Sifting through the rumors: Braves – Lowe, Uggla and Soriano

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lowe.jpg*With Tim Hudson re-signed to a bargain three-year deal, the Braves are likely to step up efforts to move Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez or Kenshin Kawakami, according to the AJC’s David O’Brien.
It’s a given. Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are all locks for the rotation next year, meaning that one of the expensive veterans will have to go. Vazquez, who has just one year and $11.5 million left on his deal, is the one of the three capable of bringing something substantial in return. Vazquez is a better option than every free agent starter besides John Lackey. He does have limited no-trade protection that prevents the Braves from sending him to the West Coast. The East and Central teams in both leagues are in play, though.
Lowe and Kawakami would likely have to be traded for other players with significant contracts. Lowe is owed $45 million for three seasons, while Kawakami will receive $13.33 million over the next two years. I made the case for a Lowe-for-Carlos Lee swap last month, but that’s not going to happen. If the Nationals were interested in playing with the big boys, Lowe and cash for Josh Willingham would make some sense for both teams. I do believe Lowe is the most likely of the trio to go, even though there will be few teams capable of taking on his contract.
*O’Brien also notes in his blog that the Braves have interest in Florida’s Dan Uggla as a left fielder.
The Braves clearly want to add some right-handed power, ideally without taking on a long-term commitment in the process. They currently have holes at first base and in the outfield corners, but by the time 2011 rolls around, Jason Heyward should already be installed as the everyday right fielder and Freddie Freeman could be ready to play first base. Jordan Schafer also can’t be forgotten about. The Braves have the option of going back to him in center and shifting Nate McLouth to left field.
That’s why the Braves are likely to stay away from the top free agents and try to get creative. Uggla, who has two years of arbitration eligibility left, would probably be a bit above average in left field and the Marlins might not get much in return because he’s due at least $8 million next year. O’Brien mentions Kelly Johnson as a possibility to go the other way in a deal. Johnson is almost certainly done in Atlanta, but he could be a more-than-adequate replacement for Uggla in Florida. The problem there is cost. Johnson still offers a fair amount of upside, but the Marlins may not want to spend $3 million-$3.5 million next year on a player who is a pretty big question mark. Florida might prefer someone making the minimum, like right-handed swingman Kris Medlen.
*Both Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez were recently declared Type A free agents, meaning any team signing one of the two would have to surrender a draft pick.
That is, of course, assuming that the Braves offer the two arbitration. There’s been speculation that they wouldn’t with Soriano, and if that’s the case, GM Frank Wren deserves some blame.
In Jan. 2008, the Braves signed Soriano to a two-year, $9 million deal that bought out his first year of free agency. It was a perfectly reasonable agreement, but it was set up so that Soriano would make just $2.9 million in 2008 and then $6.1 million in 2009. If Soriano had made, say, $5 million last season, offering him arbitration now would be a safer proposition, since it’d be difficult for him to ask for much more than $7 million-$7.5 million. Because of the higher starting point, he can now go beyond that, and the Braves don’t want to risk paying the injury-prone right-hander $8 million-$9 million in 2010.
Gonzalez, who made a much more reasonable $3.45 million last season, is likely to get an arbitration offer. So, the Braves will most likely get two extra draft picks if he leaves.
Expectations are that both relievers will depart, and the Braves will try to find a modestly priced replacement. Billy Wagner is one name that makes a lot of sense.

The Padres non-tendered RHP Tyson Ross

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04:  Tyson Ross #38 of the San Diego Padres walks off the field as he's taken out of the game in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day at PETCO Park on April 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Per a report by MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, the Padres non-tendered right-handed starter Tyson Ross on Friday, cutting loose their top ace after three seasons with the club.

Ross, 29, was sidelined for the bulk of the season with inflammation in his right shoulder and underwent thoracic outlet surgery in October. His injuries limited him to only 5 1/3 innings in 2016, during which he gave up seven runs and struck out five in a 15-0 blowout against the Dodgers.

Prior to his lengthy stint on the disabled list, the right-hander earned 9.5 fWAR and pitched to a 3.07 ERA and 9.2 K/9 rate in three full seasons with the Padres. He avoided arbitration with a one-year, $9.625 million deal prior to the 2016 season after leading the league with 33 starts and delivering a 3.26 ERA and career-best 4.4 WARP over 196 innings in 2015.

The Padres appear open to bringing Ross back to San Diego, reported Cassavell, albeit not at such a steep cost. Cassavell quoted Padres’ GM A.J. Preller, who was reportedly in trade talks involving Ross but unable to strike a deal, likely due to the right-hander’s recent health issues. Preller denied that those same health issues factored into the club’s decision to non-tender their ace.

With the move, Ross became one of 35 major leaguers to enter free agency on Friday.

Angels’ Pujols has foot surgery, could be sidelined 4 months

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols had surgery on his right foot Friday, possibly sidelining him past opening day.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols had the procedure Friday in North Carolina to release his plantar fascia, the ligament connecting the heel to the toes. The three-time NL MVP was bothered by plantar fasciitis repeatedly during the season, but played through the pain in arguably the strongest year of his half-decade with the Angels.

Eppler said the surgery typically prevents players from participating in baseball activities for three months, along with another month before they’re ready to resume playing in games. Opening day for Los Angeles is April 3, and the Angels hope Pujols can be ready.

“He’s at that point in his career where he’s keenly aware of what’s happening with his body,” Eppler said in a phone interview. “I don’t put the timetable on Albert like you would with your younger players. We’ll just see in Albert’s case, as he progresses, what his timetable is.”

Pujols, who turns 37 next month, batted .268 last year with 31 homers and 119 RBIs, the fourth-most in the majors – although his .780 OPS was among the worst of his career. He largely served as a designated hitter instead of playing first base due to problems with his hamstrings and feet.

Pujols heads into 2017 with 591 career homers, ranking him ninth in major league history. He is 18 homers behind Sammy Sosa for eighth place.

After playing in pain until the final week of the Angels’ disappointing season, Pujols began shock wave therapy on his foot early in the offseason, believing he wouldn’t need surgery.

But Pujols’ foot became more painful in recent weeks despite the therapy, and he huddled with the Angels’ top brass to decide on surgery after his most recent trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina. Continuing with conservative care would have required 10 more weeks, forcing Pujols to miss the first half of the 2017 season if he still required surgery.

“He just felt that the pain had gotten to a point where he was comfortable” having surgery, Eppler said. “If we did delay it, you’re just looking at 2 1/2 more months into the season.”

Pujols had a different type of surgery on his right foot last winter, but recovered in time for opening day. He also had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the 2013 season, eventually forcing him out for the year when his fascia snapped.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract that pried him out of St. Louis, where he won two World Series and became a nine-time NL All-Star.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since Pujols’ arrival and Mike Trout‘s concurrent emergence as one of baseball’s best players. They went 74-88 last season, the injury-plagued club’s worst record since 1999.