Rangers take $5 million gamble on Colby Lewis' return from Japan

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Colby Lewis was one of the game’s best pitching prospects while coming up through the Rangers’ farm system, with Baseball America ranking him as their No. 32 overall prospect in 2003, sandwiched between Adrian Gonzalez at 31 and Josh Hamilton at 33.
That season he made 26 starts for the Rangers as a 23-year-old rookie, posting a hideous 7.30 ERA while opponents batted .317 with a .952 OPS in 127 innings. Shoulder surgery followed in early 2004 and Lewis didn’t return to the majors for 27 months. Over the next two seasons he was let go by the Rangers, Tigers, Nationals, A’s, and Royals while posting a 6.20 ERA in 40.2 innings as a reliever. And then that was it.
Lewis headed for Japan, but after back-to-back dominant (and healthy) seasons for the Hiroshima Carp he returned to the United States last month and has re-signed with the Rangers. Lewis inked a two-year, $5 million deal with a $3.25 million team option for 2012, and yesterday Texas general manager Jon Daniels made it clear that he’s guaranteed a spot in the rotation going into spring training:

We expect Colby to be one of five in our Opening Day rotation. This was not the development program we had in mind. It may be a little different path, but he has had a lot of success and a lot of experiences that make us feel that Colby will be a strong addition to our staff.

Lewis has the seventh-worst ERA in baseball history among pitchers with at least 200 career innings, but the former first-round pick is still just 30 years old and went 26-17 with a 2.82 ERA and exceptional 369/46 K/BB ratio over 354 innings in Japan. Had a Japanese-born pitcher posted those same numbers he’d have little trouble finding a deal for more than $5 million. For example, Kenshin Kawakami got $23 million from the Braves last offseason and Hiroki Kuroda signed with the Dodgers for $35 million two winters ago.
MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan notes that the Yankees, Twins, A’s, and Pirates were also interested in Lewis, but his familiarity with the Rangers and a guaranteed spot in the rotation no doubt led to a Texas return. Perhaps he’ll struggle again, but if you view Lewis as simply a pitcher who performed extremely well in Japan for two years rather than a former prospect bust it certainly makes sense for the Rangers to take a $5 million risk.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.