Jordan Lyles Rumors

NL West Notes: Lyles, Rockies, D’Backs, Headley

Offseason acquisition Jordan Lyles has forced the Rockies' hand with two strong starts early this season, writes the Denver Post's Nick Groke. Lyles was supposed to be ticketed for Triple-A to open the year, but an injury to Tyler Chatwood pushed him into the rotation. Colorado must now decide whether to stick to the plan or keep Lyles in the rotation. Indeed, the former Astro has a 3.86 ERA through his first two outings and is sporting a strong 55.9 percent ground-ball rate — a trait that I imagine is highly attractive to the Rockies, whose home field is known for home runs. Here's more on the Rockies' pitching staff and the NL West…

  • Groke's colleague, Patrick Saunders, writes that in the wake of last night's meltdown against the White Sox, the Rockies simply cannot afford to keep Wilton Lopez at the Major League level. Lopez, who struggled after coming over from the Astros before the 2013 season, was tagged for six runs on the strength of three homers while recording just two outs. Saunders writes that "it makes no sense to keep [Franklin Morales] in the rotation," suggesting that he should be jettisoned to the pen in favor of Lyles. Saunders also wonders how long the Rockies will wait to promote top prospect Eddie Butler, noting that the right-hander's hot start may tempt the Rox, but it likely won't happen until June.
  • Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said on the Doug and Wolf radio show in Arizona that while his team is not panicking over his its slow start yet, he is not afraid to make changes should the club fail to improve (Twitter link via MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez)
  • Brandon Hicks has gone from non-roster invitee to manager Bruce Bochy's preferred option at second base while Marco Scutaro is on the shelf, writes MLB.com's Chris Haft. Bochy says Joaquin Arias will still see some time at the position, but he's sticking with Hicks' bat, feeling him to be a comparable defender to Arias.
  • Chase Headley expressed to MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince some skepticism about the "contract year" narrative in which players are able to elevate their game aprior to free agency. Headley adds that he considers every season a "contract year" in today's game, noting that unless a player has already signed an extension, he is "playing for [his] life every year." Castrovince examines the likelihood of a Headley trade this season with the Padres already reeling from another set of injuries to Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin and Josh Johnson.

NL West Notes: Wieland, Dodgers, Lyles

The Padres have already taken a hit to their starting pitching depth after losing Cory Luebke to a second Tommy John surgery, and now right-hander Joe Wieland could suffer the same fate. Wieland is scheduled to have an MRI on his sore right elbow today, and Yahoo's Jeff Passan tweeted late last night that there's "significant concern" throughout the organization, with a re-torn UCL being the worst-case scenario. Wieland, like Luebke, spent the 2013 season recovering from 2012 Tommy John surgery. A second Tommy John surgery has become a familiar refrain around MLB of late; Daniel Hudson underwent his second Tommy John last summer, and there's a strong likelihood that Braves hurlers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy will do so as well. D'Backs lefty Patrick Corbin could be headed for his first Tommy John surgery as well.

Here are a couple of other NL-West-related items…

  • The Dodgers are currently on the lookout for bench help, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who questions how the club could spent $225MM on payroll but enter the season with such a weak group of reserve players. Rival evaluators in Spring Training consider the Dodgers' bench to be the weakest in the division, says Rosenthal.
  • Within that piece, Rosenthal reports that the Dodgers indicated to Mark Ellis early in the offseason that another two-year deal was a possibility. However, Ellis eventually grew weary of the Dodgers' indecisiveness, as they offered a one-year deal after signing Alexander Guerrero. Rosenthal adds that one potential scenario last summer was for the Dodgers to flip Zach Lee to the Angels for Howie Kendrick, then move Ellis to Kansas City for Luke Hochevar, but ownership nixed the Kendrick-for-Lee swap.
  • Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes that while the Rockies initially thought right-hander Jordan Lyles would need some time in the minors when they acquired him in the Dexter Fowler trade, Lyles is forcing his way into immediate rotation consideration. He's competing with Franklin Morales for the fifth starter's role, and Lyles could benefit from the fact that Morales has bullpen experience. Manager Walt Weiss told Renck that Lyles is viewed strictly as a starter, so Morales could end up in relief with Lyles in the starting five.

Rosenthal On Red Sox, Butler, Rangers, Angels

Some say that the big-money closer is becoming extinct, but Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports argues that reports of the species' demise might be premature since the supply is overwhelming demand this offseason, depressing some free agent prices.  While Grant Balfour's two-year, $15MM was surprisingly low to some, Joe Nathan netted a two-year, $20MM deal at age 39.  Here's more from Rosenthal's latest column..

  • A trade remains possible for the Red Sox, who are checking in with teams that need starters, sources say.  Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster appear the most expendable, but the Sox could get a bigger return if they moved John Lackey or Felix Doubront.
  • The Royals seem unlikely to trade designated hitter Billy Butler or any of their relievers after signing free-agent second baseman Omar Infante.  Royals GM Dayton Moore wants to pounce after adding Infante, left-hander Jason Vargas and outfielder Norichika Aoki and would love a shot at re-signing free agent Ervin Santana if his market somehow collapses.
  • The Rangers do not appear seriously involved in trade discussions for Rays ace David Price at the moment.  If they strike out on Shin-Soo Choo, Masahiro Tanaka, and Price, they simply would preserve their prospects and financial resources for later moves.
  • The Angels seem to be holding off on a DH like as Raul Ibanez until they know how much they will spend on a pitcher. That pitcher could be right-hander Matt Garza as they have heavy interest in him, sources say.  That pitcher could also be Tanaka.
  • The Rockies got more trade inquiries on Jordan Lyles than any player at the winter meetings and Brandon Barnes was a popular target, too, according to a source.


Astros Acquire Dexter Fowler

The Rockies announced that they have traded outfielder Dexter Fowler and a player to be named later to the Astros in exchange for right-hander Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes.

Fowler-Dexter

Fowler, 28 in March, wasn't able to replicate his brilliant offensive performance in 2012, but he still enjoyed a strong season. The switch-hitter batted .263/.369/.407 with 12 homers and 19 stolen bases as Colorado's primary center fielder. A sore right wrist and a left knee sprain limited Fowler to just 119 games, but he's only one year removed from a .300/.389/.474 batting line.

Fowler has a strong walk rate and rarely strikes out, but he's not without his warts. Fowler isn't regarded as a strong defensive center fielder, owning negative career marks in Ultimate Zone Rating and Derfensive Runs Saved. He's also done most of his damage at Coors Field, posting an .880 OPS at home in his career compared to a .694 mark on the road. He's owed $7.35MM in 2014 and will be arbitration eligible for the final time before free agency the following offseason.

Lyles, who recently turned 23, has a career 5.35 ERA with 6.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 48.6 percent ground-ball rate. Those numbers certainly aren't impressive, but Lyles has consistently been one of the youngest pitchers in the Majors after debuting as a 20-year-old in 2011. The Astros selected him 38th overall in the 2008 draft, and he twice ranked on Baseball America's list of Top 100 prospects. Lyles appeared to be on the road to a solid breakout season, having posted a 4.02 ERA through July 10, but he faded down the stretch, posting a 7.67 ERA over his final 13 appearances. Lyles won't be eligible for arbitration until next offseason and is under team control through the 2017 season.

Barnes, 27, batted .240/.289/.346 with eight homers and 11 stolen bases. Though he offered little at the plate, Barnes played outstanding defense in the outfield. He was solid against left-handed pitching as well, batting .296/.354/.437. He's under control through the 2018 season and is not yet arbitration eligible.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Astros Notes: Wandy, Bourn, Lee, Pence, Myers

The Astros will likely be sellers at this year’s trade deadline, according to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Houston has an MLB-worst 29-57 record, so the front office figures to entertain offers for Wandy Rodriguez, Michael Bourn and others. Here are the details from Rosenthal and Morosi’s report, which is a must-read item for Astros fans:

  • Though owner Drayton McLane would like to complete the sale of his club to Jim Crane by the July 31st trade deadline, the deal may not become official until August. MLB isn’t close to approving the sale, partly because of its ongoing conflict with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.
  • Crane will likely stay quiet until baseball’s owners approve him, but he’ll influence the team’s direction this summer.
  • MLB has not told Crane that he has to agree to move the Astros to the AL West for the sale to go through.
  • Carlos Lee, who earns $18.5MM this year and next year, wouldn’t be easy to trade even if Houston picked up significant salary.
  • The club doesn’t want to trade Hunter Pence, who is under control through 2013. Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles also figure into Houston’s long-term plans, but the Astros will likely listen to offers on most other players, including Brett Myers and Jeff Keppinger.
  • Most baseball people expect Crane to fire GM Ed Wade, but the new owner will likely take his time evaluating Wade’s leadership before conducting a search for a new GM.
  • Houston native and current Rays executive Andrew Friedman is “an almost certain target,” according to Rosenthal and Morosi. Another Tampa Bay exec, former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker, is also a possibility for Crane. He led Houston to four division titles before joining the Rays.

Astros Notes: Reed, Minors, Hall

A few items of note on the club formerly known as the Colt .45s as Albert Pujols smacks a walkoff homer, his second jack of the day:

  • The Astros continue to deny any rumors that they've been trying to work out a pre-draft deal with Stanford pitcher Chris Reed with the intent of selecting him at No. 11 overall, tweets Stephen Goff of the Houston Examiner. Goff predicts the Astros will take Archie Bradley (Twitter link), and ESPN.com's Keith Law writes in his latest mock draft that they'll take prep shortstop Francisco Lindor or Bradley if he's still available.
  • The Astros have improved their farm system under GM Ed Wade and his stable of area scouts, according to Goff. Wade's first draft as Astros GM was in 2008, when Houston selected Jason Castro and Jordan Lyles, both of whom have reached the bigs.
  • In contrast to their relative improvements in drafting and developing minor league players, Wade admitted that releasing Bill Hall represented a failure in judgment, writes Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle.

NL Central Notes: Lyles, Reyes, Doumit

Here's the latest from around the NL Central, with an emphasis Jordan Lyles. The Astros' right-hander debuted against the Cubs tonight and pitched seven-plus innings, allowing one earned run on five hits with four strikeouts and no walks….

  • Astros manager Brad Mills pointed out that Lyles could be with Houston for two starts or 20 years, according to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. Lyles' debut may be the most anticipated in Astros history since Hunter Pence's 2007 debut, according to McTaggart.
  • Lyles' promotion represents a victory for assistant GM and amateur scouting director Bobby Heck, according to Stephen Goff of the Houston Astros Examiner
  • I examined the service time implications for Lyles earlier tonight.
  • Reds GM Walt Jocketty told John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that he hasn’t had talks with the Mets. That means speculation linking the Reds to Jose Reyes is unfounded at this point (though the Reds could have had internal discussions about the shortstop). 
  • Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit has fractured his left ankle and will miss at least a month, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (on Twitter). Doumit, a potential trade target, would have a few weeks to re-establish his value before the trade deadline if he makes a speedy return. But his $5.1MM salary could clear waivers, which would enable the Pirates to deal him in August.

The Implications Of Jordan Lyles’ Debut

In less than an hour, Jordan Lyles will make his much-anticipated MLB debut. Ten starts into the Triple-A season, the right-hander has a 3.20 ERA with 6.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9, impressive stats, especially for a 20-year-old.

Those aren't the only relevant numbers for Lyles and his team. The Astros appear to have significantly reduced the chances that Lyles will become a super two after 2013 and go through the potentially lucrative salary arbitration process an extra time. 

Even if Lyles never sees the minor leagues again, he’ll have two years and 121 days of service time after 2013. That doesn’t figure to be enough for super two status – last year’s cutoff was unusually low at two years and 122 days – so Lyles is only on track for three arbitration years.

But it’s too early to know how much service time will be required for super two status three offseasons for now, because the cutoff date changes most years. And since baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires after 2011, there’s no guarantee that the super two will exist a few years from now (though coming up with alternative that satisfies baseball’s owners and the players’ association will not be easy).

There’s a good chance that the Astros will have to option Lyles to the minors at some point – few 20-year-olds make the big leagues and even fewer thrive instantly at the highest level. If Lyles does return to the minors, the projections could change dramatically, as they did for Brett Cecil, Jenrry Mejia and legions of other pitching prospects who were demoted after debuting in the big leagues.

Everything from the super two cutoff to the CBA to Lyles’ development is subject to change, but here’s what we know: if the rules stay the same, the cutoff falls where we expect it to and Lyles stays in the big leagues from here on, the Astros will have avoided super two status for the young righty and saved themselves millions in the process. That may not be Houston's intention – there's much more to player development than waiting until Memorial Day then calling up your top players – but at the very least it's a pleasant coincidence. 


Update On The Timing Of Top Prospects’ Debuts

Teams like saving money and extending their control over top young players. Why wouldn't they? Having impact players on affordable contracts simplifies a GM's job. As a result, teams call top young players up strategically every season to control their service time and, in doing so, delay their free agency and/or limit their earnings.

Though service time is a consideration all season long, it's most evident at two times: in April and again midseason, around early June. If teams wait until a few weeks after the season has begun to call a prospect up for his MLB debut, the player doesn't collect a full year of service time, which delays his free agency by a year.

The precise date until which teams must wait before calling prospects up varies each year and according to whether players are on the 40-man roster. Now that we're nearly three weeks into the season, even prospects on the 40-man roster can be called up, since they have spent the requisite 20-day period in the minor leagues. 

None of the following prospects have big league service time, which means that their teams can call them up at any point and keep them through the 2017 season, if not longer: Dustin Ackley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brett Lawrie, Mike Moustakas, Jesus Montero, Eric Hosmer, Julio Teheran, Manny Banuelos, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles.

On the other hand, Michael Pineda, Zach Britton and Brandon Belt are now in the majors, picking up service time. Because those players are now on MLB rosters, they're currently on track to hit free agency after the 2016 season. However, if their respective teams option them to the minors for 20 days or more, their path to free agency could be slowed as well (that's an immediate possibility for Belt and a long-term one for the pair of impressive rookie hurlers).

That may sounds complicated, but it's the easy part. Later this spring, in late May and early June, the guessing game begins. Teams do not (and can not) know exactly when future cutoffs for super two status will be, so if they want to play it safe and ensure that prospects like Montero and Ackley only go to arbitration three times, they'll want to wait until at least the middle of June before calling them up.


NL Central Notes: Arnsberg, Lyles, Reds

Links from the NL Central as Brewers fans learn that Manny Parra could miss the start of the regular season with a back issue…

  • ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick examines an unheralded Astros rotation and one of the keys to its success: pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.
  • Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com places Jordan Lyles atop his list of Astros prospects and says the right-hander will arrive in Houston at some point this year, even if he starts off in the minor leagues.
  • Cincinnati VP Bob Miller told readers at MLB.com that the Reds have one of the deepest rotations he has ever seen. “While some will argue that we don't have a true No. 1 starter, I feel we have the potential for three or four guys to become true No. 1s,” Miller said.