Dodgers, Braves Discussing Swap Of Uribe, Callaspo

10:15am: The Dodgers would stand to add three minor league players from the Braves, with a farmhand also heading eastbound to Atlanta, Rosenthal reports (Twitter links). Some of the players going to Los Angeles would serve to bolster the club’s upper-level pitching reserves, per the report, suggesting an addition motivation.

The Dodgers would also stand to avoid some piece of their obligation to Uribe, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets.

9:48am: The Dodgers are in discussions with the Braves about a deal that would send third baseman Juan Uribe to Atlanta and deliver Alberto Callaspo to Los Angeles, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (Twitter links). Other, “lesser names” would also be included in a deal, per the report.

Agreement was close last night, says Rosenthal, who adds that it is not yet known whether progress continues this morning. The holdup could be related to the fact that Callaspo has the right to veto any deal, Rosenthal tweets. As a free agent who signed last offseason, he can decline to be dealt prior to June 15. With more than five years of service time, Callaspo would at least be entitled to refuse a minor league assignment and keep all of his guaranteed money if he ended up being outrighted after the deal.

Both teams have been creative in structuring deals of late: the Braves recently swapped bad contracts as a major part of the Craig Kimbrel trade, and the Dodgers effectively purchased a draft pick by acquiring and designating Ryan Webb. This prospective transaction, too, seems likely to be motivated by a variety of considerations.

Callaspo is playing on a $3MM contract this year, and could conceivably be going to offset some of the balance of the $6.5MM salary owed to Uribe. It seems somewhat unlikely, after all, that the Dodgers would have serious interest in the scuffling Callaspo. The club is loaded with options at second and third quite apart from Uribe, who has all but been displaced at the hot corner already.

Then again, the switch-hitting Callaspo does have a clear track record of sterling plate discipline, and has been better when facing right-handed pitching. (For all their options at second and third, L.A. doesn’t have any left-handed bats in the 4-5-6 mix.) As for Uribe, he’s off to a slow start but has consistently rated as an outstanding defender and produced at the plate when receiving regular playing time over 2013-14.

Needless to say, there are a number of interesting elements to this prospective transaction. Atlanta would certainly like to pick up a solid option at third, where Callaspo and Chris Johnson have struggled, while the Dodgers are probably glad to free up Uribe’s roster spot.


Braves Working On Alberto Callaspo Trade

TODAYCallaspo said last that the club gave him no indication that a deal had actually been struck, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Per Callaspo, the club told him that he was scratched from the lineup because “there might be a possible trade.” But he was not advised that a transaction would necessarily occur today: “No, they didn’t tell me that,” he said. “They just said, ‘Let’s wait until tomorrow and see what happens.’”

Callaspo’s time in Atlanta may be finished even if a deal cannot be arranged, Bowman writes. Callaspo could end up designated for assignment when Chris Johnson is activated from the DL.

YESTERDAY: The Braves are attempting to deal infielder Alberto Callaspo, manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (Twitter link). That explains why the veteran was held out of tonight’s just-concluded ballgame.

It’s obviously unusual to hear a manager divulge such information when a transaction has (apparently) yet to be formalized, which would seem to suggest that a roster move is all but inevitable at this point. Presumably, Atlanta is looking to find a taker for some portion of Callaspo’s remaining salary.

Callaspo, 32, signed a one-year, $3MM deal to join the Braves this offseason. He has seen plenty of action, most of it at third base. But the results have not been there: over 123 plate appearances, Callaspo has slashed just .206/.293/.252 with one home run. That continues a rough stretch dating back to the start of 2014, though Callaspo has maintained his outstanding plate discipline and ability to make contact.

Of course, the switch-hitter does have a deeper history of producing approximately league-average results while providing some versatility around the infield. It has been a while now, but back in 2011-12, Callaspo combined solid offensive production with sterling defensive ratings to grade out at better than three wins above replacement annually.


Doosan Bears To Acquire Deibinson Romero

Korea’s Doosan Bears have agreed to terms with Pirates minor league third baseman Deibinson Romero, Yoo Jee-ho of Yonhap News reports (hat tip to Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net). A buyout still must be finalized with the Bucs, per the report, but Doosan has already announced that it will add Romero (Korean language link, also courtesy of Kurtz).

The 28-year-old Romero is enjoying a career year thus far at Triple-A Indianapolis, slashing .302/.403/.548 with six home runs in 155 plate appearances. A native of the Dominican Republic, Romero spent all of his professional career in the Twins organization before joining Pittsburgh as a minor league free agent before the season.

Romero has always shown a quality approach at the plate, walking twice for every three strikeouts in over 1,000 turns at bat in Triple-A. And he has shown legitimate power at times, swatting 19 long balls in his 2012 run at Double-A. After putting it all together thus far in 2015, it seems he’ll have a chance to bolster his earnings (and enjoy rather a different ballplaying experience) with a run through the KBO.



NL Notes: Liz, Urena, Anderson

The Pirates hope they’ll be able to keep the just-designated Radhames Liz in the organization, manager Clint Hurdle tells Adam Berry of MLB.com (Twitter link). Nevertheless, Hurdle says that he expects another club to claim the live-armed righty. As MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth explained earlier today, Liz has continued to be unable to limit the free passes in his latest run in the majors. His $1MM salary, too, may cause other teams to hesitate to place a waiver claim.

  • The Marlins will bring up Jose Urena tomorrow to make his first big league start, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. Urena entered the year rated as Miami’s fourth-best overall prospect in the eyes of Baseball America, which praised his mid-90s fastball and quality change. The issue, per BA, is whether Urena’s breaking ball can play well enough to keep him in the rotation. The 23-year-old righty made two relief appearances in the big leagues last year, but only reached the Triple-A level to start the 2015 season. Thus far, he owns a 1.21 ERA over 37 1/3 innings (5.3 K/9 vs. 2.9 BB/9) at the highest level of the minors. Miami was in need of new blood, both as a general matter and because both Henderson Alvarez and Mat Latos were recently placed on the disabled list (joining Jarred Cosart and Jose Fernandez on the DL).
  • While it’s of historical interest only at this point, manager Fredi Gonzalez says that the Braves attempted to sign lefty Brett Anderson over the winter, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports (Twitter link). Anderson ultimately signed with the Dodgers, of course, and had another successful outing tonight against Atlanta. Of course, the major question with Anderson has been health, and he experienced some back stiffness tonight. It doesn’t appear to be cause for much concern at this point, but Los Angeles can ill afford any missed time from its top three starters.

NL West Notes: Dodgers, Gaudin, JJ, Morrow, Myers

Here’s the latest out of the NL West, with a focus on several injury situations and how they impact two expected division contenders:

  • It’s no surprise to hear that the Dodgers rotation is thin at the back end, but as MLB.com’s Steve Bourbon writes, the recent bombing of Carlos Frias brings the matter into focus. (Of course, Mike Bolsinger remains a surprising success story thus far.) While bigger moves are probably still months away, the immediate need for depth is evident. Joe Wieland is one internal option, says Bourbon, while the club will also hope for continued progress from the rehabbing Erik Bedard and Brandon Beachy.
  • While he has been more a swingman than a regular starter over most of his career, righty Chad Gaudin could also be a possibility for the Dodgers as a spot starter or pen piece. As MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports, Gaudin is about a month away from beginning to throw after undergoing carpal tunnel release surgery on his pitching wrist.
  • Another rehabbing starter, Josh Johnson of the Padres, is experiencing nerve issues in his neck and will put his throwing program on hold, MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports. The issue “doesn’t sound serious,” per Brock. Johnson has gone nearly two years since his last MLB appearance, and a scuffling San Diego outfit would surely welcome a chance to put a vintage JJ on the rubber.
  • The Padres are also hoping for a return from Brandon Morrow, who was pitching well before shoulder issues put him down. Brock says that Morrow is set to throw a sim game later this week. It seems that Morrow is on track with his recovery, though he surely still has a number of boxes to check before returning to action.
  • Of even greater concern for the Padres, in the long run at least, is the status of Wil Myers and his injured left wrist. As Brock reports, Myers has yet to be cleared to take swings and will obviously not be ready to come off the DL when first eligible tomorrow. Instead, he is headed back for another look at the wrist to see how it is healing.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Howie Kendrick

Howie Kendrick seems something of an underappreciated player, perhaps because he has not racked up eye-popping counting stats in recent seasons. But we already know that teams value him rather highly.

After all, over the winter the Dodgers flipped just-acquired top-100 pitching prospect Andrew Heaney to the Angels to acquire one year of Kendrick — at a very reasonable, but hardly cheap, $9.5MM salary. And Los Angeles cleared out young middle infielder Dee Gordon, the incumbent at second, as part of its multi-faceted strategy.

True, Gordon has been nothing short of spectacular for the Marlins. He does carry an unsustainable .433 BABIP, but he’s also continued to lower his strikeout rate, run like crazy, and put up much-improved defensive metrics.

But the Dodgers also have received what they hoped for out of Kendrick. Over 178 plate appearances on the year, he has slashed .293/.348/.445 — a slight bump up over his career numbers.

If you had stopped the record after 2012, you might view Kendrick as an average hitter who had one big year under his belt (2011). But he has since settled in as a clearly above-average bat, compiling a 117 OPS+ since the start of the 2013 season.

May 1, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Howie  Kendrick (47) throws to first to complete an out in the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In that sense, this year has been a continuation. But Kendrick has also showed signs of improvement. After carrying a walk rate of about 5% for much of his career, Kendrick has earned free passes at a better-than-7% clip over the last two seasons, all while maintaining a 16.3% strikeout rate that has improved his overall mark.

Combined, his BB/K rate sits at a career-best .45, just exceeding his prior personal best from last year. Better yet, he’s done that while also managing to push his ISO back up over the .150 mark for the first time since that strong 2011 campaign — a marked improvement on his personal-low .104 ISO from last year.

Kendrick’s .336 BABIP is on the high side, but actually falls just below his historic marks. While Baseball Info Solutions numbers say that he has generated less hard and more soft contact than in recent years, Kendrick nevertheless carries a 28.1% line-drive rate that exceeds any of his end-of-year rates from seasons prior.

It isn’t all good news for Kendrick, of course. After a four-year run of positive UZR metrics, Kendrick has slipped just barely into the negative. And Defensive Runs Saved has him at a more troubling -5 runs saved to date. It’s early, of course, but that certainly bears watching. Likewise, Kendrick is just two-for-four in stolen base attempts this year, though his game has never relied much on the basepaths (he has swiped 14 bags four times, at a 71.9% success rate).

All said, while he hasn’t exactly transformed himself, it’s reasonable to argue that Kendrick has solidified his status as a firmly above-average second baseman in his age-31 season. But how does he stack up against the rest of the expected market?

Advances against his likely free agent competition, it seems, is where Kendrick’s value has increased the most. The most obvious and direct comparison is to Daniel Murphy of the Mets, who is younger (not yet two months removed from his 30th birthday) but carries a below-league-average .263/.316/.381 batting line. There’s plenty of time for that to change — Murphy’s .271 BABIP will probably rise and he has struck out in just 8% of his plate appearances, a market improvement — but Kendrick is gaining ground at present, and has always looked like the surer defensive option of the two.

Other players who teams will weigh alongside Kendrick have also generated some cause for concern in the first quarter of 2015. Ben Zobrist, who turns 34 tomorrow, missed a month with knee surgery and has rated (rather uncharacteristically) as a below-replacement-level player. Once again, it’s far too soon to write him off, and his track record of outstanding overall value speaks for itself. But there’s little question that Zobrist has come back to earth in the early going. Likewise, while Asdrubal Cabrera has suddenly posted excellent UZR ratings at shortstop in a small sample, his offensive production has suffered quite a bit.

Clubs eyeing an upgrade at second will surely look to that group, but it is possible that all — including Kendrick — could factor in at third base as well. While I won’t pretend to know whether he profiles well there defensively, the hot corner market is shaping up to be rather underwhelming with names like David Freese, Juan Uribe, and Casey McGehee leading the way.

In terms of what kind of guarantee we might expect, direct comps are somewhat scarce. But Kendrick seems a good bet to top Omar Infante‘s pre-2014 deal with the Royals. Coming off of a strong platform year, but carrying a history of production clearly inferior to that of Kendrick, Infante took down four years and just over $30MM entering his age-32 campaign. Though it’s far too early to be precise, a contract on the order of Chase Headley‘s (four years and $52MM) seems a reasonable target for Kendrick — though he has some room to build on that as well.

There have been whispers that the Dodgers could look to extend Kendrick, but that has always seemed questionable with the club’s dizzying array of options at second and third. But a qualifying offer is definitely in play, and entering the market weighed down by draft compensation could have some effect on Kendrick’s earning capacity.

Being the most desirable player at a given position has its obvious advantages, and Kendrick ought to have no shortage of theoretical landing spots. His long-time former team, the Angels, could be in play, as might the Yankees, White Sox, Nationals, Mets, and Padres. It is possible to imagine scenarios where other clubs — the Royals, Rangers, Athletics, and Braves come to mind — could consider pursuit.

The bottom line is that Kendrick appears increasingly well-positioned for next year’s free agent market. While he will undoubtedly be overshadowed in a deep and talented class, Kendrick stands out among his direct competitors and seems headed for a significant payday.


Minor Moves: Paterson, Nash, Parker, Cerse, Bell, Ryan

Here are the latest minor transactions, with the newest moves at the top of the post…

  • Lefty Joe Paterson has reached a minor league deal with the Athletics, according to the MLB.com transactions page. Paterson, who just turned 29, had opened the year at Triple-A in the Royals organization after spending his previous seasons with the Giants and Diamondbacks. He threw 40 1/3 innings of 6.25 ERA ball for Arizona at the major league level. This season, he has tossed 12 2/3 frames at the highest level of the minors, striking out 12 and walking six while permitting eight earned runs.
  • The Astros released 2009 third-round pick Telvin Nash, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports on Twitter. Nash, 24, was repeating Double-A this year and owned a .228/.318/.456 slash with seven home runs over 130 plate appearances. Despite generally excellent power numbers and solid walk rates, Nash has been unable to avoid the strikeout. He has spent most of his time at first or in the corner outfield.
  • The Cubs re-signed right-hander Blake Parker to a new minor league contract, team director of player development Jaron Madison tells Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register (Twitter link).  Parker was released by the Cubs earlier this month.  The righty posted a 3.68 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 3.54 K/BB rate over 73 1/3 innings out of Chicago’s bullpen from 2012-14, but he’s been limited to only 3 1/3 Triple-A innings this season due to an elbow injury.
  • The Red Sox have officially signed second baseman Yoilan Cerse, according to Baseball America’s Matt Eddy.  MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported earlier this month that the Cuban second baseman was close to a minor league deal with Boston.
  • Also from Eddy, the Padres released third baseman Josh Bell.  The 28-year-old signed a minor league deal with San Diego in February but has yet to see any action in 2015.  Bell appeared in 100 games with the Orioles and D’Backs from 2010-12 and has since played in the minors with the White Sox and Yankees, as well as spending 2014 in the Korean Baseball Organization.
  • The Yankees moved shortstop Brendan Ryan from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL and also optioned righty Branden Pinder to Triple-A.  Both moves created 25-man roster space to accommodate newly-promoted southpaw Jacob Lindgren.  Ryan suffered a calf injury during Spring Training and isn’t expected back in action until early June.

Mets Notes: Trades, Wright

The Mets are currently third-to-last in the NL in runs scored, and they’re without David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud and Dilson Herrera, who are all on the DL. Even with a win today, they’ve lost five games out of their last seven, slipping behind the Nationals in the NL East. GM Sandy Alderson says the team is interested in acquiring more offensive help, ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin tweets. As with several GMs who’ve fielded questions about the trade market so far this season, Alderson says it’s probably too early in the year to strike significant deals. Here are more quick notes on the Mets.

  • Wright, who was recently diagnosed with spinal stenosis, is going to California to see a doctor, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweets. The Mets should know more about his condition in the coming days. The extent of his issue is currently unclear, although the Mets do not seem overly concerned, as MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo notes. “The doctors aren’t that worried about it,” says assistant GM John Ricco. “It’s just something that seems to be taking longer than we initially thought. The way it was progressing, they thought it would be gone by now.”
  • It’s unclear how the condition will affect Wright, but if it does become a long-term problem, Wright’s contract could become another costly headache for the Mets, Joel Sherman of the Post writes. If Wright’s $138MM deal goes south, the Mets could be less inclined to trade for Troy Tulowitzki‘s big contract, sign Ian Desmond on the free-agent market next winter, or ink Matt Harvey long-term. The Mets have already had expensive deals for Johan Santana and Jason Bay go terribly in recent years. Wright, meanwhile, is already 32 and coming off a 2014 season in which he hit just .269/.324/.374.

Pirates Designate Radhames Liz For Assignment

The Pirates have announced that they’ve designated reliever Radhames Liz for assignment. The move clears space on the team’s roster for Charlie Morton, who will start tonight. Morton’s return bumps the out-of-options Vance Worley to the Pirates’ bullpen, and Worley will presumably be used mostly in long relief, so the Bucs no longer had much need for Liz, who they had used in a similar role.

The Bucs signed Liz to a one-year, $1MM contract last offseason after he spent 2014 in the Toronto organization and the previous three years in Korea. He showed good stuff, with a fastball that reached at times into the mid-90s, but was mostly unimpressive in the Pirates’ bullpen — he struck out 18 batters in 17 1/3 innings, but walked ten, continuing to struggle with control issues that have dogged him throughout his career.


Draft Notes: Seniors, Royals, Red Sox, Trout

As we approach the draft, one group of players to watch is college seniors, who have very little leverage to negotiate bonuses, as Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper writes. Seniors selected in the fourth round typically get only $50K-$100K, while seniors picked in the tenth round get as little as $1K. Selections of seniors in the first ten rounds, which are now governed by rules regarding draft spending allotments, can be used to free up money for hard-to-sign players in other rounds.

That only works if those seniors sign, of course — if a team drafts a senior in the first ten rounds and he doesn’t sign, they lose the ability to spend the entire amount associated with his draft position. So, as Cooper notes, a senior’s willingness to sign is even more crucial than his actual talent. “I need to be able to tell the scouting director, ‘I don’t have this guy as a top-10 round talent, but if we need a budget saver, I promise you I will sign him and he will not screw us over,'” as one scout explains. As Cooper notes, the system could give a senior a fair amount of power, in that a senior who expressed willingness to sign cheaply before the draft but changed his mind after being drafted could torpedo a team’s ability to sign other players. But a team could then ruin the player’s career by refusing to let him play in the minors. Here’s more on the draft.

  • In 2003, the Royals took full advantage of senior picks’ lack of leverage, Cooper writes. Faced with an inadequate draft budget, the Royals took several seniors in the early rounds and paid them bonuses of just $1K. Several of them ultimately got to the big leagues, including Mike Aviles, Ryan Braun (the reliever, not the Brewers slugger) and Irving Falu. They also got lefty Dusty Hughes for $3.5K. “We called them all in advance. We told them, if you take this offer, we’ll draft you. They were all willing to do it. They wanted to play,” says then-scouting director Deric Ladnier.
  • More than 20 teams passed on Mike Trout in the 2009 MLB Draft before the Angels took him. The Red Sox weren’t one of those teams, but if he had still been on the board when they had picked at No. 28, they probably would still have selected Puerto Rican outfielder Reymond Fuentes, WEEI’s Rob Bradford explains in a piece that provides an unusually close look into a drafting team’s thought process. Trout had his partisans within the Red Sox organization, and Northeast region scout Ray Fagnant says he was one of them. Then-assistant GM Ben Cherington took Trout seriously, too. But the Red Sox already had a somewhat similar outfield prospect in Ryan Westmoreland who some in the organization liked better, and they saw the speedy Fuentes as a potentially disruptive player in the mold of Jacoby Ellsbury. Westmoreland hit brilliantly in the minors in 2009, but a cavernous malformation in his brain prematurely ended his career. The Red Sox sent Fuentes to the Padres in the first Adrian Gonzalez deal, and he’s played only briefly in the Majors.

Giants Designate Travis Ishikawa For Assignment

The Giants have designated first baseman and outfielder Travis Ishikawa for assignment, Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area tweets. Ishikawa, 31, has not appeared in the big leagues this season — he opened the year on the DL with a back injury and recently finished a rehab assignment at Triple-A Sacramento.

Ishikawa played his first four seasons in the big leagues with the Giants, then returned to them last season, when he played a memorable role in the Giants’ World Series run by hitting a walk-off homer against the Cardinals to end the NLCS. The Giants avoided arbitration with Ishikawa this offseason by signing him to a $1.1MM deal, but as GM Bobby Evans explains (via a tweet from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Hank Schulman), the Giants did not have a spot for Ishikawa on their current 25-man roster, with no time for him at first and the right-handed Justin Maxwell joining Hunter Pence, Nori Aoki, Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco in the outfield. For his career, Ishikawa has a .259/.322/.397 line in parts of seven seasons.


Reds Notes: Cueto, Marshall, Mesoraco

The Reds are suffering through an eight-game losing streak and, as you’ll read here, dealing with a number of key injuries as well.  Here’s the latest from Cincinnati…

  • Johnny Cueto will have his right elbow examined today, Joe Kay of the Associated Press tweets.  Cueto missed his scheduled start on Sunday due to what manager Bryan Price described to reporters yesterday (including MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon) as “more than his usual elbow stiffness,” which prompted the Reds to be cautious with their ace, though Price felt Cueto probably could have pitched if absolutely necessary.  “I don’t think it’s anything anybody is concerned with….If he needs a little extra time, he’s certainly earned it,” Price said.  It should be noted that an elbow exam is a pretty routine step whenever a pitcher is experiencing any discomfort, so the fact that Cueto is undergoing an examination is not necessarily a bad sign.  Still, Price said today that Cueto “hasn’t had total relief. I’d have thought by now, he would.”  Any type of health issue for Cueto is worth monitoring given his status as both one of the top free agents of the 2015-16 offseason and potentially a big deadline trade chip for the struggling Reds.
  • In a welcome turn of events for Reds reliever Sean Marshall, the left-hander could be back pitching this season, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.  Last week, Marshall went in for anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder, which was expected to end his season and potentially threaten his career.  Instead, doctors discovered that full surgery wasn’t needed and instead just removed some scar tissue, so Marshall could be back on the mound this year if all goes well in his recovery.  The southpaw has thrown just 25 1/3 innings over the last two seasons due to a variety of injury problems, including rotator cuff surgery last June.
  • Devin Mesoraco has been placed on the 15-day DL (retroactive to last Thursday) with a left hip injury, the team announced via Twitter.  Mesoraco has been limited to 51 plate appearances this season due to his hip impingement, and he’s appeared as a catcher in only six of his 23 games; the Reds have been trying to keep him healthy by using him as a pinch-hitter and interleague DH.  Both the player and team were looking to exhaust all possibilities before turning to surgery, though a season-ending hip operation may now be the only option.
  • The Reds are looking more and more like trade deadline sellers, and though Jay Bruce is only hitting .211/.311/.408 in 164 PA, he could be a trade chip, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes.  “I’d take a flyer on him and see if our on-the-field people could fix him,” an AL scout told Fay.  “He looks healthy. His home runs and walks still grade out at 60 to 65 (on the 80-point scale). It’s just that his hit-ability is at 25 right now.”

AL East Links: Matusz, Tanaka, Arencibia

Though the Rays are just 24-21 for the season and 5-5 over their last 10 games, they’ve vaulted into first place in the AL East as the division’s only winning team.  The Yankees have lost 10 of their last 11 games to drop to an even 22-22 while the Red Sox (21-23), Orioles (19-22) and Blue Jays (20-26) are just struggling to get back to the .500 mark.  Here’s the latest from the struggling division…

  • Orioles reliever Brian Matusz was ejected from Saturday’s game with the Marlins for having a foreign substance on his arm, and now the southpaw has been suspended for eight games, Major League Baseball announced today.  Matusz is appealing the suspension.  As Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun notes, the suspension comes at an inopportune time for the O’s, as their pitching depth will already be tested due to a stretch of 14 games in 13 days (thanks to a double-header).  Left-handed batters have only hit .185/.214/.296 this season against Matusz, who has a 3.18 ERA in 17 innings.  The eight games matches the length of the suspension handed out to Brewers lefty Will Smith for a similar offense last week.
  • Masahiro Tanaka told reporters (including Dan Martin of the New York Post) that he is “not gonna make a change” to his pitching style in the wake of forearm and wrist injuries, but admits that he is “going to have to oversee my body a little bit better.”  Tanaka’s health has been of great concern since it was revealed that he had a partially-torn UCL last summer, and despite a couple of DL stints since, the Yankees still hope their ace can avoid a longer-term stay on the injured reserve.  Tanaka will make his second minor league rehab start on Wednesday.
  • J.P. Arencibia is trying to stay optimistic as the catcher continues his pro career for the Rays‘ Triple-A team, he tells Sportsnet’s Greg Mercer.  Arencibia goes into detail about how he felt he didn’t deal with the pressure of being an everyday player with the Blue Jays, and also about his surprise at being released by the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate earlier this season.

Cubs Notes: Baez, Russell, Schwarber

Two of the NL’s top clubs begin a three-game series today at Wrigley Field when the Cubs host the Nationals.  Beyond just sharing impressive records, ESPN.com’s Ken Woolums notes that the Cubs have gone about their rebuilding process in a manner similar to how the Nats have reconstructed their roster prior to their current run of two NL East titles in the last three seasons.  Here’s more on the Cubs…

  • Javier Baez has a .944 OPS in 99 Triple-A plate appearances this season, yet ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers wonders if the former top prospect can find playing time with the Cubs no matter how well he’s hitting.  Baez has been splitting time between second base and shortstop in the minors, though the Cubs are obviously set at both positions with Addison Russell and Starlin Castro.  Of course, questions remain about Baez both defensively (he already has 11 errors, nine at short) and offensively (he has 24 strikeouts in his 99 PA, and nine walks) and thus the Cubs could decide he’s expendable; Rogers notes that shifting Baez between two positions could be an audition for other teams just as much as it has to do with his development.  That said, Rogers also observes that the Cubs are under no pressure to swing a deal now and have plenty of time to figure out how to best deploy their numerous young talents.
  • Rogers hears from league sources that the Cubs have repeatedly turned down offers for Russell and have no interest in trading him.  If Chicago does decide to move a notable middle infielder, then, it would have to be Baez or Castro.
  • Kyle Schwarber is another prospect who has often been rumored to eventually change positions, though Cubs director of player development Jaron Madison tells Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register that Schwarber will remain a catcher.  “With all the work he’s done in the offseason and spring training and big league camp, and going into this year and what he’s done so far this year, we’re more certain than ever that he’s going to stay behind the plate long-term. We’re committed to that right now,” Madison said.
  • Madison discusses several Cubs minor leaguers within that same piece, including Baez.  The team doesn’t have any plans to use Baez at any positions besides second and shortstop for now, Madison said.  There has been some speculation that the Cubs could make room for Baez by moving him to third and shifting Kris Bryant to left field, though Baez has never played the hot corner in his pro career and Bryant has only three innings under his belt in left.

NL Notes: Price, Mets, Cubs, Frias, Upton

The struggling Reds are hosting this year’s All-Star Game, but the possibility of bad P.R. shouldn’t prevent them from dismissing manager Bryan Price, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. Rosenthal notes that owner Bob Castellini likes Price and Jocketty and is wary of an upheaval before the break. But the Reds have played poorly lately, and Price’s occasional bursts of odd behavior (including an infamous profane tirade against the media a few weeks ago) raise questions about whether he’s well suited for the job. The organization has third base coach Jim Riggleman, Triple-A manager Delino DeShields and perhaps roving instructor Barry Larkin as potential replacements. Here’s more from the National League.

  • The Mets have lots of talented young pitching and the Cubs have terrific young position players, and MLB.com’s Jim Duquette proposes several trades the two clubs might make. By far the wildest one (and one Duquette fully acknowledges is vanishingly unlikely) is Matt Harvey for Kris Bryant. The Mets and Cubs’ respective fan bases have pinned their hopes heavily on those two players, so such a trade would be nearly impossible, but it’s fun to think about. The sense here is that the Mets would easily be getting the better of such a deal — Bryant’s bat is rare, to put it mildly, and Harvey is three years closer to free agency and probably also more of an injury risk.
  • Carlos Frias‘ poor performance Sunday shows why the Dodgers are likely to pursue outside starting pitching help, Anthony Witrado of ESPN Los Angeles writes. Frias gave up ten runs, including two homers, over four innings against the Padres, more than doubling his ERA. Frias did pitch reasonably well in four starts before that, but there’s no doubt the Dodgers’ rotation situation is somewhat uncomfortable, due to injuries to Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy.
  • The Padres haven’t performed as well as they’ve hoped, but Justin Upton has been terrific, and the team needs to do everything it can to keep him, Matt Calkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. The Padres’ new ownership did well to open its wallet last winter, but it must continue to show it’s serious about winning. Of course, keeping Upton won’t be easy to do — Upton currently tops MLBTR’s 2015-2016 Free Agent Power Rankings.
  • Cardinals lefty Marco Gonzales will miss a start with Triple-A Memphis on Monday with pectoral muscle tightness, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com writes. Gonzales dealt with the same injury earlier this season. Gonzales hasn’t yet pitched in the big-leagues this season, but as Langosch points out, he’s a key part of the Cardinals’ rotation depth, especially given Adam Wainwright‘s absence.