Justin Upton Rumors

Giants Casting Wide Net, Have Contacted Scherzer

After losing Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox, the Giants are casting a very wide net and have reached out to agent Scott Boras regarding top free Max Scherzer, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The Giants appear to be scouring the trade and free agent markets for upgrades, as Heyman reports that they’ve at least initiated talks with free agents Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, Chase Headley, Torii Hunter, Justin Masterson and of course Yasmany Tomas (their interest in Tomas has been well-documented). Beyond that, they’ve kicked the tires on Atlanta’s Justin Upton, and their interest in Jon Lester was reported yesterday as Sandoval looked to be on the verge of departure.

San Francisco’s interest in Scherzer isn’t terribly surprising. The team will bring back ace Madison Bumgarner and stable veteran Tim Hudson, but Matt Cain is returning from elbow surgery and Tim Lincecum‘s reliability has taken s nose-dive in recent years. Both Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy are free agents. Yusmeiro Petit was excellent in 2014 but totaled only 129 2/3 innings between the regular season and postseason. He’s certainly done enough to warrant a look in the rotation, but the lack of innings could be cause for concern.

In terms of their offensive targets, Heyman hears that the Giants are more likely to go with a cheaper option to replace Sandoval at third base, instead spending bigger on a replacement in left field for Mike Morse. He notes that they’ve taken a “close look” at Upton and have even reached out to former Giant Melky Cabrera, though one team source described Cabrera’s departure from the Giants as “awkward” to Heyman. (Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in 2012 to close out the season as the Giants pushed toward a World Series victory.)

Earlier today I looked at some post-Sandoval options for the Giants, listing several trade and free agent targets that the reigning World Series Champions could pursue.


Latest On Mariners’ Pursuit Of Righty Outfield Bat

2:57pm: Seattle is interested in Upton but intends to take a look at free agent Nelson Cruz first, according to a tweet from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

11:51am: The Mariners, as expected, are pursuing several trade possibilities in their efforts to find a right-handed-hitting corner outfield bat, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Seattle has long been expected to try to fill its outfield void with a righty power bat, and it appears that is where the team is focused.

Seattle’s front office has had talks on players such as Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, Yoenis Cespedes of the Red Sox, and Justin Upton of the Braves. Obviously, each of those options would represent a major addition of a premier source of pop, though their contractual situations are notably different. The latter two are playing out their final year of control at fairly reasonable prices, while Kemp is owed $21MM next year and another $86MM over the four seasons that follow.

The Mariners remain one of the more intriguing teams to watch on the trade market, both because of their aggressive stance and stockpile of interesting talent. Seattle has Brad Miller and Chris Taylor potentially available up the middle, though the team may be more inclined to hold if it does not have an attractive upgrade in mind. The club also possesses interesting, MLB-ready arms like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, each of whom would hold broad appeal.


Quick Hits: Upton, Montero, Rays, Hunter, Pirates

MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince names the ten players most likely to be traded this offseason and the Braves’ Justin Upton tops the list. Castrovince feels the Braves could obtain a similar, if not better, return than they received for Jason Heyward because Upton’s powerful bat has tremendous value.

Here are the latest notes from around baseball:

  • Miguel Montero placed tenth on Castrovince’s list and Buster Olney of ESPN.com (on Twitter) wonders if the hiring of Henry Blanco will create traction for the Cubs‘ interest in the Diamondbacks’ catcher, who was a Blanco pupil in 2014. The D’Backs have reportedly spoken with the Cubs, Dodgers, and White Sox about Montero.
  • With Jose Molina gone, the Rays are working to add a backup to Ryan Hanigan, either via trade or signing. They’d like a catcher with more experience than Curt Casali and, preferably, options, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
  • More from Topkin who reports, in addition to an expected trade of Matt Joyce and/or David DeJesus, the Rays may be looking to deal from depth in reserve infielders and relievers. He identifies Logan Forsythe and Sean Rodriguez as infield trade possibilities and Brandon Gomes as a bullpen arm who could be moved.
  • It may not be “sexy,” but the Red Sox‘s pursuit of Pablo Sandoval makes perfect sense, writes Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. The Red Sox appear to be one of the finalists for Sandoval, alongside the Padres and incumbent Giants.
  • Torii Hunter told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press he favors the Twins among the teams with which he is considering signing. “(Twins General Manager) Terry Ryan and I have talked several times, and there’s definitely a common interest there, for sure,” the veteran said. Ten teams reportedly have interest in Hunter.
  • The Pirates could re-allocate the resources set aside for Russell Martin to pursue rotation and bullpen help, a first baseman, and/or sign some of their young core to extensions, according to Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.


Rangers Notes: Upton, Andrus, Gallo, Alfaro

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has the latest on the Rangers (all Twitter links):

  • The Rangers have spoken to the Braves about Justin Upton, echoing a recent report by the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, but the current focus for Texas is pitching.
  • The Rangers are willing to deal any of their shortstops, but Elvis Andrus is the least likely to be moved because the team believes 2015 will be a big season for the 26-year-old.
  • The Rangers are open to trading their better prospects rather than spend big money on free agents. Rosenthal, however, notes Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro (the club’s top two prospects, per MLB.com) are considered untouchable.

 


Braves Shopping Justin Upton; Asking Price Higher Than Heyward

Following the trade of Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, there’s been plenty of speculation that the Braves could also consider dealing Justin Upton, with the Mariners being named as a potential fit. Joel Sherman of the New York Post now hears that the Braves are “very much shopping” Upton, but the asking price is said to be steeper than their price for Heyward, which was rather significant itself.

For Heyward, Atlanta received four years of right-hander Shelby Miller and a solid pitching prospect in Tyrell Jenkins. To be seeking more than that is ambitious, especially considering the fact that Heyward’s $8.3MM salary is markedly lower than Upton’s $14.5MM commitment. There’s also a widespread perception that Heyward, despite his inferior power numbers, is more valuable than Upton due to his elite defense in right field.

Of course, not all teams may see things that way. While WAR strongly favors Heyward, it’s certainly not unthinkable that a team would value Upton’s power more than Heyward’s glove, especially considering the scarcity of power in today’s game. As Sherman notes, Giancarlo Stanton is the only right-handed hitter in the NL who hit more homers than Upton’s 29 last season. Those 29 homers tied Upton for 12th in all of Major League Baseball. Overall, he batted .270/.342/.491 with the Braves in 2014.

Interest in Upton is said to be “significant” by those to whom Sherman spoke, as is the likelihood that Upton will be dealt. One executive from another club plainly told Sherman, “Justin Upton will be moved.” Sherman said the Mariners do indeed have interest, and they also have the type of pitching prospects that the Braves covet. (Last night, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien reported that Taijuan Walker doesn’t appear to be off limits, but the Mariners would likely want more than one year of Upton to part with him.) Upton also removed Seattle from his no-trade list this offseason.

If the Braves are to move Upton, their connection to Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas makes more sense. Dealing Upton for pitching prospects and replacing him with Tomas could afford the Braves comparable right-handed power that they will control for a much longer term. Tomas would, in theory, pair with Evan Gattis on the outfield corners to give the Braves a pair of powerful right-handed bats with which they could surround Freddie Freeman in the long term. As of this morning, Atlanta is said to be one of the front-runners for Tomas.


Trade Notes: Porcello, Ramirez, Upton, Kendrick, Padres

It’s already been a fairly active winter on the trade front, as we’ve seen the Brewers acquire Adam Lind, the D’Backs acquire Jeremy Hellickson, the Tigers acquire Anthony Gose and of course the Cardinals/Braves Jason Heyward blockbuster. All of this has come before the Winter Meetings, so action on the trade front only figures to increase over the next month. Here are some of the latest rumblings from around the league…

  • ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets that in addition to Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and the Reds’ quartet of starters that are rumored to be available (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon), Rick Porcello is believed to be attainable in trades. Rival evaluators feel that many players that are set to be free agents a year from now could be had for the right offer. The Tigers, of course, are aiming to contend in 2015, but Porcello is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $12.2MM in arbitration and could fetch a nice piece while freeing up some cash for GM Dave Dombrowski to address other areas of need.
  • Olney also hears (Twitter link) that the White Sox‘ asking price on Alexei Ramirez is “steep to the degree that you’d want to be buying in for two to three years.” Ramirez is guaranteed $10MM next season and has a $10MM club option for the 2016 season with a $1MM buyout.
  • The Mariners will surely make a run at either Justin Upton or Evan Gattis, if they haven’t already, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter links). O’Brien gets the sense that top prospect Taijuan Walker is not completely off the table in trade talks with Seattle, but it would probably take more than one year of Upton to acquire him.
  • Angels GM Jerry Dipoto tells Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times that he’s had trade discussions regarding Howie Kendrick, but he’s in no way eager to move his second baseman. The Halos entered the offseason thinking they might be able to move Kendrick for a controllable, young rotation option but somewhat surprisingly did so by acquiring Nick Tropeano in the Hank Conger trade. “The only way we would move him is if we become a better club,” Dipoto tells DiGiovanna. “And it would take a heck of a deal for us to feel like we’re a better club by moving Howie.”
  • Though much has been made of the possibility that the Padres could trade Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner to bolster the club’s offense, the team is now strongly considering hanging onto both pitchers, sources tell MLB.com’s Corey Brock. Interestingly, Brock’s report mentions reported trade interest in Ian Kennedy but does not state that the Friars are similarly likely to hold onto the 29-year-old. Kennedy will be a free agent next winter.

Rosenthal’s Latest: M’s, Hamels, Kennedy, Markakis, Norris

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has a new notes column posted looking at a number of situations around the league. Here are some quick highlights…

  • The Mariners are on the hunt for a right-handed bat, but they prefer Nelson Cruz to signing Hanley Ramirez or trading for Matt Kemp. Justin Upton is also somewhere on their wish list and is potentially available. Rosenthal writes that the Mariners “are going to do something” of significance to address that search.
  • The Phillies are doing background work on the makeup of Red Sox prospects Christian Vazquez, Mookie Betts and Matt Barnes, Rosenthal hears, fueling some speculation about a Cole Hamels trade. Rosenthal says the Sox are disinclined to move Vazquez or Blake Swihart, however, and previous reports have indicated that the team is loath to consider parting with Betts. As others have noted, Rosenthal feels that Hamels would likely require the Red Sox to exercise his 2019 option ($20MM) in advance, bringing the total he is owed to $110MM over the next five years.
  • The Padres are continuing to listen to offers for Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy, with Kennedy being the most likely of the three to go. Kennedy is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $10.3MM in 2015, and the Royals are interested in the right-hander. Rosenthal also speculatively lists the Rangers as a club to watch in the Kennedy market.
  • A reunion between Nick Markakis and the Orioles seemed like a foregone conclusion at one point, but the two sides still aren’t close to a deal and talks are said to be merely “inching along.” Rosenthal wonders what’s taking so long but does note that the O’s are considering Yasmany Tomas and still working with Cruz as well, so it seems fair to speculate that having three options in the corner outfield is slowing the Markakis progress. As Rosenthal notes, the longer the wait, the more likely it is that Markakis explores other options more seriously.
  • Since the publication of that column, Rosenthal has tweeted that the Orioles might be willing to move Bud Norris, who is projected by Swartz to earn $8.7MM in 2015. Norris is a free agent next season but pitched well in 2014, posting a 3.65 ERA with 7.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate in 165 1/3 innings. Rosenthal also hears that the O’s have gotten “moderate” interest in Ubaldo Jimenez, although with $38.75MM remaining on his contract, I’d imagine he could only be swapped for another bad contract.

Braves Notes: J. Upton, Gattis, Heyward

The Braves are “definitely not done” trading this offseason following yesterday’s trade of Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, reports MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (on Twitter). Both Justin Upton and Evan Gattis could still be on the move. Upton seems the more logical of the two, given that he’s under control for just one more season and could fetch further pieces to bolster the team’s long-term outlook. Gattis, however, figures to play in left field with Atlanta, where his value will be diminished from his negative defensive contributions, so it’s possible he could be moved even with four years of control remaining. Yesterday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today listed the Mariners as a “strong suitor” for the younger of the Upton brothers. Of course, the Braves figures to continue looking for ways to shed B.J. Upton‘s contract as well, but that will be far more difficult.

Here’s more out of Atlanta…

  • Heyward tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had hoped to be with the Braves for a long time. However, according to Heyward, the Braves only engaged him and his agent in contract talks for about 10 minutes back in 2012. Heyward notes that the two-year deal was suggested by his side to avoid the arbitration process this year, but he’d made it clear that he hoped to remain in Atlanta well beyond 2015. The two sides reportedly discussed (O’Brien reporting in October) an extension that fell well shy of Freddie Freeman‘s $135MM extension, and Heyward was believed to be looking for significantly more than the team had in mind.
  • ESPN’s Keith Law writes that he likes the Heyward/Shelby Miller trade for both sides (subscription required and recommended). Law feels that Heyward instantly makes St. Louis four to five wins better while Jordan Walden will give them 50 to 60 innings of quality late-inning relief in each of the next two years — both of which fit the Cards’ win-now mode. Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, meanwhile inherited little Major League pitching depth and an even thinner farm but improved both with this deal, Law opines. Miller, who Atlanta controls for four seasons, is a “mid-rotation starter at worst” with the upside to become a strong No. 2 arm thanks to his delivery and improved approach to attacking hitters. Tyrell Jenkins becomes Atlanta’s best pitching prospect and looked to be fully recovered from his shoulder troubles when Law saw him in the Arizona Fall League last month.

NL East Links: J. Upton, Marlins, Nats, Mets

To say it’s been an eventful few days in the NL East would be a colossal understatement, as the Marlins have reportedly finalized a record-setting 13-year deal with Giancarlo Stanton and the Braves have traded Jason Heyward to the Cardinals. While those transactions are rightfully dominating the headlines, here are a few more notes from around the division…

  • With Heyward now in St. Louis, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that a trade of Justin Upton can’t be ruled out. Nightengale lists the Mariners as a strong suitor for Upton, should the Braves decide to market him. Upton recently dropped the Mariners from his no-trade list.
  • Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria tells Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald that he plans to surround Stanton with an improved lineup and can afford to go out and add a bat to hit behind him this offseason.
  • The Nationals have hired veteran scout Terry Wetzel as a special assistant to GM Mike Rizzo, reports MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby. Wetzel has 32 years of experience, including 17 seasons with the Royals and the past 15 seasons with the Rockies. He was named scout of the year once within each of those organizations.
  • The Mets, to this point, have had very few inquiries on pitchers Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee, reports Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter link). All three are said to be potentially available this winter, and I’d imagine that interest will pick up to an extent, particularly at the Winter Meetings.

John Hart On The Heyward/Miller Trade

During a conference call with reporters, Braves president of baseball operations John Hart discussed several aspects of today’s blockbuster trade that saw Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to go to the Cardinals in exchange for right-handers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins.  It was “very difficult” for the Braves to trade a homegrown product like Heyward, Hart said, yet it was a move the team felt it had to make “to help not only in the short term but also in the long term.

With Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang in free agency and Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen both recovering from Tommy John surgery, Atlanta entered the offseason with a clear need for starting pitching.  There wasn’t much help coming from the farm, given how Hart described the Braves as “woefully thin [pitching-wise] in our minor league system.”  The St. Louis deal, therefore, checked a couple of boxes for the Braves as they were able to add a quality prospect in Jenkins and a young arm who’d experienced some Major League success in Miller.  The fact that Miller isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season made him especially attractive, Hart said.

Going into this winter we’d lost over 400 innings in our rotation and we didn’t have any players coming up in our system that were ready to provide those types of inningsWe really needed two starting pitchersAs we went through the meetings, we went out there with the idea of how do we acquire starters.  We sampled the waters, we talked to literally every club out there and weren’t looking for a one-year sort of fix.  Shelby Miller was one of the younger pitchers that we had identified as a guy who could step in and help us right now and that we would be able to control for a number of years.”

Miller’s status as a piece for both the present and future gives the Braves “the flexibility to go either way” in deciding if other offseason moves will be geared towards next season’s club or perhaps for a few years down the road.

We’ll take a good look at our competition in our division, take a good look at our club, take a look at what we can do in free agency to allow us to compete and examine other opportunities that might come our way.  I don’t think this trade sets us [in a direction] either way.  It provides us with the opportunity to look at everything independently….It certainly gives us some options for 2015 but there’s certainly a big picture in play.”

One of those big-picture questions involves Justin Upton, who (like Heyward) only has one year remaining on his contract before free agency.  There has been speculation that Atlanta could look to deal both of its corner outfielders this winter, and while Hart said “there is absolutely a legitimate chance” Upton is a Brave in 2015, he also said there hadn’t been any serious discussion of a contract extension.

There’s nothing definitive as we look to go forward, obviously.  We’re going to continue to explore a lot of avenues with what we do with the ballclub.  As we sit here today, there’s certainly a good chance Justin is back with us next year….I’ve had conversations [about an extension] but they have not been anything in depth so it would be unfair for me to comment much on Justin in that regard.  We’ll certainly continue to talk with his agent but I don’t really have a definitive answer as of yet.”

Heyward was guaranteed $8.3MM in 2015, so the trade also frees up some salary space.  This doesn’t mean the Braves will be in the running for the likes of Max Scherzer or James Shields (“We’re not looking to give up draft picks or financially handcuff this club,” Hart said), yet the extra payroll allows the club to explore both the free agent market and the trade market for further upgrades.

Despite Heyward’s pending free agent status after the 2015 season, the Braves “didn’t go out with the idea that Jason was going to be the guy that we used to get our starting pitching,” and that the club “sorted through a lot of different options before” deciding on this deal.  Last winter, Heyward signed a two-year extension that covered his two remaining arbitration-eligible seasons, and this modest contract stood out amidst much longer-term extensions given to Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Andrelton Simmons and Craig Kimbrel.

When I asked Hart if there had been any recent negotiations with Heyward about an extension, Hart gave the impression that there hadn’t been any further talks since last offseason.

He wanted a two-year deal and wasn’t interested in a long-term extension unless the dollars were maybe beyond where the club certainly wanted to goWe had a strong feeling he was going to go on the market.  That’s what he wanted to do.  We wanted to protect ourselves and position ourselves better.  If we elect, next year, to be one of 30 [teams] that compete for Jason on the market then that’s what we’ll do.”