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Stephen Strasburg Rumors
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.”
Second baseman Dan Uggla has done enough to make the Opening Day roster, but it’s unclear how he’ll be used, writes Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider. After a couple dismal seasons, Uggla is in camp as a NRI. He’s hit a solid .278/.422/.500 after undergoing a new vision treatment over the offseason.
His lack of defensive versatility makes him difficult to roster. The club intends to use Yunel Escobar at second base with Danny Espinosa as a utility infielder. Uggla has an opt out, so he’s unlikely to remain with the organization if he’s assigned to the minors. Per Uggla, he wouldn’t feel comfortable in a reserve role. Once Anthony Rendon returns from injury, it’s hard to imagine the Nationals finding a place to keep Uggla.
- Reliever Casey Janssen will undergo a MRI on his sore pitching shoulder, reports James Wagner of the Washington Post. Manager Matt Williams described the injury as “generally it’s in his lat…it’s not something that’s normal soreness for him.” That’s worrisome because he missed time with a lat injury late last season. He’s also dealt with other shoulder injuries in the past. Janssen signed a one-year, $3.5MM over the winter and is expected to serve as the eighth inning reliever for the Nationals.
- GM Mike Rizzo won’t be tinkering with the roster much in the coming days. When asked if he could add players before the opener, he told reporters, including Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider (on Twitter), “We’re satisfied. We like the team we have.” The injury bug has bitten multiple Nats player, including Denard Span and Rendon.
- The Nationals may allow star pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg to walk via free agency, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. The reason has nothing to do with their performance. Both pitchers received Tommy John surgery in the past. Per Boswell, the “life expectancy” for the reconstructed elbow is eight years. Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs estimates that risk of re-injury increases sharply after just 400 to 600 innings. In either event, the injury history may partially explain the club’s willingness to add Max Scherzer over the offseason.
Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM contract with the Nationals is still the talk of baseball, and Chase Hughes of CSNWashington.com was among the reporters to speak with GM Mike Rizzo, the Lerner family (who own the Nats) and agent Scott Boras at today’s introductory press conference. The massive deferrals in the contract — half of Scherzer’s guarantee is deferred from 2022-28 — were essential to its completion. “If that didn’t happen, there wouldn’t have been a deal,” said Mark Lerner. “It was really my father and (Rizzo) coming up with a creative deal and luckily it worked out for everybody.” Rizzo explained that a straight seven-year deal would not have fit into the team’s budgetary parameters. Boras, meanwhile, said that he had to have multiple discussions with the Lerner family, as the front office and manager Matt Willians approved of the move from a baseball standpoint. Said Boras: “It was really a matter of working out their interests, understanding the complexity, what’s going to be best for the team — long term, short term — their revenue dynamic.”
Here’s a bit more on Scherzer and his new team…
- ESPN’s Jayson Stark takes a look at the history of seven-year contracts for free agent pitchers and points out that the odds aren’t in the Nationals’ favor on this contract. Kevin Brown‘s seven-year deal with the Dodgers is probably the best signed by a free agent hurler, he writes, with CC Sabathia‘s current seven-year deal ranking second. Brown’s deal ended poorly, and Sabathia’s looks to be on a similar trajectory. Stark spoke with a number of executives about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of seven-year deals for pitchers, with several execs opining that Jon Lester (who signed a six-year deal) is a better bet to hold up in the long term than Scherzer. One GM plainly stated: “Look, these contracts are dumb to begin with. Really, only a three- or four-year deal makes sense. Seven or eight is what the players want. So they should come down to five or six, as opposed to seven. But here’s the thing: It’s all market-based, so you do it.”
- Boras spoke to reporters, including Tom Schad of the Washington Times, following today’s press conference and quickly debunked the rumor that another of his clients, Stephen Strasburg, is ready to move on from the Nationals. “We don’t know where that came from,” Boras explained. “Stephen Strasburg wants to play here and wants to be with Max Scherzer and grow.” Boras added that at the time of Scherzer’s signing, Rizzo informed him that the team’s intention was to keep the current roster intact. Owner Mark Lerner said the same to Schad.
- Boras expanded on those thoughts a bit on MLB Network Radio’s Inside Pitch with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern (audio link): “The Nationals have told us that they intend to keep their pitching staff. They intend to try to win a World Series, to try to move forward, and Stephen Strasburg is certainly a part of that…” Boras also explained why he doesn’t foresee the unique structure of Scherzer’s deal as the beginning of a trend, but rather as a unique situation.
- For those interested, the 15-minute press conference to introduce Scherzer to the D.C. media is available on MLB.com (video link). Scherzer discusses what drew him to the Nationals, being reunited with former teammate Doug Fister and his own reaction to the jaw-dropping $210MM guarantee he will receive. Rizzo talks about scouting Scherzer as an amateur and the Nationals’ offseason plan as a whole, while manager Matt Williams recalls a story from his days as Scherzer’s manager with the D-Backs’ Double-A affiliate.
The Rangers and Phillies had “in-depth trade talks” regarding lefty Cole Hamels before Texas pulled the trigger to add Yovani Gallardo, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. The sticking point in those discussions was money, tweets Morosi’s colleague Ken Rosenthal.
Here are some more notes on some of the game’s best starters:
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski discussed the signing of Max Scherzer with reporters today, and MLive.com’s James Schmehl has the report. Though agent Scott Boras reached out to the club to indicate Scherzer’s interest in exploring a reunion, Dombrowski said that no negotiations occurred. “We never 100 percent closed the door,” he said, “but we’re very happy with the rotation we have.”
- Perhaps most importantly, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch never fully re-engaged with the idea of keeping Scherzer for the long-haul after the righty famously turned down a $144MM extension offer, Morosi reports. As Morosi rightly notes, neither side can be faulted for pursuing its interests. In the end, Detroit did not go beyond its comfort zone and Scherzer was able to secure a better contract elsewhere.
- As for the notion that the Tigers could be in the market for James Shields, easily the best arm left on the open market, Dombrowski again emphasized that he was happy with the in-house options and was not looking to add. When asked specifically whether he wanted to comment on or debunk the Shields rumors, Dombrowski said: “I just did, didn’t I?”
- Of course, the big question now is whether Scherzer’s move to the Nationals will lead his new club to deal from its impressive rotation. While pending free agents Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister have long been talked about as at least hypothetical candidates to move, the Scherzer signing has led to some suggestions that Stephen Strasburg could be dangled. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs discusses what kind of price tag might accompany the star righty, noting that it would likely be high given not only his immense talent but also his reasonable expected salary over the next two years.
- We have already covered a good bit of Scherzer analysis (see here and here), but ESPN.com’s Buster Olney also weighed in (Insider subscription required). He argues not only that Scherzer does not represent a significant upgrade over the already-deep group of Nats starters, but also notes that dealing away set-up man Tyler Clippard — and, if it occurs, trading other starters or shortstop Ian Desmond — could create significant issues elsewhere on the roster. All said, the long-term obligations in the Scherzer deal are something of an unnecessary risk, Olney suggests.
- The Nats shouldn’t trade anyone from their loaded rotation, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports writes. Pitchers get hurt frequently, and the Nationals don’t need to deal a pitcher to fix a hole elsewhere — they’re strong all over the diamond and they have a good farm system.
- Scott Boras has said he often negotiates huge deals with owners, not GMs, and it’s unclear whether Nationals owner Ted Lerner was involved in negotiating the Scherzer deal or how GM Mike Rizzo might now plan if he did, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. The Nationals have discussed trades involving Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg throughout the offseason, Rosenthal notes. Now that they’ve added Scherzer, though, they could just keep accumulating talent, perhaps adding another Boras client in Francisco Rodriguez or Rafael Soriano for their bullpen.
- The Nationals might now be a “super-team,” Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs writes. The Nationals’ position players already projected for more WAR than any other NL team, and Scherzer’s signing will move them past the Dodgers for the most projected pitcher WAR as well.
- The Red Sox can still use an ace and would be able to pay the high price necessary to acquire Zimmermann, Strasburg or Doug Fister, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes. It would perhaps be more likely that the Red Sox would acquire Zimmermann or Fister, given that Strasburg has two years of control left and would therefore cost more in a trade.
9:08pm: The deal is “close” but will not be completed tonight, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post tweets.
6:54pm: Scherzer is “very close” to signing with the Nationals, although the deal is not yet done, a source tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post (via Twitter).
6:10pm: Max Scherzer is talking with the Nationals and one other team about a seven-year contract, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, on Twitter, categorizes the negotiations as “close.” Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweeted earlier the impression around baseball is the Nationals will sign Scherzer, but it was unclear whether a deal was imminent. Tigers President/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski denies Detroit is the other team, telling Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press their pursuit of Scherzer is still inactive (Twitter). The New York Post’s Joel Sherman tweets the Yankees are not the other team and Rosenthal reports the Red Sox, Astros, and Dodgers are also not in on Scherzer (Twitter links). The Angels aren’t the mystery team, either, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez tweets, and neither are the Giants or Cardinals, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter links).
Agent Scott Boras has said it would be an ownership-level decision on whether a team will sign Scherzer and that it could be a “two-step process” – ink Scherzer and then trade another member of their rotation. Barry Svlurga of the Washington Post sees Boras pitching Nationals owner Ted Lerner the notion of signing Scherzer to win the World Series in 2015 knowing the salaries of impending free agents Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Denard Span will be coming off the books for 2016 (Twitter links).
The Nationals have engaged multiple teams over the past few weeks in trade talks for Zimmermann, tweets FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi. If Scherzer signs, Zimmermann is the most likely trade candidate; but, if an acceptable offer for Zimmermann does not materialize, sources tell Morosi the Nationals will look to move Stephen Strasburg (Twitter links).
Washington, amidst reports the club has not had significant extension talks with Desmond, has discussed its All-Star shortstop with other teams, most notably the failed three-way trade involving the Mets and Rays. The Nationals also have not re-engaged Fister in extension talks since last spring and are said to be willing to listen to any trade proposals for the right-hander.