Houston Astros Rumors

Houston Astros trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Heyman’s Latest: Hamels/Jays, Lucroy, Baez, Correa, Alvarez

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has published the latest installment of his weekly Inside Baseball column, and he kicks it off by reporting that the Blue Jays have inquired on Cole Hamels. However, Heyman hears that Hamels was unwilling to waive his no-trade clause to allow a trade to Toronto, which is a blow for both clubs. The Jays desperately need help in both the rotation and the bullpen, and the Phillies, Heyman notes, would love to get their hands on young pitchers with the upside of Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris. The Blue Jays have a bit of financial leeway after going with inexpensive options at second base, center field and left field, and Heyman writes that the Blue Jays are expected to look at other potential front-line starters this summer as they become available. (He speculatively mentions Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir, though neither’s available just yet.) Additionally, Heyman notes that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons’ job is safe, as GM Alex Anthopoulos has a strong relationship with the skipper and recognizes that the team’s problems are roster-related and shouldn’t be pinned on Gibbons.

Some more highlights from the column, though it’s worth a read in its entirety…

  • The Braves are said to be disappointed in the play of Christian Bethancourt, even from a defensive standpoint, and recently inquired with the Brewers on Jonathan Lucroy. However, Atlanta executives were told by the Brewers that Lucroy isn’t available at this time. That the Brewers wouldn’t trade Lucroy isn’t a shock; he’s owed a very affordable $4MM in 2016 with a $5.25MM option for the 2017 season, so even if the team can’t quickly right the ship, he’d still have enormous trade value at the 2016 trade deadline. More interesting, to me, is that the Braves would so quickly look for an upgrade over Bethancourt and that they’re acting somewhat as buyers. Lucroy, of course, could be called a long-term piece that would be around to help the team when its rebuild is closer to completion. However, acquiring him would surely require the sting of parting with some of the key components of that rebuild.
  • Some rival execs feel that the Cubs are willing to part with Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach in trades, in part because each was drafted under the previous administration and is not held in as high a regard by the new front office. Each player comes with issues, however, as Baez is trying to cut down on his swing and improve his contact skills, while a scout described first baseman Vogelbach as a “30 fielder” to Heyman (in reference to the 20-80 scouting scale).
  • There are members of the Astros‘ field staff that want to see Carlos Correa with the team right now, but Houston will likely keep him in the minors for another month or so in order to lessen the risk of Correa achieving Super Two status. I’ll add that the Astros will have a more legitimate claim that Correa still needs minor league time than other teams in similar situations have had in the past. Correa is still just 20 years old and has only nine games of experience at the Triple-A level, though he’s continued his brilliant work at the plate there, hitting .326/.362/.558 with a pair of homers. Also of interest to Astros fans — or to fans of teams needing outfield help — the Astros are on the lookout for starting pitching upgrades, and outfield prospect Preston Tucker “seems to be available.” Tucker recently made his MLB debut and has a .963 OPS through 34 plate appearances to go along with a strong minor league track record.
  • Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez has been pitching for years with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, according to Heyman. Some have described it as a “90 percent tear,” but he’s been able to pitch effectively in spite of the issue. Alvarez wouldn’t be the first to pitch through a UCL tear; Ervin Santana and Adam Wainwright are both recent examples of pitchers who pitched for many seasons with partially torn UCLs. Wainwright ultimately underwent Tommy John, though Santana’s is said to have healed and is no longer an issue. In another Marlins-related note, Heyman hears that pitching coach Chuck Hernandez is “under the microscope” with both Jarred Cosart and Steve Cishek struggling greatly in 2015.
  • Brewers starters Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza have little trade value due to their 2015 struggles, but Lohse’s lesser financial commitment and superior clubhouse reputation give him more value. The team is reluctant to trade not only Lucroy, but shortstop Jean Segura as well. The Brewers are a bit more open to dealing Carlos Gomez than that pair, as Gomez is closer to free agency (he’s controlled through 2016).
  • The Mets remain reluctant to trade any of their top arms, as they’ve seen on multiple occasions how quickly Tommy John surgery or other injuries can thin out a club’s depth. (Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz have all had TJ in their careers.) The Mets are also not rushing to find a shortstop, but they have indeed been “all over the map” in terms of trade possibilities with the Cubs.
  • Coco Crisp‘s neck injury is apparently quite serious, and there’s a fear that the oft-injured Athletics outfielder will ultimately require surgery that could bring his season to an end.
  • The Blue Jays would still like to extend both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but there have yet to be serious discussions with either slugger’s camp. Both players are controlled through the end of the 2016 season.

Amateur Notes: Draft, Fulmer, Kolek, Martinez

The game of baseball is struggling to maintain youth participation, writes Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal, who says that the trend poses real concerns for an otherwise thriving sport. Newly-minted commissioner Rob Manfred has honed in on the issue since taking office, saying that “the biggest predictor of fan avidity as an adult is whether you played the game.” It’s a fascinating read that’s well worth your time.

Let’s check in on some amateur notes from around the game:

  • ESPN.com’s Keith Law (Insider link) posts his first mock draft as June 8th draws near. While acknowledging that it is still early, Law predicts that the Diamondbacks will take Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson with the first overall pick while the Astros will add LSU shortstop Alex Bregman and high school outfielder Kyle Tucker with the second and fifth picks. Law adds that he does not expect Vandy righty Carson Fulmer to make it past the White Sox with the eighth pick.
  • Speaking of Fulmer, Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs suggests that he represents a relatively rare “Black Swan” option in this year’s draft. You’ll need to read the piece to understand the concept, but McDaniel uses that classification for a subset of players that have been somewhat underappreciated by traditional player assessment tools: “small, right-handed, major-college starting pitchers with little to no injury history and a good performance record.”
  • The antithesis of the Black Swan pitcher, perhaps, is the high school power arm, and the Marlins took an enticing one last year in Tyler Kolek. Josh Norris of Baseball America checks in on the 2014 second overall selection, who the club chose over Carlos Rodon. Now featuring an increasingly promising curve, the 19-year-old is said to be showing signs of developing into the top-of-the-rotation starter that Miami dreamed of when it chose him. Of course, his stat line has yet to reflect that promise, and he has a long way to go.
  • The White Sox join a growing list of clubs with “serious interest” in Cuban outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets. The 20-year-old is free to sign at any time, though it’s possible he could wait until the next July 2 period kicks off this summer.
  • Agent Joshua Kusnick discussed the draft from an advisor’s perspective in a podcast with Ryan Sullivan (draft talk begins around the 24:00 mark), sharing his thoughts on the slotting system and the possibility of a worldwide draft, among other issues.

Rosenthal’s Latest: Managers, A’s, Reddick, Tulo, Astros

Earlier this week, in the wake of the Marlins’ managerial change, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports noted that the two skippers who were most obviously on the hot seat had now been dismissed. With Mike Redmond and Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke having been replaced, Rosenthal looks at four more managers who could eventually find themselves in danger of losing their jobs, listing John Gibbons (Blue Jays), Bud Black (Padres), Fredi Gonzalez (Braves) and Terry Collins (Mets) as the likeliest options. Gibbons can’t be blamed for the lack of quality relief arms he has at his disposal, Rosenthal notes, but bench coach Demarlo Hale has long been thought of as a managerial prospect and makes sense as a replacement option. Black’s Padres are struggling with pitching, and Mark Kotsay‘s name is floated by Rosenthal as someone who could be the next recently retired player to turn manager. Braves president of baseball ops John Hart isn’t as high on Gonzalez as president John Schuerholz or Bobby Cox, and there’s been some recent “internal finger-pointing,” Rosenthal hears. Collins nearly lost his job at the end of the 2014 season, he notes, and while the team is still in first place, the Mets’ managerial situation has long been volatile in nature.

Here’s more from Rosenthal…

  • In a new Notes column, Rosenthal looks at the Athletics‘ roster in the wake of a brutal start to the season. As many have pointed out, Scott Kazmir, Tyler Clippard and Ben Zobrist — each a pending free agent — would all be logical trade candidates if the team is still underperforming in July. However, Rosenthal writes that there’s no way GM Billy Beane will act quickly and sell, as he’ll first want to see how the team performs with Zobrist and closer Sean Doolittle healthy and activated from the DL. One change that won’t be coming, Rosenthal adds, is at manager. Beane and skipper Bob Melvin have a strong relationship, and it’s “exceptionally unlikely” that Melvin would be dismissed, in Rosenthal’s eyes.
  • Another possible trade chip for the A’s could be Josh Reddick, who is earning $4.1MM after his second trip through arbitration this year. The Athletics, however, resisted trade offers for Reddick all offseason, Rosenthal hears.
  • Rosenthal recently called Rockies owner Dick Monfort to discuss the recent Troy Tulowitzki trade chatter. However, when Rosenthal began asking about Tulowitzki, Monfort “quickly hung up.” The bizarre situation lends credence to wide-spread belief that Tulo, his agent and even GM Jeff Bridich have little say in whether or not the Rockies trade the face of their franchise. Rather, it’ll come down to the team owner’s wishes.
  • The Astros are considering a long list of pitchers that either are or could become available, and they’ve recently been scouting Jeff Samardzija. It remains to be seen if the Astros would be willing to part with enough to get their hands on Samardzija, though. As Rosenthal notes, some rival execs feel that the tandem pitching system the Astros use in the minors devalues their pitching prospects, though one exec told him that it actually increases the value, as it suppresses the young pitchers’ inning counts.
  • Rosenthal believes the Rays should consider trading left-hander Jake McGee to either help their rotation or another area of the team. McGee, he notes, is earning $3.55MM this season and will see that price tag sail beyond $5MM in arbitration this winter.
  • Of course, as I noted yesterday when looking at this topic, using McGee in the ninth inning would help to keep down the future earnings of Brad Boxberger, who would benefit greatly from two full seasons of saves when he heads into arbitration following the 2016 season. And, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd mentioned to me earlier today when we were chatting, left-handed relief is an area of weakness for the Rays at this time. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if the scenario Rosenthal lays out came to fruition, and it’s hard to imagine that the Rays wouldn’t at least be open-minded to moving McGee.

Astros Acquire Int’l Bonus Slots From Orioles For Chris Lee

The Orioles have announced a deal that will send a pair of 2014-15 international bonus slots to the Astros. Baltimore will pick up left-hander Chris Lee in return.

Houston will pick up the 46th and 76th overall slots, per Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). That delivers an additional $391.5K and $264.3K, respectively, to the Astros’ international coffers for the current July 2 signing season, which is obviously nearing a close.

The addition boosts an already league-leading $5MM+ total allocation. Baltimore had a total of about $2.25MM to work with in the present signing period before today’s move.

The Astros have reportedly signed several seven-figure players, including Ronny RafaelFranklin Perez, and Miguel Sierra. Presumably, the extra space will allow the team to add a few extra players or to avoid some penalties for any overages already incurred.

Lee, 22, has yet to move past the low-A level in the Astros organization, though Baseball America rated him Houston’s 24th-best prospect before the 2014 season. He worked to a 3.66 ERA over 113 innings last year, but posted just 6.0 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9. In Lee’s 30 2/3 frames this time around, he has a more promising 7.0 K/9 versus 2.9 BB/9, though he is running a slightly higher earned run average (4.11).

Minor Moves: Nick Masset, Astros, Omar Duran

Here are the day’s minor moves from around the league…

  • The Marlins announced that they’ve outrighted Nick Masset to Triple-A New Orleans. The 33-year-old right-hander was designated for assignment over the weekend in order to clear a spot on the roster for Henderson Alvarez‘s activation from the 15-day disabled list. Masset has actually delivered strong results in 9 2/3 innings for the Marlins — a 1.86 ERA with six strikeouts against one walk. However, he’s also seen his fastball velocity drop by more than a mile per hour this season, as it’s now averaging 91.5 mph. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Masset eventually earn another crack at the Marlins’ big league roster, assuming he accepts the outright assignment.
  • The Astros have placed right-hander Sam Deduno on the 15-day DL and transferred Jed Lowrie to the 60-day DL in order to clear space for right-hander Lance McCullers, Jr. on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters, the club announced. McCullers’ contact has officially been selected from Triple-A, and he will start tonight’s game against the A’s. Houston selected McCullers with the 41st pick in the 2012 draft — 40 picks after they picked Carlos Correa with the No. 1 overall selection.
  • Left-hander Omar Duran signed a minor league deal to return to the Athletics organization, according to the MLB.com transactions page. Duran spent his entire career in Oakland’s minor league ranks prior to the 2015 season but signed with Detroit this past winter. After being released, Duran signed on and was assigned to Class-A Advanced Stockton, where he made his debut last night. The 25-year-old has a career 3.28 ERA with 12.1 K/9 and 5.7 BB/9 through 288 minor league innings, but he’s thrown just 22 2/3 innings at Double-A and has not advanced beyond that level.

AL Notes: Wolf, Marcum, Astros

Veteran starter Randy Wolf, who’s with the Blue Jays‘ Triple-A team in Buffalo, is grateful merely that the Jays gave him a chance, John Lott of the National Post writes. The 38-year-old Wolf offers an unusually candid look at the challenges a veteran can face near the end of his career. Wolf is a 15-year veteran and pitched for the Marlins just last season, but he says he had trouble even getting teams to take him seriously last offseason. “Teams would not even watch me throw,” says Wolf. “I had one team that agreed to watch me throw and they didn’t even show up.” Wolf has a 1.10 ERA in 41 innings with Buffalo so far, although with 5.7 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. He says he’s just enjoying pitching, and not worrying about whether the Jays decide to call him up to the Majors. Here’s more from the American League.

  • Shaun Marcum will start for the Indians on Wednesday in place of the recently-DFA’ed Bruce Chen, Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group writes. That will require the Indians to give Marcum a spot on both their 40-man and 25-man rosters. The 33-year-old Marcum has posted a 1.36 ERA in 33 innings for Triple-A Columbus, although with a modest 6.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. He pitched five innings for the Indians earlier this season before they designated him for assignment in mid-April.
  • The Astros are “at least going to have a conversation” about each of the top players available on this summer’s trade market, but they don’t plan to make a big move quite yet, GM Jeff Luhnow tells MLB Network Radio’s Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden (audio link). Luhnow adds that he feels the Astros’ collection of prospects makes the team a viable trade partner for organizations looking to trade star veterans. In the meantime, though, the Astros want to spend more time evaluating their own players, and particularly their starting pitchers behind Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh.

AL Notes: McCullers, Norris, Indians

Newly promoted Astros pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. throws in the upper 90s with an outstanding breaking ball, Vince Lara-Cinisomo writes in a scouting report for Baseball America. The biggest difference between this season and the previous three years of his pro career has been that his control has taken a leap forward, from 5.2 BB/9 in 2014 to 3.4 BB/9 in 29 innings this season. Lara-Cinosomo suggests that one possibility is that the Astros promoted McCullers in order to showcase him as a possible trade piece for a top starting pitcher like Cole Hamels. Here’s more from the American League.

  • Top Blue Jays prospect Daniel Norris is now back in Buffalo after a stint in the big leagues in which he held his own but averaged less than five innings per start. GM Alex Anthopoulos says the team wants Norris to work on improving that number, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi writes. “[T]he issue here was the consistency of trying to go deep into games and making sure we were going to have that to not tax the bullpen,” says Anthopoulos. “When he shows the consistency down there – it’s only been two games and what that number is, three, four, five, I’m not sure – and when we have a need and feel he’s throwing the ball well down there, he’ll be back.
  • The Indians‘ season hasn’t gone well, but that doesn’t mean a fire sale is imminent, Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group writes. Much of their core consists of young-ish players signed to long-term deals (like Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco), so the Indians probably wouldn’t trade them. And some of their other veterans (like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher) simply haven’t played well and therefore don’t have much value right now.

Astros To Promote Lance McCullers Jr.

Not long after bumping him up to Triple-A, the Astros have decided to advance pitching prospect Lance McCullers Jr. to the majors, the club announced. His first start will come on Monday against the Athletics.

McCullers, 21, is the son of seven-season big leaguer Lance McCullers Sr. He was taken in the sandwich round of the 2012 draft out of high school. Using some of the savings they achieved after taking Carlos Correa first overall — a somewhat controversial decision which has turned out nicely — the ‘Stros locked up McCullers with an above-slot, $2.5MM bonus.

The young righty fell off of top-100 prospect lists after last season — he had reached #50 on Baseball America’s list and was 52nd per MLB.com — when he struggled to a 5.47 ERA over 97 frames in his first action at the High-A level. The issue then, as it has been more generally, is control, as McCullers put up 10.7 K/9 but permitted 5.2 free passes per nine.

That led Baseball America to drop him to 11th on the Houston prospect list heading into the year. But BA did note that McCullers still have very high quality stuff, including a big fastball, outstanding breaking ball, and improving changeup.

As the big league call-up would indicate, things have come together this year. Houston saw enough to start him off at the Double-A level despite his youth and his tough year, and he rewarded that confidence with 29 innings of top-notch pitching. McCullers has permitted just two earned runs in that stretch, striking out 43 and walking only 11 hitters.

If he can stick at the big league level all year, McCullers would stand a good chance of qualifying for Super Two status. Of course, that is far from a given. It seems reasonably likely that Houston’s purpose here is twofold: first, and most importantly, to get a look and see whether McCullers can contribute at the big league level this year; and second, for their team and others to gauge his future value in weighing him as a trade piece.

Astros Sign Jose Veras To Minors Deal

Right-hander Jose Veras is on his way back to the Astros, as the club announced (Twitter link) that it has signed the veteran reliever to a minor league contract. The Praver/Shapiro client will report to extended Spring Training, according to the team. With the minor league deal in place, the 34-year-old Veras will attempt to return to the Astros for his third separate stint in the past three seasons.

The first of those stints in Houston came in 2013, when Veras signed a one-year, $1.85MM contract and wound up thriving as the Astros’ closer. He posted an excellent 2.93 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 43 innings for Houston that season — a performance that made him a popular trade target in July. The Tigers send outfield prospect Danry Vasquez and hard-throwing-but-injured relief prospect David Paulino to Houston to acquire Veras and the club option on his contract. Veras’ performance, however, boosted the value of the option from $3.25MM to $4MM by way of incentives, and the Tigers made the somewhat surprising decision to pay him a $150K buyout, letting him hit free agency once again.

Veras signed with the Cubs in the 2013-14 offseason, but his tenure in Chicago was brief, at best. Brought on board to be the team’s closer, he instead posted a dreadful 8.10 ERA in 13 1/3 innings with the Cubs and was quickly jettisoned. That led to a return to Houston, where he again found success, notching a 3.03 ERA with 10.2 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 in 32 2/3 innings.

Veras said after returning to Houston that he regretted signing elsewhere, and he said at the outset of this past offseason that he hoped to return to the Astros, which feels like “home” to him. Houston had talks with the righty this winter, but it’s not clear if an offer was ever made. He wound up signing with the Braves and being cut in Spring Training.

In his career, Veras has had no problem missing bats but does struggle with his control at times. He is the owner of a lifetime 3.91 ERA with a strong 9.3 K/9 rate, but he’s also averaged 4.7 walks per nine innings in his career. Houston will hope that it can receive a third season of positive results from the veteran righty, who could help strengthen what has already been a sound bullpen, anchored by the likes of Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and Chad Qualls.

Blue Jays Acquire Ronald Torreyes, Outright Jonathan Diaz

2:00pm: The Blue Jays announced that they’ve outrighted infielder Jonathan Diaz to clear a spot for Torreyes on the 40-man roster. The 30-year-old Diaz is hitless in seven plate appearances with the Blue Jays this season and has batted just .183/.284/.225 in 84 Triple-A plate appearances.

1:37pm: The Astros announced today that infielder Ronald Torreyes has been traded to the Blue Jays in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations (Twitter link). Torreyes was designated for assignment last week.

The 22-year-old Torreyes was originally signed by the Reds out of Venezuela back in 2009. The versatile 5’10”, 150-pound infielder was eventually traded to the Cubs alongsideTravis Wood and Dave Sappelt in the trade that sent Sean Marshall to Cincinnati. The Cubs eventually flipped Torreyes to the Astros in exchange for a pair of international bonus slots, and Houston added him to the 40-man roster in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this winter.

Torreyes has struggled at the plate in Triple-A this season after enjoying solid results at that same level in 2014. Scouting reports from Baseball America and MLB.com peg him as a potential utility infielder if everything clicks. With both Jose Reyes and Maicer Izturis on the disabled list, the Blue Jays have Ryan Goins and Steven Tolleson on their Major League roster, thinning out the team’s depth at the Triple-A level. Torreyes should be able to help in that regard and, if he can return to his 2014 form (.298/.345/.376 in 519 Triple-A plate appearances), he could conceivably play his way into consideration for his first big league call-up. Torreyes has significant experience at second base, shortstop and third base, and he’s dabbled in left field and center field as well.