Alfonso Soriano Rumors

Chicago Notes: Epstein, Soriano, Hahn, Konerko

The Chicago Blackhawks recently bought the Stanley Cup back to the Windy City, but it seems awfully unlikely that either of Chicago's baseball teams will catch fire and add a World Series title to the city's list of sports championships.  Both the Cubs and White Sox are seemingly looking ahead to 2014, as you'll see in this collection of Chicago baseball news…

  • Cubs president Theo Epstein tells reporters (including Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune) that there is an even-money chance the Cubs will make a deal before the All-Star break.  “Judging by the amount of calls that are going on, and the number of pieces we intend to have available and the number of opportunities that might present themselves for us to get better, yeah, I’d say 50-50,” Epstein said.
  • Also from Sullivan's item, the Red Sox have sent top scout Gary Hughes to follow the Cubs while the team is on the west coast.  Sullivan considers it likely that the Cubs will ask for two or three of Boston's top prospects in any significant deal given Epstein's familiarity with the Red Sox farm system.
  • Alfonso Soriano recently received consecutive days off and said he's open to ceding playing time to some of the Cubs' younger players down the stretch, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.  That said, Soriano didn't dismiss the idea that getting less playing time would induce him to waive his no-trade clause and go elsewhere before the deadline.  “I don’t think about it. Let’s wait and see if that happens, and I’ll think about it,” Soriano said.  “I don’t want to put my mind on something that hasn’t happened yet. The front office has their job, and I have my job.”  Soriano had posted a .704 OPS heading into today's play and the 37-year-old is owed approximately $27MM between now and the end of the 2014 season.
  • If the White Sox do intend to become trade deadline sellers, general manager Rick Hahn told reporters (including MLB.com's Scott Merkin) that he doesn't intend to make his club's intentions public.  Hahn hopes the Sox can get back into the pennant race but "we aren't going to delude ourselves, and we're not going to wishcast our performance this year. We're going to respond to our performance to date and make adjustments when the time calls for it."
  • Hahn said that the White Sox would be looking for "high-impact, premium talent" at middle infield positions, center field and the starting rotation if they did dip into the trade market.  While Hahn is willing to listen to offers on any player, "that doesn't mean that some players [aren't] extraordinarily difficult to acquire."  It was reported earlier this week that the Sox were open to dealing anyone besides Chris Sale and Paul Konerko.
  • Speaking of Konerko, the veteran slugger said yesterday that he was just focused on recovering from a back injury rather than being traded.  Today, Konerko told Merkin that he would judge potential deals on a case-by-case basis.  "I've been here 15 years, and if that's the way it's going to go with this team, it's pretty lucky to really have one time out of 15 years where [getting traded has] been an issue," Konerko said.
  • From earlier today on MLBTR, ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine reported that the Giants, Diamondbacks and Rangers were a few of the teams scouting White Sox outfielder Alex RiosFOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal also opined that Rios would be a perfect fit in right field for the Pirates.

Cubs Ready To Sell

We're just under six weeks away from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. At this point, many teams are still attempting to determine whether or not they're buyers or sellers, and the addition of a second Wild Card in each league has made that a longer process than it was in the past. However, ESPN's Buster Olney has spoken to rival evaluators who have said that the Cubs are "open for business" and ready to sell (ESPN Insider required and recommended).

The Cubs are 13 games below .500 and 17 games out of first place in the National League Central as of this morning, so their stance is a clear one. Nate Schierholtz, Kevin Gregg, Scott Feldman, David DeJesus (when healthy), Alfonso Soriano, James Russell and Matt Garza are the names that figure to be on the trading block as the Cubs field calls, writes Olney. His piece also includes much more info on potential matches for the Cubs and which divisions may be the first to become active on the trade front.

My take on the Cubs' situation: Being the first team to sell pieces has its advantages and disadvantages. Obviously, the Cubs will have more teams to work with at this juncture. Early in the trading season, with so few teams ready to declare themselves sellers, buyers will have few other places to turn. Trading for a player like Garza or Feldman right now would give the acquiring team an extra few starts from the pitcher they're trading precious prospects for. Acquiring a position player in late June as opposed to late July could mean an extra 20 to 30 games out of that player.

On the flipside of the coin, teams may not be as desperate right now as they would be in the final hours leading up to the deadline. Oftentimes, big deals go down with just hours or minutes to go before the trade deadline, as teams have decided that one final push is worth the risk. Recent examples of July 31 blockbusters include both Hunter Pence trades, the Ubaldo Jimenez trade and the White Sox's acquisition of Jake Peavy. Each of these deals included high-profile prospects being exchanged for star-caliber players, though obviously not all of them worked out.

Injuries can also occur in the next month that would make buyers out of teams who are currently not looking. Conversely, one of the Cubs' trade chips could incur an injury, which would leave president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer one less piece to work with.

Selling pieces early takes away some of the "desperation" leverage from the Cubs, but it also will likely increase their number of suitors, creating more competition for their players. Epstein and Hoyer will have to determine how to walk that line over the next several weeks as they look to build toward the future.


Hoyer On Bullpen, Walks, Feldman, Soriano, Draft

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer was on Buster Olney's podcast for ESPN today; here are some highlights.

  • The Cubs' bullpen sports a 4.26 ERA, 13th in the National League.  Hoyer knows it needs to get better, and espoused his philosophy: "A big part of it is drafting power arms and having a surplus and inventory of those kind of guys. Usually you draft starters in the draft, and a lot of the best relievers are failed starters and I think you have to really do that year after year after year. I think that's how you end up with a good bullpen. Going out in the offseason and deciding, OK, we're going to spend money on the bullpen, that's a total fool's errand."  Hoyer splurged on Kyuji Fujikawa for two years and $9.5MM this offseason, and he's having Tommy John surgery this month.
  • Regarding the Cubs' inability to draw walks, Hoyer said, "We've got to change up the whole culture. The culture of the Cubs was always, swing early in the count, walks were never something that was emphasized. It's a really slippery slope, you don't want to have a bunch of passive hitters on your team. At the same time, walks are indicative of a good approach at the plate, and we don't have that. We've tried to bring in hitters…Rizzo has a good approach at the plate, DeJesus is excellent, Nate Schierholtz, Valbuena's a good on-base guy. But a lot of the guys we inherited have struggled with that adjustment, and something we have to keep on pounding away at. We've said, if guys we inherited aren't going to do that, we have to find other people because we're just not going to win baseball games if we don't get on base more."
  • It's not true that the Jim Hendry regime ignored walks and OBP til the very end, however.  The Cubs led the NL in walks in 2008, when they won 97 games.  They spent big money on Kosuke Fukudome prior to that season because of his approach at the plate, and signings like Milton Bradley and Carlos Pena were of a similar mindset.  Regarding Hoyer's comment about "guys we inherited," Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo, and Alfonso Soriano all have walk rates below four percent this year.  Then again, so do Schierholtz and Scott Hairston.  And at .334 in his Cubs career, Rizzo hasn't been an OBP machine either.
  • Though Hoyer suggested the team will replace low-OBP players, shortstop Starlin Castro (.294 this year) isn't considered part of the problem.  "He'll figure out the on-base thing," said Hoyer, who says Castro is "just in a slump right now."
  • If there was any doubt, it sounds like the Cubs will be trade deadline sellers once again.  "If you are in a situation where you're not going to compete that year, and you have players that aren't signed for the next year, you're doing a disservice not to acquire young players at that time," said Hoyer.  The Cubs' impending free agents include Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Carlos Marmol, Dioner Navarro, Shawn Camp, Kevin Gregg, and Ryan Sweeney, while David DeJesus has a club option for 2014.  Hoyer noted that the draft is a line of demarcation, after which teams start talking trade in earnest.
  • The Cubs convinced Feldman to sign by offering an opportunity.  "We told him flat out this winter when we recruited him that he'd be in the rotation and we'd try to give him as many starts as possible," said Hoyer, who admitted being able to offer that kind of opportunity is one of the few nice things about being in a rebuilding situation. 
  • Though the Cubs have "never really been in a huge hurry to move" Alfonso Soriano due to his positive clubhouse influence, Hoyer admitted, "At some point, it may make sense."  Hoyer feels that Soriano might welcome a trade for a chance to get a ring.  Hoyer said Soriano, who has a full no-trade clause, has not given the Cubs a list of teams, preferring to take it on a case-by-case basis.  Back in February, Soriano told reporters there were "six or seven" clubs he's named to the Cubs as acceptable trade destinations, teams in the "east or center."
  • The Cubs pick second in Thursday's draft, and Hoyer noted, "We've really made a concerted effort not to let that #2 pick derail the rest of the draft."  The Cubs have narrowed their list down to four college players, thought to be Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, Kris Bryant, and Colin Moran.  Tomorrow or even on draft day, Hoyer and company will whittle their list and take the best player on their board that doesn't go to the Astros first overall.
  • How have Hoyer and Cubs president Theo Epstein done since taking over in fall 2011?  Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald judges their major moves.


Alfonso Soriano More Open To Approving Trade

While Alfonso Soriano shot down a trade that would have sent him to the Giants last year, he may be more open to a deal if it presents itself this season, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Yeah," Soriano said when asked if he's more likely to consider waiving his no-trade rights than he thought he might be a few months ago. "But it depends on them. It depends what the team wants.  A chance to win, that's the most important thing. But it depends on the front office. It's not on me."

Soriano is hitting just .262/.291/.399 this season and will make $18MM this year and next, so he doesn't appear to be a particularly attractive trade target. Depending on how much salary the Cubs are willing to absorb, however, a team might be willing to trade for him, hoping for something more along the lines of last year's peformance, when he hit .262/.322/.499.

Charlie Wilmoth contributed to this post.


Rosenthal On Cubs, Brewers, Marlins

Ken Rosenthal's new video for FOX Sports offers a variety of trade tidbits on the Cubs, Brewers and Marlins.

  • Matt Garza of the Cubs makes an intriguing trade candidate, but Rosenthal says that one can't rule out the possibility that the Cubs will keep Garza and extend him a qualifying offer at the end of the season, hoping to collect draft-pick compensation. Scott Feldman might also be traded, but Rosenthal notes that his peripherals indicate he has been lucky so far.
  • Alfonso Soriano has only one year left on his eight-year, $136MM contract, which could make him a more attractive trade target than in years past, Rosenthal notes, but Soriano also has a no-trade clause, allowing him to control his destination.
  • The Brewers, meanwhile, have fewer trade options, Rosenthal argues. Corey Hart is hurt, Rickie Weeks is in the midst of a poor season, and Aramis Ramirez is owed $16MM in 2014 and has a $4MM buyout on his mutual option the following season. The Brewers will be "reluctant" to trade Yovani Gallardo, whose contract carries him through next season and gives the Brewers an option on his services in 2015.
  • The Marlins have received calls on relievers Steve Cishek, Ryan Webb and Mike Dunn, Rosenthal reports.

Mets Monitoring Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gonzalez

The Mets "retain an unfilled craving for a marquee outfielder," writes Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, and are monitoring superstars such as Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies.  One Mets person told Martino "there is heat there," in regard to the team having a preliminary discussion with the Marlins about Stanton.  Still, Martino is unsure whether GMs Sandy Alderson and Larry Beinfest have discussed the powerful right fielder.

To acquire four years of Stanton, the Mets would likely have to part with their two best prospects, pitcher Zack Wheeler and catcher Travis D'Arnaud.  An associate of Alderson's told Martino the GM "did not have any extra attachment to those players, simply because he traded for them."

According to Martino, the Mets debated using Wheeler to get Justin Upton or Wil Myers, during the Winter Meetings.  They also considered asking for the Dodgers' Andre Ethier in an R.A. Dickey deal, and this spring checked in on the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano.  So, it appears the Mets' long-term interest in improving the outfield runs the gamut, from the game's best young stars to overpaid veterans.  The Mets were willing to increase payroll to the $125MM range last winter for the right players, writes Martino.

Keep in mind that no deals are close, and the idea that Stanton or CarGo could become available this year is speculation.


Quick Hits: Pettitte, Murphy, Soriano, Greinke

Cesar Carrillo, a right-handed pitcher in the Tigers system, became the first player listed in the Biogenesis documents to be suspended, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports (twitter link).  As FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal and others have noted, MLB has "greater jurisdiction over minor leaguers like Carrillo than major leaguers who are protected by the players' union."  Here are some other notes from around the majors:

  • Mariano Rivera's retirement plans have fellow Yankee stalwart Andy Pettitte wondering how and when to end his own "long, strange journey," as Daniel Barbarisi of The Wall Street Journal describes it.  Pettitte sees some merit to ending his career around the same time as those of his long-time teammates, but does not want to "stop playing until I know that I'm done."
  • Outfielder David Murphy is still waiting to work out a long-term extension with the Rangers after discussing that possibility with the club earlier in the offseason, writes T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com.  While Murphy reiterated that he wants to remain a Ranger and has no hard feelings for the lack of progress towards a deal, he added that free agency is a "privilege" and that "waiting another year is not going to kill me."
  • While the Cubs "feel the presence of teams watching Alfonso Soriano," nevertheless "no substantive talks have taken place yet," tweets Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.  Cafardo mentions the Phillies and Yankees as teams that are "on [the] radar" for a possible Soriano deal.
  • With Zack Greinke still dealing with elbow issues, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly indicated that the right-handed starter is facing an ever-narrowing window to be ready for the start of the regular season, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.  As has previously been noted, Greinke's timeline could impact the availability of the Dodgers' excess starting pitching options, such as Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang.

Yankees Notes: Granderson, Soriano, Damon

The Yankees lost Curtis Granderson for 10 weeks over the weekend when he was hit on the forearm by a pitch in his first at-bat of Spring Training and suffered a fracture. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes examined ways in which the Yankees could replace Granderson in the short-term yesterday, and here's some more on the matter from the New York media…

  • Missing significant time due to an injury will hurt Granderson's upcoming free agent stock, but as Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes, Granderson's impending shift to left field likely would have done the same. Any lack of power stemming from his forearm injury could be very detrimental to his stock. Granderson recently just missed out on the Top 10 in Dierkes' Free Agent Power Rankings.
  • From that same piece, Sherman writes to keep an eye on Adonis Garcia, who signed with the Yanks for $400K last season. The 27-year-old Cuban import hit .263/.311/.424 in 57 games between Class-A Advanced and Double-A last season and has impressed the Yankees with his performance in the Venezuelan Winter League.
  • Sherman also writes that Cubs officials he spoke with don't get the sense that the Yankees will be interested in Alfonso Soriano given the relatively small amount of time Granderson will miss. He goes on to speculate that that line of thinking also eliminates Jason Kubel or one of the Athletics' surplus outfielders from the equation.
  • Johnny Damon appeared with Michael Kay on ESPN radio in New York and told Kay that he would welcome the chance to play with the Yankees in replacement of Granderson, even if the team sent him on his way upon Granderson's return (Andrew Marchand of ESPN with the write-up).
  • Meanwhile, Damon told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News that while he would definitely welcome the opportunity, he doesn't anticipate that the Yankees will have interest.

Cubs Notes: Soriano, Yankees, Soler

Ever since Curtis Granderson broke his arm yesterday, there’s been speculation that the Cubs could send Alfonso Soriano back to New York. Here’s the latest on Soriano plus more Cubs-related news…

  • It’s doubtful the Yankees will view the Cubs as a particularly strong match for their outfield needs, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Even if the Yankees did want to trade for Soriano, they’d need his approval. The left fielder told Wittenmyer that he hasn’t given the Cubs an updated list of teams to which he’d accept trades. Though Soriano enjoyed playing for the Yankees earlier in his career, he didn’t approve them as a trade destination last summer.
  • Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger notes that the Yankees could get by without acquiring a player like Soriano. McCullough writes that it's still worth exploring potential deals in case the sides can work out a trade.
  • Darnell McDonald, Scott Hairston and Soriano agree that Jorge Soler has the potential to be an MLB star, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. Soler, an outfield prospect who turns 21 today, signed a $30MM deal with the Cubs last year. Team president Theo Epstein says Soler has the makings of a complete player. "What has been really impressive, all last year and so far in camp, is how into defense and baserunning he is," Epstein said.

Filling In For Curtis Granderson

A J.A. Happ fastball struck Curtis Granderson's right forearm today in a Spring Training game, which will knock the Yankees' projected left fielder out until May.  GM Brian Cashman intends to look at all possibilities, but of course the team will start by considering in-house corner outfielders such as Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera.  YES Network's Jack Curry tweets a reality check: the Yankees' plan to replace Granderson will be made with the expectation that he's likely to miss 30 games, not the entire season.

That's why a relatively complicated deal for veterans such as Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells seems unlikely.  Both players were quizzed by reporters today nonetheless, and both professed a desire to win with their current teams.  Regarding Soriano, Cubs president Theo Epstein told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, "If we can get him to a winner and get a good package back we'd consider it. We haven't even been tempted yet.  He's a valuable guy here. He's more valuable to us than anything we've been offered…by far." 

A couple of ex-Yankees continue to toil in free agency: Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu.  Scott Podsednik is available as well.  They'd all be candidates for minor league deals, so the risk is minimal if Cashman wants to add some depth.

Out of options players are worth considering as well.  A few notable outfielders on that list include Jordan SchaferEzequiel Carrera, Casper Wells, Gorkys Hernandez, Jose Tabata, Julio Borbon, and Xavier Paul.  Tabata, a former Yankees farmhand, has $12.75MM in guaranteed money left on his contract, so the Pirates would have to be looking to cut bait and assume the vast majority.  If not Hernandez, the Marlins might be able to spare former Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan.  The Diamondbacks recently added speedster Tony Campana to a crowded outfield, and perhaps Cashman will give Kevin Towers a call.  Dewayne Wise, Scott Cousins, Eric Thames, Aaron Cunningham, Austin Kearns, Darnell McDonald, Felix Pie, Tony Gwynn Jr., and Travis Buck are some other outfielders fighting for jobs who could become available as camp progresses.

Cashman is in a tricky spot.  Anyone who represents a clear upgrade over the team's internal options might come with a decent acquisition cost, which wouldn't make sense if Granderson will be out for one month.  The best strategy might be to make a couple of low-risk acquisitions to give manager Joe Girardi additional options.