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Starlin Castro Rumors
The Cubs have demoted outfielder Junior Lake to Triple-A Iowa, according to the MLB.com transactions page. After a good rookie season as a 23-year-old in 2013, Lake has struggled badly this season, hitting .216/.243/.364 in 305 plate appearances. None of the outfielders who started for the Cubs in their Opening Day loss to the Pirates this season are still on their active roster — the Cubs have optioned Lake, traded Emilio Bonifacio to the Braves, and released Nate Schierholtz, lately going with some combination of Chris Coghlan, Arismendy Alcantara, Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney in the outfield. Here’s more from Chicago.
- The Cubs are loaded with young shortstops, but GM Jed Hoyer says they don’t need to trade any of them, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun Times writes. Chicago has Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Alcantara, which means that the team could have to find new positions for as many as three of them if they want to keep them all. “I think we can be a better team for it in a lot of ways if we end up doing that,” says Hoyer. (Alcantara has already played shortstop only sparingly this season, spending time in second base and outfield instead.) The shortstop-starved Mets love the Cubs’ talent at that position, and Wittenmyer notes that they like Russell more than Castro.
- Nearly two years into a four-year, $52MM deal, Edwin Jackson has been a bust so far, Wittenmyer writes. This season, Jackson has a 5.74 ERA in 136 1/3 innings, although his reasonable 8.0 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 suggest he’s been at least somewhat better than his ERA indicates. Jackson is still just 30 and has good stuff, so his struggles in Chicago have been a disappointment. “I think it’s his location,” Hoyer says. “When he pitches up in the zone he gets hit, and the times he’s been able to stay down in the zone and locate his fastball away, he’s had some success.” Given that Jackson still throws hard and has two years left on his contract, the Cubs are likely to continue to give him chances to reemerge.
The Cubs are receiving some trade interest in Starlin Castro but don’t expect to trade him this month, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports 1. That lines up with a tweet from Newsday’s David Lennon earlier this week, when Lennon noted that Castro isn’t expected to be dealt in 2015, and the Cubs may slide him over to third base in 2015. That would be a surprise, given the organization’s wealth of third base prospects, although such a move would clear a spot for Javier Baez.
Here’s more on the Cubs and the NL Central…
- For what it’s worth, Baez made his first professional appearance at second base in last night’s Triple-A contest, as first noted by Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register last night (on Twitter). Getting Baez some looks at second base could also clear a path for him, though the Cubs have been wowed by the early returns on fellow top prospect Arismendy Alcantara. Suffice it to say, the Cubs’ infield depth is flat out enviable.
- Brewers GM Doug Melvin spoke to reporters, including MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, and discussed the trade deadline. Melvin noted that he will have his ears open, but he isn’t fixated on the idea that making an acquisition is necessary for his team to reach the postseason. He cited a lack of availability of quality first basemen and the eventual returns of Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson when asked about perceived needs in the ‘pen and at first. Said Melvin: “If you can add, you add. But I like our team.”
- Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was a guest on the Baseball Tonight podcast with Buster Olney today and discussed the Cardinals second-half needs. While he says the absence of Yadier Molina should be the team’s biggest issue, a quieter concern is how many innings they get from the rotation. Of the team’s current starters, only Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright have shown the ability to pitch deep into games. Cardinals starters other than Lynn and Wainwright have averaged just 5 1/3 innings per start.
- Goold also says the Cardinals know that at some point, they have to make some kind of move to address their outfield surplus. Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, James Ramsey and Oscar Taveras are all potential long-term pieces, and the team also has Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay and Allen Craig as center field/right field options. Dangling Grichuk, Piscotty, Ramsey and Taveras will get them in the conversation for a number of pitchers, he adds.
- Goold thinks the Cardinals would be willing to at least discuss the possibility of sending Taveras to Tampa in a Price trade (though he doesn’t mention specific confirmation of that fact), but such a deal might be contingent on St. Louis securing an extension with Price. Talks between the two sides would be interesting, Goold notes, because the sides value players and value team control so similarly. Olney speculates that Price would be open to an extension with the Cards, noting the proximity of St. Louis to Price’s native Nashville.
- James Russell‘s name was “heard very often” as a trade possibility this weekend, Peter Gammons tweets. With Chicago in seller mode, Russell’s 2.22 ERA would definitely attract teams looking for a left-handed bullpen arm, though his 4.45 xFIP suggests he has been greatly helped by a .209 BABIP and an 82.6% strand rate this year. Russell has also posted reverse splits this season by pitching much better against right-handed hitters, as opposed to his usual dominance over left-handed batters. Russell, 28, is pitching on a one-year, $1.775MM contract and is arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter. The southpaw also drew a lot of interest during last year’s trade deadline and was close to being dealt to the Braves.
- A member of the Mets organization described Starlin Castro as “a perfect match” for their club, John Harper of the New York Daily News reports. Addison Russell‘s acquisition makes the Cubs even deeper at shortstop and Castro seems like a logical trade candidate, while Harper feels the Mets have the young pitchers necessary to swing a deal. Harper suggests Zack Wheeler and a minor league leaguer could interest the Cubs, though the Mets would balk at moving Wheeler and Jacob deGrom, or top prospect Noah Syndergaard.
- Newsday’s David Lennon, however, doesn’t see the Mets rushing to acquire any major pieces this month, let alone for Castro. In regards to the Cubs shortstop, the Mets would have issues taking on Castro’s contract and one New York official brought up Castro’s somewhat low on-base percentages as a cause for concern.
- The Cubs’ focus on amassing position player depth in their minor league system stands contrary to the Cardinals’ long-standing strategy of developing as many young pitchers as possible, Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes.
The average value of a Major League Baseball franchise is now $811MM, a rise of nine percent from 2013 that can be largely attributed to an increase in TV revenue, according to Forbes Magazine's Mike Ozanian. For the 17th straight year, the Yankees (worth $2.5 billion) top Forbes' annual valuation of baseball's franchises. The Dodgers ($2 billion), Red Sox ($1.5 billion), Cubs ($1.2 billion) and Giants ($1 billion) also hit the ten-figure mark, while the Rays had the lowest value at $485MM. The Mets, Marlins and Astros were the only three franchises who saw their values drop from last year's Forbes rankings.
Here's some more news from around baseball…
- Starlin Castro says he's open to moving from shortstop to accommodate star prospect Javier Baez, CSN Chicago's David Kaplan reports. "If I need to move positions, I'm OK with that," Castro said. "If he is on our team and him being there helps the team win, then I am fine with that. I just want our team to win. That's it." There had been speculation that Baez would see time at second base at Triple-A this season in preparation for a position switch of his own, though Cubs manager Rick Renteria stated that Baez would play short in the minors. Widely considered one of baseball's top prospects, Baez has a .903 OPS in 916 minor league PA and hit even better during the Cubs' Spring Training camp this year.
- The Mets' inability to find a trade partner for Ike Davis last winter means that the club is now in the awkward situation of finding playing time for both Davis and Lucas Duda at first base, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Neither left-handed slugger hits southpaws well, so while Josh Satin will start against lefties, Davis and Duda will have to divvy up the starts against right-handers.
- Astros manager Bo Porter said today that the club's top waiver claim priority was keeping them from finalizing the rotation, and general manager Jeff Luhnow went into more detail with reporters (including Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle) about his team's examination of the waiver wire. "I will tell you that these days we’re meeting every day at least once…probably twice, and we get input from the staff and do our research," Luhnow said. “This is the time of year with clubs setting their 25-man roster in the next couple days that every other guy that’s out of options comes available, and we’re going to look at it seriously because it’s a way that we can fill the team.”
- The Rangers, Athletics, Rockies, Angels and Diamondbacks all made notable moves this offseason that could prove to be mistakes within a few seasons or even in 2014, opines ESPN's Jim Bowden (Insider subscription required). Colorado might've broken even in Bowden's eyes, though, since the Rockies are also on the good end of one of those "backfire" transactions.
- When a number of scouts, managers and other baseball personnel were asked “Were there any young players you watched and said, ‘this guy has a chance to be a star?’” by Peter Gammons, the name most often cited was Carlos Correa. The Astros shortstop headlines the top 10 list, though Cubs fans will be excited to know that Kris Bryant, Baez and Albert Almora all cracked the top seven.
Starlin Castro claims that stress related to an ongoing legal dispute in the Dominican Republic has affected his on-field performance for the Cubs, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports. A coach at a baseball school in the Dominican is suing Castro, contending that a contract the shortstop's father signed when Castro was an amateur entitles the academy to a portion of his Major League earnings. The affair has had a "direct impact on his duties as a professional ballplayer, leading to one of his worst-ever statistical performances," Castro's countersuit states. While the 23-year-old played in 161 games last season, 2013 saw him slump to a .245/.284/.347 line. The 2014 season will be the second of the seven-year, $60MM deal Castro signed inked with the Cubs in 2012. Here's more from around baseball's Central divisions:
- Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer thinks the Indians can still add a couple of players to their roster, but they'll come via trades or minor league signings.
- A Twins official tells Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (via Twitter) that he doesn't see the club getting in on free agent bats Stephen Drew and Nelson Cruz. Minnesota has money to spend but the draft pick compensation that is required to sign them is an issue.
- Longtime Brewer Corey Hart took out a full-page ad in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to thank the city for its support, Big League Stew's Mark Townsend notes. Hart is headed to Seattle after agreeing to a one-year deal with the Mariners that reportedly guarantees him $6MM.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is fighting to prevent millions of dollars from being seized from his bank accounts, Juan Perez Jr. and Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune report. When Castro was 16, his father allegedly signed a contract promising three percent of Castro's big-league earnings to a baseball academy in the Dominican. When Castro signed his $60MM contract in 2012, the academy claimed Castro owed it $1.8MM. Dominican law states that twice that figure be frozen until the matter is resolved, so Dominican authorities have frozen $3.6MM. Castro's lawyers, meanwhile, are fighting for that $3.6MM to be unfrozen, and they're also asking for $5MM in damages. They claim that the academy did not have the right to percentage of Castro's extension. Castro was just 16 when the agreement was with the academy was reached, and he signed the big contract with the Cubs after he turned 18. Castro's father didn't have the right to sign away his earnings past age 18, Castro's attorneys argue. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- There were high expectations for Theo Epstein when he became president of the Cubs, and Andy MacPhail faced similar expectations two decades ago, CSNChicago.com's Patrick Mooney reports. MacPhail served as president and CEO of the Cubs from 1994 through 2006. Like Epstein, he preceded his tenure in Chicago by winning two World Series titles as a general manager (with the Twins). Like Epstein, MacPhail planned the Cubs' resurgence around young talent, although it didn't work perfectly in MacPhail's case, partly because of the Cubs' struggles to keep pitchers like Kerry Wood and Mark Prior healthy. "We weren’t the luckiest birds in the world, health-wise, with our starting pitchers. But most people forget – I think we had a better won-loss record in ’04 (89-73) than we did ’03 (88-74). So we were kind of building towards it," MacPhail says.
- Grant Balfour says he told Orioles executive Dan Duquette what he thinks about the O's backing out of his two-year deal with them, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "I called Dan Duquette and told him, 'I’ve played in this league for 10 years, I deserve to be treated with respect and you did not treat me with respect.'" Balfour says. "'Two well respected physicians said I am completely healthy – because I am healthy. I’m a fighter and a winner and I would have given you your best chance to win.'"
- Jonathan Papelbon and Ruben Amaro Jr. "deserve each other," the Inquirer's Matt Gelb writes. Papelbon has been "surly" about his tenure with the Phillies, and Amaro has been defiant about the Phillies' outlook. The Phillies are trying to trade Papelbon, but they may be stuck, not only because of Papelbon's declining velocity and peripherals, but also because general managers aren't as keen as they once were on spending tens of millions of dollars on closers.
- The Yankees' additions of switch-hitters Carlos Beltran and Brian Roberts should help balance their lineup, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. "We were too left-handed last year and [because of injury, in particular] too easy to navigate through at times," says manager Joe Girardi. "I think the switch-hitters make it tougher for the opposing manager." Beltran himself actually hit far better from the left side (.315/.362/.509) than the right side (.252/.281/.448) in 2013, although he's hit only slightly better as a lefty than as a righty for his career.
- According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times (Twitter link), the Cubs have received inquiries about Starlin Castro's availability, but have no intention of trading him. "We're excited to have Starlin," said GM Jed Hoyer.
- Hoyer hasn't ruled out the possibility of the Cubs trading a top prospect, telling reporters, including Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com (Twitter link), that they "would certainly consider it" if it made sense for the club's long-term future.
- Discussing potential free agent additions, GM Neal Huntington said today that it's very unlikely the Pirates would sign a player that required giving up draft pick compensation, and confirmed that Pittsburgh won't be in on Masahiro Tanaka if he's posted (Twitter links via Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review).
- The Pirates plan to fill their hole in right field internally, but are keeping an eye out for a starting pitcher, a middle infielder, and another bat (likely a first baseman), according to Huntington (Twitter link via Sawchik).
- Adam Rubin of ESPN New York (Twitter link) continues to hear that the Brewers' preference is to re-sign Corey Hart, assuming the money doesn't rise out of their price range. In that case, the Mets would have to look elsewhere for an Ike Davis trade partner.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum is upset with his team's recent play and says that players who don't perform won't have big-league jobs, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times reports. That goes for top young players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. "I don’t think [anyone’s] invincible if you’re not performing," Sveum says regarding Castro and Rizzo. "It’s not about what we think can happen three or four years from now. It’s time to perform on a consistent basis."
Wittenmyer writes that Sveum's harsh words for Castro and Rizzo "threw a sudden dose of skepticism and doubt into the widespread assumptions about the Cubs’ core," but acknowledges that, in reality, Castro and Rizzo will be with the Cubs for the foreseeable future. Sveum is suggesting they might be demoted, but that seems extremely unlikely, and it's even less likely that either of them would be traded. The Cubs signed Castro to a seven-year, $60MM contract last August. Rizzo is not signed to a long-term deal. Both players have hit well this season despite occasional mistakes in the field. Here are more notes from around the majors.
- John Poloni — also known as the "fat scout" in Michael Lewis' Moneyball – lobbied for the Athletics to draft Tim Hudson in 1997, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. Hudson wasn't regarded as a top draft prospect due to his size, but Poloni told the A's that Hudson had "the best sinker he'd ever seen." 16 years later, Hudson is nearing his 200th win in the big leagues. That doesn't mean Poloni is rushing to take credit, however. "He exceeded my expectations, too," Poloni says. "A lot of times, it's pure luck."
- Last offseason's big-ticket free agents haven't performed well so far, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Rick Hummel. One of the highest-profile disappointments thus far has probably been Josh Hamilton of the Angels, although it's still early enough in the season that one big series could make any player's statistics look considerably better.
The Cubs and the Diamondbacks recently discussed the feasibility of a trade involving right fielder Justin Upton, two major league sources told Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com. According to both sources, the Diamondbacks asked for two-time All-Star Starlin Castro in return for Upton and were rebuffed. Theo Epstein & Co. decided that the asking price was too high and cut off talks.
Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers has an obvious surplus of talent in the outfield but he has made it clear that he wants quality in return for Upton, Jason Kubel, or anyone else. Meanwhile, the asking price for Upton may not be the only hurdle to overcome in a deal involving the Cubs. The Cubs are on the 25-year-old’s no-trade list, along with the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Mariners. Upton invoked his limited no trade privileges in order to block a deal to Seattle earlier this winter.
Upton has three years remaining on his deal and is owed $38MM over that span. Despite the lofty price tag that Towers has put on Upton, the club is still reportedly intent on moving him.
A few NL Central free agent targets were identified today, as the Brewers and Cubs are in on Jason Grilli among other relievers, the Pirates have expressed interest in John Lannan, and the Cardinals are in the mix for Scott Hairston. More from the division…
- The Cardinals met with Marco Scutaro's agent tonight, tweets Danny Knobler of CBS Sports. Scutaro is represented by Barry Praver.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington told reporters including Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "In our minds, we’ve already made our big move with Russ." The Bucs signed Russell Martin for $17MM last week, but still have some work to do. Biertempfel notes that the Pirates have shown interest in five recently non-tendered pitchers: Manny Parra, Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny, Jair Jurrjens, and Mike Pelfrey.
- There have been no substantive talks between the Cardinals and Adam Wainwright about an extension, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Cardinals, of course, still remain interested in doing an extension with the 31-year-old before his contract season officially begins.
- Most of the quality lefty relievers are likely to be signed by week's end, suggested Cardinals GM John Mozeliak (B.J. Rains of FOX Sports Midwest reporting).
- The Cardinals and infielder Skip Schumaker are open to a trade, reports Rains, but of course it'd have to make sense for the team.
- The pressure of last summer's contract extension talks affected the performance of Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, agent Paul Kinzer told Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com. The 22-year-old can rest easy now that he's under contract through at least 2019.
- The Cubs remain popular with free agents, president Theo Epstein told reporters including Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. The team is looking to get creative at third base and will continue to monitor the available starting pitchers (and presumably relievers). Epstein suggested the Cubs have interest in some recently non-tendered players.