Archive for the ‘San Francisco Giants’ category

Oliver Drake’s Ongoing Odyssey and Other Minnesota Twins Notes

December 29, 2018

In the aftermath of the Twins’ signing of Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million for 2019, I was looking at the Twins’ now surplus of right-handed power bats, and I happened to notice that Oliver Drake had a very successful 19 relief appearance run (2.21 ERA) for the Twins last season but is no longer with the team.

Drake played for five different major league teams last year and six since the start of the 2017 season.  The reason for this is obvious: Drake has great stuff and has success in AAA, but he has command issues and was awful at the major league level last year until the Twins selected him off waivers.  Drake started the season for the Brewers, was ineffective and then sold to the Indians, probably for a box of crackerjack.  He pitched poorly in Cleveland, and the Angels selected him off the waiver wire on May 31st.  Drake didn’t pitch well in Anaheim, and was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays in July 26th.  Ditto in Toronto, and the Twins claimed him off waivers on August 3rd.

Despite finally pitching well in the Twin Cities, the Twins tried to pass him through waivers again in late October/early November, and the Rays grabbed him.  The Rays tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the month, and the Blue Jays once again grabbed him.  At least once the regular season ended, Drake’s subsequent travels were virtual, rather than real, and Drake is presumably sitting at home waiting to see whom he ends up with in its time to start Spring Training.

With service in parts of four major league seasons now, but only about 2.5 years of major league service time, Drake isn’t yet arbitration eligible but is certainly out of minor league options.  What that means is that, unless he is first released, the last team to claim him off waivers will likely have to give him a major league contract in the $565,000 to $575,000 range.

Well, that’s small potatoes in today’s game, particularly for a pitcher with his potential.  However, the Twins didn’t think he was worth that modest guarantee, and the Rays didn’t think so either once they obtained somebody they liked better for their 40-man roster, almost certainly because he can’t be sent down to the minors if he’s ineffective without passing him through waivers yet again.  He’s also going into his age 32 season, so many teams may doubt he’ll ever have sufficient command to take advantage of his plus stuff at the major league level.

Drake was originally a 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy.  He now has a career major league ERA of 4.59 with 151 Ks in 137.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.46.  He’s good enough that a lot of teams want him at the right price, but don’t seem to be willing to give him any guarantees.

With the signing of Nelson Cruz and the earlier claiming off waivers and signing of C.J. Cron for $4.8M, the Twins are now officially overloaded with defensively challenged, right-handed hitting sluggers.  Cruz and Cron will get plenty of playing time because of their 2019 salaries unless either gets hurt, but the Twins also have Miguel Sano, who is too young and has too much potential to give up on yet, and also Tyler Austin, who came over from the Yankees when the Twins traded Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline.  With the corner outfield slots taken up by young lefty hitters Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, one would have to think the Twins would be willing to listen to trade offers for Austin.

Austin is already 27 and hasn’t established himself as a major league regular yet.  He doesn’t hit for average or draw many walks, but he sure has right-handed power with 24 HRs in only 404 major league plate appearances.  He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the San Francisco Giants, who could use another corner outfielder with right-handed power.

Because Austin is out of options, maybe the Twins would be willing to trade him to Giants for minor league reliever (and personal favorite) Tyler Rogers.  Tyler’s twin brother Taylor has had three successful seasons as a reliever for the Twins, and the Tyler has been mighty good at AAA the last two seasons.  Obviously, there would be some great PR for the Twins to have twin relievers pitching on their major league roster to start the 2019 season.  That said, the Twins will probably hold on to Austin since he cheap and provides insurance if Cruz, Cron or somebody else gets hurt.

I have to say that I like the fact that the Twins are active every off-season, seeking out deals at the right price that might reasonably make the team better.  It didn’t work in 2018, but if you keep trying every off-season, it may well work eventually.

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San Francisco Giants Sign Switch-Pitcher Pat Venditte

December 21, 2018

The Giants signed Pat Venditte today to a major league contract for $585,000, just a shade over the major league minimum.  It’s not a terrible move, in that Venditte pitched very well at AAA in 2018 and was effective in 15 relief appearances for the Dodgers, and the Giants aren’t laying out much of a commitment to Venditte.  He’s also the kind of player I like to see catch a break.

What is strange about this move is that the Giants have an extremely similar and much younger player already in Tyler Rogers.  The Giants don’t think Rogers is a prospect — they didn’t protect him in the Rule 5 draft following seasons in which he had 2.37 and 2.13 ERAs at AAA Sacramento.  No else in major league baseball thinks he’s much of a prospect either — nobody selected him in either of the last two Rule 5 drafts.

Tyler is in the final year of his initial seven-year minor league contract, so if he pitches well at AAA for the third year in a row and the Giants still don’t promote him, I would think that he’d receive a better minor league offer from one of the other 29 major league teams.  Or he could sign cheap to pitch in Japan’s NPB.

The one thing that really kills Rogers’ future major league chances is that his history is that he needs time to adjust each time he tries a new league.  His first two trials at AA and AAA were unsuccessful, and he pitched poorly in the Arizona Fall League and the Dominican Winter League following the 2016 and 2017 summer seasons.  I suspect that the expectation that he won’t be a good major league pitcher for his first 15 or 20 appearances no matter how well he pitches at AAA is a major factor for why the Giants didn’t give him a 40-man roster spot and a September call up last summer.

Venditte is really a left-handed pitcher, at least in terms of getting major league hitters out, so he has greater value as a left-handed short man, than Rogers does.  However, Rogers has been exceptionally good at preventing the home run ball in the minors.  If he can just get some major league experience to learn the hitters, I still think there is a real chance that Rogers could be a valuable middle reliever who could eat up 70 or 80 major league innings a year.

Houston Astros Reach Deal with Michael Brantley

December 18, 2018

It’s being reported that the Astros have reached a two-year deal with Michael Brantley for $32 million.  It’s less than the three years and $45 million that mlbtraderumors.com predicted and significantly less than the three-year $50 million deal the Phillies gave Andrew McCutchen about a week ago.

It feels like the trend the last few off-seasons is that the first of similar players like McCutchen and Brantley to sign gets the better deal.  It also fits in with the recent trend that teams are going to squeeze the second tier free agents like Brantley much more than in the past.

Brantley is coming off a fine 2018 and he still runs well.  But he’ll be 32 in 2019, and he missed a lot of playing time to injuries in 2016 and 2017.  In my mind this feels like a fair deal in terms of the fact that there are a wide range of outcomes for what Brantley’s performance will be over the next two seasons.  It could be a great deal for the Astros if Brantley is healthy and productive, or it could be a waste of $25M to $30M if he gets hurt again or suddenly gets old.

I was very pleased to see that the Mets have signed Rajai Davis to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.  Davis, now 38, has had a remarkable major league career for a player of his modest professional beginnings.

The Pirates originally drafted Davis in the 38th round, and the Bucs thought so little of him that they included him as the trade piece in a 2007 deal in which they received Matt Morris and all of what was then a very large $12M remaining salary commitment through 2008.  Morris was dreadful for the Pirates, and Davis was immediately useful to the SF Giants.

Unfortunately, Davis got off to a slow start (1 for 18) in 2008, and the A’s claimed him off waivers.  Davis had probably his best major league season for the A’s in 2009, and that firmly established Davis as a major league player in the eyes of MLB teams.  Davis’ base-stealing ability is elite, but, alas, he’s never gotten on base enough to take full advantage of it.

Davis has never been a star, but he’s always been good enough to stick around and play regularly more often than not during the last decade.  The fact that he’s still around at age 38 is a testament to his abilities to take advantage of the opportunities that were finally afforded to him and to play at a consistently decent level that least one major league team thought he was a low cost way to plug a gap in the outfield.  He’s also been able to stay healthy when many other outfielders have not.

A Couple of Interesting Asian Signings

December 13, 2018

The KBO’s Lotte Giants today announced the signing of former Philadelphia Phillie Jake Thompson.  What is interesting about this signing is that Thompson is not yet 25, which makes him extremely young to be signed by an Asian team, particularly in light of the fact that Thompson is not yet 25 years old and has had some significant major league success (4.87 ERA across 116.1 IP).  Players of Thompson’s age and past major league success usually aren’t ready to give up on their major league dreams.

Obviously, it’s largely about the money.  Thompson will earn $900,000 if he sticks with the Lotte Giants through the 2019 season.  After being designated for assignment by the Brewers last season, Thompson was a free agent who was reasonably looking at minor league contract that would not have paid him more than $650,000 for major league service time.  Thompson didn’t pitch particularly well in 2018 either in the Show or at AAA, although he probably impressed Lotte with six very strong starts in the Dominican Winter League through November 18th.

Also, Thompson’s signing likely reflects the new reality that MLB-system players going to the Asian majors can easily return to MLB later after they have succeeded in Asia.  Two big seasons in the KBO, and Thompson could potentially return to MLB for his age 27 season on the kind of guaranteed money deal that Merrill Kelly just received from the Arizona Diamondbacks (two years plus options for a $5.5M guarantee).  Even if he isn’t a big success in South Korea, Thompson can still return to AAA in 2020 at age 26 with $900,000 (less South Korea’s new higher taxes for foreign players) in his pocket.

Former San Francisco Giant Albert Suarez is another former major leaguer who appears to have turned a strong winter league performance into an Asian majors contract.  The 29 year old Venezuelan has been signed by NPB’s Yakult Swallows after leading the Venezuelan Winter League in strikeouts through today’s date.  He had a mediocre 4.97 ERA at AAA Reno (a very tough place to pitch) in 31 appearances including four starts with no major league appearances in 2018, so his winter league effectiveness no doubt helped him get an Asian contract for 2019.

Comments on the Rule 5 Draft

December 13, 2018

Early today, mlbtraderumors.com published a list of this year’s Rule 5 Draft Picks.  Here are my comments.

Not surprisingly, the young, high up-side, almost certainly not major league ready guys were selected first.  No. 1 selection Richie Martin is at least coming off a strong season (.807 OPS) at AA Midland and several of the other top five have played well in partial seasons at the AA level.

The most egregious pick in this regard is the Blue Jays’ selection of 18 year old Elvis Luciano, who has yet to pitch above the Rookie League level.  It remains to be seen if the Jays are willing to keep him on the major league roster for a wasted season, or if the team is instead angling to make a trade with the Royals for his rights.

6th selection Connor Joe is the first pick who really looks like the kind of player the Rule 5 draft was originally designed to benefit — a major league ready player who is stuck behind other players in his organization.  Joe slashed .299/.408/.527 in a 2018 season roughly split between AA Tulsa and AAA Oklahoma City.  Alas, he will be 26 in 2019, which means he isn’t much of a prospect any more, although he may be able to help the Reds over the next three or four seasons.

The SF Giants selected 25 year old lefty reliever Travis Bergen from the Blue Jays.  Bergen was electric (0.50 ERA) in 27 relief appearances at AA New Hampshire in 2018, but hadn’t pitched above the short-season A level before 2018 due to injuries.

The Giants also held onto the rights of Tyler Rogers for one more year before he becomes a minor league free agent.  I’ve written several times, most recently here, that Rogers really should be an ideal Rule 5 candidate, but no one in MLB agrees with me.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Andrew McCutchen for $50 Million

December 12, 2018

The Phillies have reportedly reached a three year deal with Andrew McCutchen that promises him $50 million.  Although it’s not much more than the $45M guarantee mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it feels like a lot for a 32 year old outfielder who can no longer play center field and had an OPS under .800 last season.

Fangraphs says that McCutchen was worth roughly $21M in 2018 and $29M in 2019 (he gets on base, drawing 95 walks last season, despite a declining batting average and power numbers), and the Phillies are obviously trying to put together a winning team in 2019 and 2020, so the deal makes a certain amount of sense.  It also suggests that the Phillies probably won’t be the winner in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes if they’ve now agreed to pay this kind of money for another right fielder.

The signing is obviously good for Michael Brantley and A.J. Pollock, who are roughly in the same group of free agent outfielders as McCutchen, but not so good for Harper who now has one less team willing to bid up his final free agent contract.

There haven’t been a lot of signings so far, but the McCutchen and Patrick Corbin signings don’t suggest that this will be as tough an off-season for free agents as last off-season was.

Jarrett Parker Sighting

December 7, 2018

mlbtraderumors.com reports that the Angels have signed Jarrett Parker to a minor league contract for 2019.  Last year, the SF Giants cut Parker at the end of Spring Training, and for some unknown reason, he did not sign with anyone else at any time during the 2018 season.  It made no sense to me, and I am still wondering what was going on with Parker that he didn’t sign with anyone else, given how close he was to being a major league player at the time the Giants cut him.

Although I am certainly rooting for Parker, I don’t think his odds of future major league success are good.  A player of Parker’s talent level is going to have a hard time coming back after sitting out his entire age 29 season.  His best option is to play well at AAA, if he can still do so, and then try to sign with an Asian team in 2020.  MLB teams aren’t going to give many opportunities, except in emergency situations, to 30 year old position players who have yet to establish themselves as full-time major leaguers.