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Chicago Cubs Rumors
While it remains unclear exactly how long Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates will be out of action with a rib fracture, any significant lost time will obviously have an impact on the tight NL Central race. As Mike Petriello of Fangraphs writes, Pittsburgh will be absent McCutchen at a time when wins are at a premium. It will be interesting to see whether the team considers a move to add another outfielder to the mix.
- Cubs call-up Javier Baez flipped the narrative on his debut by homering after an 0-for-5 start. Of course, you could call that performance right in line with expectations; as Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America wrote yesterday, big power and lots of strikeouts are likely as Baez adjusts to the big leagues. Meanwhile, the promotion carries broader implications for Chicago, as ESPN.com’s Keith Law explains (Insider link). By moving Baez onto the 40-man roster before they need to, and likely foregoing the chance to tack on additional years of control, the Cubs are starting the clock on their efforts to transition from rebuilding to contending. Given the state of the team’s MLB rotation and generally less-developed pitching prospects, that could make the team a player on the free agent market this year, says Law.
- It appears that the Twins have kept recently-acquired starter Tommy Milone in Triple-A to keep him from reaching a third year of service, explains Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN. With 2.018 on his service clock entering the year, and having been on optional assignment since July 5, Milone is now set up to fall short of the three years needed to qualify for arbitration via the standard route. Though a quick call-up would likely put Milone in line for an extra arb trip as a Super Two, he will nevertheless be subject to team control for four more years.
- Twins shortstop Danny Santana has a .318/.355/.488 slash through 215 plate appearances, far and away the best line he has maintained as a professional (in spite of the fact that he just made the leap to the big leagues for the first time). Regardless of what happens in the rest of the 23-year-old’s career, it seems fair to say that the meager signing bonus that landed him back in 2007 was well worth it. A club official says Santana signed for just $45K, while Santana’s representatives indicate it was only $37K, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN.
The Cubs will promote star prospect Javier Baez in time for tomorrow’s game against the Rockies at Coors Field, Bruce Levine of 670TheScore.com reports (Twitter link). Corresponding moves still need to be made to make room for the Puerto Rico native on both the Cubs’ 25- and 40-man rosters. Baez is a client of the Wasserman Media Group, as he just hired his new representation last week.
Baez is a consensus top-10 prospect in the game, as detailed in recent midseason minor league rankings by Baseball Prospectus (which puts him at #5), MLB.com (#6), Baseball America (#7) and ESPN’s Keith Law (#8). The 21-year-old impressed many with a big Spring Training performance but then got off to a slow start in his first couple of months at Triple-A. After 434 plate appearances for Iowa, however, Baez is hitting .260/.323/.510 with 23 home runs, so it seems his power swing is ready for the big league spotlight.
Originally selected ninth overall in the 2011 draft, Baez has a .278/.336/.545 slash line in 1350 minor league PA, cranking 76 homers and stealing 62 bases (out of 79 attempts) over his four minor league seasons. The 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook says that Baez could stand to slow down some of the natural aggressiveness in his game, yet raved about his “special bat speed” and baseball instincts. The Handbook gave Baez’s power a 75 scouting grade (out of 80) and said “he profiles as an all-star-caliber, 30-homer infielder wherever he lands.”
It seems likely that Baez will land at second base for his Major League debut, with Starlin Castro entrenched at shortstop at Arismendy Alcantara (another well-regarded prospect) capable of shifting to center field. Baez is a natural shortstop but has seen playing time at the keystone at Triple-A in preparation for both playing alongside Castro and because there is some concern that he might be better suited for second or third base over the long term. With Castro locked into a relatively expensive contract through at least 2019 and a wealth of strong infield prospects (Baez, Alcantara, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell) in Chicago’s system, it will be interesting to see how the Cubs juggle all these young talents in the coming years.
Photo courtesy of Rick Scuteri/USA Today Sports Images
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that the waiver deadline period could produce some significant deals around baseball. The Phillies probably won’t find deals for Jonathan Papelbon (contract) and Cliff Lee (health concerns plus contract) but A.J. Burnett could conceivably be moved. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays continue to, as one executive said to Cafardo, “kick the tires on just about everything but never seem to do anything.” More from today’s column..
- The Red Sox may have been scouting Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, but their dialogue with the Dodgers was virtually nonexistent despite the constant rumors connecting the two. The Dodgers, Cafardo writes, were never going to deal Kemp, who has been one of their best right-handed hitters.
- The Dodgers were also never really in on Red Sox hurlers Jon Lester or John Lackey but really wanted Andrew Miller and came close to giving Boston one of their best pitching prospects for him.
- It seems as if the Red Sox and other teams have finally come to the realization that Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton isn’t going anywhere and that could be a reason why the Red Sox obtained Yoenis Cespedes, who obviously isn’t as good but has the power and athleticism to improve. For now, he seems to feel that Miami is moving in the right direction and appears to be all in on staying with the Marlins.
- The buzz around baseball is that the Cubs will be all in on Jon Lester. Cubs president Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod were in Boston with Lester during his trying times. Also, the Cubs will have to rebuild their rotation at some point and adding Lester would be a major, major step in that direction.
- Acquired outfielder Gerardo Parra from Diamondbacks for outfielder Mitch Haniger and lefty Anthony Banda
- Acquired righty John Lackey, lefty Corey Littrell, and cash from Red Sox in exchange for righty Joe Kelly and outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig
- Acquired righty Justin Masterson from Indians in exchange for outfielder James Ramsey
- Acquired catcher Victor Caratini from Braves in exchange for lefty James Russell and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio
- Acquired lefty Felix Doubront from Red Sox in exchange for PTBNL
- Acquired righty Jonathan Martinez from the Dodgers in exchange for second baseman Darwin Barney
- Acquired shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily from Athletics in exchange for righties Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel
With four teams over .500 and only 5.5 games separating first place from fourth place after Friday’s games, it wasn’t hard to imagine that the NL Central would see a lot of action heading into the trade deadline. While a few major arms came and went from the division, however, the action was a bit muted overall thanks to inactivity from two of those contending teams.
The Pirates didn’t swing a single deal in July despite being connected to many of the major pitching names known to be available. David Price, Jon Lester, Lackey, Ian Kennedy, A.J. Burnett…all of these upper-tier starters were linked to the Bucs in trade rumors over the summer yet none ended up wearing the black-and-gold. Pittsburgh likewise came up short in finding a left-handed reliever to help reinforce the bullpen. While the Pirates had a pretty quiet July, however, it’s too early to say that they won’t still add to their roster — they didn’t make any major moves in July 2013 either yet picked up Marlon Byrd, John Buck and Justin Morneau before the August 31st deadline. The Pirates’ payroll limitations will keep from them going for any of the more expensive names that might pop up on the waiver wire this month, yet it wouldn’t be surprising to see them add another useful piece or two.
A minor deal involving Jair Jurrjens notwithstanding, the Reds also didn’t do anything in July, and they’re another team that could be more active in August simply because they might not know if they’re contenders yet. Cincinnati is 55-54 despite major injuries to several key players (i.e. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips) and a brutal 2-10 slide following the All-Star break. It seemed like the Reds themselves were on the fence about being buyers or sellers given that they checked in on Bonifacio and Alex Rios yet were also listening to offers for Mat Latos and Ryan Ludwick. Like with Pittsburgh, a lack of available payroll space played a role in Cincinnati’s inaction, so moving Latos or Ludwick could’ve been ways of freeing up salary and (in Latos’ case) trading a big chip to help elsewhere on the Major League roster than than add prospects.
With a rotation that lacks a true ace but is otherwise quite solid from one to five, the Brewers’ rumored interest in the likes of Price and Lackey seemed more like due diligence rather than a genuine desire to make a big splash. The division leaders were known to be looking for relief help but overall, Milwaukee didn’t have many roster holes that were in drastic need of an upgrade. In Parra, the Brew Crew adds a very solid fourth outfielder who can play all three OF positions can provide above-average or better defense at any of them, and while he’s slumped at the plate this year, Parra has been a useful hitter in a platoon role. Khris Davis left Friday’s game with a calf injury, so it’s possible Parra could quickly take on a bigger role.
It’s hard to believe that pitching was the Cardinals’ deadline focus given their seemingly inexhaustible supply of talented minor league arms, yet St. Louis was involved in talks for Price, Lester and Jake Peavy before eventually making the division’s two biggest acquisitions in Lackey and Masterson. The Cardinal clubhouse might not be pleased about some of the players lost, yet the two veteran arms could provide needed help to a rotation that has been thinned by injuries and ineffectiveness.
In acquiring these pitchers, the Cards didn’t give up anyone who was providing any value to the 2014 squad. After contributing heavily to last year’s pennant winners, Kelly (0.2 fWAR) and Craig (-0.6 fWAR) became expendable this season, especially on a team with so many young replacements in the minors. Ramsey would be a top-three prospect on many clubs, yet since the Cardinals have a plethora of young outfield talent, they felt comfortable in sending him to Cleveland for Masterson.
Lackey should provide good value for this season and next, especially given that he’s under contract for only a league minimum salary in 2015. Masterson is a free agent this winter and has been bothered by a bad knee, a drop in fastball velocity and control issues this season, yet his peripheral numbers indicate that his 5.51 ERA should be around a run and a half lower. You could think that Masterson, an extreme ground ball pitcher, will improve in St. Louis simply because he’s going from the league’s worst defensive team to its best in terms of defensive runs saved.
The Cubs are the only NL Central team not still in the playoff hunt, and they continued their rebuilding effort in four deals that added even more young talent to an already-impressive farm system. One trade involved adding an established big leaguer in Doubront, as perhaps a reunion with Theo Epstein will help get his career back on track after a tough season in Boston.
The other three trades saw the Cubs move veterans who had little value to a non-contender. Russell drew a lot of attention from several teams and the Cubs packaged the southpaw and Bonifacio for switch-hitting catcher Caratini, the Braves’ second round pick in 2013. Defensive specialist Barney was moved in a lower-level deal (he had already been designated for assignment by the Cubs) for a lottery ticket in Martinez, a 20-year-old with a live arm in Class A.
After over a year of rumors, the Cubs finally pulled the trigger on trading Samardzija, sending both the Shark and Jason Hammel to Oakland for a major prospect package. Addison Russell gives the Cubs yet another young blue-chip middle infielder, and his acquisition has already generated rumors that the Cubs’ next step could be trading Starlin Castro for another established big league talent to upgrade the outfield or rotation in the offseason. While Russell was the headliner of that trade, McKinney is also ranked ninth amongst Cubs prospects according to MLB.com’s midseason rankings, and Straily was considered a top-85 prospect by Baseball Prospectus before the 2013 season.
There were some whispers that the Cubs could use their prospect depth to make a deal for Price, yet that would’ve been a puzzling move for a team that isn’t planning to win now. For where the Cubs are in their rebuilding process, it’s hard to see their July moves as anything less than a big win for the Cubs front office, turning four short-term veterans in Hammel, Bonifacio (both under contract only through 2014), Samardzija and Russell (through 2015) into four promising young players who combine for over two decades’ worth of controllable years. Some more moves could be coming in August, as outfielders Justin Ruggiano, Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Sweeney would all likely not have much trouble passing through waivers.
Russell, 28, has posted a 3.51 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a career-best 40.9 percent ground-ball rate. While he’s picking up more grounders than ever, Russell has also shown the worst command of his career — a trend he will hope to correct with the Braves. Russell has typically handled left-handed hitters pretty well, but the opposite has been true in 2014; right-handed batters have a meager .364 OPS against Russell, while same-handed batters have an alarming .295/.358/.525 batting line against him. In his career, however, lefties have batted .240/.276/.416 against Russell. He is earning just $1.9MM in 2014 and is controlled through 2015.
The switch-hitting Bonifacio, 29, had a solid debut season for the Cubs before being included in the trade. He’s hitting .279/.318/.373 with a pair of homers and 14 steals (in 20 attempts). Defensive metrics have liked his work at second base, third base and in center field this season, though his career marks aren’t as strong.
Bonifacio had an interesting offseason, as he was tendered a contract by the Royals and agreed to a $3.5MM salary before being released (and subsequently paid only a portion of his still non-guaranteed deal). The speedster latched on with the Cubs in Spring Training and played well, though he’s spent a portion of the year on the disabled list.
As for Caratini, he was a second-round pick by the Braves in 2013 and ranked as the organization’s No. 7 prospect on MLB.com’s midseason top 20 list. The 20-year-old Caratini has batted .279/.352/.406 in 87 games at Class-A this season. He’s a switch-hitting catcher who also plays third base. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com feel that he’s a good enough defender to handle either position, but clearly he would have more value behind the dish. Though Callis and Mayo praise his defense, they feel that his bat is a better tool.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
TODAY, 12:04am: Also in on Bonifacio as of this morning were the Pirates, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
11:13am: There is plenty of action on Bonifacio, who is being pursued currently by the Orioles, Giants, and Mariners, tweets Jayson Stark of ESPN.com.
YESTERDAY, 8:12pm: It does not appear that the Giants are going to acquire Bonifacio, according to a tweet from Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle.
6:42pm: The Royals are not yet close to adding Bonifacio, tweets Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star.
5:48pm: The O’s are not in on Bonifacio, tweets Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, who hears that the versatile fielder could be returning to Kansas City. Needless to say, that would be an interesting turn of events: Bonifacio finished well last year with Kansas City, was tendered a contract, agreed to a salary to avoid arbitration, and was then released before the start of the season.
5:14pm: At present, the Giants, Orioles, and Reds are all in play for Bonifacio, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
4:50pm: Bonifacio has been told to be prepared for a deal today, tweets Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
4:42pm: Bonifacio is indeed not in the lineup, with manager Rick Renteria saying it was “prudent” to hold him out, according to Rogers (Twitter link).
2:50pm: The Cubs are getting close to trading Bonifacio, tweets Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. Levine tweets that Bonifacio is not in tonight’s lineup, which could obviously signal that a deal is nigh. Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle hears that the Giants have been scouting Bonifacio all week, but the asking price for the impending free agent is said to be high.
2:32pm: The Orioles are Giants are considering Cubs utility man Emilio Bonifacio as a trade option, tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score adds the Royals, Mariners, and Reds as three more potential suitors (All Twitter links).
Bonifacio, 29, is hitting .279/.318/.373 in 298 plate appearances for the Cubs. The switch-hitter is raking against lefties in this year’s limited sample. He’s mainly played center field and second base for the Cubs. Bonifacio is eligible for free agency after the season.
4:41pm: The Red Sox have announced the deal.
The Red Sox will receive a player to be named later in return for the 26-year-old lefty, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com reports on Twitter. That player will be determined after the Rule 5 draft, tweets Alex Speier of WEEI.com.
Doubront’s tenure in Boston seemed destined to come to an end after he publicly announced his desire to return to the rotation — with another team, if necessary. After beginning the year as one of the team’s five starters, Doubront was dropped to the pen after posting a 5.19 ERA over ten starts. Things have only gone downhill since, as he has surrendered a .375/.409/.625 line and 11 earned runs to the 45 opposing hitters he has faced in seven relief appearances.
Chicago will hope that a change of scenery prompts a turnaround for a player who is said to have high-quality stuff. (Over 2012-13, Doubront compiled 323 1/3 innings of 4.59 ERA ball as a starter.) He will be arb-eligible for the first time next year, and his price tag should be manageable given his rough numbers this year. In many respects, Doubront is not unlike several of the Cubs’ other recent buy-low pitching additions (both through free agency and trade) — Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, and Scott Feldman come to mind — though he comes with the added benefit of a lower cost and extended, uncommitted control.
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.
WEDNESDAY: Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (on Twitter) that the Dodgers will send right-handed pitcher Jonathan Martinez to the Cubs as the PTBNL. The 20-year-old was enjoying a strong season at Class A in the Midwest League, having pitched to a 3.47 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 106 innings. He did not rank among the Dodgers’ top 30 prospects, per Baseball America.
MONDAY, 5:43pm: MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports that the Dodgers will pay $500K of what is owed to Barney this season (Twitter link).
2:32pm: The Dodgers have bolstered their infield depth and their defense with the acquisition of Darwin Barney from the Cubs, both teams announced. Chicago will send Barney and cash considerations to Los Angeles in return for a player to be named later, according to releases from each team. It was reported earlier today that Barney, who was designated for assignment last week, was garnering trade interest.
The 28-year-old Barney hit just .230/.265/.328 in 217 plate appearances with the Cubs this season, but his bat has never been his calling card. Barney consistently rates as one of the best defensive second baseman in the Major Leagues, and this year was no different. His Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games was +15.5, while Defensive Runs Saved pegged him at +7 runs in limited time. Per DRS, Barney has saved 46 runs over the past three seasons.
Dee Gordon has established himself as Los Angeles’ everyday second baseman this season, so it doesn’t seem likely that Barney will be seeing everyday at-bats with the Dodgers. However, his glove makes him a nice bench piece that the team can use to improve its defense late in games. Barney was drafted as a shortstop and spent more time at short than at the keystone in his minor league career. Despite a lack of experience at the position in recent years, Barney could be used as a replacement if the team wants to either replace the defensively challenged Hanley Ramirez or shift him over to third base late in games.
Barney is earning just $2.3MM this season and is controllable through 2016 as an arbitration eligible player. His bat makes him a non-tender candidate in the offseason, but he will only cost the Dodgers about $804K from here through season’s end.
Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune first reported that the two sides were nearing a trade (on Twitter), and Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish tweeted that it was a deal. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Cubs would receive a PTBNL in return (Twitter link).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here’s the latest from ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark:
- The Rays are still holding onto David Price unless and until an offer forces a move. “I’d say they’re kind of where they were all winter,” said a competing executive. “Yeah, they’d trade him. But you’ve got to make it so they can’t say no.”
- Though both sides explored the possibility, the Cardinals and Phillies did not match up on a potential Cliff Lee deal. With Philly seeking a “major prospect” in return, the Cards ultimately turned elsewhere and added Justin Masterson. While St. Louis seemed the best fit for a pre-deadline deal with Lee, Philadelphia still is looking to see if the lefty can be moved before August.
- The Red Sox are encountering some skepticism from trade partners that John Lackey will play for the league minimum rate next year, as provided by his contract. Of course, that provision makes up a huge portion of Lackey’s trade value, as he would not only contribute down the stretch in 2014 but looks like a very solid rotation piece at a replacement-level price for 2015.
- The Orioles seem to be focusing more on adding a reliever at this point than a starter, says Stark. Baltimore has been liked to Neal Cotts of the Rangers and Oliver Perez of the Diamondbacks, neither of whom is a pure LOOGY.
- In search of bullpen help, the Yankees have inquired into Joaquin Benoit of the Padres, James Russell of the Cubs, and Antonio Bastardo of the Phillies. The club has also checked on outfielders Marlon Byrd of the Phillies and Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox.
- The Blue Jays, Braves, and Royals are telling teams they cannot add significant payroll in a trade, though Kansas City could take on a starter who would slot in place of James Shields next year.
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