The Market Landscape For Gio Gonzalez

Gio Gonzalez’s first trip through the free-agent process didn’t treat him well this winter, but being a free agent who’s already stretched out in mid-April — he threw 93 pitches in his last Triple-A start with the Yankees — should lead to more interest in the lefty. Clubs throughout the league might have been content to lean on internal options rather than promise a roster spot to Gonzalez over the winter, but injuries and poor performances early in the year have created an abundance of fits, and the market now has few remaining alternatives. Unlike fellow veteran lefty Dallas Keuchel, Gonzalez isn’t attached to a qualifying offer, and he’s pitched recently in a professional setting.

The asking price on Gonzalez isn’t known, but at this point, it’s difficult to imagine it’s especially exorbitant. Gonzalez settled for a minor league deal with the Yankees that came with a $3MM base rate and a hefty $300K per start in terms of incentives. At this point, a mid-range guarantee on a one-year deal that promises him a spot on a big league roster seems like it should be sufficient to sign Gonzalez, and any salary to which he agrees would be pro-rated to exclude the portion of the season that has already been played out anyhow. Put another way, signing Gonzalez to a one-year deal with a pro-rated $5MM base salary would mean adding roughly $4.3MM in spending through season’s end.

In yesterday’s MLBTR chat, it was a bit surprising to see the number of questions centering around Gonzalez. He’s a fine pitcher with an established track record, but the level of interest in him among our reader base was greater than it was at any point throughout the winter. That makes sense in mid-April, though. There are few legitimate upgrades on the free-agent market this time of year — Keuchel is a notable exception but has a much higher asking price — and teams are generally reluctant to make trades at this juncture of the season. If you’re a fan hoping to see your favorite team make even an incremental upgrade in the rotation, Gonzalez is quite possibly the best bet as far as someone who can be ready in short order. Given the general intrigue surrounding him, plus the fact that it’s April 23 and there are minimal transaction/hot stove-related storylines to monitor, the following is a way-too-in-depth look at where Gio Gonzalez could plausibly be expected to sign.

To kick things off, it seems unlikely that Gonzalez’s preference would be to sign with a non-contender. It’s true that Dan Straily recently did just that by signing with the Orioles, but he has a lesser track record and presumably faced a more limited market. Gonzalez has reportedly already drawn interest from a pair of contending clubs, and he likely wants to return to the postseason. It’d be a surprise to see him land with the Orioles, Marlins, Royals, Giants or White Sox. Clubs that entered the season unlikely to contend but have gotten off to solid starts, such as the Tigers, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Rangers, are all a bit likelier but still seem somewhat like long shots from here. There’s a case to be made for each of those clubs to take a look, and all have shown some willingness to spend at the levels it might take to land Gio, but a realistic assessment of their chances doesn’t really support an early-season investment.

Modest as Gonzalez’s asking price figures to be, not every team will rush to commit even a few million with the season underway. The Indians barely spent in free agency, and while they’ve lost Mike Clevinger for a couple months, they surely wouldn’t displace any of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer or Shane Bieber for Gonzalez. Pirates ownership is even more averse to spending, and Gonzalez doesn’t represent a clear upgrade over any of the current starting five (based on their early performances, anyhow).

The Cubs’ rotation is already expensive and performing well, and ownership set hard budgetary restrictions over the winter. The Red Sox are looking at 75 percent tax on any dollars spent, and they only expect Nathan Eovaldi to miss six weeks with his recent injury. They’re likely to stay in house.

Other teams are likely content with what they have in house. The Rays don’t have a set five-man rotation, but the trio of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow is formidable. Yonny Chirinos is something between their fourth starter and the top followup arm to an opener, and the Tampa Bay organization seems content to continue on with that opener tactic rather than adding another conventional starter. The Nationals have the game’s most expensive top four and a respectable fifth starter in Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies are a bit of a tight fit with Jerad Eickhoff back in action and Nick Pivetta still in the picture.

The Dodgers are already teeming with rotation options and have Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill back from injury. Out in Colorado, the Rox have finally found a homegrown slate of starters who’ve gotten the job done. Cincinnati has had success with its revamped rotation and will soon welcome Alex Wood back from the IL. The Braves have more young starting pitching options than any team in the game. Over in Houston, it’s tough to Gonzalez as a compelling upgrade, especially with some intriguing young arms stashed in the upper minors. Similarly, it seems doubtful that the Twins would pull the plug on their Martin Perez experiment after all of 12 innings.

More than half the teams in the league seem unlikely to represent a landing spot for Gonzalez, but there are plenty of viable on-paper fits in both the American League and the National League.

The Angels have again been hit hard by injuries, and Gonzalez could easily step in over Chris Stratton. Elsewhere in the division, Oakland’s injury woes date back to 2018, and offseason signee Marco Estrada has already seen his longstanding back issues flare up. De facto fifth starter Aaron Brooks has struggled, too. Perhaps the Mariners shouldn’t be taken as legitimate postseason contenders just yet, but they’re seven games over .500 with baseball’s second-bet run differential. Adding Gonzalez to deepen a rotation that currently contains rookie Erik Swanson and a perhaps fading Felix Hernandez would be a risk-free move that could help maintain their performance to date.

There are several National League contenders that arguably ought to take a hard look. The Padres’ bold plan to cycle through young starters is sure to have its ups and downs throughout a long season; plugging in a durable, well-established veteran holds obvious appeal. In the central division, the Brewers and Cardinals have both seen cracks form in their starting staffs to open the year. The Milwaukee organization, in particular, has a connection to Gonzalez and is already rumored to be in on him now. Also rumored to have interest are the Mets, who are surely thinking of replacing the struggling Jason Vargas.

It’s tough to anticipate any kind of bidding war here. But there are enough clear landing spots to think that Gonzalez may be able to push the price up a bit and command a MLB rotation gig right out of the gates.

from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2Dtr45m

Prospect Notes: Hernandez, Sheffield, Senzel, Bichette, Vlad Jr., Luzardo

Here’s the latest on some prospects of note from around the game:

  • The Red Sox brought up top pitching prospect Darwinzon Hernandez for his first taste of the majors, with Alex Speier of the Boston Globe first reporting the move. Hernandez, a 22-year-old from Venezuela, still needs to iron out his command but has shown some impressive swing-and-miss capabilities. It was on display tonight, as he allowed five baserunners but also racked up four strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings in relief.
  • Left-handed pitching prospect Justus Sheffield will join the Mariners on Friday for his first action with his new club, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports on Twitter. He’s expected to piggyback with Yusei Kikuchi for a start; it’s possible he’ll be dropped back to Triple-A thereafter, though that’s not yet clear. While he already has 13 days of MLB service on his odometer, Sheffield won’t be able to reach a full year of service even if he stakes a permanent claim to a big-league roster spot. Sheffield hasn’t been himself thus far at Triple-A, carrying an 11:14 K/BB ratio through 18 1/3 innings.
  • It’s possible the Reds will soon welcome top prospect Nick Senzel to the majors. As Fletcher Page of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports, Senzel is back in the lineup at Triple-A after recovering from a sprained ankle. There’s no guarantee that he’ll be promoted in the near-term, but the organization doesn’t have much cause to hesitate at this point. Senzel can no longer achieve a full year of MLB service in 2019; the club is sitting at five games under .500 and can’t wait long to make its move. Once Senzel gets his timing down and gets comfortable in the outfield — he’s lined up in center field tonight for Louisville — he’ll likely be called up.
  • The Blue Jays got some unwelcome news on exciting infield prospect Bo Bichette. Robert Murray and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic first reported on Twitter that Bichette had suffered a broken hand. As Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca tweets, the fracture was to the second metacarpal of his left hand. Widely considered one of the game’s very best prospects, Bichette will now need to get back to health before he can begin pressing for a major-league promotion. Meanwhile, anticipation grows that teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will soon get the call; Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs tweets that some around the game anticipate it’ll come this week.
  • Top Athletics prospect Jesus Luzardo is beginning to work back toward the hill, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Twitter links). He’s moving from 75 feet to 90 feet tomorrow, so it’s still rather early in his progression back from shoulder soreness. Slusser estimates that it could take four to six weeks before the prized southpaw could be ready for game action. In all likelihood, he won’t be seen as a candidate for a MLB promotion until he has at least a few Triple-A starts under his belt and the club feels confident there aren’t any lingering issues with the joint.

from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2Pqanwm

Anderson Espinoza Undergoes Tommy John Surgery

Padres prospect Anderson Espinoza has undergone Tommy John surgery, Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. He’ll miss all of the 2019 season and quite likely a good portion of 2020 as well.

This is terrible news for the 21-year-old hurler, who was nearing a return to competitive action after a long rehab from a prior TJ procedure. It seems his replacement ulnar collateral ligament blew out at the point of the graft.

Espinoza, once a top-20 leaguewide prospect who came to San Diego in the 2016 Drew Pomeranz swap, only threw 32 1/3 innings with the organization that season before his elbow issues arose. He hasn’t been back on the rubber for regular-season action since and still hasn’t pitched above the Class A level.

from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2ZvCgIb

Angels To Select Contract Of Sam Freeman

The Angels will select the contract of lefty Sam Freeman in order to activate him for tonight’s game, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times was among those to tweet. It’s one of several pitching moves for the Halos this evening.

Righty Justin Anderson was recalled to join the roster along with Freeman. Right-handers  Taylor Cole and Luke Bard were sent down on optional assignment to clear space on the 25-man.

Freeman, 31, caught on with the Angels just before the start of the season after he was released by the Braves. He wasn’t at his best in 2018, pitching to a 4.29 ERA. Though he managed a 52.1% groundball rate and rung up 10.4 opposing batters per nine innings on strikes over his 50 1/3 frames, Freeman also permitted an unhealthy number of walks (5.7 BB/9).

from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2ZwoPHG

Carlos Martinez To Return As Reliever

Cardinals righty Carlos Martinez is planning to work back from the injured list in a relief role, manager Mike Shildt told reporters including Mark Saxon of The Athletic (Twitter link). He’s working back to full health after experiencing shoulder weakness during camp.

This is a notable decision for an organization that has a good bit of cash invested in the 27-year-old hurler. ($11.5MM this year and at least $24MM thereafter.) But it was driven not by the club’s own preferences so much as Martinez’s feelings, according to Shildt.

That’s an interesting shift, as Martinez had made clear previously that he wished to return to the rotation. While there’s little question that Martinez’s greatest upside would be in a starting capacity, that hasn’t seemed to be a priority for the club. Even before the shoulder problems arose, there were suggestions from within the coaching staff that it may be desirable to have him in the bullpen.

Martinez has thrived in both roles for the most part, with a lifetime 3.36 ERA as a starter and 3.46 mark as a reliever. He was more effective last year from the pen, though it’s tough to draw any conclusions from such a small sample. Suffice to say that the power righty is capable of providing excellent output in any situation so long as he’s at full health.

Injury concerns have trailed Martinez of late, but he has mostly been available. He made 92 starts between 2015 and 2018 and even managed to throw 118 2/3 frames despite facing a variety of health issues last year. It seems the decision — at least for now — is that he’s likelier to be of use to the club in the near term if he limits himself to shorter outings.

It still isn’t known just when Martinez will be ready for activation, though it’ll likely come sooner given the decision to utilize him in relief. He has yet to embark upon a rehab assignment and that does not seem imminent, though the latest update on his condition was generally quite positive.

For the Cards, there’s certainly greater need in the rotation based upon the early results. Every member of the rotation is averaging over 4.5 earned runs per nine, while several pitchers are generating strong results in the relief corps. That picture could still change, of course, and there’s no doubt that Martinez will improve the relief unit quite a bit. It’ll be interesting to see just how he’s utilized — as a late-inning hurler, floating high-leverage arm, and/or multi-inning asset — once he’s back to full speed.

from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2VYhBu8

Latest On MASN Dispute

The Orioles and Nationals have long been embroiled in a dispute regarding TV rights fees from the jointly owned (but Orioles-controlled) Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. Sorting things out with finality has taken ages, but there are finally some new developments of note.

Another arbitration proceeding before MLB’s revenue sharing committee is finally in the books, though the results aren’t yet known, per Ben Strauss of the Washington Post (Twitter links). The Nats are seeking to have the results confirmed by the New York court that has overseen the related litigation between the ballclubs.

The sides originally went to court when the Orioles challenged the committee’s first award of rights fees to the Nats, successfully arguing that the D.C. organization’s counsel had a conflict of interest. Now, the revenue sharing committee has issued a new decision regarding what constitutes fair market value for the rights to televise Nationals games.

Typically, it’s quite difficult to upset an arbitration award in court, though that didn’t stop the Baltimore organization from securing a victory way back in the full of 2015. Whether and how the O’s will attack the new award isn’t known, but it seems likely that the club will keep up what has been an all-out battle until it has exhausted all its options.

Indeed, the Orioles recently opened up something of a new front, as Eriq Gardner of the Hollywood Reporter has covered (here and here). MASN began withholding “cash flow payments” to the Nats early in 2018, then balked at a MLB-run arbitration process. While that’s called for contractually, the Orioles have taken the position that the league has an interest in the dispute because it made the Nationals a $25MM advance to deal with the long-ongoing issue discussed above.

The Baltimore organization then launched a proceeding before the American Arbitration Association. Their unhappy partners to the south responded by putting the matter to the New York court. The initial decision was in favor of the O’s, but it’s of limited moment: the court determined that the AAA panel has the authority in the first instance to determine whether the matter is properly before it, since the contract contemplates a AAA proceeding in the event of a conflict of interest.

Head spinning yet? It should be, as this is all now several layers removed from the underlying issue: what’s fair market value for the Nats’ TV rights? The Orioles have successfully introduced quite a few procedural roadblocks to the D.C. organization’s ability to receive stepped-up pay-outs and even created some possibility of securing a friendlier forum to decide the matter. As things stand, there’s a competing arbitration proceeding even as an award has come down from the revenue sharing committee, with ongoing litigation overlaying things. When and how it’ll all be resolved remains anyone’s guess.

from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2GvGAhT

Hanley Ramirez Elects Free Agency

Hanley Ramirez has elected free agency after declining an outright assignment from the Indians, as indicated on the Triple-A International League transactions log. He’ll presumably venture out into the open market in search of a new opportunity.

The 35-year-old Ramirez signed a minor league contract with Cleveland over the winter and broke camp as the club’s primary designated hitter, but he batted just .184/.298/.327 with two homers and 17 strikeouts in 57 plate appearances in his short stint there. That minor league deal came roughly nine months after being released by the Red Sox last June, though Ramirez told The Athletic’s Zack Meisel back in February that he turned away offers from clubs following last year’s release so that he could “get my body healthy and come back next year.”

It’s fair to question what Ramirez has left in the tank. He hasn’t been a decidedly above-average bat since the 2016 season, and while this year’s 57 plate appearances are too small a sample from which to glean anything meaningful, the former NL Rookie of the Year and batting champion has managed a paltry .241/.317/.414 batting line through 805 PAs dating back to the 2017 season. While that output is only about eight percent worse than league average by measure of park- and league-adjusted stats like OPS+ and wRC+, a player with Ramirez’s lack of defensive value has a much higher bar to clear when determining what’s an acceptable level of offensive performance.

Ramirez was a pure designated hitter with Cleveland this season, so it’s doubtful that he’ll generate much, if any, interest from National League clubs. There may very well be some American League organizations that take a speculative look at the former Marlins/Dodgers star, but it stands to reason that Ramirez would need to work his way back to the big leagues on a minor league deal.

from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2GtkDQp

Injury Notes: Murphy, Olson, Meadows

Rockies first baseman Daniel Murphy is ahead of schedule in his rehab and is expected to be activated in the near future, manager Bud Black said Tuesday in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link, with audio). While Black said that Murphy was unlikely to be activated for tonight’s game, the skipper called Murphy’s return “imminent,” assuming one final evaluation of his fractured finger checks out. “Probably not. We’re probably going to give him the day,” Black said when asked about potentially activating Murphy on Tuesday. “He had three days in [Triple-A] Albuquerque. We figure we’ll get him back in Denver, reevaluate the finger and then make a decision tomorrow or the next day what direction we’re going to go with Daniel.” Black added that Murphy didn’t feel any pain or discomfort in his rehab games or after the fact.

A couple more health-related notes on key players…

  • First baseman Matt Olson could be back with the Athletics by mid-May, manager Bob Melvin told reporters Monday evening (Twitter link via John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle). The 25-year-old has been out since mid-March after fracturing his hamate bone on a swing during Oakland’s two-game set against the Mariners in Tokyo. Kendrys Morales and Mark Canha have stepped in as the Athletics’ two first base options in lieu of Olson. Morales, acquired just prior to the league-wide Opening Day, hasn’t provided anything at the plate to this point, batting just .179/.277/.250 in 65 plate appearances this year. Canha’s .242/.422/.455 slash has been terrific, though history shows that his right-handed bat is best deployed in platoon situations. Neither player can match Olson’s defensive prowess, either; Olson won a Gold Glove at first base last year and posted a sensational mark of +14 Defensive Runs Saved.
  • Rays outfielder Austin Meadows won’t require surgery to repair his sprained thumb, manager Kevin Cash revealed last night (link via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). Meadows will have his thumb immobilized for the next 10 days, per Cash, who put a timeline of roughly three weeks on Meadows’ return. “Good thing is he can keep his legs in shape, he can keep his throwing arm in shape,” said Cash of the injury. Meadows, 23, is off to a ridiculous .351/.422/.676 start to the season and has belted 11 extra-base hits (six homers, four doubles, one triple) in his 83 plate appearances.

from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2PoLy3X

Minor MLB Transactions: 4/23/19

We’ll track Tuesday’s minor moves from around the league here…

  • The Blue Jays announced that right-hander Javy Guerra cleared waivers and has been assigned outright to Triple-A Buffalo. He’d have had the option to reject the assignment in favor of free agency, but it seems he’ll instead remain in the organization and bide his time in the minors while he awaits another crack at the MLB level. The 33-year-old veteran pitched in nine games for Toronto before being designated for assignment last week, posting a 5.40 ERA with a 12-to-4 K/BB ratio in a total of 10 innings. Guerra had success with the Dodgers early in his career and was even their closer for much of his rookie season back in 2011, but he’s struggled in the Majors for most of the past half decade. In 223 1/3 inning as a big leaguer, he owns a 3.51 ERA with 7.4 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9 and 31 saves.

from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2vjLFVg