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- Giants Still Discussing De Aza, Looking At Infielders
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- Mets Claim Marc Rzepczynski On Revocable Waivers, In Talks With Padres
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- Cubs Designate Russell, Soriano; Select Contracts Of Cahill, Berry; Recall Baez
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Doug Fister Rumors
The Giants, Yankees and Cubs — three potential Chase Utley suitors — all had scouts in attendance at last night’s Phillies game, reports CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury. According to Salisbury, that’s the fourth straight game in which the Giants have kept tabs on Utley, who was in the game at first base as a possible means of showcasing him to trade partners. He also lists the Dodgers as a potential trade partner in the wake of Howie Kendrick‘s injury, although L.A. has called up top prospect Jose Peraza for the time being. Salisbury also notes that Utley has been hitting leadoff since returning to the lineup, possibly as a means to maximize his plate appearances in front of interested scouts.
Here’s more from the NL East…
- The Miami Herald’s Greg Cote urges the Marlins to end the Dan Jennings experiment in the dugout and allow the former GM to return to the front office role for which he is better suited. Cote opines that if the goal is to bring in an experienced manager to command respect in the clubhouse and signal a commitment to winning — as others have written — then the Marlins should act now rather than wait until the offseason, when other teams are offering competition for such types. If the Marlins are to hire someone like Ron Gardenhire or Bud Black, doing so now would allow the new manager time to assess his team and what he feels is needed this winter while also affording Jennings more time to prepare for the offseason alongside president of baseball ops Michael Hill.
- The Mets opted to keep Michael Conforto on the 25-man roster upon Michael Cuddyer‘s return from the DL (Eric Campbell was instead optioned to Triple-A), and as ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin writes, GM Sandy Alderson foreshadowed that decision to some extent in stressing the team’s current win-at-all-costs mentality. “Our mindset is we want the best 25 players we can put on the field,” said Alderson prior to the official announcement of the Conforto/Campbell decision. “Issues of development, etc., are secondary to whether anybody can help us now. That’s all relative based on who’s doing what and comparisons among players.”
- GammonsDaily.com’s David Golebiewski breaks down the reasons for Doug Fister‘s ill-timed and rapid decline. As Golebiweski notes, Fister’s gone from one of the game’s most underrated starting pitchers to a long reliever in short order and isn’t likely to receive another chance to start this season unless the Nationals incur an injury in the rotation. The timing couldn’t be worse, of course, as he’s now a few short months from free agency. Fister’s robust ground-ball rate has fallen below the league average, he’s throwing significantly slower and getting crushed up in the zone as a result of it, and his command of his secondary pitches has deteriorated, Golebiewski points out.
The Nationals have shifted veteran righty Doug Fister to the bullpen, manager Matt Williams told reporters after today’s game, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com among them (on Twitter). Impressive rookie Joe Ross will take his regular spot in the rotation.
The move is surprising to see, in some respects, but makes sense as the evidence on both pitchers has continued to accumulate. Fister has dealt with injuries, lost velocity, and a continued decline in his ability to generate strikeouts.
All told, he owns a 4.60 ERA over 86 innings, with 5.0 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9 with an uncharacteristically low 42.0% groundball rate. Those are his worst results as a big leaguer, and ERA estimators suggest that his earned run average reflects his performance this season.
On the other side of the ledger, Ross — who came over with Trea Turner in the deal that sent Steven Souza to the Rays and Wil Myers to the Padres — has been excellent since making the jump to the big leagues. After today’s strong outing, he sits at a 2.80 earned run mark over 45 frames, with an outstanding 47:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Ross now seems to have the inside track on a rotation spot for next year’s club.
Beyond the impact on the postseason race, Fister’s demotion carries important implications for his upcoming free agent case. For one thing, the 31-year-old no longer seems at all likely to receive a qualifying offer from the Nationals. Not unlike Justin Masterson last year, Fister entered the season primed to be an important second-tier arm on next year’s market, but now looks like a candidate for a short-term deal with a club that is willing to take a gamble on a return to form.
The Phillies announced today that a “mild” strain of his right hamstring will prevent Cole Hamels from making his scheduled start tomorrow. Right-hander Phillippe Aumont will be promoted from Triple-A to take Hamels’ place, which will necessitate a 40-man and 25-man roster move, per the team. That’s interesting in its own right, as the DFA of Dustin McGowan today should have opened a 40-man spot for Aumont, though perhaps the team has a different player in mind for that spot. (GM Ruben Amaro stated specifically yesterday that Aaron Nola would not join the team this weekend, ruling him out.) On a larger scale, any injury to Hamels is extra noteworthy as the trade deadline approaches. The Philadelphia ace will be among the most coveted trade chips on the market this July, if healthy. The ailment seems relatively minor at this time, but his health will be a situation to monitor in the coming days, as anything more serious could have serious ramifications.
Here’s more from the NL East…
- If the Phillies are serious about adding Andy MacPhail as their new club president, the team needs to make the hire sooner rather than later, opines Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Brookover notes that acting president Pat Gillick was unavailable for comment yesterday when he tried to reach him and calls it “reasonable to believe” that Gillick was in the process of negotiating with MacPhail at the time. Brookover points out that both assistant GM Scott Proefrock and director of player development Joe Jordan worked for MacPhail in Baltimore, so he does have some connections within the current front office. An expedited hiring process would maximize the amount of time for MacPhail or any other new president to evaluate the organization, top to bottom.
- Though a great deal of focus has been directed at the Mets‘ need to add another bat to the lineup, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that the need to acquire a reliable setup man is perhaps just as important. Injuries to Vic Black and Rafael Montero have thinned out the team’s options, and Bobby Parnell‘s velocity is nowhere near its previous heights. Recent discussions about possibly moving Noah Syndergaard to the bullpen for 2015 ended with the conclusion that the promising rookie should remain in the rotation. Jenrry Mejia will soon return from his 80-game suspension, though even he is an imperfect option, because he’ll be ineligible for the postseason, should the Mets make it there. Martino notes that GM Sandy Alderson has been reluctant to trade for short-term upgrades in the past but wonders if the win-now nature of the current club makes someone like Tyler Clippard more realistic than he would have been in previous years.
- Doug Fister will return to the Nationals‘ rotation today, writes Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. While a healthy Fister should be a boon for the club, his return creates some questions in the rotation. Both Tanner Roark and Joe Ross have been in the rotation while Fister and Stephen Strasburg have been shelved, and it’s unclear which will be bumped to accommodate Fister. Skipper Matt Williams called those “good decisions” to have to make and said he couldn’t rule out Ross getting another turn, although Strasburg, too, is said to be nearing a return. A free agent at season’s end, Fister has extra incentive to rediscover his previous success. As Janes notes, his ground-ball rate is down nearly 10 percent from its career mark in 2015, and I’d add that his velocity has been a big concern as well. Fister has averaged just 86.1 mph on his heater this season, which is probably a factor in his rapidly declining strikeout rate (4.1 K/9).
Here’s the latest from the National League East:
- The Mets are “ramping up [their] efforts” to trade both Dillon Gee and Jon Niese, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports. New York indicated today that it’s likely the club will back off of its six-man rotation and return to a traditional schedule. With Noah Syndergaard now fairly firmly installed at the big league level, and Steven Matz not far behind him, it makes sense that the club would be looking to see what it can get out of Gee and Niese. Both have good track records of steady production and are controllable in the future at affordable rates, but unfortunately neither has matched their historical results thus far in 2015.
- As they weigh rotation moves, which rate as good problems, the Mets are dealing with more troubling issues in the infield. The team has placed infielder Daniel Murphy on the 15-day DL with a strained quad, as Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com was among those to report. It’s not believed to be a serious injury, according to manager Terry Collins, but the club can ill afford any significant absence from Murphy. New York is already missing third baseman David Wright for an indeterminate stretch, while highly-regarded youngster Dilson Herrera is also working back from the DL (as well as backstop Travis d’Arnaud). An infield addition of some kind already seemed a plausible target for the Mets, though of course this injury is unlikely to have an impact unless it turns into something worse than expected.
- While the Marlins continue to wait and see how to proceed at the deadline, the club is looking to build out its pen to give it the best chance at entering the contention picture, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. Miami has discussed David Carpenter, who was recently designated by the Yankees and is about as intriguing an arm as you can hope to find at a reasonable price tag at this time of year.
- Nationals righty Doug Fister is set to make his first rehab appearance this weekend at Triple-A, James Wagner of the Washington Post tweets. It would appear as if things have gone about as well as could be hoped since he hit the DL with forearm tightness after his start on May 14. He’ll be a welcome addition to the Nats rotation, assuming he can return after a few minor league starts, and can begin attempting to rebuild his free agent value.
Despite what the standings say, the Marlins are not yet entertaining the idea of selling, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. The club is not interested in moving core players, says Frisaro, noting that dealing third baseman Martin Prado — who is under contract for next year as well — does not make sense, at least at present.
Here’s more from the NL East:
- Skipper Dan Jennings says that the Marlins‘ decision to option Steve Cishek was motivated by a desire to get his mechanics in order outside the big league spotlight, Frisaro reports. Noting that Cishek’s velocity has improved of late, Jennings said he expects a short minor league stint: “I don’t see this being a long-term deal at all. I think he will come back and be the same Steve Cishek we’ve known in the past.”
- The upcoming draft is an important one for a Phillies organization that is working to add as much impact talent as possible, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes. Johnny Almaraz will oversee the picking for the first time, and Salisbury suggests he’s likely to “stay away from project-type players, at least up high.” Philadelphia has struggled to produce draft talent in the not-so-distant past, but seems thus far to have hit on both of its last two picks: shortstop J.P. Crawford and righty Aaron Nola. “It’s an interesting draft,” said GM Ruben Amaro Jr. “There’s some depth. Maybe not tons of super difference makers, but there’s some good players out there.”
- Medical analysis confirms that Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg has a strained left trapezius, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. For now, the plan is for Strasburg to rest, with the hope that he’ll be ready to resume throwing in relatively short order.
- The Nationals have also received encouraging news on another injured right-handed starter, Doug Fister. As Wagner writes, Fister says his forearm tightness has “pretty much subsided completely.” The veteran went on to say that he has never been too concerned about the issue: “It was really just more tight than complete, utter mayhem. So I mean, it wasn’t a bad issue. It was more of just I really need a break for some reason, there’s so much tightness going on that we really need to address it.” As important as Fister is to Washington, his ability to recover and regain his effectiveness may tell even more on his free agent status. The 31-year-old has produced consistently excellent results over the last four seasons, but saw a dip in his velocity and strikeout tallies early this year.
Doug Fister received good news regarding his forearm flexor strain, tweets Dan Kolko of MASN Sports. An MRI revealed no issues with Fister’s elbow, according to Nationals manager Matt Williams. The right-hander may resume throwing in a few days. Fister is a free agent after the season so the MRI results are especially welcome. He’s off to a slow start with a 4.31 ERA, 4.08 K/9, and 2.27 BB/9.
Here’s more injury news from around the league:
- Rehabbing Reds reliever Sean Marshall will need a second shoulder surgery, reports Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. Marshall is suffering from a torn anterior capsule and will be out for the remainder of the season. His previous shoulder surgery was to repair his rotator cuff. Marshall is in the final season of a three-year, $16.5MM contract. He’ll earn $6.5MM in 2015. His last full season was in 2012 when he picked up nine saves to go with a 2.51 ERA, 10.92 K/9, and 2.36 BB/9.
- Tigers righty Shane Greene also received good news via MRI, writes Chris Iott of MLive.com. The preliminary results of the MRI revealed that the tingling Greene felt in his throwing hand on Friday night was the result of ulnar neuritis. There was some concern that the discomfort could signal a problem with his elbow. Greene underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008. He has a 4.21 ERA, 5.36 K/9, and 2.49 BB/9 in 47 innings.
Giants outfielder Hunter Pence is returning to active duty tomorrow, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reports on Twitter. Pence has yet to see MLB action this year since suffering a fractured forearm in the spring. The 32-year-old figures to provide a nice boost to the club, which has produced middling results thus far.
Here are some more injury notes from around the game:
- Another important player who received promising injury news is Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka. As Bryan Hoch of MLB.com tweets, Tanaka threw 35 pitches in a BP session today and seems to be nearing the start of a rehab stint. Tanaka’s continued progress is obviously welcome, particularly given that swingman Chase Whitley may be headed for season-ending surgery.
- The Blue Jays also have some notable situations to watch, with Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca providing several updates. Outfielder Michael Saunders will miss four to six weeks to rest his knee. And catcher Dioner Navarro still does not have a timetable for a rehab assignment as he rests his hamstring. More positively, shortstop Jose Reyes is nearing his own build-up through the minors. While Saunders and Reyes are important for the team, the Navarro news is most notable from a transactional perspective. Though he has not done much offensively this year, Navarro could be a useful trade piece for a Toronto club that has other needs — if he can reestablish his health and show more promise at the plate.
- The Nationals made the surprising announcement today that righty Doug Fister is heading to the DL with right forearm tightness (via Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com, on Twitter). Young starter A.J. Cole, one of the team’s top prospects, will return to take his spot on the active roster. While hidden somewhat due to the attention given to Stephen Strasburg, there is cause for concern with Fister, whose velocity (86.1 mph average two-seam fastball), K:BB ratio (4.1 K/9 vs. 2.3 BB/9), and groundball rate (40.9%) have suffered in comparison to his usual numbers. Of course, the Nationals are somewhat uniquely suited to weather any extended absence, should that prove necessary. But for the 31-year-old free agent-to-be, the first two months of the season have left him with plenty to prove the rest of the way.
- Hyun-jin Ryu of the Dodgers is still not even scheduled to resume throwing, J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group reports on Twitter. The health of the 28-year-old lefty remains a key sub-plot in the development of the summer trade market: L.A. already profiles as a strong buyer for starting pitching, and its needs would be enhanced greatly if Ryu isn’t able to develop an upward trajectory.
Tapped by many as the preseason favorites to win the World Series, the Nationals have enough depth on both the Major League and minor league level that their window of contention won’t snap shut if they don’t win it all this year. That said, there is certainly a sense that the window may never be quite as open as it is now, given that four of Washington’s top players are scheduled to hit free agency this winter.
Assuming that Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Jordan Zimmermann all post their usual types of seasons in 2015, all will draw a lot of attention on the open market; MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranks Desmond and Zimmerman fourth and sixth, respectively, in his 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings. Between interest from other teams and the Nats’ already-substantial salary commitments (over $84MM committed to just six players on their 2016 roster, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts), we can safely rule out the possibility of the Nationals bringing all four back. Indeed, some of Washington’s offseason moves seem directed at preparing for a future without some of these players, as I’ll explain momentarily.
The question is, however, will the Nationals bring back any of their free agent quartet? Let’s look at the options…
* Desmond. The shortstop reportedly rejected a seven-year, $107MM extension during the 2013-14 offseason, leading the Nats to explore acquiring a young shortstop at last summer’s trade deadline. Washington got that young shortstop in the form of Trea Turner as part of their three-team deal with the Rays and Padres over the winter, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Desmond and the Nats didn’t engage in significant extension talks, or that Desmond’s name surfaced in trade talks with the Mariners and Mets.
With all this in mind, Desmond’s days in Washington seem numbered, even if the Nationals would be letting perhaps the game’s best offensive shortstop leave.
* Zimmermann. The right-hander’s name was also linked to those talks with Seattle, and Boston also engaged the Nationals about Zimmermann’s services. Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM deal essentially could make Zimmermann expendable, as Washington doesn’t want to ink another starter to another deal in the $200MM range, especially when they’ll also have Stephen Strasburg‘s free agency to deal with after the 2016 season. (Then again, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post recently speculated that the Nats may let both Zimmermann and Strasburg go due to concerns that their arms won’t hold up given their Tommy John histories.)
* Fister. Much of what I wrote about Zimmermann also applies to Fister, though obviously Fister’s free agent price tag will be significantly lower than Zimmerman’s next contract. The Nationals reportedly haven’t discussed an extension with Fister in about a year, so one would think they’re prepared to move on from the 31-year-old righty. That said,
* Span. The team already got a look at life without Span when the veteran outfielder began the season on the DL recovering from core muscle surgery. Top prospect Michael Taylor filled in as Washington’s center fielder and hit .271/.314/.500 in 51 plate appearances, though his defense left something to be desired. Still, Taylor performed well enough that the Nats likely feel as if they have a solid replacement on hand if Span isn’t brought back.
* None of them. As you may notice, I’ve listed several more “won’t be back” reasons than I have reasons for why the Nationals may re-sign any of the quartet. It’s quite possible Washington simply lets all four players go in order to save future payroll space for Strasburg and/or Bryce Harper‘s future extensions. The Nats would also get a boost to their minor league system, as they’d receive at least three draft picks back as compensation if their players signed elsewhere — Desmond, Zimmermann and Fister are locks to receive qualifying offers, while Span could potentially get one too if he has a big season.
That said, it would also be somewhat surprising to see a team with such clear designs on winning a championship soon let four big pieces walk. While Washington has an enviable amount of starting pitching depth, any rotation would suffer in losing two proven arms like Zimmermann or Fister. Desmond, as noted, would leave a big hole at shortstop, and counting on Taylor to replace Span might be putting a lot of pressure on a youngster. Re-signing even two of the four could be a tall order, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Nationals bring back one of the four.
One more wrinkle: MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently speculated that the Nats could explore trading Zimmermann or Fister this summer in order to fill any other holes on the roster. Theoretically, this would open the door for Washington to add talent at midseason to bolster their postseason hopes, and then also allow them to possibly sign either traded pitcher in the offseason. As Jon Lester and the Red Sox might tell you, however, it’s very rare to see such a scenario play out with the traded ace immediately return to the club that dealt him away.
Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully is celebrating his 65th anniversary in the booth tonight. His first game was at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park featuring Robin Roberts against Don Newcombe. Incidentally, Roberts is also in the Hall of Fame while Newcombe is often discussed as a snub. Here’s more from around the league.
- The Blue Jays did little to address an obvious bullpen problem over the offseason, writes Mike Wilner of Sportsnet.ca. However, the club might have lucked into a valuable solution in the form of Liam Hendriks. The 26-year-old is averaging 93 mph with his fastball – up about two mph from his career norm. Through six innings, he’s allowed two hits and one walk while recording nine strikeouts. Before anybody anoints Hendriks the closer, it’s worth noting that he has a low 5.3% swinging strike rate. At some point, that rate will either increase, or his strikeout rate will decrease.
- The Nationals must learn to thrive under walk year pressure, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. When Jayson Werth entered his walk year with the Phillies, then-manager Charlie Manuel advised him to test free agency (in more colorful language). Now the Nationals have four key players on the road to free agency. Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Denard Span could all leave after the season, which gives 2015 a make-or-break feel for Washington. Werth and Max Scherzer have advice for their new teammates – acknowledge all the sources of pressure.
The Mets won’t be signing Phil Coke, ESPN’s Adam Rubin reports. The team was reportedly interested in the left-hander earlier this winter, but according to Rubin, the Mets decided in December that they wouldn’t be signing any relievers to Major League contracts this offseason. They have stuck to that plan, adding the likes of Buddy Carlyle, Duane Below and Scott Rice on minor league contracts. Several teams have offered Coke minor league deals with Spring Training invitations, but the veteran southpaw is still looking for a Major League contract.
Here’s some more from around the NL East…
- Also from Rubin, he has the full list of Mets players who are out of options: Wilmer Flores, John Mayberry, Jenrry Mejia, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Cesar Puello, Ruben Tejada and Carlos Torres. According to Rubin, all of these players are expected to make the Mets’ roster except for Puello.
- Carlyle and Alex Castellanos have out clauses in their Mets contracts for early June, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports (Twitter links). Carlyle also has an out clause that he can exercise on Opening Day. The two players each signed minor league deals with New York earlier this winter.
- Doug Fister is entering his last year under contract with the Nationals, but the righty tells MLB.com’s Bill Ladson that he isn’t looking ahead to his free agency but rather just concentrating on the coming season. “I’m wearing this jersey right now. That’s the most important thing. I’m a National through and through. I’m proud of it. If it looks like I can stay here, great. If not, I’ve just got to make sure I get my job done, be part of the team I’m part of,” Fister said. The right-hander is just one of several high-profile Nats players who are slated for free agency after 2015, including Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Denard Span.
- The top four teams who seem like the best fits for Phillies ace Cole Hamels are listed by MLB.com’s Jim Duquette. In order, the Red Sox, Cardinals, Padres and Cubs comprise Duquette’s list. All four clubs have been linked to Hamels on the rumor mill, though none may be willing or able to provide the Phillies with the top-tier prospects they would need to make a deal.