J.R. Murphy Rumors

AL East Notes: Murphy, Blue Jays, Price, Rays

Recently demoted Yankees catcher J.R. Murphy is garnering a lot of trade interest, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter). The 23-year-old Murphy batted .286/.308/.365 in 65 plate appearances for the Yanks this season and enjoyed a solid minor league season in 2013, hitting .269/.347/.426 between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wikes-Barre. However, the Yankees’ offseason signing of Brian McCann to a five-year deal makes it unlikely that he’ll have an everyday spot with the club in the long-term.

Here’s more from the AL East…

  • Though there’s been a great deal of focus on the the Blue Jays‘ search for pitching upgrades, GM Alex Anthopoulos tells Jeff Blair and Kevin Barker of 590 The Fan in Toronto that he has had active discussions to bring in an everyday infielder as well (via Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith). Anthopoulos spoke candidly about the fact that eliminating the current infield platoon would free up some bench flexibility. He added that carrying three catchers, as the club is currently doing, is far from an ideal scenario.
  • In his latest Fangraphs On FOX article, Dave Cameron examines the trade market for David Price and wonders if the Rays‘ ace might end up being traded twice in the next year. Cameron notes that a number of big-spending clubs aren’t ideal fits due to sharing a division with Tampa, a poor farm system or a poor rank within the standings. As such, he speculates that a lower budget team (listing the A’s as an example) could acquire Price to fuel their 2014 World Series chances, then look to flip him in the offseason to recoup some of the prospect value lost in acquiring Price and his likely $18-20MM salary in 2015.
  • ESPN’s Jim Bowden speculates on the five most likely teams to trade for Price, listing the Angels, Blue Jays, White Sox, Yankees and Braves. Bowden runs down trade scenarios for each team within his Insider-only piece. From my point of view, the Halos don’t have the prospects to land Price, while the White Sox are a long-shot because the required prospect package goes against GM Rick Hahn’s long-term plan for the team.
  • In attempting to paint an accurate picture of what next year’s Rays roster could look like, Cork Gaines of RaysIndex lists Price, Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Jeremy Hellickson as potential trade chips either at this summer’s deadline or in the offseason. Jennings will see his price tag go up in arbitration, Gaines explains, and the potential emergence of Kevin Kiermaier could make him expendable. Of course, that would likely only be the case were Kiermaier to prove himself over a larger sample than 74 big league PAs.

Quick Hits: Tigers, Nevin, Murphy, Polanco

The Tigers have a clear need for bullpen help but finding relief arms is easier said than done, MLive.com’s Chris Iott writes.  Iott’s reasons include the difficulty of making trades this early in the season, the scarcity of quality left-handers and the amount of competition that Detroit could have in signing free agent Joel Hanrahan.

A few more items from around baseball…

  • Phil Nevin, the Diamondbacks‘ Triple-A manager, would likely be the choice to replace Kirk Gibson in the Major League dugout if GM Kevin Towers decides a change is necessary, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports.  This is only Nevin’s first season in the Arizona organization, though he has ties to Towers from his playing days in San Diego (when Towers was the Padres’ GM).  Prior to joining the D’Backs, Nevin managed the Tigers’ Triple-A team from 2011-13 and their Double-A team in 2010.
  • John Ryan Murphy has drawn the attention of several opposing scouts and the young catcher could become a sought-after trade chip for the YankeesJohn Harper of the New York Daily News reports.  “Some team might see him as a guy who could start for them,’’ one scout told Harper. “He’s solid with the bat and behind the plate.’’
  • Delaying a prospect’s Super Two service clock “is not a driving factor” behind the Pirates‘ decision to call up a young star, GM Neal Huntington tells Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in regards to Gregory Polanco‘s continued presence at Triple-A.  Huntington said that Polanco is “continuing to refine some of the intricacies of his game” and didn’t give details for fear that opposing teams would use the info against the outfielder (an explanation that Biertempfel doesn’t buy).  Polanco currently has a 1.104 OPS in 100 PA at Triple-A this season and his bat would be a big addition to the offensively-challenged Bucs lineup.

AL East Links: Murphy, Romine, Rays, McGowan

MLBTR's Offseason In Review series continued earlier today with my look at the Orioles' winter moves, covering everything from the Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz signings to the lack of progress on extensions for Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters.  Here's some more from around the AL East…

  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters (including ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews) that he's "hearing from a lot of people about" catchers John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine.  The Yankees have been shopping their catching depth for weeks, and now that Francisco Cervelli has won the backup job, Murphy and Romine could be more expendable.  Cashman, however, doesn't feel pressure to move either players.  "They’re assets. We’re not in any position where we have to do anything, but if something made sense, we’d consider it. But right now, we’re happy with what we’ve got," Cashman said.
  • Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters (including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times) that he has informed Wilson Betemit and Jayson Nix that they won't be making Tampa's Opening Day roster, in order to give the two players extra time to find another Major League opportunity.  The two veterans signed minor league deals with the Rays earlier this winter and have the ability to opt out, though Betemit told Topkin that he would play for Tampa's Triple-A affiliate if he couldn't find a roster spot elsewhere (Topkin believes Nix feels the same way).
  • Mark Lowe is also open to returning to the Rays, the veteran right-hander tells Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.  Lowe's family lives in the Tampa area and he praised the Rays organization, saying that he would be willing to pitch at Triple-A unless, like Betemit and Nix, he finds a job with another team.  The Rays granted Lowe his release earlier today after he was also told he wouldn't make the 25-man roster.
  • The Blue Jays' decision to make Dustin McGowan their fifth starter raises concerns about whether McGowan is up to the task both performance-wise and health-wise, Sportsnet.ca's Shi Davidi writes.  Since McGowan made the rotation almost by default given how the Jays' other options struggled, Davidi wonders "if he and the Blue Jays are playing a game of Russian Roulette with his career" by returning McGowan to a starting role before he's even fully stretched out.  The injury-plagued McGowan missed three of the previous four seasons with shoulder and knee surgeries but pitched effectively over 25 2/3 innings out of the bullpen in 2013. 
  • Corey Brown didn't invoke the opt-out clause in his minor league contract with the Red Sox and will report to the club's Triple-A club, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports.

Yankees Monitoring Market For Infielders

The Yankees have questionable infield depth at best, with Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Eduardo Nunez all figuring to see significant playing time in 2014. As such, the team's scouts are placing a heavy emphasis on watching infielders when looking at other clubs in Spring Training, according to George A. King III of the New York Post. King writes that the Yankees could use their surplus of catching options to bolster the infield.

In addition to Brian McCann, who signed a five-year, $85MM contract with the Bombers this offseason, the Yankees have Francisco Cervelli (who is out of options), J.R. Murphy, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez on their 40-man roster. With the exception of Sanchez, each could be considered Major League ready. Cervelli, of course, has racked up 623 plate appearances with the Yanks over the past several seasons, while Romine had 168 big league PAs in 2013, and Murphy made his Major League debut as well.

It's natural to speculate on the possibility simply adding Stephen Drew, but as Newsday's David Lennon tweeted earlier today, the Yankees will only add to their infield if the addition doesn't come with significant financial impact. GM Brian Cashman told Lennon: "If we need to do improvements, it’s got to be cheap. We’ve spent our money."

Likewise, it's easy to speculate that the reportedly available Nick Franklin would fit with the Yankees, but Seattle likely feels they have their catcher of the future in 2012 No. 3 overall draft selection Mike Zunino. They're said to be interested in acquiring pitching in exchange for Franklin, should they end up dealing him.

King writes that the White Sox, Giants, Tigers, Astros and Twins all had scouts in attendance to watch Cervelli, Murphy and Sanchez in yesterday's exhibition game against Florida State. While that could just be routine and doesn't necessarily carry much weight, King does add that an industry source indicated that the White Sox are seeking catching upgrades. He also adds that the Yankees will monitor Rickie Weeks during Spring Training, who figures to be plenty available due to his $11MM salary and $11.5MM vesting option. It stands to reason that Milwaukee would need to eat a significant amount of salary in any deal to move Weeks, who batted just .209/.306/.357 last season.

New York Notes: Reynolds, Logan, Gardner, Mets

Earlier today the Mets introduced Curtis Granderson at a press conference. Here's the latest news out of the New York market with the Winter Meetings in full swing…

  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman spoke to several reporters today, including MLB.com's Bryan Hoch, and noted that he's been in contact with the agents for Mark Reynolds and Boone Logan (Twitter link).
  • Hoch also tweets that the Yanks are receiving many calls on Brett Gardner but aren't shopping him. Cashman said he didn't sign Jacoby Ellsbury to trade Gardner.
  • The Star-Ledger's Andy McCullough tweets that in addition to Gardner, the Yanks have received calls on Ivan Nova, Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy (Twitter link).
  • Cashman also said that Michael Pineda is healthy and will compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training (Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News tweeting).
  • Hoch adds that Cashman thinks it will be easier to sign a free agent pitcher than to work out a trade for rotation help.
  • Newsday's David Lennon reports that the Mets will meet with the representatives for Freddy Garcia, Cesar Izturis and Johan Santana today (Twitter link). The team sees a good fit with that group of veterans.
  • Granderson confirmed to reporters, including Newsday's Marc Carig, that the Mets were the lone team to offer four years (Twitter link).

Prospect Rumor Roundup: Trade Bait

The July trade deadline in Major League Baseball is less than two weeks away on the 31st. We don't exactly know who will be on the move, or how many trades will be completed, but we do know that a lot of minor league prospects will be changing uniforms within the next 13 days.

Below is a look at some of the prospects who could be on the move to new organizations looking to build for the future.

American League

Athletics: Oakland hasn't shied away from leaning on young players while in a playoff hunt and recent promotions for pitcher Sonny Gray and infielder/outfielder Grant Green could also serve a secondary purpose: showcasing. Gray, a right-handed hurler, was extremely successful in Triple-A and was lights-out during his one big league appearance before the All-Star break. He could develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter, or a high-leverage reliever. Green has played sparingly since his promotion but the former first round draft pick's versatility could be highly coveted.  

Indians: Cleveland has one of the top shortstop prospects in (untouchable) Francisco Lindor, which could make fellow infielder Dorssys Paulino expendable in the right deal. Just 18, his numbers don't look great but he's holding his own in Low-A ball at a young age and has shown signs of improvement in June and July.

Orioles: L.J.Hoes doesn't have a huge ceiling but the 23-year-old prospect can play all three outfield positions, as well as second and third base. Currently hitting .308/.405/.413 at Triple-A, he makes good contact and can run the bases well.

Rangers: It would probably take a very intriguing veteran player with more than one year of control but Texas' middle infield depth could allow the club to dangle shortstop Luis Sardinas on the trade market. The 20-year-old infielder is a slick defender with little-to-no power but the ability to hit for average and steal some bases.

Rays: Right-hander Alex Colome made three starts with Tampa Bay earlier this year and the organization's pitching depth could allow the right-hander to be offered in an attractive deal, but he's currently on the Triple-A disabled list with what has been called a "mild elbow strain." Second baseman Ryan Brett, 21, received a 50-game suspension last year, so that cloud is still hanging over his head, but the scrappy baseball player can really hit. He's currently batting .336/.392/.480 with 17 steals in 39High-A ball games.

Red Sox: Boston is in an enviable position with a fair amount of depth that can be used to help strengthen the big league product. The presence of top prospect Xander Bogaerts means that the club can comfortably move third base prospect Garin Cecchini or shortstop Deven Marrero, should the right deal come along, because Bogaerts could probably handle either position at the big league level. Cecchini swings a mean stick but he lacks the prototypical power that teams look for from the hot corner. Marrero's numbers have been respectable in 2013 but nothing to write home about. A team that really liked him in college, though, might be willing to bite. 

Tigers: The Tigers system is pretty thin, which could impact the organization's ability to make key moves via the trade market. Outfielder Danry Vasquez is highly projectable thanks to his frame and left-handed swing, both of which hint at future power. Just 19, he's aggressive but makes good contact given his limited experience.

Yankees: Catcher J.R. Murphy could be an attractive name on the trade market, if New York is willing to part with him knowing that Gary Sanchez is not that far behind. Murphy is an offensive-minded backstop who's improved his defensive game, especially with throwing out baserunners. 

National League

Braves: On the surface it seems like the Braves haven't really made the amateur draft a priority in recent years and that has hurt the organization's depth. The versatile Joey Terdoslavich's strong performance in Triple-A earned him a promotion to the big league level where he's possibly been showcased for a deal. The pop in his bat, along with his ability to switch hit and positional versatility could make him an intriguing trade target.

Cardinals: The Cardinals have some impressive middle infield depth and former first round draft pick Kolten Wong could become a casualty. The second baseman can hit, but converted third baseman Matt Carpenter has been nothing short of brilliant at the big league level. Any team that acquires Wong is getting a player who's very close to MLB ready.

Diamondbacks: If Arizona is looking to make a big splash at the trade deadline, the club has a lot of pitching depth to deal from, including (likely) untouchables Archie Bradley and Tyler Skaggs. It would take a special player coming over to Arizona to nab him, but lefty David Holmberg is an underrated talent that could help a lot of ball clubs. His ceiling is probably that of a No. 3 or 4 starter but he's been durable and isn't afraid to throw strikes.

Dodgers: Los Angeles is always rumored to have a lot of irons in the fire and the club is definitely looking to improve itself despite the massive payroll. Southpaw Onelki Garcia, signed out of Cuba in 2012, made just one appearances during the regular season last year. In 2013, he's been very good in Double-A thanks to his above-average fastball. He's mostly viewed as a future reliever but Garcia has made six starts. 

Pirates: To get value back, you often have to trade quality players. Pittsburgh has enjoyed breakouts over the past year in the form of infielder Alen Hanson, outfielder Gregory Polanco and pitcher Tyler Glasnow, among others, and that trio is probably safe at the trade deadline barring a blockbuster deal. However, pitcher Luis Heredia could perhaps be had at the right price. The right-hander is just 18 with three years of pro experience under his belt. He's a larger-framed pitcher and hasn't developed quite as hoped, suggesting a modest ceiling as a starter.  He's been passed on the depth chart by a number of guys like Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Glasnow.

Reds: Outfielder Jesse Winker doesn't wow with his tools but he gets the most out of his abilities and is one of the safer bets in Cincinnati's system to have a big league career. The 19-year-old prospect has modest power and doesn't steal bases so he's going to have to hit for average to provide value as a hitter — along with his willingness to take a free pass.

Rockies: Colorado doesn't have much in the way of tradable commodities, but the organization could cash in on the lack of catching depth around the game — much like the Yankees — with Tom Murphy. The second-year catcher, who's now 22 years old, has inexplicably been left in Low-A ball all year long despite overpowering the younger competition. He's by no means a finished product and has holes in his game but an OPS over 1.000 is going to attract some suitors.

Bowden’s Latest: Garza, Rox, Rios, Morneau, Perkins

The trade deadline is just two weeks away, and with the All-Star Game in the rear-view mirror, Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio writes that the market will pick up rapidly beginning Friday. Here are some highlights from the highly informative article penned by the former GM of the Reds, Expos and Nationals (ESPN Insider required and recommended)…

  • Bowden hears there's an 80 percent chance that Matt Garza will be traded before his next scheduled start (Monday or Tuesday of next week). The Rangers, Red Sox and Diamondbacks are still involved, He describes the D-backs as "dark horses," adding that their odds in the Garza sweepstakes would increase if they were willing to part with left-hander David Holmberg.
  • The Rockies could also be interested in Garza, but they're not clear-cut buyers right now, and the prospective cost is prohibitive to them. If they were to sell, Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle could be had. Michael Cuddyer could be moved, but only if Colorado is "blown away."
  • The White Sox have been "extremely disappointed" with offers for Alex Rios thus far. Bowden feels that offers will improve as the deadline draws closer.
  • The Justin Morneau era in Minnesota is coming to an end, and the Twins are prepared to trade the former MVP, according to Bowden. The Rays, Pirates and Yankees are said by Bowden to be possible destinations for Morneau.
  • The Cardinals, Reds, Dodgers and Braves have all inquired on Twins closer Glen Perkins and been turned away. Those four teams are all monitoring the health of Jesse Crain as well.
  • The Yankees are trying to use Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and catching prospect J.R. Murphy to acquire a bat but have had no luck thus far. None of those players figure to interest the Twins in regards to Morneau, Bowden adds, given the impending free agency of Hughes and Chamberlain and the presence of Joe Mauer behind the plate for the Twins.

Prospect Rumor Roundup: Catching Depth

Catching depth throughout baseball is thin. When I rolled out my Top 100 Prospects list at FanGraphs in March, I had only four catchers included in that ranking: Travis d'Arnaud of the Mets, Mike Zunino of the Mariners, Austin Hedges of the Padres, and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees. Baseball America's list featured the same four backstops. Baseball Prospectus also had that same quartet, followed by two more names in Jorge Alfaro of the Rangers and Christian Bethancourt of the Braves.

As witnessed by the lists, it's an accomplishment for any organization to have one good catching prospect in a minor league system, let alone two. The New York Yankees organization is enviable in that regard. Sanchez, 20, has been a mainstay on the top prospects lists since he signed out of Venezuela in 2009 as a 16-year-old amateur free agent. He showed up as high as 42nd overall on the three lists mentioned above, and no lower than 57th. The offensive-minded catcher has impressive offensive skills, including plus raw power. His ascent through the Yankees system can be best described as slow and steady.

Signed the same year as Sanchez, J.R. Murphy was selected out of the high school ranks in the second round of the amateur draft and he's just beginning to receive the attention he deserves. A front office contact who is familiar with the catching prospect told MLBTR that Murphy "was signed as a player [people] thought would hit and might be able to catch."

The 22-year-old prospect has flashed offensive potential in the past with good control of the strike zone, gap power and the ability to hit for a respectable average — but inconsistency has been his downfall at the plate. So far this year, the Florida native is hitting .308 with 12 extra base hits, as well as 16 walks and 17 strikeouts in 28 games.

During the early stages of his pro career, Murphy  struggled with receiving the ball and throwing out runners, while also dabbling with the idea of playing third base. He turned the corner in his development behind the plate in 2012 with his success rate at gunning down base runners jumping to more than 30 percent for the first time. So far in 2013, he's just shy of throwing out 50 percent of baserunners while playing at Double-A, one step ahead of his fellow catching prospect.

The talent evaluator who spoke with MLBTR said the Yankees organization thinks very highly of Murphy. "Due to his diligence, ability and the focused hard work of our coaches, he has become a defensive plus. He is on track to become a quality major league catcher," he said. "He receives the ball well and is an above-average thrower. He has the intelligence and game awareness to manage a game at the major league level."

Currently in his fifth pro season, Murphy will need to be added to the 40-man roster by the November deadline to be protected from the annual Rule 5 draft. If added, he'll be granted three option years that will allow him to be shuttled between the majors and the minors during that time frame.

Houston Astros

The 10th overall selection in the 2008 amateur draft, Jason Castro's career development has been slowed by trips to the disabled list. In fact, he lost the entire 2011 season to a serious knee injury. Perhaps hampered by the lost playing time, the Astros' starting catcher's offense has not developed as hoped. Still just 25, the Stanford alum has time to jump-start his bat, but Houston has accumulated some solid catching depth in the past year.

Acquired last year from Toronto in a 10-player deal that sent J.A. Happ and two other pitchers to Toronto, catching prospect Carlos Perez has enjoyed the change of scenery. After spending five years in Rookie ball and Low-A ball with the conservative Blue Jays player development program, the Astros loosened the reins on the young player and he responded favorably. In less than a year, the 22-year-old Venezuela native reached Triple-A and is hitting above .300 while playing steady defense. Houston will almost certainly want to protect him prior to this year's Rule 5 draft at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

Tyler Heineman flew under the radar a bit as an eighth round draft pick out of the University of California, Los Angeles in 2012. Since signing, though, he's done nothing but hit. The switch-hitter posted a .352 batting average with 26 walks and 12 strikeouts in 55 games during his short-season debut last year. Jumped all the way to High-A to open 2013, Heineman has hit .329 with just eight strikeouts in 23 games.

Not flashy and with below-average power, the catching prospect shares a similar profile to that of seven-year big leaguer Ryan Hanigan of the Reds. The big challenge for the backstop is to continue polishing his defensive skills to meet the high standards set at the big league level. Time is on Heineman's side as he doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2015 season, which would then buy him three option years.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays opened the 2012 season with the most impressive collection of catching depth in baseball with J.P. Arencibia at the major league level and a plethora of impressive prospects including d'Arnaud, Yan Gomes, Perez, A.J. Jimenez, and Santiago Nessy. Since midway through the 2012 season, Toronto has traded away d'Arnaud (Mets), Gomes (Indians) and Perez (Astros) in an effort to improve the pitching depth at the big league level.

The two remaining catchers have the talent to be considered among the club's Top 10 best prospects. Unfortunately, both have also been bitten by the injury bug. Jimenez blew out his elbow during the 2012 season and underwent Tommy John surgery. The club has been cautious with him in 2013 and he's already missed a little time after experiencing soreness in his surgically-repaired elbow. Nessy received his first full-season assignment in 2013 and was off to a respectable start before suffering a concussion while trying to breakup a double play at second base. He has plus raw power and has made huge strides on the defensive side of his game.

Prospect Tidbits: Seattle's Zunino was considered the cream-of-the-crop when it came to eligible catching prospects in the 2012 amateur draft. Fast forward to 2013 and the University of Florida alum has already reached Triple-A. Two other highly-drafted catchers from 2012 are making names for themselves with solid play so far this season.

Perhaps the hottest hitter in the South Atlantic League, the Mets' Kevin Plawecki (drafted 35th overall) is currently hitting .374 through 35 games in Low-A ball. He's also flashed power with 25 of his 49 hits going for extra bases. If he keeps up this pace, a promotion to High-A or Double-A should be in the cards. Rockies catching prospect Tom Murphy (third round) has appeared in only 24 games thanks to a brief visit to the disabled list, but he's hitting .357 with 17 of his 30 hits going for extra bases. Like Plawecki, Murphy is probably too advanced at the plate for Low-A ball.

Another 2012 draft pick, Josh Elander, attracted attention as a second- or third-round talent as a college catcher but questions surrounding his ability to stick behind the dish caused him to slide to the sixth round where he was nabbed by the Atlanta Braves. After catching briefly in 2012, the prospect was moved out from behind the plate and has played 31 games in left field in 2013. The move has certainly agreed with his offense, as he's hitting .314 with an above-average power output.