Author Archives: Mark Polishuk

NL Central Notes: Pirates, Bruce, Cueto, Mozeliak

The impatience of the industry” is a reason Neal Huntington feels teams have been focusing on big league-ready talent rather than prospects in trade talks, the Pirates GM tells Travis Sawchik and Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  Owners and general managers have “the expectation that you can turn an organization around in a year. Rather than (targeting) the best prospect in the system that may be in A-ball, teams are starting to look for the guy in Triple-A that might have an impact in a year or two,” Huntington said.  Here’s some more from Pittsburgh and elsewhere around the NL Central…

  • Huntington also noted that while he hopes to upgrade the Pirates at the deadline, his roster is overall “in a good spot. There is not a glaring hole where we may vastly have to overpay.”
  • In another piece from Sawchik, he looks at the many ways that the Pirates have looked to keep their players healthy this season.  These innovative and old-school training methods have clearly paid off, as the Bucs have lost fewer player days to the disabled list than all but one team (the Brewers) in the National League.
  • Jay Bruce’s name has only recently surfaced in trade rumors, though ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (Twitter link) that the Reds have had the outfielder “available for awhile.”
  • Also from Olney’s tweet, the Reds “haven’t officially” begun shopping Johnny Cueto.  The free agent-to-be is expected to be one of the most sought-after pieces in this deadline period.
  • Cardinals GM John Mozeliak indicated to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he’d look to add a short-term upgrade at the deadline rather than a player or players that would impact next season’s roster.  Mozeliak stressed that his club would exercise “discipline” at the deadline, pointing to a failed 2010 trade for Pedro Feliz as an example of a deal that today’s Cards wouldn’t make.
  • MLBTR’s Zach Links collected more items from around the NL Central earlier today.

2016 Vesting Options Midseason Update

Several notable players could see their 2016 statuses change depending on whether or not they unlock vesting options in their current contracts.  As we enter the All-Star break, let’s check in on the progress each of these players are making towards those getting those options to vest.  All stats are current heading into today’s action…

  • Chase Utley: The veteran second baseman has a $15MM vesting option for 2016 that becomes guaranteed if he makes 500 plate appearances.  (If he doesn’t, it becomes a team option worth between $5MM-$11MM depending on how much time Utley spends on the DL, with a $2MM buyout.)  Utley, of course, is on the DL right now recovering from an ankle injury and will be out until late July or early August.  Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has openly stated that Cesar Hernandez has earned the everyday second base job, leaving Utley’s playing time in question for the remainder of the season.  Utley is suffering through by far the worst season of his 13-year career with only a .179/.257/.275 slash line and four homers through his 249 plate appearances.  If Utley isn’t back until early August, he’d be hard-pressed to reach 500 PA even in the increasingly unlikely event that he plays every day.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: This Phillie‘s march towards his vesting option is going much more smoothly.  His $13MM option for 2016 vests if he either finishes 55 games this year, or finishes 100 games combined between the 2014 and 2015 seasons.  Papelbon finished 52 games last year and has 29 finishes this season, so collecting those last 19 finishes over roughly two and a half months shouldn’t be difficult for the closer if he stays healthy.  There’s a chance Papelbon could ask for his option to be guaranteed to facilitate a trade, yet he sounds so eager to get out of Philadelphia and pitch for a contender that he may not bother and instead bet on himself to finish those 19 games.
  • David Ortiz: Big Papi has 340 plate appearances, making him a virtual lock to reach the 425 PA he’ll need (plus passing an offseason physical) for his 2016 option to vest.  Ortiz will earn at least $11MM in 2016, plus more depending on how many PA past the 425-mark he ends up recording this season.
  • Joaquin Benoit: With only seven games finished, Benoit has no shot at the 55 games finished he’s need to turn the Padres‘ $8MM club option into a guarantee for 2016.
  • Marlon Byrd: If Byrd has 600 PA this season, or at least 550 PA this season and 1100 PA total between 2014-15, the $8MM club option on his 2016 services will become guaranteed.  A DL stint limited Byrd to 262 PA thus far, so it’ll be difficult for Byrd to reach the 550 PA mark unless he stays healthy and the Reds play him virtually every day.
  • Santiago Casilla: The Giants righty signed a three-year, $15MM deal in the 2012-13 offseason that contained a vesting option. MLBTR has learned that Casilla’s 2016 option will vest at $6.5MM with 55 games finished during the 2015 season. Casilla’s option could have vested at $7.5MM with 100 games finished between the 2014-15 seasons, including 55 in 2015. The option could also have vested at $8.5MM with 150 games finished from 2013-15, including 55 finished in 2015.
  • Nori Aoki: The outfielder was one of the league leaders in plate appearances when he fractured his right fibula, so he already has 291 of the 550 PA he needs to turn the Giants‘ $5.5MM option for 2016 into a mutual option.  If Aoki returns around July 24 (as Bruce Bochy estimates) and resumes his everyday spot atop San Francisco’s lineup, he stands a good chance of reaching the vesting point.
  • Jonny Gomes: If Gomes receives 325 PA, his $3MM option for 2016 will become guaranteed.  He’s just over halfway there with 166 plate appearances, so this one may come right down to the wire.

We already know that Cliff Lee won’t achieve the innings totals required for his 2016 option to vest, as the Phillies southpaw hasn’t pitched all season and is attempting to recover from a torn left flexor tendon without undergoing surgery.  Brandon League also hasn’t pitched this season and has been released by the Dodgers, so he won’t reach the games-finished total required to allow his 2016 player option to vest.


Padres Asking Other Teams About James Shields

The Padres have asked teams about any possible interest in James Shields, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com reports (Twitter link).  The extent of these discussions isn’t known, as the Padres could’ve been simply doing due diligence on trade scenarios rather than seriously gauging the right-hander’s market, though the fact that Shields’ name has been floated at all is a notable step.

Following today’s win over the Rangers, San Diego enters the All-Star break with a 41-49 record that puts them 10 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and 7.5 games back of the Cubs for the second NL wild card spot.  It’s a disappointing spot for a Padres team that made several major additions last offseason, and yet GM A.J. Preller hinted that his club’s trade deadline goal was to reload for 2016 rather than rebuild.

Still, Preller also noted that Padres were open to all options and “the biggest thing we preach to our scouts is to just be prepared for all different scenarios.”  Dealing Shields would naturally present a far different “scenario” than dealing, say, a player on an expiring contract.  As others have noted, trading Shields just months after the veteran and San Diego-area native signed a large multi-year contract would hurt the Padres in the eyes of both the fans and future free agents who might think twice about signing with the club.

Shields has a 4.01 ERA, 3.28 K/BB rate and a career-best 10.1 K/9 over 116 2/3 innings this season.  Advanced metrics (3.30 xFIP, 3.25 SIERA) indicate that Shields’ 4.01 ERA is a bit high, as Shields has been hurt by a 17.9% home run rate — this number is not only well above Shields’ career average, it stands out even more as an outlier given that his home games are at one of baseball’s most notoriously pitcher-friendly ballparks.

Shields is guaranteed roughly $4.1MM for the remainder of this season, then $63MM over the 2016-18 seasons and a $16MM club option (with a $2MM buyout) for 2019.  That’s a lot of salary for a 33-year-old hurler, yet since Shields can opt out after the 2016 season, a trading team might prefer such a potentially medium-sized commitment rather than deal for a pitcher on a guaranteed long deal (i.e. Cole Hamels) or one who can enter free agency this winter.



NL East Notes: Hamels, Braves, Pierzynski, Rizzo

Assuming normal rest, Cole Hamels is scheduled to start for the Phillies on July 19, July 25 and July 31, Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes.  That July 31st start is a night game, so Hamels could be scratched if he’s dealt prior to the deadline earlier that afternoon (assuming he hasn’t already been traded before the 31st).  Here’s some more from Philadelphia and elsewhere around the NL East…

  • The Braves had discussed packaging Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson together in trade talks, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports, with the idea that two relievers would bring back a larger return from a bullpen-needy team. That plan was scuttled when Grilli suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear yesterday, though Johnson remains a trade candidate.
  • Bowman’s piece lists several possible trade chips on the Braves roster, including Johnson, Chris Johnson, Kelly Johnson, Cameron Maybin, Juan Uribe and A.J. Pierzynski.  In regards to Pierzynski, Bowman believes Atlanta will try to bring the catcher back in 2016 even if they do trade him this year.
  • Nationals GM Mike Rizzo broadly discussed his team’s general deadline plans with reporters, including Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.  The Nats lineup will be boosted by the returns of several stars from the DL, and while Janes feels Washington could use another relief arm, Rizzo praised the job done by current relievers like Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen.
  • It’s only a matter of time before Aaron Nola is promoted to the majors, CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury writes, and he believes the Phillies could call Nola up within “the next couple of weeks, possibly in tandem with a trade deadline move.”  This is just my speculation, but promoting Nola to fill Hamels’ roster spot would be a good the-future-is-now type of move.
  • Several scouts believe former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto would be a good fit as the Phillies‘ next general manager, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets.  Interestingly, Dipoto’s former assistant GM in Anaheim, Matt Klentak, has also been mentioned in connection to a job in the new Andy MacPhail-run Phillies front office.
  • In NL East news from earlier today, the Pirates have interest in Phillies outfielders Ben Revere and Jeff Francoeur.

AL Central Notes: Mondesi, Swisher, Johnson, Tigers

Raul Mondesi is the Royals‘ “most appealing asset for trade discussions,” rival evaluators tell Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star, though “the Royals have little interest in parting with him.”  Mondesi was a consensus top-40 prospect in preseason rankings from Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com, with BA listing him 28th before the year began and updating his status to 25th in their recent midseason rankings.  Despite a less-than-stellar showing at Double-A this season, the 19-year-old Mondesi has been discussed as a possible September call-up.  Here’s some more from around the AL Central…

  • Before Nick Swisher went on the DL, the Indians and Braves discussed a trade that would’ve sent Swisher to Atlanta in exchange for Chris Johnson, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter links).  The Braves ended talks since Swisher is owed significantly more than Johnson (approximately $6.25MM to $2.5MM) over the remainder of the 2015 campaign.  Johnson is guaranteed $17.5MM over the 2016-17 seasons while Swisher is owed $15MM in 2016 and he has a $14MM vesting option for 2017.  The deal would’ve been an interesting case of clubs essentially swapping one disappointment for another, as both Swisher and Johnson have posted underwhelming numbers over the last two seasons.
  • Indians scouting director Brad Grant discusses his team’s top three draft picks (Brady Aiken, Triston McKenzie and Juan Hillman) with Fangraphs’ David Laurila, noting how the Tribe wasn’t shy to take a pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery and two high school arms.
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has a very impressive history at the trade deadline, as Tony Paul of the Detroit News lists nine deals that benefited the team over Dombrowski’s tenure.

Draft Signings: Tyler Watson, Josh Rogers

Here are today’s notable draft signings, with all slot information courtesy of Baseball America…

  • The Nationals have signed 34th-rounder Tyler Watson to a contract with a $400K bonus, MLB.com’s Jim Callis reports (Twitter link).  As with any draft pick past the 10th round who signs for more than $100K, the excess (in this case $300K) will count against the club’s draft pool.  Washington had room to spare in its approximately $4.120MM draft pool after signing its prospects from the first 10 rounds to just under $3.350MM.  Watson is a left-handed high schooler described by Callis as possessing a 91mph fastball and a curveball that “shows promise.”
  • The Yankees went roughly $400K above slot to sign 11th-rounder Josh Rogers, a left-handed sophomore from Louisville.  Callis reports Rogers signed for “early fourth-round money,” which would indicate a bonus in the $500K-$538K range.  Rogers has a fastball can touch the 92mph mark and he can throw three pitches for strikes, according to Callis.  As noted in a follow-up tweet from Callis, this leaves New York with around $2.7MM in remaining pool money to sign first-rounder James Kaprielian, who carries a $2.543MM slot value as the 16th overall pick.

Red Sox To Sign Ronald Belisario

The Red Sox will sign right-hander Ronald Belisario, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (via Twitter).  Belisario is represented by the McNamara Baseball Group.

Belisario signed a split contract with the Rays last winter and only appeared in six big league games with the team, posting a 7.88 ERA over eight relief innings.  Belisario then elected free agency after being outrighted off Tampa’s roster.  Given how Boston’s bullpen has struggled this year, there’s certainly opportunity for the 32-year-old to find regular work in the Sox relief corps.

Prior to the 2015 season, Belisario held a career 3.75 ERA, 7.3 K/9 and 2.17 K/BB rate over 331 1/3 innings with the Dodgers and White Sox.  He’s coming off a tough 5.56 ERA over 66 1/3 IP with Chicago in 2014, though advanced metrics indicate that Belisario was rather unlucky to post such an unsightly ERA.  Belisario is a ground-ball specialist (60.9% career grounder rate), which should help him at hitter-friendly Fenway Park.


Cubs Looking For Starting Pitching, Lefty Outfield Bats

The Cubs have had more talks about acquiring starting pitching than they have position players, though they would also like to add a left-handed hitting outfielder if the price is right, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi reports.

Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have all posted good to excellent results as Chicago’s top four starters, though the fifth spot has been a problem area.  Tsuyoshi Wada has been effective when healthy but the southpaw is currently on the DL for the second time this season, while Travis Wood struggled in seven starts.  Clayton Richard was acquired from the Pirates on Friday and threw a quality start on Saturday, though it’s hard to see Chicago counting on Richard as a stable option.

It’s possible the Cubs could target a big name on the pitching market, as Morosi writes that the team hopes to have an ace in the fold by the start of next season.  To this end, the Cubs would prefer to acquire a pitcher under contract beyond this season (i.e. Cole Hamels) rather than a rental like Johnny Cueto, as if they get their top-of-the-rotation arm now, that would save them having to spend more time and money pursuing the likes of David Price in free agency this winter.

Morosi cites the Brewers’ Gerardo Parra and the Padres’ Will Venable as “two names to watch” as possible Cubs targets for their outfield need.  Either would spell the switch-hitting Dexter Fowler against right-handed pitching.  Fowler carried a tough .232/.308/.379 line into today’s action thanks in large part to a .660 OPS in 281 plate appearances against righties (but a healthy .833 OPS in 55 PA against lefties).  Given the abundance of right-handed starters in the NL Central, a righty-mashing bat is a clear need for the Cubs.

Shortstop has become another problem area, as Starlin Castro‘s below-replacement level season (-0.3 fWAR entering today) makes Morosi wonder if Chicago would consider getting a veteran middle infielder to pair with Addison Russell.  The problem is that Castro has minimal trade value right now given his poor performance and the roughly $41MM owed to him through the 2019 season.


NL West Notes: Frias, Giants, Maybin, Parra, Greinke, Gray

The Dodgerssearch for pitching may only intensify with the news that Carlos Frias has been placed on the 15-day DL with lower back tightness.  Los Angeles already dipped into its starter depth by installing Frias and Mike Bolsinger into the rotation in place of Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, so all eyes will be on the Dodgers this month to see if they can land another big arm before the trade deadline.  Here’s the latest from the NL West…

  • The Giants are looking for outfielders and Gerardo Parra and Cameron Maybin are two of the names who have been discussed, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (via Twitter).  In another tweet, Olney notes that the Braves aren’t open to dealing Maybin right now.  Outfield had been cited as a possible target spot for San Francisco, though GM Bobby Evans didn’t seem set on obtaining an everyday outfielder since Hunter Pence and Nori Aoki will be expected to resume their regular spots in the lineup when they’re both healthy.  In my opinion, I’d think that a left-handed hitting outfielder like Parra could be of particular use in a center field platoon with Angel Pagan, who has struggled badly against right-handed pitching this season (though Pagan has generally fared better against righty arms over his career).
  • The Giants have liked Parra “forever,” according to Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News (via Twitter).  Parra had spent his entire career prior to August 2014 with the Diamondbacks, however, and Arizona didn’t want to deal the outfielder to a division rival.
  • In Olney’s latest Insider-only post, he observes that Zack Greinke‘s big season is putting him in position for a massive free agent payday this winter.  “It seems like a foregone conclusion” Greinke will opt out of his Dodgers contract in search of a more lucrative deal, and while he turns 32 in October, Olney believes he’s the type of pitcher with the athleticism, mechanics and pitching know-how to still be very effective as he ages.  Andrew Friedman has generally eschewed giving big contracts to older players in his career as an executive, though this could well change now that he runs a high-payroll team.
  • The Rockies are again in need of pitching reinforcements, and Nick Groke of the Denver Post wonders if the team could promote top prospect Jon GrayTroy Tulowitzki and Walt Weiss seem in favor of Gray coming to the bigs soon, though GM Jeff Bridich was more cautious.  “Jon Gray is doing a great job right now of learning lessons and evolving at the Triple-A level.  So there are things that he needs to do and will continue to do. And we’ll continue to exercise patience with him,” Bridich said.  Gray has a 4.88 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and a 2.45 K/BB rate in 90 1/3 Triple-A innings this season — respectable numbers in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

Nationals Place Stephen Strasburg On 15-Day DL

The Nationals have placed Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain, and recalled righty Taylor Jordan from Triple-A Syracuse to take his place, the club announced today.  Strasburg left his start yesterday after just 56 pitches due to discomfort in his left side.

The transaction continues what’s been a frustrating season for Strasburg, who’s already made one trip to the DL to recover from a strained left trapezius muscle and has also dealt with several other nagging injuries.  Strasburg has only pitched 61 innings in 2015 and his health issues have surely been a factor in his uncharacteristically high 5.16 ERA.  His peripheral numbers (9.3 K/9, 2.7 BB/9) and ERA indicators (3.55 FIP, 3.38 xFIP, 3.44 SIERA) suggest that Strasburg had pitched somewhat better than his ERA, which could also be explained by a .355 BABIP and a low 64.1% strand rate.  Since returning from his initial DL stint, Strasburg had looked much better, allowing just two runs and posting 18 strikeouts over 15 2/3 innings.

If Strasburg is able to make a quick recovery, there’s a chance he might technically not need to be replaced on the pitching staff.  Nats manager Matt Williams hinted that the team could simply employ a four-man rotation until the All-Star break since Washington has an off-day on Thursday.  If Strasburg is still on the DL once the second half resumes, Tanner Roark (who has already made six starts this year) will likely take his spot in the rotation.

It’s doubtful that Strasburg’s injury would lead to an external acquisition even if he did miss significant time.  Nationals starters have combined for a league-best 10.6 fWAR, with Roark and Joe Ross providing valuable depth behind Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Strasburg.