Francisco Lindor Rumors

AL Central Notes: Johnson, Aviles, Lindor, Avila

The White Sox yesterday made the decision to option second baseman Micah Johnson to Triple-A, recalling fellow infielder Carlos Sanchez to fill his spot on the roster and on the diamond. The 22-year-old Sanchez hit .344/.368/.466 in 137 plate appearances at Triple-A this season, whereas Johnson slashed a mere .270/.333/.297 in the Majors. Johnson is the more highly regarded prospect of the two, but as MLB.com’s Scott Merkin writes, GM Rick Hahn said he considers the demotion a “minor setback on the path to what we believe will be a successful big league career.” Second base has been one of many weak spots for the White Sox this season — a subject that Jeff Todd and I discussed in running through a surprising AL Central division on the latest MLBTR Podcast.

Here’s more from the AL Central…

  • Thoughts and prayers go out to Indians utility man Mike Aviles who, as Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel writes, learned last week that his four-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with leukemia. Manager Terry Francona said that it’s possible Aviles will join the team this weekend. However, he could also be placed on the restricted list, thereby allowing him to take as much time as he needs to be with his family. That move would allow the club to add another player to the 25-man roster in Aviles’ place. We at MLBTR wish Aviles and his family the best in an unfathomably difficult time.
  • In a second article, Meisel breaks down the Indians‘ shortstop situation, noting that the team is in a difficult place. Cleveland had hoped that the issue of when to promote top prospect Francisco Lindor would be a challenge due to the strong play of Jose Ramirez. Instead, however, it’s a challenge because Ramirez is struggling so badly. As Meisel notes, the Indians almost certainly would like to keep Lindor in Triple-A until mid-to-late June in order to minimize the chance of him achieving Super Two status. However, the present roster is lacking alternatives. Aviles could replace him once he is ready to rejoin the roster, but the other primary alternative, Zach Walters has struggled quite a bit at the plate since being acquired by Cleveland.
  • Tigers catcher Alex Avila is opting not to undergo surgery to repair the knee injury that has landed him on the disabled list, reports Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. According to Avila, multiple doctors suggested that he could potentially use a rest and rehab program to avoid surgery and get back on the field sooner than the expected 4-6 weeks he’d have missed with arthroscopic surgery. Avila is on the disabled list with a “loose body” in his knee, but doctors now believe that the abnormality in his knee is not actually loose. “They’re not convinced that it’s a loose body,” said manager Brad Ausmus. “There’s something in there, but they’re not convinced that it’s loose.” Avila is due to hit free agency following the 2015 season.

AL Notes: Cherington, Blanton, Lindor, Street

Explaining his presence in Oakland during a tough stretch for his club, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington offered some words of general wisdom for the sometimes overly-eager interpretation of his movement outside of Boston. As Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports, Cherington says that he flew out to join the team as part of a previously-planned, monthly effort. “If something is going I need to be there for I’€™ll go,” said Cherington, “but 99 percent of the time it’€™s just what is scheduled. As GM, I don’€™t remember ever being with the team on the road where it just hasn’€™t been part of the schedule.” The same, often, holds true of top execs being present to see amateur talent. “Somebody will make a deal of me being somewhere to see an amateur player. It’€™s almost never about seeing that player, but rather that’€™s the opportunity to go spend some time with your scouts and connect with them,” Cherington explaned. “I’€™m not sitting in the draft room and saying, ‘€˜I saw this guy on May 13 and this is what he did.’€™ I’€™m just not doing that.” Of course, the Kremlinologists among us will note that Cherington’s words provide perfect cover for more surreptitious missions.

  • Royals righty Joe Blanton has an opt-out opportunity tomorrow, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com tweets. Kansas City hopes to keep Blanton, with Flanagan writing that the expectation is the veteran will be “patient” in assessing his options. Certainly, given the state of the K.C. rotation, Blanton can reasonably expect to earn a shot at some big league innings at some point this year. The Royals staff is just one of many subjects touched upon by Steve Adams and myself in today’s AL Central-centric podcast (check back at about noon central for that).
  • The “timing isn’t now” for Francisco Lindor to reach the Indians roster, GM Chris Antonetti told reporters including MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian (Twitter links). That assessment is “not at all” due to an effort to avoid Super Two status, says Antonetti. Instead, the club believes that Lindor — who has not forced his way up with his play at Triple-A — simply needs more time. Cleveland is hurting for production at shortstop at present, though it is not clear that Lindor would be an immediate upgrade over the scuffling Jose Ramirez.
  • Last night, Huston Street inked a two-year, $18MM extension with the Angels. As MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez reports on Twitter, Street was motivated in part by a desire to play for a competitor. “It’s multiple years where I have a chance to really matter,” he explained. On the financial side of the ledger, my own opinion is that Street could and would have earned more on the open market — which is generally the case, of course, but is especially true given the somewhat less top-loaded relief market expected next winter. Then again, the decision to pass on some future earning opportunity to lock down a guarantee in a situation he favors is eminently understandable; such is the tradeoff that must be made to avoid the risk of a full season’s workload, especially for a low-velocity reliever.

Prospect Timeline Notes: Lindor, Correa, Franco

ESPN.com’s Keith Law ranked the top 25 big leaguers (non-rookies) who have yet to begin playing their age-25 season (Insider piece). I won’t bore you with the obvious top choice, and many of the names are obviously to be expected. Only one pitcher (Gerrit Cole) made it into Law’s top ten, though plenty more appear further down the line. Perhaps the most interesting slot is #6, which features the increasingly hard-to-ignore Nolan Arenado.

Which of the next crop of prospects will similarly make that leap from tearing up the minors to producing at the big league level? That remains to be seen, of course, but some may soon get a chance to begin proving themselves. Here’s the latest on promotion timelines for some of the game’s top prospects:

  • The Indians are happy with how young shortstop Francisco Lindor has progressed at Triple-A but are not planning to be aggressive with moving him up, T.J. Zuppe of 92.3 The Fan reported recently. GM Chris Antonetti says that Lindor’s timeline “hasn’t changed from what we talked about in Spring Training,” and also noted that the club still believes in Jose Ramirez. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince recently advocated for a move up for Lindor, citing the struggles of Ramirez and the club as a whole, but it should be remembered that he is just 21 years old and has yet to dominate (offensively, anyway) at any minor league level.
  • Another highly-touted shortstop, Carlos Correa of the Astros, now has a clear path to the big leagues after a significant injury to major league starter Jed Lowrie. But as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports, the 20-year-old’s incredible start at Double-A is probably not enough to force a promotion at this point. Things may have been different had Correa not missed significant time last season with a broken leg, but GM Jeff Luhnow indicated that the club does not want to rush him through the upper minors. “He’s definitely a special player, so his time will come faster than it would for other guys,” said Luhnow. “But having —he’s got 70 at-bats above Class A, and we feel like he needs some more. But how many more, I don’t know. And it’ll be a different number for him than it would be for someone else.”
  • We’ve heard recently that the Phillies are in no rush to move up top prospect Maikel Franco. But the team just began working out incumbent third baseman Cody Asche in the outfield, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports, which could be an indication that preparations are being made for Franco to slot in at the hot corner. The 22-year-old had a rough introduction to the big leagues last year — which not only showed the need for further development, but means that a promotion before May 15 (per Salisbury’s calculation) would cost the club a season of control. Franco is off to a strong .333/.371/.512 start in his first 89 plate appearances at Triple-A this year.


AL Central Notes: Gardenhire, Tigers ‘Pen, Indians

Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire would like to manage in the Major Leagues again and has hired agent John Boggs to represent him, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Gardenhire told Rosenthal that he isn’t actively pursuing anything because he has too much respect for MLB’s current 30 managers to campaign for something specific, but he’ll listen “to just about anything.” Rosenthal speculates that the Marlins and Brewers may eventually be looking for new skippers, though he adds that Mike Redmond took some pressure off himself in Miami with a pair of convincing wins over the Phillies. As for the Brewers, Rosenthal hears that they won’t act on manager Ron Roenicke anytime soon.

A few notes from Gardenhire’s former division, where the Twins are off to a 6-9 start under new manager Paul Molitor…

  • Questions on the Tigers‘ bullpen were the common theme throughout MLive.com’s Chris Iott’s latest Twitter Talk column. Iott fielded questions on Rafael Soriano, noting that he finds a signing doubtful, and he also noted that trading a prospect such as Dixon Machado seems unlikely to happen early in the season. Yesterday, MLBTR’s Jeff Todd looked at ways in which the Tigers could address the ‘pen, and 38 percent of MLBTR readers weighed in saying that Detroit needs to add a quality late-inning reliever ASAP.
  • Joe Nathan‘s tenure with the Tigers just never clicked, Tom Gage writes for FOX Sports Detroit. Money does tend to complicate things, of course, and that was surely true in this case. Unfortunately, Nathan will never have a chance to atone for a sub-par 2014 on the hill in Detroit.
  • MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian expects the Indians to deploy Jose Ramirez at shortstop for most, if not all of the season’s first half while Francisco Lindor develops, he writes in his latest Inbox column. Bastian points out that Lindor has gotten off to a slow start at Triple-A, which doesn’t help his case for a call-up, in spite of Ramirez’s offensive woes. Bastian also looks at the upcoming roster crunch when Nick Swisher will be activated from the DL. Cleveland plans to use Swisher in right field and at DH, but not at first base. The club already has a number of similar options on the roster in the form of David Murphy, Ryan Raburn and Jerry Sands. The latter of those three options strikes me as the likeliest to go, though Sands has hit well in his limited time with the club (thanks to being shielded from right-handed pitchers in a platoon role).

Quick Hits: Mariners, Tigers, Kuroda, Toritani

Baseball’s competitive balance is the top takeaway from the 2014 season, opines MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince. Parity can be defined in many ways, Castrovince notes, but what cannot be ignored is no team has won 100 games since 2011, three division winners in 2014 (Angels, Nationals, and Orioles) were not in the playoffs the year before, and the World Series featured a pair of Wild Card clubs. Castrovince lists a greater reliance on young talent, revenue sharing, TV money, and draft and international spending limits as reasons for the competitive balance never being stronger.

Elsewhere around baseball:

  • The Mariners‘ payroll isn’t keeping pace with payroll increases throughout the game, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times argues. The Mariners spent $93MM in 2010 and had the 14th highest payroll in the game, but because of salary inflation since then, their $109MM 2014 payroll only put them at 16th. The Mariners did add Nelson Cruz this offseason, but Baker feels their outfield would have benefited from another bat, like Melky Cabrera, Justin Upton or Matt Kemp, any of whom would have put a dent in their payroll. The Mariners have financial benefits a team like the Royals doesn’t have, Baker says, and their spending shouldn’t be in MLB’s bottom half.
  • The Tigers have not discussed an extension with David Price this offseason, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi notes. That indicates it’s still possible they could sign free agent Max Scherzer and deal Price (Twitter links).
  • It sounds like pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is ready to finish his career as a member of the Hiroshima Carp, which would rule out an eventual MLB return. The veteran told Sanspo (Japanese link) his return should be “the last decision of his baseball life,” according to Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker (on Twitter).
  • Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune sees Takashi Toritani filling two roles for the Padres: a reliable, experienced defender at shortstop and a legitimate leadoff bat from the left side. The Padres’ interest in the Japanese infielder, who is an unrestricted free agent, was reported yesterday.
  • The Padres have become relevant again with their series of moves by new GM A.J. Preller making the collection of MLB California franchises the best in the game, writes Lyle Spencer of MLB.com.
  • The Indians prefer to round out their roster through trades rather than free agency and could deal from their surplus of relievers and middle infielders (excluding Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez), reports Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Quick Hits: Cubs, Hunter, Ichiro, Lindor

The rumor train has a majority of free agents linked to the Cubs in some way, but the club may take a restrained approach, reports Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. GM Jed Hoyer hedged against the idea of a “supercharged offseason,” saying “that’s probably overstated.” Hoyer notes that it behooves agents to connect their clients with deep pocketed teams. However, Chicago won’t pass on an opportunity that makes sense, which means a deal with Russell Martin, a front line starting pitcher, or virtually any other free agent could still in the cards. My own perspective: in sales there is a saying – “undersell and over-deliver.” It’s possible Hoyer is preparing fans in case the bidding for Martin or their other top targets exceeds reason.

  • Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (via Twitter) that seven teams are interested in Torii Hunter including the Twins and Royals. Hunter has also been strongly linked to the Tigers in recent weeks. The 39-year-old outfielder has been remarkably consistent throughout his 17 year career. Teams presumably view Hunter as a corner outfielder or designated hitter. One team that isn’t in on Hunter is the Mets, tweets Marc Carig of Newsday.
  • In an interview airing Monday for MLB Network, Ichiro Suzuki will announce his intention to play in 2015, writes Chad Jennings of LoHud.com. Ichiro admits he’s unsure where he’ll suit up, since it depends on a team having a need for a 41-year-old outfielder. Given the relatively thin outfield market, there should be plenty of opportunities for a player who hit .284/.324/.340 in 385 plate appearances.
  • The Indians shouldn’t trade Francisco Lindor just because he might fail to reach his ceiling, writes Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in his latest Hey, Hoynsie. The 21-year-old acquitted himself well in Triple-A, even if the performance wasn’t phenomenal. Lindor is generally viewed as a top 10 prospect by scouts, so his trade value is significant. My own take: while the Indians have Jose Ramirez at the major league level, there’s no reason to force a deal based on that modicum of depth. Either player could be moved to another position when the time comes. Moreover, as a budget conscious franchise, the Indians can’t simply deal Lindor for just any established star. They would need to identify another relatively inexpensive target like Josh Donaldson.

Indians Notes: Francona, Free Agency, Lindor

The Indians should be poised to contend for the AL Central title next year because the Tigers and Royals are going to take a hit in free agency, opines Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in the latest edition of his “Hey, Hoynsie” column. Free agency won’t damage the White Sox, Hoynes adds, but they are in need of pitching to complement their power while the Twins are still putting together the pieces after four consecutive seasons of at least 92 losses.

Here’s more on the Indians from Hoynes:

  • Manager Terry Francona had clauses inserted into his contract when he was hired by the Indians allowing him to leave if President Mark Shapiro or GM Chris Antonetti are fired. Would Francona ever follow Joe Maddon’s lead? Hoynes notes Andrew Friedman left the Rays voluntarily and isn’t sure whether such a departure by either Shapiro or Antonetti would trigger Francona’s opt-out.
  • The Indians will not be bidding on the premier bats available in free agency (e.g. Pablo Sandoval (#5 on MLBTR’s 2014-2015 Top 50 Free Agents list), Victor Martinez (#6), Russell Martin (#8), and Nelson Cruz (#9), according to Hoynes, who sees the club setting their sights on the likes of Michael Morse (#28) and Ryan Ludwick (unranked) once other moves are made.
  • Jose Ramirez will be the Indians’ 2015 Opening Day shortstop, Francisco Lindor is probably ticketed for Triple-A, and Zach Walters, acquired in the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, will have to make the team as a bench player.
  • The Indians are not in the position of needing to trade their core players, so Hoynes would be surprised if Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, or Michael Brantley are dealt this winter.

Quick Hits: Prospects, Lindor

Top prospects must often react to failure for the first time in their career at the major league level, writes the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson in a pair of articles (first, second). Red Sox manager John Farrell points to the mental side and getting to know his young players. Their ability to handle adversity can explain the different developmental patterns for players like Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley – all of whom have experienced similar struggles this season. Bogaerts has played through the worst of his slump while Middlebrooks and Bradley Jr. spent time in the minors. Teams can also use veterans like David Ross to help young players like Christian Vazquez transition to the majors.

  • Continuing our theme, Eno Sarris of FanGraphs wonders if the Indians ought to trade Francisco Lindor this offseason. The club is pleasantly surprised with Jose Ramirez, who features superb defense and a typical bat for a shortstop. While his .256/.298/.339 slash is unexciting, it’s comparable to the average line produced by all major league shortstops – .250/.306/.362 (and that line includes Troy Tulowitzki). Shortstop prospects are the most common in baseball, and they bust 10 percent more frequently than any other position. Perhaps the Indians ought to consider acquiring a “sure thing” for their top prospect.

Indians Notes: Murphy, Westbrook, Tanaka

Of all the baseball news that broke in 2013, the story of how David Murphy's contract with the Indians became public has to be the most unique.  Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer relates how Murphy and the Tribe had agreed to terms but were keeping the deal under wraps until it was finalized…only to have Murphy's five-year-old daughter spill the beans to her kindergarten class during a lesson about Thanksgiving.  “She was in preschool and they were learning about Pilgrims and Indians,” Murphy told reporters last month. “She spoke up that her dad was going to the Indians. Obviously, the word spreads quickly because of social media. It’s not the best situation, but it’s a good story to tell her when she gets older.”

Here's some more Tribe-related notes from Hoynes, as part of a reader mailbag

  • The Indians don't have any current interest in Jake Westbrook, who pitched in Cleveland from 2001-10.  Westbrook hit free agency after the Cardinals bought out his 2014 option but it's been a pretty quiet winter of rumors about the veteran right-hander.  Hoynes reported in October that the Tribe would "keep an eye" on Westbrook but nothing seems to have come of that interest.  Westbrook, 36, posted a 4.63 ERA in 116 2/3 IP with the Cardinals last season and had trouble missing bats, as he recorded only 44 strikeouts (against 50 walks).
  • A right-handed power bat isn't high on the club's priority list as the Indians are focused on adding pitching.
  • Hoynes figures the Indians will post a $20MM bid for Masahiro Tanaka since they "have nothing to lose" in doing so, given that only the team that signs Tanaka has to pay the $20MM posting fee.  While the Indians may check on the Japanese righty, however, Hoynes thinks larger-market teams will offer Tanaka a much bigger contract offer.
  • Hoynes thinks Ubaldo Jimenez will end up signing with the Blue Jays, Diamondbacks or Yankees.  The Tanaka signing could affect this prediction as the latter two teams are known to be heavily interested in Tanaka and Toronto will likely be interested as well.
  • Francisco Lindor is only likely to see time as a September callup, and that's only if the Indians' star prospect rebounds from a 2013 back injury and impresses in his first taste of Double-A and Triple-A baseball.  Lindor's progress will also naturally impact the Tribe's future decision on Asdrubal Cabrera, who will be a free agent next winter.  Cleveland is known to be listening to trade offers for Cabrera, who is coming off a down year in 2013.

Prospect Rumor Roundup: Elite Shortstops

Is this the beginning of a new era for shortstops?

Four publications — Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), Keith Law at ESPN (subscription required), and FanGraphs (compiled by yours truly) — recently released their midseason Top 50 prospects lists. The rankings featured as many as eight elite shortstop prospects. That position is widely considered to be the most important (non-pitcher) spot on the baseball field and those potential star athletes are highly-sought-after commodities on the open market, through trades and via the draft.

Of those eight prospects featured on the four lists, five of the players are found in American League organizations, suggesting we may be soon entering another Era of the Shortstop, similar to what we experienced in the early 2000s with the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada in the AL.

Let's have a closer look at those eight shortstop prospects… 

1. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: Bogaerts was the highest ranked shortstop on all four lists. Boston is clearly planning for the day that the Aruba native is ready to contribute at the big league level as they recently had him playing games at the hot corner — an area of weakness for the playoff hungry club. However, the recent trade of Jose Iglesias, as well as the pending free agency of veteran Stephen Drew, should provide a clear path to the Major League shortstop job for Bogaerts, who has more than held his own at the Triple-A level.

2. Francisco Lindor, Indians: Just 19, Cleveland's top shortstop prospect earned a mid-season promotion from High-A to Double-A after a strong showing both in the field and at the plate. Veteran incumbent Asdrubal Cabrera's uninspired 2013 season could help convince the front office that his time with the organization is coming to an end. Lindor, who is only in his third professional season, could be ready for the Majors by the middle of 2014. He could develop into a perennial Gold Glove winner at shortstop. 

3. Carlos Correa, Astros: The first overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, Correa has produced above-average offensive numbers in Low-A ball despite being just 18 years of age. The Puerto Rico native has shown a natural hitting ability, but he has yet to tap into his raw power. There are concerns that he'll eventually outgrow shortstop, but he should have the offensive chops to be an above-average player at just about any position on the field.

4. Javier Baez, Cubs: Baez has arguably the best raw power out of any player on this list, and he already has 27 home runs in 98 games this year. Like Lindor (a fellow 2011 first-round draft pick), he's already reached Double-A. Unlike the Indians prospect, though, his offensive game is raw. He has a very aggressive approach at the plate, which has resulted in just 29 walks with 111 strikeouts in 391 at-bats. As is the case with Correa, there has been some talk of moving Baez to third base. However, with fellow prospect Mike Olt (recently acquired from the Rangers) – a plus defender at the hot corner —  that move doesn't make a ton of sense now. He could also move out to right field, but the Cubs organization features a lot of depth in that area. If and when everything clicks for Baez, though, Chicago will certainly find a spot for him.

5. Addison Russell, Athletics: Russell, a 2012 first-rounder, burst onto the prospect landscape in a big way last season. His strong play earned him an aggressive assignment to High-A ball to open the 2013 season despite being just 19 years old. He struggled in the first two months of the season but has posted an OPS near 1.000 during the past two months. Russell probably won't be ready until 2015, so current big league shortstop Jed Lowrie likely has one more season of job security before he finds himself at another position or on another club.

6. Alen Hanson, Pirates: The emergence of Jordy Mercer has added some middle infield stability at the big league level for the Pirates but he's not likely to be the long-term answer at shortstop. Hanson, 20, is the best in-house option to eventually take over the position — although his name has popped up more than a few times in recent trade rumors. After a strong showing in High-A ball, the Dominican native was recently promoted to Double-A. The switch-hitter has shown the ability to steal 20-30 bases with solid line-drive pop. 

7. Raul Mondesi, Royals: Previously known as Adalberto Mondesi, this shortstop prospect is one of the youngest players in full-season ball, having just recently turned 18. His inexperience has shown in 2013, and he walked just four times in May and June. His raw ability is undeniable, though, and he's made adjustments with a strong month of July — including 13 walks and his highest monthly OPS of the year at .817.   

8. Corey Seager, Dodgers: Seager — whose brother Kyle Seager plays for the Mariners — is perhaps the most underrated shortstop on this list. The teenager has enjoyed his time in the Midwest League, and he's been on fire over the summer months with an OPS approaching 1.000. He's also slugged eight of his 11 home runs in June and July. Like Correa, Seager is expected to outgrow shortstop but he's shown enough skill at the position to suggest he may be able to stick there for a few more years. He's likely at least two seasons away from reaching Los Angeles.