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Cliff Lee Rumors
With the draft in the rear-view mirror, the league’s attention will increasingly turn to the coming summer trade market — though, with so many teams still in the hunt and so much money owed to many possible trade candidates, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders if it will be a sluggish market.
Here’s the latest on some teams and players who could be discussed:
- The Diamondbacks, who feature a roster with several attractive veteran pieces, have also been widely noted for their abundance of quality young middle infielders. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (Twitter links), current Triple-A shortstop Nick Ahmed has sparked interest from multiple other clubs. Ahmed, 24, is known as an outstanding defensive player and has enjoyed his most productive season at the plate this year with a .304/.385/.401 line in 250 plate appearances in his first run at Triple-A.
- The Rays should consider putting ace David Price on the market now rather than waiting for the deadline to approach, opines MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince. Tampa may not achieve the return it hopes for if it waits, says Castrovince, citing a variety of reasons — including the current proliferation of teams still in the hunt, the possibility that Cubs hurler Jeff Samardzija may approach or even surpass him in value, and the potential introduction of Royals’ ace James Shields into the discussion.
- Price may be the Rays‘ most valuable trade chip, but the versatile Ben Zobrist would draw the widest interest if he is put on the block, tweets Rosenthal. The 33-year-old jack of all trades is owed just $7MM this year and comes with an attractive $7.5MM club option for 2015.
- Indeed, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com writes that Zobrist is “the perfect acquisition for a team like the Tigers, Giants, or Dodgers.” As I noted a few days ago, he would also make sense for a team like the Nationals if they decide to add an impact veteran, and there are surely many others with possible interest.
- Gammons goes on to cite a few other possibly overlooked trade possibilities. He lists Bartolo Colon of the Mets and Steve Cishek of the Marlins in addition to some more commonly mentioned names like Jason Hammel of the Cubs, and Chase Headley of the Padres.
- Cliff Lee of the Phillies, a hypothetically intriguing trade candidate, finally threw a baseball yesterday for the first time since May 18, reports Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. After what he described as a “light throwing session,” Lee said that his elbow was feeling “better.” Of course, he would need to make it back for at least a few starts to allow Philadelphia to recoup anything close to maximum value were they to shop him.
- In today’s Baseball Tonight podcast (audio link), ESPN’s Buster Olney says that hears the Cubs will approach this year’s deadline as they did in 2013, dealing one pitcher early as they did with Scott Feldman last year and waiting until later to move a second, as they did with Matt Garza. Presumably, that’d mean Jason Hammel would be moved first, with Jeff Samardzija being moved later. His colleague, Keith Law, feels the strategy can work, as there will never be enough starting pitchers for all the teams looking to buy, and the price for Hammel isn’t as difficult to agree upon. Moving Hammel early on forces interested clubs to force on the bigger target later in the deadline as the need becomes greater.
- Olney lists the Blue Jays, the Orioles and the Athletics as teams that could have early interest in Hammel, and he wonders if the recent injuries to the Pirates‘ rotation would cause them to jump into the mix. Law feels the Angels could be added to that mix, as their weak farm system would prevent them from adding a big-name starter.
Just five games stand between the first-place Braves and the last-place Phillies in the current NL East standings. Here’s the latest out of baseball’s tightest division…
- The Braves announced that they have called up second base prospect Tommy La Stella, though no corresponding move has been announced. However, a source has indicated to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman that Dan Uggla is remaining with the team rather than being released or designated for assignment to create room for La Stella. The 25-year-old La Stella hit .293/.384/.359 in 198 Triple-A plate appearances this season and ranked as Atlanta’s No. 7 prospect per MLB.com and No. 9 prospect per Baseball America.
- There’s no telling how long Phillies ace Cliff Lee will be sidelined until he’s reevaluated today, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tells Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. “It could be up to a month, it could be a month and a half, it could be three weeks,” said Amaro. “I have no idea when the guy is going to be ready to pitch … I have no timetable until he’s up and throwing again.”
- Amaro also tells Lawrence that top third base prospect Maikel Franco was considered as an option when Cody Asche was injured, but ultimately, Franco simply isn’t ready for the Majors yet. “Offensively, he’s made some adjustments, he’s made some improvements better than in the earlier part of the season, but he’s not really going on all cylinders now. We’re still contemplating it. We’ll see how it goes.”
- Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that Mets GM Sandy Alderson thought he’d be working with a bigger payroll when he took the job, though Alderson would never admit to that himself. Martino adds that the mood around the Mets is tense these days, due to speculation about Terry Collins’ job security (which he says is not justified) and the post-firing comments from hitting coach Dave Hudgens.
Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News reports that Phillies president David Montgomery recently underwent surgery to remove cancer from his jaw. The procedure, which involved taking a bone from Montgomery’s leg and transplanting it to his mouth, will leave the 67-year-old hospitalized for another week. He is expected to make a full recovery. MLBTR wishes Montgomery a speedy return.
Here’s the latest on the Phillies…
- Cliff Lee has been placed on the disabled list with what has been termed a mild flexor tendon sprain, the team announced yesterday. The Inquirer’s Matt Gelb writes that doctors stressed to Lee the fact that he has no ligament damage. Still the team could be without its ace for at least three weeks, as Lee will rest entirely for one week then spend two weeks rebuilding the strength that rest will cause him to lose.
- ESPN’s Jayson Stark spoke with GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who said that he doesn’t yet know how Lee’s injury will impact his team’s strategy this summer. Amaro pointed out the parity throughout the game right now, citing it as another reason that he can’t assess whether his team will be a buyer or seller. He said David Buchanan is the most likely candidate to replace Lee, though he wouldn’t commit to that 100 percent. Darin Ruf has been called up for the time being, though Amaro termed that a “three-day fix.”
- Amaro also provided an update on righty Jonathan Pettibone, as Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports (Twitter links). A visit to Dr. James Andrews revealed a small labral tear, but Pettibone will not undergo surgery at this time. Instead, he will be treated with an anti-inflammatory shot and continue resting before starting to throw again. It was Pettibone’s decision to try to avoid surgery, reports Salisbury, which seems to imply that a procedure could still be a possibility in the future. As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes, the so-called SLAP tear can present serious issues, and it is far from certain that Pettibone will ultimately avoid a more drastic solution.
- Veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins has put up quite an impressive performance through the first quarter of the season. His current pace — a .275/.369/.458 triple-slash with 6 home runs and 6 steals — is not only a bounce back from a rough 2013, but is reminiscent of his form in the glory days of the mid-to-late 2000’s. The 35-year-old has combined with Chase Utley to form one of the game’s most productive middle-infield duos. In theory, that makes Rollins an intriguing trade chip and, potentially, upcoming free agent. In fact, it is still far from clear that the Phils will look to deal him, let alone that he would agree to waive his ten-and-five rights. And Rollins is now exceedingly unlikely to hit the open market after the season. With 177 plate appearances already in the bag, the vesting of his $11MM option for next year seems a virtual shoo-in, barring significant injury. (It would vest at 600 plate appearances this year or 1,100 combined between 2013-14, though the latter scenario has injury protections built in for the team.)
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.
Speculation has heightened as to when the Cardinals will call up top prospect Oscar Taveras. He is part of a special trio of Triple-A outfielders, along with Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, a scout tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). That same scout said that Taveras needs a new challenge at this point. “He’s on cruise control,” he said. “Gives away at-bats. Needs to play with more urgency. He’ll get a wake-up call but it will take [the] big leagues to do it.” Of course, whatever his level of motivation and effort, Taveras has played well; he entered the day with a .304/.354/.509 line through 175 plate appearances.
Here are some more stray notes to round out the evening:
- While he remains winless, Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija continues to drive up his stock with an outstanding start to the season. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com writes that the club should shop him this summer at peak value; as a GM tells Heyman, Chicago will “want top, top guys” in return. Heyman lists the ten clubs that could possibly match up on Samardzija, topped by the three northernmost A.L. East clubs.
- While Heyman puts the Yankees first among possible Samardzija suitors, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post says that fellow Cubs starter Jason Hammel may make more sense for New York. Samardzija may price himself out of the Yanks’ reach in terms of a prospect package, says Davidoff. While Cliff Lee of the Phillies would also be of interest — and, presumably, be more achievable for the Yankees given his hefty contract — he now has significant arm issues for the first time in his career.
- The early-agreement trend on the July 2 international market has not only changed the dynamics of the market itself, writes Ben Badler of Baseball America, but has made it more difficult for prospect watchers to scout players. When players reach terms, they tend to steer clear of showcases and tryouts. As Badler notes, increasingly aggressive signing tactics also “elevate the risk and uncertainty” for teams, because young players can change so much in a short period of time.
- Now a decade in the past, the 2004 amateur draft understandably looks quite different in retrospect. ESPN.com’s Keith Law takes a look back in two Insider pieces (subscription required). There were many misses, of course, headlined by first overall pick Matt Bush. If teams had perfect foresight at the time, says Law, the first three choices would have brought Justin Verlander to the Padres, Dustin Pedroia to the Tigers, and Jered Weaver to the Mets.
Rehabbing Mets ace Matt Harvey hopes to return to big league action at the end of this season, the righty tells Tom Verducci of SI.com. While Harvey acknowledged that he would not push to return before being cleared, he said he wants to re-establish himself on the hill before the year is out. “I just want the peace of mind,” said Harvey. “I want to go back out there and know I still have the stuff to strike out major league hitters.” For his part, club GM Sandy Alderson sounded a cautious note, reports ESPNNewYork.com’s Adam Rubin. “Not being a medical doctor and not really faced with that decision previously, I’ll reserve judgment,” he said. “But the one thing we don’t want to do is be put in a situation where someone — Matt, or anyone else — has a setback because we’ve pushed the natural recovery processes further than we should have.”
Here’s the latest on some injury situations around the game that could potentially have transactional implications:
- Cliff Lee of the Phillies underwent an MRI today on his left elbow, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports. The durable and excellent lefty has been throwing through elbow tenderness for the last several weeks, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said that the discomfort increased in his last start. The 35-year-old has been diagnosed with a flexor pronator strain, tweets Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, though a full assessment will await the results of the MRI. Needless to say, a prolonged absence or ongoing injury questions could not only have ramifications for the Phils’ ability to stay in the post-season race, but could heavily impact the summer’s starting pitching trade market. Lee, who has 21-club no-trade rights, is owed $25MM this year and next before a 2016 vesting/club option that comes with a $12.5MM buyout.
- Mariners first baseman/outfielder/DH Corey Hart is expected to miss four to six weeks, reports MLB.com’s Greg Johns (via Twitter). That news — and Stephen Drew‘s signing with the Red Sox today — has fueled calls for Seattle to take another look at re-signing first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales. Should Morales stay a free agent until the upcoming amateur draft, of course, he will be free to sign anywhere without costing his new team a pick, and without returning a compensatory choice to the M’s.
- Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran still hopes to play through the bone spur in his elbow, but if surgery is required he would be out for about two months, reports Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (Twitter links). Beltran saw Dr. James Andrews today, who confirmed the original diagnosis. It appears that the question at this point is whether or not Beltran can deal with the pain while playing at full speed.
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe discusses the rash of injuries to pitchers. Some are suggesting that MLB lower the mound, which would reduce stress on the shoulder and elbow by reducing some of the downward force. Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves has a different idea. “You have to stop shrinking the strike zone,” he said. “It has to be expanded. It’s incredible what you’re asking of pitchers nowadays. You expect them to throw the baseball into this tiny box. Do you know how much stress that puts on a pitcher’s arm? Just remembering when I pitched, the strike zone is so tiny compared to back then. It’s impossible to think that you make a pitcher hit that tiny box and not have it affect the health of a pitcher over time.” Here’s more from today’s column..
- Baseball executives think they’ll have their eyes on Cliff Lee if the Phillies fall out of the race. The Yankees would have plenty of competition for Lee, perhaps even from the Red Sox, who have long coveted him, especially given his past relationship with John Farrell. The Red Sox also have more to give than the Yankees in terms of prospects. Lee, 35, will earn $25MM this season and next, and has a $27.5MM option for 2016, which vests with 200 innings in 2015 or 400 innings in 2014-15.
- It’s expected that teams that missed out on Masahiro Tanaka will bid for Hiroshima Toyo Carp standout Kenta Maeda. The Red Sox have scouted Maeda quite a bit and he’s garnering attention, even though he is not as accomplished as Tanaka.
- Cafardo asked four GMs if they would rework John Lackey’s 2015 salary at the major league minimum if they were running the Red Sox. Three said no, that Lackey had agreed to play for the minimum in a sixth year if he lost a year to Tommy John surgery. The consensus was Lackey would be even more motivated to have a big year if he was playing for another big contract.
- The Phillies didn’t have any suitors for Jonathan Papelbon over the offseason, but now that he’s pitched through some difficulty he may have a market. The Phillies may not get a whole lot for him, however.
Mets fans had a scare yesterday when projected Opening Day starter Jon Niese had to travel to New York to undergo an MRI after experiencing a dead arm. However, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweeted earlier today that the results of Niese's MRI were positive; doctors said his shoulder looked "perfect," and he will be able to resume throwing as soon as he returns to camp. Elsewhere in the NL East…
- CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury writes that 2014 could finally be the year that the Phillies trade Cliff Lee if they fall out of contention. Lee says that the concept of trade rumors don't matter to him: "I really don't care. There’s no sense really thinking about it. Honestly, it usually means a good thing. It means you’ve had success and other teams really want you." Lee's contract is guaranteed through the 2015 season and contains a vesting option for 2016.
- Rehabbing Phillies setup man Mike Adams threw his first bullpen of the spring today and said he felt great afterward, writes MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Adams felt some discomfort when throwing from flat ground on monday, but the Phillies' head trainer assured him it was ok. Adams, set to earn $7MM in 2014 after missing most of 2013, said he threw at about 85 percent intensity today and could be in the Phillies' bullpen sometime in April.
- Christina De Nicola of FOX Sports Florida spoke to Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill about his wealth of pitching prospects. Beyond Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and Jacob Turner, the Marlins also have minor leaguers Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Adam Conley, Brad Hand and Brian Flynn. "Those guys are all starting pitchers, which is an envious position to be in," Hill said. "We're proud of our depth, happy to have it and just hopeful that they all develop into what we think they can be."
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo calls recent trade acquisition Felipe Rivero a "huge-upside left-handed starter," writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. Wagner spoke with Rivero about his transition from the Rays organization to the Nationals.
The Phillies have been involved in a handful of rumors this week in Orlando, as reports surfaced suggesting that the team is open to moving Domonic Brown, as well as aces Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. However, it sounds like the price tags on any of those players would be extremely high, reducing the likelihood of a deal. Here's the latest on the Phillies:
- One club told Peter Gammons (Twitter link) that the possibility of attaching Brown to Jonathan Papelbon in a trade is in play for the Phillies. In that scenario, Philadephia would use the savings to pursue starting pitching help.
- Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly spoke to a few people who have "knowledge of the inner workings" of the team, and received mixed reactions on whether the Phillies would really move Lee or Hamels. One source called the rumors a "smokescreen" while another suggested the club might trade Lee, but not Hamels.
- For his part, GM Ruben Amaro called the Lee and Hamels rumors "silly," according to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News.
- Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com wonders if the Angels' trade of Mark Trumbo might provide a blueprint for the Phillies and Brown, considering both players are corner outfielders with big bats and limited defensive value.
- The Phillies are satisfied with their offense and aren't looking to make significant additions, but David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News notes that everything will have to break right for it to be an impact lineup.
10:20am: ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets that the only way the Phillies would move Hamels or Lee would be in a "win-win" situation in which they receivea huge return and shed the entirety of the remaining salary. In other words, a trade is unlikely.
8:18am: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports also hears that both Philadelphia aces are in play, but the Phillies won't eat any of the remaining money on either contract (Twitter link).
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is apparently being quite open-minded at this year's Winter Meetings, as he's also said to be "actively shopping" Domonic Brown on the heels of Brown's 2013 breakout. Given the number of teams looking to acquire established pitchers, adding Hamels and/or Lee to a market that already includes David Price and Jeff Samardzija would give interested teams more options to choose from.
Hamels will be 30 at the end of this month and is guaranteed $112.5MM through the 2018 season ($22.5MM annually) with a $24MM vesting option for 2019. Though he started the season slowly, the left-hander posted a very Hamels-like 2.73 ERA from June 1 through season's end, finishing with a 3.60 ERA, 8.3 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9.
Lee, 35, will earn $25MM in each of the next two seasons and has a $27.5MM vesting option for the 2016 campaign. He pitched to a 2.87 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 222 2/3 innings, giving him a league-leading 6.94 K/BB ratio.
Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda hasn't decided whether he'll pitch in 2014, Anthony Rieber of New York Newsday reports (via Twitter). He might pitch in the U.S. or in Japan, and it's not impossible he could retire, either. Kuroda ranked sixth in Tim Dierkes' most recent Free Agent Power Rankings, and even though he'll turn 39 before the 2014 season starts, his ability to rack up high-quality innings makes him a valuable commodity. If he were to retire or return to Japan, that would put a significant dent in this offseason's free agent pitching market. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee plans to retire after the 2016 season, Matt Gelb of the Inquirer reports (on Sulia). Lee's contract is guaranteed through 2015, and the Phillies have an option on his services for 2016. "I'm financially able to shut it down, so… that's how I feel right now," Lee says. "But when the time comes I might look at it differently."
- The Mets will look for a veteran catcher to serve as Travis d'Arnaud's backup next season, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York tweets. Adding a veteran would also insure the Mets against the possibility that d'Arnaud gets hurt, Rubin notes. In mid-August, d'Arnaud took over for John Buck as the Mets' starting catcher.
- The Blue Jays' disappointing season has left them well outside the playoff picture, but that doesn't mean their final series against the Rays is irrelevant, MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm writes. Right now, the Jays have baseball's seventh-worst record, tied with the Phillies, Rockies and Brewers. They're currently one game worse than the Mets and two worse than the Giants. That's significant, Chisholm points out, because the top ten picks in the draft are protected, meaning that if the Jays finish with one of baseball's ten worst records, they'll be able to pursue free agents who have been extended qualifying offers, and they won't have to worry about losing their first-round pick if they sign one. For example, the Indians had a protected first-round pick last season, which allowed them to keep the No. 5 overall pick (which they used on Clint Frazier) even after they signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. The Indians did sacrifice their second-round and Competitive Balance Round B picks.