Free Agent Notes: Johan, Robertson, Olivera

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Got some miscellaneous free agent notes to pass along. One involves a former Yankees player who has signed elsewhere and two involve players who have yet to sign.

Johan Santana dealing with shoulder discomfort

Two weeks ago we learned two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana was on the comeback trail after missing all of 2013 and 2014 with shoulder and Achilles injuries, and that the Yankees were going to “keep an eye on him” during his stint in winter ball. Santana retired all six men he faced in his first outing and reportedly hit 90 on the radar gun.

Last week, however, Santana missed his scheduled start due to discomfort in his twice surgically repaired shoulder. Jon Heyman says no structural damage was found in Johan’s shoulder, and, although he threw a bullpen session last Friday, he will not make another start according to Jon Morosi. “He will be ready for Spring Training,” said his agent. There’s nothing to lose by giving Santana a minor league contract and seeing what happens in Spring Training, but this is a harsh little reminder that he’s far from a guarantee to contribute in any way going forward.

White Sox did not place high bid for Robertson

Weird. (Chicago Tribune)
Weird. (Chicago Tribune)

Earlier this offseason the Yankees lost closer David Robertson — well, they didn’t lose him, really, they let him go after signing Andrew Miller — to the White Sox, who gave him a four-year contract worth $46M. Last week though, ChiSox GM Rick Hahn confirmed to Dan Hayes they did not make Robertson the highest offer and he turned down more money elsewhere to go to Chicago’s south side.

There’s no word on who did place the high bid, but my guess is either the Astros or Blue Jays, most likely the former. More than a few players have turned down Houston this offseason and taken less money elsewhere, including Miller, Ryan Vogelsong, and possibly Chase Headley. The Blue Jays reportedly wanted Robertson as well, though it’s unclear if they ever seriously pursued him. Has to be the Astros, right? Turns out that treating players like numbers and not people hurts your image and doesn’t make you a desirable destination for free agents. Who’d a thunk it?

Yankees continue to show strong interest in Hector Olivera

In the Dominican Republic last week, free agent Cuban third baseman Hector Olivera held an open showcase event and more than 200 scouts were in attendance, according to Jesse Sanchez. The Yankees, along with the Giants, Padres, Rangers, and Braves, are among the teams showing “strong interest” in Olivera at this point. He is still waiting to be declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control so he can sign.

Olivera is not some kind of up-and-coming prospect — he turns 30 in April and is MLB ready. The Yankees don’t really have a spot for another third baseman on the roster, not unless they release A-Rod anyway, and I doubt Olivera is looking to sign with a team to be a bench player. A few weeks ago Ben Badler called Olivera a better player than outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who signed a six-year, $68.5M deal with the Diamondbacks this winter. New York’s interest seems to be due diligence more than anything.

Rosenthal: Yankees have inquired, but are not seriously pursuing Cole Hamels

(Scott Cunningham/Getty)
(Scott Cunningham/Getty)

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have inquired about Cole Hamels but are not seriously pursuing the Phillies’ ace left-hander. The Red Sox, Rangers, Padres, and Cardinals are in the mix for Hamels and Rosenthal hears Philadelphia is looking for the “perfect” trade. They want to hit a home run and I don’t blame then. The Yankees are not on the southpaw’s limited no-trade list, by the way.

Hamels, who turned 31 three weeks ago, is owed $94M over the next four seasons with a $24M vesting option for 2019 based on his workload and health. He’s not exactly cheap, but the contract terms are more favorable than the seven years and $180-something million it took to get Max Scherzer, and Hamels has been every bit as good as Scherzer the last three years. Here, look:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
Scherzer 622.1 3.24 2.94 28.6% 7.1% 36.5% 8.7% 0.254 0.314
Hamels 640.0 3.05 3.21 23.7% 6.2% 44.1% 9.8% 0.293 0.294

Scherzer strikes out more batters but Hamels makes up for it with a better ground ball rate and no platoon split whatsoever. If you want to nitpick who is better, be my guest. They’re both elite performers and bonafide workhorses. The Yankees need rotation help and Hamels would be a massive upgrade just as Scherzer would have been a massive upgrade.

The cost to get Scherzer was a draft pick and a huge contract. Hamels will cost multiple prospects but require half the financial commitment. The package to acquire high-end starters in a trade always seems to be less than expected — Jeff Samardzija this offseason, David Price at the deadline, Zack Greinke two years ago, etc. — but it always takes three or four young players. And, of course, those three guys were all much closer to free agency than Hamels at the time of their trades.

Nick Cafardo indicated the Phillies are prioritizing a catcher in any Hamels trade and the Yankees have two to realistically offer in John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez. Would Murphy or Sanchez, Luis Severino, Rob Refsnyder, and an MLB ready reliever like Chasen Shreve or Branden Pinder work? I have no idea, I’m just spitballin’ here. That seems light to me though. I’d want more for Hamels.

A four-player package like that would take a big bite out of the depth the Yankees have built this offseason while adding a legitimate ace on a contract of favorable length. It would also dramatically improve their chances in a very wide open AL East this coming season, so it’s both a short and long-term move. Hamels, like Scherzer, is someone capable of changing the balance of power within a division. He’s that good.

The Yankees have said — repeatedly — they are unwilling to take on another massive contract this offseason and Rosenthal says their interest in Hamels was the result of due diligence, nothing more. I would never rule out the Yankees making a surprising/big move though. The Phillies could drop their demands and change things at a moment’s notice.

Heyman: Nats agree to seven-year deal with Max Scherzer

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Nationals have agreed to a seven-year contract with Max Scherzer, reports Jon Heyman. No word on the money, but I’m guessing it’ll be in the $175M neighborhood. Nats GM Mike Rizzo drafted Scherzer back when he was the Diamondbacks’ scouting director.

The Yankees had been connected to Scherzer all offseason because they’re connected to every big free agent every offseason. The team insisted all along they were not interested in another huge money long-term deal, however. By all accounts, New York did not make a last minute offer or anything like that.

With Scherzer on board, Washington has six above-average starters for five rotation spots. There are rumblings they will now look to trade impending free agent Jordan Zimmermann (or even Stephen Strasburg), who would be a great fit for the Yankees. So would literally anyone else on their staff.

James Shields remains unsigned and the Yankees have not been connected to him at all this winter despite his history of success in the AL East. I don’t expect them to pursue him either. The Yankees could add another low cost veteran (Johan Santana?) for depth and that’s probably it.

Johan Santana worth a shot on minor league deal; Yankees will “keep an eye on him” during winter ball

Can't picture him without the goatee. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Can’t picture him without the goatee. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Left-hander Johan Santana, who hasn’t pitched in a big league game since August 2012, is planning to attempt a comeback and the Yankees will “keep an eye on him” during his winter ball stint these next few weeks, reports Joel Sherman. Johan is pitching in his native Venezuela and the Yankees had someone at his first start last night.

Santana, who turns 36 in March, threw 18 pitches and retired all six batters he faced last night. His fastball hit 90 mph according to Jon Heyman. Here’s video of his first inning of work, which includes cameos by ex-Yankee Yangervis Solarte and current Yankees farmhand Ramon Flores:

Injuries have limited Santana to only 21 starts and 117 innings — all with the Mets in 2012 — over the last four seasons. He missed 2011 because of a torn shoulder capsule, two months in 2012 with an ankle sprain and lower back inflammation, all of 2013 with another torn shoulder capsule, and all of 2014 with the second torn capsule and a ruptured Achilles tendon. Ouch.

Shoulder capsule tears are usually the kiss of death and Santana has now torn his twice. He returned from the first tear to post a 4.85 ERA (4.09 FIP) back in 2012 — he had a 2.76 ERA (3.40 FIP) throughout his first 16 starts and a 15.63 ERA (7.62 FIP) in his last five starts after his ankle and back started acting up — and coming back from a second tear is going to be even more difficult.

I do think it’s worth noting Santana’s shoulder has been healthy for at least six months. The Orioles signed him last offseason and he was pitching in minor league games when he was hit by a line drive in an Extended Spring Training outing in June, then tore his Achilles when he slipped while going after the ball. Baltimore had actually added him to the 40-man roster days before the injury to prevent him from opting out of his minor league contract.

“He was pitching well,” said Orioles GM Dan Duquette to the Associated Press after the injury. “The last time out he had his velocity and he was able to back-door his slider. I think he had eight strikeouts and no walks, so he was right on schedule. After (the ExST game), he was going to come up and join the Major League team and we were going to continue the rehab in (Double-A) … The skills are there. He’s been able to rehab his arm, but now he’s got another challenge.”

Obviously the torn Achilles is a very severe injury as well. We shouldn’t forget that. The second torn shoulder capsule is the more career-threatening injury, however, and the Achilles injury might have actually been beneficial to the health of Santana’s shoulder because it gave him more time to rehab. That make some sense? Johan was very aggressive with his rehab while with the Mets — he and the team were very publicly butting heads over his timetable — and I’m sure that was the case last year. The Achilles injury forced him to slow down.

I can’t say I’m all that confident in Santana being able to return to MLB and be an effective pitcher, but the Yankees could use some rotation depth, and a minor league contract carries zero risk. They could bring him to Spring Training, see what he looks like, and if it’s not good, they can walk away no string attached. If he looks good, maybe Santana can give them some decent starts until Ivan Nova returns or a better option comes along.

Whenever there’s a veteran, former ace-caliber starter like this recovering from a serious injury and looking for an opportunity, I can’t help but think back to Bartolo Colon in 2011. He was more or less out of baseball due to arm problems, the Yankees plucked him out of winter ball, we all had a good laugh about it, then he went out and pitched well during the regular season. Heck, it’s 2015 and Colon is still pitching.

Given the injury risk in the Yankees rotation right now, I think it’s worth the minor league contract to see if Johan comes back and has a 2011 Colon type of effort in him. He was never a pitcher who lived and died with velocity, and he’s always been a top notch competitor/leave it all out on the field type. That seems like the kind of guy who can make this comeback attempt work.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Alexi Ogando

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

Aside from the still unsigned Max Scherzer and James Shields, the free agent pitching market is very thin. All that’s left is a bunch of reclamation project types — guys coming off injury or veteran pitchers nearing the end of the line. Guys like that. The Yankees could use another arm or two to protect against their risky rotation, though the current options aren’t all that appealing.

One of the many available reclamation project arms is ex-Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando, who was non-tendered back in November after throwing only 25 ineffective innings last season due to injury. Ogando held a showcase in Tampa last week and Peter Gammons said about two dozen clubs were expected to attend. Nick Cafardo heard teams are still concerned about his health, and then of course Ogando’s agent shot that down. From MLBTR:

Alexi Ogando was 92 to 93 and touched 94 at a bullpen session for numerous teams last week,” says (agent Larry) Reynolds. “After an earlier examination by Dr. [James] Andrews, coupled with his promising progression, we believe Alexi should have no problem securing a job and will be pitching on Day 1 of 2015 Spring Training.”

The 31-year-old Ogando has worked as both a starter and a reliever throughout his career, and his career numbers to date make him something of a rich man’s Esmil Rogers. For the Yankees, he could serve as rotation protection — perhaps only early in the season, until Ivan Nova returns or a better option becomes available via trade — and additional bullpen depth, at least if healthy. Let’s break Ogando down.

Injury History

Might as well start here and get it out of the way. Ogando missed most of last season with a ligament sprain in his elbow that did not require Tommy John surgery, but was serious enough to sideline him for an extended period of time. In 2013, Ogando landed on the DL three times with arm problems: he missed three weeks with a biceps strain, seven weeks with shoulder inflammation, and three weeks with a nerve issue in his shoulder. Aside from that, the only other time Ogando has been hurt in his career came back in 2012, when he missed a month with a groin strain.

The arm injuries are obviously a major concern. We’re talking about a recent history of both elbow and shoulder problems for a pitcher who is over 30. Barely over 30, but over 30 nonetheless. The teams telling Cafardo they are concerned about Ogando’s health and Ogando’s agent telling MLBTR his client is fine are both self-serving — teams are trying to depress his market and the agent wants to pump it up. Either way, it’s clear the physical will be a big part of the signing. Ogando has some name value and a history of strong performance, but he’s no help if he’s hurt or otherwise compromised on the mound due to injury.

Overall Performance

Did you know Ogando was once drafted in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft? Those guys almost never amount to anything, but the Rangers took him as an outfielder from the Athletics in 2005, converted him into a pitcher, and away he went. Neat story. Anyway, here is Ogando’s overall performance through the years, via Baseball-Reference:

Year Age Tm ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2010 26 TEX 1.30 44 0 41.2 31 6 6 2 16 39 348 3.06 1.128 6.7 0.4 3.5 8.4 2.44
2011 ? 27 TEX 3.51 31 29 169.0 149 73 66 16 43 126 126 3.65 1.136 7.9 0.9 2.3 6.7 2.93
2012 28 TEX 3.27 58 1 66.0 49 26 24 9 17 66 134 3.73 1.000 6.7 1.2 2.3 9.0 3.88
2013 29 TEX 3.11 23 18 104.1 87 38 36 11 41 72 133 4.36 1.227 7.5 0.9 3.5 6.2 1.76
2014 30 TEX 6.84 27 0 25.0 33 19 19 1 15 22 57 3.81 1.920 11.9 0.4 5.4 7.9 1.47
5 Yrs 3.35 183 48 406.0 349 162 151 39 132 325 129 3.80 1.185 7.7 0.9 2.9 7.2 2.46

Last season was a total disaster because of the injuries. Before that Ogando was a very good Major League pitcher, compiling a 3.12 ERA (3.79 FIP) in 381 innings from 2010-13. He is very much a fly ball pitcher — his career ground ball rate is 38.2% and his single-season best was only 43.8% in 2010 — but that isn’t automatically a bad thing. Ogando excels at getting infield pop-ups, which are very high percentage outs. His career fly ball rate is 40.8%, and of those fly balls, 12.8% have been pop-ups. Since 2010, only six pitchers have had a higher infield pop-up rate (min. 350 IP).

Infield pop-ups seem to be a common trait for pitchers who outperform their FIP — Jered Weaver, the poster boy for outperforming peripherals, has a 12.7% infield fly ball rate since 2010, essentially identical to Ogando’s — but there is a catch: Ogando’s infield pop-up rate has been consistently declining since his MLB debut. It was 18.6% during his debut in 2010, and it has since dropped to 14.7% in 2011, 13.7% in 2012, 9.5% in 2013, and 5.3% in 2014. That’s not good. Pop-ups aren’t the only reason Ogando has been successful, but they are a big part of who he is as a pitcher.

The league average pop-up rate has hovered right around 9.8% over the last five years, so Ogando still had an average rate two years ago. The big drop last season could be due to his elbow issue. At least that’s what whoever signs him will hope.

Rotation vs. Bullpen

Ogando has spent approximately one full season and one half season as a regular big league starter. He’s spent the rest of his career working out of the bullpen. Surprisingly, Ogando the starter and Ogando the reliever have been very similar statistically:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% IFFB% HR/FB% BABIP
as SP 267.2 3.40 3.95 17.6 7.4 38.1 12.7 8.3 .261
as RP 138.1 3.25 3.51 22.7 8.8 38.5 13.1 7.5 .278

Regardless of role, Ogando has always performed a bit better against righties (.283 wOBA and 3.02 FIP) than lefties (.296 wOBA and 4.02 FIP). The difference in strikeout rate between roles is fairly standard but otherwise Ogando managed to keep everything relatively close. If teams knew Ogando was 100% healthy, they’d be lining up to sign him thanks to his versatility. The injuries add a ton of risk and are why he remains unsigned in mid-January despite such a thin pitching market.

Stuff

For the first three years of his MLB career, Ogando was a pure fastball/slider pitcher who rarely threw a changeup. Even as a starter in 2011, he threw 67% fastballs, 29% sliders, and 4% changeups. Ogando has increased the usage of his changeup the last two years though, throwing it a bit more than 12% of the time from 2013-14. That’s nice, but the fastball and slider are still his bread and butter. The changeup is a distant third pitch.

Ogando had premium velocity early in his career, averaging 97.5 mph with his fastball as a reliever in 2010, 96.1 mph as a starter in 2011, and then 98.1 mph as a reliever in 2012. He’s sat a bit below that the last two years — 94.8 mph as mostly a starter in 2013 and 95.2 mph as a reliever in 2014 — but still offered above-average velocity in general. Obviously the injuries likely played a part in the velocity decline. For what it’s worth, Ogando’s slider has consistently sat in the 82-85 mph range over the years.

Here is how Ogando’s fastball/slider with a show-me changeup mix has fared at getting swings-and-misses and ground balls over the years, via Brooks Baseball:

FB Whiff% FB GB% SL Whiff% SL GB% CH Whiff% CH GB%
2010 (RP) 11.8% 35.4% 12.2% 51.2% 13.2% 60.0%
2011 (SP) 9.0% 39.2% 13.3% 36.3% 16.5% 41.2%
2012 (RP) 13.9% 27.9% 16.6% 52.5% 0.0% 75.0%
2013 (SP) 6.7% 32.5% 13.1% 48.7% 12.3% 59.7%
2014 (RP) 7.5% 28.4% 15.3% 54.6% 23.5% 63.6%
MLB AVG 6.9% 37.9% 15.2% 43.9% 14.9% 47.8%

Remember, Ogando barely threw his changeup from 2010-12, so only the 2013-14 numbers matter there. His fastball has never been much of a ground ball pitch but from 2010-12, it was a top notch swing-and-miss pitch. The last two years, thanks to the reduced velocity and injuries, it’s been closer to average. Ogando’s slider has actually been generally been below-average at getting empty swings through the years.

Ogando’s fastball is his money-maker based on how often he’s thrown it throughout his career, which has been north of 60%. At its best, it had upper-90s velocity, got a well-above-average amount of swings and misses, and helped get all those infield pop-ups. Ogando’s fastball has been compromised these last two years though, presumably due to his injuries, and that means he’s simply not the same pitcher.

Ogando’s agent told MLBTR his client was “92 to 93 and touched 94 at his workout last week, which is actually encouraging if true. Remember, it’s only mid-January and he’s not in midseason form. After a full Spring Training and all that he should add a tick or two of velocity, like just about all other pitchers. That’s not guaranteed though, and there’s no possible way to know what Ogando’s fastball will look like come the regular season. It’s all guesswork.

Contract Situation

The Rangers opted to non-tender Ogando rather than pay him a projected $2.6M in 2015, his second to last year of team control, which I think speaks volumes about his health. Texas’ pitching staff is pretty thin and you’d think they would take Ogando at that salary this coming year if they were at all confident he could stay healthy and/or be effective. Instead, they walked away. That’s a red flag. They know him better than anyone, remember.

Ogando’s agent said he is seeking a big league contract, and that could still happen, but I don’t think he’d make sense for the Yankees in that case. Remember, signing Ogando to a big league deal means someone has to be dropped from the 40-man roster, so it costs you a player. With Eury Perez likely to go for Stephen Drew, next in line to get the axe is probably Gonzalez Germen. Either him, Chase Whitley, or Jose DePaula. Ogando might be worth the roll of the dice in that case, but the Yankees would be letting go of a healthy, MLB ready and able body for a pitcher who might not be what he once was.

As for a minor league contract, of course, go for it. If he does have to settle for a minor league deal, Ogando and his agent are going to be looking for the best opportunity, a team with a rotation opening or a thin bullpen. The Yankees have an open bullpen spot but a lot of internal candidates. Their rotation looks like it will need help, but right now that isn’t set in stone. Ogando could opt to go to a team with a more obvious rotation need, like, say, the Diamondbacks or White Sox.

Bottom line, Ogando will be a big risk next year given his recent injuries. He could be throwing well in showcases this winter and that’s fine, but pitchers who have had arm injuries two years running tend to continue getting hurt going forward. The Yankees need to add more certainty to their rotation somehow and Ogando would be doubling down on risk. And at this point of the offseason, that might be the only way to help the rotation without breaking the bank for Scherzer or Shields.

The Yankees are not on Ryan Howard’s no-trade list but Ryan Howard should be on the Yankees’ no-trade list

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

A few days ago, friend of RAB Mike Petriello tried to find a home for Ryan Howard, who the Phillies have been shopping in earnest since the trade deadline. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. went so far as to tell Howard the team would be better off “not with him but without him.” He really said that. Ouch. Needless to say, Petriello had trouble finding a trade fit.

Howard is owed $60M over the next two years and he’s hit 48 homers with a 98 OPS+ over the last three years, so he still has some power, but he’s useless against lefties and in the field. The Phillies are willing to eat a ton of money to move Howard soon, specifically before his ten-and-five rights kick in on May 2nd. Until then, he has a 21-team no-trade clause. The Yankees are one of the nine teams the Phillies can trade Howard to without his consent:

Of course, the fact the Yankees are not included on Howard’s no-trade list means very little. It takes two to tango and the Yankees have no reason to pursue him. Maybe you could have argued Howard would have made sense as a part-time DH and part-time first baseman earlier in the offseason, but Garrett Jones fills that role now. There’s simply no place for him on the roster.

The only possible way Howard would fit with the Yankees is if Philadelphia took Alex Rodriguez in return. That’s it. Trade Mark Teixeira for Howard and you’re getting a worse player with a bigger contract. The money owed to A-Rod and Howard is basically a wash — A-Rod still has $61M left on his deal — but Rodriguez’s deal still has three years remaining. Howard has two. The motivation would be to get rid of the bad contract earlier. That’s it.

For obvious reasons, A-Rod for Howard ain’t happening. The Phillies want to dump Howard badly but not that badly. They won’t take on a broken down third baseman — especially since they’re in the non-DH league — with one extra year left on his contract to get rid of Howard, especially when A-Rod comes with so much baggage. Either way, at one point in time maybe Howard would have made sense for the Yankees. Maybe. Now he definitely doesn’t.

Heyman: Yankees still monitoring second base options, including Stephen Drew

(Darren McCollester/Getty)
(Darren McCollester/Getty)

No surprise here: Jon Heyman reports the Yankees are still keeping an eye on the second base trade and free agent markets, including Stephen Drew. The club has indicated they will let Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela (and others) compete for the second base job in Spring Training, but Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t look at other available options.

The free agent middle infield market is pretty thin now that Asdrubal Cabrera has signed with the Rays. There’s Drew, Kelly Johnson, Nick Punto, Rickie Weeks, Gordon Beckham, Everth Cabrera, and … that’s pretty much it. We saw Drew and Johnson in pinstripes last year and we’ve looked at Beckham, Weeks, and Cabrera as free agent options this winter. Punto … meh.

The trade market is more exciting. With Asdrubal signed, the Rays are widely expected to trade Ben Zobrist, who would be a great fit for the Yankees just like he would be a great fit for literally every other team in baseball. He’ll cost quite a bit though, plus he’s only a one-year rental, and I’m not sure Cashman will trade a bunch of prospects for a year of Zobrist after emphasizing youth. Then there’s the whole “trade with a division rival” thing.

Other second base trade options could include Chase Utley, Aaron Hill, and maybe Daniel Murphy. I thought there’d be more. Utley has given no indication he will waive his no-trade clause despite the Phillies’ rebuild and Hill was very bad (78 wRC+) last year. Plus he’s owed $24M over the next two years. The Mets have a ready-made second baseman in Dilson Herrera but insist they will keep Murphy, which could be posturing. He’s another one-year rental.

There really aren’t many good (nevermind great) second base targets out there, either in free agency or in trades, especially since Zobrist and Utley seem unattainable for different reasons. The idea of a very young and inexperienced double play combination makes me nervous, but at this point of the offseason I don’t see a realistically acquirable second baseman I’d prefer over Refsnyder or Pirela. Time to ride or die with the kids.