By Bill Ladson
NEW YORK — Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton started Sunday’s game against the Mets. It marked the fourth time in the last eight games that Lobaton was inserted into the starting lineup.
Manager Matt Williams said recently said that he hasn’t ruled out Lobaton getting more playing time behind the plate. He is already Gio Gonzalez’s personal catcher. Wilson Ramos, the team’s starting catcher, is not having a good year defensively and in a 5-for-55 [.091] slump to drop his batting average to .234.
“It depends on where we are at, Williams said about the catching situation. “It depends on matchups, where we are at. The deeper lineup allows us to have more flexibility in that regard, too.”
MLB.com’s team of writers are keeping you on top of all the very latest trade rumors at MLB.com/news.
The Braves are interested in acquiring Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., according to Peter Gammons.
With a logjam in the outfield and Rusney Castillo projected to start in center field, JBJ would likely have a limited role with the team and be used more as a defensive replacement.
While Bradley struggled at the plate during the 2014 season, hitting just .198 with 121 strikeouts in 127 games, the outfielder’s defensive skills are undeniable.
With the departure of Justin Upton, Bradley could be a nice pickup for the rebuilding Braves.
— Quinn Roberts
According to Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com, the Indians have interest in free-agent outfielder Dayan Viciedo, who was released by the White Sox on Feb. 4. On the surface, the interest makes sense, because there is a need for more right-handed power in the Tribe’s lefty-heavy lineup.
That said, the Indians have All-Star Michael Brantley entrenched in left field and a logjam of players already in the mix between right field and DH (Brandon Moss, Nick Swisher, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn). If Cleveland can add the 25-year-old Viciedo as a non-roster invite on a Minor League deal, the move would make more sense for the Indians. A Major League contract doesn’t seem realistic at the moment.
Cleveland will, however, be monitoring comebacks from surgery for Moss (hip), Swisher (both knees) and Raburn (knee), so the team is trying to keep contingency plans in place. That is one reason for keeping all the players in the fold for now, rather than using a trade to free things up some. It’s possible, if all the outfielders are healthy come Opening Day, that the Indians might revisit trade scenarios.
Defensively, Viciedo is ranked near the bottom of the Majors as a corner outfielder over the past few seasons in advanced metrics. He has experience at first base (where the Indians have a full-timer in Carlos Santana) and third (where Cleveland plans on playing Lonnie Chisenhall), but he rates poorly at those spots. More and more, especially if he were with the Indians, Viciedo looks like a platoon-option DH.
Viciedo did launch 21 homers in 2014, though he hit just .231/.281/.405 in 145 games for Chicago, which struggled to find a trade partner for the outfielder this winter. His slugging percentage dropped to .405 from .426 in ’13 and .444 in ’12. And, while Viciedo is generally viewed as a right-handed counter for lefty pitching, his platoon splits are actually reversed over the past two seasons combined (.692 OPS against lefties and .711 OPS against righties).
The White Sox added depth to their bullpen on Friday, agreeing to a Minor League contract with veteran right-hander Matt Albers, according to multiple reports.
Albers’ deal reportedly includes an invitation to Major League Spring Training. He would earn a base salary of $1.5 million if he makes the team, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Albers, 32, was limited to eight games with the Astros last year because of a shoulder injury. When healthy, he’s been a solid reliever, posting a 2.63 ERA over the last three seasons with the Red Sox, D-backs, Indians and Astros.
The White Sox have made improving the bullpen a priority this offseason, adding free agents David Robertson and Zach Duke. Chicago’s relievers combined for a 4.38 ERA in 2014, which ranked 28th in the Majors.
The Royals have signed veteran right-hander Joe Blanton to a Minor League deal with an invite to Major League Spring Training.
The move gives Kansas City some additional pitching depth heading into camp, though the right-hander has not pitched in the Majors since the 2013 season with the Angels.
That year, he went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA primarily out of the rotation. He logged 132 2/3 innings that season.
Over a 10-year career, Blanton is 85-89 with a 4.51 ERA and won a career-best 16 games with the A’s in 2006. He has pitched for the Phillies (five years), the A’s (five years), the Dodgers (one year) and the Angels (1 year).
— Joey Nowak
Veteran left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher, a free agent this offseason, is engaged in talks with at least 10 teams and likely will make a decision soon, according to Chris Cotillo of SBNation.com.
The Mets, Astros, A’s and Rangers are among the clubs reportedly interested.
Thatcher, 33, pitched 53 games for the D-backs and Angels last season, posting a 3.86 ERA, four walks and 27 strikeouts over 30 1/3 innings, while missing about a month with a sprained ankle. He fared significantly better with Arizona, which dealt him to Los Angeles in July.
An eight-year veteran, Thatcher has held left-handed batters to a .230 average and .640 OPS over his career, while righties have hit .275 with a .715 OPS.
If Thatcher doesn’t end up signing with the Rangers, Cotillo reports that the club is still likely to add a lefty to its bullpen. Fellow fee agent Phil Coke would be another option.
— Andrew Simon
Soon after the calendar turned to 2015, FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal passed along word from a pair of executives that free-agent right-hander James Shields had received a five-year, $110 million offer from an unnamed team but was continuing to look for something better.
“That was completely inaccurate and a fabrication,” Page Odle said.
According to Odle, there were discussions of contracts ranging from three to five years, but Shields never demanded a deal of five years or more. One club did make an offer early in the offseason, but an agreement couldn’t be struck, and Shields’ market didn’t begin to gain steam again until the new year. Eventually, Shields decided he wanted to pitch for the Padres, with Odle calling it, “a great fit for him and his family.”
— Andrew Simon
The Brewers have not been able to swing a deal for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon thus far, so the club is continuing to look at other bullpen options, including Francisco Rodriguez, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.
Sources told Rosenthal that Rodriguez, one of the few big-name free agents remaining on the market, is aiming for a two-year contract. The 33-year-old right-hander saved 44 games for Milwaukee last season, posting 3.04 ERA in 68 innings, with 18 walks and 73 strikeouts while making $3.25 million. He has spent much of the past four seasons with the club, working both as a set-up man and closer.
The Brewers had tried to make a deal with the Phillies for Papelbon, who notched 39 saves with a 2.04 ERA last season and is due $13 million in ’15. He also has a $13 million option for ’16, which will vest if he finishes 48 games this year. Since the Brewers are one of the teams on Papelbon’s no-trade list, he probably would approve a deal only if Milwaukee picks up the option, Rosenthal reported.
That’s just one complication in the negotiations, with the Phillies reportedly willing to eat a significant portion of Papelbon’s remaining contract only if they receive a top prospect in return. Meanwhile, the Brewers offered current closer Jonathan Broxton in the deal as a different way to save money, but the Phillies weren’t interested.
— Andrew Simon
After spending the first 11 seasons of his Major League career in Milwaukee, Rickie Weeks is headed to Seattle, according to ESPN.
The deal, which has not been confirmed by the Mariners, is reportedly worth approximately $2 million.
Weeks, 32, hit .274 in 121 games for the Brewers last season and became a free agent when the team declined to pick up his $14.5 million option.
Although Weeks has played second base throughout his career, the Mariners are set at that position with Robinson Cano. The report mentioned that Weeks could crack the line-up by playing the outfield, but that is something he’s yet to do in his career.
– William Boor