The St. Louis Cardinals are the class of the National League right now, having won exactly two-thirds of their first 39 games. They're fourth in the league in OBP and ninth in slugging, and third in runs scored per game partially due fantastic work with runners in scoring position. Their rotation has easily been the league's best with a 2.33 ERA, even without Chris Carpenter. While the Jason Motte-less bullpen has an NL-worst 5.00 ERA, it's at 3.27 in May, with most of the damage coming in one Carlos Martinez outing. By measure of FanGraphs WAR, Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller, and Yadier Molina have been the team MVPs so far. Now let's look at some links from elsewhere around the NL...
- First baseman Anthony Rizzo has a new seven-year, $41MM deal with the Cubs, but pitcher Jeff Samardzija says he isn't ready to talk contract with the club, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. "Absolutely not," said the pitcher when asked if he's looking to hammer out an extension. "Nope. This is a great team, really coming around right now, playing great baseball. I'm just really looking to keep this going. It's fun to play with these guys." Samardzija, 28, will have four years of Major League service after the season. This is just a theory of mine, but having been lured away from football in '06 with a $10MM contract, Samardzija has more financial security at this point in his career than most players, and continuing to bet on his talent will enable him to maximize his next contract.
- Giants GM Brian Sabean told Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com that he hasn't been in touch with former closer Brian Wilson lately. Sabean says that he doesn't know how Wilson is throwing but has heard The Beard is "working out like a fiend" and is "going to try to showcase himself over the All-Star break or thereabouts."
- The Phillies issued a statement regarding Roy Halladay today: "Roy had successful shoulder surgery yesterday. He had an arthroscopic evaluation and underwent debridement of his labrum and rotator cuff as well as removal of an inflamed bursa. He'll begin a progressive rehabilitation program and if all goes well, he may possibly begin a throwing program in 6-8 weeks." The 36-year-old will be eligible for free agency after the season. Scrambling for depth in the wake of the injuries to Halladay and John Lannan, the Phillies signed Carlos Zambrano to a minor league deal yesterday with a July 1st opt-out date.
- In other NL East injury news, the Braves announced reliever Jonny Venters had the second Tommy John procedure of his career today. The 28-year-old will be arbitration eligible for the second time after the season, with an expected salary similar to this year's $1.625MM.
- A clerical error could have enabled Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt to pocket an extra $500K a few years back, but he wasn't willing to pocket the money, reports Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle via Affeldt's book, "To Stir a Movement." Affeldt believes his subsequent contract with the Giants went smoothly partly because of that decision.
Reid Ryan will be named Astros team president Friday, reports MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. Earlier, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported Ryan was the team's likely successor to George Postolos, who resigned this week. Mark Berman of FOX 26 Sports first reported yesterday that Ryan was a strong candidate to become the team's president.
Reid, 41, is a son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who formerly served as president of the Rangers and is now the team's CEO. Reid is the founder and CEO of the Round Rock Express, currently the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, and the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Astros' Double-A affiliate. In 1994-95, he pitched in the minor leagues in the Rangers organization after being drafted out of TCU.
As usual, I answered about forty questions in Tuesday's chat, and today we'll get to a few unanswered ones from that session.
Who do the Giants go after for left field? - Allen
Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres, and Francisco Peguero have manned left field for the Giants this year, posting a .250/.299/.336 line at the position. In the National League, only the Reds and Marlins have received worse from left field than San Francisco's .634 OPS. Asked yesterday by Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com if he's satisfied with the production of his left field platoon, GM Brian Sabean replied, "I think so." He continued, "We went on the side of the defense and the speed and to take our chances. And it wouldn’t be that much of an eyesore statistically from a run production standpoint if we had a bona fide six hitter, which should be [Brandon] Belt, but we’ve been forced to rotate and scramble a little with the bottom three spots. But on balance they’ve done a good job, given the skill set."
Given the way Sabean steered the question toward Belt, I have to wonder if the first baseman is in as much jeopardy as the left field platoon. Of course, Belt is actually hitting .297/.343/.516 out of the #6 spot in the order, and he's hitting quite well this month. To answer the original question, Josh Willingham makes a lot of sense for the Giants if the Twins are willing to deal him. I imagine the Giants are unlikely to turn back to Melky Cabrera, Nate Schierholtz, or Alfonso Soriano. Beyond Willingham, Alex Rios and Mike Morse could be a couple names to watch, but the Twins, White Sox, and Mariners are in the range of contention currently.
If the Blue Jays decide to sell any chance the Mets get R.A. Dickey back? - Dan
Having won their last four games, the Jays are currently no further from contention than the Mets, who have dropped six in a row and have the second-to-worst record in the league. So while the Blue Jays could become trade deadline sellers, it's difficult to picture them selling back to the Mets. I also think they'd keep Dickey regardless, as he could be a key piece for them in 2014 and '15. Furthermore, if Dickey's ERA still sits near 5.00 in two months, the Blue Jays would be selling low and perhaps unable to win back either premium prospect sent to New York in the deal, Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard.
Is this the year we trade Andre Ethier and who would we target via trade? - Dodgers fan
Ethier, 31, is hitting .267/.355/.385 on the season in 155 plate appearances. He has over $10MM in remaining salary this year, plus another $70MM for 2014-17. The contract, signed in June of last year, isn't looking so great at the moment given Ethier's power drought. Moving Ethier makes sense this summer if the Dodgers drop completely out of contention, with outfielders Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson waiting in the wings. A top 100 prospect seems unlikely, but the Dodgers could focus on moving 60% or more of the contract, depending on how Ethier is playing in two months. They could also try for a bad contract swap, though I haven't found a good matchup yet.
Does Tampa trade David Price for a legit controllable bat, prospects, or hold on to him this summer? - Grinch
New information has emerged since this question was asked, as Price left last night's start with a left triceps strain. We're not even sure yet if a DL trip will be necessary, but given the expected massive asking price on Price, the injury has to give would-be suitors pause as the lefty has also seen his average fastball velocity dip below 94 miles per hour. The Rays have played well of late, too, so they'd have to take a serious nosedive to consider trading Price with two-plus years of control remaining. Keep in mind too that an ERA in the 4.00s this year would depress Price's 2014 arbitration salary, making it easier for the Rays to fit him into their payroll.
Could Ian Kennedy be a good change of scenery guy? I can think of a few contenders that may want a solid SP that they can buy low on. - Sean
Kennedy, 28, has a 4.88 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.14 HR/9, and 38.8% groundball rate in 55 1/3 innings for the Diamondbacks this year. Strikeouts are down and walks are way up, which is concerning. Earning $4.265MM this year as a first-time arbitration eligible player, Kennedy is at the top of the salary scale for his service class, a pace that might slow a bit with an off-year. He's under team control through 2015, and since he is represented by the Boras Corporation, there's a good chance he reaches free agency when eligible. He is a good candidate for a change of scenery, and if there's one GM who might trade his Opening Day starter midseason while contending, it's the Gunslinger.
Arizona's rotation has a 3.68 ERA, sixth-best in the league even with Kennedy's 4.88 ERA covering about 22% of their innings. The readiness of Triple-A pitchers Tyler Skaggs, Randall Delgado, and Zeke Spruill would have to be a factor in considering a midseason trade of Kennedy. None of them seem ready to fill Kennedy's shoes, as an innings eater who should be able to post a sub-4.00 ERA from here on out if the walks come down. However, as a reader pointed out in the comments, Daniel Hudson should return from Tommy John surgery in July, which could provide the needed depth to trade Kennedy.
Catching depth throughout baseball is thin. When I rolled out my Top 100 Prospects list at FanGraphs in March, I had only four catchers included in that ranking: Travis d'Arnaud of the Mets, Mike Zunino of the Mariners, Austin Hedges of the Padres, and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees. Baseball America's list featured the same four backstops. Baseball Prospectus also had that same quartet, followed by two more names in Jorge Alfaro of the Rangers and Christian Bethancourt of the Braves.
As witnessed by the lists, it's an accomplishment for any organization to have one good catching prospect in a minor league system, let alone two. The New York Yankees organization is enviable in that regard. Sanchez, 20, has been a mainstay on the top prospects lists since he signed out of Venezuela in 2009 as a 16-year-old amateur free agent. He showed up as high as 42nd overall on the three lists mentioned above, and no lower than 57th. The offensive-minded catcher has impressive offensive skills, including plus raw power. His ascent through the Yankees system can be best described as slow and steady.
Signed the same year as Sanchez, J.R. Murphy was selected out of the high school ranks in the second round of the amateur draft and he's just beginning to receive the attention he deserves. A front office contact who is familiar with the catching prospect told MLBTR that Murphy "was signed as a player [people] thought would hit and might be able to catch."
The 22-year-old prospect has flashed offensive potential in the past with good control of the strike zone, gap power and the ability to hit for a respectable average -- but inconsistency has been his downfall at the plate. So far this year, the Florida native is hitting .308 with 12 extra base hits, as well as 16 walks and 17 strikeouts in 28 games.
During the early stages of his pro career, Murphy struggled with receiving the ball and throwing out runners, while also dabbling with the idea of playing third base. He turned the corner in his development behind the plate in 2012 with his success rate at gunning down base runners jumping to more than 30 percent for the first time. So far in 2013, he's just shy of throwing out 50 percent of baserunners while playing at Double-A, one step ahead of his fellow catching prospect.
The talent evaluator who spoke with MLBTR said the Yankees organization thinks very highly of Murphy. "Due to his diligence, ability and the focused hard work of our coaches, he has become a defensive plus. He is on track to become a quality major league catcher," he said. "He receives the ball well and is an above-average thrower. He has the intelligence and game awareness to manage a game at the major league level."
Currently in his fifth pro season, Murphy will need to be added to the 40-man roster by the November deadline to be protected from the annual Rule 5 draft. If added, he'll be granted three option years that will allow him to be shuttled between the majors and the minors during that time frame.
The 10th overall selection in the 2008 amateur draft, Jason Castro's career development has been slowed by trips to the disabled list. In fact, he lost the entire 2011 season to a serious knee injury. Perhaps hampered by the lost playing time, the Astros' starting catcher's offense has not developed as hoped. Still just 25, the Stanford alum has time to jump-start his bat, but Houston has accumulated some solid catching depth in the past year.
Acquired last year from Toronto in a 10-player deal that sent J.A. Happ and two other pitchers to Toronto, catching prospect Carlos Perez has enjoyed the change of scenery. After spending five years in Rookie ball and Low-A ball with the conservative Blue Jays player development program, the Astros loosened the reins on the young player and he responded favorably. In less than a year, the 22-year-old Venezuela native reached Triple-A and is hitting above .300 while playing steady defense. Houston will almost certainly want to protect him prior to this year's Rule 5 draft at the Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tyler Heineman flew under the radar a bit as an eighth round draft pick out of the University of California, Los Angeles in 2012. Since signing, though, he's done nothing but hit. The switch-hitter posted a .352 batting average with 26 walks and 12 strikeouts in 55 games during his short-season debut last year. Jumped all the way to High-A to open 2013, Heineman has hit .329 with just eight strikeouts in 23 games.
Not flashy and with below-average power, the catching prospect shares a similar profile to that of seven-year big leaguer Ryan Hanigan of the Reds. The big challenge for the backstop is to continue polishing his defensive skills to meet the high standards set at the big league level. Time is on Heineman's side as he doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2015 season, which would then buy him three option years.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays opened the 2012 season with the most impressive collection of catching depth in baseball with J.P. Arencibia at the major league level and a plethora of impressive prospects including d'Arnaud, Yan Gomes, Perez, A.J. Jimenez, and Santiago Nessy. Since midway through the 2012 season, Toronto has traded away d'Arnaud (Mets), Gomes (Indians) and Perez (Astros) in an effort to improve the pitching depth at the big league level.
The two remaining catchers have the talent to be considered among the club's Top 10 best prospects. Unfortunately, both have also been bitten by the injury bug. Jimenez blew out his elbow during the 2012 season and underwent Tommy John surgery. The club has been cautious with him in 2013 and he's already missed a little time after experiencing soreness in his surgically-repaired elbow. Nessy received his first full-season assignment in 2013 and was off to a respectable start before suffering a concussion while trying to breakup a double play at second base. He has plus raw power and has made huge strides on the defensive side of his game.
Prospect Tidbits: Seattle's Zunino was considered the cream-of-the-crop when it came to eligible catching prospects in the 2012 amateur draft. Fast forward to 2013 and the University of Florida alum has already reached Triple-A. Two other highly-drafted catchers from 2012 are making names for themselves with solid play so far this season.
Perhaps the hottest hitter in the South Atlantic League, the Mets' Kevin Plawecki (drafted 35th overall) is currently hitting .374 through 35 games in Low-A ball. He's also flashed power with 25 of his 49 hits going for extra bases. If he keeps up this pace, a promotion to High-A or Double-A should be in the cards. Rockies catching prospect Tom Murphy (third round) has appeared in only 24 games thanks to a brief visit to the disabled list, but he's hitting .357 with 17 of his 30 hits going for extra bases. Like Plawecki, Murphy is probably too advanced at the plate for Low-A ball.
Another 2012 draft pick, Josh Elander, attracted attention as a second- or third-round talent as a college catcher but questions surrounding his ability to stick behind the dish caused him to slide to the sixth round where he was nabbed by the Atlanta Braves. After catching briefly in 2012, the prospect was moved out from behind the plate and has played 31 games in left field in 2013. The move has certainly agreed with his offense, as he's hitting .314 with an above-average power output.
Even after signing Carlos Zambrano this week, the Phillies might not be done shopping for pitching, tweets Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. When asked if the club is still considering starters with opt-outs, team exec Scott Proefrock said "we're still scouting". Here's more from around baseball..
- It may not be fair, but Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly will be expected to turn things around once Zack Greinke is back in action, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The banged up Dodgers are 16-22 heading into tonight's game versus the Nationals.
- After announcing the departure of team president George Postolos this week, Astros owner Jim Crane reached out to one of the most beloved figures in club history in Larry Dierker, writes Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. For his part, the 66-year-old is definitely open to returning to the organization.
- Meanwhile, Reid Ryan, son of Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan, is being strongly considered by the Astros to become the team's next president, according to Mark Berman of FOX 26.
Yesterday, we learned that the Brewers offered a contract extension to Jean Segura about a month ago, but no deal is close between the two sides at this time. The 23-year-old has just 81 big league games under his belt and there's not a great deal of precedent in place to work out a new deal as only two position players with less than one year of service (Evan Longoria and Salvador Perez) have inked extensions. Still, Milwaukee would love to lock up their young standout to a team-friendly deal as the Cubs did earlier this week. Here's more out of the NL Central..
- Today was Francisco Rodriguez's opt-out date with the Brewers and the club decided to call him up to the big league roster, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Now that he has been promoted to the varsity squad, K-Rod's deal calls for him to earn roughly $2MM for the 2013 season. Milwaukee had 30 days to evaluate Rodriguez before making their determination today.
- Despite his struggles, Carlos Marmol firmly denied a rumor that he wants out of Chicago in order to get a fresh start, writes Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. “I’m not going nowhere,” Marmol said. “I’m very happy here. I can’t wait until they do something so I can stay here. I always talk about how I love Chicago, I love being here, I love my teammates, I love everybody here.” The pitcher met with agent Paul Kinzer earlier today but Marmol says they weren't talking about moving on from the Cubs.
- In his latest mailbag, a reader asks Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune if the club could get Marmol back on track by moving him to the starting rotation. Sullivan notes that the reliever began as a starter in 2006 and didn't succeed and opines that a trade is the only solution.
Here's the latest out of the American League East..
- Whether you like the Yankees spend-heavy ways or not, you have to give General Manager Brian Cashman a great deal of credit, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. While detractors could call the Bombers lucky for finding diamonds in the rough such as Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay, it's difficult to write off similar success Cashman has had in the two years prior with unheralded acquisitions.
- Despite his resurgence in New York, Vernon Wells still says that he plans to retire after next season when his seven-year, $126MM contract expires, writes Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. When Morosi noted that the allure of playing for the Yankees has kept Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte in the game past age 40, Wells laughed and said, “I think Mariano is sticking with his plan this time, so I’ll go with that.”
- Despite the club's recent slide, Red Sox manager John Farrell says that this is not the time for a shakeup, writes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe.
- Here's more on the Red Sox from earlier today.
As Jean Segura thrives for the Brewers after coming up in the Angels' system, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that he may become a cautionary tale for other clubs who make deals for rentals. The current CBA disallows clubs from making a qualifying offer to free agents they acquired during the just-completed season. That meant that the Halos couldn’t offer Zack Greinke a one-year, $13.3MM deal and, consequently, gained no compensation when he was inked by the Dodgers. When all was said and done, the Angels traded Segura for just 13 starts from Greinke. Here's more out of the AL and NL West..
- The Angels may be struggling, but owner Arte Moreno says that manager Mike Scioscia's job is safe, writes Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Outside of MLB's headquarters in New York, Moreno told Morosi that there is "zero" chance right now that the skipper will lose his job. The owner acknowledged the team's struggles but cited Scioscia's body of work across 14 seasons.
- Moreno also said that he loved having Torii Hunter on the team and would have liked to bring him back. “I thought we were going to get a one-year deal, but we didn’t get it done,” said Moreno. Hunter wound up inking a two-year, $26MM pact with the Tigers over the offseason.
- The owner asserts that he has no regrets about allocating a great deal of his payroll to Albert Pujols. The slugger has hit just .276/.338./496 since signing a ten-year, $240MM deal with the club.
Here are today's minor moves from around the league...
- Astros pitcher Philip Humber has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Oklahoma City, according to Chris Cotillo of CLNSRadio.com (via Twitter). MLBTR has learned that the right-hander has until Friday to accept the assignment or elect free agency. Humber was designated for assignment earlier this week after posting a 9.59 ERA with 5.0 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in seven starts and two relief appearances.
- MLB.com's Corey Brock tweets that the Padres have requested unconditional release waivers on Fautino De Los Santos, confirming an earlier tweet from Chris Cotillo of CLNS Radio. De Los Santos, 27, was designated for assignment over the weekend. He made only two appearances for Triple-A Tucson this season due to an injury but has a 4.21 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings at the Major League level -- all coming with the A's. His release will become official on Thursday.
- The Rangers have signed right-hander Scott Richmond to a minor league contract, according to Jeff Sullivan of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Twitter link). The 33-year-old Canadian hurler has a 5.27 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 169 big league innings for the Blue Jays. Richmond, who was pitching in Korea prior to this signing, was on Team Canada's roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He will report to extended Spring Training, according to Sullivan.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
After a 20-8 start to the 2013 season, the Red Sox have dropped nine of their past 11 games and now find themselves in third place. General manager Ben Cherington's squad is still just three games out of first place but will need to snap their skid promptly to keep up in the AL East. Here are some Sox-related links for your Wednesday afternoon...
- ESPN's Buster Olney appeared on the Mut & Merloni radio show in Boston, and Jerry Spar of WEEI.com has some of the highlights. "It's going to be a crusher" for Jacoby Ellsbury if he continues this season on his current trajectory, says Olney. Ellsbury, who ranks third on Tim Dierkes' free agent power rankings, is hitting just .256/.321/.363 through 39 games. Olney wonders if Ellsbury would gamble on signing a one-year deal rather than settling for a fraction of the $100MM he could have pushed for with a repeat of his 2011 numbers.
- Within that same interview, Olney discussed Boston's decision to trade for Joel Hanrahan this offseason, noting that the Red Sox knew there were some health issues at the time of the trade. Many teams were aware of the issues with Hanrahan, which is why the Pirates didn't get much of a return for their two-time All-Star. Hanrahan joins a long list of players that must re-establish their value before getting paid, says Olney.
- Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston takes a look back at last summer's blockbuster trade with the Dodgers, noting that Loney has departed to the Rays, Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Jerry Sands were included in the Hanrahan deal but Allen Webster and Rubby de la Rosa have looked good. Edes runs down each player the Dodgers received as well as the future financial implications for the Sox. "This will be a good deal for the Dodgers only if they are playing in October," Edes writes. "It may be years before we know how good a deal it was for the Red Sox."