For the longest time, it was unheard of for Japanese teams to sign its gaijin, or foreign-born players, to multiyear deals. That’s changed of late, though, and the Yakult Swallows have inked three of their imports to two- and three-year deals, MLB Trade Rumors reports.
According to Tim Dierkes, the Swallows have re-signed outfielder Wladmir Balentien to a three-year, $7.5 million contract, outfielder Lastings Milledge to a three-year, $4.4 million contract and reliever Tony Barnette to a two-year, $3.2 million contract.
Balentien hit .272/.386/.572 with a Central League-high 31 homers last year in his second season in Japan. Milledge hit .300/.379/.485 with 21 homers. The two were easily the Swallows’ best hitters; no one else on the squad managed an .800 OPS.
Barnette had 33 saves and a 1.82 ERA as the team’s closer.
While there probably weren’t any major league teams craving another shot at Milledge or Barnette, Balentien likely would have drawn some interest had he waited another year and chosen to return to the United States. The 28-year-old disappointed in his early major league stints, but he hardly embarrassed himself. After getting traded away from the Mariners and out of Safeco, he hit a respectable .264/.352/.427 in 110 at-bats for the Reds in 2009.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).
Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.
Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.