- The Rays would’ve been the biggest story in baseball last night if not for the Hosmer news, having designated outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment in an eye-opening move, acquired first baseman C.J. Cron from the Angels and traded righty Jake Odorizzi to the Twins. It wasn’t at all surprising that the Rays dealt Odorizzi, who had been in trade rumors for months, but it was unexpected that they only received a borderline top 30 Twins prospect (Single-A shortstop Jermaine Palacios) in return. General manager Erik Neander addressed that, telling Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times and other reporters that the Rays “probably have him valued quite a bit higher than some of the public publications.” Ultimately, with the Rays set to begin full-squad workouts on Monday, parting with Odorizzi and Dickerson was something they had to do, according to Neander. “You just don’t want a cloud of uncertainty hanging over our group,” he said. “It was time to move forward.” Even if the Rays end up cutting Dickerson and getting nothing back, they’ll justify it as essentially trading two years of control over him for three of Cron and saving money in the process, per Topkin. After parting with Odorizzi and Dickerson, the club could use its added “financial flexibility” to “reinvest” in free agency, Neander said Sunday (Twitter link via Topkin).
- A Dickerson trade was not imminent as of last night, Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported (Twitter link), but a deal could come together with the AL East rival Orioles, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun suggests. The Orioles, who have been on the lookout for a lefty-hitting outfielder for months, “will undoubtedly inquire about Dickerson,” Encina writes. Dickerson has impressed Orioles manager Buck Showalter in the past, relays Encina, who adds that being in the same division hasn’t stopped the Rays and O’s from swinging deals at previous points (Baltimore acquired infielder Tim Beckham from Tampa Bay last season, for instance).
The Twins have acquired right-hander Jake Odorizzi from the Rays, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports (Twitter link). Shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios is going back to the Rays in return, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reports. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported earlier tonight that the two clubs had agreed to some sort of a trade. In a corresponding move, Michael Pineda has been placed on the 60-day DL to create space for Odorizzi on the Twins’ roster.
Odorizzi has been widely mentioned in trade rumors this winter, with such teams as the Orioles, Brewers, Yankees, Angels, Phillies, and Nationals also noted as having some interest in his services. It’s probably fair to assume that just about every team in baseball with a need for starting pitching checked in on Odorizzi given his solid track record and his two remaining years of control. Odorizzi recently defeated the Rays in an arbitration hearing and will earn $6.3MM in 2018, making him a particularly affordable asset for a smaller-market team like Minnesota. The Rays and Twins had been talking pitching deals for much of the winter, with Minnesota focusing on both Odorizzi and Chris Archer, who carried a significantly higher asking price due to his team-friendly contract and four years of control.
Minnesota has been connected to virtually every available pitcher in the sport on both the trade and free agent fronts this winter, and in Odorizzi, the Twins have landed an arm that could be on the mound for them come Opening Day. Rotation help was a key need for a Twins team that had a lot of youth and question marks beyond Ervin Santana, and even his frontline status took a hit with the news that Santana will miss some time at the start of the season due to finger surgery. Odorizzi and Jose Berrios will now sit atop the Twins’ rotation until Santana returns, with Adalberto Mejia and Kyle Gibson lined up for jobs, Tyler Duffey and Anibal Sanchez battling for a fifth starter’s role and Phil Hughes also expected to return at some point during the season after recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty within that pitching mix, and it isn’t out the question that the Twins make another pitching acquisition (a signing or another notable trade) to further supplement the rotation. Conversely, the club could just make another depth signing or two, such as another veteran like Sanchez on a minor league contract.
More pitching reinforcements could be an option for Minnesota because it can’t be ignored that Odorizzi’s performance took a big step backwards in 2017. He was limited to 143 1/3 IP due to two separate DL stints for hamstring and back problems, and he posted a 4.14 ERA, 2.08 K/BB rate, and 7.97 K/9. While these numbers seem solid, ERA predictors (5.43 FIP, 5.10 xFIP, 4.90 SIERA) had a much more pessimistic view of Odorizzi’s performance, as a .227 BABIP likely helped keep his actual ERA in check. While he delivered a career-best 11.2% swinging-strike rate, Odorizzi also delivered the worst hard-hit ball (36.8%), home run rate (15.5%) and BB/9 (3.83) numbers of his four full MLB seasons. Baseball Reference actually judged Odorizzi as below-replacement level (-0.1 bWAR) last season, while Fangraphs rated him barely higher with 0.1 fWAR.
Since Odorizzi has been the subject of trade speculation for well over a year now, Tampa Bay could well face criticism that they waited too long to move the righty, especially given the fact that Palacios is a fairly lightly-regarded prospect within Minnesota’s farm system. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the infielder 24th on his list of Twins prospects, with MLB.com rating Palacios 27th amongst Minnesota farmhands. The 21-year-old Venezuela native was signed in 2013 and he has a .290/.345/.426 slash line over 1303 pro plate appearances, 263 of those PA coming at high-A ball last season. MLB.com’s scouting report described him as “an offensive-minded middle infielder whose bat is a little bit ahead of his glove….He has some potential at the plate to hit for average and good extra-base pop.” Palacios’s defense got solid reviews, though the assumption was that he would eventually have to change positions due to the number of other good shortstops ahead of him in the Twins’ system; the same could be true for him in Tampa given Willy Adames’ rep as the Rays’ shortstop of the future.
Between the Odorizzi deal and designating Corey Dickerson for assignment earlier tonight, the Rays have now moved roughly $11.2MM off their books, and that number could jump to $12.25MM if another team claims Dickerson or makes a trade for his services. With their projected payroll still in franchise-high territory even after those moves and the Evan Longoria trade, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the likes of Denard Span, Alex Colome, Brad Miller, Adeiny Hechavarria, and the newly-acquired C.J. Cron all shopped before Opening Day.
Even without Odorizzi, however, the Rays still boast a pretty strong pitching staff — Archer, Blake Snell, Jake Faria, Matt Andriese, and Nathan Eovaldi are the projected starting five, with top prospect Brent Honeywell waiting for a call-up at Triple-A. Some more work is likely necessary for the lineup and bullpen, however, and it will be challenging to both save dollars and add enough talent to remain competitive in a tough AL East.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
The Rays have acquired first baseman C.J. Cron from the Angels for a player to be named later, both teams annonuced. In a surprising corresponding move, Tampa also announced that outfielder Corey Dickerson has been designated for assignment to create roster space.
Cron had been noted as a potential trade candidate for much of the winter, especially after the Angels signed Shohei Ohtani and Zack Cozart. Ohtani’s presence in the DH mix meant more planned first base time for Albert Pujols, and Cozart’s installation as the everyday third baseman left Luis Valbuena floating between third and first. With Cron’s departure, the Halos can now use Pujols at DH and Valbuena at first base, with Pujols shifting to first a couple of times per week to give Ohtani a chance to hit. Jefry Marte is also on hand as inexpensive corner infield depth.
“With the construction of our roster and the personnel we have in place for this upcoming season, we have to place a premium on flexibility and maneuverability within our position player group,” Angels GM Billy Eppler told reporters, including Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. Cron is only a first baseman and was out of options, leaving him the odd man out on a three-man Angels bench (necessitated by the likelihood of the team carrying 13 pitchers).
Never quite a regular in the Angels lineup over his four MLB seasons, Cron has hit .262/.307/.449 with 59 homers over 1475 career plate appearances. As per Fangraphs’ wRC+ metric, Cron has created seven percent more runs (107 wRC+) than the average hitter over that same stretch, despite a lack of on-base ability. He is also something of a reverse-splits hitter from the right side of the plate, with a career .772 OPS against right-handers and only a .716 OPS against southpaws.
These splits make Cron a something less-than-ideal platoon partner with Brad Miller, the Rays’ incumbent first baseman, given the left-handed Miller’s struggles against same-sided pitching. Cron could receive regular duty as either a first baseman or a designated hitter, though the Rays would have to be confident that Cron’s 2017 season (the worst of his career) was just an aberration due to foot injuries. Cron did increase his hard-hit ball rate to a career-best 35.8% last season, though his main issue was simply making putting the bat on the ball at all, as evidenced lowered contact rates and a career-worst 25.7% strikeout rate.
Perhaps the bigger headline here is that the Rays are prepared to entirely cut ties with Dickerson, who made the AL All-Star team just last summer. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 homers over 629 PA in 2017, though the large majority of that damage came in the first half of the season. Dickerson posted a .903 OPS in 370 PA before the break, and only a .690 OPS in 259 PA after the break. That dropoff notwithstanding, Dickerson was a 2.6 fWAR player last season, posted respectable defensive numbers in left field (+4.5 UZR/150, -1 Defensive Runs Saved), is still just 28 years old and is under team control for two more seasons.
As always with the Rays, financial elements played a key role. It was widely expected that the Rays were going to cut payroll this winter, with Dickerson and the team’s other priciest arbitration-eligible players standing out as the likeliest candidates to be traded. (Not to mention the Rays moving their biggest contract in Evan Longoria.) Dickerson is slated to earn $5.95MM in 2018 after avoiding arbitration with the team, while Cron is set to earn $2.3MM in 2018 and has two more arb-eligible years before reaching free agency after the 2020 season.
Dickerson’s salary is not guaranteed since he is an arbitration-eligible player, so the Rays would only owe him 30 days’ worth of termination pay if he ends up being released after the 10-day DFA period. A team that claims Dickerson or works out a trade with the Rays during the next 10 days would take on his full $5.95MM salary. If the Rays were willing to go to this extent to unload Dickerson’s salary, it wouldn’t be a shock to see other players (perhaps Miller or Adeiny Hechevarria, not more valuable trade chips like Jake Odorizzi or Alex Colome) also let go before their arbitration salaries become guaranteed.
Under normal circumstances, you’d think Dickerson would draw a lot of interest from several teams, though his market could be somewhat muted given the large number of power bats still available on the free agent market. One can assume the Rays have been shopping Dickerson for much of the winter and couldn’t find any takers, though it’s possible any interested teams could also swoop in now they could simply claim him without having to give up anything in return. A team could also hope that nobody else acquires Dickerson over the 10 days in the hopes of signing him to a cheaper contract.
Jake Odorizzi won his arbitration hearing against the Rays and will be paid $6.3MM in 2018 as opposed to the $6.05MM figure submitted by the team, reports Marc Tokpin of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter). It’s a $2.2MM raise overall for the right-hander, who earned $4.1MM in 2017. Odorizzi recently hired Excel Sports Management as his new representation after leaving CSE following the scandal involving former agent Jason Wood.
Odorizzi, 28 next month, has now topped the Rays in arbitration hearings in consecutive years, though his 2017 performance was not nearly as strong as his 2016 showing. This past season, Odorizzi worked to a 4.14 ERA with 8.0 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9 in 143 1/3 innings — a step back from 2016’s 187 2/3 frames of 3.69 ERA ball with an identical K/9 mark and a vastly superior 2.6 BB/9 rate.
Odorizzi’s name has come up frequently in trade rumors this offseason even with Spring Training underway, as the Rays are reportedly still looking to shed some payroll before the season begins. He’s been connected to the Twins, Brewers and Orioles, among other teams, in recent weeks.
- The Rays have signed right-hander J.D. Martin to a minors deal, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (via Twitter). Martin tossed 125 innings for the Nationals as a starter in 2009-10 but hasn’t been back to the majors since, with stints in Korea and independent baseball as well as the affiliated minor leagues. Rosenthal notes that Martin, who turned 35 last month, is trying to recast himself as a knuckleballer.
Micah Johnson’s offseason odyssey has come to an end. The Rays announced today that the infielder has cleared waivers and been sent outright to Triple-A Durham as a means of clearing a 40-man roster spot for the newly re-signed Sergio Romo.
Once considered the second baseman of the future for the White Sox, Johnson initially went from the ChiSox to the Dodgers by way of the three-team Todd Frazier trade with the Reds. Johnson spent the 2016 season in the Dodgers’ organization but was flipped to Atlanta last January. He enjoyed a solid run with Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate, hitting .289/.377/.400 in a small sample of 155 plate appearances but also missed a significant portion of the year due to a fractured left wrist.
Johnson, 27, finished out the season in the Braves organization but has since been placed on waivers and claimed by three different clubs. Johnson went from the Braves to the Reds, to the Giants and to the Rays before finally clearing waivers and remaining with his current organization. A career .224/.291/.259 hitter in 131 MLB plate appearances and .281/.341/.393 hitter in 1323 Triple-A PAs, Johnson will be in Major League camp as a non-roster invitee with the Rays this spring.
FEBRUARY 13: Romo is guaranteed $2.5MM in the deal, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). The deal is official.
FEBRUARY 9: The Rays have agreed to terms on a one-year, Major League deal with right-hander Sergio Romo, reports Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com (via Twitter). He can earn up to $2.75MM, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (Twitter link), though the amount guaranteed remains unclear. The deal is still pending a physical. Romo is a client of Meister Sports Management.
Romo, 35 next month, was cut loose by the Dodgers after struggling through 25 innings in Los Angeles last season but found new life when L.A. sent him to the Rays in a minor trade following a DFA. In 30 2/3 frames with Tampa Bay, Romo thrived, pitching to a minuscule 1.47 ERA with an excellent 28-to-7 K/BB ratio and a 38.8 percent ground-ball rate.
Though Romo’s average velocity on his four-seamer and sinker both checked in under 87 mph last season, his penchant for missing bats didn’t deteriorate whatsoever. While one wouldn’t think it when looking at the radar gun, Romo has averaged better than a strikeout per inning in all but two seasons of his career, and he averaged 9.5 K/9 on the season as a whole in 2017. That impressive mark was accompanied by a 14.9 percent swinging-strike rate that tied him with Cody Allen for 25th among 155 qualified relievers.
Romo will serve as an elder statesman in a young and rather inexperienced Tampa Bay bullpen. At present, Alex Colome projects as the team’s closer, though trade rumblings surrounding his name have persisted even as Spring Training approaches. The Rays are reportedly still under ownership directive to cut a bit more payroll, and that figures to be ever the more true after adding Romo on a one-year deal — even if it comes at a modest rate. Should Colome ultimately be moved, it stands to reason that Romo, formerly the Giants’ closer, could find himself in the mix for saves early in the season.
[Related: Updated Tampa Bay Rays depth chart]
Beyond Romo and Colome, the Rays’ bullpen, at least from the right side, looks somewhat undefined. Dan Jennings and Jose Alvarado should hold down spots as southpaws, while Matt Andriese figures to pitch from the right side in a multi-inning capacity (though Andriese could end up in the rotation depending on whether Jake Odorizzi, another trade candidate, is moved prior to Opening Day).
Other right-handers who could work in a middle relief or setup capacity include Austin Pruitt, Chaz Roe, Andrew Kittredge, Ryne Stanek, Chih-Wei Hu, Jamie Schultz and Diego Castillo — each of whom is on the 40-man roster. The Rays will also have some veterans with big league experience in camp on minor league deals, including righty Evan Scribner and lefties Vidal Nuno and Jonny Venters.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times examines some of the many open questions facing the Rays as camp opens. He says the organization is still “working hard through the spring thaw” to work out trades that will draw down payroll. Interestingly, that could come through some kind of swap that includes not only a pitcher but also a more expensive position player, says Topkin, who suggests that Corey Dickerson or Denard Span could be moved along with righty Jake Odorizzi. That concept seemingly increases the variety of potential outcomes that one might imagine, though it doesn’t help provide much clarity to an overall market situation that remains largely unresolved as camps open.
The latest buzz from the Twin Cities…
- The Twins made the Rays a trade offer involving Chris Archer “as recently as two weeks ago,” La Valle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The two clubs have often been linked in rumors this winter as Minnesota explores seemingly all free agent and trade options for starting pitching, with Archer and fellow Ray Jake Odorizzi both drawing attention from the Twins. Earlier reports stated that the Rays had interest in Max Kepler, and Neal notes that Kepler would be likely be targeted “as part of any package for Archer.” Of course, it remains to be seen if the Twins or any team can meet the Rays’ enormous asking price for the controllable young ace; Archer said last month that he feels that he’ll still be pitching in Tampa Bay in the coming season.
- Also from Neal’s piece, he lists several other free agent pitching options for the Twins, though Jake Arrieta doesn’t appear to be a likely candidate. “The Twins’ chances of signing Arrieta…are remote,” Neal writes. While Minnesota was willing to offer a five-year, $100MM+ deal to Yu Darvish, it doesn’t look like the club is willing to make such a splurge for Arrieta, and will instead look at less-expensive options.
- Major League Baseball’s investigation into assault accusations leveled against Miguel Sano isn’t likely to be completed before the Twins begin full Spring Training exercises, Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. Past league investigations (as per the domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy) have varied in length, so there isn’t any clear timeline for when the results of the Sano case could be made public.
- With his career as a starting pitcher faltering in 2013, Zach Duke decided to embrace being a reliever after some blunt words from his wife Kristin, the newly-signed Twin tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “She kind of had to beat it through my head that I was done as a starter,” Duke said. “My wife just kind of said, ’Listen, nobody is interested in you as a starter anymore. They’ve seen it, babe. There’s nothing changing. They know what they’re going to get as a starter, and nobody wants it anymore.’ ” Kristin’s advice ended up turning her husband’s career around, particularly after a late-season run of success out of the Reds’ bullpen in 2013. Over the last four seasons, Duke has a 2.85 ERA, 2.62 K/BB rate and a 10.0 K/9 over 198 2/3 relief innings.
The Angels are among many teams that have been in talks with the Rays regarding right-hander Jake Odorizzi, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Odorizzi would be the second noteworthy offseason addition to an Angels staff that welcomed potential ace Shohei Ohtani back in December. He’d also offer the Angels a more proven option than just about all of their current starters, with the exception of Garrett Richards and arguably Matt Shoemaker. Although the 27-year-old Odorizzi is coming off a disappointing, injury-shortened season, he has fared respectability in his career – 705 1/3 innings of 3.83 ERA/4.23 FIP ball – and comes with two years of affordable arbitration control. Odorizzi will head to an arb hearing Monday to determine whether he’ll make $6.05MM or $6.35MM in 2018, Topkin notes.
- Four minor leaguers – Rays catcher Nick Ciuffo, Padres right-hander Alex Cunningham, Phillies righty Steve Geltz and Pirates second baseman Mitchell Tolman – received suspensions for drug use on Saturday (via Bob Nightengale of USA Today, on Twitter). The harshest punishment went to Geltz, who will serve a 100-game ban without pay after testing positive for a drug of abuse for the third time in his career. The 30-year-old, who signed a minor league deal with the Phillies last month, previously sat 50 games in 2014 after testing positive for marijuana. Meanwhile, Ciuffo, Cunningham and Tolman each got 50-game suspensions. Ciuffo and Tolman tested positive for a drug of abuse for the second time, while Cunningham tested positive for an amphetamine. The most notable member of that trio is the 22-year-old Ciuffo, whom the Rays selected in the first round of the 2013 draft and who currently sits 27th on MLB.com’s ranking of the team’s top 30 prospects. Ciuffo, who got an invitation to big league camp prior to the suspension, took to Twitter on Saturday to apologize.