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The results of today’s Giants-Reds and Dodgers-Cardinals games look like the crest of a sea change that has reshaped the NL playoff race. Homer Bailey took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning against the Giants, and the Reds emerged with a 4-0 win. Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw struck out 13 Cardinals in seven innings as the Dodgers cruised to a 6-0 victory. The Dodgers, 9 1/2 games out of first in the NL West three weeks ago, are now even with the Giants, and the Reds are now tied with St. Louis for second place in the Central. With two teams near the top in the NL East as well, and a wide-open Wild Card picture, there could be plenty of competition for veteran talent at the trade deadline. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Third baseman Chase Headley says he doesn’t feel the Padres are the reason he’s inconsistent, and doesn’t think a change of scenery will help him, Chris Jenkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. “Even when things are going full-on crappy, like now, I’m confident that sometime in the near future, I’m going to get healthy, stay healthy and start playing the way I know I’m capable of,” says Headley. “I don’t look at it like, ‘Man, I gotta get out of here to be me again.’ I’m going to be me again, whether it’s here or somewhere else.” Headley is currently hitting .207/.294/.332 while dealing with a herniated disk in his back, but his banner 2012 season likely ensures there will be plenty of interest in him, both at the trade deadline and when he becomes a free agent this offseason.
- The Braves‘ constant stream of young talent helps keep them consistently competitive and prevents them from having to rebuild, Marc Narducci of Philly.com writes. “What they have done in our organization is pretty special,” says Freddie Freeman. “They have great development people and it seems like when a guy is ready, they don’t let him sit there and they give him at-bats – and that is what they did with me.” Narducci contrasts the Braves’ approach with that of the Phillies, who seem to keep older players longer and often lack interesting young players to plug into their lineup when playing time finally becomes available.
- The Red Sox should consider trading Koji Uehara, John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes. Tomase points to the Rangers’ 2003 trade of Ugueth Urbina to the Marlins for Adrian Gonzalez and two other players as evidence of the good things that can happen when a team deals an experienced closer. As Tomase himself notes, of course, it’s very rare to receive a player of Gonzalez’s caliber in return for a reliever. And of course, first the Red Sox need to figure out if they’re buyers or sellers. “Here’s how I view it from the outside. The first thing you have to do is cross that bridge and say, ‘Is it even worth it for us to go out and try to fill two or three holes?‘” says John Hart, the former Rangers GM who pulled off the Gonzalez deal.
- Sox starter Jake Peavy will be a free agent this winter, and the emergence of Rubby De La Rosa has led to speculation about the possibility Peavy could be traded. But Peavy says he’s not concerned about trade rumors, WEEI.com’s Alex Speier writes. “I have a great relationship with my pitching coach (Juan Nieves), my manager (John Farrell) and my general manager (Ben Cherington). We’re all very open with each other. I don’t need any clarity on any situation involving anything,” says Peavy. “If you start worrying about stuff like that, your focus is off where it needs to be and it’s going to affect things.”
Orioles righty Kevin Gausman has made a strong showing in his most recent MLB stint, and that could set him up for a more permanent big league assignment, reports Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun. The 23-year-old came into the year rated as the 20th prospect in the game by Baseball America. Having entered the season with 71 days of service to his credit, Gausman would line himself up for potential Super Two status down the line if he can stay up for most or all of the rest of the season.
- The latest injury news out of the Yankees‘ rotation is not promising, reports Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger. Manager Joe Girardi said today that C.C. Sabathia is not expected to return until after the All-Star break, while Michael Pineda will probably be out until August at the earliest. Those updates certainly seem to increase the already-strong odds that New York will be in the market for starting pitching help at the trade deadline.
- Red Sox closer Koji Uehara addressed his future recently, as Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports. He said that his approaching free agency has not changed anything about how he goes to work, and indicated that he is taking things year to year at this point. “If I could change how I perform based on my free agent year, I would,” said Uehara. “But I can’t, so I’m just going to pitch how I can pitch. It doesn’t really affect me because I’m an older player. Every year I consider my last year.” As Bradford notes, it is reasonable to wonder whether Boston will consider making Uehara a qualifying offer after the season. As with last season, there are several high-performing late-inning relievers set to hit the open market, including Uehara, the Yankees’ David Robertson, Sergio Romo of the Giants, and the Jays’ Casey Janssen. Though he is throwing in his age-39 season, the righty has been nothing short of outstanding since coming to Boston on a one-year, $4.25MM deal that included an option that vested for 2014.
- Boston CEO Larry Lucchino addressed several topics in an interview with WEEI.com’s Dennis & Callahan (story via WEEI.com’s Nick Canelas). Signing Stephen Drew made sense in part based on “the idea of paying money rather than paying prospects,” he said. While Drew is off to a rough start and is currently sidelined with an oblique injury, Lucchino says that the evaluation of the deal will still depend on how the rest of the year plays out.
- Lucchino also touched on the situation of starter John Lackey. The club owns a league-minimum option over the starter for 2015 by operation of a vesting clause in his free agent contract. The Boston CEO said that the expectation is that Lackey will be back next year, but that it may not be at the relatively meager sum of $500K. “It depends on the circumstances,” he said. “John Lackey has been a tremendous contributor to this team this year and last. And we love having him here, and we’d like to have him here for a longer period of time. We’ll see when the time comes to negotiate whether there should be a playing out of the contract, whether there should be renegotiation with an extension. We’re open to a variety of possibilities.”
The Reds‘ quiet offseason included few depth signings, and now that lack of roster depth is being tested given the number of key players currently on the team’s disabled list. Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty tells Fangraphs’ David Laurila that “there weren’t a lot of moves to make” and warned against too much roster turnover, though finances also played a part in the Reds’ uneventful winter. “It wasn’t just [will we have money later], it was also ‘Do we have enough money now?,’ Jockett said. “We’d have loved to have [Shin-Soo] Choo back, but we couldn’t afford him. And there really wasn’t anything else we felt we could do — that we felt we could financially do. Once your club is set, it’s pretty hard to make changes.”
Here are some more items from around baseball…
- Also from Laurila’s piece, Red Sox closer Koji Uehara wasn’t sure he was ready to pitch in North America when he was first eligible at age 24, though he would’ve liked to have arrived sooner than his age-34 season. The issue for Uehara was that his Japanese club, the Yomiuri Giants, didn’t post their players and instead required them to fulfill the entirety of their contacts.
- Right-hander Tyler Kolek regularly hits the 100-mph plateau and “is the hardest-throwing high schooler of the draft era,” scouts tells Baseball America’s John Manuel. Kolek has been widely predicted to be at least a top-three selection in this year’s amateur draft.
- As pitchers like Kolek are throwing faster and harder at increasingly young ages, evaluating these young arms has become “a convergence of fascination and fear,” for scouts, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince writes. Teams are as interested in ever with hard-throwers, yet are also concerned with the injury risk attached with regularly throwing at such high velocities.
- Mets fans are losing patience with the team’s rebuilding plan and Sandy Alderson’s front office has seemed either unwilling or unable to spend to make the Amazins more competitive, ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin opines. Even the low-cost moves that were supposed to be Alderson’s forte have backfired, Rubin notes in regards to the club’s struggling bullpen.
- Baseball America’s Ben Badler (BA subscription required) profiles five international prospects who have drawn the attention of the Yankees and Astros in the lead-up to the July 2 deadline. New York has been linked to catcher Miguel Flames, shortstop Diego Castillo and outfielder Jonathan Amundaray, while Houston is interested in outfielder Ronny Rafael and shortstop Miguel Angel Sierra.
- Should the Tigers use Robbie Ray as a much-needed southpaw reliever or send him back to the minors to get regular work as a starter? Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press argues the former point while MLive.com’s Chris Iott argues the latter.
- The revamped draft and free agent rules haven’t helped parity or benefited smaller-market teams, Peter Gammons writes for GammonsDaily.com. Tying the draft directly to the free agent compensation system (in regards to qualifying offers) has created flaws in both areas, Gammons argues, and the real purpose of the new rules was “to lessen the power of agents and limit the money paid to amateur prospects.”
Koji Uehara's run of 37 straight batters retired came to an end last night, falling eight men shy of Mark Buehrle's absurd Major League record of 45 consecutive batters retired. Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus breaks down Uehara's streak (with some help from Dan Brooks of Brooksbaseball.net), looking at several at-bats along the way and calculating that, based on the projected rest-of-season OBPs of the hitters that Uehara faced, the average pitcher has a 0.000056 percent chance of retiring those 37 batters consecutively. Here's more on the Red Sox…
- General manager Ben Cherington may have gone 6-for-7 in terms of free agent signings this offseason, writes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Heyman lists Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, David Ross, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew as wins, and that's not including the cheap pick-up of Mike Carp. Other teams are taking note of the blueprint, with one Mets official telling Heyman there's "a lot of merit" to Cherington's approach. Heyman points out that even with the $8MM worth of incentives to Napoli, the total free agent commitment of $108.2MM is about $17MM less than Josh Hamilton's contract on its own.
- Ian Browne of MLB.com believes the Red Sox are probably more comfortable trying to retain Jarrod Saltalamacchia than trying to bring in a free agent or trade target to rebuild the excellent rapport that Saltalamacchia has established with the team's pitching staff.
- Within that same Inbox piece, Browne speculates that the team likely isn't comfortable going to six or seven years for Jacoby Ellsbury as a free agent, having learned the hard way from the Carl Crawford contract.
- Browne also writes that it's all but certain that the Red Sox will non-tender Andrew Bailey this offseason. Bailey earned $4.1MM this season and would've been in line for a slight raise via arbitration because he pitched well prior to being lost for the season due to injury once again. The team could still look to bring Bailey back at a reduced rate, but Uehara will be Boston's closer in 2014, Browne writes definitively.
On this day in 2007, Terry Ryan announced that he would step aside from his post as the Twins general manager at the end of the season. As MLBTR's Tim Dierkes noted, Ryan's history was checkered at best at the time. Of course, as a read through this site's most recent post would indicate, Ryan is now back at the helm. Though the team has yet to post more than seventy wins in a season since Ryan returned in November of 2011, Minnesota stands at 15th in ESPN's latest future power rankings on the strength of its minor league system. While Ryan has long been said to have his job as long as he wants to keep it, some other GMs may not be so lucky …
- There are four general managers around the league who could soon be replaced, writes Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com. According to Gammons, two of those — Jerry Dipoto of the Angels and Larry Beinfest of the Marlins – have arguably been undone by meddling owners. (Gammons cites Arte Moreno's $365MM investment in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and Jeffrey Loria's propensity for "whimsically run[ning] everything.") Meanwhile, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik may not survive to see whether the team's top young pitching talent can drive a winner. And Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd — the game's fourth-longest tenured GM — has yet to figure out how to craft a squad that can win away from Coors field. (For what it's worth, O'Dowd was in charge for the franchise's lone season with a winning road record, when it posted a 41-40 mark in 2009.)
- It would be ridiculous to consider Rangers GM Jon Daniels among those at risk, writes Baseball Nation's Grant Brisbee. While he surely could have sacrificed future value to win at all costs this season, says Brisbee, Daniels was prudent not to and still delivered a team that should qualify for the post-season.
- Teams must determine whether to make outgoing free agents a qualifying offer just five days after the conclusion of this year's World Series, and those decisions will play a major role in setting the stage for the 2014 free agent market. For non-obvious candidates, writes Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, an important part of the equation lies in valuing the compensation pick that the team would receive if the player declines the offer and then signs with another club. Working off of a rough valuation of international signing slot dollars, Cameron opines that teams could value the dollars spent on a comp pick as much as three-to-four times higher than money the team could spend outside the draft. As he explains, this would imply that there is substantial excess value in obtaining non-marketable draft picks, which could move the needle in favor of making qualifying offers in marginal situations.
- As we prepare to weigh a new class of free agents, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman ranks the best signings of 2013. His top three are a collection of veterans whose contributions have vastly outweighed the relatively meager financial commitments that they received: Pirates starter Francisco Liriano, Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara, and Athletics starter Bartolo Colon. Next on his list is Boston's David Ortiz, who as Heyman notes was the only player to accept a qualifying offer in the first year of the system.
As he moves from Baseball America to MLB.com, Jim Callis spoke with WEEI.com's Alex Speier about his two decades covering the Red Sox farm system. Anyone interested in the Sox system or prospect rankings more generally should listen in as Callis effectively passes the baton to Speier. Here's some more Red Sox chatter …
- When Boston acquired John McDonald just before the August 31st post-season roster deadline, it became the infielder's eighth major league team in his career and his fourth club this season, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com notes. “I’ve been getting closer to home, going from Arizona, to Pittsburgh, to Cleveland to Philly to Boston,” said the 38-year-old, who was drafted out of Rhode Island's Providence College in 1996. "It might be baseball's way of telling me something. But I’m not ready to listen."
- The implosion of Daniel Bard — designated for assignment yesterday by the Sox — resulted from the "worst misstep" of GM Ben Cherington's early tenure at the helm, writes the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber. Switching Bard to the rotation, rather than making him the team's closer, not only aligned with the onset of Bard's various issues but triggered a series of ill-fated trades involving late-inning relievers.
- While the team had hoped that new manager John Farrell would help turn Bard around, he does not sound sanguine about that possibility at this point, and leaves the impression that the team is moving on. While a change of scenery "can help," said Farrell, "to say that that’s the sole reason, that would be wishful thinking.” So what went wrong? “It was a combination of delivery issues that were being ironed out and certainly confidence issues,” Farrell said. “That’s where the question was, which comes first. We felt like performance was going to lead to confidence. It looked like he was on his way, and unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”
- For another look at Bard's downfall, the Providence Journal's Tim Britton provides an interesting timeline of quotes from Bard and others.
- In spite of the rocky history of the Red Sox closers of late, Koji Uehara has brought clarity to the situation. WEEI.com's Rob Bradford argues that he could be the most important player in the entire American League because of the way he settled down a potentially disastrous situation. Even as Uehara creeps closer to guaranteeing himself a $5MM payday next year through his contract's vesting option – he is just five games finished away – Boston will surely be glad to pay up.
- Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has done everything he could to set himself up for a big contract when he reaches free agency this off-season as a 28-year-old, writes Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. As the Sox decide whether and how much to bid on Salty, one important and hard-to-quantify question is the extent to which the team values his handling of the team's pitching staff. MacPherson suggests that his rapport with the club's arms could make him more valuable to Boston than other organizations. Of course, this is an area where the Sox have an information advantage on the rest of the market.
Koji Uehara pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings last night and earned his third win of the season, but the appearance carried far more significance, as it triggered his vesting option for the 2014 season.
Uehara's contract was originally reported to be a one-year deal worth $4.25MM, but over the weekend, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported that Uehara has a vesting option, and on Monday, Alex Speier of WEEI.com reported that it is valued at $4.25MM.
Uehara finished his 24th game of the season last night, bringing him within 11 games finished of a clause in his contract that boosts his 2014 salary to $5MM. The 38-year-old right-hander has a very good chance to finish 35 games for the Red Sox this season and make that happen, and the Red Sox will have no problem spending a little extra to keep Uehara around.
In 54 2/3 innings this season, the Osaka native has a 1.32 ERA with 12.3 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9. Uehara's 2.1 wins above replacement (per Fangraphs) are second among relief pitchers, and he leads the Majors in WHIP (0.68) and swinging-strike rate (16.9 percent).
When Koji Uehara signed with the Red Sox this offseason, the contract was reported as a one-year, $4.25MM contract. However, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently reported that Uehara has an option that will vest after his next appearance (Twitter link). Alex Speier of WEEI.com spoke with an industry source that pegged the value of the vesting option at $4.25MM.
Uehara, 38, is in the midst of another excellent season, having pitched to a 1.35 ERA with 12.5 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 in 53 1/3 innings this season. He's stepped up as the team's closer following injuries to both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, recording 12 saves thus far. Speier adds that if Uehara finishes 12 more games (giving him 35 total), the value of his option will increase to $5MM.
That Uehara has finished 23 games for the Red Sox this season isn't insignificant in regards to his 2013 salary either; Uehara's contract contains incentives that call for him to earn an extra $125K for reaching 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 games finished (as noted at Cot's Contracts). In other words, he's already boosted his salary to $4.5MM and should see that figure rise noticeably in the season's final weeks.
In a piece for CBSSports.com, Danny Knobler notes that the Yankees are pinning their playoff hopes on strong returns from aging stars like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Knobler opines that a recent comment from GM Brian Cashman ("These guys are trying, but…") is an admission that the current Yankees' lineup may not be good enough to carry the team to the playoffs. Cashman also commented on A-Rod's eventual return, saying his production at third base should be "better than [what] we've gotten from third base, with all due respect." However, in a recent tweet, ESPN's Buster Olney suggests that Rodriguez is likely to spend more time at DH than at third when he rejoins the Yankees. On to tonight's AL East links…
- Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News says Cashman needs to acquire a bat to bolster the team's fizzling attack, but Cashman reports that it's tough to find offense in this year's trade market. "The phone calls are taking place, but nothing to show for it,” Cashman said. “I think if you’re looking for offense, Exhibit A is, name me the bat that’s moved already? It hasn’t. Exhibit B is, look at all the big rumors out there – they’re involving pitchers … It’s just an offensive offense market." McCarron suggests that the addition of the second wild card slot may be causing more teams to consider themselves contenders later into the season.
- Sources in the Red Sox organization tell Knobler that the team's top priority is relief pitching despite continuing uncertainty about starter Clay Buchholz, who hasn't pitched since June 8 and has no target return date. The Sox began the season with a strong bullpen, but injuries to Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Miller have thinned out the team's relief corps, leading GM Ben Cherington to acquire lefty Matt Thornton from the White Sox last week. The Sox appear to be content with Koji Uehara as their closer, Knobler observes.
- The Red Sox also continue to monitor the trade market for third basemen, and it's believed they have significant interest in the Phillies' Michael Young, according to Knobler. However, Philadelphia's recent run of success means they don't appear to be in sell mode. The Brewers' Aramis Ramirez is a potential fit, but he's currently on the disabled list with a knee issue and may not return until right at the deadline, Knobler writes. Meanwhile, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who manned the hot corner for much of 2012 for the Sox, continues to post mediocre numbers at Triple-A Pawtucket. However, Knobler says some in the Boston organization continue to hope he'll put things together.
- The Orioles are "tapped out" financially in terms of adding another player via trade, a team-connected source tells Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. GM Dan Duquette added righty Scott Feldman in a trade with the Cubs earlier this month. The O's aren't in the market for an ace pitcher, and any deal for a DH or outfielder would have to fit the team's limited budget. The Twins' Justin Morneau, who's owed $6MM for the remainder of the year, would be "too expensive," an Orioles source tells Heyman. Instead, O's fans should look for any help to come from within, Heyman says, citing the recently promoted outfield prospect Henry Urrutia and pitcher Kevin Gausman.
A few notes on the Orioles..
- The Orioles considered trading pitching for a hitter last offseason, but decided not to deal their young hurlers, Jayson Stark of ESPN reports. Stark says the Orioles would not include Dylan Bundy in a deal with the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton, and also ultimately passed on Jason Kubel. “Some of the bats that we could get would have improved our team,” says executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. “But it wasn't a huge improvement. And we wanted to hold onto the pitching depth and see if we could utilize the pitching depth to have a competitive team. And we could always take a look at that [later].”
- Koji Uehara thought he might return to Baltimore this offseason, Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun reports. "I thought that there would be a possibility [of playing in Baltimore], but I didn't especially put a lot of weight on each team or one particular team," says Uehara. "I thought that every team had a chance." The Red Sox signed Uehara to a one-year, $4.25MM deal in December.
- Outfielder Henry Urrutia has finally arrived in the United States, Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports writes. The 26-year-old Cuban defector received a $779K bonus from the Orioles in 2012, but had been in Haiti and has only now received a work visa. He will take a physical, then head to Orioles minor-league camp in Sarasota. The O's had intended to send Urrutia to Double-A Bowie last year, Kubatko notes.