Jose Altuve Rumors

AL West Notes: Richards, Altuve, Athletics

Angels pitcher Garrett Richards suffered what appeared to be a significant knee injury while trying to make a play at first in the second inning of a game against the Red Sox Wednesday. He fell while still running to first and spent several minutes on the ground in obvious pain before being removed on a stretcher. There’s no word yet on the severity of the injury (which the Angels described as a “left knee/patellar injury“) but if it’s as serious as it appears to be, it would be a big blow to the Angels. Entering tonight’s game, Richards had posted a 2.53 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 167 innings this season, and the Angels are currently fighting the Athletics for first place in the AL West. Here are more notes from the division.

  • Diminutive Astros star Jose Altuve has made it big despite his size, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “He’s an anomaly,” says Astros assistant GM David Stearns. “He’s tough to explain, other than the fact he works as hard or harder than anyone, he’s got freakish hand-eye skills, he loves baseball and he wants to be great.” History indicates that Altuve is, in fact, very unusual, Kepner writes — there isn’t anyone in the Hall of Fame listed at 5-foot-6 or shorter who debuted in the Majors since the early 1940s. Altuve signed for just $15K as an amateur out of Venezuela.
  • The Athletics have struggled since their surprising trade of Yoenis Cespedes and a draft pick for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes, John Branch of the New York Times notes. It’s not clear that the trade is to blame, however. “We were struggling some before the trade as well, and we haven’t been as good offensively as we have been for the better part of a season,” says manager Bob Melvin. “But I expect us to get much better offensively because we still do have a very deep lineup.”

Astros’ Trade Discussion Notes Leaked

4:30pm: The Astros have issued the following statement regarding the leaked notes:

“Last month, we were made aware that proprietary information held on Astros’ servers and in Astros’ applications had been illegally obtained. Upon learning of the security breach, we immediately notified MLB security who, in turn, notified the FBI.  Since that time, we have been working closely with MLB security and the FBI to the determine the party, or parties, responsible.  This information was illegally obtained and published, and we intend to prosecute those involved to the fullest extent.

“It is unfortunate and extremely disappointing that an outside source has illegally obtained confidential information.  While it does appear that some of the content released was based on trade conversations, a portion of the material was embellished or completely fabricated.”

2:29pm: Extensive trade discussion notes, apparently logged by Astros executives about their talks with other teams, have been leaked onto the site AnonBin here and here, with Deadspin breaking the story and Yahoo’s Jeff Passan verifying the authenticity of the logs.  The earliest notes are from June 2013, and the latest are from March of this year.  The Astros have yet to comment on the leak, which provides unprecedented detail into how the team values players and approaches trade discussions.  According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Astros have been reaching out to people around baseball apologizing for the leaks, and plan to issue a statement soon.

A March feature by Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle outlines Ground Control, the Astros’ confidential internal database from which the trade discussion notes were likely taken.  At this time, it’s unclear whether the information reached the Internet via a rogue employee of the team, or by some kind of security vulnerability in Ground Control.  The trade discussion information, mostly from last summer and offseason, is somewhat dated in the fast-moving baseball hot stove world.  The larger ramification is the breach of trust experienced by the many non-Astros executives cited in the notes.  It’s unlikely any team would rule out the Astros as a trading partner based on this breach, but some teams could approach talks with added caution.  Additionally, I imagine the many other teams with such highly sensitive material online are doubling down on security right now.

The Astros’ trade notes from last summer and offseason range from the blockbuster to the mundane; here are some highlights.

  • On November 15th, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow expressed interest with Marlins GM Dan Jennings in slugger Giancarlo Stanton.  From the notes: “[Jennings] said he doesn’t think he’ll trade Stanton and the only deal he could think of from us that would work would be [George] Springer and [Carlos] Correa. [Luhnow] said that would not work. [Luhnow] posited a deal around [Jarred] Cosart and [Delino] DeShields.”  It’s not a big surprise that Luhnow rejected Jennings’ proposal out of hand, as Correa and Springer were ranked #4 and #19 on Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list for ESPN, and are major building blocks for Houston.  That Luhnow didn’t appear to offer either player suggests he was mostly gauging Stanton’s price after an off-year with three years of control remaining.  UPDATE: Jennings has commented to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, saying it’s fabricated that they ever offered Stanton to the Astros or any other team, also using the word “laughable.”
  • Interest in Astros catcher Jason Castro was strong last offseason, with a few surprising suitors.  The Blue Jays and Rangers reached out in mid-October to gauge Castro’s price, the White Sox had “definite high interest,” and Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told Luhnow in November that he was getting calls from other teams asking if he could get Castro from the Astros for those teams.  Zduriencik offered Dustin Ackley and was turned down.
  • Notes for the Astros’ summer trade discussions begin at June 17th, 2013.  The team ultimately went on to acquire Ronald Torreyes from the Cubs in June, and also dealt veterans Jose Veras, Bud Norris, and Justin Maxwell near the July deadline.  The Astros did not end up acquiring any top 100-type prospects, but they sure did ask for the moon.  For Norris, the Astros sought Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn from the Giants, Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman from the Orioles, Marcus Stroman and more from the Blue Jays, Xander Bogaerts, Allen Webster, Jackie Bradley Jr., or Garin Cecchini from the Red Sox, and Tyler Glasnow plus Luis Heredia or Nick Kingham from the Pirates.  The Red Sox offered Ryan Lavarnway or Deven Marrero for Norris and were turned down.  In the end, the Astros traded Norris and an international draft slot to the Orioles for L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader, and a 2014 competitive balance pick.
  • When Nationals GM Mike Rizzo called to express interest in middling Astros starting pitcher Lucas Harrell, who had a 5.17 ERA at the time and nearly as many walks as strikeouts, “[Luhnow] told him we would still need a headliner like [Lucas] Giolito because we still value Harrell highly. Rizzo did not respond immediately.”
    Harrell was designated for assignment, outrighted, and traded for a pittance nine months later, so the Astros might have overplayed their hand.
  • “Untouchable” players from other teams were revealed through conversations with their executives.  White Sox GM Rick Hahn wouldn’t consider trading Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, or Avisail Garcia.  Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos considered Brett Lawrie off-limits.  Pirates outfield prospect Gregory Polanco came up as well, in that GM Neal Huntington wouldn’t include him in any Norris deal.  In December talks regarding Harrell, the Giants said they would not discuss Brandon Belt.
  • More random notes: Mets executive Paul DePodesta asked Luhnow if the Astros would consider trading shortstop Jonathan Villar in a Daniel Murphy deal in December…the Marlins expressed interest in Jose Altuve, Matt Dominguez, and others in December.

Astros Extend Jose Altuve

Diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve already has “his face on the side of the stadium,” explains Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, and now has the contract to support his status as the team’s biggest attraction. Altuve agreed today to an extension that will guarantee him $12.5MM over the next four years and includes two club options for the 2018 and 2019 seasons ($6MM and $6.5MM, respectively). In addition to buying out Altuve’s remaining pre-arbitration season and all of his arbitration years, the Astros now control the 23-year-old Altuve for his first two free agent-eligible seasons.

Jose Altuve

Altuve, a client of Octagon since leaving the Boras Corporation in May, has held down the club's regular second base job since last year. Altuve emerged last year with a .290/.340/.399 line and 33 stolen bases over a full season of 630 plate appearances. He has failed to maintain quite that pace so far this season, however, as he currently sports a .280/.317/.354 line in 380 plate appearances. Altuve has swiped another 21 bags thus far in 2013, though, and advanced defensive metrics peg him as a stable, if unspectacular, presence at the keystone. 

The move to lock up Altuve represents the first significant long-term commitment since Houston handed the reigns to GM Jeff Luhnow, but is unlikely to be the last. The deal does not provide Altuve with any no-trade protection. While the Astros will only be bound to pay $12.5MM to Altuve over the next four seasons, the deal would be worth up to $25MM over its full six year term if the club exercises both options. Altuve was not set to reach arbitration eligibility until 2014 and will not be eligible for free agency until 2017, at which time the Astros will have to decide whether to exercise one or both of the options they hold.

As MLBTR's Tim Dierkes explained upon Altuve's change of agents, the then-hot-hitting Altuve could conceivably have been worth a five-year deal in the range of up to $30MM. Dierkes pointed to the relevant, if not precisely comparable, extensions given to Alcides Escobar (four years, $10.5MM) and Cameron Maybin (five years, $25MM). With Altuve cooling off at the plate considerably since that time, the parties seem to have followed the Escobar model in structuring this deal. Both the Altuve and Escobar extensions guaranteed four pre-free agent seasons in exchange for a pair of options. Altuve, like Escobar, is a light-hitting, speedy middle infielder whose value is heavily dependent upon getting on base. In that respect, Altuve’s lower walk rate and higher strikeout rate this year (as against 2012) are of some concern, especially since his ISO is also down.

While Altuve has yet to take the step forward that some expected after an All Star appearance last season, he nevertheless remains a valuable young commodity. Luhnow says that the team felt the time was right to “remov[e] some of the uncertainty for him and for us.” Certainly, by reaching agreement now, Houston was able to lock up Altuve at a lower price than he might have commanded earlier in the year (or, conceivably, could command down the line). And the limited guarantee holds down the deal's risk to an Astros organization that has been highly protective of its present and future payroll.

Brian McTaggart of MLB.com was the first to report that the parties had reached agreement. McTaggart also tweeted that the deal did not include a no-trade clause. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman provided the first detail on the length and value of the contract (on Twitter), with FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reporting the value of the option years (also via Twitter). 

Photo courtesy of Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images.



Rosenthal On Rizzo, Altuve, Mattingly

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo might make an intriguing free agent after the 2015 season, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal says in a recent video. Rizzo's friends tell Rosenthal that Rizzo is not afraid of leaving after 2015 if the team does not pay him well. The Nats exercised their 2014 option on Rizzo last month, and have another option for 2015. Earlier this week, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reported that the decision to exercise the 2014 option may have annoyed Rizzo, since the contract from which the option came was not especially lucrative. Under the 2014 option, Rizzo will be in the bottom third in GM pay, Kilgore noted. Here's more from Rosenthal.

  • Rosenthal notes that Jose Altuve's recent decision to leave Scott Boras for his old agency, Octagon, is not necessarily an indication that Altuve will sign long-term with the Astros. There are currently no extension talks between the two sides, Rosenthal reports.
  • If the Dodgers were to fire manager Don Mattingly, one problem would be that there are few obvious replacements, Rosenthal reports in another video. Neither Tony LaRussa nor Bobby Cox look like likely options, and members of Mattingly's staff like Davey Lopes, Trey Hillman and Tim Wallach aren't ideal. Still, Rosenthal says, the Dodgers will likely fire Mattingly anyway if the team doesn't improve, and the Dodgers have a rough schedule coming up.

Jose Altuve Rejoins Octagon; Leaves Boras

Jose Altuve's fling with the Boras Corporation has ended.  The Astros' second baseman recently left Boras and signed with Scott Pucino and Wil Polidor of Octagon, where he had been before, reported MLB.com's Brian McTaggart last night.  Though Altuve was with Boras for about a year, the switch went under the radar.

"It's not our business," commented Astros GM Jeff Luhnow regarding his players' choice of agency.  Asked last week about extending Altuve, Luhnow said, "We'll consider any opportunity to keep him here over the long haul."  Boras clients rarely sign team-friendly extensions early in their careers.  As far as I can tell, a Boras client has never signed a deal that bought out free agent years with less than two years of big league service, and the only such deal with a Boras client with less than three years was Carlos Gonzalez's precedent-setting contract in January 2011.  Bottom line: the switch back to Octagon increases the chances of the Astros getting a deal done, if they're so inclined.

Altuve, 23, is hitting .327/.361/.430 in 180 plate appearances this season and is bidding to represent the Astros at the All-Star game for the second consecutive year.  He'll have two years of Major League service time after the season.  Alcides Escobar (four years, $10.5MM) and Cameron Maybin (five years, $25MM) may provide a few imperfect points of reference, having signed as low-power players with two-plus years of service.  Altuve's resume should look better than those comps, given his strong batting averages and the potential pair of All-Star nods.  Perhaps he can get around $30MM on a five-year deal.  The Astros have some leverage, however, as home run and RBI power pays in arbitration, and that's not Altuve's game (though he could knock in 70 this year).  Plus, he won't be arbitration eligible until after the 2014 season and is under team control through 2017, so there's no reason for Luhnow to make a player-friendly offer.


Astros Open To Extension With Jose Altuve

The Astros have trimmed payroll to unheard of levels for today's game over the past year as they look to rebuild their franchise, but it appears that they're not afraid to spend if it meant keeping Jose Altuve around long-term. General manager Jeff Luhnow told Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle that the team "will consider any opportunity to keep [Altuve] here over the long haul" (Twitter links).

Altuve, 23, has established himself as an asset at second base over the past three seasons. Though he stands just 5'5" and weighs 175 pounds, he's an accomplished hitter. Altuve has a .294/.336/.397 batting line in 1,031 career plate appearances. In 2012, he swiped 33 bases and clubbed seven home runs. His defense graded out poorly according to UZR and The Fielding Bible in 2012, but it's been stellar in this season's small sample according to both metrics.

There's certainly no rush for the Astros, as Altuve still has less than two full years of service time and won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season. As it stands right now, the Astros control Altuve through the 2017 season, after which he will still be just 27 years old.

A look at MLBTR's Extension Tracker shows that Luhnow hasn't yet completed an extension since taking over as the team's general manager, but Altuve's agents at Octagon are no strangers to such deals. Octagon has negotiated high-profile multiyear contracts for Felix Hernandez, Miguel Montero, Ben Zobrist and Yovani Gallardo, to name a few.


Astros Notes: Luhnow, DeShields Jr., Altuve

Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow wrote the club's season ticket holders this afternoon to encourage them to stay on board as they look to build for future seasons.  Houston is dead last in the standings but Luhnow pointed to the club's commitment to building through the draft, international free agents, and the trade market as evidence of better things to come.  More on the Astros..

  • While the Astros weren't expecting to contend this year, new owner Jim Crane told the Associated Press that he wasn't expecting the team to be struggling this much.  "We made a lot of trades and once we made that decision — Jeff started moving some of the talent — we knew we might slide back a little bit, but we didn’t think it would be this bad," Crane said.
  • Prospect Delino DeShields Jr. is on a path to reach the majors in the near future, but Luhnow says that the club isn't yet concerned about what to do with him and All-Star Jose Altuve, writes Brian McTaggart of MLB.com.  "If we get to the point we have two guys up here and they're blocked, or one guy here and one guy [at Triple-A], maybe then you make an adjustment. That's how we're going to approach it," the GM explained.
  • The Astros' rebuilding project is a gift to the rest of the contending teams that are scheduled to face them in the coming weeks, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  Of the seven teams in the hunt for the Wild Card (including the division-leading Reds), five have games remaining against Houston.

NL Central Notes: Correia, Greinke, Hart, Ramirez

Here’s the latest out of the NL Central as we keep a close eye on the latest Zack Greinke rumors..

  • The Pirates have moved Kevin Correia to the bullpen to make room for Wandy Rodriguez in the rotation and Correia isn't thrilled about it, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  The Angels could be interested in acquiring the California native, who says that he hopes to get back to being a starter.
  • As it stands now, Greinke is scheduled to pitch against the Nationals on Sunday, but Nats skipper Davey Johnson doesn't expect to see the right-hander on the hill, writes Amanda Comak of the Washington Times.  "I'd be real surprised," Johnson said. "I know in the past if a ballclub's intent on making a move, you're not going to pitch him two days before the deadline."
  • Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com handicaps the most likely destinations for Greinke and the Rangers top the list with 9-5 odds.  The Red Sox are categorized as a longshot with 100-1 odds.
  • Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com (via Twitter) believes that someone will bite on the Pirates' Kevin Correia as he is owed just $1MM for the rest of the year.  The Bucs are reportedly sending signals that they could part with Correia after acquiring Wandy Rodriguez.
  • Teams have expressed interest in Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. However, the Brewers would be have to be overwhelmed to trade either player.
  • Brewers relievers Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Manny Parra and Kameron Loe had been drawing interest, but their value “tanked” following a poor showing in Philadelphia this week, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (on Twitter).
  • Astros GM Jeff Luhnow suggested to Rosenthal that absorbing salary can help Houston obtain better prospects in trades. “In this environment, you’re limited in how much money you can spend on the draft, how much you can spend internationally,” Luhnow said, referring to the rules regulating amateur spending in baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement.
  • Pitching prospect Shelby Miller is available in trade talks, yet the Cardinals don't appear anxious to make an impact deal, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports (on Twitter).

Zach Links contributed to this post.


Stark On Greinke, Headley, Indians, Wells

The market for Zack Greinke appears to consist of the Rangers, Angels, White Sox and Braves, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark reports. Rival teams say the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Dodgers aren’t involved on Greinke, and the Indians and Orioles have limited interest in pitchers headed for free agency, Stark writes. Here are more notes from Stark:

  • The Yankees are exploring their third base options with Alex Rodriguez out, Stark reports. Marco Scutaro could be an option for New York.
  • There’s an expectation that Chase Headley will be traded, but the Padres continue saying they’re happy to keep him, Stark writes.  One team says the Padres are looking for a Mat Latos-like return if they trade the third baseman.
  • The Phillies are looking for a proven, young setup reliever and a young outfielder or third baseman for Victorino, Stark reports. They’ve asked about relievers Brad Lincoln, Wade Davis and Logan Ondrusek in trade talks.
  • It’s already been a busy month for the Astros, but they’re still willing to consider trades for anyone but Jose Altuve.
  • The Indians and Cardinals have talked to the Rays about James Shields, Stark reports.
  • The Angels are telling teams they’d rather trade Vernon Wells than keep him when he returns from the disabled list. They’re looking for a trade partner and saying they don’t want to eat all of his salary, Stark reports. It’ll be challenging to find a taker for Wells’ salary; he earns $21MM per season through 2014.
  • The Indians aren’t likely to deal Chris Perez or Shin-Soo Choo, but they’ll listen on either player.

Rosenthal On Wright, Astros, Garza, Youkilis

Here's the latest Full Count video from Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com

  • Mets third baseman David Wright, a free agent after next season assuming his 2013 option is picked up, will likely seek an eight-year contract extension of $150MM, using the long-term deals of franchise players Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Kemp and Joey Votto as negotiating points.
  • With several hard-to-trade veterans on the roster in Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee and Brett Myers, the Astros might be well advised to trade second baseman Jose Altuve as a means to replenish their farm system. Houston has a well-regarded second base prospect in the minors in Jimmy Paredes, who was acquired in the deal that sent Lance Berkman to the Yankees.
  • Most teams expect the Cubs to trade Matt Garza, but the North Siders are also considering re-signing the right-hander to a long-term extension. If the Cubs opt to trade Garza, though, they should be able to draw interest from pitching-needy AL East teams, as well as the Tigers.
  • The Red Sox are motivated to trade Kevin Youkilis sooner than later, wanting to preclude a distraction and limit the positional shuffling of Adrian Gonzalez, but potential suitors want to see Youkilis remain healthy and productive before buying. The Dodgers are an obvious fit, while the Diamondbacks, who expressed interest last offseason, might not have the financial flexibility to take on the $12MM owed to Youk.