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Catcher didn’t seem to be an obvious area of upgrade for the Blue Jays heading into the offseason, yet the team made a big splash by signing Russell Martin to a five-year, $82MM free agent deal. This immediately turned incumbent Jays catcher Dioner Navarro into a possible trade candidate, and indeed, at least three teams asked about Navarro in the wake of Martin’s signing. Navarro himself even inquired about being dealt somewhere where he could receive everyday playing time.
This trade speculation was certainly not what Navarro was expecting coming off his solid 2014 campaign. After signing a two-year, $8MM deal with the Jays in December 2013, the switch-hitting Navarro hit .274/.317/.395 with 12 homers last season, reaching new career highs in plate appearances (520) and games played (139). Defense, however, was another story, as Navarro ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of pitch-framing and throwing out baserunners.
As he’s scheduled for free agency next winter, Navarro obviously wants a better platform than a backup catcher/part-time DH role to boost his value as he looks ahead to his next trip into the open market. Keeping Navarro as a backup makes a lot of sense for Toronto despite the presence of another catcher (Josh Thole) on the roster. If Martin can handle R. A. Dickey‘s knuckleball, then Thole’s role as Dickey’s personal catcher becomes redundant, and Navarro offers far more hitting value than Thole.
On the other hand, the Jays are looking to add relievers despite limited payroll space; moving Navarro and his $5MM 2015 salary seems like a logical way to free up some money for further transactions. The Jays are reportedly asking for pitching in return in any Navarro trade, so they’re clearly exploring this strategy already.
The Diamondbacks and Tigers are two teams who have been linked to Navarro on the rumor mill this winter, though Detroit’s interest has been limited to internal discussions at this point. Gerald Laird and Tuffy Gosewisch project as Arizona’s starting catching combo in the wake of Miguel Montero‘s departure, and while the team may think prospect Peter O’Brien is their future at the position, one year of Navarro would both give the D’Backs an upgrade now and still clear the path for O’Brien beyond 2015. The Tigers, meanwhile, look to have Alex Avila and one of Bryan Holaday or James McCann splitting time at catcher. Avila is a question mark due to his concussion history while Navarro would certainly provide a more proven bat than Holaday or McCann.
Catching depth is thin enough around baseball that a number of teams could also be fits for Navarro’s services. In my opinion, the White Sox and Pirates stand out as teams whose hopes of contending would be improved behind the plate by Navarro’s presence, though both clubs already have several catchers battling for those jobs. (In Pittsburgh’s case, admittedly, their focus on catcher defense might keep Navarro off their radar.) The Rangers could see Navarro as a more proven option than their current selection of Robinson Chirinos, Carlos Corporan, Tomas Telis and Chris Gimenez. The Rays could platoon Navarro with the defensive specialist Rene Rivera, though the prospect of an inter-division trade and Tampa taking on a $5MM salary for a part-time player made this seem somewhat unlikely.
Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images
Once just a fascinating story, Braves catcher Evan Gattis is now unquestionably a legitimate big league piece. He is only just 28, has just two years on his service clock, and is probably one of the ten or so best-hitting catchers in baseball (if not, arguably, somewhat better).
For a Braves team looking to improve but seemingly lacking the present payroll capacity to do it, Gattis seems at first glance to be an obvious keeper. But a look below the surface reveals why recent rumors have labeled him a possible trade chip. Specifically, Atlanta has already groomed (and promoted) an even cheaper, probably more defensively-reliable replacement in 23-year-old Christian Bethancourt.
So, if the Braves choose to shop Gattis, what might he be worth, and what kinds of teams might be interested? The bat certainly has played. Gattis introduced himself to the league with a .243/.291/.480 slash and 21 home runs over 382 plate appearances in 2013, leading some to suggest that he would never make enough contact for his power to be valuable. But Gattis answered with a .263/.317/.493 line and 22 long balls while taking 19 more trips to the plate. His walk and strikeout numbers were similar (5.5% walk rate with a K% in the low-20’s), while his BABIP jumped from .255 to .298.
While there is certainly some risk that Gattis slides back to his rookie numbers, Atlanta would doubtless be loath to deal him were that the complete story. While he is a decent enough baserunner considering his size (he is listed at 6’4/260), Gattis does not enjoy the best defensive reputation and may perhaps not be far off from deteriorating further in the field.
Let’s take a closer look at his defensive work. Gattis threw out just 13 runners while allowing 53 swipes. Though that .197 caught-stealing rate actually rated just ahead of other bat-first catchers like Rosario, Derek Norris, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, it is not good. And Gattis fell well behind Bethancourt and backup Gerald Laird, so perhaps we cannot pin the blame on the Atlanta staff. And Baseball Prospectus figures indicate that Gattis is one of the very worst blockers in the game, costing the Braves about 18 additional wild pitches or passed balls over his 93 games of action behind the plate.
While these aspects of the catcher’s job description are perhaps the most visible, however, they are probably not the most impactful. Indeed, the gap between Gattis and Bethancourt/Laird in gunning down would-be basestealers pales in comparison to the separation observed among that trio in pitch framing. Only here, Gattis comes out ahead, profiling as an average or better strike-winner while Bethancourt (slightly below average) and Laird (well below average) do not. (Stat Corner and Baseball Prospectus concur on this general ordering, though the latter is more bullish on this group as a whole.) Pitch-calling and staff-handling are much more subjective, of course, but I am not aware of any reports painting him as a disaster in those areas.
In the aggregate, BP tabbed Gattis as the league’s 8th most-valuable backstop last year. Despite pinning him with one of the worst overall defensive WAR tabs among his peers (with statistics that do not account for pitch framing), Fangraphs still valued Gattis as the league’s 14th-most productive catcher.
While it is generally assumed that Gattis would hold most of his appeal to an American League club, then, it could be that talk of Gattis’s impending shift from intriguing, power hitting catcher to slightly above-average DH are premature. And that expands his market, because it is at least plausible for acquiring teams to believe that Gattis will provide serviceable-enough innings behind the plate for at least a portion of his control. (All while comfortable in the knowledge that a shift to DH or a non-tender can prevent the kind of long-term burden that a free agent contract could bring.)
It remains somewhat unlikely that another National League team would top the bidding, though it is at least possible to imagine a team like the Pirates having interest. More likely, Gattis would draw the most attention from American League teams that saw the Athletics extract plenty of value from a defensively-deficient group of backstops who were good enough on offense to DH or play elsewhere. The Astros, Orioles, Tigers, White Sox, Blue Jays, and perhaps even the Mariners and Rangers could at least be imagined as landing spots, depending upon how the rest of their offseasons shake out. None of these is a slam dunk, of course, and on the whole Gattis’s market is not terribly clear.
As always, it is hard to forecast a return on a trade. But there is one fairly recent, fairly solid comp: the pre-2013 John Jaso deal. Jaso, a (lefty) bat-first catcher then entering his age-29 season and coming off of a huge campaign, was shipped to the Athletics in a three-team swap that saw Michael Morse go from the Nationals to the Mariners and prospects move back to D.C. from Oakland. While the arms that moved in that trade — A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, and Ian Krol — have seen their stock rise rather significantly since that deal, at the time it was considered a substantial-but-fair price for the A’s to pay to acquire Jaso. (The Morse element of the deal, of course, has been the subject of plenty of criticism.)
In some ways Gattis is less useful than Jaso, who kills righties and has a clear, if limited role. On the other, he has more potential as an everyday option, as he not only mashes lefties but puts up good numbers against same-handed pitchers and is perhaps a better all-around defender. And Gattis possesses a power-based skillset that many teams still desire, especially as it continues to diminish in availability.
So, can Atlanta improve on the Jaso return — a legitimate outlay of talent, to be sure, but one that had plenty of risk and did not contribute immediately to the MLB roster — or will it face the tough choice of taking a potentially significant hit to its likelihood of contention in the next year or two in exchange for speculative future value? That probably depends on how many teams have interest in Gattis as at least a semi-regular backstop.
The Reds’ hopes of challenging in the NL Central were dimmed by several major injuries this year, and this visit from the injury bug was particularly damaging to a team who already faced some big decisions in the offseason. With just over $71MM committed to 10 players on the 2015 payroll, the mid-market Reds may be forced to save some money by moving a starting pitcher. Though Cincinnati’s durable and deep rotation has been a big part of the club’s success in recent years, pitching seems like a natural area for payroll reduction simply due to the fact that three starters will enter their third year of arbitration eligibility.
Two pitchers who won’t be dealt are Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani. The Reds have already committed to Bailey in the form of a six-year, $105MM extension, and wouldn’t have been likely to move him even if Bailey hadn’t recently undergone forearm surgery. Cingrani has also had injury problems, spending most of 2014 on the DL with shoulder problems. Had Cingrani been able to build off of his impressive 2013 rookie season, the Reds would’ve felt at least a bit better about trading one of their more established starters (Bronson Arroyo wasn’t re-signed last winter in part because the Reds were comfortable with Cingrani).
It’s possible Cincinnati could trade multiple starters, though I’d suspect that the team wouldn’t want to lose too much pitching depth until they know Bailey and Cingrani are fully healthy. The Reds would probably rather not have David Holmberg or Dylan Axelrod as full-time rotation members next year, top prospect Robert Stephenson still needs some seasoning (a 4.74 ERA in 136 2/3 IP at Double-A in 2014) and the newly-signed Raisel Iglesias could still wind up in the bullpen.
The Reds’ other four pitchers are all controlled only through 2015, so the team likely wouldn’t score a truly huge return in a trade but all carry value even as one-year pitchers. The candidates…
Johnny Cueto: The Reds have a $10MM option on Cueto for 2015 that is sure to be exercised given how well Cueto has pitched. After an injury-shorted 2013, Cueto bounced back in a major way by posting a 2.15 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 3.73 K/BB rate over a league-leading 222 innings.
Cueto’s next contract will be in the nine-figure range, and it’s unclear if the Reds would be willing ink another major extension given how much money has been tied up in recent deals with Bailey, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. Cueto would net the biggest return in a trade, though moving their ace would seem to hint that the Reds are punting on 2015, which I doubt they’re prepared to do. On the other hand, the Reds could trade Cueto for Major League parts (such what the Rays and Red Sox received for David Price, John Lackey and Jon Lester before last July’s trade deadline) and use a Cueto deal to reload rather than rebuild.
Keeping Cueto would give the Reds stability at the top of their rotation, and they could still explore dealing Cueto at next year’s trade deadline if they fall out of the race. If they’re contending and wanted to keep Cueto, Cincinnati could then get a compensatory draft pick via the qualifying offer if he leaves in free agency after the 2015 season.
In a recent Insider-only piece, ESPN’s Buster Olney recently explored Cueto’s trade market and raised the possibility that the Reds could clear some payroll space by attaching Phillips, for example, to Cueto in a trade package. With several notable starters available as free agents this winter, Olney believes some teams might prefer trading for a year of Cueto rather than making an expensive multiyear commitment for an ace on the open market. Also, a contending team that potentially loses their ace in free agency (such as if Max Scherzer leaves the Tigers or James Shields leaves the Royals) could look to Cueto as a short-term replacement to keep their rotation strong for another run in 2015.
Mat Latos: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently cited Latos as perhaps the likeliest of the Reds’ starters to be dealt, as both Latos and Cueto can make a case for commanding an extension larger than Bailey’s deal. While Cueto is two years older than Latos, presumably the Reds would be more inclined to extend their homegrown product than they would Latos, who missed part of 2014 with an elbow injury. Latos has a 3.25 ERA in 102 1/3 IP this year, though ERA indicators show that he hasn’t pitched quite that well (3.64 FIP, 4.00 xFIP, 4.08 SIERA) and both his ground ball and strikeout rates dropped significantly below his career averages. The right-hander’s average fastball velocity also dropped to 90.7 mph, down from 92.5 mph in 2013.
The Reds already tested the market for Latos at the trade deadline, so I tend to agree with Rosenthal that if a Cincy starter is moved, it’ll probably be Latos. His declined numbers could be explained by his elbow issues, and if fully healthy, Latos could be a standout front-of-the-rotation starter for several teams. He earned $7.25MM in 2014 in the last year of a two-year extension, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration for a third and final time this winter.
Mike Leake: Another pitcher with a third arb year remaining, Leake will get a raise from his $5.925MM salary in 2014. The right-hander has been a reliable rotation piece over his five Major League seasons, not missing many bats (career 6.1 K/9) but inducing a lot of grounders (49.8% ground ball rate) and eating a lot of innings, averaging 191 IP over the last three years.
Leake comes with the fewest question marks of any Cincinnati starter, lacking the injury histories of Cueto and Latos but also never pitching nearly as well as those two have at their peaks. While Leake’s ceiling in the bigs may never surpass the “solid” level (he has an even 100 ERA+ over his career), this also means that the Reds could extend him at a much lower price than Cueto or Latos. A Leake extension could look something like the five-year, $65MM deal the White Sox gave John Danks a few years ago, as Leake and Danks are decent comparables in terms of age and career numbers to that point in their careers, plus both had one arb year left before free agency.
The Reds put Leake and Latos on revocable waivers in August, possibly in a move to gauge trade interest for the upcoming offseason. I’d guess there’s a better chance Leake stays in Cincinnati than goes, though the Reds will certainly get interest in the durable 26-year-old.
Alfredo Simon: The big surprise of the group, the 33-year-old Simon moved from the bullpen to the rotation as an injury fill-in and wound up making his first All-Star team. Though his performance has very much come back to earth in the second half, Simon still has a 3.48 ERA through 178 1/3 innings on the season despite a middling 5.9 K/9.
Simon is arb-eligible for the third time this winter and he’ll earn a healthy raise over his $1.5MM salary, though the raise will hardly break the bank. Simon’s age and career track record give him a very modest amount of trade value, so it’s likely he stays with the Reds and competes for the fifth starter’s job (or returns to the pen) if and when a rotation spot opens up via trade.
With this variety of available starters and a wide variance in asking prices for each of the four pitchers, many teams could fit as potential trade partners for the Reds under the “you can never have too much pitching” argument. If the Reds look to deal a starter and fill an everyday lineup hole at the same time, they’ll likely target a left fielder or a shortstop as upgrades on Ryan Ludwick and Zack Cozart, respectively. Ludwick has a $9MM mutual option for 2015 but after two negative fWAR seasons, the Reds might instead buy him out (for a deferred $4.5MM) and look for other options.
Using these needs to speculate about trade partners, the Cubs, Diamondbacks and possibly the Indians stand out as teams with a shortstop surplus. The Red Sox have a glut of outfielders and are known to be looking for starting pitching. The Dodgers could finally solve their long-standing logjam in the outfield and, if it meant getting back Cueto or Latos, would be willing to eat a lot of salary on one of their high-priced outfield bats.
As Ken Rosenthal noted (video link), the Reds could employ some gamesmanship with their starters and perhaps leverage them against each other in figuring out which (if any) pitchers they want to sign over the long term. Between these negotiations and waiting for the free agent pitching market to play out, Cincinnati might wait until January or even February to move a starter. At this point, the only thing that seems certain about the Reds’ 2015 rotation is that at least one of Cueto, Latos, Leake or Simon won’t be on the roster come Opening Day.
Photo courtesy of Joy R. Absalon/USA Today Sports Images
The Major League Baseball Players Association announced that Kevin McGuiness, a lawyer who has spent a decade heading a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., has been hired as COO under new union head Tony Clark. The 61-year-old will fill a post that had been vacant since Gene Orza retired in March 2011. McGuiness will start work with the union next month. Tonight’s look around baseball..
- The Pirates signed starting pitcher Edinson Volquez as a free agent this offseason, but that wasn’t the first time they had pursued him, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. “When San Diego put me on waivers (last year), the Pirates called right away,” says Volquez. “This winter, they called again. I thought, ‘They must really want me, so let’s do it.'” Volquez posted a 5.71 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 with the Padres and Dodgers last year, but the Pirates have had success with down-on-their-luck pitchers like Francisco Liriano in the recent past. “What I hear about the Pirates pitching coaches and the pitching staff is pretty good,” Volquez says. “So, why not take a chance to come here and maybe get better?“
- Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers has made no secret of his desire to make a play for Masahiro Tanaka and he has a strategy in place to make it happen, writes MLB.com’s Steve GIlbert.
- Tanaka flew to the U.S. today and is expected to start meeting with MLB clubs in the coming days, according to a report from Nikkan Sports.
- While some see the Blue Jays’ starting rotation as a weakness, others view it as an opportunity, writes Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Pitching prospects Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman both say they aim to make the rotation out of spring training. Of course, there will be less seats at the table if Toronto goes out and finds more arms via trade or free agency.
Charlie Wilmoth and Aaron Steen contributed to this post.
Outfielder Nate Schierholtz is in the midst of a career season in Chicago, and as with every Cubs veteran playing well, he easily could be dealt before the end of the month. The Cubs have already traded his platoon-mate, Scott Hairston, to the Nationals, and the Cubs figure to at least explore the possibility of trading Schierholtz as well.
As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently noted, the Cubs control Schierholtz's rights through 2014 — the Phillies non-tendered him following the 2012 season with two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, so he still has a year of team control left after this year. Schierholtz is also only making $2.25MM in 2012, so his price in arbitration won't be exorbitant. That means the Cubs don't need to trade him. But it also makes Schierholtz a very attractive trade target right now, particularly in a season in which he's hitting .275/.330/.510.
Also, David DeJesus is currently on the disabled list, and the Cubs control DeJesus' services for 2014 as well. That means DeJesus isn't likely to be traded, and knowing he's likely to stick around may make the Cubs more inclined to deal their other lefty-hitting veteran outfielder.
Schierholtz doesn't really play center field, but he provides reasonably strong defense in a corner. He isn't a typical 30-homer masher, but he does have some power. He doesn't steal many bases, but he's an average, or maybe slightly-above-average baserunner. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs correctly labels Schierholtz a tweener. Schierholtz doesn't have enough of any one skill to be a slugger, or an archetypal leadoff man. The flipside, though, is that there isn't much he does badly, and as a result, he can help both defensively and offensively, particularly when he's platooned. (He has just 31 plate appearances against lefties this year.)
The Cubs should be able to get a solid prospect return for Schierholtz, both because he's playing very well and because his salary won't be an obstacle. The Pirates (whose fans Schierholtz might remind of Nate McLouth, and not just because of his first name) would be an obvious fit. Travis Snider has played horribly in an extended audition in right, and while Jose Tabata has played well recently in Snider's place, Tabata and Schierholtz would fit together nicely in a platoon. The Rangers might also be a possibility, although they would likely prefer a right-handed hitter. Contenders with more stable outfields also might show interest in Schierholtz, since he would be very useful as a fourth outfielder.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, there are only 14 relievers who have posted a K/9 greater than 10.0 with a ground-ball rate of 40 percent or better. It's not surprising to see established relief aces like Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Sergio Romo on that list, but some might be surprised to see Jose Veras' name in the mix.
Not only is Veras in the mix, he's second in the group in terms of innings pitched with 169 (John Axford ranks first with 172). Veras has generated little fanfare in recent years, but he's shown the capability to maintain an elite strikeout rate over an extended period of time.
Though his ERA is an uninspiring 4.06, Veras' other numbers look strong. He's punched out 36 hitters in 31 innings (10.5 K/9) while showing the best ground-ball and walk rates of his career. FIP feels that his ERA should be 3.96, xFIP suggests a 3.74 ERA going forward and SIERA is even more bullish at 3.02.
The biggest red flag with Veras has typically been his control, but he's posted a respectable 3.8 BB/9 thus far in 2013, and his 60.3 percent first-pitch strike rate is the highest of his career. It's probably no coincidence that by getting ahead in the count more often, he's been able to up his swinging-strike rate to 10.2 percent.
The 32-year-old Veras signed a one-year deal with the Astros this winter that calls for an affordable $1.85MM base salary and also contains a club option for $3.25MM. His contract also carries incentives based on games finished that could raise this year's salary by $500K and push the option's value north of $4MM.
Veras' control problems have kept him from reaching the elite status among relievers, but his mix of strikeouts and ground-balls is a desirable skill set nonetheless. Add to the mix a contract that is significantly more affordable than that of marquee trade candidates like Jonathan Papelbon and an extra year of team control, and it's logical to expect that Veras will be wearing a new uniform come August 1.
The Astros have made no effort to hide the fact that they're willing to move just about any player on their roster as they completely re-tool the franchise, and Veras should be no exception. He won't fetch an elite prospect in return, but a contending team looking to shore up the eighth or even ninth inning could view Veras as an upgrade, particularly if he has a strong few weeks leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline. The Royals were able to nab Cincinnati's No. 12 and No. 27 prospects (per Baseball America) in exchange for a few months of Jonathan Broxton last season. Broxton had better superficial stats at the time, but a prospect in the middle of a team's Top 30 doesn't seem out of the question for Veras.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The White Sox have fallen 9.5 games back in the AL Central after losing their last four games, and unless they can pull off the unlikely feat of battling their way into the playoff picture in the next few weeks, their veterans will likely be part of trade rumors as late July approaches.
Jeff Todd recently discussed the possible fate of one of those veterans, Alex Rios. Another is righty reliever Jesse Crain, who the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo discussed in his latest rumor roundup. "As bullpens become depleted teams are looking for solid, dependable guys who can be used from the seventh inning on. [Crain] is becoming a top name on wish lists around baseball," Cafardo says.
Crain has never been a closer, and thus doesn't have the "proven closer" label that occasionally causes teams to overpay for relievers at the trade deadline. The White Sox's closer, Addison Reed, has also pitched well this year, though he's unlikely to be traded due to his youth and the fact that he isn't even arbitration-eligible yet.
But Crain, 31, should be a valuable piece nonetheless. His strikeout rate has improved in every season since 2005, and this year he's taken a step forward with his control as well. He's posted an 0.60 ERA this season, with 11.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9, and he hasn't allowed a run in 26 straight appearances. The 0.60 ERA isn't sustainable, clearly, but Crain's strikeout rate and walk rate are both very strong. He's capable of getting outs with either his mid-90s fastball or his plus slider. He's also effective against both righties and lefties, which makes him an excellent fit in his current role as a setup man. A creative team in need of a closer could also do worse than to trade for Crain and use him in that position.
Assuming they can't fight their way back into the playoff race, the White Sox would be well-served to deal Crain. He'll be a free agent after the season, and the White Sox's farm system is poor — before the season, Keith Law and John Sickels both ranked it the third-worst farm system in baseball. Trading a non-closing reliever in his 30s, even an excellent one with a cheap $4.5MM salary, isn't the easiest way to build a farm system. But given their place in the standings and Crain's impending free agency, the White Sox have little to lose, and there are occasional trades where a contender will pay premium prices for a very good setup man. (The Padres' 2011 trade of Mike Adams to the Rangers for Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland comes to mind, although, unlike Crain, Adams had a year and a half left before he was eligible for free agency.)
There are few contenders that couldn't use Crain, although a team with question marks at the back of its bullpen would be an ideal fit. The Reds and Red Sox could well be on the hunt for bullpen help at the trade deadline. The Tigers would also make sense if Detroit and Chicago are willing to make a trade within the AL Central.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
It's been a disappointing 2013 for the Cubs, but the rotation has had little to do with that fact. Cubs starters have pitched to a 3.62 ERA this season — the seventh-best mark in the Majors. Scott Feldman has been a huge part of that, posting a 2.84 ERA in 66 2/3 innings (11 starts).
While Feldman isn't likely to sustain a sub-3.00 ERA, his season hasn't been entirely smoke and mirrors. His swinging-strike rate, while still below the league average, is among the best of his career, as is his first-pitch strike rate. He's inducing grounders at a 51.5 percent clip and demonstrating better command (2.7 BB/9) than he showed as a member of the Rangers' rotation from 2008-12.
Stats like FIP (3.86), xFIP (3.82) and SIERA (3.91) all figure Feldman to be a useful rotation piece even if his peripheral stats catch up to his ERA. Feldman's skill set and strong results thus far figure to make him an attractive trade chip over the next six to seven weeks, particularly for teams looking to bolster their starting rotation without breaking the bank.
Feldman, 30, signed a one-year, $6MM contract with the Cubs this offseason, and probably had a pretty good idea that he could see his name on the market if things didn't go well on Chicago's north side. That's clearly been the case, as the Cubs currently have a 25-35 record that puts them 14.5 games out of first place in the NL Central.
Plenty of contenders have rotation issues, and the Cubs' early standing as a seller could actually benefit them. With two wild card spots now attainable in each league, teams are more reluctant to part with talent early in the summer. The Cubs, however, likely have no delusions about their current status. Contending teams with rotation issues include the Orioles, Giants, Indians and Rockies, to name a few. Feldman's high ground-ball totals would seem to be particularly appealing to teams like Baltimore and Colorado, who play in very homer-friendly environments.
Feldman won't be the best name on the market, but Hoyer and Epstein could look for a high-risk, high-reward return as they did last season when they acquired Arodys Vizcaino (who was on the DL recovering from Tommy John surgery) for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson. If they're looking to maximize their haul, it might be worth it to package Feldman with another trade candidate like David DeJesus (who I examined as a candidate a month ago) or even Matt Garza.
If they prefer to move Feldman on his own, they should still be able to get some useful pieces. For example, last July, the Twins shipped Francisco Liriano (and his 5.31 ERA and 5.0 BB/9) to the the White Sox for infielder Eduardo Escobar and left-hander Pedro Hernandez. Prior to 2012, Baseball America ranked Escobar as Chicago's No. 10 prospect and Hernandez as the Padres' No. 23 prospect (he was later traded to the Sox for Carlos Quentin). Feldman's numbers are vastly superior to Liriano's, so the Cubs could look to land a solid top 10 prospect from another team as well as a second in the 10-15 range.
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The Brewers have a 21-34 record, and they play in a division with three teams playing .614 ball or better. Milwaukee is highly unlikely to make the playoffs this year. Their farm system is in the bottom third to put it kindly and the team lacks a first-round pick this Thursday, so it would seem they have a great opportunity to add prospects this summer. The problem: the team is lacking for strong trade candidates. Rickie Weeks has been terrible. Kyle Lohse has been OK, though teams don't typically trade players a few months into a three-year contract. Corey Hart is a free agent after the season, but he still hasn't made his season debut. Aramis Ramirez is a quality bat, though he's essentially owed $20MM next year. Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez aren't going anywhere. But what about Yovani Gallardo?
When the Brewers signed Gallardo to a five-year, $30.1MM deal in April 2010, it was a commitment to build their rotation around him. He was 24 years old with minimal mileage on his arm, an average fastball velocity topping 92 miles per hour, and a strikeout rate of nearly ten per nine innings. He was a reliable producer in the three seasons that followed, even if walks and home runs kept him a bit short of an ace.
2013 has been a rough year, however. Gallardo was arrested for DUI in April, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.22. Things haven't been great on the field, either. His strikeout rate of 7.45 per nine innings is a career low. His home run rate is also a career worst, and he's allowed a whopping ten hits per nine. Those last two factors are likely to be better moving forward, but it is troublesome to see his average fastball velocity down to 90.5 miles per hour.
The velocity might be partially an early-season thing – Gallardo averaged 91.93 miles per hour on Friday, according to BrooksBaseball.net, compared to 92.89 one year prior. Despite Gallardo's 5.05 ERA, his skills suggest a 4.10 ERA moving forward. Still, this is a player who has never posted an ERA above 3.84 in his big league career. His lower walk rate in 2011 seems like a fluke, it's hard to say whether the strikeout rate will fully return, and he's always been homer-prone.
At the trade deadline, Gallardo will have about $2.58MM remaining in 2013 salary. He's owed a reasonable $11.25MM for 2014, and then his club can choose a $13MM club option or $600K buyout for '15. He can block deals to ten teams. On May 18th Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports said the Brewers were "really reluctant to trade Gallardo," but Rosenthal seems to have softened his stance on Saturday in calling the pitcher an "intriguing name." I imagine a rocky start to the season won't be enough to torpedo Gallardo's trade value.
The case against moving Gallardo: the Brewers have Braun, Gomez, and Jean Segura for about $17.5MM total next year, far below their value. Even if we disregard everyone else on the roster, that's a lot of star-level, affordable talent to waste amid a full-blown rebuild. I don't think the Brewers will punt on 2014, which means they need Gallardo or at least a suitable replacement.
That might be the key. Gallardo's $11.25MM salary next year is steep for a team with a payroll under $100MM, and the Brewers could look to acquire a big league-ready pitcher earning the league minimum, plus other pieces. It would be best to target a pitcher who hasn't had much big league success to date, but could learn on the job for the last few months of 2013 and take a step forward in '14. Some potential examples, in my opinion, could be Nate Karns of the Nationals, Jesse Biddle of the Phillies, Allen Webster of the Red Sox, Zach Lee of the Dodgers, and Kyle Gibson of the Twins. Perhaps some or even all of those specific names are off-limits, but it's the type of pitcher I'd expect Brewers GM Doug Melvin to pursue if he entertains offers on Gallardo in the coming months. Melvin could add further value by including one of his veteran relievers in a deal. A trade within the NL Central would be tough, but otherwise, nearly any other contender could show interest, as you can never have enough pitching and Gallardo is more than a rental.
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In his first winter of arbitration eligibility, Bud Norris settled on a $3MM salary from the Astros for the 2013 season. While $3MM is nothing to sneeze at, it's a stunningly tiny sum when it's the highest salary on a modern team's active roster. That's the way it goes for the Astros, who are paring their payroll down to miniscule size (and their roster to miniscule size in terms of talent, as their 11-30 record indicates) in order to completely rebuild their franchise.
When a team is having a fire sale on prominent veterans, it only stands to reason if the next step is to move absolutely every asset, even a 28-year-old right-hander who is under team control through the 2015 season. While Houston has been open to hearing offers for anyone, GM Jeff Luhnow has said that "it would take a significant offer to even consider something" involving Norris or Lucas Harrell. While the Astros aren't interested in posting a respectable record now, they also don't want to go 0-162; a couple of decent arms are still needed who can eat innings, give the bullpen a rest and keep the team in games as best they can.
There's also the fact that Norris hasn't been doing much for his trade value thus far in 2013. Norris has a 4.32 ERA, 5.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and only a 38.8% ground ball rate through his first nine starts. He is also facing some injury uncertainty, as the righty left his most recent start with back spasms. While Norris is the Astros' nominal ace, he would receive a trade return befitting a fourth or fifth starter, so Houston might feel like Norris has more short-term value to them on the mound than he would as trade bait.
That said, Norris is still a 28-year-old with a 91.8 mph fastball who averaged 169 innings and 8.8 K/9 from 2010-2012. There would definitely be teams interested in seeing if Norris could blossom outside of the Astros' dire situation. If not a starter, then Norris could perhaps have value as a reliever — ESPN's Jayson Stark reported earlier this month that many teams feel Norris "profiles more as a bullpen weapon on a contender." A team like the Tigers, for example, who is looking for bullpen help and also for starting pitching depth (though Rick Porcello has pitched better as of late) could pursue Norris a solution to both problems.
Since the Astros seem at least three years away from contending, Luhnow seems to have taken the position that unless a player stands a solid chance of still being a productive force on "the next good Astros team," that player should be moved. Norris is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2015 season and he'll be 31 years old on Opening Day 2016, so that might already make him too old to be considered a viable part of the next generation of Astros baseball.
A few consistent starts and a clean bill of health leading up to the July deadline would raise Norris' value and maybe make it worthwhile for Luhnow to consider making yet another move for the future.
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