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February 14, 2014

Rumor Roundup

Extensions Afoot?

by Daniel Rathman

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Royals could explore multi-year deal with Greg Holland
The Royals got on the same page with their closer on Wednesday, when the sides compromised on a $4.675 million salary for the 2014 season. Kansas City Star beat writer Andy McCullough wrote in the article summing up the agreement that a longer-term pact might be in the cards.

Holland turned in a third consecutive elite season last year, recording 47 saves in 50 tries to go with a shiny 1.21 ERA that meshed well with his 1.39 FIP. He struck out 103 batters, issued only 18 walks, and served up only three home runs in 67 innings. You could easily argue that the 28-year-old was the league’s best closer.

The question is whether the Royals value a reliever, even one with Holland’s terrific credentials, enough to devote a substantial portion of their payroll to him into his 30s. Holland’s first full major-league season came at the age of 25, so the Royals can control him through the 2016 campaign, after which he will turn 31. But another effort like the one he just delivered could send Holland’s arbitration salaries soaring into the eight-figure range, putting more than 10 percent of the club’s payroll in the hands of its closer.

McCullough wrote that there is mutual interest in working out a multi-year agreement, but he did not suggest that the sides are actively discussing one or that they might do so before Opening Day. If the Royals’ payroll does not climb next winter, general manager Dayton Moore could face some tough choices, with James Shields and Norichika Aoki set to leave in free agency and a host of players advancing through the arbitration process.

Eric Hosmer, a Super Two eligible this spring, will join Holland in his second trip through arbitration in 2015. Two of Holland’s bullpen mates, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow, will also strike 4.000 on the service-time clock by the end of this year. Setup man Kelvin Herrera is on track to be a Super Two player; he enters the 2014 campaign with one year and 157 days of service time under his belt.

As the bullpen, which led the American League with a 2.55 ERA last year, gets pricier, Moore will need to decide which of its members to retain and which to unload before their salaries become unwieldy for a team with a sub-$100 million budget. Back in November, McCullough’s predecessor at the Star, Bob Dutton, heard that Collins and Crow were “very available” and that even Holland could be snagged “for the proper return.”

For now, all of them remain with the club and will report to spring training. That may not be the case come this time next year.

Angels hope to lock in Mike Trout’s salary for the foreseeable future
In other extension news, while the Angels are likely to exercise their right to renew Mike Trout’s contract one last time, Los Angeles Times beat writer Mike DiGiovanna hears that the sides will discuss a long-term commitment over the next two months.

With a pair of 8.0-plus WARP showings in each of his first two full seasons, plus the run-production numbers that appeal to arbitrators, Trout is on track to set records each time he goes through the arbitration process. The Angels would do well to gain some cost certainty, even if it does not buy out any of Trout’s free agent years.

As DiGiovanna pointed out, the signing bonus in whatever contract Trout inks would raise his near-term income, something that his agent lamented when the Angels kept his salary in the half-million range for 2013. DiGiovanna believes that negotiations will span spring training, with a deal possibly on tap for April. It appears that any hard feelings that arose between agent Craig Landis and general manager Jerry Dipoto have since been smoothed over.

The 22-year-old Trout is under the Halos’ control through the 2017 season, during which he will turn 26. His combination of precocious and elite talent on both sides of the ball could elicit the largest outlay ever given to a player if he reaches free agency at that point. We should find out in the coming weeks whether the Angels can put enough on the table to convince him to postpone it.

Mariners halt talks with Nelson Cruz
If Nelson Cruz is going to land in Seattle, he may have to wait a while. According to Chris Cotillo of SB Nation, general manager Jack Zduriencik has put negotiations with agent Adam Katz “on hold.” It’s unclear whether or when they might resume.

The Mariners have churned out headline after headline in recent days, with two signings and a couple of worrisome injuries. Fernando Rodney signed a two-year deal to serve as Seattle’s closer, and Randy Wolf joined the organization on a minor-league pact with various incentives. Hisashi Iwakuma, their no. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez, is battling a strained tendon in his throwing hand that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks. Taijuan Walker, their no. 1 prospect, is dealing with minor shoulder soreness. Franklin Gutierrez, whom they brought back on a one-year contract to provide outfield depth, will sit out the 2014 season with recurring symptoms from an illness he battled last year.

That last bit of news is most closely tied with their pursuit of Cruz, but Iwakuma’s injury might be what turned Zduriencik’s attention away from his lineup and toward his rotation. If the Mariners, who were already in the market for rotation upgrades, are concerned that Iwakuma could be out well into the regular season, that need becomes more pressing than any deal with Cruz, who might only reinforce an existing corner-outfield glut.

If the season started today, the Mariners would have Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Justin Smoak, and potentially Jesus Montero battling for playing time at three spots. Gutierrez’s absence leaves center field in the hands of Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders. There is room for improvement, and Cruz—the cost of a draft pick notwithstanding—could provide it. But a starter might make more of a difference.

With Iwakuma out on Opening Day, the Mariners’ rotation would feature Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez, Walker, Brandon Maurer, and James Paxton, with Hector Noesi, Wolf, and fellow minor-league signee Scott Baker potentially in the mix. First-year manager Lloyd McClendon would be relying on group with plenty of talent, but also one laced with question marks about adjusting to the majors or shaking off injuries.

Only time will tell if Iwakuma’s injury will lead to a desperation signing of Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez—and whether such a move would crowd Cruz out of Zduriencik’s budget. One thing the rash of reports out of Seattle makes clear, though, is that the former Ranger is on the backburner, because the Mariners have bigger fish to fry.

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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