Yesterday my Twitter feed lit up with Orioles writers marveling at Jake Fox hitting his sixth and seventh homers of the spring, which is good for the MLB lead and suddenly makes his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster a popular topic.
While no doubt impressed by the power display, manager Buck Showalter explained to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun that Fox’s work defensively at catcher is also a huge factor:
I want him to show me what he can do catching. We all know he is capable of doing some good things with the bat. He had a good game behind the plate, a better game behind the plate. That’s really what I was looking at today.
Then, when asked if someone could hit seven spring training homers and still not make the team, Showalter replied simply: “Yes.” That may seem like a harsh assessment, particularly since any standout spring performances will get a certain segment of a team’s fan base clamoring for that player to make the team or take on a much bigger role, but in the big picture spring training performances simply aren’t that predictive.
For instance, last spring eight guys hit at least six homers. Ryan Zimmerman went on to post a career-high OPS and Chris Johnson hit .308 as a rookie, but none of the other six guys turned their big spring into a big regular season. Sean Rodriguez hit .251 and managed only nine homers in 118 games. Mike Napoli had a career-low .784 OPS that was 60 points below his 2009 mark. Justin Upton took a big step backward after a breakout 2009. Aaron Hill hit .205 in a miserable season. John Bowker hit .219. Delwyn Young hit .236.
You get the idea.
Spring training performances get a lot of attention because … well, what else is everyone writing about and watching a team every day going to focus on? However, ultimately whether a 28-year-old hitter like Fox with a lengthy track record on which to judge him performs well or poorly in some small sample of at-bats against pitchers of widely varying quality in games that don’t count for anything just doesn’t mean a whole lot.
None of which is to say Fox isn’t capable of producing when the games count, because despite struggling in the majors he has shown plenty of power in the minors. And certainly Fox hitting seven homers this spring is much better than Fox hitting zero homers this spring, but 50 at-bats shouldn’t dramatically alter the way Showalter and the Orioles view a player with nearly 3,000 at-bats in the majors and minors.
It was reported Sunday that free agent right-hander Johnny Cueto had turned down a six-year, $120 million contract from the Diamondbacks. He’s hoping to land a bigger deal this winter and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has heard some chatter about what he’s looking for.
Jordan Zimmermann finalized a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers today, which works out to $22 million per season. Arizona’s offer to Cueto checked in at $20 million per season. A six-year offer to Cueto at the same AAV (average annual value) as Zimmermann would put him at $132 million, which is still a little shy of the figure stated by Crasnick. Of course, Cueto owns a 2.71 ERA (145 ERA+) over the last five seasons compared to a 3.14 ERA (123 ERA+) by Zimmermann during that same timespan, so there’s a case to be made that he should get more. Still, he’s the clear No. 3 starter on the market behind David Price and Zack Greinke.
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Cubs are among the other teams who have interest in Cueto. One variable in his favor is that he is not attached to draft pick compensation, as he was traded from the Reds to the Royals during the 2015 season.
The rebuilding Braves have already been active on the trade market and they might not be done, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that right-hander Shelby Miller has been a very popular name. In fact, around 20 teams have checked in.
Nothing is considered close and the Braves have set a very high asking price, mostly centered around offense. They asked for right-hander Luis Severino in talks with the Yankees and would expect outfielder Marcell Ozuna among other pieces from the Marlins. The Diamondbacks and Giants are among the other interested clubs.
Miller is under team control through 2018, so there’s not necessarily a sense of urgency to move him, but anything is possible with the way the Braves are doing things right now. The 25-year-old is coming off a year where he went 6-17, but that was about really rotten luck more than anything else, as he had a fine 3.02 ERA and 171/73 K/BB ratio over 205 1/3 innings. The Braves gave him the worst run support of any starter in the majors.
Jenrry Mejia appeared in just seven games this past season due to a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, but Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets are expected to tender him a contract for 2016.
While the Mets were vocal about their disappointment in Mejia’s actions, it makes sense to keep him around as an option. Had he played a full season in 2015, he would have earned $2.595 million. He’s arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and figures to receive a contract similar to his 2015 figure, but he’ll only be paid for the games he plays. He still has 100 games to serve on his second PED suspension, which means that he’ll only be paid for 62 games in 2016. This likely puts his salary closer to $1 million, which is a small price to pay for someone who could prove useful during the second half and beyond. He also won’t count toward the team’s 40-man roster until he’s active.
Mejia, who turned 26 in October, owns a 3.68 ERA in the majors and saved 28 games for the Mets in 2014. He’s currently pitching as a starter in the Dominican Winter League.
UPDATE: The deal is official. Bowman adds that Johnson will make $2.5 million in 2016.
6:11 p.m. ET: Jim Johnson enjoyed some success out of the Braves’ bullpen in 2015 until a midseason trade to the Dodgers and Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports that he has returned to Atlanta on a one-year contract. No word yet on the terms involved.
After an awful 2014 between the Athletics and Tigers, Johnson signed a one-year deal with the Braves last winter and bounced back to the tune of a 2.25 ERA and 33/14 K/BB ratio over 48 innings. He also saved nine games. However, things went south for him after a trade to the Dodgers in late July, as he put up an ugly 10.13 ERA in 23 appearances. He was left off the team’s roster for the NLDS against the Mets.
It’s unclear what role the Braves have in mind for Johnson, as Arodys Vizcaino finished the season as the closer, but they have made upgrading their bullpen a priority this winter.