Washington Nationals Rumors

Washington Nationals trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Quick Hits: Cubs, Dodgers, Martin, Rays

The Cubs‘ pitching staff is having trouble this month, and it’s unclear where help will come from, Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago writes. It isn’t the best time of the year to make trades. While the Phillies likely don’t feel they have to wait until the trade deadline to make a Cole Hamels deal, such a trade might be easier for the Cubs to strike after some time to make sure they’re contenders. And finding relief help in the trade market will likely be more straightfoward later in the summer. Rafael Soriano is available via free agency, but the Cubs aren’t likely to sign him unless they’re more impressed with him than other teams have been. Here’s more from around the big leagues.

  • Closer Kenley Jansen‘s impending return from a foot injury will result in a tough decision for the Dodgers, whose bullpen has been terrific in his absence, J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group writes. The Dodgers reliever who’s gotten the worst results has been Chris Hatcher, so he might seem like the most obvious candidate to come off the active roster, although he’s out of options and was only recently acquired via trade. (Also, his 13.5 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and mid-90s velocity strongly suggest the Dodgers would be unwise to give up on him too quickly).
  • 30-year-old Nationals rookie reliever Rafael Martin has a highly unusual background, Lacy Lusk writes for Baseball America (subscription-only). The Southern California native spent four years after high school working in construction, then ended up in the Mexican League as the result of a tryout. After three years in Mexico, he signed with the Nationals in 2010, then toiled in the high minors, struggling with injuries before pitching brilliantly at Double-A and Triple-A last year. The Nats finally purchased his contract last month, and he whiffed five straight batters in his first big-league appearance.
  • The Rays have a winning record so far this season despite their rotation being decimated by injuries, Andrew Astleford of FOX Sports Florida writes. It’s helped that they’ve gotten remarkable performances from Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, who have stayed healthy the entire season. Nate Karns has also gotten reasonable results in seven starts, and Alex Colome has pitched well in two. The team has also already leaned on Erasmo Ramirez, Steve Geltz, Matt Andriese and the now-injured Drew Smyly to start, meaning they’ve already used eight starters even though the season is less than six weeks old.

Minor Moves: Hector Ambriz, Javy Guerra

Here are Sunday’s minor moves from around MLB:

  • The Nationals have signed righty Hector Ambriz, who had been with the independent Long Island Ducks, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets. Ambriz, 30, pitched briefly for the Padres last season, spending most of the year pitching respectably out of the bullpen for Triple-A El Paso, with a 3.93 ERA, 7.0 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. He pitched 36 1/3 innings for the 2013 Astros, posting a 5.70 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9.
  • The White Sox have outrighted right-hander Javy Guerra to Triple-A Charlotte, tweets JJ Stankevitz of CSNChicago.com. Guerra was designated for assignment Wednesday when he was activated from the disabled list. The 29-year-old made just three appearances for the White Sox this season before shoulder inflammation landed him on the DL. Guerra will use his time at Charlotte to round into the form he showed in 2014 in the White Sox’s bullpen (2.91 ERA, 7.4 K/9, and 3.9 BB/9 in 46 1/3 innings over 42 games).
  • Per MLBTR’s DFA Tracker., Anthony Swarzak (Indians), Reid Brignac (Marlins), and Ronald Torreyes (Astros) remain in DFA limbo.

NL Notes: Escobar, O’Brien, Draft, Luebke

Yunel Escobar of the Nationals, like many other Cuban ballplayers, followed a difficult path to the big leagues, as James Wagner of the Washington Post writes. It has not always been smooth sailing for the 32-year-old since he finally made it as a professional, of course, though he is settling in nicely in D.C., where he has played an important role on a team that is still missing Anthony Rendon. Escobar owns a .303/.358/.394 slash in 109 plate appearances thus far in 2015.

  • Diamondbacks prospect Peter O’Brien — acquired in last summer’s Martin Prado deal — says he believes his shift out of a catching role has helped him to a strong start offensively, Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic reports. It remains to be seen whether Arizona will look to move him back behind the dish at some point — he did finally don the gear for the first time this year recently — but it sounds as if O’Brien may be ready to embrace a more permanent change. “Catching is a lot of fun, but I really enjoy the outfield and I definitely think that my bat is my biggest strength,” O’Brien said. “I think that plays a little bit better in the outfield.”
  • This year’s amateur draft figures to feature a lot of moving parts, and it’s still months away. But that didn’t stop Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel and Baseball America’s John Manuel from taking a shot at early mock drafts. The analysts disagree somewhat on the direction the Diamondbacks will take with the first overall pick, with McDaniel tabbing Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson (a shift from another recent post, reflecting the uncertainty) and Manuel pointing to UCSB righty Dillon Tate. Neither of those highly-regarded players would represent a big surprise in that slot, of course, as both have consistently been listed as amongst the consensus three best players available along with high school shortstop Brendan Rogers.
  • MLB.com’s Barry Bloom checks in with Padres hurler Cory Luebke, who is diligently working back from his second Tommy John surgery and is hoping to throw live BP within the next few weeks. “I’m making progress,” Luebke said. “It’s been a long haul, but it’s the best place I’ve been in for the last few years. It’s exciting, but if I’ve learned anything it’s not to ride the roller coaster. Take a week at a time. But I definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel a little bit.” Luebke is in the final guaranteed year of his four-year, $12MM extension, though San Diego holds successive club options ($7.5MM and $10MM, respectively, over his next two seasons).

Injury Notes: Rendon, Johnson, Walden, Albers, Lucroy

Anthony Rendon‘s return to the Nationals appears to be on hold, as the infielder has suffered a strained oblique muscle during his rehab assignment, manager Matt Williams told reporters, including James Wagner of the Washington Post (Twitter link). Rendon was on the mend from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee but had his rehab assignment shut down after the oblique issue popped up. The severity of the issue and timeline of his return are unknown at this point, per Williams, but the plan for now is for Rendon to rest more.

More injury news pertaining to the Nats and from around the league…

  • Nationals outfielder Reed Johnson underwent surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his foot over the weekend, Wagner wrote earlier in the week. Wagner writes that the 38-year-old Johnson is expected to be able to rejoin the club later this summer. Williams didn’t sound sure, however, as MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko tweeted yesterday. Asked whether Johnson would be able to return to the Nats this season, Williams simply replied, “I don’t know.”
  • Cardinals GM John Mozeliak expressed some concern over the shoulder and biceps of setup man Jordan Walden, who is currently on the disabled list, writes MLB.com’s Jen Langosch. Walden is getting a second opinion of the MRIs taken on his arm, but surgery has not been ruled out as a possibility. Mozeliak said at this time, Walden is leaning toward pitching through the injury.
  • The White Sox will be without right-hander Matt Albers longer than expected, tweets Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Albers injured a finger on his right hand in the Sox’ benches-clearing brawl with the Royals earlier this season, and the digit ultimately wound up requiring surgery which will keep him on the shelf for six to eight weeks.
  • After a slew of bad news in this post, we’ll touch on some good news for the Brewers; Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets that the early signs on Jonathan Lucroy‘s broken toe are positive, and he currently hopes that he can return on the low end of his projected four- to six-week timeline for recovery.

Nationals Acquire Darin Mastroianni

The Nationals have acquired outfielder Darin Mastroianni from the Phillies in exchange for cash, Philadelphia announced. Mastroianni was signed to a minor league deal over the winter.

It seems likely that the Nats’ interest in Mastroianni relates to their recent loss of Reed Johnson to surgery. The team has top prospect Michael Taylor available to serve as a right-handed-hitting, center-field-capable bench option, but probably prefers that he receive everyday playing time with Denard Span back in the lineup. (It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Taylor won’t accrue service time while at Triple-A.)

It remains to be seen whether Mastroianni will head right to the big league roster. The fleet-footed 29-year-old has four seasons and 306 plate appearances under his belt at the MLB level. This year, at Triple-A, he has slashed .293/.333/.362 over 64 turns at bat.

Quick Hits: Blanton, Farnsworth, Winston, July 2, Venezuela

Royals righty Joe Blanton has rejected several opportunities to play in Asia, tweets MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes. The 34-year-old veteran, who has an opt-out date of May 15, remains committed to working his way back to the big leagues for the first time since 2013. Blanton has produced a 3.71 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 through 26 2/3 Triple-A innings this year with Omaha.

  • Another long-time big league right-hander, Kyle Farnsworth, has other athletic endeavors in mind. As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports, the 39-year-old former reliever is now suiting up on the defensive line for the Orlando Phantoms — and is credited with 11 sacks, the second-highest tally in the Florida Football Alliance. (Attentive fans will recall that Farnsworth showed some gridiron promise at times on the diamond.)
  • Speaking of football-baseball crossover, top overall NFL pick Jameis Winston will not be appearing on a mound any time soon, according to Darren Heitner of Forbes (via Twitter). Winston, a promising righty at Florida State, has a clause in his deal that will preclude him from pitching while under contract with the Buccaneers.
  • MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez takes a look at this year’s top July 2 prospects. Some of the names will be familiar not only to international prospect followers, but also to general baseball fans. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has already received plenty of attention, but Vlad Sr.’s nephew Gregory Guerrero and Fernando Tatis Jr. are also among the top 30 prospects with big league bloodlines.
  • Meanwhile, the Mariners are indeed pulling the plug on their operations in Venezuela, per Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal. The move had been reported back in March, though the team declined comment at that time. Costa takes an interesting, but sobering, look at the decline of the academy system in the struggling country. Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos expressed dismay at the diminishing opportunities for hopeful young ballplayers from his home nation. Of course, Ramos himself endured a terrifying kidnapping ordeal in Venezuela after reaching the big leagues. Now, he says he is applying for a green card in hopes of establishing permanent U.S. residency.

Injury Notes: Medlen, Mesoraco, Bailey, Fernandez, Rendon, Janssen, Verlander, Nathan

Injuries remain perhaps the largest driver of needs in the early part of the season — a topic that MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes and I explored in today’s podcast with respect to starting pitching. Let’s have a look at some key injury situations around the game:

  • Rehabbing Royals starter Kris Medlen is headed to extended Spring Training to begin throwing against live batters, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports. That leaves him on track for a rehab assignment in May. Kansas City has $8.5MM riding on the righty’s ability to return to form after his second Tommy John surgery.
  • The Reds are missing two key cogs in backstop Devin Mesoraco and righty Homer Bailey. As Michael Hunt reports for MLB.com, manager Bryan Price says that Mesoraco — still not on the DL despite a 17-game absence from his usual catching duties — is still not ready “to try it out just yet,” adding that Mesoraco is “coming along slowly.” There are longer-term concerns with regard to Bailey, of course, and surgery is said to be on the table. “We’re probably going to know in the next one-to-two days what our plans are with Homer,” Price said. “You spend a lot of time when you make a diagnosis, fact-finding and making sure everything you see is as it appears. That’s been the time consumer, making sure it is what we think it is and finding the best way to treat it.”
  • Marlins starter Jose Fernandez is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, of course, and recently faced hitters in a live BP session for the first time. You can check out the video of his outing, courtesy of FOX Sports Florida.
  • After a pause in his rehab, Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon is preparing for another Double-A appearance in the coming days, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports. The issue has not been with his knee, which caused him to hit the DL to start the year, but with tightness in his side. That’s good news for the club, obviously, as is the fact that reliever Casey Janssen appeared in an extended spring game. He is set to begin his own run up through the minors in short order, per Ladson.
  • Injured Tigers starter Justin Verlander is set for a third MRI on his right triceps area early next week, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports (Twitter links). Meanwhile, reliever Joe Nathan underwent his Tommy John procedure yesterday, Fenech tweets, with Nathan saying that it went well. It figures to be a long road back for the 40-year-old, but indications are that he’ll try to return to the big leagues.

Nationals Agree To Minors Deal With Jose Valverde

The Nationals have reached agreement on a minor league deal with righty Jose Valverde, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported (Twitter links) that an arrangement was in the works.

The veteran reliever spent the spring with the Padres, working to a 4.15 ERA over 8 2/3 innings while striking out eight and walking only one batter. But with San Diego carrying a loaded pen that was not due to include him, Valverde opted out of his deal.

Valverde enjoyed a long run of success as a closer earlier in his career, but has struggled to get outs over the past two seasons. Between his time with the Tigers in 2013 and his run with the Mets last year, Valverde has tossed 40 frames of 5.63 ERA ball. He has posted 9.5 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9 in that stretch, but has been victimized by the long ball.

Metrics suggest he has been a bit unlucky as well, though only SIERA sees his work as being above average across 2013-14. All said, the Nats will presumably look to get what they can out of the 37-year-old as they seek to deal with performance issues and injuries to Craig Stammen and Casey Janssen.

Nationals To Promote A.J. Cole

The Nationals will call up righty A.J. Cole to start for the club tomorrow, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports on Twitter. A starter was needed with Max Scherzer‘s scheduled appearance being pushed back due to a thumb injury.

Cole, 23, opened the year rated as a consensus top-100 prospect. Baseball Prospectus, in particular, is quite high on him, rating him 30th overall. MLB.com, which had Cole in the 52nd slot, praises his “easy velocity,” quality change, improving breaking ball, and overall approach.

It appears that this could be nothing more than a spot start for Cole, given the Nationals’ still-loaded rotation, but it will nevertheless represent his first big league action and first chance to accumulate some service time. In the off chance that he does stick on the active roster, he would be set up to qualify for Super Two status down the line.

Cole was drafted by the Nationals before being shipped to the Athletics as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. He struggled in one season in the Oakland organization, and was then sent back to D.C. (along with Blake Treinen and Ian Krol) in the three-team swap that sent Michael Morse to the Mariners and John Jaso to the A’s.

He has regained his stock since, obviously, and reached the Triple-A level last year. Across 134 innings in the upper minors in 2014, Cole worked to a 3.14 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. He has been fairly dominant in three starts in the highest farm level this season, permitting just four earned runs and one free pass while striking out ten in 15 frames.

NL Notes: Nationals, Padres, Guerrero

Unexpectedly, the Nationals are off to a poor start the season, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman notes. After adding Max Scherzer to an already potent roster this offseason, the Nats looked like World Series favorites. But they’re 7-12 so far, struggling both with their hitting and their fielding, and their clubhouse seems “close to dead,” as Heyman puts it. Here’s more from the National League.

  • Former Padres assistant GM and current Astros manager A.J. Hinch is impressed with his former team’s moves, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. “Oh, I watched,” Hinch says of a Padres offseason in which they added James Shields, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and others. “I was reminded often about what was going on, you know. And I was a fan of what they were doing. It was a little bit of a different philosophy, little bit of a different payroll and that added some big names to the roster.” Hinch essentially served as the Padres’ GM after they fired Josh Byrnes and before they hired A.J. Preller, and during that time, the Padres went in a direction quite different from where they’re heading now, trading veterans like Chase Headley, Huston Street and Chris Denorfia.
  • Alex Guerrero has been brilliant for the Dodgers so far this season, hitting five home runs in just 11 games while looking better than expected on defense. But the Dodgers are still working on finding him playing time, Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles writes. The team indicates that, in addition to third base, they could also give Guerrero some time in left field, where Carl Crawford has struggled. Guerrero isn’t the most obvious fit for the Dodgers’ roster, but they had no choice but to have him break camp with the team, due to a clause in his contract that would have allowed him to become a free agent if they hadn’t. So far, though, he’s played so well that the reasons he’s on the roster don’t matter.