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November 19, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Monday, November 19

by Daniel Rathman

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Early last week, the Marlins gutted their roster and shipped roughly $160 million in salaries to the Blue Jays. Over the weekend, they redistributed one percent of those savings to Juan Pierre, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.6 million, and is expected to roam left field next season after playing center field in Miami from 2003-2005. Here’s a look at the other stories that surfaced during a quiet weekend on the hot stove: 

Manny Acta on Blue Jays’ shortlist with manager choice looming
Terry Francona decided to return to the dugout with the Indians. Mike Redmond agreed to tackle a rebuilding project with the Marlins. Walt Weiss inked a one-year deal with the Rockies. John Farrell came back to the Red Sox. And now, the Jays are the only major-league team still without a manager.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos likely chose to delay his skipper search when the aforementioned blockbuster with the Marlins came together, knowing that a roster featuring the likes of Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson would be more tempting to prospective candidates. Anthopoulos was previously reported to be seeking someone with a major-league track record, bucking the recent trend of novice hirings, which began with Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny last winter and continued with Redmond and Weiss during the past few weeks.

Former Cleveland manager Manny Acta, who got the axe with six games remaining in the regular season, is among the candidates who have survived a thorough screening process, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. The 43-year-old Acta spent three seasons with the Tribe, after a three-year stint in Washington, and interestingly, his successor with the Nationals, Jim Riggleman, is also said to be in the running. Well, at least Olney hears that Riggleman is in the running; Jon Heyman of CBS Sports isn’t so sure.

Along with Riggleman, Olney also mentioned that former Rockies manager Jim Tracy is on Anthopoulos’ shortlist. Cynical tweeters nationwide are pulling for the 56-year-old Tracy, who has significantly more experience than his known competitors, and was named National League Manager of the Year in 2009. If Olney’s sources are correct, a final decision should come early this week.

Nagging back injury worries Dan Haren’s suitors
For the first seven seasons of his career, Haren was one of the league’s most durable starters: he made at least 33 starts annually from 2005-2011, did not land on the disabled list at any point during that span, and even survived two bruising comebackers—one off of his right forearm in 2010, another off of his left wrist in 2011—to avoid missing a single scheduled assignment. But a recent history of lower-back stiffness, which initially surfaced in May, recurred and forced Haren to the disabled list in July, and persisted throughout the second half of the season, is causing interested teams to proceed with caution in their negotiations with the former Angel’s agent, Greg Landry.

The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo spoke with American League executives over the weekend and found that most of them are unwilling to offer Haren more than a two-year deal, with the majority hoping that he will settle for a one-year hitch with a club option for 2014. Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto declined a club option for the 32-year-old righty earlier this fall, when a deal with the Cubs involving Carlos Marmol fizzled hours after the closer informed Dominican reporter Yancen Pujols of its existence.

Why the trade fell apart is not entirely certain, but while Landry denied that his client’s medicals were the reason, David Kaplan of CSN Chicago reported that it was indeed Haren’s back woes that caused Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to back off. Cafardo’s sources seem to corroborate Kaplan’s side of the story, an unfortunate setback for Haren, who struggled to maintain his stuff throughout the 2012 campaign.

The above breakdown from Brooks Baseball shows an across-the-board decrease in Haren’s velocity compared to his career averages. His four-seamer and sinker, which typically sit in the low 90s, barely touched 89 mph in 2012, while his cutter and splitter each lost a tick on the radar gun. Those dips most affected Haren’s splitter, which has elicited whiffs 19.56 percent of the time he has used it over the course of his career, but only resulted in a swing-and-miss on 13.79 percent of its uses last season. And that, in turn, caused Haren’s strikeout rate to slip below 20 percent for the first time since 2006, producing a 4.24 FIP—his highest in a full season—even though his walk rate (5.1 percent) matched his career average.

Besides the Cubs, whose interest in the aftermath of the failed swap is unconfirmed, the Padres and Red Sox are two of the teams believed to be in contact with Landry. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal was told at the GM Meetings earlier this month that San Diego should be viewed as the favorite to land Haren, both because of his connection to general manager Josh Byrnes—who acquired him from the Athletics in December 2007, while at the helm of the Diamondbacks—and the northpaw’s desire to stay on the west coast.

Nationals hope to retain Adam LaRoche, but negotiations “going slowly”
Finally, after benefiting greatly from LaRoche’s performance during their surge to the top of the National League East, the Nationals are having trouble finding common ground with the free-agent first baseman. LaRoche, who came to Washington on a two-year, $16 million contract signed in January 2011, nixed his half of a $10 million mutual option for 2013, thus hitting the open market for the third time in his career.

According to MLB.com beat writer Bill Ladson, the 33-year-old LaRoche is driving a hard bargain, and although his “top priority is to re-sign with the Nats,” agent Mike Milchin hopes to parlay his client’s career-best 3.6 WARP campaign into a lucrative new deal. A reliable, 2.0-4.0 WARP contributor when healthy, LaRoche missed 116 games in 2011 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his left shoulder. He bounced back from that procedure to deliver a  .271/.343/.510 triple-slash line, to go with 33 home runs and excellent (10.8 FRAA) defense, in 2012, but as LaRoche enters his mid-30s, the severity of that injury and its possible impact on his aging curve could dampen the offers that Milchin is able to coax.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, meanwhile, has internal options to supplant LaRoche, should the price tag grow too exorbitant for his liking. Those choices include Michael Morse and Tyler Moore, but both of them bat right-handed, and using either would leave Bryce Harper as the only lefty in the top half of manager Davey Johnson’s lineup. Moore, who hit .263/.327/.513 with 19 extra-base hits in 156 at-bats during his rookie season, could simply slide into an everyday role, while Morse would be moving over from left field, potentially requiring Rizzo to find a replacement for that job. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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