Daily Dose: Hardy back in Milwaukee

Leave a comment

J.J. Hardy is headed back to Milwaukee now that rosters have expanded, but three weeks spent at Triple-A is just enough time to delay his free agency by another year. Rather than being arbitration eligible for the final time next season Hardy is under the Brewers’ control through 2011, which should come in handy when trying to trade him this offseason.
Alcides Escobar has started 13 of 17 games at shortstop following Hardy’s demotion, but general manager Doug Melvin indicated that the two players will split the position down the stretch. Hardy hit just .246/.279/.415 in 17 games at Triple-A, but it makes sense for the Brewers to give him some action in the hopes that he can build up a bit of additional trade value. Still, expect Escobar to be the primary starter.
While the Brewers slickly gain an extra year of Hardy’s services, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Much like John Smoltz did a couple weeks ago, Brad Penny signed with a National League team Monday immediately after clearing waivers and being released by the Red Sox. He joins the Giants on what is essentially a one-month, $100,000 deal to replace Joe Martinez as the fifth starter and clearly hopes to follow further in Smoltz’s footsteps by turning his awful season around in the weaker league.
Penny went 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA and 89/42 K/BB ratio over 131.2 innings in Boston, including 0-4 with a 9.11 ERA in his final five starts. His fastball has still clocked in at an average of 94.0 miles per hour this season, but it’s been one of the least-effective heaters in baseball against AL batters. Don’t expect a dramatic turnaround, but he’s certainly capable of having some value in NL-only leagues down the stretch.
* As expected, the Diamondbacks placed Chad Qualls on the disabled list Monday after the closer suffered a gruesome-looking dislocated kneecap on the final play of Tuesday night’s game. Qualls will miss the remainder of this season and his status for the beginning of next season could be in some doubt. No official fill-in has been named, but rookie Juan Gutierrez is the obvious choice followed by Clay Zavada.
* Kyle Blanks’ strong rookie season came to a halt Monday when he was diagnosed with a partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot. Blanks blasted 10 homers and 19 total extra-base hits in just 148 at-bats, joining Adrian Gonzalez this year and Milton Bradley in 2007 as the only hitters to produce an Isolated Power above .250 calling Petco Park home. The ballpark limits his upside, but expect 25-plus homers in 2010.
AL Quick Hits: Ichiro Suzuki (calf) was held out of the lineup again Monday, but did take batting practice and shag fly balls before the game … Jarrod Saltalamacchia (hand) could be headed for surgery after being removed a rehab game Monday at Double-A … Jarrod Washburn was rocked for eight runs Monday, giving him a 6.81 ERA in six starts with the Tigers … Tim Wakefield (back) received a cortisone shot Monday and will be evaluated further later this week … Adrian Beltre is expected to rejoin the lineup Tuesday just three weeks after injuring his testicle … Carlos Guillen went 4-for-5 with two homers, four RBIs, and three runs Monday … On the disabled list with complications from past back surgeries, Joe Crede denied reports that he’s considering retirement … Jeremy Bonderman is due to come off the DL when rosters expand Tuesday, but is not a rotation option … Is there something higher than MVP? Joe Mauer homered, singled, stole a base, and scored twice in a 4-1 win Tuesday.
NL Quick Hits: Rich Harden struggled Monday after the Twins failed to trade for him, giving up five runs on five hits and six walks in five innings … Lou Piniella said that Geovany Soto will begin to lose playing time to Koyie Hill because of his season-long struggles … Tim Lincecum’s next start has been pushed back one day after he threw a season-high 127 pitches in eight shutout innings Friday … Carlos Beltran (knee) is scheduled to begin a rehab stint Wednesday at Single-A … Johnny Cueto threw five innings of one-run ball in his return from the disabled list Monday after going 0-6 with a 10.63 ERA in his previous eight starts … Jordan Schafer had season-ending wrist surgery Monday, but should be ready for spring training … Nick Johnson (hamstring) is set to start a rehab assignment Tuesday at Single-A … Daniel McCutchen hurled a Quality Start in his debut Monday despite serving up a leadoff homer … Brandon Phillips revealed Tuesday that he’s been playing with a fractured wrist for two weeks.

Report: Rangers agree to six-year extension with Rougned Odor

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Rangers have reportedly agreed to a six-year, $49.5 million extension for second baseman Rougned Odor, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The extension comes with a club option for a seventh year, Heyman adds.

It’s close to the six-year, $52.5 million extension Jason Kipnis netted with the Indians in 2014, a sum Odor was rumored to be seeking during contract negotiations over the last two years. Granted, the circumstances are a little different this time around. Both players signed extensions on the cusp of their fourth year in the major leagues, but at 27 years old, Kipnis was coming off of an All-Star campaign and a career-high 4.5 fWAR performance. Odor, meanwhile, saw mixed results in 2016, batting 33 home runs and putting up 2.0 fWAR while struggling to stay consistent at the plate and exhibiting poor defense.

According to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, Odor previously agreed to a $563,180 salary for 2017. Depending on when the extension kicks in, it should cover all three of Odor’s arbitration-eligible seasons and two seasons of potential free agency. The team has yet to confirm the extension.

2017 Preview: Minnesota Twins

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Minnesota Twins.

Which iteration of the Twins will we get in 2017? The second-place contenders of 2015, blazing their way through the standings with 83 wins and a handful of hot prospects? The burnouts of 2016, flopping to the bottom of the division with 103 losses and a lineup held in place by Brian Dozier and, well, Brian Dozier? Or something in between?

Finishing dead last has its perks, namely a first-round draft pick and the feeling that things can’t be quite as bad as they were the year before. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only major preparation they made for the 2017 season came in the form of a front office shakeup. Derek Falvey assumed control of the club in October, bringing GM Thad Levine into the fold in November as the club assumed a more analytics-friendly approach toward the rebuilding movement.

When it came to roster revisions, however, there wasn’t much moving or shaking this winter. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, catcher Kurt Suzuki and left-handers Tommy Milone and Pat Dean vacated their spots on the roster. Falvey avoided some of the bigger bats and bullpen arms in free agency and opted to sign backstop Jason Castro and journeyman reliever Ryan Vogelsong instead.

By and large, the core of the Twins’ roster remained the same. Center fielder Byron Buxton, infielder/outfielder Michael Sano and right-hander Jose Berrios still form the nucleus of the club’s top prospects. Middle infielder Brian Dozier will also return in 2017, though he appears to be on borrowed time with the Twins after putting up monster numbers in the second half of 2016. Ervin Santana will head the rotation again, accompanied by fellow veterans Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, while right-handed relievers Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle and rehabbing lefty Glen Perkins attempt to prevent another bullpen collapse in 2017.

Without any major additions to the team (and, excepting the departure of Trevor Plouffe, any major subtractions), the Twins will look to their existing cadre of players for significant improvements in 2017. Miguel Sano is expected to take over third base in Plouffe’s absence, which will bring a welcome end to his short-lived and wholly unsuccessful experiment in right field. Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco and Joe Mauer should round out the infield, with Byung Ho Park and Kennys Vargas currently vying for a spot as the team’s designated hitter.

The lineup is still four or five or six sluggers shy of formidable, but if Dozier can be counted on to repeat his 42-homer, 5.9 fWAR performance from 2016, there will be at least one Twin worth intentionally walking in 2017. Neither Miguel Sano nor Byron Buxton have quite found their footing against big league pitching yet, and another year spent struggling in the majors could mean another year of sub-optimal run production for the team as well. Jason Castro, who grades as an above-average defender behind the plate, is unlikely to provide any additional pop for the Twins at the plate after slashing just .210/.307/.377 through 376 PA with the Astros in 2016.

The pitching department also leaves a little to be desired in light of the league-worst 5.09 ERA they amassed last season. A veteran-heavy rotation could get a boost from the addition of fifth-starter candidate Jose Berrios, who is thought to be the favorite after fellow rotation candidate Trevor May underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Right-hander Tyler Duffey and 23-year-old southpaw Adalberto Mejia are also waiting in the wings. Both have made convincing cases for their inclusion on the pitching staff this spring, but Duffey is coming off of a 6.43 ERA in 2016 and Mejia lacks some of the polish that Berrios offers. Still, stockpiling young pitching depth isn’t a bad thing, and could give the Twins a cushion in the event of injury or collapse down the stretch.

The bullpen outperformed the rotation in 2016, which is saying… something, though maybe not a lot. They still finished the year with a cumulative 4.63 ERA, good for last place among their American League rivals, and delivered just 2.1 fWAR while taking on the fourth-most innings in the league. The standout performer was 28-year-old righty Ryan Pressly, who worked a 3.70 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9 in 75 1/3 innings last year. In light of Ryan Vogelsong’s recent departure from the club, the Twins will round out their bullpen with left-hander Craig Breslow, who turned in a 4.50 ERA with the Marlins in 2016 and is looking for a bounce-back season of his own after reworking his delivery at age 36.

For now, it looks like Falvey and the Twins’ front office are taking a wait-and-see approach to the coming season, which bodes well for their long-term vision (assuming most of their young prospects pan out) and not so well for their chances of moving up in the division in the next year or so. That could change by the trade deadline if they can secure a worthwhile return for Dozier, though given the rumors of their understandably high asking price, it could take more than a few months to get a deal in place.

Even assuming that all the chips fall in the Twins’ favor in 2017 — prospects start hitting consistently, the rotation solidifies, and Falvey loosens the purse strings enough to net more established contenders — it’s difficult to imagine anything more than a fourth-place finish for the club as they continue to rebuild and regroup. Barring any major improvements on the inconsistent, if occasionally productive, lineup of 2016, another last-place finish feels imminent.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL Central.