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In light of recent reports about preliminary extension talks between the Astros and ace Dallas Keuchel, Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards examines the impact that a potential Cy Young Award would have on Keuchel’s arbitration case. Keuchel already has a very good chance at breaking the outdated record for a first-year arbitration-eligible pitcher (Dontrelle Willis’ $4.35MM record is, as Edwards notes, about a decade old). However, as Edwards explains, the arb process treats award-winners differently, and securing the Cy Young Award could boost his first-year arb price even further. As such, taking home the hardware for being the AL’s best pitcher in 2015, if it happens — and Keuchel indeed has a strong case — could make it difficult for team and player to agree to a fair price to put on Keuchel’s three arbitration seasons, let alone on his free agent years.
A few more items pertaining to the AL West…
- In his latest Prospect Pipeline Inbox column, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo kicks off by answering the question of whether or not Angels southpaw Sean Newcomb could pitch in the Majors in 2016. Mayo explains that while he wouldn’t have thought so prior to the 2015 campaign, Newcomb has impressively pitched at three levels this season, showing a consistent propensity for strikeouts and ground-balls and thereby placing himself on the fast track to the Majors. While the former No. 15 overall pick (2014) needs to hone his command and improve upon his 4.8 BB/9 rate, Mayo does feel that Newcomb is capable of reaching the Majors in the second half of the 2016 season.
- Jurickson Profar played in his first regular-season game since Sept. 27, 2013 today, writes Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. The former No. 1 overall prospect served as the designated hitter for the Rangers‘ Class-A affiliate today. He’ll continue to rehab there but only in a DH capacity for the remainder of this season. Profar, still just 22 years of age, has missed the past two seasons due to a pair of torn shoulder muscles. He was a consensus Top 10 prospect heading into the 2012 season before emerging as the game’s No. 1 prospect (per Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus) heading into the 2013 campaign. The Rangers will hope to have him healthy again in 2016.
- As teams trend toward the hiring of younger, analytically savvy general managers, Astros assistant GM David Stearns’ name could become a target, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. While Drellich notes that it’s perhaps a bit early for Stearns to garner serious consideration from other clubs, GM Jeff Luhnow does feel that his lieutenant has the chops to handle a GM role down the line. “There’s several people in our organization that have GM potential, and David’s one of them,” Luhnow said. “I expect over the coming years, as we have success, they’ll get opportunities at least to interview.”
Dallas Keuchel will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and is under team control through at least the 2018 season, but the lefty tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that his agent, Darek Braunecker of Frontline Athlete Management, has discussed a multi-year deal with Houston. For his part, Keuchel is very open to remaining in Houston long-term. As he tells Drellich:
“[Houston] is all I’ve known, and it’s where I want to be. I know we’re in a great position for the next probably five, 10 years… it’s all about winning. Me personally, it’s not about the dollar amount. … With that being said, it’s got to be something that’s fair and that’s right for both parties. I’m not trying to break the bank. I’m just out here to have fun and pitch and do the best I can.”
The 27-year-old Keuchel had a breakout season in 2014 and has emerged as one of the American League’s top pitchers with an elite 2015 season that features a 2.37 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 63.1 percent ground-ball rate in 178 2/3 innings. As Drellich notes, comparable pitchers (at least, in terms of service time) such as Wade Miley and Lance Lynn signed away their three arbitration seasons last winter for $19.25MM and $22MM, respectively. Keuchel, however, has a much stronger two-year platform heading into arbitration and could surpass both of those figures for his arb years.
It stands to reason that the Astros would want to secure at least one, if not two or three free agent years for Keuchel, which, in my mind, would need to be valued in the $15-17MM range. However, from the player’s point of view, signing away precious free agent years isn’t as desirable, even if it’s for a relatively sizable sum. Keuchel’s best chance at a $100MM+ contract would be to hit the open market heading into his age-31 season, as he’s currently projected to do. He also has a strong arb case this winter based on his excellent 2014-15 work, so he can reasonably bank on a pair of life-changing paydays in the next two offseasons even if his 2016 campaign doesn’t go as well as 2014-15. Keuchel’s comments about not breaking the bank do offer some hope, however, that he could look to set some kind of precedent for extensions for players with three to four years of service time, as opposed to maximizing his arb salaries and signing a nine-figure contract in the 2018-19 offseason.
There’s also some logic behind the scenario in which Keuchel signs a three-year deal that locks in only his arb seasons. Keuchel would secure his first fortune and still be positioned to hit the free agent heading into his age-31 season. The Astros, in turn, would gain cost certainty over a pitcher whose arb prices could escalate at an abnormally high rate due to his status as one of the American League’s best arms and a potential Cy Young candidate.
Drellich also spoke to right-hander Collin McHugh, who said that he, too, is interested in signing a long-term deal with Houston, although no talks have taken place between the Astros and McHugh’s agents at Moye Sports Associates. McHugh, however, has one less year of service time and won’t be arbitration eligible until next winter. McHugh, another somewhat surprising breakout pitcher in the Astros’ rotation, has pitched to a 3.36 ERA with 8.2 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 in 313 2/3 innings since being claimed off waivers in the 2013-14 offseason.
Also of note, Drellich reports that the Astros plan to make a run at re-signing Houston native and July trade acquisition Scott Kazmir this winter, though there have unsurprisingly been no talks at this point, as Kazmir is intent on testing the market.
Even though they’re likely to make the postseason, the Dodgers are one of the 10 most disappointing teams in baseball, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. From the mouth of one NL executive, “they have done the near impossible – they have a $300 million payroll and yet they haven’t gone all in for 2015.” Of course, they still have time to find a patch or two for their beleaguered bullpen. While they aren’t my vote for most disappointing, it’s fair to wonder why they’re only 1.5 games up on the Giants.
Here’s more from around the league:
- Of Sherman’s 10 disappointing teams, the Nationals, Tigers, and Red Sox are likely to receive the most attention. Boston struggled from day one. In retrospect, nobody was surprised by the shoddy pitching staff. However, the vaunted offense never arrived after March. The Nationals and Tigers are surprising candidates. Detroit is only four games out of the second Wild Card, but they packed up shop at the trade deadline by cashing in on Yoenis Cespedes, David Price, and Joakim Soria. The Nationals are viewed as the more likely of the two to reach the postseason, but they’re 4.5 games behind the Mets and 9.5 back from the Cubs. However, they do have better roster cohesion and only one team to leapfrog in the standings.
- The Marlins also appeared on Sherman’s list, and slugger Giancarlo Stanton expects to see “big changes” over the offseason, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Meanwhile, club president David Sampson mentioned a non-personnel change that could be coming for 2016. The fences may be lowered and moved in prior to next season. Miami is a tough park for home runs, but run scoring is roughly neutral. Closer walls could help Stanton and others bash even more home runs.
- The Astros and Dodgers are among the most forward thinking teams in the game, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The Dodgers obviously have a much larger war chest, but money doesn’t solve every problem. Per Los Angeles president Andrew Friedman, “more resources help you, at least in theory, more in the free-agent market. You look back over time, and it’s very hard to invest wisely. So coming from the Rays, you were almost insulated from making those mistakes in the free-agent market.” Both clubs are emphasizing the value of young, cost controlled stars. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow also commented on the process of discovering marginal advantages over other teams and hoping to hide them for as long as possible. The article itself is well worth your time with excellent quotes from several executives.
Astros July trade acquisition Mike Fiers tossed a no hitter against the Dodgers last night. The 134 pitch performance was a microcosm of the Astros season, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Fiers, 30, was the second piece in the Carlos Gomez trade. He was supposed to provide a little depth in the rotation – not outmatch a potent Dodgers lineup. The Astros are also doing more than they ever were supposed to – they currently have a 3.5 game lead in the AL West with a 67-56 record. Of course, Fiers’ no hitter isn’t completely shocking. He’s posted a solid 3.63 ERA with 9.13 K/9 and 3.25 BB/9. The same can be said of the Astros success. The club obviously entered the season with a few good starting pitchers, a powerful offense, and a revamped bullpen.
Here are a few more notes out of Cleveland:
- The Indians may want to consider trading first baseman Carlos Santana this offseason, opines Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.Santana, 29, used to offer more utility by playing catcher, third, and first. Now he’s locked into the cold corner due to concussion issues and shoddy defense. More importantly, his offensive performance is at a career worst. He’s been particularly bad from the right side which is peculiar given his strong career splits. Pluto lists several internal replacements. None are likely to approach Santana’s production.
- Also per Pluto, rumors that Mark Shapiro is under consideration to become the next Blue Jays CEO won’t affect the roles of GM Mark Antonetti or manager Terry Francona. While Shapiro advises on baseball decisions, Antonetti has full authority in that sphere. Francona originally joined the Indians in part due to Shapiro, but he also has a strong relationship with Antonetti. He can opt out of his contract if either executive is fired, but it’s not clear if that extends to one of them leaving by choice. Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group echoes Pluto’s sentiments. He names a few internal candidates who could be promoted to club president, but also mentions CEO and owner Paul Dolan as a likely candidate.
Here’s the latest from Ken Rosenthal, via a video from FOX Sports:
- Jung-Ho Kang‘s strong rookie season with the Pirates could drive up the market for fellow KBO slugger and former teammate Byung-Ho Park, who is likely to be posted this winter. Kang has been a bargain, hitting .287/.360/.444 while playing capably at third base and shortstop this season, all for an approximately $5MM posting fee and a four-year, $11MM deal. Park, who’s hit 95 home runs in the last two seasons, should make more.
- Friday was an interesting night for both teams in the recent Carlos Gomez / Mike Fiers deal. Fiers, of course, threw a no-hitter for the Astros, while outfielder Domingo Santana homered in his first game with the Brewers.
- Michael Morse, who went from the Marlins to the Dodgers to the Pirates in a whirlwind series of transactions last month, got a paycheck from the Dodgers even though he never played for them. (The Dodgers were obligated to pay him, of course, but it’s amusing to think about a player receiving a paycheck from a team he never played for.) He’ll also receive a game jersey from the Dodgers the next time they play the Bucs.
- The Blue Jays‘ additions of Troy Tulowitzki and Ben Revere have greatly improved their defense, Rosenthal says. Justin Smoak is another key to the Jays’ defense — he uses his big frame to get to throws from across the infield that other first basemen might miss.
Astros first base prospect Tyler White is a triumph for the team’s scouting department, as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. White, a 33rd-round selection that signed for $1,000 out of Western Carolina, has soared through the minors and reached Triple-A this year, where he’s hitting .396/.489/.617 with five homers and nearly as many walks (26) as strikeouts (28) in 178 plate appearances. Drellich spoke to Astros scouting director Mike Elias and the team’s director of decision sciences, Sig Mejdal, about the way in which they came to draft White. Drellich also wonders if the Astros, who are struggling with first base production, can afford to keep White in Triple-A. Though he doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, White could potentially boost the production of a team dedicated to winning right now, which may trump traditional roster concerns.
Here’s more from the AL West…
- Athletics right-hander Jesse Hahn may not pitch again in 2015, manager Bob Melvin suggested to reporters, including John Hickey (Twitter link). Hahn has not yet begun playing catch since being shut down with a flexor tendon injury just over a month ago. Hahn, an offseason trade acquisition, was outstanding for the A’s through 96 2/3 innings this season, posting a 3.35 ERA with a 64-to-25 K/BB ratio. Durability, however, has long been a concern for Hahn, who totaled just 163 1/3 innings in a minor league career that spanned from 2012-14.
- Billy Beane and his lieutenants have never had fewer than 74 wins in a season, but that number is in danger in 2015, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. A good deal has gone wrong for the A’s in 2015, but perhaps the most troubling fact is that the A’s have only received contributions from four players that are products of their own farm system. Two of those names — Max Muncy and Arnold Leon — have been fringe roster pieces this season.
- Mariners southpaw James Paxton believes he’s ready to embark on a rehab assignment after throwing a pair of innings in a simulated game on Wednesday, writes Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Paxton said it’s been “a couple of weeks” since he felt pain in the strained tendon in his finger that has sidelined him since May 28.
- Talks between the Padres and the Rangers on Will Venable came together fairly quickly, per Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune (Twitter link). Venable passed through waivers, and multiple teams showed interest, but the Rangers jumped into talks on Monday evening and had a deal completed by Tuesday evening.
The Phillies actually preferred the Astros offer for starter Cole Hamels, but the lefty ultimately used his no-trade protection to block the trade, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports in his latest video. Included in the rejected deal were outfield prospect Brett Phillips and pitcher Josh Hader, both of whom went to the Brewers in the Carlos Gomez trade. The Astros may have been willing to guarantee Hamels’ fourth year, but he ultimately decided against the option.
- The Royals will have a tough time re-signing several key players. Lorenzo Cain might be the easiest, but he’ll first want to see how Jason Heyward performs on the free agent market. While Heyward is four years younger than Cain, the average annual value “could be instructive” per Rosenthal. Cain is under control for two more seasons. Meanwhile, Alex Gordon can opt out after this season, and he looks like a lock to do so. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, both clients of Scott Boras, are also under club control for two seasons.
- Cardinals assistant GM Mike Girsch was a candidate for the Padres GM job opening last year. That posting was eventually filled by A.J. Preller. Girsch may be considered for other top jobs, but the Cardinals hacking scandal may put a damper on his market.
- Chase Utley will use his no-trade rights to pick his next team. Per Rosenthal, Utley may not make an obvious decision. For example, he may or may not be interested in playing for his home town Giants. As was reported repeatedly over the past few days, Utley will seek to find a home where he’ll continue to play regularly both this season and next.
The Rangers optioned right-hander Nick Martinez to Triple-A following yesterday’s poor outing versus the Twins, and as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News points out, it looks like the option will be a costly one for Martinez. The 25-year-old has already spent 18 days in the minors this season, and barring a quick recall due to an injury, his collective time at the Triple-A level will likely be large enough to prevent him from accruing a full year of service time, thus delaying his free agency by a season. However, as Grant stresses, this isn’t an instance of a team manipulating service time. Rather, Martinez’s poor outing exhausted the bullpen yesterday and eliminated the possibility of working with a short relief corps for a few days. Martinez’s recent play hasn’t done him any favors, either; he’s pitched to a 6.25 ERA over his previous 11 outings after a brilliant start to the season.
Here’s more from the AL West…
- There’s been no final decision made on whether or not Angels lefty C.J. Wilson will undergo season-ending surgery, writes MLB.com’s Greg Garno. Wilson had a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache recently, and while the meeting revealed nothing new, per manager Mike Scioscia, the decision is solely up to Wilson. “Once he gets all the information, I’m sure we’ll get the results from it and see what C.J.’s decision is,” said Scioscia. The Angels are currently waiting for Wilson to “digest” all of the info and make the call, according to Scioscia. Wilson reportedly has eight bone spurs in his elbow which will need to be surgically removed at some point.
- The Astros have had a rough stretch of games on the road, but GM Jeff Luhnow tells the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich that he’s confident due to the quality of pitching he’s received as well as the quality of upper-level players who will join the team in September. The Astros currently have a logjam of corner/DH options that will be magnified by the return of George Springer. As Drellich writes, though, it’s difficult to justify the loss of a player like Chris Carter for little to no return (that is, by way of DFA or waiver claim) when expanded rosters are just under two weeks away.
- Alex Hall of Athletics Nation makes a case for the A’s to cut ties with Ike Davis sooner rather than later. As Hall notes, Davis hasn’t hit since coming off the DL in May, and his $3.8MM salary figures to increase even after a down season simply due to the nature of the arbitration process. Davis only has a year of team control remaining anyhow, so he’s not likely to be a long-term piece in Oakland, and the A’s could do well to replace him with a cheaper set of lottery tickets in 2016 as opposed to paying him north of $4MM. Davis was already acquired for very little last offseason, Hall points out, and a season marred by injury and more poor performance at the plate will sap him of any meaningful trade value this winter. Releasing him now would give Davis a chance to latch on with a contending team that wants to roll the dice on his previous success in the season’s final six weeks, which would be beneficial to both Davis and the A’s, Hall concludes.
After suffering a concussion during a simulated game and missing three weeks, 2015 first overall draft pick Dansby Swanson is ready for his first professional game. MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg reports that Swanson will play tonight for the Diamondbacks‘ Class-A affiliate in Hillsboro. Here’s some more from around the NL West…
- The Diamondbacks‘ trades of Oliver Perez and Cliff Pennington both came together rather quickly, GM Dave Stewart told Zach Buchanan of AZCentral.com. Stewart hadn’t had any talks with the Astros or Blue Jays, respectively, about either player prior to the July 31 trade deadline. Stewart doesn’t expect to make any more deals in August, though “I didn’t think I was going to make those…. You never know.”
- Baseball America’s Jack Etkin spoke with Rockies director of player development Zach Wilson about the frightening early-season injury to top outfield prospect David Dahl and the decision Dahl made to have his spleen removed following an outfield collision (subscription required). “The best thing for David’s life was to get that spleen out of there,” said Wilson, who went on to add that the splenectomy has allowed Dahl to play without fear. Dahl, who lacerated his spleen and suffered a concussion in the collision, would have had to play the rest of his career with a protective covering and would have been at risk of rupturing the spleen in the event of another collision. As Etkin notes, that’s a frightening proposition for a “hellbent” player like Dahl, who does not shy away from the outfield wall when roaming the outfield. Dahl is hitting .284/.301/.432 in 86 plate appearances since rejoining the Rockies’ Double-A affiliate.
- The Padres will take a shot at re-signing Justin Upton this winter, GM A.J. Preller told MLB.com’s Barry Bloom. “He’s made a very positive impression here,” said Preller. “We’re going to sit down in the offseason and see what we can do with him.” As Bloom notes, though the Padres haven’t panned out as they’d hoped, the team still has a core in place which can be built upon in future seasons, and improved ticket sales could help boost the team’s payroll heading into a season in which the Padres are set to host the All-Star Game.
- The Dodgers‘ July pitching acquisitions haven’t worked out whatsoever to this point, writes ESPN Los Angeles’ Mark Saxon. Though Luis Avilan has tossed four reasonably effective relief innings, Mat Latos and Alex Wood have both struggled, while Jim Johnson has reverted to his disastrous 2014 form. As Saxon points out, Johnson did have very strong numbers in Atlanta, so it’s tough to fault the team for targeting him. He also points out that Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi must be a fan of Johnson, as he’s now been part of two front offices that have traded for Johnson in two years.
Here’s the latest from the AL West…
- The Astros‘ acquisition of Oliver Perez may have filled the club’s last remaining need, The Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich reports. “There’s a lot of activity on the trade waiver wire and we’re monitoring it, but I think we’ve addressed the main areas that we wanted to address going into this trade season,” GM Jeff Luhnow said. “Obviously we’re going to be opportunistic if somebody pops up.”
- Astros righty Brad Peacock underwent back surgery last week and will officially miss the rest of the season, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports. The procedure involved the removal of two bone spurs that were pinching a nerve near Peacock’s spine, which should hopefully solve the health problems that have plagued Peacock all season. He made only one start for Houston back in April before a lengthy DL stint with what was thought to be a right intercostal strain.
- The Mariners‘ problems stem from an inability to develop highly-touted young players, Grantland’s Jonah Keri writes. This includes both many of their own draft picks as well as prospects acquired in trades, like Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero. GM Jack Zduriencik had a strong track record of player development as the Brewers’ scouting director, yet his inability to duplicate this success with the M’s may cost him his job in the wake of Seattle’s poor season.
- CSNBayArea.com’s Joe Stiglich takes a look at some of the Athletics’ top prospects, several of whom were just recently acquired in midseason trades to bolster Oakland’s farm system.