MLB Notes: Mariners trade Kelley to Yankees

021313-kelley-slideshow-ap.jpg

MLB Notes: Mariners trade Kelley to Yankees

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees added depth to their bullpen Wednesday night, acquiring right-hander Shawn Kelley from the Seattle Mariners for minor league outfielder Abraham Almonte.

The 28-year-old Kelley went 2-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 47 appearances for Seattle last season and figures to fill a middle-relief role with the Yankees. He was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Feb. 7 when the club signed catcher Kelly Shoppach.

About a week earlier, Kelley and the Mariners agreed to a $935,000, one-year contract that avoided salary arbitration. Kelley is 10-9 with a 3.52 ERA in four big league seasons, all with Seattle.

Almonte, 23, batted .276 with four homers, 25 RBIs and 30 steals in 78 games for Double-A Trenton last season. He was an Eastern League midseason All-Star.

The Yankees and Mariners have been trading partners several times over the last couple of years, pulling off deals involving Ichiro Suzuki and Jesus Montero.

To make room for Kelley on the 40-man roster, the Yankees placed third baseman Alex Rodriguez on the 60-day disabled list. Rodriguez is recovering from hip surgery and is not expected back until at least the All-Star break.

New York's 40-man roster is now full (see full story).

Wainwright, Cards put talks on hold
JUPITER, Fla. -- Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals have put contract talks on hold, though neither side expects many obstacles to a long-term deal.

"No one has drawn any lines in the sand," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Tuesday.

Wainwright, 31, who is in the final year of a contact plus extension that will have paid him $36 million over six years, hopes talks will not become drawn out.

"There does need to be some urgency on both sides just to try to get this done if it's going to happen before the season starts, just for peace of mind for everyone," Wainwright said. He said the contract he signed during the 2008 spring training became a distraction.

Now, he says, he is in a different place.

"A player's first contact is the `I want to get settled contract, I want to get that nest egg,'" Wainwright said. "I thought about the risks every day when I went home, walking down the stairs, my bullpen sessions. I just said, `This is ridiculous.' Once you get that out of the way . financially I'm in a place where I don't have to worry about a contract as much."

Mozeliak wants to take no chances that this could linger (see full story).

Indians sign Matsuzaka to minor-league deal
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The last time a team brought Daisuke Matsuzaka into camp, it paid more than $100 million to get him.

On Wednesday, the Cleveland Indians brought him into camp to compete for the back end of their rotation with a deal that will make him just $1.5 million this season. He can earn an additional $2.5 million in performance bonuses.

A little different this time around.

"I just want him to be Daisuke," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

The Japanese right-hander and Francona have a history together, of course, while the latter was manager in Boston and Matsuzaka was a starter for the Red Sox. The two officially reunited on Wednesday here, and Francona said Matsuzaka threw 35 pitches. He described his delivery as "crisp" and it reminded him of how he looked "when he was healthy."

In 2007, Matsuzaka, 32, posted a 15-12 record with a 4.40 ERA as the Red Sox raced to a World Series title. He followed that with an 18-3 mark and a 2.90 ERA the next season (see full story).

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."