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In a lengthy and interesting piece, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times looks at the potentially fractured relationship between the Mariners and Michael Saunders following some comments made by GM Jack Zduriencik at an end-of-season press conference. Asked at the time what he felt about Saunders’ future with the team, Zduriencik said, “…It’s up to Michael. … He was playing well, got hurt, came back, got sick, came back again and did some nice things. But I think what Michael has to do and has to answer this to himself, is ‘how do I prepare myself to play as many games through the course of 162 that I can possibly play without being setback by injury.’ … some of these things need to be handled from a maintenance standpoint where he put himself in a position where he’s able to compete through the course of the season.”
Divish spoke to Saunders himself, who declined to comment on the situation. Saunders’ agent, Michael McCann, said it was both “shocking” and “very disappointing.” Said McCann: “These comments don’t reflect Michael Saunders’ work habits. They imply that that he’s lackadaisical.” Part of the trouble, Divish writes, is that Saunders had never before had his work ethic or preparation questioned by the Mariners, and to have that done in a public forum was hurtful. Zduriencik clarified that the comments he made could be applied to any player, and he was adamant to Divish that the organization is not planning on moving on from Saunders. However, he has previously identified corner outfield as a potential area to add some offense. Divish speculates on an offseason trade, though he also notes that even if Saunders is pushed to the role of fourth outfielder, his low salary (he should earn less than $3MM via arbitration) would be an acceptable price for that role, especially given his upside. Over the past three seasons, the former top prospect has batted .248/.320/.423 with 39 homers and 38 steals. I should note that Divish’s entire piece is well worth the read, as this brief write-up doesn’t capture nearly all of the quotes and information he compiled.
Here’s more from baseball’s Western divisions…
- The Diamondbacks should give strong consideration to moving one of their young shortstops if it can bolster the rotation, writes the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro. The Snakes finished the season with Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed all on the roster, but no room to play all three of them with Aaron Hill being owed $24MM through 2016 and prospects Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury both looking like third base options in the near future. (Lamb already received a taste of the Majors in 2014.) The team seems to view Owings as the best of the bunch, given his greater offensive ceiling, but both Gregorius and Ahmed have value to other clubs. Piecoro spoke to rival executives about each shortstop, with one stating that while Gregorius might not bring back “a Matt Harvey or a Jacob deGrom,” he could be worth someone such as Rafael Montero of the Mets. Another evaluator told Piecoro that his club actually prefers Ahmed to Gregorius, so both could seemingly have good trade value.
- Though he’s been a popular managerial candidate this year, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo will not be interviewed by the D’Backs for their own managerial vacancy, reports Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). Lovullo interviewed with the Astros prior to their hiring of A.J. Hinch, he’s already interviewed with the Rangers and will reportedly interview with the Twins as well.
- Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler tells Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune that they have “definitely expanded our international focus under [new GM] A.J. [Preller].” Lin examines whether or not that could mean a legitimate run at Yasmany Tomas, though as he notes, that would be an unprecedented move for the Friars. In fact, last season’s signing of Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5MM contract was the largest free agent expenditure in franchise history, Lin points out. The largest contract in franchise history, he adds, is Jake Peavy‘s old three-year, $52MM deal. Tomas could cost double that amount, but the Padres have just $40.5MM committed to next year’s payroll, and the $90MM Opening Day figure from 2014 could rise, ownership has said.
- After losing hitting coach John Mallee to the Cubs, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow spoke highly about Mallee’s work to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich points out that Mallee deserves some credit for the success of Jose Altuve and Chris Carter in 2014, although skeptics could also point to the strikeout problems some of the other team’s young hitters had. Luhnow said he hopes to have a finalized coaching staff in place by month’s end, and as Drellich notes, only pitching coach Brent Strom is a guarantee to return at this point.
The Giants are weighing whether or not to continue with beleaguered right-hander Tim Lincecum in their rotation, writes John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. Lincecum himself offered a frank, expletive-laced assessment of his recent performance and sounded aware that he may not make his next start. Shea spoke with manager Bruce Bochy about rotation candidate Yusmeiro Petit‘s struggles as a starter and excellence in the bullpen this year, with Bochy calling Petit’s rotation work too small of sample to judge. Petit’s recent bullpen work, however, has been nothing short of incredible, if not historic. He’s retired 38 consecutive batters, striking out 16. As Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com points out (on Twitter), Petit is seven batters shy of matching the Major League record for most consecutive hitters retired. Lincecum, who is in the first season of a two-year, $35MM extension, has a 9.49 ERA over his past six starts and has totaled just 24 2/3 innings in that time. Baggarly tweets that for now, the team’s Thursday starter is listed as “TBA.”
Here’s more from the NL West…
- While the most commonly linked team to Bartolo Colon (who is currently on revocable waivers) has been the Angels, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his daily blog that the injury-plagued Dodgers are a candidate to place a claim as well (ESPN Insider required). Olney points out that Colon’s start against the Dodgers tonight could serve as an audition.
- Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa feels that his team can post a winning record in 2015, he tells Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. La Russa feels that the D’Backs can make improvements with their current roster solely by improving their approach at the plate and improving their baserunning, but he also cites the desire to make “two or three impactful moves” in the offseason, including the addition of at least one hitter and at least one pitcher.
- Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic writes that the D’Backs are in evaluation mode with middle infielders Chris Owings, Didi Gregorius, and Nick Ahmed. Additionally, the club is trying to determine how to mix in veterans Aaron Hill and Cliff Pennington. For the time being, GM Kevin Towers tells Buchanan that Owings will see more time at second base with Gregorius getting a look at short, but that doesn’t mean Owings is being converted to a second baseman full-time. Hill, meanwhile, will see action at third, though a full-time transition there would block prospect Jake Lamb, Buchanan notes. In my view, Pennington is a non-tender candidate following the season and Ahmed could use more work at Triple-A, leaving three infielders for two spots. Hill is guaranteed $12MM in 2015 and again in 2016, making him difficult to trade, but any number of clubs would likely be interested in Owings, Gregorius or Ahmed in trades.
- The Rockies are further away from contending now than they were at the beginning of the season, opines Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. Saunders looks at Colorado’s pitching predicament, noting that Tyler Chatwood will miss the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery and Jhoulys Chacin‘s shoulder cannot be relied upon. Brett Anderson‘s injuries make it difficult to exercise his $12MM option, and Jorge De La Rosa could end up pitching elsewhere, as several sources with whom Saunders has conversed feel that there’s only a 50-50 chance he returns. Add in the persistent trade rumors regarding Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez — Saunders feels the latter is more likely to go — and the offseason is rife with question marks and uncertainty.
Though his ERA and win-loss record aren’t much to look at (5.38 and 1-10), Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon McCarthy is drawing trade interest, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). A free agent at season’s end, McCarthy has about $4.72MM remaining on this year’s $9MM salary — the second year of a two-year, $15.5MM pact he inked in the 2012-13 offseason. Rosenthal notes that Arizona is likely to make multiple trades before this year’s deadline.
While McCarthy’s season looks rough on the surface, there are a lot of factors suggesting that he could quickly turn things around. McCarthy’s .339 batting average on balls in play is 44 points higher than the league average, and he’s sporting the best ground-ball and K/9 rates of his career (55.9 percent and 7.4, respectively). His fastball velocity has soared from an average of 90.8 mph over the past two seasons to 93 mph, and he’s sporting his best swinging-strike rate since 2006 as a result. McCarthy has mostly been plagued by home runs this season, but his fluky 21.7 percent homer-to-flyball ratio figures to come down.
There’s not much question that McCarthy will be available in trades. As Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports, the Snakes are said to be preparing to put a “for sale” sign on their roster and are weighing trades of multiple veteran players. GM Kevin Towers — who, despite the hiring of Tony La Russa, calls this July business as usual — told Piecoro: “[W]e have to look at being more open-minded of moving some contracts and some veteran players for younger players.”
A fire sale may not be as easy for the D’Backs as it would for most teams, however, Piecoro cautions. McCarthy and fellow veterans Cody Ross and Aaron Hill are underperforming this season, which will hurt Arizona’s potential return in trades. Other movable veterans such as Eric Chavez, Bronson Arroyo and Mark Trumbo are all currently on the disabled list.
One scout told Piecoro that the left-handers in Arizona’s bullpen — Joe Thatcher and Oliver Perez — figure to be of interest to other clubs. Both have enjoyed strong seasons to this point. Thatcher is a free agent at season’s end, while Perez, who signed a two-year deal this winter, is controlled through 2015. That same scout said he is intrigued by Gerardo Parra, but noted that the outfielder’s declining speed is a concern.
Towers noted to Piecoro that he would be reluctant to move young, controllable players such as Didi Gregorius and Triple-A shortstop Nick Ahmed (presumably, Chris Owings falls into that category as well).
With the draft in the rear-view mirror, the league’s attention will increasingly turn to the coming summer trade market — though, with so many teams still in the hunt and so much money owed to many possible trade candidates, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders if it will be a sluggish market.
Here’s the latest on some teams and players who could be discussed:
- The Diamondbacks, who feature a roster with several attractive veteran pieces, have also been widely noted for their abundance of quality young middle infielders. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (Twitter links), current Triple-A shortstop Nick Ahmed has sparked interest from multiple other clubs. Ahmed, 24, is known as an outstanding defensive player and has enjoyed his most productive season at the plate this year with a .304/.385/.401 line in 250 plate appearances in his first run at Triple-A.
- The Rays should consider putting ace David Price on the market now rather than waiting for the deadline to approach, opines MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince. Tampa may not achieve the return it hopes for if it waits, says Castrovince, citing a variety of reasons — including the current proliferation of teams still in the hunt, the possibility that Cubs hurler Jeff Samardzija may approach or even surpass him in value, and the potential introduction of Royals’ ace James Shields into the discussion.
- Price may be the Rays‘ most valuable trade chip, but the versatile Ben Zobrist would draw the widest interest if he is put on the block, tweets Rosenthal. The 33-year-old jack of all trades is owed just $7MM this year and comes with an attractive $7.5MM club option for 2015.
- Indeed, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com writes that Zobrist is “the perfect acquisition for a team like the Tigers, Giants, or Dodgers.” As I noted a few days ago, he would also make sense for a team like the Nationals if they decide to add an impact veteran, and there are surely many others with possible interest.
- Gammons goes on to cite a few other possibly overlooked trade possibilities. He lists Bartolo Colon of the Mets and Steve Cishek of the Marlins in addition to some more commonly mentioned names like Jason Hammel of the Cubs, and Chase Headley of the Padres.
- Cliff Lee of the Phillies, a hypothetically intriguing trade candidate, finally threw a baseball yesterday for the first time since May 18, reports Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. After what he described as a “light throwing session,” Lee said that his elbow was feeling “better.” Of course, he would need to make it back for at least a few starts to allow Philadelphia to recoup anything close to maximum value were they to shop him.
- In today’s Baseball Tonight podcast (audio link), ESPN’s Buster Olney says that hears the Cubs will approach this year’s deadline as they did in 2013, dealing one pitcher early as they did with Scott Feldman last year and waiting until later to move a second, as they did with Matt Garza. Presumably, that’d mean Jason Hammel would be moved first, with Jeff Samardzija being moved later. His colleague, Keith Law, feels the strategy can work, as there will never be enough starting pitchers for all the teams looking to buy, and the price for Hammel isn’t as difficult to agree upon. Moving Hammel early on forces interested clubs to force on the bigger target later in the deadline as the need becomes greater.
- Olney lists the Blue Jays, the Orioles and the Athletics as teams that could have early interest in Hammel, and he wonders if the recent injuries to the Pirates‘ rotation would cause them to jump into the mix. Law feels the Angels could be added to that mix, as their weak farm system would prevent them from adding a big-name starter.