Rangers Designate Neftali Feliz, Activate Matt Harrison

The Rangers have designated righty Neftali Feliz for assignment, Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest reports on Twitter. His roster spot will go to starter Matt Harrison, who will return to the big leagues after a long layoff for serious back surgery.


Draft Signings: Thomas Eshelman, Bryan Hudson

Let’s catch up on some recent draft signings, with slot values via Baseball America:

  • The Astros have locked up second-rounder Thomas Eshelman for a $1.1MM bonus that falls shy of the $1,325,700 slot value, Jim Callis of MLB.com reports on Twitter. Callis calls the righty the “best strike-thrower in NCAA history” — he averaged an unthinkable 0.42 BB/9 over this entire college career, per Baseball America — and indeed much of his value lies in his impeccable control. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs had the highest grade on Eshelman, raning him 54th among draft-eligible players. Other evaluators placed him at or just out of the top 100. MLB.com explained that Eshelman’s fastball hovers in the 90 to 91 mph range, while his offspeed pitches are nothing particularly special.
  • Cubs third-rounder Bryan Hudson receives a well-over-slot $1.1MM bonus, per Callis (via Twitter). The slot value at 82nd overall was just $731K. He’s a tall, projectable righty who rated as high as 71st coming into the draft, with MLB.com giving that grade. Baseball America put him in the 101st slot, noting that Hudson features a good curve and has smooth mechanics for a hurler of his size.

Trade Market Notes: Zobrist, Hamels, Tulo, Orioles

We’ve already heard that the Mets and Athletics have had discussions regarding the former’s interest in utility man par excellence Ben Zobrist. And New York GM Sandy Alderson has said that he is “prepared to overpay” for the right piece to boost the club’s sagging offense. In a post today, Joel Sherman of the New York Post connected those two stories, reporting that the Mets are specifically willing to offer a premium return for Zobrist. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained in the above-linked piece regarding the Mets’ interest, it’s easy to see why that would be the case: he potentially offers a solution at second, third, and/or the corner outfield, all while delivering the type of on-base threat that Alderson prizes. As Sherman goes on to explain, however, in spite of New York’s apparent willingness to go past what it deems fair value for the veteran, Oakland has not made him available. With the team surging in the AL West, A’s GM Billy Beane “has tempered sell-off talks, at least for now,” per the report.

Here are some more recent trade deadline notes:

  • Despite recent public comments indicating that he’d consider a trade to any club, Cole Hamels of the Phillies has privately indicated to the team that he is not interested in going to the Blue Jays, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Hamels also appears unlikely to waive his no-trade clause for a move to the Astros, Heyman notes. But he would be amenable to being sent to the Red Sox “and possibly a few others,” per the report.
  • Even if the Rockies are otherwise willing to move franchise star Troy Tulowitzki, writes Heyman, his value is down so far that a rival GM says he’s not sure another team would take on the rest of his contract — even before considering giving up pieces in return. And a source tells Heyman that owner Dick Monfort is exceedingly unlikely to keep a significant piece of that deal in order to get more value from Tulo. Yet another general manager said that Tulowitzki has not exhibited the same “lower half explosiveness” that he did before undergoing hip surgery last year.
  • Heyman has items from much of the rest of the league, with a particular focus on possible sellers, in the column. It’s well worth a full read.
  • After entering the year with eleven free agents-to-be on the roster, the Orioles have pared that down to eight after designating Delmon Young, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com observes. The team still has little interest in moving any of those players in order to get some value back before they hit the market: as Kubatko puts it, “the Orioles are going for it again.” That makes deals involving lefty Wei-Yin Chen, slugger Chris Davis, or catcher Matt Wieters are highly unlikely, despite the fact that all are set to hit the open market. “[Chen] can help us win a championship and he’ll be here,” said manager Buck Showalter of his team’s best starter this season. “There aren’t many left-handed starters who are in the top 10 in ERA floating around and we couldn’t trade him for someone better.”


Jocketty: Reds “Prepared To Go Either Way” At Deadline

Reds GM Walt Jocketty indicated that his team could either sell off pieces or continue trying to contend at this year’s trade deadline, MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports. Cincinnati entered action today sitting five games under .500 and 14.5 games back of the division-leading Cardinals.

“I think we’ll see how it plays out. We’re prepared to go either way,” said Jocketty. “We’re certainly not throwing in the towel. If people are interested in our guys, we’ll certainly listen and see if there’s something that makes sense to make us better in the long run.”

Jocketty said that he’s received contact from teams interested in the club’s veterans, but indicated that he has not been targeted for chats in an overly aggressive manner. He explained: “I’ve had some calls for a while. Nothing out of the order.”

The Cincinnati GM also made clear that he had no interest in dealing away All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier. He made clear that recent speculation about interest from the Mets was without basis. “He’s too valuable to our club,” Jocketty said. “I think all that came from when we were in New York. It made sense. The Mets need a third baseman. He’s from that area.”

While a move involving the controllable Frazier always seemed unlikely, the Reds obviously possess a series of highly desirable, relatively short-term commodities. Leading the way is top starter Johnny Cueto, who could be dealt along with rotation mate Mike Leake before they reach free agency after the season. Likewise, closer Aroldis Chapman is only under contract through 2016, and would be likely to return quite a haul if dealt. Other players who could theoretically be shipped out include outfielders Jay Bruce and Marlon Byrd as well as reliever Manny Parra.

Whatever course the team takes, Jocketty left the impression that he does not intend to full gut the roster. “Even if we do make some deals, or if we don’t, we will try to keep this club as competitive as possible for the remainder of the year,” he said.

 


Federal Charges Recommended For Astros Computer Breach

Investigators working on the investigation into the unlawful access of the Astros’ computer systems have recommended charges against at least one Cardinals employee, CNN’s Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz report. The identity of that employee is not yet known.

To date, only one St. Louis staffer has been implicated directly: scouting director Chris Correa, who was fired yesterday. Reporting on Correa’s termination indicates that he was not responsible for disseminating any of the information that was ultimately leaked.

Correa’s attorney has argued that Correa did nothing illegal and sought only to assess whether Astros GM Jeff Luhnow had taken proprietary information from the Cardinals when he departed for Houston. (Luhnow has already flatly denied that line of thinking. And, of course, it’s far from clear how that suspicion would warrant a self-appointed effort to access the other club’s databases.)

The investigation is now complete, per CNN. It is not clear what the inquiry has revealed regarding other members of the St. Louis organization. Officials looking into the computer breach “have also focused on whether senior officials at the Cardinals were aware of the spying,” the report adds. Club chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. and GM John Mozeliak have both stringently denied any knowledge or involvement while condemning any improper actions by those under their charge.

It has previously been reported that investigators were taking a close look at a Jupiter, Florida house utilized by Cardinals employees during Spring Training. The report notes that Correa was one of the employees who resided there, seemingly tying his involvement to that point in time.

But it remains unclear whether other employees, or Correa himself, may have been responsible for the other breaches that have reportedly occurred. The Jupiter-based intrusion into the Astros’ system is said to have occurred in the spring of 2014. As David Barron and Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle note in their latest piece on the subject, computer breaches occurred as early as 2012. The Astros trade discussion notes that were ultimately leaked publicly last summer were dated between June of 2013 and March of 2014, and seemingly represented two separate time periods.


Trade Candidate: Mat Latos

An offseason trade that sent Mat Latos from Cincinnati to Miami in exchange for young righty Anthony DeSclafani and catching prospect Chad Wallach was supposed to be one of the key moves for a Marlins team that was making a push to contend in 2015 on the heels of a record-setting Giancarlo Stanton extension. Things have not gone according to plan in Miami, however.

Mat Latos

The Marlins currently sit at 34-46, a disappointing 9.5 games back from both the division lead and a Wild Card playoff berth. Mike Redmond has been fired and replaced as the on-field manager by former GM Dan Jennings. Stanton is on the disabled list with a broken hand, where he’s joined by Opening Day starter Henderson Alvarez as well Opening Day starters Mike Morse and Martin Prado. Miami has yet to throw in the towel according to multiple reports, but their starters are drawing interest from pitching-hungry teams. All of this brings us back to Latos, whose own 2015 shortcomings have contributed to the Marlins’ sub-par start.

Latos, 27, entered the season with a career 3.34 ERA at the Major League level despite spending three seasons with the Reds, whose home park is among the most hitter-friendly environments in the game. However, as of this writing, Latos is sporting a 5.27 ERA with the highest BB/9 rate he’s posted since debuting with the Padres in 2009. He’s earning $9.4MM after losing an arbitration hearing to the Marlins this winter and is slated to hit free agency at the end of the year. Of that $9.4MM, about $4.83MM remains, and Latos has already missed time this season due to inflammation in his left knee.

None of this paints Latos as a very flattering trade candidate, but there’s still a compelling case to be made that says he can help a team in need of pitching. Latos opened the 2014 season on the DL as he recovered from spring surgery on his left knee — the same knee that sidelined him in 2015. From the time of his activation in 2014 to the time he was placed on the DL in 2015, Latos averaged about 90.7 mph on his fastball — two full miles below the 92.7 mph he averaged from 2011-13.

However, since he’s come off the disabled list, Latos’ missing velocity has suddenly returned. A look at his velocity stats on BrooksBaseball.net indicates that his four-seamer is averaging 93.66 mph over his past four starts, and his sinker is averaging 92.95 mph. Both marks are two miles per hour faster than he averaged prior to hitting the DL. In fact, if you break down his average velocity on a game-by-game basis, his slowest average fastball in a start since coming off the DL is 92.42 mph. That mark is still better than even his best pre-DL days, in terms of radar readings.

Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t be surprising to see that Latos has worked to a much more palatable 3.86 ERA in his small sample of work since being activated. He’s whiffed 24 hitters against just six walks in 25 2/3 innings — each a significant improvement over his K/9 and BB/9 rates earlier in the year when working with diminished velocity. Latos has seen significant jumps in his whiff rate on both pitches since adding velocity, and the same holds true for his splitter as well.

It’s not known for certain whether Latos’ knee will hold up, nor can we definitively say that his velocity increase is sustainable. However, interested clubs will be able to watch another four weeks’ worth of his starts in order to make that determination for themselves. If Latos is back to the form that most came to expect of him from 2010-14, then suddenly, committing $4-5MM to him over the remainder of the season no longer looks to be an unreasonable undertaking.

The Marlins, in fact, could have good reason  deal Latos even if they don’t otherwise act as sellers on the upcoming market. Aside from the obvious up-front financial savings that hold more value to a tight-budgeted team like Miami than a larger-payroll club, the Marlins may be reluctant to extend a qualifying offer to Latos following the season. The value of last year’s QO was a hefty $15.3MM, and that number figures to increase in 2015. A payroll-conscious team such as Miami could be reluctant to roll the dice on Latos remaining healthy for the rest of the season. If he re-injures the knee, the Fish would likely be too apprehensive to make a QO to an injured pitcher. Even if Latos remains healthy and looks like a good bet to reject the QO, Miami might find the small chance that he accepts somewhat risky. Trading him now, especially in a market that is currently tilted in favor of teams willing to sell assets, would be one way to ensure that they receive some long-term value in exchange for their relatively significant offseason investment in Latos.

The Marlins have the depth to replace Latos, as Jose Fernandez is now healthy and joined in the rotation by Dan Haren, Tom Koehler, Jarred Cosart and Latos. Even if Latos is dealt, David Phelps and Brad Hand both have experience starting in the Majors, and Alvarez is expected off the DL later this season. Jose Urena and Justin Nicolino represent rotation options in the upper minors.

The Tigers are said to have scouted Miami’s starters recently, though no interest in specific pitchers was mentioned, so it’s probably best not to read too much into that bit of info. (Multiple teams, after all, figure to be scouting Miami’s starters.) In addition to Detroit, though, plenty of other clubs are interested in adding to their rotation. The Blue Jays, Dodgers, Astros, Royals, Rangers, Yankees and Pirates are among teams that have been connected to pitching upgrades or speculated to eventually be in the market for rotation help.


Cubs Acquire Clayton Richard From Pirates

The Cubs have acquired lefty Clayton Richard from the Pirates in exchange for cash considerations, Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald reports on Twitter. Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes on Twitter that Richard appeared to be headed to a big league roster after clearing his locker out at Triple-A Indianapolis.

The impetus for the move was an “upward mobility” clause in Richard’s contract, which created a three-day period within which the Pirates had to offer him to other clubs willing to put him on a big league roster or instead add him to their own roster. Had no team been so willing, then Richard would have remained in Triple-A.

Chicago, obviously was prepared to give Richard an active roster spot while Pittsburgh was not. Miles adds that Richard will make a start this Saturday for the Cubs.

Richard, 31, was a productive start for the Padres before shoulder issues derailed his career. In both 2010 and 2012, he put up 200+ innings with a sub-4.00 ERA. He last appeared in the big leagues in 2013, struggling badly before ultimately going under the knife.

Richard appeared briefly in Triple-A last year for the Diamondbacks, but has returned to form at Indianapolis this season. In ten total minor league starts, he’s racked up 62 innings of 1.89 ERA pitching, striking out 4.4 and walking 2.0 batters per nine innings.


Red Sox Designate Zeke Spruill

The Red Sox have designated righty Zeke Spruill for assignment, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal reports on Twitter. His 40-man spot was needed for the promotion of Noe Ramirez.

The 25-year-old has worked exclusively at Triple-A this year for Boston, which acquired him from the Diamondbacks on the same day the Wade Miley deal went down. He owns a 5.40 ERA with 3.9 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9 over 53 1/3 innings for Pawtucket.

Spruill had spent time with the D’Backs in each of the last two seasons. In total, he’s thrown 34 big league frames, posting a 4.24 ERA and striking out 23 batters while issuing nine walks.


Giants Designate Brett Bochy

The Giants have designated righty Brett Bochy for assignment, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports on Twitter. Bochy, the son of manager Bruce Bochy, lost his 40-man spot as part of a series of transactions.

Bochy saw his first big league action last year, throwing 3 1/3 innings and allowing two earned runs to go with three strikeouts and two walks. He’s back in Triple-A this year for his third run at the level, working to a 4.30 ERA over 29 1/3 innings. Bochy’s strikeout numbers continue to fall, as he’s retired just 5.5 per nine by way of strikeout while issuing 3.7 BB/9.


Cuban Outfielder Guillermo Heredia Declared Free Agent

MLB has declared Cuban outfielder Guillermo Heredia a free agent, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports on Twitter. The 24-year-old is eligible to sign now, but will not be subject to international spending restrictions given his age and Serie Nacional experience.

Heredia is expected to put on a showcase in the United States in the near future, per the report. He had previously established residency in Mexico.

When Heredia left Cuba back in January, Ben Badler of Baseball America had him ranked 11th among Cuban prospects on his most recent list, though he noted that others had probably overtaken him. The 24-year-old has shown some pop at times and has posted good on-base numbers in Cuba, but the power has been inconsistent and there are questions about his bat. Formerly a switch-hitter, Heredia has more recently hit only from the right side. Badler says he looks to be a plus defender in center, though, with good speed and instincts along with a strong arm.


Cuban Prospect Luis Yander La O Defects

Cuban infielder Luis Yander La O has defected from Cuba while traveling with the national team to North Carolina, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs noted last night on Twitter that it seemed a move might be in the offing when La O did not appear at the park.

The 23-year-old had been said to be attempting a few months back, and now that seems to have finally taken place. La O (who is also sometimes given the surname “Camacho”) becomes the second player to defect on the national team’s swing through the states, joining Yadiel Hernandez. He intends to seek to achieve free agency and sign with a big league club, per Badler.

La O is exempt from international signing limitations, meaning he’ll be able to sign as any other free agent would once he achieves that status. He should draw a good bit of interest, as Badler rated him tenth among current Cuban players and says he’s nearly prepared for big league action. La O has played mostly at third and second, though he’s seen time at short as well. He’s a high-contact hitter from the right side, says Badler, though he lacks power and leaves some scouts wondering if he’ll hit enough in the majors.


Angels Acquire Rafael Lopez From Cubs

3:12pm: Chicago will receive the 120th slot, which carries $149,700 in spending capacity, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com tweets.

1:56pm: The Angels and Cubs have agreed to a trade that will send minor league catcher Rafael Lopez to Anaheim in exchange for an international bonus slot and left-handed pitching prospect Manuel Rondon, the teams announced. Chicago had designated Lopez for assignment last week.

The 27-year-old Lopez debuted with the Cubs in 2014 and received 14 plate appearances. Lopez picked up a pair of hits in that brief cup of coffee, and he’s had a reasonable amount of success in the upper minors. In 107 games/410 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, Lopez is a .281/.359/.333 hitter and has caught 30 percent of attempted base stealers.  With Miguel Montero projecting as the team’s catcher for the foreseeable future and David Ross signed to a two-year deal, though, there was little hope of Lopez carving out a significant role in the Majors anytime soon. He was on the Cubs’ 40-man roster and has subsequently been added to the Halos’ 40-man roster as well. The Angels announced that Lopez has been optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake.

Rondon, 20, is a left-handed pitcher out of Venezuela that has spent the past two seasons pitching for the Angels’ affiliate in the Dominican Summer League. He worked to a 2.50 ERA with 8.0 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9 in 108 innings at that level over the past two seasons, though he’s not particularly young for the league. This season, Rondon has moved up to he Rookie league in Arizona, where he’s struggled in a small 8 1/3-inning sample, yielding eight runs on 13 hits and four walks with seven strikeouts. He will not turn 21 until next March.

In the past 24 hours, the Angels have added Lopez and right-handers Gaither Bumgardner and Jason Hoppe in exchange for international bonus slots. The Angels are restricted from signing any international amateur for more than $300K after blowing past their budget to sign Roberto Baldoquin last winter, rendering the slots largely inconsequential to them.


White Sox Sign Carson Fulmer

The White Sox announced today that they have signed first-round pick Carson Fulmer to a minor league contract with a $3,470,600 signing bonus. The announced bonus matches the full slot value of Fulmer’s No. 8 overall selection (slot value via Baseball America). A right-handed pitcher out of Vanderbilt, Fulmer was advised by and is now a client of Icon Sports Management.

Carson Fulmer

Fulmer was one of the most interesting available players heading into the draft, with big-time stuff and a track record of excellence in major college ball, but also questions about whether he’ll be a big league starter in the long run. Having dominated the SEC with a 1.83 ERA and 13.1 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9, and featuring a sustainable, mid-90s heater with a very good curve and promising change, Fulmer is about as MLB-ready as drafted players come.

So what’s the downside? To an extent, it comes down to how you value near-term contributions versus long-term expectations, as Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs explained before the draft. Those prospect observers that attributed significant value to his near-big league readiness rated Fulmer as a top-ten prospect (McDaniel had him fifth, MLB.com ranked him 3rd, and Baseball America placed him sixth on its list).

But others, concerned with Fulmer’s high-effort delivery, relatively small stature, and lack of a consistent third pitch, put more weight on the idea that he has too great a chance of being relegated tot he pen in the long run. Keith Law of ESPN.com fell in the latter camp, placing Fulmer way down in the 43rd spot on his board.

Chicago, obviously, decided that Fulmer’s risky (but still high-ceiling) future outlook was worth taking on in order to add such an immediately impactful arm. With Fulmer now set to join an increasingly impressive stable of controllable starters — led by Chris Sale but also including Jose Quintana and last year’s third overall pick, Carlos Rodon — the White Sox rotation has quite a bit o potential. The team has now signed all of its choices from the first ten rounds.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Tigers Designate Joba Chamberlain, Tom Gorzelanny

The Tigers will designate right-hander Joba Chamberlain for assignment, Kurt Mensching of SB Nation and the Detriot News first reported (on Twitter). Anthony Fenech of the Detroit News reports (via Twitter) that lefty Tom Gorzelanny will be designated for assignment as well. The Tigers have since announced the moves, adding that righties Jeff Ferrell and Drew VerHagen have been added to the roster in place of the departed veterans.

Chamberlain and Gorzelanny both came to the Tigers on one-year, $1MM contracts this offseason, and while each looked to be at least a reasonable low-cost roll of the dice at the time, neither has panned out as GM Dave Dombrowski and his staff have hoped.

The 29-year-old Chamberlain has posted a 4.09 ERA with 6.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 41 percent ground-ball rate in 22 innings with Detroit this season. Those numbers, on the surface, aren’t entirely unsightly, but Chamberlain has been plagued by the long ball in 2015. He’s yielded five homers in those 22 innings, resulting in an FIP mark of 5.49. (xFIP, which normalizes his homer-to-flyball rate, figures the 4.09 mark is more or less represented of Chamberlain’s talent level this year.) Chamberlain’s in the midst of a particularly poor stretch, having allowed nine runs (eight earned) in his past six innings — a span of eight appearances.

Gorzelanny’s struggles have been even more prolonged. The 32-year-old has totaled just 12 1/3 innings over his past 15 appearances, surrendering an alarming 15 runs, which translates to a 10.95 ERA in that stretch. Overall, he has a 6.75 ERA this season with 7.1 K/9, 5.6 BB/9 and a 36.7 percent ground-ball rate. While he’s proven capable of handling lefties in the past, same-handed hitters are batting .273/.380/.419 against Gorzelanny in 2015. Those numbers pale in comparison, though, to the batting line authored by opposing right-handed hitters: .382/.477/.600.

Both are owed $519K through the end of the season, and neither reliever appeared in enough games to see his incentives kick in. Chamberlain, somewhat notably, was five appearances shy of earning an additional $100K.


Giants Designate Travis Ishikawa For Assignment

12:52pm: The Giants have now announced the move, adding that Tim Hudson has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, with Jake Peavy being activated to fill his roster spot.

12:42pm: The Giants will announce today that they have designated first baseman/outfielder Travis Ishikawa for assignment and selected the contract of outfielder Ryan Lollis, a source tells Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News (Twitter link).

The 31-year-old Ishikawa was only recently brought up from Triple-A. He’s 0-for-5 with a walk in six plate appearances this season but has played a much more prominent role with the Giants in previous years. Last year, he batted .274/.333/.397 in 81 plate appearances with the Giants down the stretch and hit quite well for the team in the NLCS.

Originally a 21st-round pick of the Giants in 2002, Ishikawa bounced around the league a bit after parting ways with the team in 2010, only to return to the organization last season. The Giants elected to keep him around via the arbitration process, signing him to a one-year, $1.1MM contract, although he’s spent much of the season at Triple-A Sacramento. In parts of six seasons with the Giants, Ishikawa is a .264/.327/.396 hitter in 752 plate appearances.

The 28-year-old Lollis will be making his big league debut when he comes to the Giants. A 37th-round pick of the team back in 2009, he’s batting a hefty .358/.431/.500 across three minor league levels this season.