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Here’s the latest out of the National League …
- The Phillies reversed course on Ryan Howard‘s playing time because the club believes the only way it can salvage anything in return for him is to keep him in the everyday lineup, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Philadelphia hopes that an American League team will bite on Howard over the offseason, especially if he can put up the kinds of numbers (25 home runs, 100 RBI) that would shine up his surface appeal.
- The word around Philadelphia is that no major changes to the decisionmaking structure will occur while club president David Montgomery is on leave, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. Both GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and Ryne Sandberg gave short and simple explanations that the status quo would continue. “We’re not really at liberty to really discuss much more about it,” said Amaro.
- Braves reliever Jonny Venters will undergo and attempt to return from a third Tommy John procedure, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports on Twitter. Venters was one of the game’s better southpaw setup men over 2010-12, but he would be a rare pitcher to make it back from a trio of UCL replacements.
- The Brewers are unlikely to make any last-minute moves, GM Doug Melvin tells MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy (Twitter link). Though the club made a claim and tried to acquire Rockies’ first baseman Justin Morneau, Melvin indicated that nothing seemed in the works at this point. “You never know, but probably not,” he said.
Jesus Montero was at the center of a bizarre situation on Thursday night, as MILB.com’s Tyler Maun reports. While on a rehab assignment at Seattle’s short-season class A affiliate, Montero reportedly had to be restrained from going after a Mariners crosschecker with a bat after the scout reportedly sent an ice cream sandwich to the dugout. Butch Baccala, the crosschecker in question, tells Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times that the incident is “not what is being portrayed,” though he didn’t want to comment further until speaking with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.
- There is discord between Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager Bo Porter, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports, and things may have gotten bad enough that “it’s difficult to imagine the Astros starting the 2015 season with the same management team.” Porter feels he doesn’t have enough input in the team’s plans and Luhnow too often second-guesses his in-game decisions, plus there were some hard feelings over Mark Appel‘s bullpen session at Minute Maid Park last month.
- Yadier Molina‘s return shouldn’t end A.J. Pierzynski‘s stint with the Cardinals, FOX Sports Midwest’s Stan McNeal writes. Molina will need to be eased into his usual workload behind the plate, and with rosters expanding, the Cards will have room for three catchers (Tony Cruz being the third). Pierzynski has also been a fit in the Cardinals’ clubhouse following the drama that marked his exit from Boston.
- The Braves were the other finalist for right-hander Brandon Poulson, Baseball America’s Bob Padecky reports. Poulson ended up signing a $250K bonus with the Twins, capping off a fairly incredible route to pro baseball for the 6’7″ fireballer.
- Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred figures to differ from Bud Selig in several areas, and ESPN’s Jayson Stark outlines some of the areas that Manfred will focus on when he officially takes over the job.
As David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Braves left-hander Jonny Venters, who has spent the entire season rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery, has received the devastating news that he has re-torn his left ulnar collateral ligament and will require a third Tommy John surgery if he is to continue his career. Venters says that he will address reporters Friday to further comment on the unfortunate news. O’Brien lists Jose Rijo and Jason Isringhausen as a rare pair of examples of success following a third Tommy John operation.
More from the National League East…
- The Mets worked out Cuban third baseman Pavel Quesada and shortstop Roberto Carlos, reports Mike Puma of the New York Daily News (Twitter links). Quesada, said to be a third baseman with some pop, was the more impressive of the two, according to Puma’s sources. The 28-year-old Carlos, on the other hand, was described as a “work in progress” that needs to improve the strength of his throwing arm.
- Although the Marlins are hanging on in the playoff race — they’re five and a half games out of a Wild Card spot — president of baseball operations Michael Hill tells MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro that a last-minute trade is unlikely. However, that doesn’t mean that the team will be going young in the month of September. With a postseason berth still a possibility, Hill notes that the team is less inclined to go with young players in order to give them experience when a veteran could give them a better chance at winning in a given situation. For this reason, top prospect Andrew Heaney may not get a September callup, Frisaro notes.
- “He looked like a totally different guy than in Spring Training,” an American League scout told Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer when discussing Phillies right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. A National League scout told Gelb, “He’s a solid setup guy for me.” The Phillies are very pleased with the progress they’ve seen since Gonzalez’s injuries in Spring Training made the team’s $12MM investment look questionable. Gonzalez, who is likely to receive a September callup, has a 2.36 ERA in 34 innings since shifting to a relief role and has risen to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He’s flashed a 95 to 98 mph fastball and could factor into the bullpen as a setup man coming out of Spring Training next year.
Mets first baseman Lucas Duda may or may not fully blossom into a star, but his breakout year has at least forestalled any need for the club to go out and find a new first baseman, writes Mike Petriello of Fangraphs. Here’s more from the NL East:
- Both the Angels and Royals have considered attempting to deal for Mets righty Bartolo Colon, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports (Twitter links). At present, however, neither possible suitor is in strong pursuit, with dollars being a major deterrent and the sides not necessarily seeing eye to eye on a return.
- The Phillies will likely give Miguel Gonzalez a September call-up, writes Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Gonzalez has thrived recently in the upper minors in a relief role, but that transition away from the rotation means that Philadelphia will need to act quickly to reap any value from the 28-year-old’s three-year, $12MM pact.
- Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton says that he is still not certain that he wants to commit to a long-term deal with Miami, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reports. While the club now features a fairly interesting, younger roster with some future promise, Stanton noted that “five months doesn’t change five years.”
- The Braves have shut down reliever Jonny Venters after he came up with a sore elbow when he tried to increase his velocity, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on Twitter. The southpaw, who had been attempting to return from his second Tommy John procedure, earned $1.625MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility (the same figure as his first) after missing all of 2013. A non-tender certainly appears to be a reasonably likely scenario after the year.
Talks of a rumored deal that would have sent B.J. Upton to the Cubs (perhaps along with a pitcher or cash) in exchange for Edwin Jackson have been circulating over the past couple weeks, and David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that it could be because the Braves would like to rekindle those talks in the offseason.
It won’t be easy to trade Upton and the remaining $47MM on his contract, of course, but the Braves could be willing to sweeten the deal by including three years of Mike Minor or by including a significant amount of cash to help offset Upton’s salary. The Braves are not, however, interested in including both Minor and cash in order to facilitate a trade. Regardless of how the ties are severed, O’Brien feels that it is a fait accompli that the elder Upton is dealt by next Spring Training. (Of course, many people felt the same about Dan Uggla, who lingered on Atlanta’s roster well into the summer.)
Minor has struggled for much of the season after opening the year on the disabled list, pitching to a 4.90 ERA with 8.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 39.3 percent ground-ball rate. Minor’s main problem has been an increased home run rate which, paired with an uptick in his walks, has led to a HR/9 rate of 1.51 — fifth-worst among pitchers with at least 110 innings thrown in 2014. Nonetheless, three years of a pitcher who posted a 3.72 ERA in 466 2/3 innings from 2011-13 (including a stellar 3.21 mark in 204 2/3 innings last year) would have value to pitching-hungry teams.
Perhaps more interesting is the fact that O’Brien also feels there’s “at least a pretty good chance” that Gattis could be traded in the coming offseason. While Atlanta loves Gattis’ bat, it is less enamored with his defensive prowess and isn’t certain how long his 250-pound frame can hold up at the position. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is top prospect Christian Bethancourt, who is known for his strong arm and receiving skills.
As O’Brien points out, Gattis would make for a nice trade target for an American League club, given the fact that he could split time between DH and catcher (and perhaps the outfield on occasion). The 28-year-old is hitting a hefty .276/.331/.520 with 20 homers in 353 plate appearances this season, quieting some skeptics (myself included) who felt that his hot start in 2013 may not have been sustainable.
Gattis will finish the season with exactly two years of Major League service, meaning that a club could potentially gain four years of team control over a 20-30 homer bat, and that would certainly have value on the trade market, especially given the dearth of starting-caliber catchers on the free agent market. Beyond Russell Martin, teams looking for catching help will be left looking at A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto in the second tier of free agent backstops.
Bartolo Colon is on revocable waivers, and while he could be of interest to a contending team in need of pitching such as the Dodgers or Angels, Marc Carig of Newsday hears that the Mets will not simply let Colon go to a claiming club in order to shed the remainder of his salary (Twitter links). The Mets feel that they can hang onto Colon and find a good trade for him in the offseason, when the remaining commitment will be just one year at $11MM.
Elsewhere in baseball’s Eastern divisions…
- MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo runs down the Mets‘ options with Colon and lists some potential destinations, speculating that the A’s and Pirates could be under-the-radar fits. While he ultimately deems the A’s a long shot (noting that they would only place a claim to block the Angels), he does remind that the Bucs were interested in Jon Lester prior to the July 31 deadline, and the Pirates did successfully complete a waiver trade with the Mets in 2013 (Marlon Byrd and John Buck for Dilson Herrera and Vic Black).
- Nationals trade acquisition Jose Lobaton hasn’t hit much this season, but the catcher has provided plenty of defensive value and credits one of his former teammates, James Wagner of the Washington Post writes. Lobaton says that the years he spent learning about pitch framing from Jose Molina have made perhaps the biggest impact on his game. Lobaton ranks 35th out of 91 catchers in total extra strikes added via framing, according to Baseball Prospectus. (Unsurprisingly, his former teammate Molina ranks first.)
- Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel provides a brief scouting report on new Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo. As McDaniel notes, while Castillo added a significant amount of muscle since defecting, the extra muscle hasn’t caused his 70-grade speed to diminish. The key to Castillo’s future will be his hit and power tools. While they project to be average (think .260-.270 average and 15-20 homers), they’re volatile enough that either could swing to above-average or below-average in short order.
- Despite repeated stories that the Marlins will not trade Giancarlo Stanton, his name has appeared in trade speculation, but Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald thinks the Red Sox should have their eyes on another NL East corner outfielder. Jason Heyward, one of the only core players on the Braves not to receive a long-term deal that extended the team’s control this offseason, would look very good in a Red Sox uniform, Lauber opines. Lauber suggests that the BoSox should look to trade a package of three young players to the Braves to land Heyward and extend him so that his prime years come with Boston. Heyward’s left-handed bat would help balance the lineup, and his elite defense is a good fit for Fenway Park’s tricky right field, he adds.
While news of Cuban ballplayer Rusney Castillo continues to dominate the news cycle, the human trafficking side of Cuban imports also made headlines. Eliezer Lazo entered a guilty plea in connection to the smuggling of over 1,000 Cubans, including Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin, reports Curt Anderson of the Associated Press. The article covers some of the sordid details involved in this human trafficking case.
- In related news, a lawsuit brought against Martin by a Mexican baseball academy associated with Lazo will likely be dropped as a result of the criminal case. The Estrellas baseball academy alleged that Martin agreed to pay them up to 35% of his major league contract, but Martin only paid $1.2MM of his $15.5MM deal.
- The Braves and Cubs discussed a proposal that would have sent Edwin Jackson to Atlanta in return for B.J. Upton, writes Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports. The deal would have served as a straight swap of albatross contracts. The sides apparently weren’t close to finalizing a trade but could re-open talks over the offseason. It appears this was probably the rumored trade first reported on August 9.
- In what is likely to become an ongoing “will they, won’t they” story, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Inquirer speculates about moving on from Ryan Howard. The club currently has Darin Ruf taking the occasional start in left field while Howard blocks his playing time at first base. Philadelphia seemingly needs to decide which of three players possess the higher upside – Howard, Ruf, or left fielder Domonic Brown. Given Howard’s age, 34, and rapidly diminishing numbers – he had a .678 OPS before today’s home run – it’s fair to wonder if Howard should be the odd man out. Corner infield prospect Maikel Franco could also figure in the mix before long.
- We at MLBTR seek to find answers for the pressing questions such as “Does Rusney Castillo know Jay-Z?” Castillo, who is represented by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports and Brodie Van Wagonen of CAA, does indeed know the mogul, according to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber.
MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki runs down a number of decisions with which the Phillies are faced in the coming offseason and examines some of the perceived problems on the roster. Sources have indicated to Zolecki that despite manager Ryne Sandberg’s desire to play Darin Ruf more often at first base, the Phils feel they need to let Ryan Howard play if they have any hope of moving him to an AL club this winter. Zolecki adds that while Sandberg would like to learn more about Ruf via extra playing time, the organization feels it knows that Ruf is a platoon player — a view shared by other clubs as well.
Here’s more from the NL East…
- Despite the common belief that the Mets should move Bartolo Colon this offseason, Ben Berkon of SNY.tv’s MetsBlog opines that the pitching-rich Mets should at least consider the possibility of moving a different starter such as Jon Niese. While Colon could potentially net some minor league pieces to help out in 2017-18, flipping Niese and his desirable contract (but oft-questionable health status) could bring the Mets more immediate help. Berkon speculates that Niese — perhaps paired with prospects Noah Syndergaard, Kevin Plawecki and/or Rafael Montero — could allow the Mets to land an impact bat that the Mets have been lacking despite strong seasons from Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda.
- The acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera has helped the Nationals not only on the field but in the clubhouse as well, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. Manager Matt Williams offered nothing but praise for Cabrera’s professionalism, and shortstop Ian Desmond said he strives to live up to the clubhouse reputation and league-wide repsect that Cabrera has built.
- Between top prospects Christian Bethancourt and Jose Peraza, only Bethancourt should expect a September callup, writes MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Peraza has very little experience above Class A to this point, whereas Bethancourt impressed the Braves in his handling of the pitching staff in a brief two-week audition this summer. Bowman feels that the Braves’ comfort level with Bethancourt’s glove increases reason to believe that Evan Gattis should be traded to an AL club this winter. That seems like a leap in my eyes, given Bethancourt’s modest production at Triple-A and struggles against MLB pitching. Of course, Bethancourt, 22, is quite young to have played a full season at Triple-A as well, making his pedestrian numbers more understandable.
With the injuries piling up within the Dodgers‘ rotation, Steve Dilbeck of the L.A. Times wonders if the team erred by not making any significant additions both at the trade deadline or even last offseason. In refusing to deal any of their top prospects for Major League upgrades, “you have to wonder if the Dodgers’ desire to have it both ways — win now while simultaneously rebuilding the farm system — might not cost them their best chance at winning this season,” Dilbeck writes. Here’s some more from around the NL West…
- Rookie Kevin Quackenbush recorded his first career save last night, and if the youngster produces over the rest of the season, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune feels the Padres might go with the younger (and cheaper) option at closer in 2015. This would make Joaquin Benoit, the Friars’ current stopper, into an offseason trade candidate.
- David Peralta went from being a failed Cardinals pitching prospect to a reliable everyday outfielder for the Diamondbacks with an independent league stint in between, and FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi chronicles how Peralta’s unlikely career revival was due to one persistent D’Backs scout.
- Justin Upton is enjoying another strong season with the Braves, which again begs the question of why the Diamondbacks traded of the star outfielder in January 2013. A former D’Backs employee tells Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC subscription required) that the low-key Upton simply didn’t fit Arizona’s model for a superstar. “Management there wants it done a certain way. They want their guys to be Luis Gonzalez, who was very active in the community,” the source said. “They wanted Justin to be the face of the franchise — they had that ‘Uptown’ sign in the outfield — but that’s not Justin. He would say, ‘I just want to play the game.’ “
Here are today’s minor moves from around the game.
- The Braves have signed righty Joe Gardner to a minor league deal, according to MiLB.com. Gardner is best known as one of the four players the Rockies sent the Indians for Ubaldo Jimenez in 2011 (with Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and Matt McBride being the others). Now 26, Gardner has spent part of the 2014 season with Double-A Tennessee in the Cubs system and part of it with the independent Lancaster Barnstormers, for whom he posted a 2.51 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 43 innings.