Braves sign 25-year-old Cuban OF Dian Toscano to multi-year deal

The Atlanta Braves outfield continues to change shape this offseason after finishing the 2014 season with an under-.500 record of 79-83. The Braves made yet another move to their outfield by signing Cuban OF Dian Toscano to a 4-year deal worth $6 million with a fifth-year option worth $1.7 million.

Seven Braves outfielders combined to post a .243 batting average (463-for-1909) with 515 strikeouts last season. Since then, a new outfield has taken shape as fan favorite and Gold Glove Award winning RF Jason Heyward has departed for St. Louis, Justin Upton has made his new home on the West coast with the San Diego Padres, and platoon player Jordan Schafer has signed with Minnesota.

cvilchesmonzon.wordpress.com

cvilchesmonzon.wordpress.com

These departures make room for the Braves to welcome veteran Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis as the new right fielder, as well as the arrivals of youngsters Zoilo Almonte, Eury Perez, and the experienced Jonny Gomes, who earned a World Series ring in 2013 as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

Toscano is the latest in the upward trending signing of Cuban baseball players. The 25-year-old left-handed hitter played in the Cuban National Series for the Naranjas de Villa Clara, which, in case you were wondering, translates to the Villa Clara Oranges. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound youngster tallied a .356 average in 86 plate appearances during the 2012-13 season, his last in Cuba.

Although he never showed much power while in Cuba, it has been rumored he has significantly increased his strength since leaving the island. Toscano lacks the arm strength to play right field in the MLB and should see time in his usual left field spot with possible time in center field.

The signing of Toscano could be seen as a risky move, as scouts have never seen him play until he departed Cuba because he never played for the Cuban national team. However, it’s a move that comes at a very affordable cost and if he does reach his ceiling, which isn’t said to be as high as fellow Cuban outfielders Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, and Yasmany Tomas, he’s got the youth to continue playing well past his 4-year deal.

With the return of B.J. Upton to center field, the Braves outfield appears to take shape with Toscano in left, Upton in center, and Markakis in right. Gomes should see significant time in left field and in right, like he did during his stint with the Red Sox.

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White Sox bring back Beckham, designate Viciedo for assignment

Wednesday afternoon saw the Chicago White Sox make a few changes with their 40-man roster, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

The first move involved signing free agent infielder Gordon Beckham to a 1-year, $2 million deal. Beckham is returning to the White Sox after brief stint with the Angels last season. The 28-year old was traded to the Angels on August 21.

Combined play with the White Sox and Angels in the 2014 season Gordon hit .226 with 9 home runs and 44 runs batted in. Beckham will presumably be put in a utility infield role with a concentration left-handed pitching for batting. He spent six seasons with Chicago before his few months with LAA.

In order to make room for Beckham on the roster, the White Sox designated outfielder Dayan Viciedo for an assignment. The White Sox agreed with Viciedo on a one-year, $4.4 million deal back on January 12 to avoid arbitration but the salary wasn’t guaranteed.

Viciedo hit .231 with 21 home runs and 58 runs batted in for Chicago in the 2014 season.

 

– Kevin L. Smith (Follow him on twitter: @KevLSmittie)

Anthony Ranaudo for Robbie Ross deal costly for Boston

via: firebrandal.com

via: firebrandal.com

The Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers have swapped starting pitching projects, by working out a deal that sent Robbie Ross to Boston and Anthony Ranaudo to Texas. This move shows that the cost of addressing a need mere weeks before Spring Training begins can be high.

Both pitchers were finally trusted enough to be handed the ball to start games in the majors for the first times in their careers in 2014. Ranaudo went 4-3 with a 4.81 earned run average in seven starts as a rookie for the Red Sox. Ross went 3-6 in 12 starts with a 6.20 ERA for the Rangers. Their walks per nine innings (3.7 for Ranaudo, 3.4 for Ross) were essentially identical, though Ross pitched about twice as many innings as Ranaudo did because Ross also made 15 appearances out of the bullpen for Texas.

The left-handed relief options for Boston were lacking, as behind Craig Breslow there are a lot of question marks. Ross gives the Red Sox a major-league ready arm to use in games when Breslow needs a day off or they want to save him for a later spot in the game. That solution didn’t come cheap, however.

Ranaudo was ranked as Boston’s fourth-best prospect and No. 100 in all of baseball. His 6’8″ 235 frame provides him with plenty of power and room to put his fastball on a downward slope. His curveball and change-up have improved with experience, and if he can continue to win the battle that all tall pitchers face with mechanics, that trend will continue. Ranaudo should have every opportunity to nab a rotation spot for Texas in Surprise next month. The responsibility of replacing Ross in the Ranger bullpen will probably fall between Kyuji Fujikawa and Alex Claudio.

Both pitchers are inexpensive pieces for their new teams, as Ross will be first-year arbitration eligible in 2016 and Ranaudo in 2018. Boston filled an immediate need, but if Ranaudo hits the high ceiling that some have for him, Ross may not have been worth the price.

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Bargain Buy Free Agents: Pitchers

Roberto Hernandez  (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Roberto Hernandez
(USA TODAY Sports Images)

As shown to the left, Roberto Hernandez is one of the unrestricted free agent (UFA) pitchers still available to be signed on the open market. As the countdown to spring training begins, the old adage goes, “you can never have enough pitching.” As such, MLB clubs will be looking for cheap additions that might help them win key ballgames down the stretch. Teams that are looking to add depth to their pitching rotation or bullpen might want to consider signing these pitchers to one or two-year deals.

Roberto Hernandez

Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, has never seemed to achieve the same success that he had with the Indians back in the 2007 season. One of the reasons for Hernandez’s fall from grace is the fact that he can’t go deep into the games. Hernandez has only pitched in more than 200 innings once since that magical 2007 season. Things might be going in the right direction though for the former Indians star pitcher. Hernandez posted his lowest ERA since the 2010 season, and he started the most games of his career (29) since 2011. His 73 walks from 2014 are the most of his career, which is concerning to MLB general managers. However, he only made $4.5 million last season. Hernandez showed a lot of durability last season, and he also had success pitching in the bullpen. He could be open to signing a one-year deal for $5 million.

Paul Maholm

Paul Maholm unfortunately tore his ACL on August 1 against the Cubs. In actuality, Maholm was having a very mediocre season in 2014 before succumbing to injury. Maholm posted a 4.84 in 8 starts, but he’s only 32 years old. According to John Morosi, Maholm says he feels great as he tries to recover from ACL surgery. Maholm will probably have to agree to an incentive-laden deal before spring training.

Chris Young

Was Chris Young’s 2014 season a fluke? His 5.02 FIP and 5.03 road ERA might suggest that Young thrived on pitching at a pitcher’s friendly Safeco Field. Still, Young posted his best WHIP (1.23) since he was on the Padres in 2007 (1.10). Young is approaching 36 years old, but there are teams out there who could use another starting pitcher who pitches well at home. Could we see the Padres invest in Young to make quality starts at Petco Park? It’s feasible that the Padres could offer Young a multi-year deal.

Rafael Soriano

Rafael Soriano is more of a name now than a shutdown closer. Soriano lost his closer role to Drew Storen, and it’s understandable why that happened. Soriano blew 7 saves last season, but he had 43 saves in 2013. He also had 42 saves in 2012. Does Soriano lose his composure in the ninth inning in one season? You have to think that a team like the Tigers, who had so much trouble with their bullpen in the postseason, will offer Soriano a multi-year deal to be their closer or setup man.

John Axford

The Milwaukee Brewers need help at the back end of their bullpen. Axford posted a career-best 46 saves for the Brew Crew back in 2011. Could we see Axford back in Milwaukee? The price tag for the former All-Star closer couldn’t be any cheaper. Axford is coming off a season where his ERA ballooned up to 4.97 against right-handed hitters, and he lost the closer job with the Indians before being shipped off to Pittsburgh.

Kyle Smith @willsmith9099

Pirates clear space for Lambo, get return by sending Snider to Baltimore

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

On Tuesday the Pittsburgh Pirates sent outfielder Travis Snider to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for left-handed pitcher Stephen Tarpley and the famous player to be named later, possibly leftie pitcher Steven Brault. What does this move mean for both franchises in 2015 and beyond?

To understand that, you have to first grasp where both franchises were before the deal was made. In the Pittsburgh outfield, the trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco made Snider a fourth outfielder at best. Additionally, the progression of Andrew Lambo created a log jam of sorts for that spot. Most importantly, Snider will be facing his last year of arbitration eligibility in 2016 and then becomes eligible for free agency in 2017.

For Baltimore, the departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis left a huge void in the outfield. Having a left-handed bat in the everyday lineup was also a pressing need, as the current mix of hitters on the active roster includes few reliable options from that side of the bag.

In the short term, this move means that Lambo has the inside track to be the fourth outfielder for the Pirates. It also means that Snider should be the every day right fielder for the Orioles in 2015. For catcher Michael Ohlman, it meant that Baltimore designated him for assignment. Ohlman spent the last five years in the Orioles’ system, never progressing beyond the Double-A level.

Beyond 2015 is where things get less predictable.

Snider wasn’t Baltimore’s first choice, as the Orioles previously made an offer to Colby Rasmus. There were rumors of interest in Nori Aoki and Ichiro Suzuki as well. It’s understandable that the Orioles would have preferred to sign a free agent versus make a trade, but this move isn’t a bad “Plan B” because Snider will have to earn a pay raise for 2016 with his bat and glove.

Tarpley is still in need of a lot of polishing, but has potential. Pittsburgh has four arms in its list of top 10 prospects, one of which (Nick Kingham) might make his major league debut this season. If Brault is indeed the player to be named later, the Pirates have added two lefties with potential to their minor league ranks on top of freeing some money up. That will be important because starting in 2016, McCutchen, Marte and starting pitcher Francisco Liriano start getting more expensive.

It’s uncertain how much of Tarpley’s potential will translate to results in the bigs. It’s also uncertain whether Snider will hold on to the starting spot in right field beyond 2015. For now, however, this deal makes sense for both teams.

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Nationals sign Janssen to one-year deal

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Casey Janssen delvers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Boston. The Blue Jays won 3-1. (AP Photo/Steven Senne

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Casey Janssen delvers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Boston. The Blue Jays won 3-1. (AP Photo/Steven Senne

The Washington Nationals continue to bolster its pitching staff with the addition of free-agent righty Casey Janssen.  Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reported earlier today that the deal was for one year with a mutual option and $5 million guaranteed.

The Washington Nationals have yet to confirm this deal.

Casey Janssen, age 33, had previously been with the Blue Jays since 2006.

Perhaps Janssen’s best year came in 2011 where he went 6-0 with a 2.26 ERA in 55 appearances.  The Blue Jays promptly moved Janssen into the closer role in 2012 and Janssen rewarded them with 81 saves from 2012-2014.

Janssen will most likely compete for the setup role in Washington following Tyler Clippard departure to Oakland.

Anthony Lovari

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2015 Kansas City Royals preview: relief pitching

This is the second installment in what will be a position by position preview of the defending American League champion

What was the greatest strength of the Kansas City Royals in 2014 could fill that bill again in 2015, if everything goes right. All of the key players are back in 2015, with some other talents who could figure into the mix. Will this group contend for the crown of the AL’s best bullpen in 2015?

Key losses

Bruce Chen – Kansas City has decided to go another direction for 2015, and released Chen after the 2014 season. The 37 year-old 16-year veteran made 13 appearances, six of those out of the bullpen, in 2014. A 7.45 earned run average in 48.1 innings of work was good reason for the Royals to pass him over for the playoff roster.

Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America

Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America

Aaron Crow – Traded to the Miami Marlins after the 2014 season, Crow made 67 appearances and saved three games for Kansas City last season. In 59 innings of relief work, the 28 year-old 2011 All-Star posted a 4.12 ERA and 34 strikeouts. His numbers weren’t stellar last season, causing the Royals to replace him on the postseason roster. The absence of Chen and Crow creates a solid chance for someone else to work that volume of innings for Kansas City in 2015.

Incumbent role players

Louis Coleman – This 28 year-old right-hander appeared in 31 games for the Royals in 2014, posting a 5.56 ERA in 34 innings of work. Along the way, he finished 10 games with a save. His fastball and slider are both tough on right-handed batters. The change-up is a work in progress, though. Expect Coleman to continue to be used in specific situations in 2015, but in bigger spots if he delivers and the team’s confidence in him grows. Coleman won’t be eligible for free agency until 2019.

Wade Davis – One of the best set-up men in the AL in 2014, the 29 year-old rightie could be even better in 2015, as it is a contract year for Davis. However, there are team options for 2016 and 2017. Last season he was eighth in the AL Cy Young vote because of his 13.6 strikeouts per nine inning average. His fastball touches 94 when he needs it and he commands his curve very well.

Brandon Finnegan – Despite pitching only seven innings during the 2014 regular season, Finnegan showed his mettle during the 2014 postseason, making a believer in him out of Kansas City. This 21 year-old left-hander has a stellar fastball in addition to his better than average curve and change. If he continues to develop his command and control, he could see a lot of middle-relief work in 2015. Finnegan won’t be eligible for free agency until 2021.

Jason Frasor – Frasor’s performance as a bridge to Davis after the Royals acquired him in 2014 was good enough to land him a new contract with Kansas City, which includes a mutual option for 2016. Expect Frasor to see a lot of the same responsibilities in 2015, as the 31-year old rightie should be more than capable of filling that role in conjunction with Coleman and the next guy on this list.

Kelvin Herrera – If you like relievers that throw hard and fearlessly go after batters, this is your guy. His fastball can hit the triple digits, and while it appears out of control enough to make batters uncomfortable in the box, he has decent command of it considering its speed. His change-up is a rarely used pitch, and while he does have a curve, he uses that even less. A right-hander, Herrera is 25 years old and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2019.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Kansas City RoyalsGreg Holland – The other half of one of the best bullpen back ends in 2014, rightie Holland not only finished just behind Davis in the AL Cy Young vote but 16th in the AL MVP vote as well. The 2014 All-Star posted a 1.44 ERA in 62.1 innings of work, saving 46 games for the Royals. The combination of his fastball that he can paint the corners with and the biting breaking ball have made him a very effective closer. He is 29 years old and under contract until 2017.

Luke Hochevar – After a stellar 2013, Hochevar became another victim of the accursed need for Tommy John‘s surgery in his right shoulder. Because of that, how much of that 1.92 ERA in 70.1 innings of work in 2013 form he will re-gain is in question. Prior to the surgery, he threw both a two- and four-steam fastball with command, a cutter, a splitter that can look like a straight change to batters and a diving 12-6 curve. The 31 year-old is under contract through 2016, with a mutual option for 2017. If he can get back to being close to what he was in 2013, he would give Kansas City a lot of interesting options and great depth.

Veteran additions

None

Young upstarts

Aaron Brooks – Appearing in two games for the Royals in 2014, this 24 year-old rookie’s best weapon is his ability to spot his fastball. His change-up has developed significantly over his time in the minors as well. Brooks won’t be eligible for free agency until 2019, and with the abundance of more experienced right-handed options will probably only see the mound in low-pressure situations as he continues to get his feet wet in the bigs.

Brian Flynn – The main piece that Kansas City got back in the Aaron Crow trade, Flynn’s small amount of work in the majors has left a lot to be desired so far. Still, this 24 year-old rookie’s potential to develop into a leftie specialist was enough to convince the Royals to take a flyer on him. He will have the spring to show that his mound presence and control can improve enough to warrant his spot on the active roster. Like several others, Flynn will be eligible for free agency in 2019.

Jandel Gustave – A blistering fastball and solid slider have gotten a lot of attention for this 22 year-old right-hander. Issues with his control of the fastball have kept him from making his major league debut to this point. Like Brooks, he will have a shot to try to hold on to the active roster spot that he currently has during the spring. If he can keep the fastball down in the zone, Kansas City will make room for him.

John Lamb – Scouts say that this left-hander’s curveball action is rare, and that when his control is on, he can dominate batters. However, all that is when the 24-year old who has yet to make his major league debut is on. Tommy John’s surgery has set him back, but it seems that he is finally ready to make a legitimate push for a spot in the Royals’ bullpen in 2015. If he can work his change and curve with the same control, he could be a nice piece for Kansas City.

Yohan Pino – This 31 year-old rightie finally made his major league debut in 2014 as a starter for the Minnesota Twins, and while the numbers weren’t great, they show some potential for him to be an innings-eater. His breaking ball, change-up and fastball all grade as a little above average, but he makes up for that with how well me mixes those three pitches. Pino is under contract with the Royals for 2015 only.

Summary

The Royals lack a true long reliever, though some scouts think Coleman could grow into that role. Additionally, veteran starter Kris Medlen could fill that role if he fails to nab a rotation spot and Kansas City decides to carry him on the active roster. If Hochevar can return to his pre-injury form, the Royals’ depth is enviable. Another facet that could make other teams jealous is the luxury of picking spots to insert their younger projects and help them mature. As long as those seven incumbents stay healthy and don’t seriously regress, Kansas City should have one of the best bullpens in the AL in 2015.

What-if?

Ryan Madson is one of the Royals’ non-roster invitees to Spring Training. Madson has been out of baseball since 2011, when he was the closer for the Philadelphia Phillies. Should he surprise people in Surprise this spring, it would give Kansas City three pitchers with the stuff to close in addition to Davis, Frasor and Herrera. That could be scary for opponents.

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Blue Jays postpone changes for another year by re-signing Beeston

Dave Sandford/Getty Images North America

Dave Sandford/Getty Images North America

The search for a new president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays is going to take a little hiatus, but will resume shortly.

Toronto announced on Twitter today that Paul Beeston will remain in his current position through the end of the coming season. While this provides some immediate continuity for the organization, all the team has really done is publicly postpone its search.

When the Blue Jays’ efforts to acquire the Baltimore Orioles‘ executive vice president Dan Duquette failed, they made the obvious move. With mere weeks until the beginning of spring training left and the thin field of candidates available at this point, keeping Beeston around for a farewell season makes a lot of sense.

The language in the press release from chairman Edward Rogers is interesting. In it, Toronto stated that the organization “will not be commenting on the succession process or timing.” That leaves plenty of room for the Blue Jays to “kick the tires” around the league with other potential candidates from now until they make a selection. Just because Toronto isn’t crafting press releases about the search, doesn’t mean it isn’t ongoing behind closed doors.

Expect the Blue Jays to at the very least spend the 2015 making a short list of candidates, if not doing all they can to gauge the interest of those candidates. In this way, they have set themselves ahead of other teams who will be looking for front office executives after the 2015 season. Don’t be surprised if an announcement comes very quickly after the season has ended for Toronto.

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Norris still represents great value for Orioles

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images North America

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images North America

Bud Norris had one of the best seasons of his career in 2014, his first full season with the Baltimore Orioles. That prompted the two sides to work out a deal and avoid arbitration, as reported today by Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Even at the new figure, Norris will still be a tremendous value for Baltimore if he can in any way replicate 2014 in this coming season.

Getting 28 starts and 165 innings with an earned run average under four in the American League East for less than nine million is a great deal. Compared to other pitchers in the division, such as R.A. Dickey, who is on the hook for $12 million from the Toronto Blue Jays this year and finished with a higher ERA and fewer wins in 2014, the Orioles are doing well for themselves.

Incentives in the deal could make it more lucrative for Norris, but it’s unclear whether or not he will reach them. Baltimore also put themselves in the position to benefit from Norris’ contract-year situation, as he will be a free agent next winter.

Norris may regress more toward his career 162-game average ERA of 4.23, but a potential pay day for him should provide ample motivation for him to avoid a slump. If the Orioles can get anything close to his average of 197 innings out of him, it’s still a good return on their investment. Norris has proven to be a steal when Baltimore traded for him. If he can reproduce 2014 in 2015, he will continue that trend for the Orioles.

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Mesoraco Signs Extension with Reds

1:57 PM EST: Reports have indicated that Cincinnati Reds Catcher Devin Mesoraco is nearing an extension with the club.

Mesoraco, who is only 26, was arbitration eligible for the first time in his career for 2015 and was under team control through the 2017 season. The catcher was the Reds first-round pick in 2007, straight from Punxsutawney (PA) High School. The Reds are very high on Mesoraco and he proved helped prove them right last season.

mesoraco

Devin Mesoraco (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)

At the plate, Mesoraco batted .273, with a .359 OBP and a .534  slugging percentage. Couple that with 25 HR and 80 RBI and you have a solid offensive output from behind the plate. His solid season, behind the plate and at the plate, helped Mesoraco earn a spot on the 2014 NL All-Star Team.

Per Tim Dierkes with MLBTradeRumors.com, Mesoraco and the Reds exchanged arbitration figures earlier this month.

It will be interesting to see the deal Reds GM Walt Jocketty and Mesoraco’s agents, Jet Sports Management can work out.

This is a solid move by Jocketty and the Reds, solidifying their catching spot for years to come.

UPDATE 2:11 pm EST: Per C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Reds and Mesoraco have agreed on a 4 year extension.

UPDATE 2:37 pm EST:

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