NL East Notes: Hamels, Marlins, Prado, Wright

Though he admitted that he’s not privy to the front office’s discussions, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com that he expects ace Cole Hamels to be traded. “We’re not involved on the field,” said Mackanin. “But the whole point of this year basically is to see young guys, help us get ready for next year and beyond. If we can get good deals for Hamels and good deals for whomever else there might be out there, (Jonathan) Papelbon.” Hamels recently told Salisbury that he’s open to a trade to any club, including the Blue Jays and Astros. Previous reports had indicated that Hamels would block a deal to either club.

Here’s more from the NL East…

  • The Tigers are scouting the Marlins‘ starting pitchers, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). There could be very little to read into here, as multiple teams are likely scouting the Marlins, and the Tigers of course are scouting other clubs. Nonetheless, a pitching matchup, at least on paper, does seem to exist between the two sides. The Tigers have seen Shane Greene lose his spot in the rotation and received little from Justin Verlander to this point. A solid addition to the rotation would make some sense, and the Marlins have a surplus now that Jose Fernandez is healthy. Fernandez joins Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Tom Koehler and Jarred Cosart in the rotation. Latos and Haren, though, are free agents at season’s end, and the team has internal replacements capable of slotting into the rotation in the event of a trade.
  • Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald hears that the Marlins are indeed willing to listen to offers on Latos and Haren. He adds Steve Cishek to that list as well and unsurprisingly says that the fallen closer likely will be non-tendered this offseason. Jackson, like other reporters, hears that the team isn’t entertaining the idea of moving Martin Prado at this point.
  • Mets captain David Wright is “extremely optimistic” that he can begin baseball activities next week, tweets ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin. Wright won’t begin hitting in that time, however. Previously, the Mets have expressed hope to have the third baseman back by the All-Star break, though that timeline is fast approaching and Wright is still quite a ways from a rehab assignment.

Braves Inquiring On Young Catchers, Willing To Deal Pitching Prospects

The Braves are looking to upgrade their offense and have let other clubs know that they’re willing to trade from their recently bolstered stable of pitching prospects in order to acquire a bat, reports Jayson Stark of ESPN (via Twitter). According to Stark, Atlanta has asked other clubs about the availability of their young catchers.

It’s just one tweet, but there’s a lot to digest there. For one, it doesn’t seem that the Braves will act as strict sellers, as they did for much of the past offseason. Additionally, the Braves’ desire to add a young catcher is perhaps somewhat telling of the confidence they have in rocket-armed but offensively-challenged (to this point, at least) Christian Bethancourt.

Bethancourt has been tabbed as the Braves’ catcher of the future for quite some time, but he’s batted just .223/.248/.279 in 222 big league plate appearances in his young career. Still just 23 years old, Bethancourt’s been optioned back to Triple-A this season in favor of a more veteran combination of A.J. Pierzynski and Ryan Lavarnway. He’s hit well in he minors since his return, but the fact that the Braves are inquiring about young backstops has to at least call into question whether or not the restructured front office feels that Bethancourt’s bat can catch up to his vaunted arm.

As far as pitching prospects are concerned, the Braves are very suddenly in no short supply. The Braves seem likely to use a combination of Shelby Miller, Alex Wood and Julio Teheran at the front of their rotation for the foreseeable future, and they have a handful of MLB-ready arms to choose from for the remaining two spots. Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler and Manny Banuelos have all made starts for Atlanta this season, and any two of the three could be looked at as a rotation piece going forward. Further down the line are Max Fried and Lucas Sims, each of whom is recovering from injury. The Braves also picked up right-hander Touki Toussaint, the No. 16 overall pick from the 2014 draft, in a recent trade with the Diamondbacks. Fellow Class-A hurler Ricardo Sanchez, a high-ceiling arm in his own right, was acquired from the Angels this offseason.

Suffice it to say, the Braves have gone from an underwhelming farm system to one teeming with pitching prospects after an offseason of trades from new president of baseball operations John Hart. What the team lacks, however, is offense at a number of positions. In addition to the struggles of their catchers — a combined .237/.270/.357 batting line — left field has been an egregiously detriment to the club’s offensive output. Atlanta left fielders have combined to bat just .221/.284/.311 this season.

It seems unlikely that the Braves would move one of their talented young pitchers for a pure rental, so the expectation here is that any bat theoretically acquired by Atlanta would be under control beyond the 2015 season — perhaps beyond the 2016 campaign as well. Previous reports have indicated that the Braves inquired with the Brewers on Jonathan Lucroy‘s availability, though most indications remain that the Brewers are unlikely to move him.


Minor MLB Transactions: 7-3-15

Today’s roundup of minor transactions from around the league…

  • Outfielder Xavier Avery exercised a July 1 opt out clause and was granted his release by the Tigers, reports James Schmehl of MLive.com (via Twitter). Formerly one of the Orioles’ top prospects, the fleet-footed Avery has enjoyed a very nice season with Triple-A Toledo to this point, hitting .305/.371/.393, although his typically strong success rate is stolen bases is down this year. The 25-year-old has swiped 14 bases but been caught 10 times. A former second-round pick, Avery has eclipsed the 30-steal mark four times throughout his minor league career.
  • Also via Schmehl, it seems that Avery’s spot will be filled by another once-promising outfield prospect, as he reports that Trayvon Robinson has signed a minor league pact with Detroit and is headed to Toledo. Once a well-regarded prospect in the Dodgers’ system, Robinson’s career has stalled a bit in recent seasons. He’s spent the early portion of the season with the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate, batting .276/.357/.448. He’s a career .258/.332/.423 hitter in parts of five Triple-A seasons. Robinson reached the Majors in 2011-12 with the Mariners but posted a .602 OPS in 319 total plate appearances.
  • First baseman Daric Barton has been released from the Blue Jays‘ Triple-A affiliate, tweets Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. Barton, a longtime member of the Athletics, batted just .196/.282/.299 this season at Triple-A Buffalo. Still 29 years of age, Barton served as Oakland’s everyday first baseman in the 2010 season and led the American League with 110 walks that year. He’s slashed .216/.323/.284 in 600 big league plate appearances since that time, however.
  • The Blue Jays announced yesterday that the recently designated Steven Tolleson has cleared outright waivers and been outrighted to Buffalo. The 31-year-old utility man was designated on July 1 after his rehab assignment ended in the minors and Toronto had to make a call on his roster status. He’s been outrighted in the past and will therefore have the option to refuse the assignment in favor of free agency.


Rays Acquire Garrett Fulenchek From Braves

The Braves announced that they have traded minor league right-hander Garrett Fulenchek to the Rays in exchange for a pair of international bonus slots. The value of those slots comes out to roughly $494K.

This marks the third separate trade that the Braves have made today in order to acquire international bonus money. The moves were made necessary by a pair of agreements to sign promising young international prospects Derian Cruz and Christian Pache for a combined total of $3.4MM. The Braves began this year’s international signing period with a bonus pool of $2,458,400, meaning they needed to acquire nearly $900K to accommodate the agreements free of penalty. Thus far, Atlanta has traded right-hander Cody Martin to the A’s and, in a second trade, sent minor leaguers Jordan Paroubeck and Caleb Dirks to the Dodgers. The combined total of those three moves has added $1,131,600 to its bonus pool, which will allow the Cruz and Pache signings to be finalized under the team’s cap, which has swelled to an even $3.59MM.

In parting with Fulenchek, however, the Braves have surrendered perhaps the most promising piece yet in any of these three deals. The 19-year-old was Atlanta’s second-round pick (66th overall) just one year ago. A high school righty out of Texas, Fulenchek debuted with the Braves’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2014 and pitched to a 4.78 ERA with 29 strikeouts against 22 walks in 37 2/3 innings. While those numbers aren’t exactly impressive, he still ranked firmly within the team’s Top 20 or so prospects. Baseball America rated him ninth among Atlanta farmhands this offseason, while Fangraphs placed him 17th. (Those rankings occurred prior to some of the team’s trades, however.) MLB.com presently ranks Fulenchek as the Braves’ No. 13 prospect.

Fulenchek received a $1MM signing bonus last year and is described by most as a projectable right-hander. BA praised Fulenchek’s ability to generate ground-balls with his fastball. Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel noted that he sits 91-95 mph with his fastball and touches 96 at times, also flashing an above-average slider. MLB.com notes that he’ll have to work on repeating his delivery point, but could develop into a big league starter over time.

Fulenchek is a far more notable acquisition than most players that are swapped for international pool money, though it should be noted that he was selected by the Braves’ previous front office, which has since undergone some changes. He’s not as highly touted a prospect as Touki Toussaint, whom Atlanta effectively purchased from the D-Backs last month, but it’s nonetheless a bit surprising to see such a high profile draft pick moved just over a year after he was selected.

The Rays, for comparison, acquired a similar pair of slots from the Marlins earlier today in exchange for minor league right-hander Enderson Franco despite being limited to a maximum of $300K per signing this period.


Blue Jays Designate Todd Redmond For Assignment

The Blue Jays have designated right-hander Todd Redmond for assignment and optioned lefty Matt Boyd to the minors, reports Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star (Twitter link). Corresponding moves will be announced by the team tomorrow, he adds.

Redmond, 30, worked a scoreless inning in tonight’s game, though that clean frame dropped his ERA to just 7.31 on the season. Redmond has worked 16 innings this year, surrendering 13 earned runs on 17 hits and seven walks with 13 strikeouts in that time. This DFA marks the third of the year for Redmond. He’s been outrighted and accepted his assignment to Triple-A after each of this previous instances.

Boyd, 24, was called up last week to make his big league debut and looked solid in his first outing. However, he surrendered seven runs on six hits and a walk without recording an out tonight versus the Red Sox.


Dodgers Designate Brandon League For Assignment

The Dodgers have designated right-hander Brandon League for assignment, the team announced. League, who is earning $7.5MM in 2015, has not pitched this season due to inflammation in his throwing shoulder. He had been on the 60-day disabled list.

League, 32, is in the final season of an ill-fated three-year, $22.5MM contract signed prior to the 2013 season. Widely panned from the moment it was signed, the contract looked dismal in year one, as League posted an ERA of 5.30 with a greatly diminished strikeout rate (4.6 K/9). The 2014 season proved to be a nice rebound for League, who worked to a 3.40 ERA with a slight increase in strikeouts (5.4 per nine) and a drastically improved ground-ball rate of 67.5 percent.

League earned that three-year deal (which was issued by the Dodgers’ former front office, headed by then-GM Ned Colletti) by posting a collective 3.38 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 59 saves and one of the game’s best ground-ball rates in 320 innings between the Blue Jays, Mariners and Dodgers from 2008-12.

By cutting bait on League, the Dodgers are now paying a combined $17MM to a pair of relievers — League and Brian Wilson — that will not throw a single pitch for the team in 2015. The Dodgers will have 10 days to trade, waive or release League, though in the event that he’s placed on waivers, he’ll assuredly go unclaimed due to his salary and health issues this season.


Mariners Sign Erik Kratz To Minor League Deal

The Mariners announced that they’ve signed catcher Erik Kratz to a minor league deal. The 35-year-old Kratz, a client of Metis Sports Management, will head to Triple-A Tacoma for the time being. Earlier today, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweeted that Kratz had agreed to a deal with a new team, with Seattle a likely landing spot.

A career .217/.270/.400 hitter, the 35-year-old Kratz has proven himself capable of hitting for power but at the cost of questionable batting average and OBP marks. Defensively, Kratz’s 31 percent caught-stealing rate is above average, and he’s received plus ratings in terms of pitch framing. He began the season with Royals, who ultimately opted to go with Drew Butera as their backup catcher over Kratz. Boston picked him up off waivers when he was designated for assignment by Kansas City, but they, too designated Kratz once it was determined that an injury to promising young backstop Blake Swihart was minor. FOX’s Jon Morosi noted at the time Kratz elected free agency that the Mariners were a possible landing spot.


Mets Acquire International Bonus Slot From Angels

The Mets have acquired an international bonus slot from the Angels in exchange for minor league right-hander Gaither Bumgardner, the teams announced. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets that the Mets will add $239,400 to their pool with this move.

Bumgardner was the Mets’ 23rd-round pick back in 2013. Though he’s 24 years of age, Bumgardner has progressed to just the Class-A level. The South Carolina native has tossed 65 2/3 innings as a pro, working to a 3.84 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9. He did not find himself ranked among the Mets’ top prospects entering the year.

The Mets entered this signing period with a bonus pool of $2,531,300, per Baseball America, and they reportedly have agreements in place totaling $2.7MM. Adding this bonus slot from the Angels will allow the Mets to stay within the confines of their now-$2.77MM bonus pool. As for the Angels, the team went well over its 2014-15 bonus pool to give Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin an $8MM signing bonus, so they’re restricted from spending more than $300K on an international amateur anyhow.


Dodgers Acquire Minor Leaguers Paroubeck, Dirks From Braves

The Dodgers announced that they have acquired minor league outfielder Jordan Paroubeck and minor league right-hander Caleb Dirks from the Braves in exchange for an international bonus slot that is worth $249K. This is the second international bonus slot that the Braves have acquired today, as the team earlier sent righty Cody Martin to the A’s in exchange for an additional slot. Combined, Atlanta has acquired $637,400 to allocate to international signings.

Paroubeck is probably the more notable of the two names going back to Los Angeles. The Braves acquired Paroubeck, Matt Wisler, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin and a Competitive Balance draft pick (No. 41 overall) from the Padres in the blockbuster deal that sent Melvin Upton Jr. and Craig Kimbrel to San Diego. Paroubeck drew praise for his athleticism at the time, but he’s yet to debut for the Braves in the minors this season. A second-round pick in 2013, Paroubeck slashed .286/.346/.457 in 157 plate appearances with the Padres’ Rookie-league affiliate in his pro debut last year.

Dirks was selected in the 15th round last season and has amassed a 1.53 ERA in 59 pro innings, averaging 10.1 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 in that small sample. A closer late in his college career, Dirks has worked exclusively as a reliever in the Braves’ system. Baseball America noted at the time he was drafted that he features a 91-94 mph fastball with a below-average slider but an aggressive temperament that makes him well-suited for late-inning action.

The roughly $638K the Braves have picked up in this pair of trades boosts their bonus pool to $3,095,800. That leaves the Braves about $300K shy of the combined $3.4MM the Braves will reportedly spend on international prospects Derian Cruz and Christian Pache. The team likely will not announce the signings until acquiring additional bonus money, as money cannot be acquired once a team’s spending limitation has been officially reached.

Some may find the Dodgers’ willingness to trade away their international bonus money curious, considering the team is already spending far and away more money than any club in baseball on international prospects. However, there’s little reason for the Dodgers to hang onto their slots. They’re already going to incur the maximum penalties and be unable to sign players for more than $300K in the coming two signing periods, so by trading the slots away, there’s merely increasing the amount of overage taxes they have to pay while also accumulating some minor league talent. The only incentive for a team exceeding its bonus pool to hang onto the slots is to save a bit of money, and that’s not something with which the deep-pocketed Dodgers are overly concerned, so it makes sense to see them using these assets to add some depth.


Aaron Harang Lands On DL With Plantar Fasciitis

The Phillies announced today that Aaron Harang has been placed on the 15-day DL due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Chad Billingsley was activated in a corresponding move.

Harang, of course, has been viewed as a possible trade chip for a rebuilding Phillies club that enjoyed surprisingly strong results from the veteran right-hander through the first two months of the season. Signed to an affordable one-year, $5MM contract, Harang posted a 2.02 ERA through the and of May. While that output was never sustainable, and pitching-hungry teams wouldn’t have valued him as someone who could be reasonably counted on for such results, one has to imagine that he’s still damaged his trade value with his recent play. Over his past six starts, Harang has worked to an 8.31 ERA and allowed 48 hits (eight homers) in 34 1/3 innings with a 20-to-12 K/BB ratio.

Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that Harang could miss only two starts due to the upcoming All-Star break, which would create a small window to display improved health. If he can display better control than he’s been able to with an ailing plant foot, perhaps he’d still hold some appeal to a club looking for veteran innings at the back end of its rotation. If the Phillies can’t trade him before July 31, either due to health or lack of interest, an August swap would also be a possibility.


Red Sox Prioritizing Young Arms Controlled Beyond 2015 In Trades

Rumors connecting the Red Sox and Cole Hamels have been circulating for months, with the lack of an ace atop their rotation being a common refrain. However, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports that Hamels and fellow established ace Johnny Cueto are unlikely candidates for the Sox, as their top priority heading into the trade deadline is to target younger arms that are under control beyond the 2015 season. Neither Cueto nor Hamels fits that mold, as Cueto is a free agent at season’s end and Hamels is 31 years of age.

The Red Sox are looking at both starters and relievers in their search for pitching, according to Bradford, which widens the array of possible trade targets even further. There’s little sense in speculating which arms will land on Boston’s wish list, though recent reports have indicated that one pitcher who meets this criteria, Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray, is off limits as the deadline nears. Assistant GM David Forst said point blank in a recent radio appearance (h/t: CSN Bay Area’s Joe Stiglich): Sonny Gray‘s not going anywhere.”

Boston has employed this approach recently, acquiring young starters Joe Kelly and Wade Miley in separate trades over the past calendar year, though the results have been mixed, at best. Miley got off to a rough start in his tenure as a member of the Red Sox, but he’s been very good since May 1, working to a 3.41 ERA in 68 2/3 innings. The results for Kelly haven’t been as promising; the former Cardinal has a 4.96 ERA in 24 starts with the Sox due to shaky control and a hittable fastball, all of which contributed to the decision to option the hard-throwing righty to Triple-A Pawtucket last month.

GM Ben Cherington and his staff will have multiple avenues to explore in an attempt to achieve this goal. As we saw last July, the Sox moved veteran righty John Lackey in order to acquire Kelly along with first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig. In the offseason, Miley was acquired for young righties Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. Boston’s been willing to deal from its farm system and its Major League roster in order to pull in this type of pitcher, and the front office should again be able to go either route. The Sox have a rich, if somewhat depleted farm system that includes the likes of Manuel Margot, Henry Owens, Garin Cecchini, Brian Johnson and Rafael Devers, among others. Similarly, however, there are veteran pieces on the team that would figure to fetch a nice return. Clay Buchholz has been outstanding of late, and late-inning righties Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa have both performed well in 2015. Perhaps none of those names could fetch a premier young arm on their own, but any could be paired with young talent to facilitate a deal.

Boston also has the type of Major League ready talent that many clubs covet around the diamond. We’ve heard multiple times that Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Blake Swihart are each likely untouchable, but perhaps the Sox would reconsider if a tantalizing enough pitcher were to be dangled from a trade partner. Other MLB-ready pieces that may be easier to acquire could include Jackie Bradley Jr. and Deven Marrero, both of whom are appealing but likely have lower ceilings than the aforementioned young talent.

Boston is currently 36-44, placing them last in the AL East and seven behind the Orioles for the division lead. Of course, the entire AL East is essentially up for grabs, with the Orioles, Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays all separated by only a game and a half in the standings.


Rays Acquire International Slot From Marlins

The Marlins have traded an international bonus slot that is valued at about $500K to the Rays in exchange for minor league right-hander Enderson Franco, reports Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald (on Twitter). The decision is somewhat curious on Tampa’s part, as the Rays exceeded their international spending pool by quite a wide margin in 2014-15, which prevents them from signing an international amateur for more than $300K in the current signing period.

Franco, 22, is a Venezuelan right-hander that was originally signed by the Astros. The Rays selected him in the minor league portion of the 2013 Rule 5 Draft, and he’s pitched reasonably well for Tampa since being acquired. Franco has shown impeccable control throughout his minor league tenure, averaging just 1.8 walks per nine innings in part of six seasons — including a stellar 1.0 BB/9 rate in both 2014 and 2015. Thus far, in 71 2/3 innings as a starter in the Class-A Midwest League, he’s posted a 3.89 ERA with 5.9 K/9 against that 1.0 BB/9 mark.


Cardinals Fire Scouting Director For Role In Astros Breach

4:55pm: Correa’s lawyer, Nicholas Williams, offered the following statement to Goold when reached for comment:

“Mr. Correa denies any illegal conduct. The relevant inquiry should be what information did former St. Louis Cardinals employees steal from the St. Louis Cardinals organization prior to joining the Houston Astros, and who in the Houston Astros organization authorized, consented to, or benefited from that roguish behavior.”

3:44pm: The Cardinals have fired scouting director Chris Correa for his role in the Cardinals’ breach of the Astros’ proprietary Ground Control computer network, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Lawyers for the Cardinals tell Goold that Correa had already been on an “imposed leave of absence.”

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, Correa, and Correa’s lawyers all declined to comment, but a source close to the investigation tells Goold that Correa has admitted to illegally accessing Ground Control. Correa, however, has said that his reason for accessing the network was only to attempt to verify that Astros GM Jeff Luhnow had taken proprietary information from the Cardinals with him to his new post in Houston. According to Goold’s source, Correa did not leak any data to the public and was not responsible for additional entries to the Astros’ network. The FBI is continuing its investigation into other members of the organization, and it seems likely that others are involved, if Correa has been determined to have accessed Ground Control only one time without leaking any of the data.

The firing of Correa reveals that the breach into the Astros’ computer network goes far higher up the chain of command in the Cardinals’ front office than many had originally believed. Correa was only recently promoted to scouting director back in December after previously serving as a qualitative analyst and director of baseball operations, as Baseball America’s John Manuel wrote at the time.


Rangers Acquire International Slot Money From Angels

4:34pm: Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports that the Rangers are receiving two international bonus slots from the Angels, which are worth a combined total of $879,500 (Twitter link).

3:15pm: The Rangers have acquired an international bonus slot from the Angels in exchange for minor league right-hander Jason Hoppe, executive VP of communications John Blake announced (on Twitter).

Toppe, 23, was the Rangers’ 27th-round pick in last year’s draft out of Minnesota State University. He debuted with the club’s short-season Class-A affiliate in 2014 and has returned to that level to begin the 2015 season. The Minnesota native has a 4.97 ERA with a 38-to-10 K/BB ratio in 38 professional innings to this point. He didn’t rank among Texas’ top prospects.

The Rangers have a $4,586,600 bonus pool this year, per Baseball America, and have already agreed to $2.6MM worth of bonuses with Leodys Taveras and Miguel Aparicio earlier today. The Halos blew past last year’s international spending cap in order to sign Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin, so the team won’t be able to sign an international free agent for more than $300K anyhow. As such, it’s logical that they’re exploring trades with their international slots.


A’s Acquire Cody Martin From Braves For International Slot, Designate Freiman

The Athletics have announced that the team has acquired righty Cody Martin from the Braves. In return, Atlanta will receive the 53rd overall international signing slot, which carries a bonus allocation of $388,400. To create roster space for Martin, Oakland has designated first baseman Nate Freiman for assignment.

Martin, 25, gives the A’s a Major League ready bullpen option that has logged 21 2/3 innings in the Braves’ bullpen this season. He’s struggled to a 5.40 ERA in the Majors, but Martin has excelled in the minors, working to a 2.10 ERA with 8.7 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 34 1/3 innings — six starts and one relief appearance.

Freiman, 28, was a Rule 5 pick of the Athletics out of the Astros’ organization in 2013. He batted .256/.309/.408 between 2013-14 with the A’s, playing primarily against left-handed pitching, but he’s struggled to this point of the season at Triple-A. In 35 games with Nashville this year, Freiman has batted just .171/.225/.188 in 129 plate appearances.