Newsstand Rumors

Stark’s Latest: Price, Phillies, O’s, Royals, Pirates

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has a new Rumblings & Grumblings column posted in which he runs down a plethora of trade-related topics. You’ll need to read the full post to get all the information and analysis, but here are some of the highlights …

  • The Rays are waiting until next week to make any decisions on whether or not to trade ace David Price. However, as Stark points out, it could still be a difficult judgment call as to whether or not the Rays are close enough to go for it or far enough back to sell. Tampa is currently seven games back of the division lead and four and a half games back from a Wild Card berth.
  • One executive tells Stark that he’s convinced the team will move Price if they get a big enough offer. Said the exec, “They’ve really built their team by making these kinds of deals. But if the return they can get now is something they think they can get this winter, they’ll hold him.” Another exec tells Stark that waiting until the winter could reduce the return in a trade by 30 to 40 percent.
  • Stark runs down the possible landing spots for Price, calling the Dodgers the favorite, but noting that L.A. has said it will not part with both Joc Pederson and Corey Seager, even in a Price trade. The Mariners are the second choice, he notes, with the Cardinals listed third followed by the Giants and Blue Jays (both of whom are painted as long shots by Stark).
  • If the Rays do sell Price, they’ll be open for business and listen on a number of other players, including Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Yunel Escobar. Their preference is to deal Price and Zobrist in separate trades, if that comes to pass.
  • The Phillies are the next team that everyone is watching, with nine players that could be moved but contractual problems surrounding many of them. Most execs feel the Phillies will eat money to facilitate deals and aren’t looking to just dump players on other clubs. Specifically, the team is in need of position-player prospects, one exec who has spoken with Philadelphia tells Stark.
  • Marlon Byrd is the most likely to be dealt, with the Mariners, Royals and Reds scouting him. The Reds, however, may not be able to take on Byrd’s remaining $3MM in 2014, and the Mariners and Royals are on his no-trade list.
  • Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee aren’t likely to be dealt, executives tell Stark. In Lee’s case, they feel he’s a lock to clear waivers. One exec tells Stark that he’d be more inclined to take a chance on Lee were he a free agent, but his contract is too risky at this point.
  • Cole Hamels isn’t likely to be dealt either. It’s not that the Phillies aren’t willing to move him, it’s just that the prices they’ve specified consist of packages “that no one would possibly give up.”
  • A.J. Burnett‘s preference is indeed to return to the Pirates, but Pittsburgh would need assurances that he’s not going to exercise his player option for 2015. The Orioles‘ interest is said to be lukewarm, while the Phillies asked the Yankees and were told, “No thanks.”
  • At least half a dozen teams are in on Antonio Bastardo, whom Stark concretely says will be traded in the next week.
  • The Orioles aren’t looking for a closer upgrade over Zach Britton, but they’re looking for a rotation upgrade and a lefty reliever that’s more than just a left-on-left specialist. They’ve shown no interest in dealing Hunter Harvey or Dylan Bundy.
  • The Royals have called on virtually every right-handed hitter on the market, but they’re look specifically at right fielders, including Byrd, Alex Rios, Chris Denorfia and Dayan Viciedo. The first two of those options still look most likely.
  • Stark would be surprised if the Pirates didn’t add at least one pitcher, if not two in the next week, but it’d have to be at least a No. 3 option in terms of starters. On the relief front, they’re looking at seventh-inning arms, as they’re content with Tony Watson in the eighth and Mark Melancon in the ninth.

Tigers Looking For Left-Handed Relief Help

The Tigers made a huge move to fortify their bullpen last night by acquiring Joakim Soria from the Rangers, but they’re not done looking for bullpen help, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Detroit is on the hunt for a left-handed relief upgrade, though they’re not ruling out another right-handed option either, he adds.

Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets that Phillies southpaw Antonio Bastardo is a target for GM Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers, which lines up with yesterday’s reports that Detroit was among the teams to scout Bastardo.

Ian Krol and Phil Coke have served as Detroit’s primary left-handed relievers this season, but each has an ERA north of 4.50, and sabermetric ERA estimators such as FIP and xFIP don’t paint a much more optimistic projection. Both have been serviceable, albeit unspectacular against lefties, as Coke has yielded a .254/.306/.388 batting line to same-handed hitters, while Krol has been a bit worse at .241/.313/.397. Both have been dreadful against right-handed hitters, however, with Coke surrendering a .927 OPS and Krol surrendering an even more unsightly 1.114 OPS.

In addition to Bastardo, the trade market features Wesley Wright and James Russell of the Cubs, Tony Sipp of the Astros, Neal Cotts of the Rangers and perhaps Brian Duensing of the Twins (though that last name is my own speculation, as he’s yet to surface in trade rumors).


Mariners Acquire Kendrys Morales

The Mariners have acquired Kendrys Morales from the Twins in exchange for right-hander Stephen Pryor, the team announced.

Kendrys Morales

Morales’ stay with the Twins didn’t prove to be a lengthy one, as his tenure in Minnesota lasted just 39 games. The switch-hitting slugger’s overall numbers with the Twins don’t look like much, as he’s batted just .234/.259/.325. He did, however, just wrap up a 12-game hitting streak that saw him bat .292/.314/.417, so he’s showing some signs of life at the dish. Seattle designated hitters have batted just .217/.294/.343, so the bar for improvement isn’t set that high with the Mariners.

The Twins signed Morales shortly after the draft, paying him the prorated version of a $12MM base salary on a one-year deal. In other words, the Twins paid about $3.08MM for less than two months of Morales and turned that into the hard-throwing but control-challenged Pryor. The Mariners, on the other hand, appear to be on the hook for the remaining $4.3MM on Morales’ contract.

Pryor, who turned 25 yesterday, has spent much of the season with Triple-A Tacoma as he recovers from surgery to repair his latissimus dorsi muscle that he underwent in 2013 (as noted by Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN on Twitter). In 31 innings with Tacoma this season, Pryor has posted a 4.65 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 5.2 BB/9. However, Pryor does have some big league experience under his belt, as he has compiled a 2.81 ERA with a 35-to-16 K/BB ratio in 32 Major League innings. He’s averaged 96 mph on his fastball in his brief time in the Majors and can be controlled at least through the 2018 season. Pryor will report to Triple-A Rochester, per the Twins.

Morales was said by agent Scott Boras to be interested in working out a long-term deal with the Twins. Morales also said (via interpreter) on a road trip to Seattle that the reason he didn’t sign with the M’s this past offseason was that didn’t want to be in the same situation (presumably referring to the possibility of taking a one-year deal and again being hit with a qualifying offer in the 2014-15 offseason). It’s possible that the Twins could again show interest in Morales as a free agent this winter, and if he can hit well over the final two-plus months with the Mariners, he figures to do better on the open market than he did last time around. Because he did not spent the entire regular season with one team, he is now ineligible to receive a qualifying offer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Athletics Designate Jim Johnson For Assignment

12:04pm: The A’s announced that they have actually designated Johnson for assignment, not released him (though that could obviously be the ultimate outcome of the move). Evan Scribner has been recalled from Triple-A Sacramento to fill his roster spot.

11:55am: The A’s have released right-hander Jim Johnson, a source tells Jane Lee of MLB.com (Twitter link).

The 31-year-old Johnson was acquired by the A’s this offseason in a salary dump that sent Jemile Weeks and David Freitas to the Orioles. While many Baltimore fans were shaken by the deal after seeing Johnson lead the league in saves in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the move proved to be a wise decision by the O’s, as Johnson has struggled to a 6.92 ERA with 6.3 K/9, 5.1 BB/9 and a 56.8 percent ground-ball rate in 40 1/3 innings this season with Oakland. He lost his ninth-inning role to Sean Doolittle early in the season.

Johnson is earning $10MM in 2014 after avoiding arbitration for the final time this past winter. The A’s will eat the remaining $3.66MM on his contract if he is ultimately released. It seems unlikely that any team would claim him on waivers or trade for him as a result of that salary, though a team could show some interest if Oakland pays a large portion of the deal.


Dave Dombrowski On Joakim Soria, Future Moves

Last night, the Tigers landed one of the top available relievers on the trade market in Rangers right-hander Joakim Soria.  While Soria should go a long way towards shoring up Detroit’s bullpen, many have wondered if Detroit might continue to work the phones for an additional relief option, particularly given the struggles of left-handers Phil Coke and Ian Krol.  I asked Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski earlier today if he might go after a southpaw in the next week.

I don’t know I would get into what we’re specifically addressing, but we’re open-minded to different thought processes.  Our bullpen has struggled at times and we want to have people that put up zeroes out there,” Dombrowski said.  “We’ve tried a lot of guys at that and we remain open-minded if something makes sense to make us better before the trade deadline.”

The Tigers have been in need of bullpen reinforcements for some time and Dombrowski has been focused on Soria “for a while.”  The GM said that he started chatting with Rangers GM Jon Daniels in June and things picked up more and more with time.  And while Soria didn’t come cheap — he cost the Tigers promising pitching prospects Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel —  he believed that it was a price they could afford to pay thanks to their pitching depth.  Soria’s affordable $7MM club option also helped Dombrowski to pull the trigger since he will likely be more than just a rental.

I don’t think it made the deal, but it was a real plus for us,” the GM said.

Of course, if things went differently for the Tigers this season, they might not have had to make a trade like this at all.  Dombrowski acknowledged that he’d be in a “different situation” if Bruce Rondon was with the club.  They’re also “not counting” on a 2014 return for Joel Hanrahan and the odds were termed as being “highly unlikely.”

While Soria has a long history as a successful closer, Dombrowski is insistent that Joe Nathan will continue to pitch in the ninth-inning despite his struggles this season.  When asked what it might take for Soria to possible leapfrog Nathan and close out games, the Tigers GM declined to speculate or set expectations for the 39-year-old.  For now, Soria is there to help build a better bridge to Nathan and the veteran appears to be all for it.  Before pulling the trigger on the deal, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones asked Nathan and Ian Kinsler about how they feel Soria might fit in with the team.  One of the replies they got back was, “Why don’t we have him yet?’


Mozeliak On Trade Market, Starters, Catchers, Taveras

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was the latest guest on The GM’s Office, Jim Bowden’s video blog over at ESPN.com. Here are the highlights from their conversation, though the entire seven-minute interview is well worth your time…

  • Mozeliak feels that it’s “clearly a seller’s market” based on the returns that the few sellers are getting in trades. For now, the Cards are still trying to identify areas in which they can improve and how (or if) they can obtain those solutions in a tough market.
  • Asked about David Price, Mozeliak declined to mention specific names that they’ve considered, but he added, “We’re certainly not in this for the short term. I think one of the good things about the St. Louis Cardinals is the ability to have sustained success, and we want to continue that.”
  • “I think that is true,” said Mozeliak when asked if starting pitching would be his top need. Both Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez have had some inconsistencies, he notes. “…looking at the next two months, if we could find a way to sort of bridge that gap between now and the time we may get [Michael] Wacha back, I think we want to try to do that.”
  • Mozeliak said the stress fracture in Wacha’s scapula is unique, and there isn’t a lot of history or data to help gauge his progress. The injury is currently healing, but the Cardinals are dedicating their time and energy to determining what led to the injury — be it his mechanics, something in the weight room or another cause.
  • Whether or not the team is comfortable with Tony Cruz and George Kottaras is a “fair question,” and the Cardinals plan to take as much of the remaining week as possible to make that determination. “One thing we’ve always said is we’d like to see what Tony Cruz is capable of doing on a day in and day out basis,” said Mozeliak. “But having said that, we also want to give ourselves the best chance to win.” The Cardinals will at least monitor the market for catching help, he adds.
  • Manager Mike Matheny has had a tough time trying to balance playing time for Allen Craig, a proven veteran in a down year, and Oscar Taveras, a top prospect who has started slow in the Majors, says Mozeliak. The need to win now complicates the scenario, and sending Taveras down to Triple-A in a week or so is an option.

Padres Need To Be Overwhelmed To Trade Kennedy

The Yankees had a scout in Chicago to watch last night’s start by Ian Kennedy, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports, but acquiring him might not be an easy task. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Padres would need to be overwhelmed to move the 29-year-old right-hander.

The Padres bought low on Kennedy at least season’s trade deadline — acquiring him for lefty Joe Thatcher, minor league right-hander Matt Stites and a Competitive Balance draft pick (Round B) — and it proved to be a shrewd move. In 135 1/3 innings for the Friars this season, he’s posted a 3.66 ERA (3.10 FIP) with 9.5 K/9, 2.8 BB.9 and a career-best 42.3 percent ground-ball rate. He’s affordable from a financial standpoint, as he’s earning $6.1MM this year after his second trip through arbitration this past offseason.

Kennedy is controlled through the 2015 season, and as such he could also be marketed in trades this offseason (once San Diego has a new GM in place), or the team could look to extend him as well. He serves as part of a nice trio atop the Padres’ rotation, alongside ace Andrew Cashner and breakout righty Tyson Ross. As such, it’s not surprising to hear that San Diego doesn’t feel any real urgency to move him.

The same hesitancy applies to right-hander Joaquin Benoit, Heyman adds, as the Padres “aren’t resigned” to dealing their new closer (since Huston Street was traded). Benoit is owed $8MM both this season and next, and he’s performing exceptionally well. Detroit was linked to Benoit, but they may be out of that market after landing Joakim Soria. The Pirates and Indians have also shown interest in Benoit, Heyman adds (Cleveland showed interest in Benoit this past offseason as well).

The last remaining Padre who appears likely to be traded is outfielder Chris Denorfia, Heyman writes. The 34-year-old is hitting just .238/.292/.319, but he’s displayed solid defense in right field (UZR and DRS have long liked his work on the outfield corners), and he’s a .299/.366/.443 hitter against lefties.


Reactions To The Joakim Soria Trade

Last night, the Tigers landed right-hander Joakim Soria from the Rangers in exchange for two of their top prospects — right-handers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel. Detroit has long been said to be in pursuit of relief help, and they’ve now added one of the top bullpen arms on the market. Here are some reactions to the deal as well as a few additional bits of info about the Tigers’ trade talks…

  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that Soria was the Tigers’ primary bullpen target, and they didn’t pursue former Tiger Joaquin Benoit all that aggressively before landing Soria last night.
  • Likewise, ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweets that the Tigers were never in on Philadelphia’s Jonathan Papelbon all that seriously.
  • Soria himself is very excited to join the Tigers, agent Oscar Suarez old FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi (Twitter link), specifically mentioning excitement over a chance to win. That excitement isnt surprising for Soria, who didn’t have much of an opportunity at the postseason early in his career with the Royals (he wasn’t with the club for their recent improvements).
  • The Tigers have the prospect depth to add another relief arm if they wish, but it will depend on the asking price, writes Jason Beck of MLB.com. Beck notes that Detroit probably wishes to avoid too much long-term depth to the farm system, but he mentions Chad Qualls as a possibly more affordable option to pursue. Beck also reports that the initial asking price on Soria was higher than the one the Tigers ultimately wound up paying.
  • ESPN’s Keith Law understands the deal for both Detroit and Texas (Insider subscription required and recommended). While the Tigers paid a steep price, he notes that Soria will be worth about an extra win over the remainder of the season and will be featured in some very high-leverage postseason innings. From Texas’ standpoint, they get a raw but projectable 20-year-old in Thompson who needs to learn to get more plane on his fastball and develop a changeup to succeed as a starter, plus a controllable potential seventh- or eighth-inning reliever in Knebel.
  • Jim Callis of MLB.com “loves” the Rangers’ end of the deal, calling Thompson a potential No. 2 or 3 starter and noting that Knebel has closer upside (Twitter link).
  • Soria’s value in the postseason could be significant, writes Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron. Cameron examines the usage of teams’ best relievers in last year’s playoffs, noting that while a typical elite reliever throws about five percent of his team’s innings during the regular season, that number increases in the playoffs due to more off days and the increased importance of late innings. The Red Sox used Koji Uehara for 9.6 percent of their postseason innings, which translates to about 140 innings during the regular season (a value of 246 innings when accounting for the increased leverage index).
  • R.J. Anderson and Jordan Gorosh break down the trade over at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required/recommended). Anderson notes the steep price Detroit paid as well and wonders if the Tigers are done adding relievers. If Dave Dombrowski is serious about truly upgrading the bullpen (which he clearly seems to be), the Tigers should look to add another arm, Anderson opines. Meanwhile, Gorosh feels that Thompson could make an appearance on the back end of B-Pro’s offseason Top 101 prospects list, writing that he has the potential to be a “very strong No. 4 starter” and could have been the best pitching prospect in Detroit’s system (thereby implying that he likes him better than Robbie Ray).

Tigers Acquire Joakim Soria

10:25pm: The Tigers have announced the deal, making it official.

9:23pm: The Tigers have agreed to acquire reliever Joakim Soria from the Rangers in exchange for right-handed pitching prospects Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, Kyle Bogenschutz of Scout.com was first to report on Twitter. Jon Morosi of FOX Sports confirmed that an agreement is in place (via Twitter).

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers

With the acquisition of Soria, the Tigers now possess both of the Rangers’ most recent closers (having signed Joe Nathan as a free agent over the offseason). It appears that Nathan will retain the closer’s mantle for the time being, but regardless the team will now have an additional premium arm to throw into high-leverage situations. At the moment, the team owns the fifth-worst relief ERA in baseball.

Soria, a 30-year-old righty, owns a 2.70 ERA with a spectacular strikeout to walk ratio of 11.3 K/9 against only 1.1 BB/9. Indeed, his FIP stands at a miserly 1.07, which handily leads all pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings. Other ERA estimators (2.25 xFIP; 1.84 SIERA) concur in Soria’s excellence to date in 2014.

He is playing out the back end of the two-year, $8MM deal he signed to join the Rangers after Tommy John surgery led to the end of his tenure with the Royals. But Soria also comes with a seemingly reasonable $7MM club option. (That option would increase to $8MM if he finishes 55 games; he is sitting on 32 at present. The contract also includes performance bonuses.)

The return would appear to be substantial. Both Thompson and Knebel rated among Detroit’s ten best prospects coming into the year, per Baseball America, with the former landing at fourth and the latter at sixth on BA’s list. If anything, their stock has risen since that time.

Thompson, a 20-year-old starter, just earned a promotion to Double-A after posting a 3.14 ERA over 83 innings with 8.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 at the High-A level. Baseball America says he has mid-rotation upside. He has a low-to-mid 90s fastball and promising slider, but profiles as a mid-rotation arm if he can develop a consistent third pitch from amongst his other offerings (curve and circle change).

The 22-year-old Knebel, meanwhile, has already made his big league debut after being selected 39th overall in last year’s draft. Though he surrendered six earned runs in 8 2/3 MLB frames, he also notched 11 strikeouts against just three walks and has dominated minor league hitters. He profiles as a potential future closer, says BA, though Detroit had weighed the possibility of trying him as a starter.

With Soria and Huston Street now taken, the relief market now lacks somewhat for obviously available closers. Jonathan Papelbon is surely available, but of course comes with a still-sizable contract. The Padres will presumably listen on Joaquin Benoit, but may want a large return to part with him after dealing Street. And it remains to be seen whether names like Koji Uehara and Steve Cishek could be had.


Twins Designate Matt Guerrier For Assignment

The Twins have designated reliever Matt Guerrier for assignment, according to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (via Twitter). His roster spot will go to fellow righty Ryan Pressly.

Guerrier, a 35-year-old righty, had been fairly steady for Minnesota for much of the season, though he saw his ERA rise by more than a full run after last night’s rough outing. He still sports a 3.86 ERA over 28 innings, though he’s averaging only 3.9 K/9 (by far the lowest in his career) against 3.2 BB/9. Guerrier, who has seen time in each of the last 11 MLB seasons, was signed to a minor league deal over the offseason.