May 2011

Poll: Which Surprise Teams Will Stay In Contention?

Memorial Day is behind us and the Indians and Diamondbacks lead their respective divisions. The standings will change between the beginning of June and the beginning of October, of course, but they're now the product of 50-plus games. 

Though the Indians are 32-20, they've lost five of seven games and can't be quite sure what Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner can offer the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the 30-24 D'Backs could face stiff competition if and when the Rockies and Giants recover from injuries to Jorge de la Rosa and Buster Posey, respectively. Both Cleveland and Arizona are talented, but that doesn't mean 2011 is their year.

 


Cardinals Have Inquired On Heath Bell

Fernando Salas has converted all ten of his save opportunities in 2011, so the Cardinals may not need another closer this summer. But in case Salas, Ryan Franklin, Eduardo Sanchez, Mitchell Boggs and the rest of the St. Louis bullpen don't offer enough late-inning stability, the Cardinals are doing their homework. They're among the teams that have checked in on Padres closer Heath Bell, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney (on Twitter).

Bell, 33, earns $7.5MM this year and hits free agency after the season. He converted his fourth save in as many days tonight and now has 14 on the season to go along with a 1.96 ERA, 7.0 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. The Rangers have also checked in on Bell, whose trade value I explored last week.


Quick Hits: Mauer, Dodgers, Suzuki, Soria

Evan Longoria is back in the cleanup spot and his eighth-inning homer led the Rays to a win against the Rangers today. Here are some links from around the Major Leagues…

  • Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com that he doesn't plan to move Joe Mauer from behind the plate when he returns from the disabled list. "He signed an eight-year deal to catch in the big leagues for the Minnesota Twins," Gardenhire said. "So we're trying to get him back as a catcher. If it doesn't work out when he comes back, then we're going to have to figure somewhere else." 
  • Tom Verducci of SI.com crunches some numbers and says the Twins are done. The Cubs and White Sox aren't much better off if you ask Verducci. 
  • A's GM Billy Beane told catcher Kurt Suzuki that he wants him to avoid collisions at the plate, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney. Across the bay, Giants catcher Buster Posey will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury after a home plate collision. 
  • Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told AJ Cassavell of MLB.com that there's no mistake he hasn't learned from in his first year as L.A.'s skipper.
  • Royals manager Ned Yost told Dick Kaegel and Adam Holt of MLB.com that the Royals haven't had serious discussions about converting recently-demoted closer Joakim Soria to the rotation.


NL Central Notes: Lyles, Reyes, Doumit

Here's the latest from around the NL Central, with an emphasis Jordan Lyles. The Astros' right-hander debuted against the Cubs tonight and pitched seven-plus innings, allowing one earned run on five hits with four strikeouts and no walks….

  • Astros manager Brad Mills pointed out that Lyles could be with Houston for two starts or 20 years, according to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. Lyles' debut may be the most anticipated in Astros history since Hunter Pence's 2007 debut, according to McTaggart.
  • Lyles' promotion represents a victory for assistant GM and amateur scouting director Bobby Heck, according to Stephen Goff of the Houston Astros Examiner
  • I examined the service time implications for Lyles earlier tonight.
  • Reds GM Walt Jocketty told John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that he hasn’t had talks with the Mets. That means speculation linking the Reds to Jose Reyes is unfounded at this point (though the Reds could have had internal discussions about the shortstop). 
  • Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit has fractured his left ankle and will miss at least a month, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (on Twitter). Doumit, a potential trade target, would have a few weeks to re-establish his value before the trade deadline if he makes a speedy return. But his $5.1MM salary could clear waivers, which would enable the Pirates to deal him in August.

Draft Notes: Guerrieri, Pirates, Bauer

Here's the latest on the MLB draft, which is less than a week away…

  • No prospect has seen his draft stock rise more than high school right-hander Taylor Guerrieri, according to Nathan Rode of Baseball America. Guerrieri is the best high school arm an American League scout has ever seen and the odds that he goes to college seem slimmer than ever.
  • Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus points out that this year's draft is hard to predict from the first overall selection on. Goldstein has the sense that the Pirates will select Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen, but he can see them taking UCLA righty Gerrit Cole or Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon.
  • Check out our Draft Prospect Q&A series for conversations with all three players and others.
  • You may have heard about Trevor Bauer's unorthodox workout program, but the UCLA right-hander would prefer to be known for his fastball, according to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. Mayo offers a must-read take on Bauer, who led the country with 189 strikeouts this season.
  • Hultzen, Rendon and Bauer are all finalists for 2011 USA Golden Spikes Award, Cash Kruth writes at MLB.com.

Mets Could Deal Wright Instead Of Reyes

8:00pm: A source with knowledge of the situation told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News that the Mets have had no serious internal discussions about trading Wright (Twitter links). Though the Mets haven't ruled out signing Reyes, they won't be interested in making a $130-140MM commitment, according to Martino.

7:14pm: There has been plenty of speculation about a potential Jose Reyes trade this summer, but a source told Adam Rubin of ESPN New York that the Mets could choose to trade David Wright instead. That doesn't mean it'll be easy, despite what we can assume would be tremendous interest.

"It will be a very ticklish situation because of what David has meant to the team for so long, but that's not a concern of Sandy [Alderson]," said the source. "There will be some capital there to spend on Reyes if they choose to go that direction. Now, he can't obviously get monster money. If Reyes wants monster money, no, the Mets won't keep him."

Rubin says that the biggest obstacle in a Wright trade would be convincing COO Jeff Wilpon to sign off on a deal given his strong regard for the third baseman, both on and off the field. The source added:

"If they wanted to move Wright, there's no better time to move him than now, because there still will be teams out there thinking, 'Well, David Wright was sabotaged by the stadium. He's still a good player. He'd be a good fit where he doesn't have to be the guy,' which he's been here for so long. So they can get some return on Wright. Plus the fact that he has two years left on his deal, so you're not talking about long-term financial damage for any team that does pick him up."

The source also told Rubin that the most likely scenario has both Wright and Reyes ending the season with the Amazins, then they could try to re-sign Reyes to a deal of five years or less. Their hope, as unrealistic as it may be, is three years. If no deal can be reached, they would simply take the two drafts picks. Rubin notes that Reyes has reasons to stay in New York, namely the easy flights to the Dominican Republic and the fact that his kids are in school there.

We've looked at both Wright and Reyes at trade candidates recently, and also broke down what Fred Wilpon's recent comments meant for both.


The Implications Of Jordan Lyles’ Debut

In less than an hour, Jordan Lyles will make his much-anticipated MLB debut. Ten starts into the Triple-A season, the right-hander has a 3.20 ERA with 6.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9, impressive stats, especially for a 20-year-old.

Those aren't the only relevant numbers for Lyles and his team. The Astros appear to have significantly reduced the chances that Lyles will become a super two after 2013 and go through the potentially lucrative salary arbitration process an extra time. 

Even if Lyles never sees the minor leagues again, he’ll have two years and 121 days of service time after 2013. That doesn’t figure to be enough for super two status – last year’s cutoff was unusually low at two years and 122 days – so Lyles is only on track for three arbitration years.

But it’s too early to know how much service time will be required for super two status three offseasons for now, because the cutoff date changes most years. And since baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires after 2011, there’s no guarantee that the super two will exist a few years from now (though coming up with alternative that satisfies baseball’s owners and the players’ association will not be easy).

There’s a good chance that the Astros will have to option Lyles to the minors at some point – few 20-year-olds make the big leagues and even fewer thrive instantly at the highest level. If Lyles does return to the minors, the projections could change dramatically, as they did for Brett Cecil, Jenrry Mejia and legions of other pitching prospects who were demoted after debuting in the big leagues.

Everything from the super two cutoff to the CBA to Lyles’ development is subject to change, but here’s what we know: if the rules stay the same, the cutoff falls where we expect it to and Lyles stays in the big leagues from here on, the Astros will have avoided super two status for the young righty and saved themselves millions in the process. That may not be Houston's intention – there's much more to player development than waiting until Memorial Day then calling up your top players – but at the very least it's a pleasant coincidence. 


Nats Looking For Center Fielder; Asked About Bourn

The Nationals are looking to acquire a center fielder and a leadoff hitter, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson. The club is willing to overpay in a trade, according to Ladson, who suggests they could look for a center fielder or leadoff hitter if they trade Ivan Rodriguez or Todd Coffey. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post hears that the Nats inquired about Michael Bourn, though talks didn't develop (Twitter link).

Roger Bernadina has been playing center field regularly for Washington, but some members of the Nationals' organization believe he belongs in a corner outfield spot. The 26-year-old has played all three outfield positions this year and has a .247/.307/.333 line with one home run.

Nationals leadoff hitters have combined for a .195/.250/.296 line. They're 13 of 13 in stolen base attempts, but have just 13 walks against 51 stirkeouts and rank last among MLB leadoff hitters in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS.


AL East Notes: Papelbon, Bautista, Lawrie, Fox

It's early, but baseball's toughest division doesn't appear to be getting any easier. The Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays are all within two games of the AL East lead. Here are the latest links from the division…

  • Jonathan Papelbon told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com that he’d like to stay in Boston after the season and break records and win championships with the Red Sox. The prospective free agent says he’ll do what’s best for his family, though there’s more to that than the bottom line. "It's not about the money, it's about going somewhere day in and day out and wanting to be there."
  • Jose Bautista reflects on his ascension from hard-throwing college closer to utility player to MLB home run king with MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince
  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca that top prospect Brett Lawrie has made the adjustments the Jays asked him to make and is close to Major League-ready (Twitter link). Earlier today, ESPN.com’s Keith Law ranked Lawrie 11th among MLB prospects.
  • Orioles utility player Jake Fox told Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com that his role is unclear and that he has had trouble timing and recognizing pitches without regular at bats. 

Reds Designate Tom Cochran For Assignment

The Reds announced that they designated left-hander Tom Cochran for assignment to create 40-man roster space for right-hander Chad Reineke (Twitter link).

Cochran, 28, has spent the 2011 season at Triple-A Louisville where he has a 4.08 ERA with 4.1 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9 through 28 2/3 innings as a swingman. He has a 3.70 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in parts of nine minor league seasons since the Red Sox selected him in the 18th round of the 2003 draft.

Reineke is set to make his first MLB appearance since 2009. The 29-year-old had a 2.52 ERA with 5.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 53 2/3 innings at Triple-A this year. A 13th round selection by the Astros in 2004, Reineke has a 3.84 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in eight minor league seasons.