The Mariners are planning to begin the season with a six-man rotation in place, general manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters yesterday (Twitter link via Greg Johns of MLB.com). That tactic should allow the Seattle club the opportunity to manage the innings of younger arms on a per-game basis while also maximizing their opportunity to evaluate some up-and-coming arms who could factor into the long-term outlook.
Recently extendedsouthpawMarco Gonzales seems likely to get the Opening Day nod as the Mariners’ most established starter, and the team will hope for better results from 29-year-old lefty Yusei Kikuchi in the second season of his uniquely structured free-agent deal. Kikuchi, who had established himself as one of Nippon Professional Baseball’s premier arms prior to 2019, is locked in at $43MM from 2019-21. After the contract’s third year, Seattle can pick up a four-year, $66MM “option.” If the club declines to do so, Kikuchi can instead exercise a $13MM player option. In essence, he’s guaranteed $56MM over four years, while the M’s have the opportunity to lock him up at what would be a total of seven years and $109MM if he takes his game to a new level between now and the completion of the 2021 campaign.
Beyond that pair of lefties, Seattle will get longer looks at southpaw Justus Sheffield and righty Justin Dunn — two key trade acquisitions that came over in the 2018-19 offseason. Sheffield, a former first-rounder and longtime top prospect, was the headline piece of the trade that sent James Paxton to the Yankees. Dunn came to the Mariners alongside vaunted outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic and righty reliever Gerson Bautista in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz blockbuster.
The Mariners also rolled the dice on a pair of low-cost free agents this winter, nabbing former division rival Kendall Graveman and former Mariner Taijuan Walker on one-year pacts. Both have seen their careers slowed by 2018 Tommy John surgery. Graveman, who had his procedure in late July that year, didn’t make it back to the big leagues in 2019. Walker’s surgery was in April 2018, but a strained shoulder capsule limited him to one inning in 2019, which came in the final game of the season.
As one would expect from a rebuilding club, the Mariners have plenty of other young options to dream on, though the organization’s very best pitching prospects are likely a bit too far down the pipeline to factor into the 2020 season. The Mariners have selected a college right-hander with their top pick in each of the past three drafts — Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and now Emerson Hancock — and while that trio is unlikely to pitch in the Majors this year (Gilbert being the lone plausible exception), Dipoto did suggest that they and other top prospects could be on the taxi squad primarily for developmental purposes (link via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times). Working out with other taxi squad members would give that promising group critical developmental reps in a year where no formal minor league season is expected to be played.
After months of expectations that the shortened 2020 season would usher in an expanded playoff format, the inability of MLB and the MLBPA to come together on an agreement instead maintained the 10-team postseason status quo. The March agreement under which commissioner Rob Manfred implemented a 60-game season stipulated that playoffs could not be expanded unless negotiated with the Players Association. Expanded postseason play (and revenue) was the union’s main piece of leverage in talks, but when no agreement was reached, the playoff structure went unchanged.
Might the two sides still look to work out an agreement, though? Asked by Ronald Blum of the Associated Press, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark wouldn’t rule it out. The lines of communication between the league and the union “remain open,” Clark explained. “I would simply say that if theres interest to discuss something, Ill be available to discuss it,” Clark added.
Major League Baseball, per Blum, could yet make another attempt to negotiate an expanded postseason format. The main sticking point for the union had been length of schedule and prorated play. With a 60-game season now set and prorated play in place, the union would likely look to other concessions. Previous proposals exchanged between the two sides had temporary elimination of the qualifying offer system in place, for instance, although it’s easy to imagine teams forgoing QOs for all but the market’s most elite free agents this winter thanks to revenue losses.
There’s a wide range of other possibilities for the union to pursue. An expanded share of postseason revenue — players are currently only owed a share of gate revenue — future QO concessions, increased forgiveness of the $170MM advance payout of salaries from the March agreement and any number of other topics could be put on the table. With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire in Dec. 2021, the union could even proactively look to some broader issues that figure to prove critical in what will surely be a contentious negotiation next year.
Players have agreed to begin reporting to summer training camp by July 1, so it seems unlikely that this will be a drawn-out process. Clark and Manfred weren’t able to agree on much of anything over more than a month of contentious negotiations, which doesn’t exactly bode well for a swift accord in this case. That said, Manfred spoke to Blum of a need for both the league and players to have “less-charged” conversations. “We owe it to our fans to be better than weve been the last three months,” said the commissioner.
If the MLBPA is still amenable to postseason alterations, it stands to reason that ownership would have interest in one final attempt at the dramatic revenue increase that would accompany a larger postseason field.
Angels manager Joe Maddon gave some good news on right-hander/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani yesterday, telling reporters that the two-way star will be utilized similarly to how he would in a normal 162-game season (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger). That will line Ohtani up to pitch once per week as part of what Maddon expects to be a six-man Angels rotation.
The delayed start to the season looks to have given Ohtani ample time to fully recover from both his 2018 Tommy John procedure and last September’s left knee surgery. The Halos can now deploy him as their primary DH on days when he doesn’t pitch — and enjoy the benefit of a bat that has produced a career .286/.352/.531 slash — and consider him the highest-upside pitcher in their rotation.
We haven’t seen Ohtani on a big league mound since Sept. 2, 2018, but in that rookie year he worked to a 3.31 ERA with averages of 11 strikeouts, 3.8 walks and 1.05 home runs allowed per nine innings pitched. He’s still only totaled 51 2/3 frames as a pitcher in the Majors, but there’s plenty of reason to be bullish on the 25-year-old’s future in the rotation.
Maddon also said he’s “very” hopeful that fellow right-handers Griffin Canning and Felix Pena will be ready for the new Opening Day (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya). Canning has been progressing through a throwing program after receiving an ominous elbow diagnosis back in Spring Training (“chronic changes” to the UCL and acute joint irritation). He was cleared of any tearing in his problematic ligament, though, and has had no setbacks since receivingan injection.
Pena, meanwhile, tore his ACL while covering first base last August. He underwent surgery that came with a recovery timetable of up to nine months, and it seems he’s progressed through that rehabilitation process without much issue. While he was questionable for the original opener, the 30-year-old swingman should be a solid multi-inning piece for the Angels now that he’s healthy and could even start some games. He’s made 24 starts in the past two seasons and pitched seven hitless innings of relief against the Mariners in last year’s memorable and emotional combined no-hitter.
Ohtani and Canning will be joined southpaw Andrew Heaney and newcomers Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy in a revamped Halos rotation. Pena could be in the mix for the sixth spot to which Maddon alluded, although there will likely be several names in that competition. Matt Andriese, Patrick Sandoval, Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, Dillon Peters and old friend/non-roster invitee JC Ramirez could all be considered. And regardless of who is tabbed to round out the unit come July 23-24, the Angels’ overwhelming rash of injuries in recent years serves as a reminder that depth is key and a rotation outlook can change in a hurry as health troubles arise.
Major League Baseball will allow its teams to decide whether they’ll allow fans in the stands this season “based on local, state ordinances and procedures,” Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. Schulman expresses doubt that either the Giants or Athletics will play in front of fans in their stadiums in 2020, though.
It may be a different story for the Marlins, as Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez told Andy Slater of Fox Sports 640 that he’ll at least consider allowing spectators at their stadium. The Marlins will first have to come up with an effective social distancing plan, however, and that could be especially difficult with coronavirus cases in Florida rising at an alarming rate.
Meanwhile, speaking with Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald and other reporters Wednesday, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said “its a possibility” that Fenway Park will be able to host fans sometime this year. Kennedy added “there are clubs around Major League Baseball that are anticipating having fans in their ballparks,” though it remains to be seen whether that will prove to be wishful thinking.
Here’s more from the majors…
- Kennedy and Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom offered further updates on the franchise, as Mastrodonato was among those to cover on Twitter. Bloom revealed the Red Sox have had one player test positive for the coronavirus, but that individual is no longer exhibiting any symptoms. Those who do test positive are required a 14-day quarantine/monitoring period, and then they have to test negative on multiple occasions before returning, Bloom said.
- Bloom also spoke on on outfielder Alex Verdugo and right-hander Collin McHugh, two players who have dealt with injuries. A stress fracture in Verdugo’s back slowed him during the first version of spring training, but one of the key components of the Mookie Betts trade will be a full go for Boston when camp resumes in July. And McHugh, still on the mend from elbow problems that limited him in 2019, is making progress. The Red Sox are hopeful he’ll be able to pitch this season, which is his first with the club. Boston signed the ex-Astro to a one-year, incentive-heavy deal in free agency.
- Back to the Marlins, who recently had a player and a staff member test positive for the virus at their Jupiter, Fla., complex, Craig Mish of Sports Grid reports. Both people are now asymptomatic.
- The Cardinals have become the latest team to make a financial commitment to their minor leaguers until the conclusion of the campaign, per Anne Rogers of MLB.com. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced Wednesday they’ll pay their minors talent $400 a week through August, the end of a season those individuals likely won’t be able to play.
Several more draft picks from the second through fifth rounds have agreed to deals with their first-ever major league organizations. Here are the latest updates…
- The Cardinals announced the signing of second-round pick Masyn Winn on Wednesday, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch relays. Winn will earn $2.1MM, which is above the$1,338,500 recommended slot value of his pick (No. 54), per Jim Callis of MLB.com. Winn, a Texas high school shortstop/right-hander who committed to Arkansas before the draft, is a legitimate prospect on both ends, according to Callis.
- The Red Sox have reached a deal on a $1.75MM bonus with third-round choice Blaze Jordan, according to Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com. It’s a well-above-slot pact for Jordan, a high school third baseman from Mississippi whose pick (89) came with a recommended value of $667,900.
- The Rangers have inked a pair of picks, third-rounder Tekoah Roby and fifth-rounder Thomas Saggese, TR Sullivan of MLB.com tweets. Roby, a high school righty from Florida who went 86th overall, signed for $775K (recommended slot value: $699,700). Despite coming off the board much later at 145, Saggese received $800K – easily above the $375,200 slot. Saggese is a high school shortstop from California.
- The Rockies announced the signings of third-round left-hander Sam Weatherly (Clemson) and fifth-round shortstop Jack Blomgren (Michigan). Financial details aren’t yet known in either case. Weatherly’s pick (81) came with a slot value of $755,300, while Blomgren’s (140) was assessed at $394,300.
- Mets fifth-rounder Eric Orze landed a deal for just $20K, Callis reports. His pick, No. 150, was worth a much more lucrative $357,100. As Callis notes, it’s easy to root for Orze, who has overcome cancer twice. On the mound, the righty from the University of New Orleans offers “an above-average, 92-95 mph fastball, an average slider and an above-average splitter,” Baseball America writes.
The Padres have signed supplemental first-round pick Justin Lange and second-rounder Owen Caissie, Jim Callis of MLB.com tweets (links: 1, 2). Lange will earn $2MM, while Caissie agreed to a bonus worth $1,200,004.
As the 34th overall pick, Lange’s selection came with a recommended value of $2,148,100. The Texas-based high school right-hander and Dallas Baptist recruit’s stock rose over the past year, thanks in part to a fastball that has skyrocketed to the 95 to 100 mph range. According to Baseball America, which ranked him as the 50th-best player in this year’s draft class, “Lange has all of the foundational pieces to be an impact pitcher at the next level.” That said, there are concerns about his command and his slider, per BA.
Caissie – the 45th choice – also signed for below slot, as his pick came with a recommended value of $1,650,200. The Canadian high school outfielder, who committed to Michigan before the draft, brings “super-projectable power,” above-average running and a big arm to the table, per Callis. BA only ranked Caissie as the 180th overall player before the draft, though MLB.com was much more bullish in placing him 75th.
With the Padres having secured Lange, Caissie and three other picks, they’re down to one unsigned selection – third-round righty Cole Wilcox. Money shouldn’t stand in the way a deal, though, as Wilcox’s pick (No. 80) carries a slot value of $767,800 and, as Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune points out, the Padres can still spend up to $3.3MM more.
Players who are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus have the right to opt out of participating this season, but they’d still receive full pay and service time. Athletics reliever Jake Diekman, who has ulcerative colitis and who had his colon removed in 2017, is one of those players. Diekman, however, informed Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that he has no interest in opting out of the campaign – at least, not yet. Ive never thought once about opting out, said the southpaw, though he added: “Say two or three guys on the team get it, weve all been around each other. I dont know if Id opt out in the middle of the season, but it definitely worries you. Slusser also spoke with A’s utility player Chad Pinder, whose wife is expecting a baby in September, about the season. Pinder said, in part: “We have to do it right or it just might not work. But there is a risk to this.”
- An unnamed player on the Diamondbacks tested positive for the coronavirus in Arizona within the last month, general manager Mike Hazen said Wednesday (via Bob Nightengale of USA Today). That player was not using their facility, though, Hazen added. It’s unclear how his recovery has gone.
- The Mariners have “had a few players test positive” for the virus, general manager Jerry Dipoto said Wednesday (via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times). Fortunately, Dipoto went on to reveal that “theyre asymptomatic, and they feel great.”
- More on the Mariners, who are uncertain whether outfielder Mitch Haniger will be ready for the resumption of spring training, according to GM Jerry Dipoto (via Divish). The past year has been an injury-filled nightmare for Haniger, who only played in 63 games in 2019 and then underwent two offseason surgeries – one a core procedure, the other a dissectomy. In better news for the Mariners, reliever Austin Adams – who underwent surgery on a torn ACL last fall – is set for camp. The 29-year-old Adams may have broken out for the Mariners last season with 32 innings of 3.94 ERA ball and a whopping 14.91 K/9.
- Giants corner infielder Pablo Sandoval and lefties Tony Watson and Tyler Anderson will all be good to go for camp’s return, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets (1, 2). Catcher Aramis Garcia could be ready to come back in mid- to late August, meanwhile, and reliever Reyes Moronta may be set by then or in September. Sandoval had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last September; Watson dealt with shoulder issues before spring training shut down; Anderson underwent a procedure on his left knee last summer; Garcia’s still recovering from February hip surgery; and Moronta’s on the mend from the right shoulder surgery he had in September.
- Rangers left-hander Joely Rodriguez is back to throwing after suffering a lat strain in April, but he won’t be ready for the start of the season, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. Rodriguez should return at some point during the campaign, though. Texas lured Rodriguez back to the majors on a a two-year, $5.5MM contract in free agency after the former Phillie thrived in Japan from 2018-19.
Four of the majors’ 30 teams will open the regular season July 23, while the other 26 will begin on the 24th, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets. As a 60-game campaign with various notable rule changes – including a universal designated hitter – as well as possibly no fans in the stands, it figures to go down as one of the strangest baseball seasons ever. Of course, those are far from the only aspects of the sport that will be drastically altered this year. Extra-innings games will also look far different, to name one example.
Every year features at least some marathon games, but it appears we’ll see far fewer this regular season. Once the 10th inning rolls around (and if games extend beyond then), the hitting team will have a distinct advantage because it will begin the frame with a runner on second. That player will be the one who made the last out in the previous inning, though clubs will be able to select a pinch runner if they wish. Should the runner who started the inning on second score, the pitcher would not be charged with an earned run. Notably, this change to extras will not extend into the playoffs, nor is it sure to stick around past this year.
There are at least a couple potential pros to this rule, which has been used in the minor leagues and in the World Baseball Classic in recent years. For one, it should help teams keep relievers’ workloads down. It will also undoubtedly help speed up games, as J.J. Cooper of Baseball America explains that 44 percent of minor league games from 2016-17 ended before the 11th inning. But since the minors placed a runner on second in 2018, 73 percent of extra-inning contests have concluded in the 10th. Additionally, there’s an argument it makes games more exciting, considering the level of drama’s turned up right at the start of extras.
On the flip side, there are lots of baseball fans who don’t mind the occasional extra-long game, not to mention plenty of purists who don’t want the game revised to such a significant extent. Astros manager Dusty Baker is one prominent example of someone who’s not thrilled with the rule, as he told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, This will be something new for us, but I hope it doesnt go into next year or subsequent years.”
Are you in agreement with Baker, or are you hoping this new setup will have staying power? (Poll link for app users)
The Tigers are the latest known major league team affected by the coronavirus. Speaking to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free-Press and other reporters Wednesday, general manager Al Avila revealed that two people in the organization – one player and one staff member – have tested positive for the illness. Neither individual has recovered yet, but the player was not working out at the team’s spring facility in Lakeland, Fla., when he contracted it. Meanwhile, as a prostate cancer survivor, manager Ron Gardenhire is at higher risk than most of coming down with COVID-19. Gardenhire admitted he’s uneasy about a season during a pandemic, but he’s confident MLB will do its best to keep everyone safe, per Fenech.
More out of Detroit…
- The Tigers have signed supplemental second-round pick Daniel Cabrera for $1.2MM, above his slot value of $1,102,700, Jim Callis of MLB.com tweets. The former Louisiana State outfielder was the 62nd overall choice. His deal leaves slugger Spencer Torkelson, the first overall selection, as the only Detroit pick who hasn’t signed yet. The Tigers can pay Torkelson $7,775,700 without exceeding their $13,325,700 bonus pool and $8,441,985 without losing future picks, Callis notes. The slot value of the No. 1 pick is $8,415,300.
- Right-hander Michael Fulmer has made enough progress in his recovery from March 2019 Tommy John surgery that he should be ready to return to the mound when spring training resumes, according to Avila (via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com). However, the Tigers aren’t going to rush the 27-year-old Fulmer back into game action. Once we get there and we see him and see him and he starts working out well just figure out what we can do and how we can do it, Gardenhire said. Game situations are so much different than practice.” The former American League Rookie of the Year (2016) was once among the most prized young hurlers in the game, but along with injuries, a decline in performance has damaged his stock over the past couple years. In 2018, the last time he pitched, Fulmer logged a career-worst 4.69 ERA/4.52 FIP over 132 1/3 innings.
- Gardenhire confirmed that standout Tigers pitching prospects Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo will be on their 60-man taxi squad, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News relays. They are going to be part of this,” said Gardenhire, but that doesn’t mean any will make his major league debut this year, as Avila acknowledged that ” it might be more difficult to get them that experience” during such a short season. Regardless, being on the 60-man roster will at least give those who may not yet be ready for the majors to play intrasquad games and continue to develop in a year that probably won’t have a minor league season.
5:01pm: The Blue Jays have asked the Canadian government to allow them to play their season in Toronto, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets (1, 2). Doing so would also enable them to conduct their spring training there. The government should provide an answer within the next two days, per Rosenthal. If it’s a no, the Jays would hold spring training in Dunedin, Fla., with Buffalo as an alternate site.
2:44pm: Multiple Blue Jays players and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reports (Twitter thread). The positive tests are tied to the circumstances that led to the shutdown of the Jays’ spring complex in Dunedin, Fla. last week. The closure of the facility was brought about by a 40-man player displaying symptoms after interacting with Phillies players who eventually tested positive. The exact number of positive tests isn’t publicly known, though The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath tweets that “several” members of the organization tested positive.
The Blue Jays’ circumstances are particularly unique. As MLB’s only Canadian team, it’s not yet clear just where the Jays will host their games. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau recentlyextendedthe U.S./Canada border closure for non-essential travel until July 21. That means that while players can travel into the United States, they wouldn’t be able to travel back into Canada without going through a 14-day quarantine process. If those restrictions are relaxed after July 21, the Jays could conceivably still host games at the Rogers Centre (dependent on additional regulations of course), but they’d surely need more notice than a mere two to three days’ advance notice. MLB currently hopes to start the season on July 23 or 24.
However, while most would assume that the league has been in contact with the city of Toronto or the province of Ontario about the possibility of staging games there, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of Ontario, told TSN’s Scott Mitchell just yesterday (Twitter link):
The Major League Baseball proposal, Ive seen it and read it. It deals with a lot of aspects there.It doesnt mention anything about travel to Canada at this time, so if there was some interest in that wed have to get a proposal from them to see how they would undertake the uniqueness of bringing the team, and if theyve thought about bringing other teams (to Toronto), how they would work with that up until such time the federal government reduces or eliminates their quarantine law. But thats still in place at this time.We have ways that we worked with the NHL to consider that. I have not seen anything specific with Major League Baseball at this time.
Perhaps that’s telling, then, that the league’s ultimate plan for the Jays is for games to be staged in the United States — at least in the season’s early stages. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal has previously suggested that sharing Tropicana Field with the Rays could be a possibility, and Davidi reported recently that there’s been work at TD Ballpark, the Jays’ Dunedin stadium, to bring the lighting up to MLB’s standards for night games. Of course, the recent positive tests in Dunedin aren’t a good first step toward staging regular-season games there.
Meanwhile, agent Rafa Nieves, who represents Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, tells Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes that Hernandez has been told by the team that playing games at the Blue Jays’ Triple-A site in Buffalo, N.Y., is also an option (Twitter link). Both Davidi and Rojas (via Nieves) indicate that the Blue Jays’ hope is understandably to play home games at the Rogers Centre, although at this point it’s clear that there’s no logistical plan in place just yet.