The Nationals and right-hander Stephen Strasburg have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $10.4MM salary for the 2016 season, tweets Jon Heyman. That lines up nearly perfectly with MLBTR’s projection of $10.5MM for the Scott Boras client, who is entering his final season before free agency. Strasburg projects to be the top name available on next year’s market as things currently stand.
Agent Scott Boras says that if the Nationals want to extend Bryce Harper, they’ll have to initiate talks, Nats Insider’s Mark Zuckerman writes. “I think those are club dynamics,” Boras said Wednesday. “Whenever any team approaches me about any player, obviously we have dialogue with them. But at this point in time, Bryce is going to be there for three more years, very happy there. So we’ll just go forward.” The Nats control Harper through 2018, and GM Mike Rizzo recently suggested that extending him wasn’t the most pressing issue for him right now. “We’ve got quite a bit of control left on him,” said Rizzo earlier this week. “I’m sure that’ll be a discussion with myself and ownership in the future.” Of course, signing Harper long-term would be incredibly difficult, given his agent, his free agency timeline and the difficulty of establishing what an extension for a player so talented and so young ought to look like. There also doesn’t seem to be any progress toward an extension for starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, Zuckerman writes. Here’s more from the NL East.
- The Nationals had interest in a trade involving Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies at one point, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. There is currently nothing brewing between the two teams, however. The Rockies are reportedly willing to deal Gonzalez, as well as Corey Dickerson and/or Charlie Blackmon.
- The Marlins aren’t currently actively looking to trade Marcell Ozuna, ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweets. They’re still open to offers, but it now appears more likely Ozuna will remain with the organization than that he’ll depart. Earlier this week it was reported that seven or more teams had interest in Ozuna, and the outfielder has been the subject of trade rumors for some time now, although Marlins exec Michael Hill recently denied that his team was shopping Ozuna. In any case, if the Marlins do ultimately decide to part with Ozuna, there will surely continue to be significant interest, since he’s barely 25, has lots of raw power, can play center field, and has held his own in parts of three big-league seasons.
- The Marlins continue to discuss Jose Fernandez with “five or six teams,” a source tells FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi (who reports the news on Twitter). The Marlins’ price for Fernandez unsurprisingly and understandably remains high, and the team doesn’t appear to be particularly close to a trade. Here’s more on Fernandez.
- The Braves had interest in infielder Asdrubal Cabrera before Cabrera ultimately agreed to terms with the Mets, Morosi tweets. It’s unclear where Cabrera would have fit with the Braves, but there surely would have been ample playing time in shaky infield that currently features Jace Peterson, Erick Aybar and Adonis Garcia as potential starters at second, shortstop and third, respectively. The Braves added utilityman Emilio Bonifacio today, and 3B/2B Gordon Beckham last week.
Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg had a non-cancerous growth surgically removed from his back shortly after the season ended, agent Scott Boras told reporters, including James Wagner of the Washington Post, at today’s GM Meetings. As Wagner points out, the news contradicts a statement made yesterday by Nats GM Mike Rizzo, in which he said the Nationals didn’t have any postseason surgeries. Back and oblique issues sent Strasburg to the disabled list on multiple occasions this season, and the right-hander carried a 6.55 ERA through his first 10 starts before turning around and dealing to the tune of a 1.76 ERA with a 110-to-12 K/BB ratio across his final 13 starts (82 innings). It’s easy to imagine the growth serving as the root of many of Strasburg’s back issues in 2015. The former No. 1 overall draft pick is arbitration eligible for the final time this offseason and will likely be the market’s top free agent following the 2016 season.
A few more notes on the Nationals…
- Wagner also reports (via Twitter) that the Nationals are interested in Ben Zobrist. Washington has been interested in Zobrist in the past as well, and the versatile switch-hitter could factor into the team’s plans in the infield or in the outfield. Of course, the Nats would face steep competition in the market for Zobrist, who is drawing widespread interest due to that versatility and his long track record of above-average production at the plate.
- While many have speculated that the Nationals could look to upgrade at catcher, Rizzo spoke highly of Wilson Ramos despite a down season in 2015. “He was No. 1 in throwing runners out. He was up for a Gold Glove,” said Rizzo. “He was one of the top in National League in home runs and RBI. He had a down year in getting on base, not like he should, and hitting for average. But as far as a guy, as catchers go, really had some impact in the lineup with power, RBI and catch-throw skills were fine. We like Ramos. He’s a guy that it would be difficult to find a better replacement for.” The Nats have been listed as a speculative fit for Matt Wieters, especially considering Ramos’ 2015 struggles and his status as a free agent next winter. However, Rizzo’s comments line up with previous reports indicating that Washington will not be a serious player for the market’s top free-agent catcher.
- Ian Desmond said in a recent MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM appearance (MLB.com video link) that he would “love to give [the Nationals] an opportunity to tell me the direction that they’re moving in and go from there” when discussing the Nats. It’s expected that Desmond will sign elsewhere, and while he could sign with any club, he did say in that appearance that he “loves the National League game” and considers himself a “National League guy,” though he of course didn’t rule out signing with an American League club.
Here are the latest notes from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:
- The Rangers and Nationals had trade talks involving Stephen Strasburg over the winter, per Rosenthal. Nothing ever came close to getting done in those “wide-ranging” talks, in which Steven Souza (later dealt to the Rays) and Jurickson Profar (later scratched for the season) also came up. It’s not clear from the report what kind of scenarios were considered. Looking forward, it remains to be seen whether there will be any consideration given this winter to a deal involving the 27-year-old righty. Strasburg’s value is down, due both to an inconsistent 2015 season and to the fact that he now has only one season left before hitting free agency, but it’s still hard to imagine the Nats letting him go unless the return was rather significant.
- The Braves could line up a pursuit of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in free agency, a source tells Rosenthal. While it’s not hard to see the appeal — he’s a power bat at a position of need, and could line up with the team’s timetable for contention — such a move would still rate as a surprise. Atlanta only just got out from under the ill-fated Melvin Upton contract, which showed the risk of such a free agent signing given the team’s recent payroll restrictions, and Cespedes could well cost twice or more what Upton did ($75MM).
- Early returns on the summer trade hauls of the Phillies and Brewers have been positive. There is some nice buzz around Philadelphia’s system, especially with all the depth its added in recent months and the intriguing players that came over for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s return for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers has looked rather compelling, with Domingo Santana raking in his early MLB action and the trio of other players finishing strong at Double-A. (Remember: the key player in that deal, Brett Phillips, joined the MLBTR Podcast just after being swapped, as did righty Zach Davies, who is now in the big leagues after being acquired for Gerardo Parra.)
- Mets VP of player development and scouting Paul DePodesta has been plugging away at that post for five years, and the fruits of his labors are now showing at the big league level. Rosenthal reports that the former Dodgers general manager “would consider returning to a GM’s role” with another organization, if the circumstances were right, though many still believe he’ll ultimately take over in New York for Sandy Alderson at some point.
The Nationals have placed Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain, and recalled righty Taylor Jordan from Triple-A Syracuse to take his place, the club announced today. Strasburg left his start yesterday after just 56 pitches due to discomfort in his left side.
The transaction continues what’s been a frustrating season for Strasburg, who’s already made one trip to the DL to recover from a strained left trapezius muscle and has also dealt with several other nagging injuries. Strasburg has only pitched 61 innings in 2015 and his health issues have surely been a factor in his uncharacteristically high 5.16 ERA. His peripheral numbers (9.3 K/9, 2.7 BB/9) and ERA indicators (3.55 FIP, 3.38 xFIP, 3.44 SIERA) suggest that Strasburg had pitched somewhat better than his ERA, which could also be explained by a .355 BABIP and a low 64.1% strand rate. Since returning from his initial DL stint, Strasburg had looked much better, allowing just two runs and posting 18 strikeouts over 15 2/3 innings.
If Strasburg is able to make a quick recovery, there’s a chance he might technically not need to be replaced on the pitching staff. Nats manager Matt Williams hinted that the team could simply employ a four-man rotation until the All-Star break since Washington has an off-day on Thursday. If Strasburg is still on the DL once the second half resumes, Tanner Roark (who has already made six starts this year) will likely take his spot in the rotation.
It’s doubtful that Strasburg’s injury would lead to an external acquisition even if he did miss significant time. Nationals starters have combined for a league-best 10.6 fWAR, with Roark and Joe Ross providing valuable depth behind Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Strasburg.
Stephen Strasburg left the mound during the fourth inning of today’s Giants/Nationals game with an injury in his left side. The Nats ace wanted to keep pitching but “given his season, so far, I don’t want to take a chance there,” manager Matt Williams told reporters, including MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. Strasburg has already had one extended DL stint to recover from a strained left trapezius and he’s been dealing with neck and back soreness all year, which has undoubtedly contributed to his 5.16 ERA over 61 innings (though an ungainly .365 BABIP also hasn’t helped). Here’s the latest from around the senior circuit…
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak tells Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he’s targeting starting pitching depth and a left-handed bench bat. While the Cards’ rotation has been one of the best in the game this season, it’s also a pretty young staff with some pitchers who have had checkered injury histories, so Mozeliak said he has to “be aware of the potential hazards” and that “my job is to make sure if it doesn’t last, then how do you answer it?”
- Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks the July 2 prospects already signed by the Cardinals (righty Alvaro Seijas and shortstop Raffy Ozuna, both 16 years old) and how the team has evolved its forays into the international market.
- Scott Boras tells Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald that he sees no reason why the Marlins couldn’t afford to keep Jose Fernandez, even with Giancarlo Stanton already locked up on a historically large deal. “With TV rights and the general fund contribution and everything — every club, before they sell a ticket, they’re making $120 million,” Boras said. “There’s a lot of revenue in this game to pay a lot of players and keep players at home.” The Marlins believes that Fernandez and Marcell Ozuna both declined to pursue extensions last winter under Boras’ advice, but the agent said that his players make those decisions.
- Cubs president Theo Epstein cautioned that his team may not make any huge moves at the trade deadline, telling reporters (including Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune) that “if you look at the history of teams that go on and play in the World Series, very rarely is it (because of a) deadline deal. We know what we’d like to do, but we’re realistic about what we might be able to do.” Epstein also noted that some teams who are solely in the wild card hunt may not favor making a big push just to get into a one-game playoff; while he was “just speaking generally,” Epstein’s comments could relate to the Cubs themselves, who are 8.5 games back of the Cardinals in the NL Central.
Despite what the standings say, the Marlins are not yet entertaining the idea of selling, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. The club is not interested in moving core players, says Frisaro, noting that dealing third baseman Martin Prado — who is under contract for next year as well — does not make sense, at least at present.
Here’s more from the NL East:
- Skipper Dan Jennings says that the Marlins’ decision to option Steve Cishek was motivated by a desire to get his mechanics in order outside the big league spotlight, Frisaro reports. Noting that Cishek’s velocity has improved of late, Jennings said he expects a short minor league stint: “I don’t see this being a long-term deal at all. I think he will come back and be the same Steve Cishek we’ve known in the past.”
- The upcoming draft is an important one for a Phillies organization that is working to add as much impact talent as possible, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes. Johnny Almaraz will oversee the picking for the first time, and Salisbury suggests he’s likely to “stay away from project-type players, at least up high.” Philadelphia has struggled to produce draft talent in the not-so-distant past, but seems thus far to have hit on both of its last two picks: shortstop J.P. Crawford and righty Aaron Nola. “It’s an interesting draft,” said GM Ruben Amaro Jr. “There’s some depth. Maybe not tons of super difference makers, but there’s some good players out there.”
- Medical analysis confirms that Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg has a strained left trapezius, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. For now, the plan is for Strasburg to rest, with the hope that he’ll be ready to resume throwing in relatively short order.
- The Nationals have also received encouraging news on another injured right-handed starter, Doug Fister. As Wagner writes, Fister says his forearm tightness has “pretty much subsided completely.” The veteran went on to say that he has never been too concerned about the issue: “It was really just more tight than complete, utter mayhem. So I mean, it wasn’t a bad issue. It was more of just I really need a break for some reason, there’s so much tightness going on that we really need to address it.” As important as Fister is to Washington, his ability to recover and regain his effectiveness may tell even more on his free agent status. The 31-year-old has produced consistently excellent results over the last four seasons, but saw a dip in his velocity and strikeout tallies early this year.
Movement towards a possible return of Major League Baseball to Montreal continues to build, though important questions like “how?” and “when?” remain to be answered in the future. Montreal mayor Denis Coderre met yesterday with commissioner Rob Manfred, as Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports. Coderre said he hoped to convey the city’s “political will” to land a franchise, calling the meeting “the beginning” of that process. “I think what we need to do is establish a roadmap,” said Coderre. “Our enthusiasm for this project is clear. We love the sport. We’re serious about it. This isn’t just a gesture. … I don’t know about a timeframe, but this is a town for baseball, and we’re keeping the flame.”
- The Mets have weathered the loss of several key relievers fairly well: the unit has combined for the fifth-best pen ERA in baseball. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes, New York can look ahead to the addition of Jenrry Mejia, Vic Black, Bobby Parnell, and Jerry Blevins, to say nothing of young starters like Rafael Montero and Steven Matz. While there’s plenty of uncertainty in that group, there is some upside, and Sherman says that could free the team to put its resources toward the acquisition of a hitter over the summer.
- With the mid-season trade market looming, the landscape has changed for the Phillies and ace Cole Hamels, Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer observes. He looks at the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Red Sox as possible landing spots, though certainly those clubs could be in on other arms and would very likely face other competition on Hamels if they choose to pursue him. Things are shaping up rather well for Philadelphia, on the whole: the 31-year-old leads the league with 74 1/3 innings and has produced a 2.91 ERA with 9.2 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9.
- The Nationals have placed Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day DL as he continues to deal with neck and back issues, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports (links to Twitter). The team is “perplexed” as to the cause of the problems, per Kolko, particularly since the most recent stiffness has arisen on the opposite side of his body than that which occurred just weeks ago. While the hope is that Strasburg will only miss the minimum fifteen days, it seems time to attempt to identify the root cause.
- Top Braves prospect Jose Peraza, a second baseman by trade, is spending increasing time at center field for the club’s Triple-A affiliate, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes. For now, the intent seems only to increase his defensive flexibility. The club has been impressed with young second baseman Jace Peterson, and Bowman explains that the team does not see either as an option at third. Of course, Cameron Maybin has shown new life in Atlanta out in center — a subject that David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discussed with me on last week’s MLBTR podcast — but this move opens new possibilities for Atlanta.
Earlier, we discussed a report from Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times indicating that the Cubs will be players if Ben Zobrist is marketed. In that piece, he also discusses the team’s need for pitching. Chicago is “in the mix” for Rafael Soriano and could also be interested in Diamondbacks lefty Oliver Perez. Discussing the team’s summer plans, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein hinted that the club will be looking hard at additions — as Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago said he expected on last week’s MLBTR podcast. “We’re trying to balance short- and long-term interests,” said Epstein. “But we’re in a situation [in which] we have a fairly competitive team right now, and we have some needs. So you don’t ignore that. You keep it in mind. But at the same time you can’t just go out and unilaterally add.”
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo indicated that he believes the club can get by with internal options like Michael Taylor and Tyler Moore while Jayson Werth recovers from a fractured wrist, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. The left-handed-hitting Clint Robinson could also see time. My own guess is that another lefty bat could be acquired if the right player becomes available, but that the team will not be aggressive unless the need becomes more apparent. It’s worth recalling, too, that Matt den Dekker is still available at Triple-A, with Nate McLouth still a possible candidate to return later in the year.
- Stephen Strasburg left tonight’s start for the Nationals after just five batters. As Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports (Twitter links), Strasburg is said to have suffered a left trap muscle issue of some kind. The righty, who has struggled uncharacteristically, said that his neck tightened up so much that he had trouble turning his head. While it does not appear that there is any concern with arm issues, Strasburg’s general difficulties and neck and back issues are certainly an increasing problem for him and the club.
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak says he does not have any retrospective qualms over his acquisition of outfielder Jason Heyward, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Heyward has shown some signs of life after a rough start, but the outstanding early performance of Shelby Miller stands in stark contrast at present. “I think whenever you make those kind of deals, there are reasons behind it,” Mozeliak explained. “And at the time, we felt that we had to do something. Not only looking at how we want this club to be put together, but we did not feel like there might be any other opportunities that would meet the type of criteria we’re looking for.”
- Though he has not yet been evaluated, injured Diamondbacks catcher Tuffy Gosewisch says a radiologist that looked at the MRI on his knee believes he may have a torn ACL, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets. Certainly, that would mean a disappointing end to the year for the 31-year-old, who has struggled at the plate in his opportunity at a starting role. Arizona has called up recent signee Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who will presumably take a good portion of the time behind the dish.
- Several Giants players have upcoming opt-out dates, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News writes. Righty Kevin Correia can become a free agent on the first of June, while third baseman Casey McGehee can opt out on June 5.
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.”