• Blue Jays To Explore Extensions With Bautista, Encarnacion

    The Blue Jays will attempt to hammer out new contracts with pending free agents Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion,’s Jayson Stark reports. Toronto intends to engage with those stars’ representatives this spring, per the report.

    As has previously been reported, Jays president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins have sat down with both sluggers already this winter, though Atkins made clear to Stark that the meetings didn’t involve contract negotiations. But those chats did solidify the team’s view that it would “love to have both of them” remain in Toronto past the 2016 campaign, as Atkins put it.

    “And the more we’ve learned about them, that has only increased our interest in keeping them here,” Atkins went on to say. “The challenge lies in placing a value on that and then agreeing on a contract.”

    Of course, as that last line suggests, finding common ground still appears to pose a significant challenge. While both players paid off — and then some — under their prior extensions, there as many reasons for hesitation now as when they first inked big deals.

    Though both players are now well entrenched among the game’s best power hitters, age is a major consideration. Bautista is already 35, while Encarnacion just hit 33. And defensive limitations also come into play. The former has begun to draw negative metrics in the outfield, while the latter is more or less limited to first base or DH duties at this point.

    As MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently wrote in evaluating Bautista’s extension candidacy, those considerations would seem to make it unlikely that long-term commitments would be made to both players. Exactly how that will play into the way the Jays approach talks — for instance, whether one or the other is prioritized, or whether Toronto pursues each independently but only to a certain cost point — remains to be seen.

    It does appear that Bautista, at least, is ready to engage in talks. He has spoken glowingly of the organization and indicated he’d like to finish his career there. Of course, as Ken Rosenthal discussed with Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling of on a recent podcast, it is hard to see the veteran taking a truly significant discount with free agency beckoning.

    You’d be hard pressed to find a better middle of the order duo that’s stayed together and been so consistently productive. Dating back to 2010, their first full season together, Bautista has slashed .268/.390/.555 and contributed 227 home runs. Encarnacion, meanwhile, has carried a .271/.358/.525 line with 189 long balls, with his output only increasing over that span.

  • MLBTR Live Chat: 2/5/16

    Click here to read a transcript of today’s live chat.

  • Rays Interested In Tyler Clippard

    The Rays are among the teams considering a run at Tyler Clippard late in the offseason, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). As Topkin notes, Clippard was raised in Florida — he attended high school roughly 40 miles from Tropicana Field — and would also benefit from Florida’s lack of an income tax.

    The lack of a market for Clippard has been surprising to many, although the right-hander certainly isn’t without red flags. His velocity has dropped each season since 2013, and he posted his lowest full-season strikeout rate in 2015 while also recording the third-worst full-season walk rate of his career. Clippard was also the game’s most extreme fly-ball pitcher last season; his 60.6 percent fly-ball rate was the highest among any pitcher that threw at least 20 innings, and it wasn’t particularly close. Teams may also be concerned about the huge workload on Clippard’s right arm; no reliever is within even 50 innings of the 464 1/3 innings that Clippard has tallied since the 2010 season.

    Of course, that durability can also be perceived as a positive. Clippard has never been on the disabled list, and he’s made at least 72 appearances with at least 70 innings pitched in each of the past six seasons. Given the volatile nature of relief pitcher’s, Clippard’s consistent ability to take the mound — and pitch effectively, no less — is nothing short of remarkable. Dating back to that previously mentioned 2010 season, Clippard has a 2.67 ERA with 10.1 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9. He’s always been a fly-ball pitcher — though rarely to the extreme that he displayed in 2015 — but has managed to average less than a home run per nine innings (0.9 HR/9) in that stretch as well.

    The question with which teams are faced, then, is whether or not the decline in Clippard’s K/BB numbers and velocity are due to that heavy workload or are elements of his game that can be corrected. Given the fact that he’s the last big-name relief arm left on the market, it would seem that there is indeed some level of trepidation surrounding him, but that could create the opportunity for a team to get something of a bargain rate on a player that has typically yielded high-quality results.

    The Rays, in particular, could make sense as a landing spot for a reputable setup man, as the team has traded both Kevin Jepsen (to the Twins) and Jake McGee (to the Rockies) in the past six months or so, creating a potential late-inning opening. Clippard would theoretically join names like Danny Farquhar and Alex Colome as right-handed setup pieces serving as a bridge to closer Brad Boxberger.

  • Angels Claim Christian Friedrich, Designate Taylor Featherston

    The Angels have claimed left-hander Christian Friedrich off waivers from the Rockies and designated infielder Taylor Featherston for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (on Twitter).

    Friedrich, 28, was selected 25th overall out of Eastern Kentucky University back in 2008, but he’s struggled for much of his pro career, amassing an ERA north of 5.00 at both the Triple-A level and in the Major Leagues. This past season, Friedrich posted a 5.25 ERA with 6.9 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 and a 47.4 percent ground-ball rate in 58 1/3 innings of work. While Friedrich has struggled throughout his career, he’s held left-handed hitters in check fairly well, limiting same-handed opponents to a .257/.314/.364 batting line. He’s also posted considerably better numbers away from Coors, where he has a 4.61 ERA as compared to a 6.96 mark at home. Because he’s out of options, Freidrich will have to make the Halos’ Opening Day roster — presumably in the bullpen — or again be exposed to waivers.

    The DFA of Featherston is a somewhat surprising revelation, if only because the Angels carried the 2014 Rule 5 Draft pick on their Major League roster for the entirety of the 2015 season rather than expose him to waivers and offer him back to his original team. Featherston, in fact, received just 169 plate appearances and batted .162/.212/.247. While he’s a gifted defender, the decision to dedicate a roster spot to him over the course of 162 games only to cut him loose in the offseason figures to irk some Angels fans, especially considering the fact that the club missed a Wild Card playoff berth by a lone game in the standings. Then again, with some turnover in the team’s front office, it certainly seems possible that the new faces atop the baseball operations hierarchy simply didn’t few Featherston as highly as their predecessors.

  • J.J. Hoover Wins Arbitration Hearing Against Reds

    Right-hander J.J. Hoover has won his arbitration hearing against the Reds and will be awarded a $1.4MM salary as opposed to the $1.225MM figure submitted by Cincinnati, Jon Heyman reports (via Twitter). The Ballengee Group client was arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason.

    Hoover, 28, enjoyed strong bottom-line results in 2015, posting a 2.94 ERA in 68 innings, although his strikeout and walk rates were both a ways off from his career bests. Hoover averaged 7.3 K/9 against 4.3 BB/9 this past season, both of which fall shy of his respective career marks of 9.1 and 4.1. His representatives, however, were likely able to tout the right-hander’s durability over the past three seasons, during which time he’s averaged 63 games and 64 innings. All told, Hoover has a lifetime 3.34 ERA in 223 2/3 innings at the Major League level, dating back to his 2012 debut.

    Following the Reds’ trade of Aroldis Chapman this offseason, there’s no clear answer as to who will inherit the bulk of the save opportunities in manager Bryan Price’s bullpen, but as the most experienced reliever on the 40-man roster, Hoover figures to be firmly in the mix come Spring Training. A season spent accumulating saves would do well to boost Hoover’s arb case for the 2016-17 offseason, particularly if he can regain some of his missing strikeouts and continue to post solid ERA marks.

    As’s Mark Sheldon tweets, this represents the Reds’ first arbitration hearing in more than a decade; their last came against Chris Reitsma back in 2004. Hoover becomes the second player to win an arbitration hearing this offseason, making players a perfect two-for-two thus far; Drew Smyly topped the Rays earlier this week. Blue Jays right-hander Jesse Chavez reportedly had his arbitration hearing yesterday as well, although the outcome of that case is not yet known. Earlier today, I rounded up some of the hearing dates for yet-unresolved cases, including Jake Arrieta and Josh Donaldson.