Chase Utley Rumors

East Links: Valencia, Lucchino, Utley, Espinosa

We’ve already had a collection of NL East Notes and Red Sox Notes earlier today on MLBTR, but there’s always more news flowing out of the two Eastern divisions…

  • The Orioles, Rangers and White Sox are three of the likeliest teams to obtain Danny Valencia, an MLB source tells Chris Cotillo of SB Nation.  Of these clubs, Chicago would have the inside track since they have the higher waiver priority than Baltimore or Texas (presuming, of course, that the four teams behind the Pale Hose don’t put in a claim of their own).  Valencia was rather surprisingly designated for assignment by the Blue Jays and he isn’t expected to clear trade waivers.
  • Larry Lucchino could one day land in the Hall of Fame, but the Red Sox have a very capable replacement for their President/CEO in Sam Kennedy, Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe writes.  “This is Sam’s time,” one team source said. “Everybody in the building knows that.”  Abraham writes that there have been internal concerns in the past that Kennedy would leave the Red Sox to become president of another team. Other teams and even businesses outside of baseball have recruited Kennedy over the years.  Now, he’ll stay in Boston as he succeeds Lucchino.
  • The AL East landscape changed at the trade deadline, Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun writes.  The Blue Jays stole all the headlines in the division, but Schmuck believes that the Orioles found better offensive chemistry with their acquisition of Gerardo Parra.  Schmuck also gives his thoughts on the rest of the division, including the Yankees, who apparently hold their farm system’s best talent in very high esteem.
  • Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, an August trade candidate, is making progress on his rehab assignment and could rejoin the big league club soon, as MLB.com’s Nick Suss writes. When he does get back, he’ll go straight to the starting lineup, even if he’s not in Philly for long. “There’s no way I’m just going to let him sit on the bench,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “Because he’s got value and I think he’s got a lot left.”
  • Danny Espinosa has played a big role for the Nationals this season, but with their regular infield starters back, Espinosa is in a playing-time crunch, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Times writes.  His versatility makes him a prime bench piece, however, and as Janes notes, Espinosa could well find regular time again if veterans need a rest or if the Nats suffer further injuries.
  • Despite selling off key pieces at the deadline, Marlins president Michael Hill says there will be brighter days ahead in Miami.  “There’s optimism in South Florida,” Hill told MLB Network Radio (on Twitter). “We feel like we have a great core…We’re looking at an ace in Jose Fernandez and one of the best power hitters in Giancarlo Stanton.”

Cubs May Pursue Chase Utley

The Cubs may pursue Phillies second baseman Chase Utley prior to the August trade deadline, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Utley will begin a rehab assignment tomorrow. He would need 251 plate appearances to activate a 2016 option, an exceedingly unlikely event. The former star has struggled this season with a .179/.257/.275 slash. However, a .186 BABIP suggests a rebound is possible. He’s owed about $5MM over the rest of the season. The Cubs would look to have the Phillies cover part of his salary.

An Utley acquisition would provide depth to existing middle infielders like Starlin Castro, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez. If the club lost patience with Castro, they could opt to use Russell at shortstop with Utley filling in at second base. The interest could also be purely for his veteran leadership. The Angels and at least one other team are also considering Utley per Wittenmyer.


Reactions To The Cole Hamels Trade

In the days leading up to the trade deadline, the Phillies finally traded ace Cole Hamels, sending him with Jake Diekman and cash to Texas for pitcher Matt Harrison, top catching prospect Jorge Alfaro, outfielder Nick Williams, and young pitchers Jake Thompson, Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff. Here’s a roundup of reactions to one of the week’s biggest deals.

  • The Giants came very close to acquring Hamels — so close, in fact, that Hamels waived his no-trade rights to allow the Phillies to trade him to San Francisco, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweets.
  • The Phillies got a strong return for Hamels, Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com writes. Alfaro looks like the key to the deal for Philadelphia, but the Phillies also got interesting pieces in Thompson and Williams, and they actually can use Harrison as well, even though he’s in the deal partially to offset Hamels’ salary.
  • Philadelphia got “quantity and quality” in the Hamels trade, says MLB.com’s Jim Callis (video link). Callis says Thompson’s slider is, at its best, one of the top sliders in the minors, and Williams has great bat speed and has dramatically improved his plate discipline. Alfaro needs to improve his polish in some areas, but he has terrific tools, including his arm strength.
  • The Phillies could continue trading in August, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. Chase Utley could be a candidate to be dealt, assuming his injured ankle heals and he waives his no-trade privileges. Aaron Harang and Jeff Francoeur are possibilities as well.


Angels Open To Adding Rental Hitters, Righty Bats

The Angels prefer to acquire a bat that is controlled beyond the 2015 season, but they’re warming to the idea of acquiring a rental, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com tweets. That includes Yoenis Cespedes, though the cost of acquisition will obviously be key to any deal. At the very least, he adds, they’d like to add a bench piece they’re comfortable starting a couple of times per week.

Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register also hears that the Angels are opening up to not only the idea of rental players, but also to the idea of adding a right-handed bat. (Previously, the Angels have been said to prefer left-handed bats due to the heavily right-handed nature of their lineup.) According to Fletcher, the only player that seems off limits in the Angels’ minor league system is Sean Newcomb. Pitchers Chris Ellis and Nate Smith — two of the club’s top-ranked prospects — could potentially be had. Fletcher adds (via Twitter) that Andrew Heaney is probably not available either.

Gonzalez wrote yesterday that the Angels are seeking both a leadoff hitter and a power bat to slot in fifth behind Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in the batting order, though they may not be able to acquire both. In a followup tweet to the article, Gonzalez says he’s getting the sense that the Angels would prefer the power bat. David Freese has spent the bulk of the time hitting fifth in Anaheim this season but has batted a fairly pedestrian .240/.308/.409.

As for the leadoff role, Johnny Giavotella has assumed that spot lately but struggled there, and his .261/.315/.349 batting line is below the league average. The Angels, according to Gonzalez, are monitoring Chase Utley‘s rehab as a possible alternative. However, they’d only have true interest were the cost “minimal” and should Utley begin to show his old form at the plate. (Utley, of course, is a potential August trade candidate, as one would think his contract, injury troubles and lack of production make him a lock to clear trade waivers.)

Ben Revere has been oft-connected to the Angels in the past, as has Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce. Gonzalez speculates (on Twitter), too, that Gerardo Parra of the Brewers might be a nice rental piece for the Angels.


Latest On Phillies: Hamels, Papelbon, Utley

The Phillies are honing in on a decision on lefty Cole Hamels, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com writes. There is at least some consideration being given to holding onto Hamels, per the report.

“This isn’t do-or-die for us,” says GM Ruben Amaro Jr. “In the end, it’s about, ‘What is the return?’ and, ‘Is this the right return?’ If it is, we’ll move forward. And if it’s not, we won’t.” 

There are about six clubs still in talks with Philadelphia on the club’s staff ace, per Stark. But sources from other teams indicate that they believe the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Rangers are most likely to land him. We heard yesterday that the Astros were also still in the mix, along with Los Angeles and Texas.

Regarding the interest of the Dodgers, Stark says that Philly has asked for as many as six quality prospects in a package that would not include top youngsters Corey Seager and Julio Urias. While Los Angeles won’t give up that volume, per the report, the industry consensus is that the Dodgers are in the lead.

As for the Cubs, rival executives tell Stark that Chicago is offering a deal centered around Starlin Castro and/or Javier Baez (though it’s unclear whether both would conceivably be included together). But Philadelphia is not enthused about either player. The Red Sox, meanwhile, just sent top evaluator Allard Baird to watch Hamels throw and obviously have a stacked farm from which to deal. While they (like the Rangers) don’t really profile as a traditional buyer, Boston could still act with the future in mind.

Stark goes on to discuss some other, less likely suitors as well as the impact of the team’s upper-level front office transition on trade talks. It’s a lengthy and information-packed piece that you’ll want to read in full for all the latest on Hamels.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia is obviously also listening to offers for closer Jonathan Papelbon. According to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter), however, the Phillies are having trouble gaining “traction” on a deal. Papelbon’s $13MM option for next year, which is all but certain to vest at this point, “remains a sticking point,” per the report. Stark also adds (on Twitter) that, despite prior interest, the Blue Jays, Cubs, and Dodgers are not presently involved with talks regarding the reliever.

Meanwhile, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com provides an update on veteran second baseman Chase Utley, who says he is progressing as he works his way back from a sprained right ankle. As Salisbury notes, Utley could profile as an August trade piece if he can return to health and show increased productivity. While Philadelphia rebuffed the Dodgers and Marlins last winter when they asked about Utley, explaining that he was not interested in waiving his no-trade protection, Salisbury says that the 36-year-old “seems to have softened his position” on being dealt since that time.


Amaro On Papelbon, Harang, Hamels, Utley

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. discussed his team’s trade deadline situation in an appearance on the WIP Morning Show (relayed by CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman). Broadly, Amaro said that he has had “great dialogue with a lot of clubs on several fronts” and expressed confidence in “get[ting] some things done.”

The first and most obvious topic of conversation was closer Jonathan Papelbon, who yesterday aired his view that Philadelphia needs to make a decision on dealing him. Amaro praised the veteran reliever as a competitor and excellent pitcher, but said that “he doesn’t know anything about the front office.”

Regarding Papelbon’s market, Amaro indicated that he sees plenty of opportunity to strike a trade. “There’s live discussions going on right now regarding Pap,” said Amaro. “I do believe that there’s enough of a market that we can probably get something done. But again, I don’t necessarily believe in ‘probably.’ … There’s a lot of clubs that are interested in a lot of our players and we have to sort through it and make the right deals.”

In the course of addressing Papelbon’s comments, which touched upon the decisionmaking process of the front office’s highest levels, Amaro said that there was internal clarity about how deadline decisions would be handled. Namely, current president Pat Gillick holds final authority, with incoming replacement Andy MacPhail serving more of an advisory function at present.

“I’m the GM and Pat is my boss,” Amaro explained. “As in all these deals, particularly ones that are as complicated and have so much money involved, these are all discussions that we’ve had. … It’s something that’s discussed, not just with me, but also with my boss. And that’s the same structure that we have right now. Right now, Andy is part of the decision-making process, but only in so much that he’s an observer and someone who’s going to give us his opinion. Really, Pat is the one who ultimately will make the ultimate decisions.

Even as he gave indications that Papelbon could indeed be on the move, as is widely expected, Amaro downplayed the possibility of receiving value for starter Aaron Harang“As far as Aaron Harang is concerned,” said Amaro, “he had a foot problem and he’s dealing with an injury so you can’t really trade a guy that’s got an injury. Frankly, there was no real market for him prior to him getting injured.”

Of course, Philly’s biggest trade chip remains lefty Cole Hamels. Amaro said he was not concerned with the fact that the staff ace had suffered a rough outing in his most recent start, saying that “people know what he is.”

The embattled Phillies GM also touched upon his recent comments indicating that long-time second baseman Chase Utley has lost his starting role. Amaro said he did not regret “being straight and honest” on the topic, and added that he expects the veteran to “get opportunities to play” once he returns to health. As to whether there was any possibility of Utley calling it quits, Amaro made his own view clear: “No, he’s absolutely, unequivocally not going to [retire]. He’s got plenty in the tank left.”


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.


NL East Notes: Amaro, Span, Morse, Latos

GM Ruben Amaro’s recent declaration that Chase Utley might not be the Phillies‘ everyday second baseman when he returns from injury is a tough one for fans to take, David Murphy of the Daily News writes. For those unfamiliar with Amaro’s comments, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal provided a good summary earlier this week. “Cesar Hernandez is our best second baseman,” Amaro told reporters, including CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury. “I would assume that Cesar would be our second baseman.” After getting off to a poor start this season, Utley is currently on the DL with ankle inflammation, and Hernandez has performed well in his absence, but Amaro’s remarks understandably haven’t sat well with Phillies fans, who don’t want to see a franchise icon pushed off the stage. The core of the problem, as Murphy sees it, is that Phillies fans have to endure the marginalizations or departures of players who were key to the Phillies’ run of successful seasons several years back, while the team’s front office can continue to use that same run of successful seasons to justify its own continued employment. Rosenthal, meanwhile, wonders whether Amaro — who had already appeared to be a lame duck — might be hastening his departure with his tone deaf comments. Here’s more from the NL East.

  • The Nationals have placed outfielder Denard Span on the disabled list, Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider writes. Span, who had not played since Sunday, has been dealing with back tightness. The injury means the Nationals are down yet another position player. They currently also have Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman on the DL.
  • The Giants have had at least a bit of interest in acquiring Michael Morse from the Marlins, but the Giants would need to take on a significant portion of the approximately $11MM remaining on Morse’s contract for the Marlins to consider the deal, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes (scroll down). The Marlins would seem to have somewhat less use for the right-handed Morse with today’s addition of fellow righty corner infielder Casey McGehee, and Justin Bour has taken over the bulk of the Marlins’ playing time at first base anyway. The Giants surely have fond memories of Morse from his solid performance with their 2014 World Series team, but Morse has hit a disastrous .210/.273/.304 with his usual poor defense in 2015, so it’s doubtful the Giants would be willing to take on much salary to acquire him. Morse would serve as a right-handed bench option in San Francisco.
  • The Marlins have also received “several” calls regarding starting pitcher Mat Latos, Jackson writes. That’s not surprising — Latos is a free agent at the end of the season, and as MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently noted, Latos’ velocity has returned lately, seemingly making him a more attractive trade candidate than his overall numbers suggest he should be.

Amaro Discusses Utley’s Role Upon Return

Chase Utley has been on the disabled list for the Phillies for about two weeks and may not be activated until late July or even August. Upon his return, there might not be regular at-bats for him the former franchise cornerstone, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters (including Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com). Asked if Utley is still the team’s starting second baseman, Amaro candidly replied: “Not for me he’s not. Cesar Hernandez is our best second baseman. I would assume that Cesar would be our second baseman. I think that’s fair.”

That news carries more significance than it would for most veteran players being surpassed by a younger option, because Utley has a vesting option on his contract that is based on plate appearances. As things stand right now, Utley is just shy of halfway to the required 500 plate appearances he’d need for a $15MM vesting option to trigger. His 249 plate appearances have been accumulated in 65 games, and there was a chance that Utley could have reached 500 PAs with a late July return. Amaro did mention that Utley could see some time at first base, but it seems that Hernandez’s strong play at second base will prevent Utley’s option from vesting.

Details surrounding Utley’s option are somewhat nebulous, but if it does not vest, the option will be a club option valued at somewhere between $5MM and $11MM based on the number of days that Utley spent on the disabled list in 2015. That will leave the Phillies with an interesting choice; they’ll be tasked with deciding whether or not to bring back a player that has been one of the faces of the franchise for the better part of a decade at somewhat of a discounted rate or buy him out for $2MM.

Of course, Utley’s play to this point hasn’t been up to his standards, nor has it been worth even $5MM. The six-time All-Star has batted just .179/.257/.275 with four homers in his 249 plate appearances this season. His defense, as one would expect of a 36-year-old with a history of knee issues, has declined as well.

Hernandez, on the other hand, entered play today hitting .302/.385/.385 with a homer and a perfect 12-for-12 in stolen base chances. Defensive metrics are down on his work at second base, and he’s also benefited from a lofty .363 BABIP. Still, Hernandez’s baserunning prowess, keen eye at the plate and excellent contact skills give the Phillies reason to be intrigued by the 25-year-old beyond the financial implications of the decision.


NL Notes: Evans, Cardinals, Flores, Utley

Giants GM Bobby Evans has succeeded with subtly bold action, as Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News writes in an interesting feature on the recently promoted executive. If you’re interested in learning how exactly one can make it to the top echelons of baseball decisionmaking without a professional playing career or other “in” to get you there, this is essential reading. Now 46, Evans got his start with an internship, worked in the commissioner’s office, and then jumped on an opportunity to join the San Francisco organization as a minor league administrative assistant. “He was very eager, obviously an intelligent kid, he had the intern experience in Boston and the commissioner’s office, and quite frankly, he was single and wide-eyed and willing to put the hours in,” said former Giants GM and current executive VP of operations Brian Sabean of Evans’s start with the club.  “That’s half the battle. You have to be willing to punch the clock, and put up with the demands.” 21 years and a lot of hard work later, Evans was given the general manager’s chair as Sabean moved to a more senior post.

Here’s more from the National League:

  • As it investigates Cardinals employees’ improper access of the Astros‘ computer system, the FBI is still working to determine precisely which personnel were responsible for the breach, Michael Schmidt of the New York Times reports. Per the report, the focus is on “a small group of Cardinals employees who specialize in statistical analysis and computer programming and had access to a computer in a residence” in Jupiter, Florida last spring. Given the potential criminal ramifications, several individuals under investigation have obtained representation, which necessarily constrains the fact-finding process. It appears that the intrusion came from a commonly-used computer, as the report indicates that a significant part of the puzzle involves the questions of when and for how long various Cardinals employees were utilizing a single machine around the time that the Astros’ databases were accessed.
  • Though a lawsuit against the Cardinals by the Astros is not likely given the league rules barring such an action, and fines are capped at $2MM, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes that the Cards could still face significant financial exposure. Namely, commissioner Rob Manfred could function as an arbitrator to award damages should Houston seek to prove that it suffered harm due to the actions of the St. Louis employees (and the public exposure of the information).
  • The Mets shortstop saga may have a new chapter, as the team appears likely to move Wilmer Flores to second base when Daniel Murphy is activated from the DL, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reports. In that scenario, Murphy would play third (in place of David Wright), while Ruben Tejada would slide in at short for at least some time with Dilson Herrera moving to the bench. Hypothetically, of course, the club could seek an outside addition to take over for Flores while keeping his bat in the lineup at second. But it’s far from clear whether that is a realistic or wise option for the New York front office, particularly with the team sliding of late.
  • Chase Utley‘s DL stint for a nagging ankle injury came as something of a surprise to Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News reports“In my communication with Chase throughout the season about playing he’s always been up and willing to go and no real reports of anything holding him back, so I was a little bit surprised by it in some regards,” Sandberg said. The skipper’s reaction is at least potentially notable because of the delicate situation that seems to be playing itself out in Philly. Sandberg had increasingly turned to Cesar Hernandez at second, but it has remained unclear what strategic direction the organization was taking with Utley, one of the faces of the team’s last great run. The veteran is already halfway (249/500 plate appearances) to triggering a $15MM vesting clause for next year. Given his recent injury history and marked production downturn this year, it would obviously behoove the club to avoid that obligation, but doing so will likely require some deft handling.