Flores still the 'win-now' catcher for Nationals

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It’s a common occurrence for contenders to go for the sure thing, rather than trust the youngster. When it comes to surety versus ceiling, surety often prevails with teams that already expect to win 90 games.
But what about with the teams all set to lose 90 games? When the Nationals signed Ivan Rodriguez, the thought was that he’d play 70-80 games, which would hardly make him a backup. Rodriguez thinks he has a shot to be the starter:

“Well I’m ready to play every day. We discussed that. I’m a player that can still play every day and I will play every day and basically do my best for the club. I know it’s hard for me to play 162 games; that’s impossible for a catcher. But as long as I’m healthy, feeling great physically, I’ll be in the field playing.”

GM Mike Rizzo viewed it as more of a job-sharing arrangement, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of Rodriguez starting more than half of the time. As he told the Washington Post:

“He’s a 14-time all-star. He’s a very prideful guy. And he thinks his skills are at their finest, and he might be right, you never know. Like I said at the beginning, he’s going to be a significant contributor to the ballclub. Now if that means 70 or 80 games or 70, 80, 90, 100 games, those are questions that will be answered throughout the course of the season. The best problem I could have all season is, ‘Who of these two hot catchers are we going to play on an everyday basis?'”

Rizzo said all of that right after pointing out that incumbent catcher Jesus Flores is due to be ready for the start of spring training after shoulder surgery. Flores, who arrived in Washington as a Rule 5 pick from the Mets, is 25 now, and he’s spent almost three seasons in the majors. If the Nationals hadn’t sent him down for a month early in 2008, he’d be halfway to free agency. In 574 at-bats, he’s hit .260/.313/.406 with 16 homers and 99 RBI, a very impressive total for someone who has frequently hit seventh and eighth for bad teams. He came in at .301/.377/.505 in the 29 games before he got hurt last season.
To sit down a healthy Flores now would be a terrible idea. He still has a ways to go defensively, particularly when it comes to blocking pitches, but he is learning. He’s thrown out 31 percent of would-be basestealers, and for what little it’s worth, his catcher’s ERA has been better than the Nationals’ mark as a whole during his career.
Rodriguez’s .269/.297/.401 line over the last three years is actually slightly worse than Flores’, and he’s barely toped Flores by throwing out 33 percent of basestealers. With his vast experience, he surely does a lot of the little things better than Flores. However, when it comes to the big things, Flores is the better bet for 2010. If he stays healthy, he should be starting two out of every three games. He’s the future behind the plate, and he’s the one the Nationals’ young pitchers need to learn to work with, not the mercenary who could be out of the league as soon as his contract is up.

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

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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

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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.