Yankees trade Phelps and Prado to Miami

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi (24) throws during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Lots of baseball news making the rounds this Friday afternoon in New York.

The Mets are reportedly kicking the tires yet again on Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, with Colorado reportedly looking for Noah Syndergaard plus in return.

The Yankees made another trade today, sending Martin Prado and David Phelps to Miami for Garrett Jones, Nathan Eovaldi and minor leaguer Domingo German.

Let’s take a look at this trade piece-by-piece.

Prado had a fine half-season in pinstripes after coming to New York in a deadline deal from Arizona. He hit .316 with seven home runs in his 37 games, spending time at second, third and the corner outfield spots. With the Yankees signing Chase Headley to a four-year deal, Prado looked like the everyday second baseman in 2015. He’s under contract at $11 million per season through the end of 2016.

Phelps has bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen in his three years in a Yankees uniform. In 87 games, 40 of those starts, Phelps went 15-14 with a 4.21 ERA and a 2.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Take this for what it’s worth, but Phelps pitched to a 0.0 WAR over 113 innings in 2014. So he gave you exactly what you’d expect from a guy yanked up from Triple-A. Still, with the Yankees still having a number of health questions in the starting rotation, Phelps figured to be a key part of the team either as a starter or in middle relief.

So why would the Yankees trade those guys away?

We’ll start with German, a 22-year-old right-hander who’s yet to pitch above Single-A. German, however, is 20-10 with a 2.33 ERA in his five seasons at the lower levels of the minors, including a 9-3 season in 25 starts in the South Atlantic League in 2014. In 123 1/3 innings, he struck out 113, walked 25 and allowed 116 hits. Will that translate as he progresses through the minors? Of course, that remains to be seen, but German sure looks like a young pitcher to watch.

Jones, a seven-season major league vet, gives the Yankees insurance at three key spots. He can play first base if Mark Teixeira is out for any length of time. He can also spell Carlos Beltran in right should Beltran have any injury problems. A left-handed hitter who’s hit an average of 18.8 home runs per season since becoming a lineup regular in 2010, Jones could also get plenty of DH at-bats should Alex Rodriguez struggle.

The real key piece in this trade in Nate Eovaldi, a right-hander who turns 25 in spring training. An 11th-round pick in 2008 by the Dodgers, Eovaldi was the major chip sent to Miami in the Hanley Ramirez trade. Eovaldi was a regular part of the Marlins’ rotation last season, going 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA in 33 starts. He allowed 220 hits in 199 2/3 innings but his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.30 was by far the best of his career. Eovaldi’s FIP (fielding independent pitching) came in at 3.37, so there’s reason to believe that he just had a really unlucky season defensively behind him. FIP basically measures what a player’s ERA would have been had he played with defense and balls in play data equalized to match league averages.

The Yankees have indicated that they believe they can “fix” Eovaldi and bring him back to top prospect status rather than the below-average back-of-the-rotation starter he looked like this past season. If that’s the case, then this trade makes a ton of sense from the Yankees’ perspective.

Even if they can’t totally get Eovaldi back on track, the Yankees did firm up the rotation with a guy who has proven he can go just about 200 innings. That’s a major boost to a team that’s unsure of what they’ll get from CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. Ivan Nova should be back from Tommy John surgery at some point in the middle of the season. They also have Chris Capuano in the fold. Hiroki Kuroda has yet to indicate whether he’ll return to the Yankees, play in Japan or retire, but Kuroda might also play in here as well. Eovaldi might not make the Yankees’ rotation a great deal stronger, but he adds some depth and some insurance.

Now, the Yankees have opened at hole at second base. Will they fill it with rookies Rob Refsnyder and/or Jose Pirela? Or does GM Brian Cashman have another move up his sleeve? There are few options left on the free agent market. Asdrubal Cabrera would be one choice, but would he rather play shortstop for another team? Rickie Weeks and Emilio Bonafacio could also work, but how much better would they be than the kids?

The Yankees strengthened their rotation and their bench with this trade but they’ve also opened up the search for a new second baseman.

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Yanks sign Headley to four-year deal

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2014, file photo, New York Yankees' Chase Headley reacts after driving in the game-winning run during the ninth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in New York. Headley is staying with the Yankees, giving New York insurance at third base in case Alex Rodriguez is unable to play the field regularly. A person familiar with the negotiations says Headley and the Yankees are working to finalize a $52 million, four-year contract. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, because the agreement had not been completed. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

The Yankees made a decision on their third base situation for 2015, signing free agent Chase Headley to a four-year contract worth $52 million, according to many reports early this afternoon.

Headley, acquired via trade on July 22 for utility infielder Yangervis Solarte and minor league pitcher Rafael DePaula, hit .262 with six home runs and 17 RBI in 58 games in pinstripes. Headley, a switch-hitter, also provided terrific defense at third base and can also play first base in a pinch. That’s a plus with the injury-prone Mark Teixeira still on the roster.

Alex Rodriguez returns from his year-long suspension, but the Yankees never seemed to seriously consider him an option at third base in 2015. At this point, Rodriguez looks like a DH candidate if he can prove he’s up to the job in spring training. With Headley so good with the glove, Rodriguez might see very limited time in the field.

The Headley signing also allows the Yankees to play Martin Prado, acquired in a mid-season trade from Arizona, to be the team’s everyday second baseman. Before signing Headley, the Yankees were looking at playing Prado at third and splitting the second base responsibilities between rookies Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder. So this is a major upgrade over that scenario.

Headley had a monster season in 2012, hitting .286 with 31 home runs and 115 RBI. He finished fifth in the NL MVP voting and won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award that year.

That, however, looks like an aberration on the back of Headley’s baseball card. He’s never hit more than 13 homers in a season before or since, never driven in more than 64 runs in a season before or since and is a career .265 hitter.

So what kind of player did the Yankees just lock up for the next four years at $13 million per season?

Is he a good glove, slightly above average bat kind of player he looked like after landing in New York? Or is he the power-hitting, run-producing machine of 2012?

I’m not sure whether the Yankees are gambling on the later or simply snatching what was left on the free agent market after getting essentially shut out during the winter meetings in San Diego last week. Either way, Headley is a fine player that solves a third base problem for 2015. The question is, thinking long term, will Headley himself be the problem by 2017 or 2018? Have the Yankees just saddled themselves with another aging star on an overpriced contract?

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Robertson signs with White Sox

New York Yankees relief pitcher David Robertson follows through on a pitch to the Baltimore Orioles in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Just a few days after the Yankees signed free agent reliever Andrew Miller, the team lost a key part of its bullpen.

Closer David Robertson signed a four-year, $46-million free agent deal with the Chicago White Sox late Monday night. As with the Robinson Cano situation last winter, the Yankees weren’t willing to go over a certain price for Robertson and let him walk. The Yankees will receive a compensatory sandwich round draft pick since Robertson declined a one-year qualifying offer from the Yankees at the end of the postseason.

Robertson has been one of the American League’s best relievers since making his debut in 2008. A 17th round pick in the 2006 draft, Robertson, a University of Alabama product, has risen from middle reliever to All-Star set-up man to closer. He saved 39 games last season.

He earned the nickname Houdini for his ability to get out of impossible situations, which were often created by his own doing. Robertson has a career rate of 7.1 hits allowed per nine innings and 12.0 strikeouts per nine, both of which are top-notch for a reliever. He does have a habit of walking too many guys in the wrong spots (a career rate of 3.8 walks/nine) but he’s been below that career mark every season since 2011.

In Chicago, Robertson will solidify a changing White Sox pitching staff. Chicago traded for Oakland’s Jeff Samardzija late Monday night as well.

As for the Yankees, their options are open at this point.

Miller would make sense as the team’s new closer, especially with all the money he’s being paid, but he has just one career save to his name. He excels in the lefty-on-lefty matchups, so perhaps that’s where the Yankees see the value in Miller and he could still be a seventh and eighth inning guy.

Young Dellin Betances showed closer-like stuff last year, so he’s another possibility for the ninth inning role. Again, like Miller, he may be best used in those really tough spots in the seventh and eighth innings, so maybe he’ll stay in a similar role as well.

As far as free agent closers, there are a few names on the market. Jason Grilli had a rough 2014, but was an All-Star as Pittsburgh’s closer in 2013. He might come relatively cheap and would provide an experienced arm for those ninth inning situations.

Sergio Romo spent parts of the last three seasons as the Giants’ closer, so he’d also be a possibility.

Really, it’s going to be up to Joe Girardi to determine how to manage his bullpen, which will be different without Robertson at the end. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be worse, but a lot rides on how Girardi pulls the strings in the late innings. Of course, Cashman could acquire another arm or two to make the job even easier for Girardi.

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Yankees find Jeter’s replacement in Gregorius

Arizona Diamondbacks' Didi Gregorius hits an RBI double off Minnesota Twins pitcher Ricky Nolasco in the fifth inning of a baseball game, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Yankees have found their shortstop of the future.

Multiple reports this morning indicate that the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Tigers have agreed on a three-team trade that will bring shortstop Didi Gregorius to New York.

Here are the moving parts.

To New York: SS Didi Gregorius

To Arizona: P Robbie Ray

To Detroit: P Shane Green and another Arizona minor leaguer to be named later

It’s the second three-team trade between these clubs in recent years. The Yankees picked up Curtis Granderson in a swap that also included Ian Kennedy and Max Scherzer following the 2009 World Series.

As far as Gregorius goes, he’s long been one of baseball’s top shortstop prospects, first with Cincinnati and more recently in Arizona.

Gregorius made his debut with the Reds in 2012 and then played in 103 games for the Diamondbacks in 2013, hitting .252 with a .332 on-base percentage. Last season, Gregorius was limited to 80 games and hit just .226, spending time at short, second and third base. He did hit .310 in 57 games at Triple-A Reno last season as well.

A lefty hitter, Gregorius doesn’t have a ton of power nor a lot of speed, but he has been a fine defender in his brief major league career so far. So the expectations won’t be huge for the Amsterdam, Netherlands native in New York, even as he comes in to replace Derek Jeter. As long as he can play every day and hold his own at the bottom of the lineup, I think that will be a plus for the Yankees heading forward.

When he was acquired by Arizona a few years ago, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said that Gregorious reminded him of a young Derek Jeter. Gregorious, who turns 25 in February, doesn’t deserve that kind of comparison. It’ll be impossible to line up to, but the Yankees probably have to be pretty happy that they’ve found a MLB-ready replacement who won’t be eligible for free agency until 2020.

The cost for the Yankees isn’t insignificant. Shane Greene, 26, had a fine debut in the Yankees’ rotation in 2014, filling in admirably when 80 percent of the opening day starting rotation landed on the disabled list.

Greene went 5-4 with a 3.78 ERA in 14 starts (he also had one relief appearance) and struck out 81 and walked 29 over 78 2/3 innings. However, Greene has some underwhelming minor league numbers for his career, so it’s still unclear how much of a contributor he’ll be at the highest level in the years to come.

Most likely, Greene is a capable fourth or fifth starter that could hang around for quite some time. But with the Yankees having a real need at shortstop and probably feeling that similar pitching is more easily acquirable or already in their minor league system, the trade makes sense.

Up next for the Yankees is a decision on lefty reliever Andrew Miller, who’s looking for closer-type money and a four-year contract. Miller has been great recently for Boston and Baltimore, but it’s still unclear how the Yankees would use him if he signs with New York. Would he replace David Robertson as the closer? Would he become a lefty set-up man to Dellin Betances as the new Yankees’ closer? Could the Yankees still sign Robertson, too, and make for a killer seventh-eighth-ninth inning combo?

You can also expect the Yankees to kick the tires on the third base market, although they do have Martin Prado and Alex Rodriguez available to play that role next year if need be.

There are plenty of top-level starting pitchers yet to sign, such as Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester. Could the Yankees make a surprise splash and bring in one of them to bolster the rotation? Or will they settle for a shorter, cheaper deal for a guy like Brandon McCarthy?

Either way, there’s still plenty of work for the Yankees to do this offseason.

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Tino Martinez to guest at Renegades’ Hot Stove Banquet

Former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez tips his cap during introductions for the Yankees 68th annual Old-Timers Day prior to the Baltimore Orioles baseball game against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, June 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez will be a special guest at the Hudson Valley Renegades’ annual Pitch for Kids Hot Stove Banquet at Villa Borghese in Wappingers Falls on Mon., Jan. 19.

Former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, currently the executive director of athletics at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., will also guest.

The event begins at 6 p.m. and will wrap up around 10 p.m. Tickets include admission and dinner. Renegades vice president and PA announcer Rick Zolzer will host the Q&A.

Proceeds go toward the Renegades’ Pitch for Kids foundation, which gives back to young people and families in the Hudson Valley. For more on Pitch for Kids, check out the website here.

For more information on how to purchase tickets for this event, check out the Renegades’ website.

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Braves sign Markakis; Blue Jays and Mariners make a trade

Baltimore Orioles' Nick Markakis hits a two-run home run in the third inning of Game 2 in baseball's AL Division Series against the Detroit Tigers in Baltimore, Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Two fairly big developments on the hot stove this evening.

First, the Atlanta Braves made up a bit for the trade that sent outfielder Jason Heyward to St. Louis for starting pitcher Shelby Miller by inking Baltimore’s Nick Markakis to a four-year, $45 million pact.

Markakis, a Georgia native, has been a consistent and durable major leaguer since his debut in 2006. He’s a career .290 hitter and averages about 15 or so home runs a year, although his doubles power has dropped from 40-plus earlier in his career to mid-20s over the past few seasons.

He has won two gold gloves, which is something Heyward was known for in Atlanta. Markakis also gives the Braves another left-handed bat near the top of the lineup.

This signing opens up some trade possibilities for the Braves, who could now ship out one of their other outfielders: Justin and/or B.J. Upton, as well as Evan Gattis. Atlanta would get the most in return for Justin Upton, so perhaps he’s the odd man out here.

The Braves didn’t add a superstar here, but they added a solid, reliable guy who’s entering the downside of his career. He’ll get on base, pop a few homers and play pretty good defense, all while (the Braves hope) he stays healthy. Markakis has played in at least 104 games every year in his career, including eight seasons with at least 147 games. So in short, he’s a fine fill-in for Heyward at a not-so-steep price.

The Mariners and Blue Jays made a one-for-one swap of major leaguers, as Seattle sent outfielder Michael Saunders to Toronto for pitcher J.A. Happ.

Both of these guys are fine players, but nothing totally exciting on either front here.

Toronto really needed an everyday outfielder with Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus hitting free agency. So Saunders looks like Toronto’s left fielder for 2015. He’s a career .231 hitter with a little bit of power, but he’s been limited by injuries, especially in 2014. If he’s healthy, he should be a fine player, nothing outstanding, but the type of player you can throw out there every day and be fine with. That will work especially well for Toronto, which already has a Jose Bautista-Edwin Encarnacion-Josh Donaldson middle of the lineup.

As for Seattle, the Mariners shipped out a player they likely would have used quite extensively in 2015, with few capable outfielders currently on the 40-man roster. So this could be a precursor to another move for Seattle, which could now flip some pitching surplus for an outfielder.

Happ was once the gem of the Phillies’ farm system, going to Houston in the Roy Oswalt trade in 2010. He then went to Toronto two years later in a big trade out of Houston.

Having bounced between the bullpen and the rotation in his career, Happ, a lefty, has made his mark as a starter lately. He went 11-11 with a 4.22 ERA in 30 appearances last year (26 were starts) posting the lowest walk rate of his career (2.9/9 innings) and his career average strikeout rate (7.6/9).

This will be Happ’s age-32 season, so he isn’t a prospect on the way up anymore, but he’s proven he can be a capable back end of the rotation guy if he keeps the walks down.

For now, he gives the Mariners a bit of rotation insurance (or a potential bullpen piece) as they explore trades for outfielders.

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Mets, Yankees looking at pitching moves

There was plenty of action on baseball’s free agent and trade market over the last week or so, but the Yankees are Mets have been relatively quiet.

The latest rumors have the Yankees as one possible suitor for left-handed relief pitcher Andrew Miller. Miller split time between Boston and Baltimore last season. In 62 1/3 innings, he struck out 103, walked 17 and allowed 33 hits.

Miller is due a big payday, likely something in the neighborhood of four years and $30 million (or more). Some teams could use Miller as a closer instead of a set-up man. The Yankees could be in that position should they decide to let David Robertson walk. They could also bring back Robertson and add Miller, making for a killer back end of the bullpen along with Dellin Betances.

The Mets, on the other hand, are looking to trade some of their surplus starting pitching, namely, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee and/or Jon Niese. None of those guys have a ton of trade value, but they perhaps could bring in a veteran stopgap shortstop or a bullpen arm. Trading one of those three would also save the Mets some money in the short term. With most of the top free agent starting pitchers still on the market, the Mets’ efforts to move these guys will heat up once the market begins to sort itself out.

Elsewhere in baseball…

  • The Blue Jays made another big move in the wake of signing catcher Russell Martin, acquiring third baseman Josh Donaldson from Oakland for Brett Lawrie and a bunch of prospects.  It’s an interesting move for the A’s, who ship out one of the best players in the game (especially with his defense) for Lawrie, who’s been oft-injured and an enigma in his few years in Toronto. It does save Oakland some money in the short term and also stockpiles some promise in the minors. For Toronto, the Blue Jays will have tons of expectations heading into 2015 with their new additions.
  • The Mariners have added the right-handed power bat they’ve been searching for in signing Nelson Cruz to a four-year, $58 million contract. Cruz had a huge year in Baltimore in 2014, this on the heels of a steroids suspension that cost him the final 50 games of the 2013 campaign. Cruz, however, turns 35 on July 1, so one wonders how long his power will hold up. It’s a bold move for a team that already has plenty of pitching, so expect Seattle to get plenty of attention in spring training as well. Could a Seattle-Toronto ALCS be possible in 2015? Seattle also signing promising young third baseman Kyle Seager to a seven-year, $100 million extension.
  • The Red Sox made two big moves before Thanksgiving, snatching third baseman Pablo Sandoval and former shortstop and future left fielder Hanley Ramirez to a guaranteed total of $183 million. There are option clauses and performance bonuses that could bump up that total at the end of those deals. The Red Sox still have some pitching needs, so one wonders how active Boston gets on the trade market between now and spring training. It’s still possible that Boston signs starting pitcher Jon Lester, but they made already be at their budget for 2015. Will some of their spare parts or younger players in the farm system be enough to add a top-level starter via a trade? No matter what happens, Boston made a major upgrade to its offense by adding a pair of players who should send plenty of shots over the Green Monster next season.

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Yankees, Mets make 40-man roster decisions

United States' pitcher Noah Syndergaard throws a pitch during the ninth inning of the All-Star Futures baseball game against the World Team, Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

With the Rule 5 draft looming – it will be held on Dec. 11 – teams are starting to protect rising minor league players from being selected by other teams. Players selected in the Rule 5 draft, typically youngsters who have been in the minors for at least four or five years, must be listed on a club’s major league 25-man roster for the entire 2015 season or they will be sent back to their original club. Typically, few players are taken in the Rule 5 draft because of that stipulation, but teams need to protect their top prospects just in case.

Essentially, it’s a rule that keeps teams from stockpiling talent in the minors for long periods of time. Teams that have holes in their lineups and can’t afford top-tier free agents can sometimes find viable starters this way.

The Yankees added Tyler Austin, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder and Mason Williams to the 40-man roster today.

The Mets added Jack Leathersich, Cory Mazzoni, Akeel Morris, Hansel Robles, Noah Syndergaard and Gabriel Ynoa.

Let’s take a look at some of these guys.

Tyler Austin and Mason Williams are outfielders, giving the Yankees nine OFs on the 40-man roster. That’s an awful lot of outfielders. Austin, 23, had a solid year at Double-A Trenton last year, hitting .275 with 20 doubles and nine homers in 105 games. Williams, however, was dreadful at Double-A in 2014, hitting .223 in 128 games. Williams, also 23, does have plenty of promise being a fourth round pick in the 2010 draft. It’s doubtful that any other major league team sees Williams as a full-time starter in 2015, but the Yankees must like him enough to want to keep him around, just in case. Keeping Williams in the organization also allows the Yankees to move him in a trade later in the offseason, which is another possibility.

Burawa is a righty reliever with high walk and high strikeout totals, having split 2014 between Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Pinder pitched just 39 2/3 innings last year, but he struck out 37 and walked nine. Neither look like long-term options for the  Yankees, but they could be quite attractive for other teams looking for cheap help in the back end of a bullpen. So they’re protected.

For the Mets, Syndergaard is one of the organization’s top prospects. Depending on what the Mets decide to do with trades (and what happens with injuries) it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make his big league debut sometime in 2015, so his inclusion here was a given.

Leathersich is a lefty reliever who’s had mixed success in his minor league career. Still, left-handed. So there’s that.

Mazzoni made 14 starts over four different levels of the minors last year, going from rookie ball to Triple-A. In nine starts with Las Vegas, he went 5-1 with a 4.67 ERA and 49 strikeouts and 12 walks over 52 innings. He was a second round pick in 2011, so the Mets aren’t giving up on him yet. Perhaps he could be the next Jacob de Grom…or trade bait.

A 10th round pick in 2010, Morris has taken his time moving through the minors. He spent three years in rookie ball and the last two at Single-A. His numbers, however, have been outstanding. In five minor league seasons, he’s got an ERA of 2.95, allowed 129 hits over 216 1/3 innings, struck out 288 and walked 122. Obviously, the walks are too high, but the strikeouts and hits allowed are terrific. Morris is still a ways away from the big leagues, but the Mets keep him protected for now just in case, or like Mazzoni, make him available for trades.

Robles split time between the bullpen and the rotation at Double-A Binghamton in 2014, going 7-6 with a 4.31 ERA. He struck out nearly one batter per inning (106 in 110 2/3) but also gave up nearly a hit per inning (107 in 110 2/3). So Robles will have to master his control before he starts knocking on the door at Citi Field, but at 24, he remains an intriguing prospect in the Mets’ system.

Ynoa made 25 starts last season between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, going 11-4 with a 4.07 ERA. He gave up 10.3 hits per nine innings, but walked just 25 over 148 1/3 frames. Yet another pitcher with plenty of potential who probably isn’t quite ready for the majors.

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Marlins lock up Stanton; Oakland signs Butler

Giancarlo Stanton signed his record $325 million, 13-year contract with the Miami Marlins at a Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014 news conference in Miami. Stanton signed the agreement at the start of the news conference while sitting next to owner Jeffrey Loria. The contract is the most lucrative for an American athlete and the longest in baseball history. It includes a no-trade clause, and Stanton can opt out after six years and $107 million.(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

The Miami Marlins made a big splash, signing young slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325-million contract on Tuesday. It’s the highest-value contract in baseball history, surpassing Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million contract signed with the Yankees in 2007.

Stanton’s deal does have a bunch of caveats to it. First, he’ll have an opt-out after six years. Second, the contract is heavily backloaded, so if Stanton does opt out, he’ll lose seven years and $218 million. Conceivably, he could get more than that at that time, but he’d be 31 years old after the first six years of the contract.

It’s a bold move for a franchise that’s traditionally sold off its young starts before they reached their big paydays. Miami is looking for a new TV contract, which would help pay off Stanton’s deal in the long run. It will be interesting to see if the Marlins have enough cash left over to sign young starting pitcher Jose Fernandez as well.

Last year, Stanton hit .288 with 37 home runs and 105 RBI. He led the National League in homers, slugging percentage (.555) and total bases (299). All that in just 145 games, as he missed the last few weeks of the season after taking a pitch to the face.

One wonders if Stanton stays in Miami his whole career. If the franchise can’t commit to winning otherwise, perhaps he jumps ship at the opt-out date, even if he gets less money. On the other hand, maybe he stays even if the Marlins aren’t competitive because the money is so good.

Billy Butler helped lead the Kansas City Royals back to the World Series this fall, but he won’t be coming back for an encore.

The Oakland A’s signed the right-handed hitting DH to a three-year $30 million contract on Wednesday, adding another good on-base percentage guy to the lineup.

Butler had a down year in 2014, hitting a career-low .271 (with a career-low .323 on-base percentage) with nine homers, 32 doubles and 66 RBI. He’s a career .295 hitter and a career .359 on-base guy, so you can expect him to rebound in those categories. Butler, however, probably won’t see a power surge playing in the expansive Oakland Coliseum.

It’s a buy-low move for the A’s, who get a guy who’s still on the way up at age 28. He’ll help balance out what was a lefty-dominated lineup.

As for the Royals, who turned down a $12.5-million club option on Butler after the World Series, they have Eric Hosmer as their first baseman of the future. A lineup without Butler will allow Kansas City to do a DH by committee, rotating some of its everyday regulars through the DH spot to keep them fresh.

Pat Venditte, the switch-pitcher, never got a chance to pitch for the Yankees despite a relatively successful minor league career.

He’s been snapped up by the forward-thinking Athletics, so don’t be surprised to see Venditte do his thing in the majors at some point in 2015.

A 2008 Yankees draft pick out of Creighton University, Venditte has made a name for himself by being ambidextrous. He’ll throw left-handed against lefties and right-handed against righties, using a specially made glove that hinges both ways.

Last year at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Venditte went 2-6 with a 2.44 ERA, primarily in relief. He did make two starts. In 78 and 1/3 innings, he allowed 65 hits, struck out 83 and walked 22.

Pretty good numbers on the surface. Will that translate to the bigs? Will the Yankees regret letting him go? Or is the switch-pitcher just a gimmick?

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Martin lands in Toronto; St. Louis and Atlanta make a blockbuster swap

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin tips his helmet to the cheering fans after his last at-bat against the San Francisco Giants, in the ninth inning of the NL wild-card playoff baseball game Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Pittsburgh. The Giants won 8-0, advancing to the division series. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There were two big developments in hot stove action on Monday.

First, free agent catcher Russell Martin has indeed left Pittsburgh, signing a five-year, $82-million deal to play for the Toronto Blue Jays. Martin, a former Yankees backstop, hails from Montreal, so he’ll return to his home country.

Martin played in 111 games for the Pirates last year, hitting .290 with 20 doubles, 11 homers and 67 RBI. He’s a career .259 hitter, so he certainly played well in a contract year.

In February, Martin turns 32, so he’s already well into the second half of his career. Martin does rate well defensively, at least according to the advanced metrics, and that should be a skill that ages well, even if he declines with the bat over the course of the deal.

He’ll help a Blue Jays team that already has plenty of power in its lineup. Martin will also help solidify a group of talented young pitchers.

Is this the move that puts Toronto back in the mix in the American League East? With Boston and Tampa Bay kind of, sort of in reloading modes and the Yankees and Orioles trying to remain competitive, the Martin deal by itself probably won’t get the job done. But it’s a sign that the Blue Jays are serious about winning, no matter the cost.

In the National League, the Cardinals and Braves pulled off a pretty big trade this afternoon.

The Braves send Gold Glove-caliber outfielder Jason Heyward and relief pitcher Jordan Walden to St. Louis for young starting pitcher Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins.

The Cardinals get another All-Star type of player to plug into the lineup in Heyward, who will also provide plenty of run-saving plays with his glove in the outfield. Walden is a high-strikeout, high-walk reliever with plenty of big-league experience.

It’s an all-in move for St. Louis for the 2015 season. They’ll be one of the top teams in the NL next year, probably the World Series pick for many experts.

So why would the Braves make this deal?

Jenkins, 22, is still a complete unknown. He went 6-5 with a 3.28 ERA last season in 13 starts in High-A. He’s been ranked highly in the Cardinals’ farm system, but he’s still years away from the majors.

Miller, 24, has two full years of big league experience under his belt. He’ll also be under team control, relatively cheaply, for the next four years.

Heyward will be eligible for free agency following the 2015 season.

So that’s one big reason why the Braves would make this move. They’ll trade one year of Heyward – who seemed likely to leave Atlanta once his contract was up – for four years of a promising young starting pitcher.

The Braves’ rotation certainly needed the boost.

Julio Teheran is the staff ace for now and he’s earned that distinction. Atlanta’s next-best pitcher in 2014? That was Ervin Santana, who’s now a free agent. Their third-best starter? 36-year-old Aaron Harang.


Mike Minor had a dreadful year and Alex Wood spent some time in the bullpen before finding a home in the rotation.

So adding Miller, who went 10-9 with a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts this season, will be a big boost for the Braves in the years to come.

Atlanta also clears up some money in the trade, so we’ll see if there are any follow-up moves for the Braves between now and spring training.

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    Will Montgomery

    Will Montgomery covers boys' soccer, girls' basketball, boys' and girls' swimming and diving, boys' lacrosse and baseball (including the Hudson Valley Renegades) for Varsity845.com and the Times Herald-Record. Prior to joining the TH-R in November ... Read Full
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