A strong 2021 season has paid off for Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State star who reportedly has agreed to a 3-year, $24 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. Graveman put up a 1.77 ERA over 53 games last year split between Seattle and Houston. He allowed just two runs in 11 postseason innings for the Astros, who reached the World Series. Graveman, 31, converted from starter to reliever with the Mariners in 2020 after missing the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery. Drafted in the eighth round out of Starkville in 2013 by Toronto, he is a seven-year MLB vet. He’ll join a White Sox team that won the American League Central in 2021 and features Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn and Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet on its pitching staff along with All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson, a former East Central Community College standout. USA Today Sports Weekly rates Graveman 29th among the available free agents this off-season. Also in the top 106 are Mississippians Corey Dickerson (64) and Mitch Moreland (104).
Obscured by bigger names making the MLB Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, Jonathan Papelbon certainly rates some attention. The former Mississippi State standout — who turns 41 today — pitched 12 years in the big leagues and stands 10th on the all-time saves list with 368. The glowering right-hander posted a 2.44 career ERA, made six All-Star teams and won a World Series ring with the 2007 Boston Red Sox, saving each of the last three games in the sweep against Colorado. That’s pretty impressive stuff. Four of the top seven on the career saves list are in the Hall, though one who ranks above Papelbon — Jackson Generals alum Billy Wagner — has yet to make the cut while being on the ballot since 2016. … Another ex-Gens star, outfielder/DH Bobby Abreu, is also back on the ballot for 2022 election. Abreu batted .291 career with 288 homers, 400 steals and eight 100-RBI seasons. Still, he is considered a long-shot candidate. … While several Mississippi-connected major leaguers are free agents looking for 2022 jobs, there are a bunch of minor leaguers doing the same. Baseball America’s list includes one-time big leaguers Jacob Waguespack (Ole Miss), Aaron Barrett (UM), Cody Carroll (Southern Miss) and Braxton Lee (UM). Former Mr. Baseball Ti’Quan Forbes (Columbia High), Ben Bracewell (MSU), Conor Fisk (USM) and Bradley Roney (USM) are also in the market. … Former Itawamba Community College standout Tim Dillard appeared on MLB Tonight on Monday and on MLB Network’s Hot Stove today. Dillard pitched in 624 pro games — almost 1,600 innings — from 2003-20 and spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues with Milwaukee. The engaging Dillard, who relishes weirdness (@dimtillard), is now a broadcaster with the Brewers. Among the things he discussed on air were following his dad, Ole Miss alum and ex-big leaguer Steve, around minor league clubhouses; converting from an over-the-top pitcher to sidearmer; converting from player to broadcaster; sleeping on friends’ sofas; and growing a scraggly beard.
The most intriguing name on the list of Mississippians headed for free agency this off-season belongs to one who is still playing. Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State star now pitching for Houston in the World Series, will hit the market after the series concludes. Having found great success since switching from starter to reliever in 2020, the 30-year-old right-hander ought to attract many suitors. He put up a 1.77 ERA in 53 games split between Seattle and the Astros this season and has a 1.64 in 11 postseason innings, including the final two of the Game 5 victory in Atlanta. He was on a 1-year, $1.25 million deal this season; he’ll command a lot more this off-season. Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson also should be an attractive free agent. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .271 with six homers and 29 RBIs in an injury-shortened season split between Miami and Toronto. He played well down the stretch for the Blue Jays as they chased a playoff berth. The 2022 season will be McComb native Dickerson’s 10th in MLB; he made $17.5M over 2020-21. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of interest Mitch Moreland, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton and JaCoby Jones draw on the market. Amory native and MSU alum Moreland, 36, a 12-year vet with a good track record, hit just .227 with 10 homers in 81 games for Oakland and finished the season on the injured list with a wrist issue. Dyson, from McComb and Southwest Mississippi CC, is 37 and also a 12-year vet. He batted .207 with 10 stolen bases in 2021 between Kansas City and Toronto. He was used mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High standout, filled a similar role for the Chicago White Sox, batting .220 with nine steals, 23 runs and 11 RBIs. He also spent time on the IL. Jones, a former Mr. Baseball at Richton High, finished 2021 in the minors, having lost his roster spot with Detroit. The oft-injured 29-year-old outfielder hit .170 in 36 big league games in his sixth MLB campaign. A minor league deal with a spring invite might be the best he can hope for.
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.