests that his approach still needs some refinement. Through 168 plate appearances, he’s hitting .280/.298/.435 with three homers, 12 doubles and a pair of triples.
First baseman/left fielder Chris Marrero has agreed to a deal with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, tweets Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News was the first to report that Marrero, who was recently designated for assignment and outrighted by the Giants, was close to joining the Buffaloes (Twitter link).
The Giants will receive some level of cash compensation for selling Marrero’s contract to the Buffaloes, and Marrero himself will presumably be paid more than he’d have earned if he stuck with the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, thus making it a winning scenario for all parties involved. Marrero is represented by MSM Sports.
Marrero, 28, was a first-round pick by the Nationals (15th overall) back in 2006 and made his big league debut with the Nats as a 22-year-old in 2011. However, he’s never solidified himself in the Majors and would only see action in parts of two big league seasons with the Nationals before being cut loose in 2013.
Since that time, Marrero has bounced around the minor league circuit, logging seasons with the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates for the Orioles, White Sox and Red Sox before signing a minors pact with the Giants this past winter. A Herculean Spring Training in which Marrero clubbed seven homers with a .979 OPS (plus some injuries to his competitors) led Marrero to break camp with the Giants as part of a left-field platoon with Jarrett Parker. However, Marrero hit just .132/.171/.211 across 41 plate appearances with the Giants before being designated for assignment to clear a spot for Christian Arroyo.
For all of his struggles in the Majors, Marrero has a much stronger .274/.340/.430 career batting line in parts of seven Triple-A seasons. That includes a robust .284/.344/.494 slash and a career-best 23 homers with the Red Sox’ Triple-A affiliate in 2016. If Marrero can find success overseas, he can certainly carve out a lucrative career playing in Japan. Alternatively, he could make some adjustments to his game and pique the interest of an MLB club, perhaps leading to another crack at the Majors somewhere down the line.
- Giants center fielder Denard Span is limited by a left thumb problem, he told reporters including Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area (Twitter link). It doesn’t appear as if it’s something that’ll require a DL stint, but it does represent yet another nick for the 33-year-old. Span is hitting just .258/.296/.398 on the year thus far, with a shoulder injury also having limited him in the early going.
Recently, I took a quick look at all of the players with vesting options for the 2018 season, noting that many of the outcomes within will have significant ramifications for both the upcoming free-agent market and the future of those players’ respective teams. The implications are even greater for the eight players that have opt-out provisions of some type at the end of the current season. In some cases, the opt-out in question could either liberate that player’s team from more than $80MM in future commitments or saddle them with that same burdensome amount. (And, in most cases, if the player isn’t opting out, the remaining salary is indeed a burden, as the player either performed too poorly to opt out and/or got hurt.)
Here’s a look at the opt-out decisions that are looming at season’s end…
- Justin Upton, Tigers: The disastrous start to Upton’s six-year, $132.5MM contract now looks like a distant memory. After struggling to a .228/.286/.369 batting line through his first three months in the Motor City, Upton has surged with a .255/.342/.535 slash and 31 home runs over his past 471 big league plate appearances. Strikeouts are still an issue for Upton, but he’s also walking more than ever (15 percent in 2017). He’s on pace to finish the season right around the 30-homer mark, and if he can do so with an OBP in the mid-.300s and respectable marks in left field — he’s currently at +4 DRS and +3.4 UZR — then the remaining four years and $88.5MM on his contract will pose an interesting decision for Upton, who is currently playing out his age-29 season.
- Johnny Cueto, Giants: Cueto looked like an ace in his first year with San Francisco but has stumbled to a 4.50 ERA through his first 58 innings with the Giants in 2017. He’s still averaging better than eight punchouts per nine innings to go along with solid (but diminished) control. However, he’s seen his ground-ball rate plummet from 50 percent to 39 percent, and paired with the increase in walk rate (1.8 BB/9 to 2.5 BB/9), that has led to some issues. There’s still plenty of time for Cueto to get back on track, but the remaining four years and $84MM on his contract doesn’t look quite as easy to walk away from as it did just seven weeks ago. He’ll be 32 next season.
- Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: Cueto’s slow start looks Cy Young-worthy when juxtaposed with Tanaka, who has logged a ghastly 6.56 ERA through 48 innings in 2017. Like Cueto, Tanaka has seen his control take a step back, though his strikeout and ground-ball rates are consistent, and his velocity is fine. Tanaka’s average on balls in play is up, however, and his homer-to-flyball rate has skyrocketed from 12 percent to 24.5 percent. Given his age (29 in November), Tanaka would be a virtual lock to opt out of the remaining three years and $67MM on his contract with a good season. If he can’t overcome his home-run woes, however, he may instead opt for the substantial amount of guaranteed cash remaining on his deal.
- Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins: Chen’s opt-out is perhaps the easiest to determine of any player on this list. Unfortunately for the Marlins, that’s due to the fact that he’s currently sidelined indefinitely due to arm troubles. Chen is on the disabled list with arm fatigue, though it’s been reported previously that he’d been pitching through a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, which was sustained in 2016. Chen hasn’t pitched well as a Marlin even when healthy, and at this point it would take a quick recovery and a dominant finish for him to even consider opting out of the remaining three years and $52MM on his contract.
- Ian Kennedy, Royals: Kennedy has logged a solid 3.74 ERA in 233 1/3 innings since signing a five-year deal with Kansas City, but he’s already in his age-32 season. His strikeout rate and control have taken a step back in 2017 as well, and he’s remained homer-prone despite pitching half his games at the spacious Kauffman Stadium. Kennedy turned in a very strong final four months in his last contract season — which helped him land this surprising contract in the first place — but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll opt out of the remaining three years and $49MM on his current contract.
- Greg Holland, Rockies: To be clear, Holland cannot technically opt out of his contract just yet. The one-year, $7MM contract that he signed with the Rox contained a $10MM mutual option that can vest as a $15MM player option if Holland finishes 30 games. At this juncture, though, it seems as if an injury is all that can stop Holland’s player option from vesting. He’s already finished 20 of the 30 games he needs, and he’s currently boasting a preposterous 0.96 ERA with a 26-to-6 K/BB ratio through 18 2/3 innings. Apparently, pitching at Coors Field suits Holland just fine, though if he keeps this up, it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll turn down the one year and $15MM he’d receive for a second season at Coors and hit the market in search of a lucrative three- or four-year contract.
- Matt Wieters, Nationals: The stagnant offseason market for Wieters’ services culminated in a two-year, $21MM contract with the Nats that offers Wieters the opportunity to test free agency once again next winter, if he wishes. To this point, it’s looking likely that Wieters will pass on that player option. His walks, hard-hit rate and BABIP are up, none of which has come at the expense of his strikeout rate. Wieters is hitting a solid .283/.358/.442 with four homers on the year. His caught-stealing rate is down (23 percent), and his framing remains questionable, but the improved offense makes it seem likely that, even if Wieters again struggles to find the strong multi-year deal he craves, a contract comparable to the one year and $10.5MM he can opt out of will once again be available on the open market.
- Welington Castillo, Orioles: Castillo’s two-year, $13MM contract with the Orioles was a pleasant surprise for a player who had previously been locked into arbitration in Arizona before surprisingly being non-tendered. He’s off to a torrid .348/.375/.543 start to the season with four homers and six doubles through 96 plate appearances. There’s a fair bit of luck involved in that production, as evidenced by the 30-year-old’s .418 BABIP. But his strikeouts are down this season, and he’s thrown out a career-best 41 percent of attempted base thieves. His framing marks, while still below average, have improved on a per-pitch basis as well. His glove may prevent him from fully cashing in, but Castillo’s bat could make the remaining one year and $7MM on his contract easy enough to walk away from, assuming he’s healthy.
Jon Heyman of Fan Rag takes a look around the league in his latest notes columns. In addition to providing updates on every National League and American League team, he takes a particularly close look at the Nationals in separate posts. Let’s take a look at some of the items of particular relevance to the transactional landscape:
- The Nationals are beginning to put in phone calls to rivals as they start the search for a new closer in earnest, Heyman writes. Among the players under consideration by the team, at present, are a variety of names with differing contract situations. David Robertson of the White Sox, Kelvin Herrera of the Royals, and A.J. Ramos of the Marlins all have two years remaining at less-than-bargain rates (the latter two via arbitration). Alex Colome of the Rays and Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays, meanwhile, bring more years of cheap control — and, in all likelihood, astronomical asking prices. Then there’s old friend Mark Melancon, who is in the first year of the four-year pact he signed with the Giants — who evidently beat the Nats’ offer over the winter. Needless to say, there’s quite a lot that could change that picture over the coming months.
- Looking back a bit, the Nationals came closer than any other team to landing Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates over the winter, Heyman adds.Per the report, the sides held talks that “revolved around three players, including Lucas Giolito and veteran Gio Gonzalez.” It’s not immediately clear what else might have been involved, and where things went south, but it’s interesting to hear those parameters. The Nats ultimately pivoted to Adam Eaton, of course, but he’s now out for the year. Perhaps it’s conceivable that the team could take another look at McCutchen, though no doubt the teams would need to start discussions anew with Giolito in Chicago, Gonzalez a key member of the Nats staff and McCutchen struggling.
- The Marlins sale talks had seemingly been building, but Heyman writes that there’s no deal ready to be made at present. For one thing, there are whispers that the purchase price will continue to drop as the organization’s financial health comes under greater scrutiny. For another, there are still questions about where the money will come from on the buyer’s side. “[A]t least the Bush-Jeter group and maybe the Romney-Glavine group, too, [are] still seeking investors,” per Heyman.
- Two significant recent investments made by the Marlins aren’t delivering value at present. Per Heyman, lefty Wei-Yin Chen is headed for a second opinion with his elbow issue still failing to progress. It seems the team could be bracing for a relatively lengthy absence. And Heyman notes that some in the baseball operations department weren’t thrilled at the idea of extending Martin Prado last year at $40MM over three years. He has been playing well enough, but is back on the DL with a recurring hamstring injury.
- Pirates righty Gerrit Cole has looked strong in the early going, but Heyman says the team may not be interested in dealing him even if they continue to lag in the standings. “We’re not in any rush,” a club source tells him. “I don’t think we’re there yet.” The 26-year-old owns a 2.84 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9; while the peripherals are largely in line with his 2016 work, the improved results are supported by jumps in swinging-strike rate (9.9%) and average fastball velocity (a career-high 96.1 mph). With two more years of arb eligibility to go, Cole would likely command a big price at the deadline.
- While the Rays entered play today just one game under .500, that doesn’t mean they aren’t readying for the possibility of selling. Of course, given the team’s pitching depth, it’s imaginable that the team could send out a veteran while still maintaining hopes of cracking the postseason. Per Heyman, Tampa Bay has “already begun calling to get a gauge on the value of Alex Cobb.” Rivals also think the club will be amenable to discussing both Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer, he adds. Cobb, though, is the most obvious possible trade chip. The 29-year-old was homer-prone in his return from Tommy John surgery last year, but has looked solid through 56 1/3 innings this year — his last before reaching free agency. He carries a 3.67 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 to go with a 47.5% groundball rate. Cobb still isn’t getting swings and misses like he used to, but his velocity is better than ever and he has tamped down on the long balls thus far.
- The Giants had planned to activate Mark Melancon from the disabled list this Friday but chose to bring him back two days earlier than expected, writes Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area. San Francisco entered the day with the opportunity to close out a sweep of the division-rival Dodgers but knew that interim closer Derek Law wouldn’t be available after pitching four out of five days. The Giants were shut down by Clayton Kershaw, however, rendering Melancon’s early activation a bit of a moot point. The Giants entered the day with five straight wins under their belts (six in their past seven games), however, and the return of Melancon should only deepen the relief corps. Even after their recent improvements, though, the Giants are still in a 17-25 hole — nine games back from the division lead. Kelby Tomlinson was optioned to Triple-A to clear room for Melancon.
- The Giants reached a minors deal with righty Collin Balester. The 30-year-old appeared briefly last year in the Korea Baseball Organization’s Samsung Lions. His most recent affiliated action came in 2015, when he posted solid results in the upper minors but struggled to a 7.47 ERA over 15 2/3 MLB innings.
The Giants announced tonight that right fielder Hunter Pence has been placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a left hamstring strain. Fellow outfielder Mac Williamson is up from Triple-A Sacramento to take Pence’s spot on the roster. The loss of Pence is the latest blow to a Giants roster that has seen a number of key players go down with injuries this year, though Pence’s performance hasn’t been anywhere near what one would expect from the typically productive slugger. The 34-year-old has been at least 18 percent better than the league-average hitter in each of the past four seasons, per park-adjusted metrics OPS+ and wRC+, and he’s batted a combined .281/.339/.463 in that time. However, this year, he’s mustered just a .243/.289/.338 batting line through his first 149 plate appearances.
- Giants closer Mark Melancon is on the mend and appears to be progressing well, as the right-hander told reporters that he threw a 22-pitch mound session today (Twitter links via John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle and Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area. Melancon said that he was “pretty much full go,” and Pavlovic notes that he can be activated as soon as tomorrow. Derek Law has been filling in as San Francisco’s closer with Melancon on the shelf.
- The Giants are mulling a stint on the disabled list for right fielder Hunter Pence, relays Michael Wagaman of MLB.com. Pence, who has been on the shelf this weekend, underwent an MRI on Sunday that revealed a mild hamstring strain. The 34-year-old is among the many Giants who have started slowly this season, having hit just .243/.289/.338 in 149 plate appearances.