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In a lengthy and interesting piece, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times looks at the potentially fractured relationship between the Mariners and Michael Saunders following some comments made by GM Jack Zduriencik at an end-of-season press conference. Asked at the time what he felt about Saunders’ future with the team, Zduriencik said, “…It’s up to Michael. … He was playing well, got hurt, came back, got sick, came back again and did some nice things. But I think what Michael has to do and has to answer this to himself, is ‘how do I prepare myself to play as many games through the course of 162 that I can possibly play without being setback by injury.’ … some of these things need to be handled from a maintenance standpoint where he put himself in a position where he’s able to compete through the course of the season.”
Divish spoke to Saunders himself, who declined to comment on the situation. Saunders’ agent, Michael McCann, said it was both “shocking” and “very disappointing.” Said McCann: “These comments don’t reflect Michael Saunders’ work habits. They imply that that he’s lackadaisical.” Part of the trouble, Divish writes, is that Saunders had never before had his work ethic or preparation questioned by the Mariners, and to have that done in a public forum was hurtful. Zduriencik clarified that the comments he made could be applied to any player, and he was adamant to Divish that the organization is not planning on moving on from Saunders. However, he has previously identified corner outfield as a potential area to add some offense. Divish speculates on an offseason trade, though he also notes that even if Saunders is pushed to the role of fourth outfielder, his low salary (he should earn less than $3MM via arbitration) would be an acceptable price for that role, especially given his upside. Over the past three seasons, the former top prospect has batted .248/.320/.423 with 39 homers and 38 steals. I should note that Divish’s entire piece is well worth the read, as this brief write-up doesn’t capture nearly all of the quotes and information he compiled.
Here’s more from baseball’s Western divisions…
- The Diamondbacks should give strong consideration to moving one of their young shortstops if it can bolster the rotation, writes the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro. The Snakes finished the season with Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed all on the roster, but no room to play all three of them with Aaron Hill being owed $24MM through 2016 and prospects Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury both looking like third base options in the near future. (Lamb already received a taste of the Majors in 2014.) The team seems to view Owings as the best of the bunch, given his greater offensive ceiling, but both Gregorius and Ahmed have value to other clubs. Piecoro spoke to rival executives about each shortstop, with one stating that while Gregorius might not bring back “a Matt Harvey or a Jacob deGrom,” he could be worth someone such as Rafael Montero of the Mets. Another evaluator told Piecoro that his club actually prefers Ahmed to Gregorius, so both could seemingly have good trade value.
- Though he’s been a popular managerial candidate this year, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo will not be interviewed by the D’Backs for their own managerial vacancy, reports Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). Lovullo interviewed with the Astros prior to their hiring of A.J. Hinch, he’s already interviewed with the Rangers and will reportedly interview with the Twins as well.
- Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler tells Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune that they have “definitely expanded our international focus under [new GM] A.J. [Preller].” Lin examines whether or not that could mean a legitimate run at Yasmany Tomas, though as he notes, that would be an unprecedented move for the Friars. In fact, last season’s signing of Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5MM contract was the largest free agent expenditure in franchise history, Lin points out. The largest contract in franchise history, he adds, is Jake Peavy‘s old three-year, $52MM deal. Tomas could cost double that amount, but the Padres have just $40.5MM committed to next year’s payroll, and the $90MM Opening Day figure from 2014 could rise, ownership has said.
- After losing hitting coach John Mallee to the Cubs, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow spoke highly about Mallee’s work to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich points out that Mallee deserves some credit for the success of Jose Altuve and Chris Carter in 2014, although skeptics could also point to the strikeout problems some of the other team’s young hitters had. Luhnow said he hopes to have a finalized coaching staff in place by month’s end, and as Drellich notes, only pitching coach Brent Strom is a guarantee to return at this point.
Daniel Hudson pitched last night for the Diamondbacks for the first time since 2012, when he underwent his first of what ultimately became two Tommy John procedures. He tossed a scoreless frame and reportedly sat at 95 mph with his fastball. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports writes up the 27-year-old’s comeback, which surely provides some hope to other hurlers who have recently received their second new ulnar collateral ligament. Hudson signed a minor league deal to stay with Arizona, but earned MLB service time as he was added to the 40-man roster and DL’ed all year. He will have over four years of service heading into the offseason, but the club will have the chance to retain him through a $800K option. MLBTR congratulates Hudson on his return to action.
Here’s the latest out of the division …
- Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers indicated that he may be ready to hand the reins over to a young middle infield combination next year, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports. “In a perfect world, long term, I think hopefully it’s [Didi Gregorius] and [Chris Owings] with [Aaron Hill] kind of moving around from second to third,” said Towers. “My gut is that I think it will work. I love both of those guys. Didi is probably our best shortstop defensively. C.O. is probably the best offensive middle infielder we have. He seems to be comfortable at second.” In that scenario, Hill will function as a rather expensive ($12MM in each of the next two years) utility option. Towers also indicated that he may well retain Cliff Pennington, who is arb eligible for a final time. With top third base prospect Jake Lamb seemingly ready for a chance at the bigs, in spite of his difficulties in a brief call-up thus far, it will be interesting to see how Arizona proceeds with filling out the non-Paul Goldschmidt portion of its infield (even after clearing Martin Prado out of the picture).
- Though the Giants farm system generally does not draw rave reviews from outside, the club is higher internally on its slate of youngsters, writes Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com. “We always have what we need,” said club vice president Dick Tidrow. “We have turned down trades for all of these guys,” Tidrow added, referring to the current active roster players who came through the San Francisco system (including its recent call-ups).
- Former Padres closer Heath Bell says that he hopes to join the club next year after taking the latter portion of 2014 off, Barry Bloom of MLB.com reports (Twitter links). Bell said that he asked the Yankees to release him when they failed to bring him onto the MLB roster. The 36-year-old righty was highly productive in San Diego, where he pitched to a 2.53 ERA in 374 innings over five seasons.
- New Padres GM A.J. Preller will, of course, make the call whether to give Bell another run in San Diego. As MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports, Preller’s lengthy to-do list would appear to have a few higher priorities at the moment. After getting his arms around the organization, including most of its minor league affiliates, Preller is now turning his focus to the big league club for the end of the season. “Some of the newcomers, [see if] can they break in, be part of the club in the last month and set themselves up for net spring and get in a spot where they can compete to make the team,” Preller said of what he was watching for. “And for guys like Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy, you want to see them finish strong.”
The Giants are weighing whether or not to continue with beleaguered right-hander Tim Lincecum in their rotation, writes John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. Lincecum himself offered a frank, expletive-laced assessment of his recent performance and sounded aware that he may not make his next start. Shea spoke with manager Bruce Bochy about rotation candidate Yusmeiro Petit‘s struggles as a starter and excellence in the bullpen this year, with Bochy calling Petit’s rotation work too small of sample to judge. Petit’s recent bullpen work, however, has been nothing short of incredible, if not historic. He’s retired 38 consecutive batters, striking out 16. As Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com points out (on Twitter), Petit is seven batters shy of matching the Major League record for most consecutive hitters retired. Lincecum, who is in the first season of a two-year, $35MM extension, has a 9.49 ERA over his past six starts and has totaled just 24 2/3 innings in that time. Baggarly tweets that for now, the team’s Thursday starter is listed as “TBA.”
Here’s more from the NL West…
- While the most commonly linked team to Bartolo Colon (who is currently on revocable waivers) has been the Angels, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his daily blog that the injury-plagued Dodgers are a candidate to place a claim as well (ESPN Insider required). Olney points out that Colon’s start against the Dodgers tonight could serve as an audition.
- Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa feels that his team can post a winning record in 2015, he tells Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. La Russa feels that the D’Backs can make improvements with their current roster solely by improving their approach at the plate and improving their baserunning, but he also cites the desire to make “two or three impactful moves” in the offseason, including the addition of at least one hitter and at least one pitcher.
- Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic writes that the D’Backs are in evaluation mode with middle infielders Chris Owings, Didi Gregorius, and Nick Ahmed. Additionally, the club is trying to determine how to mix in veterans Aaron Hill and Cliff Pennington. For the time being, GM Kevin Towers tells Buchanan that Owings will see more time at second base with Gregorius getting a look at short, but that doesn’t mean Owings is being converted to a second baseman full-time. Hill, meanwhile, will see action at third, though a full-time transition there would block prospect Jake Lamb, Buchanan notes. In my view, Pennington is a non-tender candidate following the season and Ahmed could use more work at Triple-A, leaving three infielders for two spots. Hill is guaranteed $12MM in 2015 and again in 2016, making him difficult to trade, but any number of clubs would likely be interested in Owings, Gregorius or Ahmed in trades.
- The Rockies are further away from contending now than they were at the beginning of the season, opines Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. Saunders looks at Colorado’s pitching predicament, noting that Tyler Chatwood will miss the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery and Jhoulys Chacin‘s shoulder cannot be relied upon. Brett Anderson‘s injuries make it difficult to exercise his $12MM option, and Jorge De La Rosa could end up pitching elsewhere, as several sources with whom Saunders has conversed feel that there’s only a 50-50 chance he returns. Add in the persistent trade rumors regarding Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez — Saunders feels the latter is more likely to go — and the offseason is rife with question marks and uncertainty.
The Diamondbacks have been receiving interest in left-hander Wade Miley, but are telling interested parties that he is unavailable, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Some had speculated that Miley could fetch a nice return as an under-the-radar trade candidate, but given his long-term control (through 2017), it appears that Arizona will likely resist the temptation.
Other players the D’Backs aren’t willing to move, according to Rosenthal (Twitter links), include Chris Owings, A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley. Even veteran setup man Brad Ziegler is likely unavailable, per Rosenthal’s sources. Rosenthal offers a somewhat softer take on Mark Trumbo‘s availability, stating that a trade is “unlikely.” Trumbo is controlled through the 2016 season, Rosenthal notes, and Arizona would be hard-pressed to get near the same value they surrendered to acquire the slugger in the offseason.
All said, it is not surprising that Arizona would be unwilling to part with most of the players listed above, especially the younger players who are now (or are expected soon to be) playing at the MLB level. While Trumbo comes with just two years of control remaining, his long injury layoff will at least suppress his salary somewhat. And Arizona will surely be hesitant to move him for a cut rate after parting with both Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs for his rights over the offseason.
Ziegler’s inclusion, though, is a bit surprising at first glance. The righty has been consistently excellent, of course — and has even managed to increase his strikeout numbers this year to a far-and-away career best of 8.0 K/9 — but at 34 years of age he is probably not a long-term asset. (He is, however, under contract for next season at $5MM and is under control through a $5.5MM team option, which comes with a $1MM buyout, for 2016.)
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.
Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks has suffered "damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow," the club announced today. Tommy John surgery is the initial recommended course of action for Corbin, a source tells the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro (Twitter). The 24-year-old, however, will seek a second opinion and will not be with the team to start the year. Needless to say, the injury could have wide-ranging implications for the club, which has spent big to win and has top prospect Archie Bradley waiting in the wings. Corbin is the most recent in a sudden run of young pitchers facing arm issues, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wrote earlier this morning, discussing the state of pitching injuries in the game. Here are some more notes from the division, as it gets ready to kick-start the season in Australia:
- The Diamondbacks plan to give Chris Owings the starting shortstop job, reports ESPN.com's Jim Bowden (Insider link). Preferring his bat to the glove of fellow youngster Didi Gregorius, Arizona could now be in a position to trade the latter. Gregorius had a solid rookie debut last year, putting up average defensive marks and a .252/.332/.373 triple-slash (along with seven home runs) in 404 plate appearances. Some believe he will have greater defensive value moving forward, making him a fairly attractive piece for teams in need of shortstop help, though Arizona appears determined to command a big return in a trade.
- The Rockies are looking at the trade market for a right-handed setup option, Bowden reports in the same piece. Of course, he also adds that LaTroy Hawkins is likely to cede the closer role to lefty Rex Brothers at some point, which would make Hawkins available (along with Matt Belisle) as a late-inning righty.
- Meanwhile, Colorado "remain[s] concerned with their leadoff spot and center field," both of which were vacated when the team decided to trade Dexter Fowler to the Astros to create payroll flexibility. This report caps off a confusing round of musical chairs for the Rockies. After trading away Dexter Fowler and his $7.35MM salary (along with whatever he'll earn through arbitration next year), the team added an aging Justin Morneau for nearly as much (two years, $12.5MM) and gave situational lefty Boone Logan the third-largest guarantee of any reliever this offseason (three years, $18.5MM). The team then dealt serviceable southpaw Josh Outman for Drew Stubbs, who is now part of a three-man group (including Brandon Barnes, who came in the Fowler deal, and Charlie Blackmon) that will probably form some kind of platoon in center, according to Bowden.
- Of course, Bowden adds, the Rockies also took on salary in adding starter Brett Anderson via trade. He has reportedly been very impressive, looking healthy and throwing like he did before his string of injury issues.
- The Rockies face a number of roster battles that are still too close to call, reports Troy Renck of the Denver Post. The team is not inclined at present to trade away Blackmon or fellow left-handed-swinging Corey Dickerson, though that may become an option at some point.
- We learned earlier this morning that Dodgers catcher Miguel Olivo is seeking his release to pursue opportunities with another club.
Ruben Tejada is penciled in as the Mets' Opening Day shortstop, yet rumors continue to persist that the Mets are looking to upgrade the position. The latest…
- The Mets are keeping an eye on the Diamondbacks' shortstop competition and a source tells John Harper of the New York Daily News that the Mets "could jump in" to obtain Didi Gregorius or Chris Owings before Opening Day. When last we heard of the Mets/D'Backs shortstop talks, New York catching prospect Kevin Plawecki wasn't considered enough for either Gregorius or Owings, and Harper believes the Mets would have to move Plawecki and a minor league pitcher to make a deal work.
- Also from Harper, the Mets are still scouting Nick Franklin, and trying to decide if he can handle the shortstop job on a regular basis. Ninety of Franklin's 92 starts for the Mariners last season came as a second baseman, and while Franklin played more short than second in the minors, Seattle considered Brad Miller to be a better option than Franklin at shortstop.
- Stephen Drew, of course, remains available as a free agent, though GM Sandy Alderson again told reporters (including ESPN New York's Adam Rubin) that Drew's continued availability and the Braves' signing of Ervin Santana hasn't changed his club's stance. “I’m not interpreting it in terms of ‘our situation,’” Alderson said. “I don’t know that we have a situation here.” Alderson doesn't think Drew will hold out until June to escape the draft pick compensation hanging over his head, though the Mets GM believes Drew could wait to sign after Opening Day to ensure he wouldn't receive another qualifying offer next winter.
- Though Tejada hasn't gotten off to a good start in Grapefruit League action, Alderson said “it won’t be a judgment based on one game or two games or three games. We’ve got a lot of spring training left. In the meantime, we’ll continue to look at our other options.”
The Diamondbacks have a good deal of depth at shortstop, as they feel that both Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings are capable Major League shortstops. In addition, three more names on Baseball America's list of Top 30 Diamonsbacks prospects — Nick Ahmed, Sergio Alcantara and Jose Munoz — are shortstops. This has led to some speculation that the Diamondbacks could trade a shortstop in order to address other needs in the organization, and Marc Carig of Newsday now reports (via Twitter) that the Diamondbacks have targeted young catchers in discussing shortstop trades with the Mets.
However, Carig adds that the Mets aren't a good fit for a trade with the D-Backs. Arizona is said to be seeking a Travis d'Arnaud type of talent in exchange for one of their shortstops and doesn't deem fellow catcher Kevin Plawecki a good enough return. As such, the Mets and D-Backs haven't had recent trade discussions about Arizona's shorstops (Twitter links).
For some context, Plawecki ranked fifth on BA's Top 30 Mets prospects heading into the 2014 season. BA calls him a safe bet to bat around .280 and hit somewhere in the range of a dozen homers at his peak level, and his bat is good enough to profile as a starting catcher, according to their scouting report. He has an average arm and is solid when it comes to blocking pitches, per BA.
The Diamondbacks currently have Miguel Montero installed as their everyday catcher, but the 30-year-old's offense slipped in 2013. After batting .283/.361/.457 from 2009-12, Montero slashed just .230/.318/.344 in 475 plate appearances last season. The decline was rapid and clearly unexpected, as it came in the first season of a five-year, $60MM extension that Montero inked in May 2012. He's set to earn $10MM this coming season, $12MM in 2015 and $14MM in 2016-17.
GM Kevin Towers could include a current starter such as Trevor Cahill or Randall Delgado along with one of his shortstops in order to land a more established pitcher, Rosenthal adds. The Snakes have the depth to make that work, with Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, Cahill and Delgado projected to fill out their 2014 rotation as it stands right now.
TUESDAY: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports spoke to a source who said the Diamondbacks are out on Shin-Soo Choo after acquiring Mark Trumbo and have now turned their focus to adding a front-line starting pitcher (Twitter link). Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that the Diamondbacks have been in touch with Matt Garza's agent but notes that he also wouldn't rule out a trade centering around one of Arizona's young shortstops (Twitter links). Arizona is hesitant to sign pitchers to long-term deals, Piecoro adds.
Save for a report that he's willing to return to the Twins, t's been pretty quiet on the Garza front to this point. Many pundits believe that to be a result of the uncertainty surrounding Masahiro Tanaka's availability. The 30-year-old Garza posted his seventh straight season of a sub-4.00 ERA in 2013, posting a 3.82 mark in 155 1/3 innings between the Cubs and Rangers. Though he began the year on the disabled list, Garza made all of his starts upon returning and posted solid rates of 7.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9.
The trade market offers David Price and Jeff Samardzija, both of whom have been oft-connected to the Diamondbacks. The Phillies are also said to be willing to move both Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, although their unwillingness to eat any salary in order to facilitate a deal makes the D-Backs a tough fit for the Philly aces.
3:30pm: The Diamondbacks may also be looking to the trade market for power bats, according to a recent series of tweets from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Rosenthal reports that the D-Backs and A's recently discussed a trade that would send Yoenis Cespedes to Arizona in exchange for Tyler Skaggs, A.J. Pollock and others. Both sides have cooled on the idea and backed off the trade at this time, however, and the A's would only trade Cespedes for a "monster" return, according to Rosenthal. Still, as he points out, it serves as an example that the Diamondbacks will be aggressive and creative in their search for a power bat in the outfield.
1:54pm: The Diamondbacks are motivated to swing a trade for an ace-caliber pitcher, reports ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. Crasnick spoke with Arizona GM Kevin Towers, president/CEO Derrick Hall and owner Ken Kendrick in an excellent, in-depth breakdown of the situation. While Towers was quick to say that no player is untouchable, he sounded loath to part with prized pitching prospect Archie Bradley, a consensus Top 10 MLB prospect. Asked about the possiblity of trading Bradley, he replied:
"I don't see that happening. Not that anybody is untouchable, but we're hoping he's our David Price, and we can control him [for several years]. He's gonna get every opportunity to crack our rotation this spring … He's not looking to make our rotation as the fifth guy — he's looking to make it as the ace."
Hall pointed to the Diamondbacks' success in 2011 when Ian Kennedy finished fourth in the Cy Young race, noting how impactful having a "No. 1 type starter" was to that year's team. Hall expects activity to pick up: "We're getting a lot of calls and making a lot of calls, and we can see the interest is there. We're probably a good fit for a lot of clubs."
In addition to enviable pitching depth, the Diamondbacks also have several intriguing shortstops in the form of Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed. Martin Prado's presence means that Arizona could also be inclined to include Matt Davidson in potential trades, and the presence of both A.J. Pollock could mean that Adam Eaton is attainable as well, notes Crasnick.
Crasnick lists familiar trade targets Price and Jeff Samardzija for the Diamondbacks, though Price has had multiple ace-caliber seasons while Samardzija has more so flashed ace potential. Crasnick adds that Tyler Skaggs and Randall Delgado, each of whom is still younger than 24, may be more likely to be included in potential trades.
The Diamondbacks are also looking to add an impact bat to the outfield, though that addition may be more likely to come via free agency, reports Crasnick. Big-name items like Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson may not fit into Arizona's payroll, which could lead to pursuits of names like Corey Hart and Michael Morse, though there are many who don't consider either one to be capable of handling the outfield at this point.
Earlier today, it was reported that the Dodgers are nearing a deal with Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, who has officially been cleared by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control to sign with a Major League team. Here's more out of the NL West…
- Padres GM Josh Byrnes isn't sure what this offseason will hold, but he told MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom that he's certain that the team's payroll will go up again. Byrnes also spoke about his feelings on the Mat Latos trade in hindsight. Since the swap, Yasmani Grandal was hit with a 50-game suspension and has missed time with injury, Yonder Alonso has been hurt, and Edinson Volquez was released after a disappointing 2013 season.
- The Diamondbacks will take a long look at Chris Owings over the final weeks of the season as they try to evaluate their shortstop position in the long-term, manager Kirk Gibson tells Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Owings won Pacific Coast League MVP honors this season by hitting .330/.359/.482 with 12 homers and 20 steals. Gibson praised his positive attitude in the face of last offseasons acquisitions of Didi Gregorius, Nick Ahmed and Cliff Pennington. Gregorius, who started out the season on a hot streak, has hit just .208/.288/.277 over his past 55 games, opening the door for Owings to make an impression.
- Wilton Lopez's disappointing season and Matt Belisle's regression will likely force the Rockies to rebuild their bullpen this offseason, even if it means overpaying for arms, opines Troy Renck of the Denver Post (Sulia link). The Rockies will also be without Rafael Betancourt, who elected to undergo Tommy John surgery and could retire due to the injury.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.