Quick Hits: Realmuto, Marlins, Braves, Tigers, Twins

Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto has been popular in the rumor mill in recent months, in part because of his own desire to leave Miami for a contender. Nevertheless, the rebuilding club continues to regard Realmuto as a long-term piece of the puzzle, president of baseball operations Michael Hill tells Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. “J.T. is drafted by the Marlins and developed by the Marlins and got to the big leagues as a Marlin; all my conversations with him have been that he’s a part of what we’re building,” Hill said. “He’s a tremendously talented catcher, and we’re happy that he’s a part of what we have here. I think you’re still scratching the surface with his ability. The nation doesn’t know how good he is.” The Marlins don’t need to rush to deal Realmuto, who’s under control via arbitration through the 2020 season. Whether he opens the 2018 campaign with the Marlins or another team, the soon-to-be 27-year-old Realmuto will earn an easily affordable $2.9MM.

More from around the majors…

  • Braves left-hander Luiz Gohara is dealing with a strained groin and is at least a week behind the team’s other pitchers as a result, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets. While that won’t do the 21-year-old Gohara any favors in his effort to earn a starting job, fellow southpaw Sean Newcomb could benefit from it. He and another lefty, veteran Scott Kazmir, are the leading candidates to occupy the Braves’ last two rotation spots if Gohara’s not ready to go early in the season, per Mark Bowman of MLB.com. The Braves could get away with using a four-man rotation until April 11, however, Bowman points out. Newcomb, 24, made his major league debut last season and fared nicely, tossing 100 innings of 4.32 ERA/4.19 FIP ball and recording 9.72 K/9. Granted, Newcomb’s impressive strikeout mark came with a troubling walk rate (5.13 BB/9).
  • Familiarity with the Tigers’ coaching staff and an opportunity to start helped lead lefty Francisco Liriano to sign with the club, he told Evan Woodbery of MLive.com and other reporters on Friday. The 34-year-old Liriano is now reunited with Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, whom he played under as a Twin from 2005-12. “I feel playing for Gardy makes it easier for me, and also having the opportunity to start here,” said Liriano, who, for the first time in his career, is coming off a season in which he totaled more relief appearances (20) than starts (18). After working to a 5.66 ERA/4.64 FIP across a combined 97 frames with Toronto and Houston in 2017, Liriano will attempt to revive his career on a $4MM salary in Detroit.
  • The Twins’ minor league signing of Erick Aybar came thanks in part to righty Ervin Santana and third baseman Miguel Sano, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press explains. Aybar was teammates with Santana in Anaheim from 2006-12, while Aybar and Sano are longtime friends who also share an agency (Roc Nation Sports). With all of that in mind, the Twins asked Santana and Sano for their thoughts on Aybar. Both players advised the Twins to bring in the 34-year-old, and the team followed through. There’s no guarantee Aybar will earn a roster spot after enduring multiple rough years in a row, though, which he realizes. “I don’t know yet,” Aybar admitted when asked how much he has left. “I can’t say. We’ll see. It was a weird two years.”

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Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Hosmer, Cards, Cubs, Angels, BoSox, Yanks

This week in baseball blogs…

Submissions: ZachBBWI @gmail.com

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West Notes: Mariners, Dodgers, Rangers, A’s

Mariners first baseman Dan Vogelbach was hit by a pitch in the right foot on Friday and is now in a walking boot, Greg Johns of MLB.com reports. Vogelbach is currently awaiting results of an MRI he underwent Saturday. A serious injury to Vogelbach would be another notable preseason blow at first for the Mariners, whose starter, Ryon Healy, underwent hand surgery earlier this month. Consequently, Vogelbach and Rule 5 pick Mike Ford had been the only healthy first basemen on the Mariners’ 40-man roster. Healy, meanwhile, is close to having the stitches removed from his hand and could start defensive work within the next week or so, but it’s not known he’ll be able to begin swinging a bat, Johns writes.

More from the game’s West divisions…

  • Although Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson endured an unproductive, injury-shortened 2017, the team’s front office regards him as someone capable of being an everyday player, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. However, because Thompson’s out of options and battling several other outfielders for a spot, it’s possible he’ll find himself on another team soon, as Plunkett notes. The biggest roadblock for Thompson may be fellow right-handed hitter Matt Kemp, whom the Dodgers haven’t been able to trade. If Kemp sticks around, it could help push Thompson out. Despite that, the soon-to-be 27-year-old Thompson has a high opinion of Kemp. “Matt is a guy I’ve always looked up to since I moved to California,” Thompson said. “It’s a privilege to have him here and kind of pick his brain. At one point, he was the best player in the game. He still can really hit and do a lot of things.”
  • Rangers utiityman Jurickson Profar was the subject of trade rumors during the winter and is now out of options, which theoretically could put his future with the team in jeopardy. But there’s no doubt he’ll earn a roster spot this year with Texas, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The question is whether Profar will garner enough playing time to produce, Grant writes. The former top prospect has seen time in the outfield, but he’s presently vying for a role in the infield, where Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre are dug in as starters.
  • Athletics infielder/outfielder Renato Nunez suffered a strained left hamstring Saturday, which could negatively affect his chances of earning a roster spot, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle relays. Nunez said Saturday that the injury’s “not good,” and Slusser notes that hamstring strains typically require a two- to three-week recovery period. That would be especially problematic for the out-of-options Nunez. However, it could be a boon for Sheldon Neuse, who Slusser suggests will probably see most of the action at third base with both Nunez and starter Matt Chapman (right hand soreness) on the shelf.

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AL East Notes: Bautista, Rays, Orioles, Red Sox

Although the Rays have picked up a pair of right-handed hitters in Carlos Gomez and C.J. Cron since last weekend, they could add another outfield-capable righty-swinger, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. One free agent who might draw their attention is Jose Bautista, who’s “keenly interested in playing for the Rays, presumably knowing it would be for a low salary,” Topkin writes. The 37-year-old Tampa Bay resident has long been a rival of the Rays, having played with the Blue Jays from 2009-17. While Bautista was a terror for opposing pitchers for the majority of that run, he’s now coming off his worst year in nearly a decade, which helps explain why he remains on the market. Bautista took 686 trips to the plate in 2017 and batted a subpar .203/.308/.366, albeit with 23 home runs.

More on Tampa Bay and two of its AL East rivals:

  • The Rays have recently parted with several notable veterans, including Evan Longoria, Steven Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson and Jake Odorizzi, but their front office insists they’re not tanking and never have, as Topkin details in a separate piece. Rather, according to general manager Erik Neander: “This is a season, as things stand now, where on paper we’re somewhere in that middle territory yet again. But what’s been building underneath is getting awfully close to colliding with what’s a middle-of-the-pack team. And when those things come together, you’ve got a chance for something special.” And even though the Rays finished under .500 in each season from 2014-17, Neander believes there was serious progress behind the scenes. “As our teams have been kind of treading water, there’s been that wave that’s really building, really coming together, probably even better than I think we expect it,” Neander said. “It’s about there.”
  • In-house issues prevented the Orioles from signing free agent infielders Ryan Flaherty and Ryan Goins during the offseason, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports. Flaherty was with the Orioles from 2012-17 and wanted to re-sign with the club, even showing a willingness to take less money than he did to join the Phillies. Philadelphia made Flaherty an offer with a three-week deadline to accept it, but he wanted to hear from the Orioles before taking it. The O’s then submitted a counteroffer, though it “didn’t get club-wide approval in time to meet the Phillies’ deadline,” Encina writes. As a result, he said yes to the Phillies’ minor league proposal. Given that Flaherty has a late-March opt-out in his deal, it’s possible he’ll hit the market again and rejoin the Orioles before the season, Encina notes. Like Flaherty, Goins also settled for a minor league pact (with the Royals). However, he actually was set to sign a major league contract with the Orioles beforehand, according to Encina. Orioles ownership didn’t approve it in time, though, leading the former Toronto utilityman to head to Kansas City.
  • Red Sox reliever Robby Scott has changed representation and is now a client of Meister Sports Management, Rob Bradford of WEEI tweets. The 28-year-old, who’s currently vying to open the season as Boston’s top left-handed bullpen option, tossed 35 innings of 3.79 ERA ball and notched 7.82 K/9, 3.28 BB/9 and a 42.6 percent groundball rate in 2017. He won’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2019 campaign.

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AL Central Notes: Santiago, Merritt, Liriano, Aybar

Hector Santiago, who came back to the White Sox this offseason on a minor-league deal, has come up with a strategy to combat the  fastball decline that often comes with aging, James Fegan of The Athletic writes. The southpaw plans to bring back the screwball he threw in his days as a rookie. “I have not gone a day this offseason or in spring training where I have not thrown a screwball,” he said. “I’ve thrown a screwball in both my BPs and my only bullpen. It’s almost taken over my changeup. Lot of people say it’s gone, but nah, I just substituted my changeup for my screwball and I throw a lot more screwballs than changeup.” Notably, his arm motion for the screwball is similar to that of his changeup, which could help with deception in his delivery as he uses both to play off his fastball. Fegan notes that Santiago could be at the “top of the heap” of the White Sox’ MiLB free agent arms, if he can return to health and effectiveness.

A few other small items out of the AL Central…

  • Much has been made of the fact that young Indians lefty (and 2016 postseason hero) Ryan Merritt is out of options and faces an uphill battle to make the club’s rotation out of spring training. But the 26-year-old isn’t focused on that right now, writes MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “I’m really not going to get caught up in what’s going to happen a month from now,” he said. “I can control today. And, when I show up tomorrow, I can control what I do that day.” Merritt has a career 1.74 ERA (albeit in just 20 2/3 major league innings), but is most famous for starting Game 5 of the 2016 ALCS for the Indians, allowing zero runs across his 4 1/3 innings against the Blue Jays. Cleveland would go on to win that game, punching their ticket to the World Series.
  • New Tigers lefty Francisco Liriano will compete for a spot in the club’s rotation during spring training, GM Al Avila says (via Jason Beck of MLB.com). However, if he’s unable to make the club in that capacity, he’s willing to pitch out of the bullpen. It’s possible that the 34-year-old’s best days are behind him, as he’s posted consecutive seasons with an ERA north of 4.60. Even as a reliever with the Astros last season, he posted a 4.40 ERA down the stretch with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Still, if he can show some flashes of his peak performance with the Pirates from 2013-2015, he’d represent a solid option for a Tigers club that is largely devoid of secure rotation options outside of Michael Fulmer.
  • Erick Aybar recently signed with the Twins, but Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweets that the infielder had received interest from the Reds and Rangers as well. He reportedly chose the Twins because he liked their opportunity best. In a later tweet, Berardino reports that Aybar will make his spring training debut on Monday (though Aybar told manager Paul Molitor that he was ready to play in today’s matchup).

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Minor MLB Transactions: 2/24/18

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…

  • The Red Sox have signed left-hander Tommy Layne to a minors pact; he’d been playing in the MLBPA camp. Brian MacPherson (formerly of the Providence Journal) was first with the news; Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal has since confirmed the report. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe tweets that the deal does not include an invite to spring training. This’ll be the 33-year-old’s second stint with the Red Sox, for whom he pitched 95 1/3 innings and earned 20 holds from 2014-2016. He put up a 3.30 ERA during that span, but with an unsettling walk rate (4.63 BB/9). Originally a late-round pick by the Diamondbacks, Layne has also spent time with the Padres, Yankees and Dodgers organizations. He’ll compete for a spot on a Boston roster that has plenty of high-end lefty starters but little in the way of lefty relief options.

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Poll: Unemployed Top Ten Free Agents

Spring training has begun, and while recent announcements by the Cubs and Padres of nine-figure deals (with Yu Darvish and Eric Hosmer, respectively) have quieted cries of collusion from the player’s union, the unemployment level of top free agents remains historic. Specifically, five of MLBTR’s top ten free agents (excluding Masahiro Tanaka, who never actually reached free agency) are still unsigned. The recent mega-contracts have overshadowed the urgency of the situation for these free agents, as they’ve got barely more than a month left to find jobs before Opening Day. As each day passes, it becomes more difficult to simply assume that Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and Alex Cobb will all agree to terms before that time comes.

The market on the above players isn’t totally cold as of now. On the contrary, there seems to be some buzz surrounding many of them. Here’s what we know at the moment…

Arrieta and his representatives were said to be “having dialogue” as recently as four days ago, and it’s believed that there’s real interest being explored. At the same time, though, there appears to be a gap between the two sides’ bargaining positions. There have also been multiple recent reports that the Phillies don’t want to lock themselves into a long-term deal to improve their rotation. While Darvish fell short of expectations with a $126MM guarantee, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports says Boras is attempting to convince front offices that Arrieta compares more favorably to David Price, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke. The oft-vehement Boras apparently sees Darvish as an “analytics phenom”, but describes analytics as a “management excuse to keep salaries down.” He also says that Arrieta beats Darvish in something he calls “prestige” value. Heyman lists seven teams as potential landing spots for Arrieta, believing he’s most likely to land with the Nationals, Brewers or Phillies.

Moustakas seems to have little traction with any MLB club at this point. The Braves have engaged his camp, but there seems to be no evidence that a deal is likely to come together. The White Sox have also been loosely linked to him. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll return to Kansas City at this point, as the Royals would apparently rather give Cheslor Cuthbert a shot at third base as they begin to rebuild. Moose reportedly has plenty of one-year offers on the table, but it’s not clear whether he’ll receive any significant multi-year offers at this point in the offseason.

Lynn hasn’t been forced to dramatically lower his asking price, and last we heard, the Twins preferred him to the other options available on the market. Earlier reports suggest he’s received interest from seven or eight teams in recent weeks, including the Orioles, Brewers, Nationals, and Mets in addition to the aforementioned Twins. For his part, Lynn believes there’s “nothing really to worry about — at this moment.

Holland has the coldest market on this list, at least publicly. The Wade Davis signing seemingly eliminated the possibility of a reunion with the Rockies, and in nearly two months since then, the only public mentions of Holland have been from the Nationals and the Cardinals. Both of those mentions were negative, with the former saying they weren’t very high on him and the latter expressing trepidation about giving a big contract to a closer. Of course, those teams could still be suitors if Holland’s asking price drops far enough, and so could the Indians. I also mentioned the Astros, Rangers, Cubs and Brewers as potential fits back in mid-January.

Cobb reportedly had an offer from the Cubs earlier in the offseason that was said to be in three-year, $42MM range. His camp passed on it, and his market has little in the way of clarity at this point. The Twins showed interest at one point, while the Mets would reportedly explore signing him if his asking price drops far enough. That’s about the only direct link between him and an MLB club we’ve heard about in recent months, though. The Orioles seem to believe he’s too expensive, and the Cubs might not have a clear role for him following the Darvish pact.

A lot can happen in one month; the free agent action so far in February should serve as a prime indicator of that. But at this point it looks possible that one or more of the top ten free agents could hold out into the regular season in hopes of nailing down a guarantee to his liking. With that in mind, I’d like to ask the readers two questions. How many of these players do you think will still be unemployed when the first pitch is thrown on Opening Day, and who do you think is most likely to be unsigned by that point?

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