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Miami Marlins Rumors
Over at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan takes a look at the cause of Stephen Strasburg‘s uncharacteristically slow start for the Nationals. As he explains, batters have teed off on Strasburg when he is working out of the stretch. It is impossible to pin down the exact issues, of course, but Sullivan explains that — as pitching coach Steve McCatty believes — lingering side-effects of an offseason ankle injury may still be impacting Strasburg’s mechanics. Obviously, Strasburg is in no danger or need of being replaced in D.C., and he remains an over-scrutinized pitcher. But both player and club obviously have some work to do to get him back on track.
Here’s more from the NL East:
- The Marlins pulled out of their pursuit of free agent reliever Rafael Soriano because of their assessment of his likely impact more than the money involved, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports (Twitter link). Of course, it is nearly impossible to separate talent assessment and cost entirely. After all, Miami presumably wouldn’t hesitate to add Soriano on a league-minimum contract. But the Marlins could well have determined, whether based on scouting him last year or learning more about his current status, that Soriano did not warrant any kind of significant outlay.
- Phillies ace Cole Hamels has turned things around after a slow start, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. The southpaw has allowed just 2.72 earned runs per nine over his last five starts, Zolecki notes, and turned in a nice, nine-strikeout outing last night. All said, Hamels’ trade value remains as robust as ever as the summer draws near.
- After failing to stick as a big league reliever, Phillies righty Phillippe Aumont is impressing as a starter at Triple-A, Zolecki reports. The only remaining piece of the Cliff Lee trade, the 26-year-old had seemed destined to be a disappointment but is showing some life in the upper minors with a 1.36 ERA over 33 innings (7.6 K/9 vs. 3.5 BB/9). “Phillippe told me he’s extremely happy to be back in the rotation,” Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan tells Zolecki. “He looks like it. There’s a tempo to what he’s doing. He used to take forever between pitches. He’s crisp. He has some big misses, but he gets right back in the zone. Seven strong innings today, really. He had an above-average, maybe well above-average fastball. Above-average breaking ball. Two Major League pitches.”
Steve Cishek‘s struggles this season have not only cost him the ninth inning, they’ve caused the Marlins to recently explore the idea of signing veteran stopper Rafael Soriano, who did not sign as a free agent this offseason. The Marlins’ interest in the Scott Boras client appears to have been fleeting, as no sooner than a day after they were rumored to be “very much engaged” in talks with Boras, the team is now said to be out of the Soriano market.
Their interest in Soriano, however, underscores the fact that the Marlins may not be content to utilize in-house options in the ninth-inning. A.J. Ramos figures to see the bulk of the closing opportunities for now, with Mike Dunn and perhaps Bryan Morris getting occasional looks as well. However, none of the three comes with significant closing experience in the Majors — Ramos does have 83 minor league saves — and the Marlins entered 2015 gunning for a postseason berth after spending big to extend Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich in addition to bringing in Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Michael Morse and Ichiro Suzuki this offseason.
With that in mind, it’s worth speculating on a few potential external options that could help Miami patch what could be a ninth-inning hole moving forward. Because speculating on available relievers/relief prospects could be an endless endeavor, I’ll limit the possibilities in this post to those with previous closing experience, though it certainly can’t be ruled out that the Marlins would use Ramos going forward and instead fortify the bridge to the ninth inning with a newly acquired power arm. All that said, a few speculative options…
Francisco Rodriguez/Jonathan Broxton, Brewers: Prior to K-Rod’s two-year deal with the Brewers, the Marlins were the last reported team in the mix for K-Rod, offering him as much as $10MM over a two-year term. Rodriguez landed $13MM to return to a familiar setting in Milwaukee, but things have soured at an unbelievably quick rate at Miller Park. The Brewers have baseball’s second-worst winning percentage, they’ve already dismissed manager Ron Roenicke, and the expectation seems to be that they’ll eventually sell off veteran pieces in an attempt to restock the team with young talent. K-Rod could certainly help them achieve that goal, and we know that the Marlins were interested in him on a two-year deal as recently as three months ago. As for Broxton, he’s earning $9MM and has struggled this season, but he’s notched an elite K/BB ratio and struggled primarily with homers. His 23.1 percent homer-to-flyball ratio figures to regress anyhow, but a move to Marlins Park could accelerate that process.
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies: Papelbon’s abrasive personality, diminished velocity and fairly significant contract are no secret. However, none of those three seemingly negative factors have stopped the right-hander from delivering some of the best results of any closer over the past two seasons. Papelbon is owed $13MM in 2015 (of which about $10.3MM remains), and he has a vesting option at the same rate for the 2016 season that would almost certainly kick in if the Marlins installed him in the ninth inning. As such, the Phillies would likely need to eat some of the money owed to Papelbon, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recently expressed a willingness to do so in order to move Cole Hamels, so one would think that the same holds true of Papelbon.
Aroldis Chapman, Reds: The Reds are hanging around in the NL Central for the time being, but they’re without Homer Bailey for the entire season and may soon lose Devin Mesoraco for the majority of 2015 as well. That will make it tough for Cincinnati to remain in the thick of things in what should be a highly competitive NL Central that features three clubs with winning records as it is (the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs). Chapman would be a difficult piece to pry from GM Walt Jocketty and his staff, but he’s earning $8.05MM this season and may see that price soar beyond the $11MM mark in his final trip through arbitration this winter. If the Reds end up rebuilding, Chapman’s electric arm does little good on a rebuilding club.
Joaquin Benoit, Padres: It’d be a bit unconventional for the Padres to trade a dominant setup man while the team is striving for an NL West division title or, at the very least, a Wild Card berth. Nothing about A.J. Preller’s tenure as Padres GM has been considered all that conventional, however, and San Diego is rife with power arms — so much so that they had to begin the season with Kevin Quackenbush in the minor leagues. Benoit has plenty of closing experience and isn’t a long-term piece in San Diego, as he is a free agent at season’s end. Benoit is earning $8MM this season and has a club option for the same rate that comes with a $1.5MM buyout.
Addison Reed, D-Backs: Perhaps replacing one struggling closer with another wouldn’t really do the team any good, but the Marlins could look to buy low on Reed, who blew his second save Wednesday night and has an ERA of 7.20 in this season’s small sample of 10 innings. Homers were Reed’s undoing in 2014, but the 26-year-old has maintained good strikeout and walk rates since transitioning to the National League, and Miami’s spacious park could alleviate some of his issues with the long ball. Earning $4.875MM in 2015, Reed is controlled through the 2017 season.
Jason Grilli/Jim Johnson, Braves: Each member of Atlanta’s primary eighth/ninth-inning duo comes with significant experience as a closer, with Grilli currently occupying the role for manager Fredi Gonzalez despite Johnson’s superior numbers. Johnson’s numbers plummeted after his control evaporated in 2014, but he’s pitching well this season, with improved command and strikeout numbers in addition to his typically elite ground-ball tendencies. He’s on a cheap one-year deal and would be affordable for any club, though Grilli is hardly expensive in his own right. Grilli is on a two-year, $8MM contract with the Braves, and though his ERA is an unsightly 5.23, he’s posted a brilliant 17-to-4 K/BB ratio in 10 1/3 innings. Assuming his .391 BABIP regresses, Grilli should be just fine moving forward.
Neftali Feliz, Rangers: The former top prospect and Rookie of the Year is controlled relatively cheaply through the 2016 season — he’s earning $4.1MM in 2015 — and has pitched well in the early stages of the season. Gone is the fastball that averaged 96-97 mph prior to Tommy John surgery, but Feliz’s 93.7 mph average has been enough to get the job done. His strikeout rate is up from 2014, and his fly-ball tendencies figure to play better in Marlins Park than in Arlington’s Globe Life Park. The Rangers have once again been ravaged by injuries, and if they become sellers this summer, Feliz figures to generate interest.
Tyler Clippard, Athletics: As recently noted on Fangraphs, the A’s have been one of baseball’s unluckiest teams, due largely to bullpen deficiencies. Clippard currently sports an aesthetically pleasing ERA, but his strikeout and walk rates have gone in the wrong direction and suggest trouble could be on the horizon. If he turns it around, however, he could hold some appeal for a team in need of a ninth-inning arm. It may seem counterintuitive for Oakland to deal arguably its most talented reliever, but GM Billy Beane showed a willingness to deal from his Major League assets at the trade deadline in 2014. It’s also far from a guarantee that the A’s can climb out of the early hole they’ve dug; they currently trail the Astros by eight-and-a-half games, and given the number of expiring assets on their roster (Clippard, Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist), they may elect to retool this summer if the ship cannot be righted. His $8.3MM salary might be steep for Miami, but Oakland could kick in some money to facilitate the deal.
The Marlins’ farm system ranked 24th in the eyes of ESPN’s Keith Law and 26th in Baseball America’s late-March rankings, so there’s not a ton of elite talent to work with in trades. However, many of the listed options here are either buy-low candidates or some with reasonably high contracts that might limit the potential return for the selling club.
It should also be noted, of course, that Cishek may perform well in lower-leverage settings and eventually reclaim the role. The Marlins, one would think, certainly hope for that to be the case. But Cishek’s velocity is down two miles per hour from the 2014 season and nearly three miles per hour from its peak. He’s also walked eight hitters in 11 1/3 innings this season after previously exhibiting good control in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Perhaps most troubling of all, his once powerful sinker has plummeted from generating 56-60 percent grounders to just 25 percent in 2015. It should be stressed that we’re looking at a sample 11 innings when examining Cishek’s struggles, but there are unquestionably red flags that may override the oft-used “small sample size” caveat at this point.
The Marlins are wrapping up their brief pursuit of free agent reliever Rafael Soriano, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. Miami was said to be exploring the addition of Soriano to shore up the team’s problematic closing situation, but has apparently decided to take another route.
Given the short-lived (but reportedly serious) dalliance between the sides, it would appear that the obvious initial match did not ultimately result in an ability to gain traction on terms. The most recent report indicated that Miami’s interest was contingent on achieving a low price on the veteran.
That makes sense: after all, the team has serviceable internal options, can still hope for a return to form for Steve Cishek, and will always have a chance to pursue a trade if it remains in contention over the summer. Miami has been said from the time it moved Cishek out of the 9th inning to be open to numerous alternatives, and now figures to take its time in sorting out the back of the pen.
Veteran Ryan Doumit, who played last year for the Braves, “considers his playing career over,” according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). The 34-year-old switch hitter logged 166 plate appearances last year in Atlanta, slashing just .197/.235/.318. He has had many more productive seasons in his decade in the big leagues, of course, and owns a lifetime .264/.324/.432 batting line. Doumit also spent significant time with the Pirates and Twins after being drafted in the second round of the 1999 amateur draft by Pittsburgh. While it appears that Doumit will not look to make a return to the bigs, the wording of the report suggests that he is not yet prepared to make an official retirement.
Here are some NL East Notes:
- The Marlins‘ interest in Rafael Soriano is tied closely to his cost, according to a Twitter report from Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. As things stand, Miami is only willing to bite if it can add him “at a low price,” per the report. It is not terribly surprising to learn that the Fish are not prepared to break the bank at this stage for the veteran righty; as the initial reports of interest suggested, the club is looking at all options to deal with its late-inning relief woes.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson says he is not currently interested in adding a shortstop,Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News reports. “Nothing has changed,” said Alderson of the team’s current daily deployment of Wilmer Flores. That is not terribly surprising given the timing, of course — to say nothing of the fact that Alderson would not be likely to broadcast any interest he did have — but should at least function to curb any immediate speculation about the possibility of a Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster.
Here are today’s minor moves:
- Infielder Reid Brignac has accepted the Marlins‘ assignment to Triple-A, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets. Brignac could instead have elected free agency upon being outrighted. The 29-year-old produced a hit and three walks in 17 MLB turns at bat this year. He owns a .219/.266/.310 slash over 922 career plate appearances at the major league level.
- Righty Logan Kensing has signed a minor league deal with the Mariners, the club announced. Kensing, 32, worked to a 3.58 ERA last year in 88 frames at Triple-A Tacoma, registering 8.1 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9. Despite a single appearance with the Rockies in 2013, Kensing has not seen regular big league action since back in 2009. All said, he owns a 5.79 earned run average over his 161 2/3 innings in the majors.
- Catcher Blake Forsythe is headed from the Athletics to the Phillies via trade, per Nashville Sounds broadcaster Jeff Hem (via Twitter; h/t Matt Rappa of Philliedelphia.com). The 25-year-old reached the Triple-A level for the first time this year after spending each of the last two seasons at the Double-A level with the Mets and then A’s organizations. He figures to provide organizational depth behind the dish for a club that is proceeding cautiously with former top prospect Tommy Joseph, who is being monitored for concussion symptoms.
- The White Sox have released outfielder Engel Beltre, according to a tweet from Triple-A Charlotte. Beltre, 25, signed a minor league deal with Chicago over the winter. He had risen to the major league level in 2013, earning 42 plate appearances after putting up solid-enough numbers (for a speedy center fielder) in the upper minors in 2012-13. But Beltre was sidetracked by a broken leg last year, and was off to a slow start (.234/.268/.312) at Charlotte.
7:15pm: The Marlins are “very much engaged” in negotiations with Soriano, Frisaro now tweets.
That talks seem to have intensified, perhaps, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported tonight that Cishek has been told he’s being removed from the closer’s role (Twitter links). The Marlins will likely give A.J. Ramos the bulk of the closing time in his stead, for now, according to Spencer, though Mike Dunn and Bryan Morris could also see occasional looks. However, if the team is moving on from Cishek as a closing option, adding a more experienced arm wouldn’t be a surprising route.
10:31am: The Marlins have reached out to Rafael Soriano‘s representatives to express interest in the veteran reliever, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. Miami has exchanged some dialogue with agent Scott Boras, per the report, as it weighs its options in the relief corps. Per Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, via Twitter, the sides are not close to a deal at present.
Soriano, of course, remains on the free agent market despite ranking among the game’s fifty best open market players coming into the year (per MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes). The 35-year-old struggled down the stretch last year, but still finished with 62 innings of 3.19 ERA ball under his belt with 8.6 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9.
Spurring the opening of talks with Soriano, of course, are the struggles of closer Steve Cishek. After establishing himself as one of the game’s better late-inning arms in recent years, Cishek has stumbled badly in the early going and appears to be moving out of the 9th inning role.
Miami had previously explored adding a veteran arm to bolster the back of its pen, most notably pursuing Francisco Rodriguez before he signed with the Brewers, so the interest and availability of funds is not a new thing. The club opened the day with a 15-18 record, sitting 5.5 games off the NL East pace, but has been performing much better since a 3-11 start.
Of course, as Frisaro emphasizes, a Soriano signing is just one of several possible avenues the club is considering to drive improvement in its late-inning pitching. There are several internal options both to fill the closer’s role and to otherwise boost the pen. And the club could look at the trade market, possibly revisiting Rodriguez — who is pitching well with Milwaukee — or even taking a look at an intra-division deal for Jonathan Papelbon.
From my perspective, it remains a bit early for the Marlins to make any rash decisions. The club has plausible replacements for Cishek and can still hope he can right the ship. And it is not yet clear whether a significant investment will make sense over the summer. That said, it obviously makes good sense to explore the possibilities with Soriano, particularly if he may be drawn to sign for a somewhat more palatable sum if he has a reasonable expectation of slotting into the 9th inning.
Early mock drafts continue to roll out, with MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis releasing their first effort at spitballing the always hard-to-call results. The MLB.com team pegs high school outfielder Daz Cameron — son of longtime big leaguer Mike Cameron — as the likeliest current optiton for the Rangers at fourth overall.
Here are a few more notes from around the game:
- The Padres expect outfielder Melvin Upton to begin a rehab stint in the near future given the improvement in his foot injury, MLB.com’s Corey Brock writes in response to a reader question. San Diego probably will not have any decisions to make until the start of June, says Brock, which is probably the earliest he’ll be ready to come off of the DL. What happens at that point remains to be seen, of course, but Brock notes that the club could theoretically give Wil Myers more time at first base to afford Upton a useful place on the roster — and a chance to attempt to return to form. In truth, Upton represents a free roll for the Friars, who took on his salary only to facilitate the addition of Craig Kimbrel. But the team has every incentive to see if it can get him back on track.
- The market for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon has evolved significantly over time, of course, and figures to continue to do so as the summer draws near. Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com argues that the Marlins currently make the most sense as a trade partner for Papelbon, whose contract appears more and more manageable over time — particularly as he continues to produce on the field. We just saw reports that the Fish are indeed exploring external options to bolster their pen, of course, and Papelbon remains an intriguing option. While I agree with Seidman that the division rivals would probably not hesitate to deal with one another, I wonder whether Miami would have the appetite for Papelbon’s still-hefty salary (he’s owed $13MM this year and $13MM next if his option vests).
- The Tigers watched bullpens from two important right-handers today, as Jon Morosi of FOX Sports and Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press report (Twitter links). Starter Justin Verlander threw twenty pitches and left pitching coach Jeff Jones “very pleased,” while reliever Bruce Rondon also took a turn on the bump. Detroit ranks toward the upper-middle of the pack in terms of run prevention thus far in 2015, but the club has relied more than it might prefer on the largely untested Kyle Lobstein in the rotation and could certainly use a quality set-up man at the back of the pen. The progress of Verlander and Rondon, then, is likely to have a significant impact on the team’s summer plans.
Nationals center fielder Denard Span is something of a wild card on next year’s free agent market. After battling through offseason core muscle surgery, his latest health issue, Span is somewhat quietly producing at a .292/.342/.514 clip. His power output is not likely to continue, of course, but it is good evidence that he is back to full strength and making hard contact. That’s all the more impressive given that Span has as many walks as strikeouts (six apiece) through his first 79 plate appearances. While defensive metrics continue to view Span more as an average center fielder than the very good one he used to be (and still is, in some eyes), he has a good chance of being the most appealing free agent center fielder if he can stay on the field and hit even at more typical rates — particularly since he is already coming off of a very strong 2014 campaign. As things stand, the 31-year-old seems on track to merit a qualifying offer from the Nats, which could potentially give the team four QO players (along with Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Ian Desmond).
- The Phillies player receiving the most concrete trade interest at this point in the season is not staff ace Cole Hamels, but veteran righty Aaron Harang, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince reports. Indeed, Philadelphia looks to have a rather useful trade chip in Harang, who is under contract for just one year and $5MM. While he is probably unlikely to keep his walk rate under 2 per nine for the first time in his career, and may be in line for some BABIP-related regression, Harang has undeniably been excellent: through 45 1/3 innings, he owns a 2.38 ERA. Plenty of teams could use an arm like that at the back of their rotation, and Harang’s low price tag should increase competition for his services — and with it, the return for the Phils.
- Steve Cishek‘s difficulties have led the Marlins to decide on a shake-up of their ninth-inning roles, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. The club will seemingly use a mix of arms for the time being. Cishek, a 28-year-old sidearmer, inked a $6.65MM deal to avoid arbitration. With two more years of arb eligibility remaining, Cishek has lost over a tick off his average fastball and uncharacteristically walked eight batters in 11 1/3 frames. He does have plenty of time to turn things around, of course, but his hefty starting salary makes a contract tender look questionable even at this early stage.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
- White Sox right-hander Javy Guerra has accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Charlotte, reports Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago (via Twitter). Guerra was designated for assignment last week and outrighted over the weekend, but he had the option of rejecting the outright assignment in favor of free agency. Instead, he’ll suit up with the Knights in hopes of soon receiving another opportunity in the big league ‘pen with the ChiSox.
- The Marlins announced that utility infielder Reid Brignac has been outrighted to Triple-A New Orleans. The former top prospect has the right to reject the assignment in favor of free agency, as he’s been outrighted in the past. With the Marlins, the 29-year-old Brignac collected a pair of base hits and three walks in 17 plate appearances — 13 of which came as a pinch-hitter. A former second-round pick, Brignac was at one time a consensus Top 20 prospect in all of baseball as he rose through the ranks of the Rays organization. He’s yet to live up to that potential, though he’s still been regarded well enough to receive big league playing time in each season dating back to 2008. Capable of handling shortstop, second base and third base (in addition to a brief corner outfield cameo), Brignac is a lifetime .219/.266/.310 hitter in the Majors.
The Dodgers paid the Marlins to take on Dan Haren‘s salary and traded Dee Gordon in part to get Howie Kendrick, and Gordon has been one of baseball’s best players so far this season, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times writes. “I think this is kind of a fresh start for him,” says Haren. “I’ve been traded many times. You always kind of get a chip on your shoulder. You want to prove the other team wrong.” Gordon is hitting a ridiculous .437/.461/.521. Obviously, he won’t bat .437 or post a .491 BABIP over the course of a season, and May 9 isn’t the best time to judge offseason trades. But Gordon’s start would have helped the Dodgers (although Kendrick has played well), and Haren would have been a useful part in what’s been a banged-up rotation. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- Recent injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin show why the Athletics acquired so much starting pitching this offseason, John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group writes. The A’s got Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman in the Josh Donaldson deal, Jesse Hahn in the Derek Norris trade and Chris Bassitt in the Jeff Samardzija trade. Hahn is the only one of the four who’s made a significant impression so far, but the Parker and Griffin injuries could create opportunities for the other three.
- It might now be next to impossible for the Rockies to trade Carlos Gonzalez, FanGraphs’ Paul Swydan writes. Gonzalez’s ability to hit for power appears to have dwindled, and it will be difficult to interest other teams in a “broken down player” who will make $16MM this year and a total of $37MM in 2016 and 2017. Gonzalez will also receive a $1MM bonus if the Rockies trade him.