Jon Lester Rumors

Red Sox Notes: Free Agents, Young Arms, Betts, Uehara

While Red Sox chairman Tom Werner recently implied that the team is likely to do some significant spending on the free agent market this offseason, a source tells Alex Speier of WEEI.com that adding two top-tier pitchers isn’t in the club’s offseason blueprint. The team will likely pursue one ace-caliber pitcher, but the feeling within the organization is that there’s enough talent to fill out a championship-caliber rotation. Joe Kelly and Rubby De La Rosa appear to have spots penciled in, and Clay Buchholz has had a resurgence of late. Beyond those three, the Sox have Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez all in line to compete for rotation spots. It’s still believed that the team will pursue Jon Lester most aggressively, Speier writes, though he also spoke with Rays manager Joe Maddon about the Tampa skipper’s former right-hander, James Shields.

Here’s more on the 2013 World Series champs and their attempt to get out of the cellar in 2015…

  • Webster, Workman and Ranaudo have failed to impress in extended looks at the Major League level this season, writes Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. MacPherson has a hard time envisioning GM Ben Cherington heading into the 2015 campaign with two or three unproven arms in the rotation following the struggles that many of the team’s young prospects endured in 2014. Only De La Rosa has shownthe ability to be a piece of next year’s rotation, he concludes. MacPherson spoke with both manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves about the struggles that Boston’s young pitchers have endured thus far.
  • In a second piece, Speier writes that Mookie Betts has gone “from blocked to building block,” noting that his versatility and upside may have led to him supplanting Xander Bogaerts as the club’s most untouchable asset in trades. Of course, Dustin Pedroia remains under contract at second base and the team has an enviable outfield logjam, so interest in Betts will likely be high, but Speier opines that Betts should be retained, as his versatility would allow the Red Sox to pursue upgrades at a number of positions in the future, knowing that Betts could be moved around the diamond and still thrive.
  • Koji Uehara told reporters, including Speier’s colleague Rob Bradford, that the life on his splitter still isn’t there. As Bradford notes, Uehara has experienced a late-season downturn like this before, as he struggled greatly at an oddly similar juncture near the end of his tenure with the Rangers in 2011. The displaced closer adds that he’s not thinking about where he’ll play in 2015 or regaining the ninth inning, but rather trying to finish the season on a high note before “see[ing] what happens in free agency.”

NL Notes: Stanton, Wright, Braun, Lester

The Marlins plan to offer Giancarlo Stanton a deal that would make him the highest-paid player in team history, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported back in August that Miami would try to lock up its 24-year-old star for the long term, though the team was not necessarily optimistic of reaching agreement. For his part, Stanton tells Nightengale that he is willing to hear offers, but still wants to see “some progression moving forward.” “It will be interesting to hear what they have to say when the time comes,” he said, “but right now, I’m not worrying about it. I mean, we’re still in this season. When this season is over, then we can start thinking about 2015.”

Here’s more from the National League:

  • Mets third baseman David Wright will be shut down for the rest of the year but is not expected to require surgery on his left shoulder, Adam Rubin of ESPN.com reported (via Twitter) on in advance of a team announcement. The club says that Wright has experienced persistent inflammation in his left shoulder, which may go some way to explaining his uncharacteristically average .269/.324/.374 slash this year. The star 31-year-old is owed $107MM over 2015-2020.
  • Ryan Braun of the Brewers has seen his ongoing thumb issues expand to become a broader problem with his right hand, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Though surgical options have been explored, it was determined that none seemed sure enough to warrant the risk. Since a hot start, Braun has seen his numbers dwindle and then fall off a cliff of late. He is still owed $12MM on an earlier extension next year before his five-year, $105MM pact kicks in starting in 2016.
  • Left-handed starter Jon Lester makes sense as a free agent target for the Cubs, argues Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com. He is young and sturdy enough to warrant a significant investment, says Rogers, though Chicago can also choose to forego an overpay given the number of solid arms that could be had on the open market in 2016.

Red Sox Notes: Draft, Betts, Lester

The Red Sox have fewer wins than the Royals since the start of the 2012 season, but having losing years before and after a World Series victory has its advantages, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. They’re going to have a very valuable top draft pick next year (if the season ended today, they would pick in the top ten, just as they did in 2013) and a bigger international signing pool. Meanwhile, they retain the financial edge they have over other teams — they’re already reloading for 2015 with the acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig, along with the impending addition of Rusney Castillo, all of whom will have significant salaries going forward. Here are a couple more quick notes out of Boston.

  • The Red Sox placed Mookie Betts, Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa on revocable waivers today, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweets. All are valuable young players, so it’s a strong possibility they’ll be claimed, at which point the Red Sox will pull them back. It probably isn’t likely any of them will be traded.
  • With Cespedes and Craig in the fold and Castillo soon to join, manager John Farrell says the Sox will hunt for pitching this offseason, WEEI.com’s Alex Speier tweets. Boston, of course, dealt Jon Lester and John Lackey at the trade deadline, although it remains possible that the Red Sox could re-sign Lester when he becomes a free agent this winter.


AL East Notes: Lester, Norris, Blue Jays, Cashman

In an appearance on WAAF’s Hill-Man Morning Show, Jon Lester explained recent comments that he wouldn’t necessarily go to the highest bidder this offseason (via WEEI’s Rob Bradford). “…I don’€™t need to go to the highest bidder if that isn’€™t going to make me happy,” said Lester. “I’€™m not going to just take the highest bid, the money, the most years just because it’€™s in front of you. … I make decisions based on me and my family and is this place — “whether it’€™s Boston or one of the other 29 teams –€“ is this place going to be good for me and my family?” Lester did note that he could still end up signing the highest bidder, of course, but the happiness of his family will be the top priority. Lester also repeated that he doesn’t have any hard feelings toward the Red Sox, and he discussed his farewell to owner John Henry as well.

Here’s more from the AL East…

  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos appeared on Sportsnet 590 The Fan with Mike Wilner and Ben Ennis today, and Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith provides some of the highlights. Of particular note was the fact that Anthopoulos said top prospect Daniel Norris could be a factor out of the team’s bullpen in September if he continues to pitch well. The 21-year-old Norris has skyrocketed up prospect rankings this year on the heels of a 2.25 ERA with 11.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 108 innings across Class-A Advanced, Double-A and Triple-A.
  • Nicholson-Smith also writes that the Blue Jays have made several waiver claims this month, but none have resulted in the acquisition of a new player. The team isn’t expected to make a trade today, but it will need to clear a roster spot for the returning Edwin Encarnacion. Nicholson-Smith notes that the Jays are willing to cut ties with out-of-options players, and Anthopoulos has expressed some frustration with Juan Francisco‘s strikeout tendencies. However, he adds that the Blue Jays do value Francisco’s left-handed power.
  • Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner isn’t committing to bringing back longtime general manager Brian Cashman in 2015, but the Yankee GM tells George A. King III of the New York Post that he’s not bothered by the situation. “That’s the process,” said Cashman, whose contract expires after the 2014 season. “There isn’t much to say at this point. That’s for another day.” Steinbrenner’s comments to King were of a similar nature, as he chose to focus on the season at hand rather than the future of his GM.
  • Steinbrenner also says he’s had no recent conversations with Alex Rodriguez, writes MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, but the Yankees are expecting A-Rod to return in 2015 following his 162-game suspension. The 39-year-old former MVP has three years and $61MM remaining on his contract.

AL East Notes: Lester, Cespedes, Machado, Wagner

In an interesting discussion with Tim Britton of the Providence JournalRed Sox reliever Burke Badenhop discussed his use of the Pitch F/X tool at BrooksBaseball.net. Velocity, vertical movement, strike zone plots, and release point are among the pieces of information that Badenhop utilizes to evaluate his outings.

Here’s more from the AL East:

  • Jon Lester may be playing in Oakland, but he knows his time there will almost certainly be short, as John Tomase of the Boston Herald reports. Looking ahead to the free agent market, the lefty said that the Red Sox made clear that they intend to pursue a return. “At the end of the season, [the trade is] not going to change my mind about going back there if they are aggressive and competitive and do the things they say they’re going to do,” Lester said in reference to his long-time club. “They told me, ‘We’re going to be aggressive. You’re going to get blown out of the water by some of these [other] offers,’” said Lester, who maintains that the sticker shock will not be the most important factor for him. “I’m not going to the highest bidder. I’m going to the place that makes me and my family happy. If that’s Boston, it’s Boston.”
  • Of course, Lester should have no shortage of suitors, in large part due to the fact that he has been outstanding this year. Indeed, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports writes, Lester has set himself up for free agency with as good a walk year (thus far) as any recent starter.
  • After failing to extend Lester last offseason, the Red Sox will soon face a similar situation with regard to the man he was traded for, Yoenis Cespedes. As Alex Speier of WEEI.com writes in discussing the possible parameters of an extension for Cespedes, it seems somewhat curious that Boston would have chosen him as the return if it did not have at least some hope of locking him up past 2015 (especially since Cespedes will not be eligible to receive a qualifying offer). Though his power is undeniable, the 28-year-old’s overall value has lagged his visibility to an extent. Regardless, he seems quite likely to draw plenty of attention in free agency, and Speier suggests that comparables could include B.J. Upton (five-year, $75MM free agent deal) and Hunter Pence (five-year, $90MM late-season extension). Of course, as Speier notes, a full season in Fenway could provide Cespedes the opportunity to post some outlandish numbers and boost his value.
  • Orioles third baseman Manny Machado seems destined for a DL stint but, more importantly, appears to have avoided another major knee injury. The club announced yesterday that a MRI revealed a right knee ligament sprain, saying that further update would be forthcoming today. Executive VP Dan Duquette said that the club had not yet decided whether it would shop around for additional options at the hot corner, but will make that assessment when more is known on Machado’s timetable, Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports on Twitter.
  • The Blue Jays announced yesterday that righty Neil Wagner will undergo Tommy John surgery. Wagner, 30, has been hit hard in ten games with Toronto on the year, though he was playing at the Triple-A level at the time of the injury. He has not matched his successful 2013, when he worked 38 frames of 3.79 ERA ball in the majors and dominated at Triple-A (2 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings).

Red Sox Links: Uehara, Bradley, Stanton

Here’s the latest news out of Fenway Park…

  • Ben Cherington said the Red Sox “haven’t gotten to” the stage of exploring a contract extension for closer Koji Uehara, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports, though they’ll broach the topic in October.  “He’s a guy who has done a great job for us, certainly one of the guys that we would love to have here. We’ll address that after the season,” Cherington said.  As for Uehara, he is “happy and honored they feel that way…Boston has been good for me, but they are one of 30 teams I would consider.”  As Abraham notes, there has been speculation that the Sox could extend a one-year qualifying offer to Uehara since they (unlike many teams) can afford spending approximately $15MM on a one-year deal for a closer.
  • Jackie Bradley Jr.‘s offensive struggles have gotten to the point that WEEI.com’s Alex Speier is wondering about his long-term future with the Sox.  While Bradley hit in the minors and was a heralded prospect entering the season, Speier finds little historical evidence to suggest that Bradley will be able to recover from his poor start and eventually become a decent hitter at the Major League level.
  • If the Marlins are unable to extend Giancarlo Stanton and decide to trade the slugger, John Tomase of the Boston Herald feels “no team is better positioned” than the Red Sox to procure Stanton’s services given the number of top-flight prospects in Boston’s farm system.  The Sox could add a Major League piece to the mix as well in Yoenis Cespedes, though he’d have limited value to Miami given that he can opt out of his contract after the 2015 season.
  • Also from Tomase, the Red Sox are “realistic about their chances” of bringing Jon Lester back in free agency.  Though Boston certainly intends to pursue Lester, the team’s reluctance to commit too much money to over-30 pitchers could see the Sox get outbid by another suitor.

Rosenthal’s Latest: Tigers, Lester, Front Offices

The Tigers have “kicked around” the idea of trading for a hitter to bolster the back end of their lineup, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports in his latest Full Count video.  Finding a quality bat will be more difficult in the August waiver period, of course, and there also isn’t any position that Detroit would clearly be looking to upgrade.  Rosenthal says the team is “pretty much set in the outfield,” though I’d argue that adding another outfielder to complement or even replace J.D. Martinez or Rajai Davis (both of whom were originally acquired to be part-timers) would help the Tigers down the stretch.

Here’s some more from Rosenthal’s video and a separate piece that examines which managers and general managers could be on the hot seat…

  • Some of Jon Lester‘s former teammates believe the southpaw will sign with the Cubs this offseason.  Lester, of course, has ties to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and the Cubs’ recent waiver claim of Cole Hamels indicates that the team is prepared to spend big money on a top-tier starting pitcher.
  • Had the Padres hired Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler, the return of Kevin Towers to the San Diego organization “would’ve been almost automatic.”  (The two worked together in New York.)  Between Tony La Russa’s hiring in Arizona and the firing of Josh Byrnes in San Diego, rumors have swirled for weeks that Towers would find himself back with the Friars given his friendship with Padres president/CEO Mike Dee.  As Rosenthal notes, Towers could still return under new GM A.J. Preller, though rival executives are split as to whether Towers’ presence would be a positive or a negative for Preller as a first-time general manager.
  • Bud Black “would be out of work for about five minutes” if Preller decided to make a managerial change.  Mike Dee recently told Rosenthal that Preller would decide on Black’s future with the Padres, though the fact that Black’s removal was “never seriously considered” by upper management would seem to bode well for the long-time skipper.
  • While Reds GM Walt Jocketty is in the final year of his contract, “there is no indication that Jocketty wants to leave, or that owner Bob Castellini wants him out.”  Rosenthal speculates that a reunion between Jocketty and La Russa in Arizona could be a possibility, though Jocketty might prefer to stay with the contending Reds rather than face a rebuilding job with the D’Backs.
  • Ruben Amaro’s future as the Phillies‘ GM has been in question given the team’s struggles, which could also mean that manager Ryne Sandberg’s continued employment could also be up in the air.  The Hall-of-Famer has “at times looks overmatched, struggling in his communications with veterans and with his in-game management,” Rosenthal writes, though he points out that Sandberg hasn’t been given much to work with on the roster.  Sandberg is under contract through the end of the 2016 season.
  • Could Jeff Luhnow’s job actually be in jeopardy?  Rosenthal isn’t sure, though he notes that “internal tension seems unavoidable” in Houston.  The Astros have seen little improvement on the field this season and Luhnow’s front office was widely criticized for its handling of the Brady Aiken negotiations.
  • Mike Maddux’s Rangers contract is up at the end of the season, and while extension talks probably won’t take place until then, both Maddux and the team seem eager to see the long-time pitching coach remain in Texas.

Quick Hits: Draft, Astros, Lester, Souza

Since next year’s amateur draft will be the 50th June draft, Baseball America’s John Manuel thinks MLB should use the milestone to make changes to the draft’s structure.  Manuel’s suggestions include moving the draft to All-Star week, shortening it to 20 rounds and implementing a standardized pre-draft physical for every player that would help avoid another Brady Aiken situation.  Testing would take place during “a medical combine” that would get official gauges on other measurable physical skills and baseball abilities.

Here are some notes from around the sport…

  • The Astros will have a hard time finding 40-man roster spots for all of their promising Rule 5 draft-eligible prospects, Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper writes.  One interesting facet of the Jarred Cosart trade with the Marlins, Cooper notes, was that Houston freed up two extra 40-man roster spaces for use this winter.
  • The perception that Jon Lester and the Red Sox have some sort of tacit agreement that the southpaw will re-sign with the team this winter is “amusing,” ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his latest Insider-only column.  Such an agreement would require a lot of trust between both sides, and after the way the Sox approached negotiations with their former ace, “the Lester-Red Sox relationship degraded into a business transaction.”  This doesn’t necessarily mean Lester won’t re-sign, Olney notes, just that Boston will need to greatly increase their contract offer in the offseason.
  • Also from Olney’s column, he lists nine starters who the Red Sox could pursue in trades this winter since the free agent pitching options (and/or prices) may not be to Boston’s liking.
  • When the Nationals were trying to acquire a reliever before the deadline, several teams asked for outfield Steven Souza in return, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports.  Souza, who received his second big league call-up today, has posted huge numbers in each of his last three minor league seasons, including a .354/.435/.601 slash line with 18 homers and 24 steals (of 31 chances) in 386 PA for Triple-A Syracuse this year.

Cafardo On Blue Jays, Kemp, Red Sox, Stanton

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that the waiver deadline period could produce some significant deals around baseball. The Phillies probably won’t find deals for Jonathan Papelbon (contract) and Cliff Lee (health concerns plus contract) but A.J. Burnett could conceivably be moved.  Meanwhile, the Blue Jays continue to, as one executive said to Cafardo, “kick the tires on just about everything but never seem to do anything.”  More from today’s column..

  • The Red Sox may have been scouting Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, but their dialogue with the Dodgers was virtually nonexistent despite the constant rumors connecting the two.  The Dodgers, Cafardo writes, were never going to deal Kemp, who has been one of their best right-handed hitters.
  • The Dodgers were also never really in on Red Sox hurlers Jon Lester or John Lackey but really wanted Andrew Miller and came close to giving Boston one of their best pitching prospects for him.
  • It seems as if the Red Sox and other teams have finally come to the realization that Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton isn’t going anywhere and that could be a reason why the Red Sox obtained Yoenis Cespedes, who obviously isn’t as good but has the power and athleticism to improve. For now, he seems to feel that Miami is moving in the right direction and appears to be all in on staying with the Marlins.
  • The buzz around baseball is that the Cubs will be all in on Jon Lester.  Cubs president Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod were in Boston with Lester during his trying times.  Also, the Cubs will have to rebuild their rotation at some point and adding Lester would be a major, major step in that direction.

A’s Acquire Lester, Gomes; Cespedes To Boston

2:12pm: The A’s are paying $650K of Cespedes’ salary but are getting back $1.8MM from the Red Sox for Lester’s salary, tweets Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

11:35am: The teams have announced the trade. Nightengale tweets the exact figure that will be heading to Oakland: $650K.

10:09am: Dave Cameron of Fangraphs reports another wrinkle in the trade: Cespedes’ contract calls for him to be non-tendered at the end of his deal (if he is not first extended) in order to assure him early free agency, and he therefore is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer following the 2015 season (Twitter links).

9:14am: The Red Sox are sending under $1MM to the A’s in the trade, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Meanwhile, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America tweets that the value of the Competitive Balance pick that Boston receives will be roughly $800K.

8:54am: Passan tweets that Oakland is also sending a competitive balance draft pick to the Red Sox in the trade, and Boston is sending cash to Oakland. The A’s landed the second pick in Comp Round B in last week’s lottery.

8:49am: The Athletics have acquired Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes from the Red Sox in exchange for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, according to Alex Speier of WEEI.com (Twitter links). Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports first reported that Lester had been traded to an unknown club, while Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com first connected the A’s and Lester earlier this week.

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The addition of Lester will give Oakland an incredibly formidable rotation for the balance of the regular season, but perhaps more importantly, in the playoffs. Lester, who has posted a 2.52 ERA with 9.4 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and a 43.2 percent ground-ball rate, will join fellow trade acquisition Jeff Samardzija, free agent signing Scott Kazmir and homegrown star Sonny Gray atop Oakland’s rotation.

It’s possible that the struggles of Jason Hammel, acquired from the Cubs along with Samardzija back on July 4, prompted A’s GM Billy Beane to aggressively pursue another sizable rotation upgrade. While the loss of Cespedes will hurt Oakland’s lineup, the team can afford to part with some offense; the A’s rank first in the Majors in runs scored, sixth in on-base percentage and eighth in slugging percentage. Gomes won’t replace Cespedes’ power or his .256/.303/.464 batting line, but he’s a formidable opponent against lefties, having slashed .302/.400/.431 against southpaws in 2014 and .279/.379/.495 in his career.

Cespedes will bring the Red Sox a much-needed outfield bat, though he’s only under team control through the 2015 season due to a clause in his contract that allows him to forgo arbitration and hit the free agent market after his initial four-year term. He’s slated to earn $10.5MM next season — the same sum that he is owed in 2014. John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets that Cespedes recently voiced a disinterest in playing center field with the A’s, but he did so through a teammate rather than by approaching manager Bob Melvin directly, which likely didn’t sit well with the team (Twitter links).

Yoenis Cespedes

The pair of blockbuster trades by Beane signifies a clear “all-in” philosophy on the 2014 season. Oakland has traded its best prospect (Addison Russell), a 2013 first-round pick (Billy McKinney) and one of its most dangerous bats (Cespedes) in an attempt at the most dominant pitching staff it can muster for the playoffs. There will be no compensation if (or, perhaps more appropriately given his likely price tag — when) Lester departs as a free agent, as baseball’s collective bargaining agreement prohibits players who did not spend the entire regular season on one team from receiving qualifying offers.

For the Red Sox, who hope to re-sign Lester as a free agent this offseason, this trade at least gives them a chance, perhaps a slight one, to have Lester and Cespedes on the same team in 2015 when the club takes another shot at contending. Beyond that, the addition of a draft pick is an interesting wrinkle, as it allows Boston to enjoy the best of both worlds, in a way. GM Ben Cherington could have kept Lester and extended a qualifying offer in hopes of recouping a draft pick if Lester signed elsewhere in free agency. Now, the Sox will get a bonus pick regardless (albeit a slightly later one), and they also are guaranteed a middle-of-the-order bat for the 2015 season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Boston engage Cespedes in extension talks either, though that is nothing more than my own speculation at this juncture.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.