- The Cubs continue to scout the Yankees’ dominant late-game trio of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, reports George A. King III of the New York Post. After sending Jason Parks to the Bronx to observe the troika earlier this month, the Cubs had a three-man contingent – including pro scouting director Jared Porter and pro scout Steve Boros – take in the performances of the lights-out relief aces over the past two days. Chapman, Miller and Betances combined for six shutout, one-hit innings during that span, also adding nine strikeouts against zero walks. The Yankees have won three straight and are at 37-36 – just 2.5 games out of an AL Wild Card spot – so they certainly don’t look like surefire sellers at the moment. That could change prior to the Aug. 1 trade deadline, of course.
In a lengthy Twitter dialogue with fans today, Braves GM John Coppolella discussed a variety of interesting topics rather forthrightly. There’s plenty to chew on here (all links on the chat are to Twitter):
- Starter Julio Teheran has drawn quite a bit of attention as a possible trade candidate; as I noted recently in ranking him amongst the 15 top trade candidates, the team could conceivably cut a deal in a market that could be short of quality rotation pieces. MLBTR has examined that matter from both sides recently (see here and here). But the GM didn’t seem to think that was a compelling concept. “I don’t see us trading Teheran at this point,” said Coppolella. “He’s almost into ’right-arm’ type status for us right now.”
- That last note was a reference to his now-famous comment about the unavailability of first baseman Freddie Freeman. It seems that other clubs have received the message loud and clear, as Coppolella says that he has not received any recent trade inquiries on the young slugger.
- The long-term catching situations remains a “big need” that the Braves will look at in free agency, says the Atlanta point-man. It certainly promises to be an interesting area to watch this winter, with players like Wilson Ramos, Matt Wieters, and Jason Castro among the soon-to-be free agents. (And if you’re curious: yes, the Braves would have interest in injured Cubs backstop Kyle Schwarber; but no, it’s not expected he’ll be available.)
- More generally, the team’s “primary objective” over the winter will be to improve upon a marginal offensive unit, he said. As he seeks to accomplish that, the organization expects to put its various financial improvements to work to “invest in the team,” he said. Atlanta “will have more money to spend this off season than in any of the 10 years I’ve been here,” per Coppolella. He also suggested that the Braves will be increasingly willing to deal prospects for controllable, MLB-level players.
- Big offensive numbers had been the hope when Atlanta acquired Hector Olivera last summer. Instead, that deal has long been a source of frustration for Braves fans, and Coppolella says he agrees with the concern. It was a “bad trade for us and one that I wish we had back,” he said, adding that “all we can do is learn from it and move forward.”
- If you’re looking for specific possibilities to find a big bat, it appears there’s at least one name on the wish list and another that can be crossed off. Coppolella says he has contacted Padres GM A.J. Preller “multiple times” to inquire about slugger Wil Myers, though obviously nothing has come to fruition as of yet. He is apparently less intrigued by veteran Cuban star Yulieski Gurriel, however, as the club does not intend to pursue him.
- For a bit of intrigue, Coppolella suggested that there is plenty of trade chatter going on. He says that he spoke with a dozen general managers from rival clubs yesterday and even hinted that there’s a possible trade in the works as we speak (though he noted it certainly may not come to fruition).
The Pirates have underperformed to this point in the season, but general manager Neal Huntington tells ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that he’s not entertaining the thought of parting with center fielder Andrew McCutchen or any of his other stars. “We hear the narrative,” said Huntington in reference to recent speculation about the possibility of putting McCutchen on the trade block. “We’re aware of the narrative. But it’s not on our radar.” Similarly, FanRag’s Jon Heyman spoke to an anonymous Pirates official about the possibility of a Gerrit Cole trade and was met with a definitive reply of, “No!! Zero chance.” A recent report indicated that the Red Sox inquired on Cole and Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, but a rival GM told Heyman that such scenarios are “pipe dreams” and nothing more.
Here’s more from the NL Central…
- Heyman also spoke to execs from teams that have engaged (or attempted to engage) the Cubs in trade talks and was told that Chicago has shown “no interest” in trading Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras or Javier Baez. One opposing exec said that the Cubs are only open to moving their second-tier prospects, though a different GM opined to Heyman that the Cubs’ second tier of prospects should be rich enough to fill the bulk of their needs on the summer trade market. GMs around the league believe that Albert Almora is more or less off limits as well, Heyman writes, though the belief is that shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres isn’t in that same “untouchable” category.
- The sentencing of former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa for his crimes in the breach of the Astros’ proprietary computer network has been pushed back for a third time, reports the Houston Chronicle’s David Barron (via Twitter). The new date for Correa’s sentencing is now July 18. The sentencing had already been pushed to June 6 and then July 5 prior to today’s news. Correa plead guilty to five of the 12 charges filed against him for unauthorized access to a private computer, each of which is punishable by up to five years in a prison and a fine of $250K.
- The Brewers are moving toward an agreement with first-rounder Corey Ray, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports. An agreement isn’t yet in place, though one could be as soon as Friday afternoon. Ray’s bonus is expected to land between $4MM and his slot value of $4.382MM, according to McCalvy’s source. Ray, selected fifth overall by the Brewers in the draft, chatted with MLBTR’s Chuck Wasserstrom in a Q&A prior to the draft.
- UPDATED: Manager Joe Maddon said following today’s game that Cubs catcher Miguel Montero checked out OK after being forced to exit the contest with a knee injury (via ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers, on Twitter). Montero initially sustained a right knee injury after Brandon Moss slid into home on a play at the plate following a chopper to third base. (That’s not to say Moss’ slide was dirty, as he slid into the lane left open by Montero, as can be seen in the MLB.com video of the play.) Montero was able to walk to the mound and back to home plate under his own power, though he was visibly limping and wincing. Willson Contreras, who was recently promoted from Triple-A Iowa, entered the game in Montero’s place and hit a two-run homer in place of Montero. An injury to Montero would’ve likely opened the door for more playing time for the top prospect, but Contreras will continue to be worked in alongside Montero and veteran David Ross.
- Cubs lefty Clayton Richard hit the DL with a blister issue, per a team announcement. Chicago also optioned righty Adam Warren to Triple-A, where he’ll stretch out as a starter for an upcoming heavy stretch of play. Righty Spencer Patton and lefty Gerardo Concepcion will head up to the big league club to fill in. Of course, it’s fair to wonder how long the Cubs will continue to roll with Richard, who has struggled quite a bit thus far after a solid 2015.
Fowler has been nothing short of spectacular upon his return to Chicago, which came about in dramatic circumstances after most of the free agent market had been determined. Over 284 plate appearances, the 30-year-old owns a .290/.398/.483 slash line with seven home runs and six stolen bases. He has also drawn positive marks for his defense for the first time in several years.
There’s no question that Fowler has been a key cog, and his loss is especially tough with Kyle Schwarber out for the year and Jorge Soler also sidelined. Chicago has already brought up top prospect Albert Almora to help shoulder the load; he could see increased playing time now.
[Related: Updated Cubs Depth Chart]
Whether there’s cause for concern really depends on the prognosis. Timelines for returning from hamstring injuries are notoriously hard to predict, but the Cubs will no doubt let Fowler rest until it seems he’s ready to go without risk of aggravating things.
While the Cubs have plenty of trade chips at their disposal due to farm system that is deep in position players, infielder Javier Baez is not among the candidates to be moved, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The Cubs value Baez’s versatility and power upside enough that they wouldn’t part with him even if the Yankees were to make Andrew Miller available, per Rosenthal. Rather, the FOX scribe lists players such as Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Ian Happ, Jeimer Candelario and Mark Zagunis as more realistic trade options for Chicago, who is loath to part with Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora or Willson Contreras in summer trades. A power lefty for the bullpen is the team’s top priority as the Aug. 1 deadline inches closer, per Rosenthal.
- Dexter Fowler exited Saturday’s game in the first inning after suffering a hamstring injury while running out a grounder. The Cubs haven’t yet made a decision on whether or not Fowler will need a DL stint, Joe Maddon told media (including MLB.com’s Cody Stavenhagen). Fowler has cooled off in June after a blistering start to the season, though he’s still hitting .290/.398/.483 with seven homers over 284 plate appearances. Jason Heyward is the most likely candidate to take over in center field should Fowler miss time, though with Jorge Soler and Tommy La Stella already on the DL, Fowler’s absence would be a big hit to the Cubs’ roster depth.
- Cubs catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber is “hitting all his range of motion checkpoints exactly on schedule,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Schwarber, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL and LCL in his left knee on April 7, is currently on track to return for spring training next year. In the meantime, he assisted the Cubs during the amateur draft earlier this month. “’Schwarbs’ sat in the draft room with us while the team was away,” said Epstein. “He’s always looking for ways to contribute to the organization. He added some levity to the room.”
The 34-34 Yankees remain in the thick of the playoff race in the American League, where they sit 5.5 games back of the AL East-leading Orioles and 3.5 games out of a Wild Card position. If the Yankees fall off prior to the Aug. 1 trade deadline and decide to shop elite relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, they’ll garner interest from the Cubs, Nationals, Giants, Dodgers and Rangers, among other potential suitors, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (video link).
New York could trade both and find a complement to Dellin Betances through free agency, according to Rosenthal, who notes that Chapman, the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen and the Pirates’ Mark Melancon – a former Yankee – are all on expiring contracts. Of those three, the only one who’s likely to cost a first-round pick to sign is Jansen, who’s a good bet to receive a qualifying offer (worth roughly $16MM) from Los Angeles.
Miller’s connection to the Cubs, Nationals and Giants is nothing new, of course, with the same holding true for Chapman in regards to Chicago and Washington. The Cubs scouted Yankees relievers last week, and multiple reports this month have linked the Nationals to Chapman and Miller. The Giants, meanwhile, were reportedly mulling going after Miller as of two weeks ago. The Dodgers nearly acquired Chapman from the Reds over the winter, but they moved on amid the 28-year-old’s domestic violence issues and pondered pursuing Miller, whom the Yankees ultimately retained.
The Dodgers already rank an outstanding fourth in bullpen ERA (3.12) and ninth in K/BB (2.88), though adding Chapman or Miller to the likes of Jansen, Joe Blanton and Adam Liberatore would improve their odds of catching the NL West-leading Giants, whom they’re 6.5 games behind, or at least keeping pace in the Wild Card hunt.
Despite San Francisco’s success, its bullpen has been mediocre on the whole and lacks anyone in the stratosphere of Chapman or Miller. It helps that either of those two would bring variety to a unit whose best options – Santiago Casilla, Hunter Strickland, Cory Gearrin and Derek Law – are all right-handed.
The Cubs, who lead the majors with a 46-20 record, are all but devoid of weaknesses. They lack a top-end lefty reliever to complement shutdown righties Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, however, which is why they’re interested in the Yankees’ tandem. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein acknowledged Friday that relievers are on the team’s radar, saying he “would love” to pick up another quality bullpen arm.
Nationals relievers are eighth in the league in both ERA (3.38) and K/BB ratio (2.9), which has helped the team gain a six-game advantage in the NL East, but closer Jonathan Papelbon is on the disabled list with a right intercostal strain and was merely good before succumbing to injury. There’s also risk with fill-in closer Shawn Kelley – while he has fared brilliantly this season, the 32-year-old is a two-time Tommy John surgery recipient.
Although they’re atop the AL with a 44-25 mark, Rangers relievers are just 25th in ERA (4.84) and a below-average 19th in K/BB (2.38). Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman and Matt Bush are all thriving, but team president and GM Jon Daniels said Saturday that the Rangers would consider looking for outside bullpen help.
Acquiring either Chapman or Miller would clearly be a boon to any of these World Series-contending clubs, though the latter of the two figures to command a heftier return. Not only is Miller locked up through 2018 at a reasonable $9MM salary, but he doesn’t bring any of Chapman’s off-the-field baggage and has been the better of the tandem this season. If shopped, both should require notable young talent coming back, and it’s worth pointing out that ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider required) placed the Dodgers second, the Cubs fourth, the Rangers ninth, the Nationals 15th and the Giants 21st in his preseason farm system rankings.