James Russell Rumors
The Braves' priority is to add a left-handed reliever, writes MLB.com's Mark Bowman, with James Russell of the Cubs, Mike Gonzalez of the Brewers, and Wesley Wright of the Astros on their wish list. The Braves are more interested in Russell and Gonzalez, he adds.
The Braves' need for a southpaw reliever has increased with the plan to put Alex Wood in the starting rotation, possibly swapping roles with right-hander Kris Medlen. That would leave Luis Avilan as the only lefty in the Braves' pen, with Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters both out for the season due to Tommy John surgery.
Russell, 27, has a large platoon split. He'd held lefties to a .187/.218/.284 line, but righties have hit him hard (small sample size warning). Russell is earning $1.075MM this year, and he's under team control through 2015 as an arbitration eligible player. Gonzalez, 35, joined the Braves from the Pirates in the January 2007 Adam LaRoche trade. He racked up 125 innings and 26 saves for the Braves over three seasons, mostly after recovering from June '07 Tommy John surgery. The Braves allowed him to leave as a free agent for Baltimore, drafting Matt Lipka as a supplemental pick in 2010 as compensation. After spending time with the Rangers and Nationals, Gonzalez signed with the Brewers as a free agent in January this year. He's always been prone to the free pass, especially against righties this year, but he's been strong against lefties.
Wright, 28, came to the Astros in the '07 Rule 5 draft, from the Dodgers. They were able to retain him by keeping him in the Majors for all of '08, and he's improved since then. Similar to Russell, Wright is under team control through 2015 as an arbitration eligible player. His problem this year, against righties and lefties, has been an abnormally high batting average on balls in play and rate of flyballs leaving the yard.
Which other left-handed relievers might be available? We'll have a full post on the topic later today, but Mike Dunn, Charlie Furbush, Oliver Perez, Jose Mijares, Darren Oliver, Scott Downs, Joe Thatcher, Javier Lopez, and Jeremy Affeldt are names to consider.
The Braves also seek a backup infielder to fill the void after the loss of Ramiro Pena to season-ending surgery; they'd prefer a left-handed hitter with more offense than Paul Janish, writes Bowman. The Cubs' Luis Valbuena could be a logical candidate there, in my opinion.
Trade rumors continue to swirl around the Cubs' Matt Garza, but his teammates would like to see the Cubs extend him, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports. "It’s hard to find pitchers like that because he’s always there for us," left fielder Alfonso Soriano said. However, an AL GM told CSN Chicago's David Kaplan recently that there's probably not much to recent rumors that the Cubs are exploring an extension for Garza. "I'd be stunned if he is a Cub August 1," the executive told Kaplan. Some more North Siders notes..
- Soriano is the subject of a lot of trade talk himself, but he's not thinking about the rumors, according to Sullivan. "If they want me to stay here, I stay here. But if they don’t want me to, the door is open. I’ve had a good time. I just play one day at a time and enjoy my time," the former All-Star said.
- Soriano's recent surge, in which he's hit .381 with six homers and four doubles in 10 games, has drawn new attention from contending teams that are looking for offense, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Soriano, who has a full no-trade clause, turned down a potential trade to the Giants last year, but he indicated during the Cubs' recent road trip that he may be more open to more teams this summer. "For sure, if somebody asks for me, they have to be a contender for the playoffs," Soriano said. "A good city, I guess ... But I don’t want to think about it. Just see what happens."
- Cubs manager Dale Sveum's decision to use James Russell for the third consecutive day in Monday's blowout win over the White Sox may have been to showcase the lefty to "the many" scouts in attendance, Sullivan also reports. Sullivan notes that the Red Sox are seeking to fill the void left by recently injured left-hander Andrew Miller. Though the Cubs aren't attempting to trade Russell, they aren't deeming any player untouchable in their summer sale, Sullivan says, citing an anonymous source.
- The Cubs could also move catcher Dioner Navarro, who's performed well above expectations since signing a one-year deal in the offseason, writes Sullivan. Navarro's already clubbed eight homers this year after never hitting more than nine in any previous season. Together, Garza and Navarro could be "a perfect package deal," Sullivan imagines. Navarro, who serves as a mentor to catcher Welington Castillo and has just 128 plate appearances, concedes that he'd like to return to a full-time role.
Gregg served as the Cubs' closer in 2009 before signing with the Blue Jays in 2010 and inking a two-year deal with the Orioles that covered the 2011-12 seasons. He returned to the Cubs on a minor league deal this April and now finds himself in the midst of an unlikely career year at age 35.
Gregg has pitched to an immaculate 1.11 ERA with 9.6 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 with 11 saves in 24 1/3 innings since returning to the Cubs. That ERA is likely unsustainable, but even advanced metrics like FIP (2.31), xFIP (3.05) and SIERA (2.79) feel that Gregg's work this year has truly been in the upper echelon of Major League relievers.
Gregg could serve as a bargain bullpen upgrade for teams that don't wish to meet the steep asking price on players like Jesse Crain and Jonathan Papelbon (if he does indeed become available). Gregg ranks fourth in FIP, xFIP and WAR among relief trade candidates according to the custom Fangraphs leaderboard compiled yesterday by MLBTR's Tim Dierkes.
We're just under six weeks away from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. At this point, many teams are still attempting to determine whether or not they're buyers or sellers, and the addition of a second Wild Card in each league has made that a longer process than it was in the past. However, ESPN's Buster Olney has spoken to rival evaluators who have said that the Cubs are "open for business" and ready to sell (ESPN Insider required and recommended).
The Cubs are 13 games below .500 and 17 games out of first place in the National League Central as of this morning, so their stance is a clear one. Nate Schierholtz, Kevin Gregg, Scott Feldman, David DeJesus (when healthy), Alfonso Soriano, James Russell and Matt Garza are the names that figure to be on the trading block as the Cubs field calls, writes Olney. His piece also includes much more info on potential matches for the Cubs and which divisions may be the first to become active on the trade front.
My take on the Cubs' situation: Being the first team to sell pieces has its advantages and disadvantages. Obviously, the Cubs will have more teams to work with at this juncture. Early in the trading season, with so few teams ready to declare themselves sellers, buyers will have few other places to turn. Trading for a player like Garza or Feldman right now would give the acquiring team an extra few starts from the pitcher they're trading precious prospects for. Acquiring a position player in late June as opposed to late July could mean an extra 20 to 30 games out of that player.
On the flipside of the coin, teams may not be as desperate right now as they would be in the final hours leading up to the deadline. Oftentimes, big deals go down with just hours or minutes to go before the trade deadline, as teams have decided that one final push is worth the risk. Recent examples of July 31 blockbusters include both Hunter Pence trades, the Ubaldo Jimenez trade and the White Sox's acquisition of Jake Peavy. Each of these deals included high-profile prospects being exchanged for star-caliber players, though obviously not all of them worked out.
Injuries can also occur in the next month that would make buyers out of teams who are currently not looking. Conversely, one of the Cubs' trade chips could incur an injury, which would leave president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer one less piece to work with.
Selling pieces early takes away some of the "desperation" leverage from the Cubs, but it also will likely increase their number of suitors, creating more competition for their players. Epstein and Hoyer will have to determine how to walk that line over the next several weeks as they look to build toward the future.