Though Mitch Moreland, arguably the most highly regarded Mississippian to hit the free agent market this year, remains unsigned as 2020 draws to a close, it hasn’t been a quiet off-season for state-connected players. A flurry of activity has seen Lance Lynn, Hunter Renfroe, Jonathan Holder and Nate Lowe change uniforms, Kendall Graveman quickly re-sign with his 2020 club and several minor leaguers find 2021 teams. To recap: Ole Miss product Lynn was traded from Texas to the Chicago White Sox. … Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe signed a free agent deal with Boston. … MSU alum Holder signed as a free agent with the Cubs. … MSU alum Lowe was traded from Tampa Bay to Texas. … Graveman, another MSU product, returned to Seattle’s fold a day after the Mariners declined his option. … While we eagerly await Moreland’s signing, don’t forget that also left on the MLB market are Jarrod Dyson and Billy Hamilton (and for that matter, Brian Dozier and Zack Cozart). … On the minor league front: State college alums Tyreque Reed (Boston), Chuckie Robinson (Cincinnati) and Errol Robinson (Reds) moved to new systems in the Rule 5 draft. Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett, who battled back from myriad injuries to make five MLB appearances the last two years, re-signed a minors deal with Philadelphia. More recently, Itawamba Community College alum Tim Dillard re-signed with Texas and ex-UM standout Chris Ellis signed with Tampa Bay. Veteran right-hander Dillard, 37, has made 584 professional appearances dating to 2003 but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012. Ellis, a former Mississippi Braves star, has found some success in the Dominican Winter League with a 2.35 ERA over five appearances this season. Pitching for Gigantes del Cibao, right-hander Ellis is 1-0 with 24 strikeouts in 23 innings. He made one MLB appearance (with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick) in 2019, then finished the season with St. Louis’ Triple-A Memphis club. He was released by the Cardinals this summer.
Another Mississippian hit the MLB free agent market on Wednesday when ex-Mississippi State standout Jonathan Holder was not offered a 2021 contract by the New York Yankees. Holder, 27, a right-handed middle reliever, has a 4.38 career ERA over 157 games since his 2016 debut. His best season was 2018, when he put up a 3.14 in 60 appearances, but he has not been as effective the last two years. The Gulfport native, a sixth-round pick by the Yanks in 2014, piled up 37 saves at State and another 19 during his brief time in the minors. But he never got a single save opportunity with New York. Perhaps he’ll find that opportunity with another club. … Holder joins fellow former Bulldogs Mitch Moreland and Hunter Renfroe, Southwest Mississippi Community College product Jarrod Dyson and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton as veteran free agents. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, released in August by the New York Mets, is also on the market. Moreland finished last season in San Diego, which did not pick up his option for 2021. He’ll have plenty of suitors. Renfroe was cut loose by Tampa Bay; his right-handed power should be attractive to some teams. The market for Dyson, Hamilton and Dozier may be tighter. Dyson, an outfielder, is slowing down at 36. Hamilton, 30, also a speed-and-defense outfielder, has been woeful at the plate the last several seasons. Second baseman Dozier is 33 and seems to be fading.
From all indications, San Diego wasn’t displeased with Mitch Moreland this season but declined to pick up his $3M option for 2021 just the same. The uncertainty over whether the DH will be used in the National League next year may have been the key factor. The former Mississippi State standout, 35, is sure to draw interest on the free agent market, possibly even from San Diego. “We may have some more conversations regarding Mitch going forward,” Padres GM A.J. Preller told mlb.com. Milwaukee is another club rumored to have interest, and there is always the possibility Moreland could return to Boston, where he had considerable success. Three different times since 2016 Moreland has signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. From 2017 to August of 2020, he called Fenway Park home and hit 66 homers during that period. He has 176 career homers over 11 MLB seasons, ranking sixth all-time among Mississippi natives. Traded from Boston to the Padres at the deadline this summer, Moreland batted .265 overall with 10 homers in 2020 and went 4-for-8 in the playoffs. He’s a standout first baseman and is also regarded as a good guy in the clubhouse.
Jarrod Dyson, Kendall Graveman and Billy Hamilton became free agents on Wednesday, the first day MLB players could declare. Mississippi State alum Graveman promptly re-signed today with his 2020 team, Seattle. The Mariners declined an option to bring right-hander Graveman back, then re-signed him for less money ($1.25 million). Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star, finished 2020 with the Chicago White Sox. At 36, the outfielder may be near the end. Taylorsville High product Hamilton finished 2020 with the Chicago Cubs; he played sparingly for the Cubs and the New York Mets, hitting .125 in 32 at-bats. … Former MSU standout Mitch Moreland, who had a good 2020, has a team option for one year at $3 million in his contract with San Diego. Uncertainty over whether the NL will have the DH in 2021 could affect the Padres’ decision. … Detroit has interviewed East Central CC alum Marcus Thames, the New York Yankees hitting coach, for its vacant managerial position. … Devin Williams, a Biloxi Shuckers alumnus, won the National League’s Trevor Hoffman Award as the reliever of the year after a jaw-dropping season for Milwaukee. He struck out 53 while walking only nine in 27 innings and yielded just one earned run. … Former Jackson Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey recently was named the Washington Nationals’ new pitching coach. He was a longtime coach in Tampa Bay (2006-17). … The Dominican Winter League reportedly will start its season on Nov. 15. Whether any MLB players will participate is unclear. … In Mississippi State’s Fall World Series finale on Tuesday, Team Queso finished off Team Goat with a 3-2 victory. Josh Hatcher hit a three-run home run for Team Queso, and Kamren James belted a two-run shot for Team Goat. Spencer Price got a dramatic save. Fall ball is ongoing at Ole Miss and Southern Miss. … From the Great Idea Dept.: Sports Force Park in Vicksburg hosted the first annual “JUCO Games on the River” in early October, with 11 of the state’s 15 MACCC schools participating in a four-day, round-robin event.
The expansion of MLB rosters for the 2020 season to 60 eligible players – 40-man roster members plus a taxi squad of 20 – might open the door for some Triple-A level players to get their first MLB opportunity. Mississippians who fall into that category include non-roster spring invitees such as Trent Giambroni (Cubs), Jack Kruger (Angels), Jacob Robson (Tigers) and Brent Rooker (Twins) along with Zac Houston (Tigers), Dalton Moats (Rays), Errol Robinson (Dodgers) and Bradley Roney (Braves). The 60-man rosters are to be announced by Sunday. … With 30 players to be active for the first two weeks of the season, the chances of Petal High product Demarcus Evans making Texas’ opening day roster would seem to be enhanced. Evans, 24, a hard-throwing reliever, made the 40-man for the first time this off-season but was optioned to the minors just before the shutdown. He has a 2.53 career ERA and has averaged 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings. … In addition to the MLB taxi squads, there is a tentative plan for a group of veteran free agents to play a short season of games in Nashville starting in late July. The Tennessean newspaper reported that Triple-A Nashville Sounds GM Adam Nuse has a list of about 70 free agents who might participate. Those players would provide another pool of talent for MLB teams to draw from down the stretch. Ole Miss products Zack Cozart and Chris Ellis and ex-Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Tony Sipp are current free agents with big league experience. … Add former Southern Miss star Taylor Braley and Meridian CC alum Milton Smith II to the lengthy list of minor league players released in recent weeks. Braley, a right-hander from Hattiesburg, had a career ERA of 3.86 over three years in Miami’s system, having reached high Class A in 2019. Starkville native Smith batted .326 with 27 steals in two years in the low minors with the Marlins.
Jarrod Dyson, who’s had to scrap for playing time over most of his 10-year big league career, may well begin the 2020 season as Pittsburgh’s starting center fielder. The Pirates reportedly have agreed to a contract with the McComb native, who spent last year with Arizona and batted .230 with 30 steals in a career-high 130 games and 400 at-bats. Dyson is 35 and has had some injury issues in recent seasons, but when healthy he brings plus-speed on the bases and in the field. He had a very productive 2019, setting career-highs for hits, runs, home runs and total bases. He’s a career .247 hitter (.319 on-base percentage) with 250 steals, second all-time (to Billy Hamilton’s 299) among Mississippi natives. A 50th-round draft pick out of Southwest Mississippi Community College by Kansas City in 2006, Dyson won a ring with the Royals in 2015.
Another potential landing spot for free agent Brian Dozier appears to have been eliminated. The Chicago Cubs, in the market for a second baseman, have signed Jason Kipnis to a minor league deal. The Cubs were reported to be interested in ex-Southern Miss standout Dozier, who is no doubt seeking a major league contract. Several teams have been linked to Dozier. One of those was Arizona, which opted to trade for Starling Marte and make Ketel Marte its regular second baseman. Miami is another; the Marlins’ current starter is Isan Diaz, who batted .173 in 49 games as a rookie last year. Dozier, 32, hit .238 with 20 home runs in 2019 for Washington, though he got only six postseason at-bats as the Nationals rolled to the World Series title. Over his eight-year career, Dozier is a .245 hitter (.326 on-base percentage) with 192 homers. He made $9 million in 2019.
Pittsburgh reportedly is considering Billy Hamilton, among others, to fill its vacancy in center field after the trade of Starling Marte. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, a free agent, is coming off the worst of his six full big league seasons, but at age 29 can still fly. He batted .218 overall with 22 steals last season, .268 with four bags in 26 games for Atlanta, which used him primarily as a pinch runner and defensive replacement after grabbing him on waivers from Kansas City. Hamilton finished second in the National League rookie of the year voting in 2014 with Cincinnati but hasn’t progressed as a hitter. A switch-hitter, he has a woeful .297 career on-base percentage but also 299 steals and a .995 fielding percentage with 55 assists. Oddly enough, Hamilton has not won a Gold Glove or a stolen base crown.
Mitch Moreland and the Boston Red Sox have a thing. For the third time in four years, ex-Mississippi State star Moreland has signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. The latest deal is one year with an option worth $3 million. Over his three seasons with Boston, the lefty-hitting first baseman, 34, has batted .247 with 56 home runs and 205 RBIs. In two postseasons for the club, he is 10-for-30 with three doubles, a homer, five RBIs and seven runs. He has won a ring and made an All-Star Game appearance while with the BoSox. He won a Gold Glove with Texas in 2016. Before signing Moreland, Boston was heading into spring training with two young players, second-year man Michael Chavis and untested Bobby Dalbec, penciled in at first base. As Boston-based nesn.com described it, the Moreland addition “wasn’t a big move, but it was a prudent one.” Moreland, who broke in with the Rangers in 2010, has 166 career homers, seventh all-time among Mississippi natives. Nicknamed “2-Bags” while in Boston, he has 199 career doubles. … Notable Mississippians still on the MLB free agent market are Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton and Tony Sipp.
Rumors that Arizona was interested in signing Brian Dozier to play second base apparently were quelled on Monday when the Diamondbacks traded for Starling Marte, who’ll play center field and make Ketel Marte the D’backs’ everyday second baseman. Former Southern Miss standout Dozier, who turns 33 in May, batted .238 (.340 on base) with 20 homers for world champion Washington in 2019, though he played sparingly toward season’s end and in the postseason. Dozier, an eight-year MLB veteran, is a career .245 hitter with 192 homers. He’s a good defensive player and a good clubhouse guy, even if his offensive production has fallen off, so it seems likely that he’ll land a job somewhere as a role player. P.S. Reports continue to pop up linking Mitch Moreland to Boston, where the Mississippi State product – and current free agent — played the previous three years, smashing 56 homers and collecting a World Series ring.