- Marcus Stroman’s blunt comments about the Blue Jays’ offseason seem to hint at an eventual parting of the ways between the team and the right-hander, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi opines. Stroman’s frankness probably didn’t help his chances at either a contract extension or a trade, though if he has a good first half and erases any question marks lingering from his mediocre 2018 season, Stroman will surely become an intriguing trade chip for the Jays at the deadline.
Blue Jays Rumors
Right-hander Marcus Stroman expressed frustration toward the Blue Jays on Sunday for not offering him a contract extension during the offseason. However, Stroman’s claim was refuted by an industry source, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reports. Whether or not the team did submit an offer(s), no deal has come to fruition, leaving Stroman in his penultimate year of club control. While Stroman generally thrived in Toronto from 2014-17, last season was a different story as the 27-year-old battled injuries and a downturn in production. This offseason may not have been the ideal for Stroman to ink an extension, then, though he insisted Sunday he “embodies the city of Toronto” more than anyone and wants to be there “for a long time.”
- Just as Castellanos was popular in offseason trade rumors, so was Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman. The right-hander said Sunday he wants to stay in Toronto for the long haul, but the team hasn’t offered him an extension, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet tweets. Stroman expressed unhappiness about the Blue Jays’ lack of offers, and he also criticized them for not signing more veterans during the offseason, John Lott of The Athletic reports. The Jays only added three free agents (Freddy Galvis, Matt Shoemaker and David Phelps) on major league contracts during the winter, but it was an unsurprising approach from a retooling team that probably won’t push for a playoff spot in 2019. Combining the Jays’ current status as non-contenders with the 27-year-old Stroman’s waning team control (two seasons left) and his unhappiness with their front office, he could frequent trade rumors again during the summer.
- Left-hander Ryan Borucki was one of the few bright spots on the Blue Jays’ pitching staff in 2018, a rookie year in which he turned in a 3.87 ERA/3.80 FIP over 97 2/3 innings and 17 starts. Nevertheless, while it appears the Jays are guaranteeing starting spots to Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and newcomers Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard heading into the season, general manager Ross Atkins indicated this week that Borucki will have to battle for a role in their rotation this spring, Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com relays. The soon-to-be 25-year-old Borucki still looks to be the front-runner for the Jays’ No. 5 spot, though, as he’s clearly the most proven 40-man option left on their staff.
It has long seemed obvious that the Blue Jays would prefer to hold top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at Triple-A to open the 2019 season. After all, the team decided not to call him up late last season and can push back his potential free agency by one season if they keep him down for at least a brief stretch to begin the new campaign. GM Ross Atkins declined yesterday to provide any kind of hint as to the anticipated timing, as Keegan Matheson of the Score tweets, though he did so in a manner that seemingly suggests the club is indeed preparing to hold off on a call-up. “There’s no firm timeline on when [Guerrero] arrives or when he is playing in Toronto for the first time,” said Atkins, “but we want to make sure he’s the best possible third baseman and the best possible hitter he can be.”
Here are the latest agency changes from around the game. As always, you can find updated representation information in MLBTR’s Agency Database.
- Both of the Gurriel brothers — Yuli Gurriel of the Astros and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. of the Blue Jays — have hired Magnus Sports, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter). The elder Gurriel is closest to free agency, though he still has two full seasons to go on his five-year contract with the Houston organization. He’s also already 34 years of age. His little brother is still just 25 years old and cracked the bigs for the first time last year, turning in a promising initial showing with the Jays. His contract takes him through the 2023 campaign, with at least one year of arbitration eligibility remaining thereafter.
- Meanwhile, Rangers power-hitting prospect Willie Calhoun has hired MVP Sports Group, per Robert Murray of The Athletic (Twitter link). The 24-year-old has seen brief tastes of the majors in each of the past two seasons but has yet to earn a full showcase at the game’s highest level. He’s seen as a high-end talent with the bat who still needs to iron things out defensively. It seems Calhoun will ultimately be given a shot in left field, but he’ll need to bounce back from a 2018 power outage (11 home runs in 578 total plate appearances) in order to force his way back onto the active roster.
Here are Thursday’s minor moves from around the league…
- The Athletics announced that they’ve signed lefty Tyler Alexander to a minor league deal and invited him to Major League Spring Training. He’s been out of affiliated ball since the 2014 season, pitching on the independent circuit and in the Mexican League. Manager Bob Melvin spoke to Jane Lee of MLB.com and touted Alexander as someone who the A’s have kept an eye on for the past few years, specifically citing this winter’s strong showing in the Dominican Winter League — 2.68 ERA, 48-to-10 K/BB ratio in 50 1/3 innings — as a source of intrigue.
- The Orioles announced that infielder Jack Reinheimer cleared waivers and has been assigned outright to Triple-A Norfolk. He’ll be in camp as a non-roster invitee, where he’ll compete with a variety of other players for a shot at some time in the Baltimore infield mix. The light-hitting 26-year-old hasn’t seen much MLB time but bounced around the waiver wire a bit this winter, indicating that teams see him at least as a plausible big-league depth piece.
- Catcher Adam Moore has agreed to a minor league contract with the Rangers, tweets Jon Heyman of the MLB Network. He’d earn a $600K base salary at the Major League level. Moore, 34, has seen action in nine MLB seasons but played in double-digit games in only one of those. He spent most of 2018 at Triple-A, slashing .219/.260/.347 in 208 plate appearances.
- In somewhat of a blast-from-the-past move, the Blue Jays have added lefty Ryan Feierabend on a minor league deal, per Baseball Toronto’s Keegan Matheson (Twitter link). Now 33 years old, Feierabend has just 7 1/3 MLB innings under his belt since the close of the 2008 season. However, he’s had some success pitching in the Korea Baseball Organization in recent seasons and is now utilizing a knuckleball — a rare pitch in today’s game that is all the more anomalous given that Feierabend is left-handed.
Feb. 14: Axford and the Jays have reached an agreement on a minor league contract that would pay him $1.65MM if he makes the roster, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reports (via Twitter). Axford is on his way to Blue Jays camp in Dunedin right now.
Feb. 13: The Blue Jays are close to a deal that’ll bring righty John Axford back to the organization, reports MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). Axford, 36 in April, spent most of the 2018 season with the Jays and had voiced a desire to return to his hometown organization earlier this offseason. Axford is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Axford appeared in 45 games for the Blue Jays last season, pitching to a 4.41 ERA with a 50-to-20 K/BB ratio in 51 innings before being traded to the Dodgers prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Unfortunately for both Axford and the Dodgers, the right-hander, he was clobbered for six runs in his first appearance with his new team. Before he had time for his numbers to recover, Axford was struck on the leg by a comebacker, sustaining a fractured fibula that shelved him for more than a month.
It’s been a rough couple of seasons for the veteran Axford, who has a 5.59 ERA in 75 2/3 innings dating back to Opening Day 2017. However, prior to that, Axford carried a 4.03 ERA with better than a strikeout per inning in four seasons split between the Brewers, Cardinals Indians, Rockies and A’s. The right-hander still throws hard, averaging 95.5 mph on his heater in ’18, though his swinging-strike and opponents’ chase rate both continued to trend in the wrong direction.
Given his recent struggles, it seems likely that Axford would have to earn his way onto the roster on a minor league contract, as he did a year ago with the Jays. If that is indeed the case, he’ll head to Spring Training and compete for a spot behind Ken Giles and Ryan Tepera at the back of the Toronto ’pen. Righties Joe Biagini, Sam Gaviglio, David Paulino and Trent Thornton are among the current 40-man options against whom he’d be competing for those spots. All have minor league options remaining, which could help to work in Axford’s favor, as there’s no reliever who needs to be carried on the 25-man roster with the exception of Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano — who is already an extreme long shot to stick on the roster given that he is just 19 years of age.
- The Blue Jays have shown interest in veteran reliever Sergio Romo, Fancred Sports’ Jon Heyman tweeted earlier this week. Romo is close to signing a new contract, as per Heyman’s earlier reports, though the mystery team may not necessarily be Toronto, as multiple clubs have been engaged in pursuit of the right-hander. Romo, who turns 36 next month, posted a 4.14 ERA, 3.75 K/BB rate, and 10.0 K/9 over 67 1/3 innings for Tampa Bay last season, which included 25 saves and five “starts” as the Rays’ opener. It isn’t out of the question that the Jays could also look to deploy Romo as an opener, given the number of young arms in Toronto’s starting mix as well as the veterans (Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Clayton Richard, Matt Shoemaker) who carry some injury-related question marks. It’s probably more likely, however, that the Jays see Romo as an experienced bullpen addition, in the same vein as their signings of Seunghwan Oh, J.P. Howell, and Joe Smith in the last two offseasons. By that same ilk, Romo could also become a trade chip for Toronto by midseason.
Last Sunday, we took a look at the improvements (or lack thereof) the worst bullpens of the 2018 major league season have made since the winter began. Today’s edition will focus on the sorriest rotations from 2018, when the starting staffs of the Orioles, Rangers, Blue Jays, Padres and White Sox posted ERAs upward of 5.00. Those teams also fared poorly in terms of fWAR, unsurprisingly, with the Orioles, Rangers, Padres and White Sox joining the Reds to make up the majors’ bottom five in that department. Even though spring training is set to open across the league, there are still some quality starters remaining in free agency, so it’s possible these teams aren’t done yet. For now, though, most of these staffs leave much to be desired heading into the new season.
White Sox (2018 fWAR: 30th; 2018 ERA: 26th; projected 2019 rotation via Roster Resource): Last year’s White Sox received 30-plus starts from each of James Shields, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, but only Lopez managed adequate production. He and Giolito, two former high-end prospects, will once again take up 40 percent of Chicago’s rotation this season, while Shields is currently without a job. Carlos Rodon is also back as one of the team’s most proven starters, albeit after disappointing over 20 appearances in 2018. At least one newcomer – righty Ivan Nova, acquired from the Pirates in December – will slot in near the top of their staff, and fellow offseason pickup Manny Banuelos could join him in the starting five. The 32-year-old Nova isn’t going to wow anyone, but he’s a perfectly cromulent major league starter, having recorded ERAs in the low-4.00s and thrown 160-plus frames in each of the past three seasons. The 27-year-old Banuelos – a trade pickup from the Dodgers – is a former big-time prospect, but the lefty hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2015, when he totaled the only six starts of his career as a member of the Braves.
Given the lack of major league success Giolito, Banuelos, and depth options Dylan Covey and Carson Fulmer have experienced, the White Sox would be well served to land more rotation possibilities before the season. Their situation would look a lot better if not for the Tommy John surgery prized prospect Michael Kopech underwent last September. He’ll miss the entire season as a result, though Chicago could get its first look at its No. 2 pitching prospect, Dylan Cease, this year.
Orioles (2018 fWAR: 29th; 2018 ERA: 30th; projected 2019 rotation): Thanks in part to a less-than-stellar rotation, this is going to be the second ugly season in a row for the rebuilding Orioles. Internal improvement is possible, though, as returning starters Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner have all shown themselves capable of providing much better numbers than the production they registered over a combined 87 starts in 2018. Inexpensive free-agent signing Nate Karns is also a bounce-back candidate after sitting out most of 2017 and all of ’18 as he recovered from the dreaded thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. Aside from those four – any of whom could end up on the block during the season – no starting option on the Orioles’ 40-man roster has achieved success in the majors. Moreover, their farm system isn’t teeming with hurlers who are in line to make MLB impacts this season. With that in mind, rookie general manager Mike Elias may still be scouring the free-agent market for another cheap stopgap(s) after inking Karns earlier this week.
Padres (2018 fWAR: 28th; 2018 ERA: 27th; projected 2019 rotation): The Padres shrewdly signed former Angel Garrett Richards, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, back in November. But Richards won’t return until later in the season, if he pitches at all in 2019. Other than Richards, the Padres haven’t picked up any starters of note this winter. It hasn’t been for lack of effort, though, as they’ve been connected to the likes of Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel, Marcus Stroman and Mike Leake, among others, in the rumor mill during recent months. Syndergaard and Kluber probably aren’t going anywhere, but Keuchel remains available in free agency and both Stroman and Leake could still be trade candidates. Having failed to secure anyone from that group, the Padres continue to possess an underwhelming rotation – one that received a combined 49 starts from the now-departed duo of Clayton Richard and Tyson Ross last season. However, Chris Paddack and Logan Allen, top-100 prospects and a couple of the many prizes in a San Diego system laden with talent, may debut sometime this year.
Rangers (2018 fWAR: 27th; 2018 ERA: 29th; projected 2019 rotation): Of the seven Rangers who accrued the most starts in 2018, only one – lefty Mike Minor – remains. Fortunately for Texas, Minor was easily the best member of the club’s subpar septet. He’s now part of a completely remade starting staff which has reeled in Lance Lynn (three years, $30MM) and Shelby Miller (one year, $2MM) in free agency and Drew Smyly via trade with the Cubs. The team also has 2018 signing Edinson Volquez returning after he missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. In all, it’s not the most compelling quintet, and it’s anyone’s guess what Miller, Smyly and Volquez will offer after their recent injury-wrecked seasons, but all five have at least shown flashes in the majors.
The soon-to-be 32-year-old Lynn has been effective and durable for most of his career; Miller’s a former star prospect who prevented runs at an excellent clip from 2014-16; Smyly generally impressed as a starter over the same three-year span as Miller; and Volquez has five seasons of 170-plus frames under his belt. Meanwhile, other than newly added minor league signing Jason Hammel, the Rangers’ depth options have virtually no major league accomplishments. A few of their top-10 prospects – Jonathan Hernandez, Taylor Hearn and Joe Palumbo – are climbing up the minor league ladder and could be in Arlington soon, however.
Reds (2018 fWAR: 26th; 2018 ERA: 25th; projected 2019 rotation): The Reds boasted a mostly healthy rotation in 2018, as six pitchers each made at least 20 starts, but no one was particularly good. Consequently, the Reds have acquired three proven MLB starters in various trades this offseason, having picked up Sonny Gray from the Yankees, Alex Wood from the Dodgers and Tanner Roark from the Nationals. There isn’t an ace among the trio, but all three are credible major league starters – which the Reds desperately needed, especially considering Matt Harvey walked in free agency. High-potential holdovers Luis Castillo and Anthony DeSclafani, who have been inconsistent in the majors, will comprise the rest of Cincinnati’s upgraded rotation to begin the season. The Reds’ new additions will push 2018 regulars Sal Romano (25 starts of 5.48 ERA/5.10 FIP ball) and Tyler Mahle (23 starts, 4.98 ERA/5.25 FIP) into depth roles, which is a plus, as is the end of the Homer Bailey era. The Reds sent Bailey and the remains of his bloated contract to the Dodgers when they traded for Wood and outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in a blockbuster December deal. Bailey produced catastrophic results from 2017-18, a 38-start, 197 1/3-inning span in which he mustered a 6.25 ERA.
Blue Jays (2018 fWAR: 22nd; 2018 ERA: 28th; projected 2019 rotation): The Blue Jays’ rotation handily outdid the above teams’ by fWAR last year, yet the unit still compiled the majors’ third-worst ERA. Toronto has since made modest acquisitions by trading for Richard and signing Matt Shoemaker (one year, $3.5MM). They’ll serve as placeholders for a Jays team which is at least another full year away from vying for a playoff spot, and may listen to offers for its top two starters – Stroman and Aaron Sanchez – during the upcoming season. Both Stroman and Sanchez have been outstanding at times, but that wasn’t true of either in 2018, and the two are now entering their second-last seasons of team control. Stroman and Sanchez remain atop Toronto’s rotation for the time being, with all parties hoping the righties return to their past productive and healthy ways in 2019. Beyond those two, Richard, Shoemaker and Ryan Borucki, the Blue Jays don’t possess any starters who have done much in the majors, though Sam Gaviglio (37 starts), Sean Reid-Foley (seven) and Thomas Pannone (six) have at least gained some experience.