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In his latest notes column for FOX Sports, Ken Rosenthal begins with an interesting note on the Nationals. Despite a substantial payroll and a heavy offseason investment in Max Scherzer, Nats ownership is reluctant to add payroll during the season. Rosenthal notes that, in hindsight, we saw an indication of this last July when Cleveland paid all of the $3.3MM remaining on Asdrubal Cabrera‘s salary after the Nats acquired him. (Of course, the Nats were also willing to take on all of Matt Thornton‘s salary via waiver claim.)
Because of this, Rosenthal wonders if the Nats will consider trading Ian Desmond this summer to clear room for a different acquisition. Given Desmond’s struggles, the team could be better off with Danny Espinosa, Yunel Escobar and Anthony Rendon seeing regular time in the infield. Earlier in the week, I speculated on a possible Desmond trade after it was reported that the Nats were interesred in the D-Backs’ middle infielders, but Rosenthal notes that it could also allow them more flexibility to pursue Aroldis Chapman, Ben Zobrist or even a reunion with Tyler Clippard. Of course, Desmond’s offensive and defensive woes diminish his trade value, as well.
A few more highlights from Rosenthal’s column…
- Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart tells Rosenthal that he usually doesn’t pay attention to media criticism, but he’s aware of the near-universal criticism of the D-Backs for their trade of Touki Toussaint (in which the team essentially sold its 2014 first-round pick to Atlanta). Rosenthal quotes Stewart: “The truth is we did not know what Touki’s value would be if we shopped him. There is a lot of speculation on that. People are assuming it would have been better, but we don’t know. There was an opportunity to make a deal that gave us more flexibility today as well as next year. We took that opportunity. It’s tough to say we could have gotten more. He was drafted at No. 16, given ($2.7) million. In my opinion, that’s his value.” Stewart continues to say that Toussaint has not thrown 96 mph with the D-Backs, despite some scouting reports and that there’s “some inflation of what people think Touki is.” Stewart adds that the D-Backs think Toussaint will be a Major League pitcher but not for another five to six years.
- A brief interjection from me to offer my take on those comments: It’s odd to hear a GM openly devalue a player in this fashion, even after trading him away. Beyond that, however, it’s puzzling to hear Stewart equate Toussaint’s value with the clearly arbitrary number assigned to last year’s draft slot value. Having shown a willingness to spend $16MM+ on a pitching prospect (Yoan Lopez) this offseason, Stewart is undoubtedly cognizant of the fact that Toussaint would have fetched far, far more than $2.7MM in a theoretical free agent setting. Additionally, if they truly do feel that Toussaint will pitch in the Major Leagues, that makes the trade all the more puzzling to me, as my best explanation to this point had been that they simply didn’t believe in his future all that strongly.
- Back to Rosenthal’s piece, which has several more quotes from Stewart, including the GM’s own admission of surprise to his team’s current standing in the NL West. The D-Backs were built with an eye on the longer-term picture than 2015, says Stewart, and they’ll need to assess how to respond at the deadline. To this point, the D-Backs have received inquiries on their starting pitching, but not on their middle infield. Stewart flatly says “…we’re not moving [Nick] Ahmed,” and calls a trade of Chris Owings “very unlikely.” Interestingly, that does seem to indicate that the new GM values Ahmed over Owings.
- The Astros remain interested in Jeff Samardzija, and as Rosenthal notes, a move away from what has been a brutal White Sox defense would likely help Samardzija quite a bit. Samardzija’s .338 BABIP has helped contribute to a significant discrepancy between his 4.53 ERA and 3.67 FIP. Of course, Chicago’s porous defense doesn’t necessarily explain Samardzija’s diminished strikeout rate and struggles to strand runners in 2015. The Astros, Rosenthal says, are eyeing Samardzija and other pitchers, but the White Sox are not yet ready to sell.
- The Brewers aren’t receiving very strong interest in Francisco Rodriguez, likely in part due to his backloaded contract, Rosenthal hears. K-Rod is still owed $1.95MM in 2015, plus $9.5MM in 2016 between his salary and the buyout on a $6MM club option for the 2017 season. Lefty Neal Cotts, however, figures to be in demand and may even be of interest to his former club, the Rangers, Rosenthal writes. Cotts’s 4.30 ERA isn’t anything to write home about, but he’s held lefties to a .546 OPS.
- The Cardinals might not be as urgent to add a starter as many had previously expected. The club feels that Michael Wacha can top 200 innings, and Carlos Martinez can deliver about 170. A bigger need might be a left-handed-hitting complement for Mark Reynolds at first base, and Rosenthal suggests Adam LaRoche as a speculative fit to improve the team on both sides of the ball.
Full Story | 20 Comments | Categories: Adam LaRoche | Anthony Rendon | Arizona Diamondbacks | Aroldis Chapman | Ben Zobrist | Chicago White Sox | Chris Owings | Cincinnati Reds | Francisco Rodriguez | Houston Astros | Ian Desmond | Jeff Samardzija | Mark Reynolds | Milwaukee Brewers | Neal Cotts | Nick Ahmed | Oakland Athletics | St. Louis Cardinals | Texas Rangers | Touki Toussaint | Tyler Clippard | Washington Nationals | Yunel Escobar
Anthony Rendon‘s return to the Nationals appears to be on hold, as the infielder has suffered a strained oblique muscle during his rehab assignment, manager Matt Williams told reporters, including James Wagner of the Washington Post (Twitter link). Rendon was on the mend from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee but had his rehab assignment shut down after the oblique issue popped up. The severity of the issue and timeline of his return are unknown at this point, per Williams, but the plan for now is for Rendon to rest more.
More injury news pertaining to the Nats and from around the league…
- Nationals outfielder Reed Johnson underwent surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his foot over the weekend, Wagner wrote earlier in the week. Wagner writes that the 38-year-old Johnson is expected to be able to rejoin the club later this summer. Williams didn’t sound sure, however, as MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko tweeted yesterday. Asked whether Johnson would be able to return to the Nats this season, Williams simply replied, “I don’t know.”
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak expressed some concern over the shoulder and biceps of setup man Jordan Walden, who is currently on the disabled list, writes MLB.com’s Jen Langosch. Walden is getting a second opinion of the MRIs taken on his arm, but surgery has not been ruled out as a possibility. Mozeliak said at this time, Walden is leaning toward pitching through the injury.
- The White Sox will be without right-hander Matt Albers longer than expected, tweets Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Albers injured a finger on his right hand in the Sox’ benches-clearing brawl with the Royals earlier this season, and the digit ultimately wound up requiring surgery which will keep him on the shelf for six to eight weeks.
- After a slew of bad news in this post, we’ll touch on some good news for the Brewers; Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets that the early signs on Jonathan Lucroy‘s broken toe are positive, and he currently hopes that he can return on the low end of his projected four- to six-week timeline for recovery.
Injuries remain perhaps the largest driver of needs in the early part of the season — a topic that MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes and I explored in today’s podcast with respect to starting pitching. Let’s have a look at some key injury situations around the game:
- Rehabbing Royals starter Kris Medlen is headed to extended Spring Training to begin throwing against live batters, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports. That leaves him on track for a rehab assignment in May. Kansas City has $8.5MM riding on the righty’s ability to return to form after his second Tommy John surgery.
- The Reds are missing two key cogs in backstop Devin Mesoraco and righty Homer Bailey. As Michael Hunt reports for MLB.com, manager Bryan Price says that Mesoraco — still not on the DL despite a 17-game absence from his usual catching duties — is still not ready “to try it out just yet,” adding that Mesoraco is “coming along slowly.” There are longer-term concerns with regard to Bailey, of course, and surgery is said to be on the table. “We’re probably going to know in the next one-to-two days what our plans are with Homer,” Price said. “You spend a lot of time when you make a diagnosis, fact-finding and making sure everything you see is as it appears. That’s been the time consumer, making sure it is what we think it is and finding the best way to treat it.”
- Marlins starter Jose Fernandez is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, of course, and recently faced hitters in a live BP session for the first time. You can check out the video of his outing, courtesy of FOX Sports Florida.
- After a pause in his rehab, Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon is preparing for another Double-A appearance in the coming days, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports. The issue has not been with his knee, which caused him to hit the DL to start the year, but with tightness in his side. That’s good news for the club, obviously, as is the fact that reliever Casey Janssen appeared in an extended spring game. He is set to begin his own run up through the minors in short order, per Ladson.
- Injured Tigers starter Justin Verlander is set for a third MRI on his right triceps area early next week, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports (Twitter links). Meanwhile, reliever Joe Nathan underwent his Tommy John procedure yesterday, Fenech tweets, with Nathan saying that it went well. It figures to be a long road back for the 40-year-old, but indications are that he’ll try to return to the big leagues.
While most have assumed that Anthony Rendon will return to third base upon his activation from the disabled list, with Yunel Escobar shifting to second base, but Jon Heyman of CBS Sports hears that may not be the case. Some close to the situation have told Heyman that Escobar may continue to play third base, with Rendon handling second base, though GM Mike Rizzo and manager Matt Williams would only comment by saying nothing definitive has been decided. “They can both play both very well,” said Rizzo. Escobar’s time at either position may only be temporary, as he figures to slide into the shortstop position next year if Ian Desmond departs as a free agent. As for timing, Rendon sat out a scheduled rehab start today for precautionary reasons with what the team described as fatigue. Washington will surely continue to exercise care, but needs him to return as soon as possible, as the club has struggled to produce runs while dropping six straight.
Here’s more from the National League:
- Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman says that he intends to fill in for injured starter Brandon McCarthy with internal options for the foreseeable future, as Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. “We’ll wake up in June having scouted other organizations over the next four to six weeks, and we’ll see where we are,” said Friedman, who noted that deals are “pretty uncommon” in the season’s first two months.
- Meanwhile, Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins acknowledges that this is the toughest start to a season that he has experienced, but says he is not worried, as Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register writes. Saying that he believes his “process is good” at the plate, Rollins expressed confidence that some minor tweaks will get him back on track. Los Angeles is paying Rollins $10MM this year, with the Phillies picking up an additional $1MM as part of the deal that brought the veteran out west.
- The Braves continue to line up major corporate partners for their new ballpark, with Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting that Omni Hotels will participate in the mixed-use development that is set to accompany the stadium. The club is counting on a revenue boost from the controversial project to improve its financial standing going forward.
Here’s the latest from around the league as the evening winds down.
- With Ben Zobrist headed west to the Athletics, the Nationals are still trying to solve second base, writes Bill Ladson of MLB.com. Currently, there are five internal options. The most obvious are Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon. Espinosa has disappointed over the last two seasons while Rendon is expected to start at third base. Prospect Wilmer Difo has yet to play above A-ball, but he’s on the 40-man roster and possesses exciting tools. Other options include veterans Kevin Frandsen and Dan Uggla.
- Free agent John Axford would like to compete for a closer gig, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. As it happens, the Blue Jays have yet to acquire a closer. Left-hander Brett Cecil is penciled into the role. At this point, no offers have been made to Axford, but several teams have shown interest including the Jays. After three consecutive rough seasons, Axford would likely have to earn any high leverage role.
- The market for mid-tier, high leverage relievers has been slow to materialize, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford interviews righty reliever Burke Badenhop who is coming off a career season with a 2.29 ERA in over 70 innings. As Badenhop points out, teams don’t feel any pressure to make the first offer to free agents of his caliber. While five teams may be showing interest, they each know that any firm offer will get passed around to the others for bidding. Relievers like Badenhop, Francisco Rodriguez, and Rafael Soriano have to exercise patience as prospective buyers first gauge the trade market.
The Nationals and Mariners have discussed Ian Desmond on several occasions but talks between the two teams have yet to really gain traction, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (via Twitter). Washington likes Brad Miller, so conceivably the young shortstop could be part of a larger package the M’s would send back to D.C. Here’s some more about the Nationals…
- Jordan Zimmermann has been drawn more trade attention than Desmond this week, according to FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi.
- The Nats are actively discussing Ross Detwiler and Tyler Clippard with multiple teams, Rosenthal tweets.
- The Nationals still want a second base upgrade and they’re talking with lots of teams about Clippard and Jerry Blevins, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via Twitter).
- The Nationals have inquired on Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, but it appears like a long shot to pry him away, according James Wagner of the Washington Post.
- Jed Lowrie would appear to be a fit for the Nationals but there doesn’t appear to be anything happening on that front, Wagner writes.
- General Manager Mike Rizzo has said throughout the winter that Anthony Rendon could slide to second base should they acquire a third baseman. While some rolled their eyes at the notion of moving Rendon away from his natural position, people around the Nationals tell Wagner that they are indeed looking at third baseman and if there is a good one to be had, Rendon would be shifted to second.
- The sense from teams that asked the Nationals about Clippard is that Washington wants better than a low-tier prospect and trading him wouldn’t be simply to dump his $9MM salary, according to Wagner.
We just saw one bit of news from the Nats, as the club released Yunesky Maya. Though the move was hardly surprising and will not have any substantial impact going forward, it is a final conclusion to the saga of a player who President and GM Mike Rizzo had heralded as the Nats' "first major international signing." Fortunately, Rizzo has also acquired and developed other talent that more than makes up for the failed Maya experiment. Some of those players were covered in Rizzo's interesting discussion with MLB.com's Bill Ladson:
- Addressing lefty Ross Detwiler, Rizzo said that he "could bolster our bullpen and give us some depth as a starter." Rizzo proceeded to emphasize again that the club is enthusiastic about young starters Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, and Nate Karns, each of whom, he said, "should be able to help us next season."
- It is somewhat of a surprise for Rizzo to have referred to Detwiler as rotation depth, as he had generally been expected to slot in the rotation, where he has been effective. There are, however, valid reasons to prefer Detwiler in the pen, including his slight build, injury history, and primarily two-pitch repertoire. Certainly, it is hard to imagine the Nats handing both the fourth and fifth starter roles to unproven arms. If Rizzo does indeed intend to use Detwiler in relief, there are two important takeaways: first, the club would have a much less pressing need for a premium southpaw setup man; and second, it would have a roughly proportional increase in its need for a new starter.
- Rizzo also talked about possible extensions for two of the team's best players: shortstop Ian Desmond and pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, each of whom has long been discussed as an extension candidate. "We certainly have an interest in getting it done," Rizzo said in reference to extensions for both players. "But I don't know if we'll get it done before Spring Training. We've made overtures and we haven't had a deal done yet."
- As I noted in my offseason outlook for the Nats, starting pitching and new deals for Desmond and Zimmermann are probably the best ways for Rizzo to add value to the club over the coming off-season. But those things won't come cheap. Starters are coming off the board with substantial numbers. And MLBTR's TIm Dierkes reasons that Desmond could cost nine figures to extend, with Zimmermann warranting $85MM.
- On the revelation that the club has contract issues to work out with star youngster Bryce Harper, Rizzo told Ladson that the club "ha[s] Bryce under contract for the foreseeable future" and "want him around for a long time." The organization was, of course, aware that Harper's arbitration opt out eligibility could become an issue. Said Rizzo: "It was a contract of a drafted player that we negotiated and agreed upon. That's as far as I can go with it."
- Pressed by Ladson as to whether Anthony Rendon would man second for the Nats in 2014, Rizzo would not commit but did say that "he will be a National." "I don't know where he is going to play or what he is going to do," continued Rizzo, while also praising Rendon's "high ceiling" and noting that he "can play many positions." It is hardly surprising that Rizzo would hesitate to hand the starting gig to Rendon before the spring, and the GM's comments were, as usual, rather oblique. That makes it difficult to ascribe any particular relevance to these statements with respect to the club's free agent shopping plans or Rendon's possible availability in a major trade.
A pair of top prospects made their big league debuts yesterday, as Allen Webster started the second game of a double-header for the Red Sox and Anthony Rendon made his debut at third base for the Nationals with Ryan Zimmerman on the DL. Here's more on each, as well as some other news from baseball's Eastern divisions…
- Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer chronicles Jason Grilli's ascension from the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate to Pirates closer. In 2011, the Phils called up six relievers instead of Grilli, despite his dominant numbers. Grilli had a clause in his contract stating that if another MLB team wanted him on their 25-man roster, the Phillies had to either call him up or release him. Pittsburgh scouts took notice of Grilli, called the Phillies, and Philadelphia elected to release him so he could sign with the Buccos.
- Sonia Cruz, the spokeswoman for Robinson Cano's foundation, appeared in the latest round of Biogenesis documents, according to TJ Quinn and Mike Fish of ESPN. Cruz's name was only connected to a pair of $300 payments, which she said were for her own weight loss interests. Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports that MLB sources told him there was no link between Cano and Biogenesis. When he heard about the latest report, a surprised Cano told reporters, including Feinsand, "It's got nothing to do with me."
- Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal examines the number of starting pitchers needed by the Red Sox in each season over the past decade and notes that the evidence suggests Webster will be back this season. MacPherson also adds that preliminary research indicates this is the earliest the Red Sox have ever turned to seven different starting pitchers in any season.
- The timing of Rendon's call-up suggests that the Nationals may be more willing to let him remain with the club all season than they've let on, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Kilgore points out that Rendon has spent 20 days in the minor leagues, meaning his free agency has been delayed by a full year now.
- Jake Arrieta is at a crossroads with the Orioles, in the mind of the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly. At 27 years of age, Arrieta has passed the "prospect" stage but has yet to find the consistency to convert his above-average repertoire of pitches into consistent success. Connolly notes that it's not wise to trade someone with Arrieta's talent while his value is so low, but moving him to the bullpen hardly maximizes his value.
- Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Jay-Z's cerficiation process won't be complete anytime soon (Twitter link). As expected, CAA's Brodie Van Wagenen will handle Robinson Cano's extension talks.
Here are a few notes from around baseball:
- The Orioles have had ongoing discussions with the Rangers about trading for outfielder Julio Borbon, writes MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli. Borbon will need to be placed on outright waivers by 2pm ET tomorrow if he is not traded beforehand, but the Rangers appear confident that they will strike a deal. While Texas is interested in a major league capable pitcher with options, the Orioles are reluctant to give up arms and are waiting for the asking price to drop. For the O's, Borbon would bring depth, speed, and another lefty bat in the outfield mix.
- The Mets and Astros have also expressed interest in Borbon, Ghiroli further reports. Both clubs entered the season with among the least-entrenched outfield mixes in baseball.
- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke about what the club's Wrigley Field renovation deal could mean for the quality of the squad that takes the field at the friendly confines, as reported by Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com. According to Epstein, the club "need[s] revenues to increase in order for us to execute our baseball plan. We expect them to [increase]." Epstein added: "We are not where we want to be right now from a revenue standpoint and therefore we are not where we want to be from a payroll standpoint." While Epstein said that revenue was not the sole "determining factor in our success," he needs it to allow the front office to supplement homegrown talent with "some aggression in free agency."
- For his part, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts says that, "if [the deal] is approved, we will win the World Series." As Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times explains, however, there is some cause for skepticism. The Cubs' ownership has continued to push out its promised timeline for a championship. And with the Cubs topping Forbes' list of most profitable franchises in 2012, Wittenmyer questions Ricketts' continued unwillingness to be more specific about when and to what extent the budget will expand.
- Most big league second baggers do not start out at the position. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that several teams are considering moving big-name young players to second base, with major potential hot stove implications. ESPN's Keith Law (on ESPN Insider) broke down the possible in-season transition of the Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie, as well as two prospects who are keystone candidates: Anthony Rendon of the Nationals and Jurickson Profar of the Rangers. A Lawrie move would be motivated by gaps elsewhere in the Jays' lineup, with the primary impact being on Toronto's affirmative trade plans. The two highly-rated prospects, on the other hand, find themselves blocked at their natural positions. For Rendon and Profar, then, a move to second could be the only viable alternative to an eventual trade.
- With Rendon presumably blocked by Ryan Zimmerman at his natural third base, and with a Zimmerman move to first blocked for at least two seasons by Adam LaRoche, a switch to second seems attractive at first blush. Rendon is known as a very good fielder, and may soon be knocking on the door after starting the year destroying Double-A pitching. But even putting aside the presence of young incumbent Danny Espinosa, Law says that Rendon's lack of agility and suspect ankles should preclude such a move. Unless some drastic change intervenes — Zimmerman's throwing woes worsen; the NL adopts the DH; unforeseen injury — the Nationals could be forced to consider dealing Rendon after this season.
- On the other hand, Law explains that the shortstop Profar, blocked by Elvis Andrus, can certainly handle second. But he would be less valuable there, and the Rangers would need to convince Ian Kinsler to become a first baseman or outfielder. Law goes so far as to suggest that Profar has the capacity to be shifted to centerfield, despite having never seen time in the outfield as a professional. Of course, Profar has already established his value at a premium defensive position. Such a move would not only be risky, but would keep Profar out of the big league lineup for longer while he adapted to a totally new position. Law says that bringing Profar up to man second would add value to the Rangers right now. Certainly, if the club is unwilling to make such a move this season, it is reasonable to wonder (as many have) whether Texas might instead dangle Profar as the centerpiece of a blockbuster deal to acquire a top-flight starter or outfielder.
We heard overnight that the Rays and Nationals were exploring the possibility of a trade that would send Danny Espinosa to Tampa. While multiple reporters have suggested those talks haven't gained much momentum, Espinosa remains a trade candidate. Here are the latest rumblings related to the Nats infielder:
- At least one team besides the Rays called the Nats about Espinosa, tweets Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, who adds that any talks are being initiated by other teams.
- The Nationals are more willing to trade Mike Morse than Espinosa, with GM Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson still steadfast supporters of Espinosa, writes Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com.
- Many members of the Nats organization are reluctant to trade Espinosa, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. "He will figure it out," one source told Rosenthal. "[Steve] Lombardozzi is a good player, but he’s not Espinosa."
- The Nationals haven't ruled out the possibility of moving Anthony Rendon to second base if they decide to trade Espinosa, tweets MLB.com's Bill Ladson.