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Christian Bethancourt Rumors
The Braves announced a series of roster moves today, most notably recalling young catcher Christian Bethancourt from Triple-A Gwinnett and designating veteran reliever David Aardsma for assignment. Outfielder Eury Perez has also been optioned to Triple-A, with righty Sugar Ray Marimon being recalled to join the bullpen.
Originally signed to a minor league deal with the Dodgers, the 33-year-old Aardsma excelled at the Triple-A level and opted out of his contract with L.A. in May, quickly latching on with the Braves. Aardsma was added to the big league bullpen in relatively short order, and he’s totaled 30 2/3 innings of relief with Atlanta this year.
Though he’s missed quite a few bats (10.3 K/9 and a career-best 14.8 percent swinging-strike rate), Aardsma has also been more homer-prone than usual, surrendering six long balls in his time with the Braves. Paired with a 4.1 BB/9 rate, he’s posted a 4.70 ERA this season. He’s already cleared revocable waivers, so the Braves will have the ability to try to trade him for a nominal return if there are teams intrigued by Aardsma’s strikeout capabilities. xFIP and SIERA, which both normalize his abnormally high homer-to-flyball rate, peg him a 4.13 and 3.44, respectively, giving some hope for improved performance.
As for Bethancourt, the 23-year-old was looked at as Atlanta’s catcher of the future not long ago and may still be, though reports earlier this year tied the Braves to young catchers. Bethancourt batted just .198/.221/.287 in 104 PAs earlier this year and has batted just .223/.248/.279 in 222 big league PAs. However, he was hitting .327/.359/.480 at Triple-A this season and is lauded by scouts for his defensive prowess, including a throwing arm which many grade as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Braves president of baseball operations John Hart discussed the upcoming trade deadline and a wide range of other topics in a fascinating Q&A with Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A full read of this excellent interview is highly recommended, but here are some of the highlights:
With July 31 fast approaching, Hart said it’s still an open question: “Do we pick up the phone or answer the phone? I’m not sure yet.” Noting that he “never made any false promises that we were built to win this year,” Hart nevertheless said it’s still possible that the team will make some additions at the deadline. But he cautioned that “we’re not going to be big buyers.”
[RELATED: Braves To Sign Jason Frasor]
Of course, selling is also still a distinct possibility, but Hart made clear that he wouldn’t move veterans just to get something back. “We don’t have the big chip that will take somebody over the top,” said Hart. “If people want good pieces and they can offer us something, yeah. But we’re going to take great care. We’re playing short. There is a very real possibility we won’t do anything.”
There has still been “no change” in the status of Mets third baseman David Wright, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. While both team and player had indicated some optimism recently, Wright has still not been cleared to resume baseball activities. As Puma notes, with at least a three week delay between the point of clearance and a return to the big leagues, Wright’s window for a return this year is rather narrow.
Here are a few more quick notes from the NL East:
- Soon-to-be Phillies president Andy MacPhail ought to make it his first order of business to find a modern baseball mind to join him in Philadelphia, argues David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News. As the piece puts it, the Phils have ended up in their current state not because they’ve been unable to identify talented players, but rather due to a “blind spot [in] the macro-valuation of that talent, within the context of both sheer market appraisal and the impact of opportunity cost on the organization.” For MacPhail to succeed, says Murphy, he’ll need to find a top subordinate who can get a handle on these concepts — particularly given that Philadelphia’s advantages in total spending capacity appear likely to be reduced in importance over time.
- While the Braves seemingly continue to take many positive steps, the stunted development of backstop Christian Bethancourt has been a significant disappointment, Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Schultz indicates that there was more at play in the decision to send Bethancourt down than his anemic .508 OPS, citing “weaknesses in defense and handling a pitching staff” and hinting that the 23-year-old may have maturity and/or commitment issues. Bethancourt has hit well since taking up residence at Triple-A, but we’ve heard recently that Atlanta is looking outside the organization for young talent behind the dish.
The Braves are looking to upgrade their offense and have let other clubs know that they’re willing to trade from their recently bolstered stable of pitching prospects in order to acquire a bat, reports Jayson Stark of ESPN (via Twitter). According to Stark, Atlanta has asked other clubs about the availability of their young catchers.
It’s just one tweet, but there’s a lot to digest there. For one, it doesn’t seem that the Braves will act as strict sellers, as they did for much of the past offseason. Additionally, the Braves’ desire to add a young catcher is perhaps somewhat telling of the confidence they have in rocket-armed but offensively-challenged (to this point, at least) Christian Bethancourt.
Bethancourt has been tabbed as the Braves’ catcher of the future for quite some time, but he’s batted just .223/.248/.279 in 222 big league plate appearances in his young career. Still just 23 years old, Bethancourt’s been optioned back to Triple-A this season in favor of a more veteran combination of A.J. Pierzynski and Ryan Lavarnway. He’s hit well in he minors since his return, but the fact that the Braves are inquiring about young backstops has to at least call into question whether or not the restructured front office feels that Bethancourt’s bat can catch up to his vaunted arm.
As far as pitching prospects are concerned, the Braves are very suddenly in no short supply. The Braves seem likely to use a combination of Shelby Miller, Alex Wood and Julio Teheran at the front of their rotation for the foreseeable future, and they have a handful of MLB-ready arms to choose from for the remaining two spots. Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler and Manny Banuelos have all made starts for Atlanta this season, and any two of the three could be looked at as a rotation piece going forward. Further down the line are Max Fried and Lucas Sims, each of whom is recovering from injury. The Braves also picked up right-hander Touki Toussaint, the No. 16 overall pick from the 2014 draft, in a recent trade with the Diamondbacks. Fellow Class-A hurler Ricardo Sanchez, a high-ceiling arm in his own right, was acquired from the Angels this offseason.
Suffice it to say, the Braves have gone from an underwhelming farm system to one teeming with pitching prospects after an offseason of trades from new president of baseball operations John Hart. What the team lacks, however, is offense at a number of positions. In addition to the struggles of their catchers — a combined .237/.270/.357 batting line — left field has been an egregiously detriment to the club’s offensive output. Atlanta left fielders have combined to bat just .221/.284/.311 this season.
It seems unlikely that the Braves would move one of their talented young pitchers for a pure rental, so the expectation here is that any bat theoretically acquired by Atlanta would be under control beyond the 2015 season — perhaps beyond the 2016 campaign as well. Previous reports have indicated that the Braves inquired with the Brewers on Jonathan Lucroy‘s availability, though most indications remain that the Brewers are unlikely to move him.
Earlier this morning, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported that the Braves would option struggling catcher Christian Bethancourt to Triple-A Gwinnett (Twitter link). While the corresponding move was not reported at the time, Atlanta has since announced that it will select the contract of Ryan Lavarnway to take Bethancourt’s place. Bethancourt, 23, has batted just .208/.231/.297 in 2014 plate appearances this season. While his elite arm behind the plate would be enough to outweigh a reasonable amount of offensive struggles, that batting line translates to the seventh-worst wRC+ in all of baseball among players with 100 PAs. Via David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, president of baseball ops John Hart likened the Bethancourt demotion to the 2014 demotions of Kolten Wong and Mike Moustakas. Each, like Bethancourt, was a former Top 100 prospect that had struggled in the Majors but has taken a step toward stardom since returning to the bigs. The Braves will hope that’s the outcome for Bethancourt, but in the meantime, they’ll hand his role to Lavarnway. The 27-year-old Lavarnway is a former Top 100 prospect himself, but he’s never replicated the promise he showed in a 2013 cup of coffee when he batted .299/.329/.429 in 84 PAs with Boston.
Here’s more from the NL East…
- Via the Record’s Matt Ehalt, Mets GM Sandy Alderson said today that a realistic target date for David Wright‘s return will be the All-Star break (Twitter link). The Mets captain has missed all but eight games this season, most of which has been due to a recent diagnosis of spinal stenosis. New York has been said to be looking to acquire a versatile bat that can play third base in the short-term and then move elsewhere once Wright is again healthy.
- The Mets recently discussed a scenario in which Noah Syndergaard would switch to a relief role in an effort to aid what has been a fragile bullpen, report Mike Puma and Zach Braziller of the New York Post. In that scenario, Steven Matz would have been recalled to take Syndergaard’s spot in the rotation. However, the team has decided against that decision and will remain committed to using Syndergaard as a starter. The story does seem to lend further credence to recent reports that the Mets are itching to get Matz to the Majors. They’ve reportedly discussed Jon Niese and Dillon Gee with other teams, though neither has generated much interest.
- While many Phillies fans have given up hope on Domonic Brown, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News feels the organization is doing the right thing by giving him a perhaps final shot at proving he’s been anything more than he has shown to this point. Brown, 27, has scarcely hit in the Majors, save for a blistering two-month stretch in 2013, but he still has more growth potential than alternative Phillies options such as Jeff Francoeur and Ben Revere. Brown explained to Murphy his offensive struggles in the minors this season — specifically feeling a lack of strength in his legs early on after returning from an Achilles injury. Brown’s production improved as the strength returned, and he’ll now get some opportunities to force his way into the lineup with regularity, manager Ryne Sandberg implied. Still, Brown is out of options after this season, so Murphy rightly points out that this could effectively be Brown’s last legitimate chance in Philadelphia.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has published the latest installment of his weekly Inside Baseball column, and he kicks it off by reporting that the Blue Jays have inquired on Cole Hamels. However, Heyman hears that Hamels was unwilling to waive his no-trade clause to allow a trade to Toronto, which is a blow for both clubs. The Jays desperately need help in both the rotation and the bullpen, and the Phillies, Heyman notes, would love to get their hands on young pitchers with the upside of Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris. The Blue Jays have a bit of financial leeway after going with inexpensive options at second base, center field and left field, and Heyman writes that the Blue Jays are expected to look at other potential front-line starters this summer as they become available. (He speculatively mentions Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir, though neither’s available just yet.) Additionally, Heyman notes that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons’ job is safe, as GM Alex Anthopoulos has a strong relationship with the skipper and recognizes that the team’s problems are roster-related and shouldn’t be pinned on Gibbons.
Some more highlights from the column, though it’s worth a read in its entirety…
- The Braves are said to be disappointed in the play of Christian Bethancourt, even from a defensive standpoint, and recently inquired with the Brewers on Jonathan Lucroy. However, Atlanta executives were told by the Brewers that Lucroy isn’t available at this time. That the Brewers wouldn’t trade Lucroy isn’t a shock; he’s owed a very affordable $4MM in 2016 with a $5.25MM option for the 2017 season, so even if the team can’t quickly right the ship, he’d still have enormous trade value at the 2016 trade deadline. More interesting, to me, is that the Braves would so quickly look for an upgrade over Bethancourt and that they’re acting somewhat as buyers. Lucroy, of course, could be called a long-term piece that would be around to help the team when its rebuild is closer to completion. However, acquiring him would surely require the sting of parting with some of the key components of that rebuild.
- Some rival execs feel that the Cubs are willing to part with Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach in trades, in part because each was drafted under the previous administration and is not held in as high a regard by the new front office. Each player comes with issues, however, as Baez is trying to cut down on his swing and improve his contact skills, while a scout described first baseman Vogelbach as a “30 fielder” to Heyman (in reference to the 20-80 scouting scale).
- There are members of the Astros‘ field staff that want to see Carlos Correa with the team right now, but Houston will likely keep him in the minors for another month or so in order to lessen the risk of Correa achieving Super Two status. I’ll add that the Astros will have a more legitimate claim that Correa still needs minor league time than other teams in similar situations have had in the past. Correa is still just 20 years old and has only nine games of experience at the Triple-A level, though he’s continued his brilliant work at the plate there, hitting .326/.362/.558 with a pair of homers. Also of interest to Astros fans — or to fans of teams needing outfield help — the Astros are on the lookout for starting pitching upgrades, and outfield prospect Preston Tucker “seems to be available.” Tucker recently made his MLB debut and has a .963 OPS through 34 plate appearances to go along with a strong minor league track record.
- Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez has been pitching for years with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, according to Heyman. Some have described it as a “90 percent tear,” but he’s been able to pitch effectively in spite of the issue. Alvarez wouldn’t be the first to pitch through a UCL tear; Ervin Santana and Adam Wainwright are both recent examples of pitchers who pitched for many seasons with partially torn UCLs. Wainwright ultimately underwent Tommy John, though Santana’s is said to have healed and is no longer an issue. In another Marlins-related note, Heyman hears that pitching coach Chuck Hernandez is “under the microscope” with both Jarred Cosart and Steve Cishek struggling greatly in 2015.
- Brewers starters Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza have little trade value due to their 2015 struggles, but Lohse’s lesser financial commitment and superior clubhouse reputation give him more value. The team is reluctant to trade not only Lucroy, but shortstop Jean Segura as well. The Brewers are a bit more open to dealing Carlos Gomez than that pair, as Gomez is closer to free agency (he’s controlled through 2016).
- The Mets remain reluctant to trade any of their top arms, as they’ve seen on multiple occasions how quickly Tommy John surgery or other injuries can thin out a club’s depth. (Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz have all had TJ in their careers.) The Mets are also not rushing to find a shortstop, but they have indeed been “all over the map” in terms of trade possibilities with the Cubs.
- Coco Crisp‘s neck injury is apparently quite serious, and there’s a fear that the oft-injured Athletics outfielder will ultimately require surgery that could bring his season to an end.
- The Blue Jays would still like to extend both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but there have yet to be serious discussions with either slugger’s camp. Both players are controlled through the end of the 2016 season.
Full Story | 100 Comments | Categories: Aaron Sanchez | Atlanta Braves | Carlos Correa | Carlos Gomez | Chicago Cubs | Christian Bethancourt | Coco Crisp | Cole Hamels | Dan Vogelbach | Daniel Norris | Edwin Encarnacion | Henderson Alvarez | Houston Astros | Javier Baez | Jean Segura | John Gibbons | Johnny Cueto | Jonathan Lucroy | Jose Bautista | Kyle Lohse | Matt Garza | Miami Marlins | Milwaukee Brewers | New York Mets | Oakland Athletics | Philadelphia Phillies | Preston Tucker | Scott Kazmir | Steven Matz | Toronto Blue Jays | Zack Wheeler
ESPN’s Jayson Stark took a look at the Cole Hamels trade market and spoke to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. about the possibility of trading the ace. Amaro took a familiar stance, stating that he’s not under any pressure to move Hamels, whom he rightly deemed one of baseball’s best starters. Rival execs tell Stark that Amaro is still asking for two premium prospects plus another piece or two in addition to the acquiring club taking on Hamels’ entire contract. As Stark notes, it’s unfortunate that a rebuilding club’s best chip is an ace in an offseason where free agency and the trade market are both pitching-rich. With next season shaping up to be a buyer’s market for pitching as well, Stark wonders if July will be the best time for Amaro to move Hamels, as few aces are ever available at the deadline. Multiple clubs have told Stark that Amaro is holding out for “the deal of the century,” as Stark terms it.
Two items of particular note from Stark are that the Blue Jays are said to have very strong interest in Hamels and that reports of Hamels’ no-trade clause are not entirely accurate. Hamels can indeed block trades to eight clubs, but previous reports listed the Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Nats, Braves, Padres, Yankees and Rangers as teams to which Hamels cannot veto a deal. Stark hears that list is outdated, and at least one club has been changed since season’s end.
Some other late-night NL East notes…
- Reports have indicated that the Marlins are serious about adding pieces to contend in 2015 this offseason, and while the focus has been more on bats for the lineup, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that the Fish have reached out to the Tigers to inquire on David Price and Rick Porcello. Talks aren’t serious at this time, he adds, but the fact that the Marlins are even kicking the tires on a pair of high-priced arms (Price and Porcello project to earn $18.9MM and $12.2MM next year, respectively) suggests that they’re willing to take on some significant payroll.
- The Braves are interested in a reunion with backstop David Ross, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien reported yesterday (Twitter link). Ross spent four seasons as Brian McCann‘s backup in Atlanta from 2009-12, enjoying some of the most productive seasons of his career as a Brave. He could serve as an excellent mentor to Christian Bethancourt, who figures to take the reins as Atlanta’s everyday catcher with Evan Gattis moving to the outfield full time.
- MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports another potential catching target for the Braves, tweeting that they have interest in A.J. Pierzynski. The soon-to-be 38-year-old Pierzynski has never had Ross’ defensive chops, though he’d give the Braves a left-handed bat to insert in the lineup when they prefer to rest Bethancourt against tough right-handers.
- The Mets are interested in lefty reliever Craig Breslow, tweets Morosi. The Mets are thin on left-handed relief, and Breslow should represent a low-cost option. The 34-year-old picked a poor time to have a career-worst season, pitching to a 5.96 ERA this past season in a contract year. However, he entered the 2014 campaign with a career 2.82 ERA in 402 innings. Breslow doesn’t dominate lefties the way many specialists do (.671 OPS), but he’s also more effective against right-handed hitters than a number of his southpaw brethren (.680 OPS).
Who will catch for the Braves in 2015? It’s liable to be a question of interest all offseason long as several roster moves could depend on the outcome. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explores the conundrum. We’ve previously seen speculation that the Braves will deal Evan Gattis to an AL club so defense-first prospect Christian Bethancourt can start. Alternatively, the club could deal an outfielder and move Gattis to left field. While there are a lot moving parts to consider, it’s hard to ignore both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are set to become free agents following the season and will be expensive to re-sign. Meanwhile, Gattis will earn around $600k next season and is club controlled through 2018.
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. cited changes in Jerome Williams‘ approach and rotation depth as reasons for yesterday’s contract extension, reports Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Depth is certainly an issue for the Phillies rotation. Cliff Lee ended the season on the disabled list, Kyle Kendrick is a free agent, and only Cole Hamels and David Buchanan finished the season healthy. Another possible factor, A.J. Burnett, is weighing a mutual option. When asked about Burnett, Amaro said, “my inclination is that he’s going to want to pitch. He’s a competitive guy.”
- Yasmany Tomas makes a lot of sense for a number of teams, but insiders are pointing to the Phillies as the current front runners, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Martino spoke with a rival executive who noted the Phillies have the money to reach a deal with Tomas – which could possibly reach nine figures. More to the point, they have a thin farm system and a desire to turn around quickly. That could make the Cuban market more attractive for the club. Another source said to Martino, “don’t count out the Tigers.”
The Yankees have a mess on their hands as they look to assemble their 2015 roster and the presence of Alex Rodriguez complicates matters, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Bombers hope that A-Rod can contribute at third at least on a part-time basis and serve as a solid DH option. If he can do neither, they’re unlikely to cut him due to his three-year, $61MM deal. Not only would it look bad for ownership, but A-Rod needs to fully show he can’t play if there is any chance of recouping some of that money through insurance. More from the AL and NL East..
- If the Dodgers come calling for Rays GM Andrew Friedman, the opportunity will have appeal, but it’s not a given that he’d go, as Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune writes. Friedman enjoys the challenge of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox with fewer resources and is loyal to Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg. By the same token, the challenge may not motivate him the same way forever.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times agrees that Friedman has a comfortable situation with the Rays. When considering his relationships with Sternberg, team president Matt Silverman, and manager Joe Maddon, Friedman has something in Tampa Bay that few other decision makers enjoy.
- Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider looks at the Nationals‘ second base options for 2015. If the Nationals wants to stick with what they know, they can re-sign Asdrubal Cabrera or give Danny Espinosa another shot at earning the job. Otherwise, they’ll have to go out of house. The free agent market is rather thin at the position, especially if the Rays pick up Ben Zobrist‘s $7.5MM option. However, teams like the Rangers, Diamondbacks, and Cubs are deep with middle infielders and could be potential trade partners.
- The time is now for the next wave of the Braves‘ homegrown talent like Christian Bethancourt and pitchers Alex Wood, Shae Simmons, and Chasen Shreve to step up and become bigger contributors in 2015, opines Bill Ballew of Baseball America (subscription required).
MLBTR’s thoughts and best wishes are with Giancarlo Stanton as he recovers from a frightening incident in which he was struck in the face by a fastball from Brewers right-hander Mike Fiers last night. Stanton has been diagnosed with a laceration and facial fractures, and appears to be done for the season, though the Marlins have said that surgery likely won’t be required. The NL MVP candidate tweeted this morning a heartfelt thanks to baseball fans for the support he has received and, more importantly, announced that he is feeling much better. As Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweets, Stanton is still eyeing a comeback this season, which would be a remarkable return.
As we all wish Stanton a speedy recovery, here’s more on the Marlins’ franchise player and the rest of the NL East…
- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs examines what a potential Giancarlo Stanton extension would look like for the Marlins, exploring two different options. Firstly, Cameron outlines a shorter extension that buys out his prime years (ages 27-32) but leaves him a chance at one more significant free agent deal. His second hypothesis is for a Joey Votto-style extension that buys out 10 free agent years on top of his remaining two arbitration years (which Cameron pegs at $30-35MM). Based on WAR/$ and factoring in for some slight inflation, Cameron pegs the shorter deal at $240MM over eight years, though he notes that Stanton would likely feel the need to top Miguel Cabrera‘s $248MM guarantee. The 10-year extension could fetch a $270MM guarantee, which, when paired with the remaining $30-35MM would amount to a 12-year deal worth $300MM+, in Cameron’s estimation.
- While he’s tired of hearing that Daniel Murphy is “more valuable to the Mets than to other clubs,” Matthew Cerrone of SNY’s MetsBlog is beginning to believe it’s true after speaking with six talent evaluators from other clubs. Four officials told him that Murphy would likely be viewed as a super-utility option, while one said that he could see a contending team making a push for him, but more as a secondary option than a primary target. Ultimately, with Dilson Herrera still just 20 years old, Cerrone feels that an extension is probably the best course of action for the Mets. I examined a potential Murphy extension earlier this summer, theorizing that a four-year deal in the $45-48MM range might make sense.
- MLB.com’s Mark Bowman has previously examined the possibility of an Evan Gattis trade to clear room for Christian Bethancourt to serve as the team’s everyday catcher, and he recently got the opinion of several Braves players and coaches on the possibility of Bethancourt starting in the future. Gerald Laird called Bethancourt “the catcher of the future” noting that while it’s understandable to want to keep Gattis’ bat in the lineup, “you can’t sit this kid.” Freddie Freeman praised Bethancourt’s improving approach, while hitting coach Greg Walker and manager Fredi Gonzalez both gave him rave reviews as well. Of course, with the lineup struggling to score as it is, the Braves may want to keep Gattis and place him in the outfield rather than dangle him on the trade market.