Cubs Looking For Starting Pitching, Lefty Outfield Bats

The Cubs have had more talks about acquiring starting pitching than they have position players, though they would also like to add a left-handed hitting outfielder if the price is right, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi reports.

Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have all posted good to excellent results as Chicago’s top four starters, though the fifth spot has been a problem area.  Tsuyoshi Wada has been effective when healthy but the southpaw is currently on the DL for the second time this season, while Travis Wood struggled in seven starts.  Clayton Richard was acquired from the Pirates on Friday and threw a quality start on Saturday, though it’s hard to see Chicago counting on Richard as a stable option.

It’s possible the Cubs could target a big name on the pitching market, as Morosi writes that the team hopes to have an ace in the fold by the start of next season.  To this end, the Cubs would prefer to acquire a pitcher under contract beyond this season (i.e. Cole Hamels) rather than a rental like Johnny Cueto, as if they get their top-of-the-rotation arm now, that would save them having to spend more time and money pursuing the likes of David Price in free agency this winter.

Morosi cites the Brewers’ Gerardo Parra and the Padres’ Will Venable as “two names to watch” as possible Cubs targets for their outfield need.  Either would spell the switch-hitting Dexter Fowler against right-handed pitching.  Fowler carried a tough .232/.308/.379 line into today’s action thanks in large part to a .660 OPS in 281 plate appearances against righties (but a healthy .833 OPS in 55 PA against lefties).  Given the abundance of right-handed starters in the NL Central, a righty-mashing bat is a clear need for the Cubs.

Shortstop has become another problem area, as Starlin Castro‘s below-replacement level season (-0.3 fWAR entering today) makes Morosi wonder if Chicago would consider getting a veteran middle infielder to pair with Addison Russell.  The problem is that Castro has minimal trade value right now given his poor performance and the roughly $41MM owed to him through the 2019 season.


Minor MLB Transactions: 7/5/15

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league.

  • The Braves acquired left-hander Mitchell Lambson from the Astros, Bryant-Jon Anteola of the Fresno Bee reports (Twitter link).  Lambson was a 19th-round pick for Houston in the 2011 draft who has posted strong minor league numbers in five pro seasons: a 2.79 ERA, 9.9 K/9 and 4.34 K/BB rate over 242 relief innings, including his first taste of Triple-A ball this year.
  • The Cubs have signed righty Ben Rowen to a minor-league deal, the Iowa Cubs have announced. Rowen had previously been in the Orioles organization until opting out of his contract. Rowen had posted a 2.41 ERA with 1.4 BB/9 in 37 1/3 innings with the Orioles’ top two minor league affiates. His strikeout rate (5.8 K/9) was a bit low, but he has a strong history of inducing ground balls. The 26-year-old came to the Orioles from the Dodgers as part of the two teams’ curious trade involving reliever Ryan Webb.
  • The Athletics have outrighted first baseman Nate Freiman to Triple-A Nashville, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. They had designated him for assignment on Thursday. The 28-year-old Freiman hit .218/.269/.448 in 93 plate appearances with the A’s this season and has struggled in 129 plate appearances with Nashville.
  • The Blue Jays have outrighted righty Todd Redmond to Triple-A Buffalo, MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm tweets. They had designated him for assignment earlier this week. Redmond has pitched a total of 16 innings for the Jays so far this year, and he’s been designated for assignment and then outrighted three separate times. The 30-year-old has a 4.25 ERA, 7.9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 171 1/3 career big-league innings in parts of four seasons with the Blue Jays and Reds.

NL West Notes: Frias, Giants, Maybin, Parra, Greinke, Gray

The Dodgerssearch for pitching may only intensify with the news that Carlos Frias has been placed on the 15-day DL with lower back tightness.  Los Angeles already dipped into its starter depth by installing Frias and Mike Bolsinger into the rotation in place of Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, so all eyes will be on the Dodgers this month to see if they can land another big arm before the trade deadline.  Here’s the latest from the NL West…

  • The Giants are looking for outfielders and Gerardo Parra and Cameron Maybin are two of the names who have been discussed, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (via Twitter).  In another tweet, Olney notes that the Braves aren’t open to dealing Maybin right now.  Outfield had been cited as a possible target spot for San Francisco, though GM Bobby Evans didn’t seem set on obtaining an everyday outfielder since Hunter Pence and Nori Aoki will be expected to resume their regular spots in the lineup when they’re both healthy.  In my opinion, I’d think that a left-handed hitting outfielder like Parra could be of particular use in a center field platoon with Angel Pagan, who has struggled badly against right-handed pitching this season (though Pagan has generally fared better against righty arms over his career).
  • The Giants have liked Parra “forever,” according to Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News (via Twitter).  Parra had spent his entire career prior to August 2014 with the Diamondbacks, however, and Arizona didn’t want to deal the outfielder to a division rival.
  • In Olney’s latest Insider-only post, he observes that Zack Greinke‘s big season is putting him in position for a massive free agent payday this winter.  “It seems like a foregone conclusion” Greinke will opt out of his Dodgers contract in search of a more lucrative deal, and while he turns 32 in October, Olney believes he’s the type of pitcher with the athleticism, mechanics and pitching know-how to still be very effective as he ages.  Andrew Friedman has generally eschewed giving big contracts to older players in his career as an executive, though this could well change now that he runs a high-payroll team.
  • The Rockies are again in need of pitching reinforcements, and Nick Groke of the Denver Post wonders if the team could promote top prospect Jon GrayTroy Tulowitzki and Walt Weiss seem in favor of Gray coming to the bigs soon, though GM Jeff Bridich was more cautious.  “Jon Gray is doing a great job right now of learning lessons and evolving at the Triple-A level.  So there are things that he needs to do and will continue to do. And we’ll continue to exercise patience with him,” Bridich said.  Gray has a 4.88 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and a 2.45 K/BB rate in 90 1/3 Triple-A innings this season — respectable numbers in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.


Nationals Place Stephen Strasburg On 15-Day DL

The Nationals have placed Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain, and recalled righty Taylor Jordan from Triple-A Syracuse to take his place, the club announced today.  Strasburg left his start yesterday after just 56 pitches due to discomfort in his left side.

The transaction continues what’s been a frustrating season for Strasburg, who’s already made one trip to the DL to recover from a strained left trapezius muscle and has also dealt with several other nagging injuries.  Strasburg has only pitched 61 innings in 2015 and his health issues have surely been a factor in his uncharacteristically high 5.16 ERA.  His peripheral numbers (9.3 K/9, 2.7 BB/9) and ERA indicators (3.55 FIP, 3.38 xFIP, 3.44 SIERA) suggest that Strasburg had pitched somewhat better than his ERA, which could also be explained by a .355 BABIP and a low 64.1% strand rate.  Since returning from his initial DL stint, Strasburg had looked much better, allowing just two runs and posting 18 strikeouts over 15 2/3 innings.

If Strasburg is able to make a quick recovery, there’s a chance he might technically not need to be replaced on the pitching staff.  Nats manager Matt Williams hinted that the team could simply employ a four-man rotation until the All-Star break since Washington has an off-day on Thursday.  If Strasburg is still on the DL once the second half resumes, Tanner Roark (who has already made six starts this year) will likely take his spot in the rotation.

It’s doubtful that Strasburg’s injury would lead to an external acquisition even if he did miss significant time.  Nationals starters have combined for a league-best 10.6 fWAR, with Roark and Joe Ross providing valuable depth behind Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Strasburg.


New York Notes: Drew, Refsnyder, Lagares

Here’s the latest from both Big Apple teams…

  • Despite Stephen Drew‘s struggles, ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand writes that the Yankes may not address second base in any major way at the trade deadline due to a lack of clear upgrades on the market.  Rob Refsnyder has shown defensive improvement at Triple-A and could be called up to supplant Jose Pirela, yet it’s possible Refsnyder himself could be trade bait; he has some prospect value but he isn’t one of the “top tier guys” in the Yankee farm system.
  • From that same piece, Marchand also notes that the Yankees aren’t likely to obtain an ace starter like Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels “unless prices drop significantly.”
  • The Yankees are only a season and a half removed from handing more than $500MM in free agent contracts to Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka, yet the early returns are still inconclusive at best, Marchand and Wallace Matthews write.  Beltran hasn’t shown much, McCann struggled in 2014 but has hit well this season, and Ellsbury and Tanaka have both looked good when healthy but still have injury question marks hanging over them.  While there’s still plenty of time for the quartet to live up to their big contracts, this uncertainty in the early years of their contracts (when each, save Beltran, should still be in or close to their primes) isn’t an encouraging sign.
  • The Mets have struggled badly against right-handed pitching this season, a problem that Joel Sherman of the New York Post blames on “front office negligence” and a “refusal to churn — to aggressively try to upgrade even marginally” for quality left-handed bench depth.  Juan Lagares has been particularly ineffective against righty pitching, and Sherman lists five players (Brock Holt, Gerardo Parra, David Peralta, Seth Smith and Will Venable) he feels would be good options as platoon partners with Lagares in center field.  Of that group, I highly doubt the Red Sox would deal the versatile Holt and Smith’s contract is likely too expensive for the Mets’ seemingly limited payroll.
  • If Mets GM Sandy Alderson is indeed “prepared to overpay” for a hitting upgrade, ESPN’s Buster Olney (via Twitter) wonders if the team could shop Zack Wheeler to an American League team.  The Mets already have a plethora of young rotation options and Wheeler could be seen as expendable.  An interested team would be making “a futures bet,” as Olney puts it, since Wheeler is out of action until roughly the middle of 2016 recovering from both Tommy John and tendon surgeries.

Outfield Prospect Jorge Ona Leaves Cuba

Jorge Ona, a 19-year-old outfielder from Cuba, has left the island to chase an MLB contract, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports.  Despite not much playing time in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, Ona still ranked sixth on Baseball America’s list of the top 20 prospects still in Cuba (as of April) due to strong performances for the Cuba junior national leagues and in international tournaments.

Ona is a 6’2″, 192-pound right-handed hitter with “a quick, compact swing from the right side, plus raw power and a strong arm in right field.”  In a longer scouting report within that top-20 prospects piece (open to BA subscribers), Badler noted that Ona showed good athleticism in as a fielder and “showed a good approach [at the plate] for his age,” though “gauging plate discipline and pitch recognition can be difficult in a brief look.”  Badler projected Ona would be a first-round draft pick if he were eligible for the North American draft.

Ona’s lack of Serie Nacional experience and his age will make him subject to international draft pools, and since he was born after Sept. 1, 1995, he would have had to have registered by last May 15 to be eligible for the current international prospect class.  Ona therefore won’t be eligible to be signed until July 2, 2016, and since he’ll surely command more than a $300K bonus, that will eliminate a number of teams from his market.  The Angels, Blue Jays, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees are all prohibited from spending more than $300K on any one player in the 2016-17 international signing period due to exceeding their spending pools in either of the last two signing periods.


White Sox Won’t Dismantle At Deadline

With a few weeks to go until the trade deadline, little is certain about what the White Sox will do.  Jeff Samardzija has a litany of possible suitors, but he and other trade chips could wind up staying put depending on how the Sox fare in the coming days.  No matter what happens, however, White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams told Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports that the team won’t be holding a fire sale.

It’s important that we not lose sight of what our organization goal was, and that was to give us the best three-year window. And we’re not going to abandon that completely with only three months to play,” Williams said.  “I think [Rick Hahn’s] done one hell of a job. Everyone wants to put the blame on [manager] Robin [Ventura], too, but all he can do is put the players in position to succeed. They’re the ones who have to look in the mirror and execute. If we do anything, it will be consistent with trying to maximize this three-year plan or window that we set out originally.”

After today’s loss to the Orioles, Chicago owns a 36-43 record and sits last in the AL Central, 10 games back of the first-place Royals and 5.5 games behind the last wild card spot.  It’s not an ideal spot by any stretch, yet given the crowded American League standings, the White Sox are just be a hot week or two away from being right back in the hunt.

While it may be a bit too early to start selling yet, Williams said he’s open to at least hearing any trade proposal.  Teams can even pitch trades for ace Chris Sale, but it’s extremely unlikely that anything will happen on that front.

We’ve always had that mind-set that we will listen to anyone who wants to make an offer for our players,” Williams said. “How else do you know what the value is? Something may bowl you over. But we can’t envision anything happening along those lines.”

While Sale is locked up on a team-friendly deal that could run through the 2019 season, Samardzija is a different story, as he’s set to hit free agency this winter.  Nightengale mentions that “every club with an urgent pitching need” has expressed an interest in Samardzija, and that the Blue Jays in particular have “strongly pursued” the righty.

If Samardzija signed an extension to remain on the south side, that would obviously change things.  “We just have to get some sort of indication it’s possible or not to sign him. We have to also see if it’s realistic given our resources and the other obligations we have,” Williams said.

That said, a midseason deal seems very unlikely with Samardzija so close to the open market.  While he stressed that “by no means does it take the White Sox off my list” if he hits free agency, Samardzija seemed eager to take control over his playing future.

I worked hard to get to this spot in free agency.  I just want to sign with a team that is competing every September with a chance to be playing in October,” Samardzija said.  “Look, I don’t hold bad blood or grudges against anybody. I understand how the business side works. Front offices have to do what they have to do. But I also need to protect myself and make sure I’m in a situation where I can win for a long time.”


Braves Designate Masset, Eveland For Assignment

The Braves have designated Nick Masset and Dana Eveland for assignment, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets. In their place, they’ve selected the contract of David Carpenter and reinstated Arodys Vizcaino from the restricted list.

The moves represent yet another shakeup for a Braves bullpen that has struggled to find the right pitchers behind Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan. The veteran Masset, who signed with the Braves after the Marlins outrighted him in late May, posted a 4.70 ERA with 12 strikeouts, seven walks and three home runs allowed in 15 1/3 innings with Atlanta. Masset allowed three runs and took the loss in the Braves’ 4-0, extra-inning defeat against the Phillies today. The lefty Eveland, who signed in June after he opted out of his deal with the Red Sox, had appeared in nine games but only recorded nine outs, allowing two runs while striking out four and walking three.

Carpenter (not to be confused with the Nationals pitcher of the same name) pitched briefly for the Angels in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. He had posted an 0.73 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 37 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett.

The 24-year-old Vizcaino, a former top prospect in the Yankees and Braves organizations, returned to Atlanta when the Cubs dealt him for Tommy La Stella in November. He began his 2015 season with an 80-game PED suspension. When Carpenter and Vizcaino make their first appearances with the Braves, they will be the 21st and 22nd relievers to appear for the Braves this season.


MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR the last seven days:


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Pirates Claim Travis Ishikawa

The Pirates have claimed Travis Ishikawa from the Giants, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes tweets. The Bucs, in announcing the move, say that they will make a corresponding move to add Ishikawa to their 25-man roster once he joins the team.

The Giants designated Ishikawa for assignment on Friday. They initially acquired him in April 2014, signing him to a minor league deal after he briefly played for the Pirates in a separate stint. The Bucs designated him for assignment last season when they acquired Ike Davis, a fellow lefty first baseman.

This time around, it’s tough to guess what Ishikawa’s role with the Bucs might be, since they already have lefty hitters at first base and right field (Pedro Alvarez and Gregory Polanco, respectively) and a good everyday player in left (Starling Marte, although Marte left Sunday’s game with an apparent injury). It’s possible Ishikawa could simply provide the Bucs with a lefty pinch-hitting option, however.

After his heroics in the postseason last year, the 31-year-old Ishikawa has spent most of 2015 with Triple-A Sacramento, where he’s batted .271/.342/.421. He collected six plate appearances with the Giants this season.


Phillies Acquire No. 1 Int’l Signing Slot From D’Backs

The Phillies announced that they have acquired the No. 1 international signing slot for 2015-16 signing period from the Diamondbacks for right-hander Chris Oliver, left-hander Josh Taylor, and the No. 9 slot.

Oliver, who turns 22 this week, was the Phillies’ fourth-round pick out of the University of Arkansas in 2014. He had a 4.04 ERA and 4.2 BB/9 but with an extremely low 3.5 K/9 in 69 innings with Class A Lakewood. He also struggled greatly in his pro debut last season. MLB.com ranked him the Phillies’ No. 20 prospect prior to the trade, however, noting that he can throw up to 97 MPH.

The Phillies signed Taylor as a non-drafted free agent. He posted a 4.61 ERA, 9.2 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 68 1/3 innings, also in the Lakewood rotation.

The Diamondbacks were awarded the largest international bonus pool heading into the July 2 signing season, at $5,393,900. The Phillies had a pool of $3,041,700, but they had already agreed to sign Dominican slugger Jhailyn Ortiz for $4.2MM and Venezuelan catcher Rafael Marchan for $200K. MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports that the No. 1 bonus slot is worth $3,590,400 and the No. 9 slot is worth $1,352,100, so the trade effectively gives the Phillies about $2.2 million extra spending to work with. That should give them enough spending rights to cover Ortiz and Marchan and still have a little money left over.


East Notes: Ramirez, KBO, Red Sox

Matt Harvey is just the latest reminder that recovery from Tommy John surgery is a process, Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com writes.  In his comeback campaign, the Mets pitcher has had flashes of brilliance but he has also struggled at times.

It’s definitely hard,” Harvey said after Saturday’s loss to the Dodgers. “It’s like one batter to the next batter, the arm slot, staying back, just trusting that my arm will stay healthy. It’s been a lot different than I thought it was going to be.

John Smoltz, who will be the first pitcher to have had the surgery to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame, has talked with Mets skipper Terry Collins about the best way to manage a pitcher coming back from TJ.  In time, Smoltz believes that Harvey will return to his old form.  Here’s more from the East divisions..

  • The Mets tried hard to pry Manny Ramirez from the Red Sox a decade ago and at one point it seemed like there was a good chance of a deal happening, as David Lennon of Newsday writes.  “We weren’t able to match up and give them enough,” former Mets exec Jim Duquette said. “They were looking for more younger players in return. We wanted them to give more money. We weren’t going to take the full freight on that one. I don’t think they thought [Lastings] Milledge was the right guy. That’s why we were trying to bring in a third team.”
  • Ex-Blue Jays pitcher Scott Richmond has been embroiled in a nightmare legal battle with the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization League, as Shi Davidi of Sportsnet writes.  The pitcher signed a guaranteed one-year, $700K deal with the KBO team in 2013 but he has yet to receive a dime of that money.  Richmond was good to go for the start of the season after suffering a knee injury, but he was turned away without payment.  RJ Hernandez, Richmond’s representative at Legacy, believes that this situation will dissuade other players from going overseas, particularly if the pitcher is unsuccessful in his suit.
  • For months, there has been talk about the Red Sox‘s need for an ace.  Right now, Clay Buchholz looks the part and he could be a big difference maker for Boston, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes.

NL East Notes: Maybin, Nola, Latos

Phillies interim manager manager Pete Mackanin said that he sees closer Jonathan Papelbon as the most worthy candidate to represent his team in the All-Star Game, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes.

The save numbers aren’t there, but when you look at the other numbers, he’s been very efficient,” Mackanin said of Papelbon, who owns a 1.71 ERA with 9.7 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. “He’s the first guy that comes to mind. I don’t know if there’s anyone else. He would be a guy that I would have to believe is under consideration.”

Here’s more out of the NL East..

  • Cameron Maybin was not viewed as a potential difference maker when the Braves acquired him via the April trade that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Padres.  However, over the past couple of months, Maybin is doing just that, as Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes.    In 281 plate appearances for the Braves, Maybin has hit .295/.364/.418 with seven homers.  The Braves have him under contract through the 2016 season with a club option for 2017.
  • As the Phillies‘ starting pitchers continue to struggle, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com if we’ll see prized prospect Aaron Nola sooner rather than later.  Of course, the Phillies’ starting five will be even weaker if ace Cole Hamels is traded in the next month.  In four starts for Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season, Nola has pitched to a 2.28 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9.  Nola, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 draft, was ranked as the No. 39 prospect in the country by Baseball America heading into the 2015 season.
  • Dan O’Dowd of MLB.com listed Marlins pitcher Mat Latos as one of the most likely players to get dealt between now and July 31st.  With Jose Fernandez back in the fold, O’Dowd believes that the Marlins will look to recoup the type of quality talent that they gave up to land the impending free agent in the first place.  Late last week, MLBTR’s Steve Adams looked at Latos as a trade candidate.

AL Central Notes: Tigers, Chisenhall, Santana

White Sox Jeff Samardzija hurler  “may be the first starting pitcher moved ahead of the trading deadline” since “scouts are constantly at his games,” Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote yesterday.  Cafardo believes that the Royals, Tigers, Astros, Twins, Blue Jays, Yankees, Cardinals, Orioles, Angels, and Dodgers are among the many clubs with interest in the 30-year-old.  Here’s more from the AL Central..

  • Brad Ausmus told reporters, including James Schmehl of MLive.com (on Twitter), that he’d “probably be surprised” if the Tigers were sellers around the trade deadline.  The 41-39 Tigers learned on Saturday that they’ll be without the services of Miguel Cabrera for six weeks thanks to a calf strain.  Detroit will certainly miss his bat as Cabrera currently leads the American League in batting average (.350), on-base percentage (.456) and OPS (1.034).
  • Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer wonders what’s next for Lonnie Chisenhall now that he has played 21 games for Triple-A Columbus since his demotion.  At present, it’s hard to say where the 26-year-old could fit on the Indians‘ varsity squad.  Hoynes wonders if the third baseman could attract some interest from teams looking for some left-hander power off the bench or simply a reclamation project with upside.  In 89 plate appearances for Triple-A Columbus, Chisenhall has hit .309/.371/.469 with two home runs.
  • The Twins figure to get a rotation boost with Ervin Santana returning from an 80-game suspension today, Mike Bauman of MLB.com writes.  Santana inked a four-year, $55MM deal with Minnesota in December but his Twins debut was put on hold after his PED suspension.  Santana threw 196 innings for the Braves in 2014, posting a 3.95 ERA with 8.2 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 and a 42.7% groundball rate.  There were signs that he was even better than those results would indicate, as FIP (3.39), xFIP (3.47), and SIERA (3.63) all liked his work.

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Ray, Upton, Indians

On this date in 1987, A’s first baseman Mark McGwire became the first rookie to hit 30 home runs before the All-Star Game, as Leo Panetta of NationalPastime.com writes.  McGwire would go on to finish the season with 49 homers, establishing a new rookie watermark, beating the previously shared record by Wally Berger and Frank Robinson (39).  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.