Hisashi Iwakuma Rumors

AL West Notes: Iwakuma, Samardzija, Astros, Angels

With a string of three consecutive strong starts under his belt, Hisashi Iwakuma would make for an interesting trade candidate, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post. However, as Sherman reports, the Mariners remain hesitant to undergo any sort of sale of veteran pieces as the trade deadline nears. Iwakuma, who’s earning just $7MM this season ($2.86MM remaining), has now allowed just four runs over his past 20 2/3 innings, striking out 18 hitters against four walks in that time. Iwakuma’s name — and the Mariners’ likely reluctance to sell — are both topics that came up on today’s edition of the MLBTR Podcast.

A few more notes from around the AL West…

  • The Astros discussed Jeff Samardzija with the White Sox prior to acquiring Scott Kazmir earlier today, tweets Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. The lack of a consummated trade was not due to the fact that the White Sox weren’t willing to part ways with Samardzija, a source tells Crasnick (Twitter link), but rather just due to the fact that the Astros deemed Kazmir a better fit.
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that the Astros aren’t ruling anything out when it comes to their next move on the trade market. The team could use another bullpen arm — GM Jeff Luhnow has voiced a preference to add a flamethrower — and another bat would make sense as well. However, the Astros’ priority, as one team official tells Rosenthal, is simply “talent.” It would seem, then, that the Astros are open to making further moves to bolster their rotation rather than limiting themselves to bullpen or lineup additions.
  • The Angels were already looking at potential third base upgrades before losing David Freese for at least three weeks last night, tweets Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. They’re continuing to look at the market for third basemen, but an outfield bat remains the Halos’ top priority, according to Fletcher. Freese hit the DL last night after a Mike Pelfrey fastball broke his right index finger.
  • In the meantime, though, it’ll be Kyle Kubitza occupying Freese’s roster spot. The Angels recalled Kubitza, a 25-year-old prospect acquired from the Braves in an offseason swap, prior to today’s game vs. the Twins. Taylor Featherston got the start at third base, though Kubitza did enter the game as a pinch-hitter.

Mariners Unlikely To Add Big-Name Player In Trade

While the Mariners remain in the market for a backup catcher and perhaps a right-handed reliever, GM Jack Zduriencik makes a move for a significant name between now and the non-waiver trade deadline seem unlikely. Via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Zduriencik said the team’s acquisition of Mark Trumbo may be its most notable move:

“We did the Mark Trumbo thing. We tried to jump the market and make a deal at the time that we thought could bring in, what we considered, a pretty good power bat for our lineup, to help augment what we already have. I think anything else will probably be moves within the organization. There’s always the possibility something could happen, but you’re not really counting on it.”

The Mariners have aggressively attempted to remedy what has a perennially disappointing offense through both free agency and trades over the past two seasons, but to little avail. Both Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz were signed to significant free agent contracts, while on the trade market, Zduriencik has acquired Trumbo, Austin Jackson, Seth Smith and the since-designated-for-assignment Justin Ruggiano. While Cano was excellent in his first season with Seattle and Cruz is hitting quite well in 2015, the moves, as a whole, have done little to help the Mariners overcome their run-suppressing home environment. And as Divish notes, the decision to part with Welington Castillo in the Trumbo trade is presently haunting the Mariners. Castillo’s bat looks revitalized with Arizona — .289/.366/.533 in 101 PAs — while the Mariners continue to receive little offensive production behind the plate. (Of course, Arizona’s hitter-friendly environment must be considered as well.)

Divish goes on to write that a hot start to the second half could lead Zduriencik to seek ownership approval to make further additions, though current asking prices are beyond what the Mariners have to offer in prospect collateral. Furthermore, continued struggles could lead to the sale of impending free agents such as Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ and Jackson. Such a fade could also bring into question Zduriencik’s future with the club, Divish notes, as expectations entering the season were high.

One encouraging note for the Mariners and their fans should be the relative ease of their second-half schedule. As ESPN’s Buster Olney noted earlier today in ranking the strength of clubs’ remaining schedules, the Mariners are currently slated to play just 22 of their final 73 games against clubs that carried a record of .500 or better into the All-Star break. The bad news for Seattle, though, is that many of those games will come in the next two weeks. The Mariners took a tough 4-3 loss at Yankee Stadium last night, and after two more games there, they’ll head to Detroit for four games before hosting the Blue Jays for three. The only games they’ll play against a sub-.500 team prior to the trade deadline will be when they host the D-Backs from July 27-29. From there, they head to Minnesota for a four-game set.


Heyman On Grilli, D-backs, Marlins, Dodgers

Here are the highlights from Jon Heyman’s massive new Inside Baseball article for CBS Sports. Be sure to check out Heyman on the latest edition of the MLBTR Podcast.

  • The Braves have had “serious talks” about dealing closer Jason Grilli to a contender, Heyman writes, with the Blue Jays and Dodgers among the teams that make the most sense.
  • The Diamondbacks have made infielder Aaron Hill and pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Addison Reed available in trades, and all three players have attracted at least some interest.
  • The Marlins could trade starter Dan Haren for the right return. On paper, the Dodgers would seem to make sense, but that seems unlikely, since the Dodgers treated Haren basically as a throw-in in the Dee Gordon trade in the offseason. The Dodgers would also prefer to find a starter they could use in the playoffs, and Haren likely doesn’t qualify.
  • Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins could become available in a trade as top prospect Corey Seager continues to demonstrate he’s ready for the big leagues.
  • The Dodgers, Blue Jays, Nationals and perhaps other teams had scouts on hand as Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma returned from a lat injury this week. Iwakuma could be a trade candidate, but Heyman notes that giving up four homers to the Tigers probably didn’t exactly increase his value.
  • Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez still seems set on retiring after the season, despite agent Paul Kinzer’s efforts to get him to continue.
  • The Padres have been scouting the Mets lately, leading to speculation that the Mets could be trying to trade for Justin Upton.
  • The Phillies are “not bending” in their demands for Cole Hamels, and his limited no-trade clause remains an obstacle.
  • The Giants have had talks with free agent infielder Everth Cabrera. The Orioles released Cabrera last month. He would provide depth for San Francisco.


AL Notes: Iwakuma, Masterson, Red Sox, Harvey

Mariners righty Hisashi Iwakuma has been shut down for ten days to two weeks after experiencing continued upper back tightness, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports“He’s going to be pushed back, so to speak,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “His rehab has not gone as well as we thought it would have gone. He’s still experiencing some stiffness.” The longer Iwakuma is delayed, the more it begins to look like another arm might be a trade deadline consideration for Seattle.

  • Meanwhile, the Red Sox rotation woes worsened last night with a rough outing for Justin Masterson. As Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reports, manager John Farrell indicated that there is cause to believe there is more to be concerned with than the poor results. “The last two times out for Justin have not been anywhere close to what he’s shown this year — set aside prior to the start of 2015,” said Farrell. “Clearly, he’s not right. Whether that’s physical, whether that’s delivery-wise, the ball is not coming out of his hand as he’s shown the better part of the year. We’ve got to gather information, we’ve got to check on him in the morning, get a full workup, get a better assessment of where things are.”
  • Of course, it’s far from clear that there is any realistic possibility of an outside addition to the Red Sox staff in the immediate future. As Alex Speier of the Boston Globe explains, utilizing the MLBTR Transaction Tracker, history teaches that starters (at least, impactful ones) are rarely dealt in the season’s first two months. Regardless, the club figures to be at or near a breaking point with its current starting five, and it would be surprising if internal replacements — Eduardo Rodriguez, most interesting among them — are not at least given a chance as the summer draws near.
  • The Orioles are holding their breath after 20-year-old prospect Hunter Harvey left an outing with elbow tightness, as Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports. The rising Harvey, who is coming back from a shin fracture suffered this spring, already was shut down late last year with some elbow concerns and now is set for an MRI. His health and progress is critical to the organization, particularly with Dylan Bundy dealing with his own elbow problems and with the aforementioned Rodriguez shipped out at last year’s trade deadline.

Injury Notes: Bailey, Cobb, Moore, Holland, Wieters, Iwakuma, Hanley

As expected, Reds starter Homer Bailey underwent Tommy John surgery today, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports. Though his previously-repaired flexor mass tendon apepared in good shape, Bailey’s UCL was determined to be completely torn, leaving little in the way of options to avoid surgery.

  • Likewise, Rays righty Alex Cobb was found to have a fully torn UCL, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports, meaning he too was virtually assured to require a TJ procedure. Cobb says the best-case scenario would have him return late in 2016. Fellow Tampa hurler Matt Moore has continued to build his way back from his own UCL replacement, with MLB.com’s Bill Chastain reporting that Moore was able to throw all of his pitches in a live BP session. Moore says he is targeting a mid-June return to the big league bump.
  • Though his shoulder has shown some evidence of progress, Rangers lefty Derek Holland will wait an additional two weeks before he begins throwing, as Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. Though Texas has enjoyed a somewhat surprising contribution from its starting staff (3.71 ERA, 9th in baseball), peripherals suggest that some regression is forthcoming. Regardless, Holland’s health is critical to the club, both this year and — perhaps even more so — in the future.
  • Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is set to catch seven innings tomorrow as he continues to work fully back from Tommy John surgery, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets. Wieters’ ability to return to health and productivity will go a long way toward determining his free agent earning power next winter, of course. It will also tell on Baltimore’s ability to compete for a postseason slot, though replacement Caleb Joseph has been a revelation.
  • The Mariners appear unlikely to see righty Hisashi Iwakuma return until early June, at the soonest, per Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Manager Lloyd McClendon says that Iwakuma is “probably still two to three weeks from going out [on a rehab assignment]” and will then need to throw a few outings before making it back to the big leagues. As with Wieters, Iwakuma needs to get healthy and show that he can continue to be effective in order to bolster his open market case. The scuffling Mariners, meanwhile, are not only firmly in need of his services, but also must assess whether they will be in the market for rotation help over the summer.
  • Red Sox outfielder Hanley Ramirez is not likely to need a DL stint for his left shoulder sprain, manager John Farrell tells Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). Boston seems to have dodged a bullet with the injury situation, as the club can ill afford an extended absence from the player who has paced the club in hitting thus far.

West Notes: Baker, Dodgers, Johnson, Iwakuma

Prior to being hired as the Diamondbacks‘ general manager, Dave Stewart reached out to Dusty Baker to let him know that he may have interest in Baker as a manager if he were to get the GM role, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. However, Baker never heard back from Stewart before the D-Backs hired Chip Hale. Baker said he has no hard feelings about not getting an interview. Stewart told Heyman that he does indeed have a good deal of respect for both Baker and former Rangers manager Ron Washington, both of whom he initially considered for the managerial vacancy. Baker tells Heyman that he hopes to manage again, and Heyman notes that he has applied to three positions, including the Mariners, Tigers and Nationals since being let go from the Reds. “I didn’t fire myself,” said Baker. “I didn’t retire.”

Here’s more from out west …

  • The Dodgers have now acquired and designated no fewer than four relievers, and have made a host of other minor roster moves in the season’s early going. That has all taken place as part of the club’s plan entering the season, manager Don Mattingly explains (video via the Tout feed of J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles Media Group).
  • Padres righty Josh Johnson tossed a 40-pitch pen session today and is nearing a rehab stint, manager Bud Black tells MLB.com’s Corey Brock (Twitter link). The 31-year-old has not made a major league appearance since 2013, but represents some nice low-risk upside for an a San Diego club that is off to a nice start.
  • The Mariners have struggled somewhat with keeping runs off the board, a subject that I discussed with Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune on today’s podcast. In addition to starting poorly, veteran Hisashi Iwakuma has hit the DL with shoulder fatigue (officially called a strained lat), as Dutton reports. He will undergo an MRI tonight, though the hope is that some rest will do the trick. Of course, Iwakuma is also a free agent after the season, and he’ll have some catching up to do to re-establish his value at age 34.

Mariners Still Seeking Right Fielder

Earlier today, news broke that the Mariners and Nelson Cruz had agreed to a four-year deal. While some assumed that he would serve in an outfield capacity, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that the M’s prefer to use Cruz in a DH role and will still seek a right fielder from outside the organization. According to Dutton, two possibilities are free agents Torii Hunter and Alex Rios.

Dutton also reports that the Mariners still have interest in acquiring Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, but those talks have stalled due to Los Angeles’ insistence that one of Taijuan Walker or James Paxton be included in the deal. Additionally, he adds, the Orioles have shown increased interest in Kemp, presenting Seattle with competition to acquire his services.

One player whose name has surfaced in trade speculation is right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, as many feel he could be a fit for the Red Sox in a potential swap for Yoenis Cespedes. However, ESPN’s Jayson Stark hears that Iwakuma is firmly unavailable, as the Mariners are looking to add to the club rather than subtract (Twitter link).

The Mariners feel they have the payroll flexibility to add Kemp (and thereby Hunter or Rios as well, of course) even after signing Cruz and working out a seven-year, $100MM extension for Kyle Seager. Kemp is owed $107MM over the next five seasons — a hefty investment for a power bat whose defensive skills appear to be diminishing as well.

Dutton’s report makes no mention of Justin Upton, although it would stand to reason that if Kemp is still in play, there would be continued interest in Upton as well, to whom the Mariners have been linked on multiple occasions. However, as Andy Martino of the New York Daily News tweeted after Cruz’s agreement, the Braves “almost certainly” would ask for Walker in exchange for Upton, so Seattle’s interest there figures to be limited until the asking price changes.

Both Hunter and Rios would provide a veteran right-handed bat to bring further balance to a lineup that was extremely left-handed in 2014. Hunter has recently been said to be considering the Mariners as well as the Rangers, Orioles, Royals and, to a lesser extent, the Twins. Rios, meanwhile, has yet to see his name surface in too many rumors, perhaps due to a down season at the plate (.280/.311/.398). The Mariners were said to consider him a fallback option earlier this month. Should the Mariners think on a larger scale, Melky Cabrera remains a free agent, and the price for parting with him is now slightly diminished, as Seattle would only need part with its second pick after forfeiting the No. 19 pick to sign Cruz.

In addition to the names listed, the Mariners do have a fairly strong in-house candidate in the form of Michael Saunders. However, Saunders is a left-handed bat and his relationship with the organization was strained after some postseason comments from GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon. The Mariners were said to be shopping Saunders as recently as last month’s GM Meetings, and those talks could of course be revisited at next week’s Winter Meetings.


Cafardo On Lester, Hamels, Iwakuma, Sandoval

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wonders if the Dodgers‘ outfield surplus could net them a solution to their shortstop situation.  Los Angeles isn’t expected to re-sign Hanley Ramirez and with underwhelming options on the open market, it stands to reason that the Dodgers could explore trading from their strongest area to find a replacement.  Earlier this week, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman acknowledged that “the best course of action” would probably be to trade one of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, or Carl Crawford.  More from today’s column..

  • While Jon Lester is reportedly receiving “legitimate interest” from six interested clubs, some are skeptical about his market.  “Really? Six teams are going to be six years at $150 million for Jon Lester?” said one NL executive. “Sounds like agent enhancement of his client to me.”
  • The Red Sox have already shot down a couple of proposals from the Phillies involving Cole Hamels.  Cafardo expects the Phillies to reopen talks with Boston.
  • The Mariners have fielded inquiries from a few teams on Hisashi Iwakuma and the Red Sox have had at least internal conversations about the 33-year-old right-hander. The Mariners, meanwhile, would want an impact hitter like Yoenis Cespedes in return.
  • It’s expected that the Red Sox would want to offer Pablo Sandoval a contract with bonuses that would reward him for staying within a certain range.  A Giants official told Cafardo that Sanoval lost almost 30 pounds in the offseason only to gain 20 of them back during the season.  The CBA forbids teams from taking money away from players for gaining weight, but they can incentivize staying trim.
  • Mark Mulder continues to work toward a comeback but he indicated to Cafardo that he’s not 100% sure it will happen.  Mulder was making a run at it last offseason when during one of his workouts he tore his Achilles.  Afterwards, the hurler returned to ESPN as an analyst.
  • Rival scouts have worked hard to cut through the hype in their evaluations of the Red Sox‘s pitching prospects.  The biggest debate concerns Henry Owens and how his 92-mile-per-hour fastball and slow curve would play in the big leagues.  Meanwhile, some believe that left-hander Brian Johnson might be the best pitcher in Boston’s system.
  • Cafardo reported last week that the Tigers are listening to trade proposals on Alex Avila and mentioned the Braves and Red Sox as possible suitors for his left-handed bat. Today, Cafardo added the Cardinals as a team that could see him as a solid backup option.

Hisashi Iwakuma’s Option Vests

The Mariners announced that Hisashi Iwakuma‘s $7MM option has officially vested based on his on-field performance. The option was widely believed to be a club option, however Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune recently reported that the option vested by virtue of Iwakuma’s on-field performance. The Mariners have now officially announced as much.

Retaining Iwakuma for a mere $7MM would have been a no-brainer regardless, as the 33-year-old again enjoyed another strong season with the Mariners. In his third big league season, the Japanese righty totaled a 3.52 ERA with 7.7. K/9, 1.1 BB/9 and a 50.2 percent ground-ball rate in 179 innings of work. The somewhat diminished innings total is the result of a strained tendon in his middle finger that kept him on the disabled list through the month of April. He debuted on May 3, however, and made each of his starts for the remainder of the season.

Iwakuma has been an exceptional find for the Mariners, who initially signed him for just $1.5MM one year after the A’s failed to work out a contract with him following their submission of a $19.1MM bid for his exclusive negotiating rights (that sum was returned to Oakland when a deal was not reached). Following a rookie campaign that was  split between the bullpen and the rotation, Iwakuma signed a two-year, $14MM extension which contained this option. He then broke out in 2013 with an elite season that led to a third-place finish in the AL Cy Young voting.

All told, Iwakuma owns a stellar 3.07 ERA with 7.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 50.1 percent ground-ball rate in 524 big league innings since leaving the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball for the Major Leagues. Fangraphs pegs his career value at 7.7 wins above replacement, while Baseball-Reference (11.5) and RA9-WAR (12.3) are significantly more bullish.


AL West Notes: Iwakuma, Young, Astros, Peacock

Hisashi Iwakuma‘s 2015 option technically vested by operation of performance bonuses, Mariners officials tell Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Of course, Seattle would gladly have exercised the $7MM option on its own, as Iwakuma has been outstanding since joining the team before the 2012 season. The club has interest in exploring a new deal for the 33-year-old righty, Dutton reports.

Here’s more from Seattle and the AL West:

  • The Mariners have a rotation spot open but may not be interested in re-signing Chris Young to fill it, writes Dutton. That is due in large part to the fact that Taijuan Walker may have pitched himself into the starting five, making it hard for Seattle to commit dollars or make roster promises to free agents. While the team will no doubt pursue some veteran depth, Dutton notes that it is unlikely to match what Young can receive elsewhere.
  • Down in Houston, the Astros are preparing for a busy offseason, as MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart writes. GM Jeff Luhnow said that the club is hoping to improve in the pen and corner infield while adding some pop through an outfielder. The team has as much as $20MM in added payroll capacity to accomplish that, per Luhnow, who says that the organization already has a list of free agent targets and has had contact with a dozen clubs in preparation for trade talks. “There’s been some turn over in front offices,” said Luhnow. “We think we know what players might be available, but you never know until the season’s over and people are taking stock of their areas of improvement and where they have excess and you never know where there’s going to be a match. You’ve just got to talk to everybody.”
  • One player who the Astros will not be able to get a look at to start the spring is righty Brad Peacock, who had bone spurs removed from his right hip. Per Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle, the club does not view the surgery as a long-term concern, but Peacock seems rather unlikely to be ready by Opening Day. Having already dealt away Jarred Cosart at the trade deadline, Peacock’s situation could make Houston somewhat more inclined to add starting depth through free agency.