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In Thursday’s edition of his Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney opines that the Reds should give serious thought to trading ace Johnny Cueto this offseason. Cueto has a no-brainer $10MM club option for 2015, making him a highly affordable and elite talent — an appealing alternative to clubs in win-now mode that don’t want to commit long-term dollars to Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields. The Reds will see Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake hit free agency following the 2015 season, with Aroldis Chapman set to do the same the following year. Those losses, coupled with the rising salary of Joey Votto, give the Reds incentive to create some flexibility and add prospect depth. Olney wonders if the Reds could look to pair Cueto with Brandon Phillips in an effort to free themselves of the $36MM remaining on the second baseman’s deal. Of course, even if a team were to take on Phillips, they’d still likely need to surrender notable prospect value.
Here’s more from the NL Central…
- Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan looks at Jake Arrieta‘s breakout season through a historical lens, noting that he has the sixth-largest season-to-season K-BB% improvement since 1920 (min. 75 IP each season) and the single largest FIP- improvement in that same span. Sullivan looks at how much more effectively Arrieta has repeated his mechanics with the Cubs, and he also points to the fact that Arrieta has doubled the usage of his hard slider/cutter while moving to the third-base side of the rubber. Both David Ross and Ryan Zimmerman noted that Arrieta, who now busts right-handed hitters inside at a much greater rate, often appears to be “throwing behind you” before his ball breaks over the plate. Whether or not Arrieta is a legitimate ace, the trade that sent him and Pedro Strop to Chicago in exchange for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger looks like quite the feather in the cap of GM Jed Hoyer and president Theo Epstein.
- The Brewers announced that they have agreed to a new minor league contract with catcher Shawn Zarraga and invited him to 2015 Spring Training. Zarraga, 25, was Milwaukee’s 44th-round pick out of high school in 2007 and enjoyed a strong season at Double-A this year before struggling in his first crack at Triple-A. The Aruban backstop hit .330/.440/.419 in 267 plate appearances with Double-A but just .213/.304/.255 in 57 PA at the top minor league level.
- In more Brewers news, GM Doug Melvin isn’t happy about the split between his organization and the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Nashville. Melvin told reporters, including MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, that he asked the Sounds to let them know if they were considering re-affiliation three weeks ago. The Brewers heard nothing and then saw the Sounds sign a new player development contract with the A’s, which Melvin feels cost the Brewers a chance to pursue an affiliation with what they considered to be an attractive fallback option. The Sounds, McCalvy writes, weren’t pleased with the losing product the Brewers had put on the field in the two seasons prior to 2014.
Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine has withdrawn himself from consideration for the Diamondbacks’ GM vacancy, reports Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (via Twitter). Levine tells Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that he had a good talk over the phone with Arizona chief baseball officer Tony La Russa prior to his decision (Twitter link). As of this weekend, it was reported that Dave Stewart, former pitcher and current agent to Matt Kemp (among others), is considered the favorite for the job.
Here’s more on the D’Backs…
- Cody Ross understood the reason that the Diamondbacks sat him in favor of impressive rookie David Peralta upon his activation from the disabled list, writes Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic. However, now, with Peralta out due to a back injury, Ross is trying to prove himself once again and prove that he belongs on the team in 2015. Ross tells Buchanan that he hopes to remain in Arizona. Given his $8.5MM salary next season and lack of production over the past two seasons, it’d be tough for a new GM to move him anyhow, Buchanan notes.
- “It took a full-scale collapse to force the necessary organizational reboot, but change is definitely coming in Arizona,” writes Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron in an intro to a colleague Kiley McDaniel’s excellent rundown of the Snakes’ farm system. Cameron feels that there’s far more than one offseason’s worth of work to fix the D’Backs, while McDaniel runs down a list of prospects topped by Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley, Aaron Blair, Brandon Drury and Touki Toussaint.
- In a second piece, Buchanan writes that last offseason’s hiring of first base coach Dave McKay away from the Cubs has paid significant dividends for the D’Backs. McKay has placed a strong emphasis on improving the club’s baserunning, and the results show in baserunning metrics on both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus, Buchanan notes. The D’Backs jumped from respective marks of -10.5 runs and -9.7 runs in 2013 to +0.4 runs and -0.5 runs in 2014.
Cubs catcher Welington Castillo wants to be part of the future in Chicago, but he understands that in order for that to happen he likely has some more improvement to do, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Castillo, 27, is entering his prime-age seasons but doesn’t hear his name mentioned alongside younger core players like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Castillo specifically mentions that he recognizes the fact that baseball is a business and he can’t assume that he will be in a starting role. Cubs GM Jed Hoyer again said to Wittenmyer that the team plans to add at least one everyday veteran this winter, leading Wittenmyer to speculate on Russell Martin, who would give the Cubs a major defensive boost behind the plate. While catching coach Mike Borzello feels that Castillo is “the best in the business” at blocking pitches, Castillo ranks at the bottom of Baseball Prospectus’ Blocking Runs Added stat and ranks 72nd among 97 catchers in extra strikes via pitch framing (also via B-Pro). Hoyer, however, did give Castillo a vote of confidence: “I really believe in Welly. … He doesn’t get mentioned a lot when we talk about our established young veterans, but he can be in that mix as well.”
Here’s more from the NL Central…
- ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers also has quotes from Hoyer on his desire for veteran leadership, and Rogers wonders if the club would pursue a veteran such as Jonny Gomes to help out in left field. While he notes that Gomes, of course, wouldn’t be an everyday player, “a quasi-starter who has winning experience might be the best option” given the lack of starting-caliber bats at positions of need for the Cubs, Rogers opines. He, too, notes that Martin would be a good fit in Chicago, though.
- Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette looks at the extraordinary preparation and conditioning that have contributed to Russell Martin‘s brilliant season. Brink spoke to Martin’s coaches and teammates about what he means to the club, with GM Neal Huntington stating that the club is going to do everything it can to re-sign its catcher. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the fact that Brink notes that the Pirates offered Martin a two-year, $17MM deal and a three-year, $21MM deal when signing him prior to the 2013 season. Martin explains to Brink that he didn’t want to sign for three years, because he felt he could improve his stock on a two-year pact, which he has done in dramatic fashion.
- One veteran scout tells Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Cardinals outfielder Peter Bourjos is the best defensive center fielder he’s seen in 38 years as a scout. Bourjos and Randal Grichuk were acquired from the Angels with the idea that one of them would be the team’s everyday center fielder in 2015, writes Hummel, but Jon Jay‘s solid offense has muddied the picture and left the Cardinals with choices to make. Bourjos has hit better of late, boosting his season batting line to .241/.305/.367, and he drew praise from manager Mike Matheny as well. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cardinals decide to proceed, not only in the next few weeks, but in the offseason as well.
Left-hander Yasmany Hernandez has left Cuba for an undisclosed third country with the goal of signing a MLB contract, per Diario De Cuba (h/t Baseball America’s Ben Badler). Badler provides a scouting report on the 23-year-old, who led Serie Nacional with a 1.66 ERA this past season. Hernandez will be exempt from international bonus restrictions after pitching five seasons in Serie Nacional, but Badler doesn’t expect teams to show as much interest in Hernandez as fellow Cubans have drawn. Here are more notes from around the game.
- Badler also recently appeared on the Providence Journal’s Super Two podcast with Tim Britton and Brian MacPherson, where he discussed new Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo. Badler says teams are becoming increasingly receptive to spending big money on Cuban players thanks to the successes of players like Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig, adding that the added power Castillo demonstrated since leaving Cuba increased his value on the market.
- Free-agent-to-be Russell Martin would be a great fit for the Cubs, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Signing Martin would involve making a significant financial commitment and giving up on Welington Castillo as a starting catcher, but Martin could help mold the Cubs’ young pitching and provide a strong example for the rest of its young roster.
- The Mariners will not retain national cross-checker Butch Baccala, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports. Baccala is the scout who sent Jesus Montero ice cream during a minor league game while Montero was rehabbing, seemingly as an insult regarding Montero’s weight. Montero threw the ice cream at Baccala and was suspended.
- The Pirates had a quiet trade deadline, but they’ve had a strong second half anyway, MLB.com’s Tom Singer writes. In particular, they didn’t complete a trade for a starting pitcher and didn’t improve what appeared to be a weak bullpen. Since then, though, their bullpen has quietly become a strength, thanks in part to the emergence of John Holdzkom, and their offense has papered over any rotation issues. “You’ll get second-guessed no matter what you do,” says Bucs manager Clint Hurdle. “That’s just the nature of the world. So you gotta do what you feel in your gut is right.”
- The Rays are ready to see what they’ve got in Nick Franklin, who they’re promoting Monday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. The Rays, of course, acquired Franklin from the Mariners in the three-team deal in which they sent David Price to Detroit. Since the trade, Franklin has hit .210/.288/.290 in 113 plate appearances for Triple-A Durham, although his track record indicates he’s capable of hitting better.
- Padres assistant director of scouting operations Don Welke, who arrived recently from the Rangers organization along with new GM A.J. Preller, is enjoying his first month with San Diego, Corey Brock of MLB.com writes. Welke and other members of the Padres’ front office are currently in Arizona, where they’re watching Padres prospects play in the instructional league.
The state of next year’s free agent class will be impacted by whether or not players with vesting options in their contracts achieve the necessary playing time to trigger those conditional options. As we near the end of the season, here’s a rundown of these players and their progress toward triggering their options …
- Nick Punto, Athletics: Punto has a $2.75MM club option that will automatically vest if he spends fewer than 30 days on the disabled list, assistant GM David Forst told reporters at the time of the signing. Though Forst did add that there are other ways for Punto’s option to vest, the health route is no longer available. Punto was only activated yesterday — ten days into the September active roster expansion — after going on the DL on August 3rd. If the option doesn’t vest, the A’s have the choice of picking him up at $2.75MM or buying him out for $250K.
- Rickie Weeks, Brewers: Weeks has an $11.5MM option that won’t be vesting, as he would have needed to total 600 PA in 2014 or 1,200 PA in 2013-14 and finish the season healthy. He has just 255 PAs on the season, so he’ll fall well shy of that mark. Weeks will also fall shy of reaching 400 PAs, which would have entitled him to a $1MM buyout of his option.
- Jimmy Rollins, Phillies: Rollins’ option vested earlier this year when he reached 1,100 plate appearances over 2013-14. (He has also made 600 trips to bat in 2014, an independent basis for triggering the provision.) That clause, however, also required that he not finish the year on the disabled list, and Rollins left yesterday’s game with a hamstring injury. Word is that Rollins should be able to return, but with just three weeks left even a minor setback could well end his season. Nevertheless, Philadelphia would need to go out of its way to place him on the DL at this point, with active rosters expanded. And, in any event, the option would still vest if a mutually agreed-upon doctor deemed Rollins ready to start the 2015 season.
- Dan Haren, Dodgers: Haren needs 180 innings to trigger a $10MM player option for the 2015 season. Heading into his scheduled outing this evening, he has already notched 162 frames. Haren should be in line for at least three more starts (including tonight’s) before the end of the month, and maybe another depending upon how the club approaches the last few games of the year. Having averaged 5.79 innings per start on the year, it will be incumbent on Haren to pitch his way to the option — especially in the midst of a playoff race and backed by a well-stocked bullpen.
- Mike Adams, Phillies: Adams’ $6MM club option for 2015 would have vested with 60 innings pitched in 2014, but he’s obviously not going to get there with just 17 2/3 innings in the tank. Adams has thrown just 42 2/3 innings in his season-and-a-half with the Phils, and it seems highly unlikely that the team will pick him up at $6MM given his injury troubles. He should, however, be an attractive buy-low candidate given his general success when on the field.
- Rafael Soriano, Nationals: Soriano’s $14MM club option vests with 120 games finished over 2013-14. While that always seemed a longshot, any realistic hope was snuffed out when Soriano lost his closing gig to Drew Storen, the man he replaced when he signed on with Washington. Whether or not Soriano makes it back into the 9th inning role over the next few weeks, he now sits at 104 games finished over the last two seasons, making it all but impossible for him to trigger the vesting provision. With the Nationals all but certain to decline their club option on Soriano, he should make for an interesting free agent to watch.
- Kyuji Fujikawa, Cubs: The Cubs hoped that Fujikawa, one of the best relievers in Japanese history, would help to fortify their bullpen when they signed him to a two-year, $9.5MM contract in the 2012-13 offseason. Instead, both player and team received a hefty dose of bad luck when Fujikawa needed Tommy John surgery after just 12 innings last season. He has a vesting option based on games finished, but the 33-year-old has made it back for only 10 1/3 innings in 2014 and surely won’t be crossing that (unreported) threshold.
- Sean Burnett, Angels: Burnett’s $4.5MM club option vests if he appears in a total of 110 games between 2013-14, but like Fujikawa, he’s been plagued by injury and has no chance of that happening. Burnett has appeared in just 16 games total over the past two seasons and underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year. The Halos will certainly be paying the $500K buyout on his club option.
- Scott Downs, White Sox: Downs had a $4MM vesting option that would have vested with 55 appearances, as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reported in June (via Twitter). Though he appeared to be headed in that direction earlier in the year, the White Sox cut bait with Downs and his then-6.08 ERA. He owns a 3.55 mark over 12 2/3 innings with the Royals — who signed him to a separate, minor-league deal — and has now thrown in 53 games, but the vesting clause is now a moot point.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Chicago Cubs | Chicago White Sox | Dan Haren | Jimmy Rollins | Kyuji Fujikawa | Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim | Los Angeles Dodgers | Mike Adams | Milwaukee Brewers | Newsstand | Nick Punto | Oakland Athletics | Philadelphia Phillies | Rafael Soriano | Rickie Weeks | Scott Downs | Sean Burnett | Washington Nationals
The Marlins plan to offer Giancarlo Stanton a deal that would make him the highest-paid player in team history, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported back in August that Miami would try to lock up its 24-year-old star for the long term, though the team was not necessarily optimistic of reaching agreement. For his part, Stanton tells Nightengale that he is willing to hear offers, but still wants to see “some progression moving forward.” “It will be interesting to hear what they have to say when the time comes,” he said, “but right now, I’m not worrying about it. I mean, we’re still in this season. When this season is over, then we can start thinking about 2015.”
Here’s more from the National League:
- Mets third baseman David Wright will be shut down for the rest of the year but is not expected to require surgery on his left shoulder, Adam Rubin of ESPN.com reported (via Twitter) on in advance of a team announcement. The club says that Wright has experienced persistent inflammation in his left shoulder, which may go some way to explaining his uncharacteristically average .269/.324/.374 slash this year. The star 31-year-old is owed $107MM over 2015-2020.
- Ryan Braun of the Brewers has seen his ongoing thumb issues expand to become a broader problem with his right hand, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Though surgical options have been explored, it was determined that none seemed sure enough to warrant the risk. Since a hot start, Braun has seen his numbers dwindle and then fall off a cliff of late. He is still owed $12MM on an earlier extension next year before his five-year, $105MM pact kicks in starting in 2016.
- Left-handed starter Jon Lester makes sense as a free agent target for the Cubs, argues Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com. He is young and sturdy enough to warrant a significant investment, says Rogers, though Chicago can also choose to forego an overpay given the number of solid arms that could be had on the open market in 2016.
The Athletics made several errors in their approach to mid-season roster reconstruction, opines SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee, but trading away Yoenis Cespedes was not one of them. Overvaluing Jeff Samardzija, failing to improve at second, and giving up Addison Russell were all front office mistakes, says Brisbee, though much of the team’s recent poor play can be chalked up to some combination of bad luck and injury.
- Samardzija said he expects to reach free agency in November of 2015, according to Bruce Levine of WSCR-AM (on Twitter). Though Oakland obviously attributed significant value to controlling him next year at a below-market salary, giving up Russell to do so, it is hardly surprising to hear that an extension is not in the works. Samardzija went on to say that he is open to both the Cubs and White Sox as a free agent and indicated that the city of Chicago is still a priority for him (link).
- The Astros‘ coaching staff is in limbo thanks to their managerial opening, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Houston likes its current coaching staff and when figuring out who their next skipper will be, they’ll have to also decide how much they value the staff and whether it’s worth getting rid of coaches they like to accommodate a new manager.
- Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa has several avenues to pursue in his GM search, writes Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque and agent Dave Stewart have been heavily tied to the job and both have a history with La Russa. Meanwhile, if La Russa truly wants to “beef up” his analytics department, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler should garner strong consideration.
The Commissioner’s Office and the MLBPA have been working on “clarification” of the rule preventing collisions at home plate, sources tell ESPN’s Jayson Stark. The two sides hope any uncertainty concerning how catchers can block the plate can be cleared up before any pennant races or postseason games are impacted, though rulings in several games earlier this year have already left many managers and players confused.
Here’s some more from around baseball as we kick off the week…
- The Royals will place right-hander Blake Wood on waivers tomorrow, MLBTR’s Zach Links reports (Twitter link). Wood was designated for assignment last week.
- Evan Gattis has been a big part of the Braves‘ lineup, but the catcher’s defensive limitations could see the club trade him to an AL team, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes (AJC subscription required). Gattis could be better served by a regular DH role, while the Braves could trade him for a long-term outfield solution given that Justin Upton and Jason Heyward are both only signed through 2015. Gattis played some left field himself in 2013, though he was a defensive liability there as well.
- It doesn’t seem likely that the 2015 Cubs rotation will feature both Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers writes. The Cubs may be stuck with Jackson due to his contract, though Wood is only on a one-year, $3.9MM deal (with two years of arbitration eligibility left). Wood has a 5.15 ERA in 162 2/3 IP this season and could be a non-tender candidate, though he still has some value as an innings-eater.
- The White Sox have some holes to fill in the rotation, bullpen and lineup, yet Grantland’s Jonah Keri sees them as a possible sleeper team for 2015. The Sox have lots of payroll space to address those issues and build around their core of Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Adam Eaton.
- A veteran player suggests to ESPN’s Buster Olney (Insider subscription required) that players who fail two PED tests should be limited to one-year contracts for the remainder of their career. This would be a deterrent against players with one suspension on their record potentially using PEDs again in the hopes of scoring a big multiyear deal. As the veteran put it, “If I was someone who had been suspended before, why wouldn’t I use again? If you’ve robbed a bank before and you see that you could again and still walk away with millions, why wouldn’t you?“
- Also from Olney, he feels the Rockies have “an easy decision” to decline Brett Anderson‘s $12MM option for 2015, as the team can’t afford to commit that much payroll space to a pitcher with Anderson’s injury history. This would likely end Anderson’s tenure in Colorado, as Olney notes he wouldn’t accept a cheaper one-year deal from the Rockies when he could rebuild his value elsewhere in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark.
- Several key members of the Giants and Tigers hail from Venezuela, and FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi looks at how both teams approach scouting and development in the country.
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is likely done for the season, GM Jed Hoyer told reporters today (including MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat). Castro suffered a high ankle sprain in yesterday’s game, and while the Cubs aren’t going to officially shut him down, Hoyer says they’re treating the injury as though it’s season-ending. Castro, on the other hand, is of the mind that he can recover sooner than the team’s four-week projected recovery time and rejoin the roster before season’s end. The Cubs’ plan is to play Javier Baez at shortstop for the remainder of the season, Hoyer said (via Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com). If Castro’s season is over, it will go down as a strong rebound from a surprisingly disappointing 2013 season. Castro hit .292/.339/.438 and tied his career-high in homers (14) despite totaling 135 fewer plate appearances than the 704 he averaged over the past three seasons. It will also give the highly touted Baez an extended look at his natural position. Both Baez and Castro have seen their names bandied about in trade speculation, so Baez’s shortstop audition could be worth monitoring.
Here’s more on the Cubs…
- Many Cubs fans are disappointed not to get a look at Kris Bryant in September, and Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, voiced his disappointment to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times as well. “[I]f this is a performance-driven industry as it should be, Bryant deserves the callup, based on performance,” said Boras. “What’s best for the player, what’s best for the team in 2015? The goal here is trying to make the team the best it can be in 2015. And what can you do to ready him for that?” Boras argues that a month of MLB experience would prepare Bryant for 2015, and club officials from other teams agreed when speaking to Wittenmyer. One official pointed back to Mike Trout‘s promotion in 2011, noting that even though he struggled, he broke out in a monstrous fashion the following season. Of course, there are also prospects who experience great success in September callups only to struggle the following season, and prospects who thrive from day one when being promoted early in a season.
- The Cubs announced that Ryan Kalish‘s contract has been selected and he will join the team as a September callup in the wake of the decision that the injured Ryan Sweeney‘s season is now over. Sweeney has been placed on the 60-day DL, thereby opening a roster spot for Kalish. Kalish was outrighted earlier this season and could suffer the same fate after September, though the Sweeney injury has at least opened a door for him to impress the organization.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tells the story of Billy Bean’s return to baseball as MLB’s newly-appointed Ambassador For Inclusion. Paul Mifsud — MLB vice president and deputy general counsel, and one of the key players in hiring Bean — said that he has experienced “a tremendous feeling of pride … using baseball to help people.”
Here are the latest notes from around the league …
- Top Cubs prospect Kris Bryant is very much on the cusp of MLB action, even if it won’t come this season, writes ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers. But it remains to be seen at what position he will end up. Bryant himself hopes to stay at third, and said he is proud of his improvements at the position this year. Meanwhile, club president Theo Epstein noted that the team will look to get Bryant some time in the outfield to “keep that fresh for him” going forward. “We think — no doubt in our minds — he can play third base and be a really good third baseman,” explained Epstein, “but we just don’t know how the roster is going to look a year from now, two years from now, five years from now.”
- Cuban ballplayers Jozzen Cuesta and Misael Siverio recently put on a showcase, and Jeff Moore of Baseball America provides an account (subscription required). Scouts came away somewhat underwhelmed by the “pedestrian performances” they witnessed, according to Moore.
- The upcoming Astros managerial search will once again be an uncertain undertaking for an organization that hopes to thrive on scientific decisionmaking, writes Ben Lindbergh of Grantland.com. GM Jeff Luhnow will need to evaluate how he interacts with his next manager, says Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, who notes that other teams (like the Athletics and Rays) seem to have been able to find smooth partnerships between forward-thinking front offices and their field managers.