Bruce Chen

What on earth are the Royals doing now?


When the Royals re-signed Bruce Chen to a one-year, $4.25 million contract this week, it was generally met with tepid approval. One could argue that he’s 90 percent of the pitcher Jason Vargas is for half of the salary and one-quarter the commitment. So, that’s not bad.

But then came the fallout.

First, it was made clear by the team that Chen is being handed the fourth spot in the rotation that seemed to belong to Danny Duffy, who returned from Tommy John surgery to post a 1.85 ERA in five starts last season. Now it’s being advertised that Duffy, Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, top prospect Yordano Ventura and the newly signed Brad Penny are all competing for the fifth spot.

Second, versatile speedster Emilio Bonifacio, who just signed a non-guaranteed $3.55 million contract, was designated for assignment to make room for Chen. So, essentially, he’s being dumped to fit Chen on the payroll.

Bonifacio will almost surely be traded. That might have been for the best anyway, considering that the outfield is five deep without him and he wasn’t in line for a lot of playing time behind the newly signed Omar Infante at second base. Still, if anyone was willing to give up anything of significance for Bonifacio, the deal would have happened already. After all, he’s been on the block since at least the winter meetings. The Royals won’t get stuck with his salary, but they’re not likely to get much of a prospect in return.

Also, shedding Bonifacio does nothing to alleviate the Royals’ bench logjam. He’s going to have to be replaced on the roster by another backup middle infielder, which probably means Pedro Ciriaco now makes the team. Unless someone gets hurt this spring, there’s still going to be room for just two from the group of Justin Maxwell, Jarrod Dyson and Danny Valencia, and since all of those guys are out of options, it’s not like they’ll just be able to stash one in Triple-A.

Plus, the pitching staff is more crowded than ever. Duffy and Ventura are both candidates to step up and become the Royals’ second best starter behind James Shields, but it’s possible neither will make the staff out of spring training. That’s because Hochevar ($5.2 million) and Davis ($4.8 million) are the sixth and eighth highest-paid players on the Royals, respectively. If those two were making half as much, the Royals wouldn’t try to justify the salaries by giving them yet another opportunity to start when both are clearly so much more valuable out of the pen. Both would likely be perfectly respectable closers given the chance. But that chance won’t come in Kansas City with Greg Holland in town.

On the one hand, all of this looks like a good problem to have. Last year, the Royals’ pen was so good that there just wasn’t enough for Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Louis Coleman to do. Coleman, for instance, spent most of the season in the minors, yet had a 0.61 ERA in 29 2/3 innings when he was called on.

On the other hand, it’s only a good problem to have if the Royals make the most of it. The Royals certainly didn’t while giving 39 starts to Davis and Luis Mendoza last year. If they open this season with Duffy in the rotation and Hochevar and Davis working in setup roles, then they’ll be in pretty good shape. If they instead have Davis starting and Duffy and Ventura in Triple-A, it’d be a bad sign.

Blue Jays sell Triple-A MVP Matt Hague to Japanese team

Matt Hague Blue Jays
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Matt Hague got a cup of coffee in Toronto this year after winning the International League MVP, but the 30-year-old first baseman/third baseman found a better opportunity in Japan and the Blue Jays have sold him to the Hanshin Tigers.

Hague hit .338 in 136 games at Triple-A this past season and is a career .301 hitter in eight minor-league seasons overall, but his lack of power limits his opportunities in the majors and he’s received a grand total of 91 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of Toronto Sportnet reports that the sale price for Hague is $300,000, which goes to the Blue Jays. And then Hague will no doubt sign a deal for a lot more than he could have earned at Triple-A and perhaps more than the MLB minimum salary.

Diamondbacks trade Allen Webster to the Pirates

Allen Webster
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The Arizona Diamondbacks just announced that have traded righty Allen Webster to the Pirates for cash considerations.

Webster, who turns 26 in February, was DFA’d by the Dbacks a few days ago. He pitched in nine games, starting five, in 2015, posting a 5.81 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 17/20 (eww) in 31 innings. Before that he pitched 89.1 innings for the Red Sox over two years with numbers not too terribly more impressive than that.

Yankees “have let teams know” Ivan Nova is available

New York Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova reacts during second inning where he gave up 6 runs to the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 2 of a doubleheader baseball game at Yankee Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
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Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Yankees “have let teams know Ivan Nova is available” in trade.

Nova returned from Tommy John elbow surgery in May to throw 94 innings with a 5.07 ERA and will be a free agent after the 2016 season, so it’s tough to imagine his trade market being particularly robust.

Despite that, Sherman writes that the Yankees “are not selling low” on Nova and might try to package him with other players to bring back a young starting pitcher under team control for multiple seasons. In other words, they’d like to trade Nova for a pitcher who can step into his rotation spot in 2016 and beyond.

Nova has had some good years in New York, but he’s 29 years old with a career 4.33 ERA and just 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s more middle-of-the-rotation starter than front-line starter and even that might be in question following elbow surgery.

Mariners working on trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna

All offseason there have been reports that the Marlins are looking to trade 25-year-old outfielder Marcell Ozuna because he’s fallen out of favor with the organization and specifically owner Jeffrey Loria.

And now Jerry Crasnick of reports that the Mariners “are working on a trade” for Ozuna, speculating that they’re offering a starting pitcher such as Nate Karns or Roenis Elias. Marlins beat writer Joe Frisaro says “nothing is imminent” with an Ozuna trade but “everything is subject to change.”

Karns or Elias alone would seem like a light return for Ozuna, who’s hit .265 with 36 homers and a .727 OPS through 346 career games as a big leaguer and put up good numbers in the minors. He’s a plus defensive corner outfielder with 25-homer power under team control through 2019. There’s value there, whether Loria likes him or not.

But then again if the Marlins are dead set on parting ways with Ozuna perhaps new Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is taking advantage by swooping in with a mediocre offer. Or maybe that was the initial proposal and the Marlins are currently holding out for James Paxton or Taijuan Walker?