The 30-year-old Butler has a bit of MLB experience but hasn’t played in the Majors with the Indians this season, instead spending the 2016 campaign at Triple-A Columbus, where he’s slashed a disappointing .238/.306/.360 with eight homers in 381 trips to the plate. Butler spent the 2015 season with the Rays organization and hit .276/.326/.416 with eight homers in 276 PAs. This season’s poor results notwithstanding, Butler has a nice track record in Triple-A over the course of his professional career. In 2187 PAs at that level, Butler is a .294/.383/.459 hitter.
Archives for July 2016
Right-hander Colin Rea, acquired by the Marlins alongside Andrew Cashner in Friday’s seven-player trade with the Padres, left his Marlins debut last night in the fourth inning with soreness in his right elbow, as MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro tweeted at the time. The injury was ominous even last night, and it hasn’t gotten any better, as the Marlins have placed Rea on the 15-day DL, and MLB.com’s Jon Morosi has tweeted that he’ll undergo an MRI tomorrow.
[Related: Updated Miami Marlins Depth Chart]
If the injury proves to be relatively minor and requires only a minimal DL stay, the Marlins can probably patch things together in the short-term. If it’s a longer-term injury, however, the Marlins could be forced into trying to scrounge up one more starter to round out the rotation before Monday’s non-waiver deadline (or, perhaps, via trade waivers in August). That’s not great news for a Marlins club that has depleted what was already a thin farm system in trades to acquire Rea, Andrew Cashner and Fernando Rodney from the Padres. Reporters have already begun to speculate on possible alternatives for the Marlins, with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeting that Jon Niese would make a good low-cost (in terms of prospects) rental, and FanRag’s Jon Heyman suggesting Ivan Nova (Twitter link).
While the injury to Rea, who was in the midst of an excellent debut (3 1/3 innings, one hit, no walks, four strikeouts), is an unquestionable stroke of bad luck for the Marlins, the misfortune goes both ways. Right-hander Chris Paddack, who went to San Diego from Miami in exchange for Rodney, has been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and is likely to require Tommy John surgery, per Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune (on Twitter). Paddack has been nothing short of sensational this year and has rapidly elevated his prospect status, but he now stands to lose a full year of development. Given the late stage of the season in which he has incurred the injury, Paddack could conceivably miss nearly all of the 2017 season as he recovers from the injury.
12:34pm: Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports tweets that in addition to the Brewers, the Rangers and Astros are also showing interest in Norris. Of course, the Norris fit only makes sense for the Brewers if Lucroy is moved to another club, and he has since exercised his no-trade clause and squashed a would-be deal to the Indians.
1:01am: The Padres are still pushing to move Derek Norris by Monday afternoon’s non-waiver trade deadline, tweets Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller tweets that the Brewers are among the teams currently speaking to San Diego about Norris.
Milwaukee’s connection to Norris is somewhat of a surprise at first, but there’s plenty of logic to the match. First and foremost, if the Brewers’ reported agreement to trade Jonathan Lucroy to the Indians is ultimately finalized (Lucroy must first agree to waive his no-trade protection), Milaukee will be left with a significant hole behind the plate and very few options. Martin Maldonado could see an increase in playing time, but as a career .217/.291/.341 hitter in 934 plate appearances, he’s not well-suited for an everyday role. Looking down the pipeline a bit, the Brewers have Josmil Pinto and Manny Pina, each with some MLB experience under his belt, at the Triple-A level. and each is hitting well. However, Colorado Springs is an exceptionally hitter-friendly environment, and Pinto comes with noted defensive issues.
Beyond the lack of a long-term option on the brink of MLB readiness, the Brewers could simply look to opportunistically acquire Norris while his value is down. The 27-year-old was a well above-average contributor relative to his catching peers from 2013-15, but his bat has taken a huge step back in 2016, as he’s hitting just .193/.253/.360 on the year. Norris got off to a dreadful start and looked to have righted the ship in May and June, but his bat has gone dormant once again as of late. That, however, only figures to drive down the price, especially considering the fact that San Diego has top prospect Austin Hedges doing his best Mike Piazza impression in Triple-A El Paso (.352/.395/.684 with 17 homers in 210 plate appearances). The Padres would seem to be highly motivated to move Norris, who is earning a reasonable $2.925MM this season and controllable for another two years via the arbitration process.
One would have to imagine that the asking price on Norris has dropped considerably since Opening Day, and if that’s the case the Brewers could look to buy low in the hopes that a change of scenery and a relocation to the first hitter-friendly park of his career can get him back on track. Norris has, after all, spent his entire big league career in the offense-suppressing confines of O.Co Coliseum and Petco Park. But, even if Norris doesn’t ultimately rediscover the form that saw him bat .256/.333/.405 from 2013-15, he could provide a serviceable stopgap behind the plate while the Brewers trot out an inexperienced pitching staff in the midst of their rebuild.
The Rockies aren’t planning on moving Carlos Gonzalez or Charlie Blackmon, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman. While CarGo is a perennial trade candidate, the Rockies’ excellent play since the All-Star break has the team back at .500 and within a stone’s throw of a Wild Card playoff berth. Whether the Rockies will actually remain in the hunt remains to be seen, especially as other clubs in the race move to fortify their rosters, but Colorado has looked impressive as of late and could always extract value in trades of Gonzalez and/or Blackmon in the offseason if the club falls shy this season and wishes to add more pitching to its minor league ranks over the winter.
Some more trade rumors from around the league with the non-waiver deadline just over 24 hours away…
- The Yankees are listening to offers on right fielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran, tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney. However, executives from other clubs tell Olney that they consider the asking price on Beltran to be “beyond their reach.” As a free agent at season’s end, Beltran represents a logical trade candidate for the Yankees, who are walking a tightrope and trying to balance a desire to remain competitive in 2016 with a desire to build their farm system for the long haul. The Yankees have already traded both Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, but they’ve also added righties Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren in an effort to keep the bullpen fairly stable. Beltran is hitting .301/.342/.538 with 21 homers on the season and is earning $15MM in the final season of a three-year, $45MM contract. He’s still owed about $5.34MM of that sum, and while his defense may cause some NL clubs to shy away, American League teams that can give him some occasional time at DH undoubtedly would be intrigued by adding the 39-year-old’s still-productive bat to their lineups.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington said after yesterday’s trade of Mark Melancon that he’s still looking to add talent before the non-waiver deadline (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Adam Berry). Berry noted that the Bucs scouted the Rays and Yankees last night in a matchup of Drew Smyly vs. Nathan Eovaldi. Meanwhile, the Post-Gazette’s Bill Brink tweets that the Pirates asked the Braves about Julio Teheran but were told the right-hander isn’t moving.
- The Angels have received the most trade interest in right-hander Cam Bedrosian, tweets MLB Network’s Peter Gammons. However, Gammons implies that a Bedrosian trade isn’t likely, suggesting that the Halos view him as a future closer. The 24-year-old is in the midst of an incredible season, having pitched to a 0.92 ERA with a 48-to-11 K/BB ratio and a 50.5 percent ground-ball rate. He’s controllable through the 2021 season, so it’s understandable that the Angels would strongly prefer to hang onto him. Then again, elite relief arms are commanding strong results, and while Bedrosian doesn’t have the track record that Ken Giles brought into the offseason, it’s possible that the Halos could get some meaningful pitching talent to add to their system if they did market him.
- ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets that the Tigers have been checking in on fourth/fifth starter types, including Jeremy Hellickson of the Phillies, Wade Miley of the Mariners, Edinson Volquez of the Royals, Hector Santiago of the Angels and Erasmo Ramirez of the Rays. Detroit is looking to bolster its rotation and doesn’t seem keen on dealing away any potential long-term options in the rotation, as Crasnick’s colleague Jayson Stark tweets that clubs who have spoken to the Tigers say they’ve repeatedly turned away offers including Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. (Notably, Stark mentioned the refusal to include Boyd and Norris in connection to some speculation on Jonathan Lucroy, but Detroit’s reluctance to part with either left-hander is worth mentioning all the same.)
- MLB Network’s Peter Gammons reported earlier this week that the Dodgers have asked the Athletics about a package including both Rich Hill and Josh Reddick, and now Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that the Blue Jays have done the same. Toronto did acquire Melvin Upton Jr. earlier this week, potentially lessening the need for an outfield upgrade. But, Reddick would help to balance out a very right-handed lineup, and adding Hill to the mix would give the team a top-tier arm (if he can get healthy) to replace Aaron Sanchez if he is ultimately moved to the bullpen.
- The Indians held some interest in Athletics lefty Marc Rzepczynski as of last night, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (on Twitter). Of course, Slusser’s report was prior to the Indians’ blockbuster acquisition of Andrew Miller, so it’s not entirely certain that they’ll be in the market for another lefty. However, they’ve regularly trotted out an entirely right-handed relief corps this season, so adding a more situational lefty like Rzepczynski to complement Miller, who dominates everyone and needn’t be limited to specialized matchups, makes some sense.
JULY 31: The Royals announced that Davis has been placed back on the 15-day disabled list with a flexor strain in his right arm. The move is retroactive to July 27, and no timeline has been issued on Davis’ recovery. Lefty Matt Strahm is coming up from Double-A to take his roster spot.
[Related: Updated Kansas City Royals Depth Chart]
JULY 30: Royals closer Wade Davis is flying back to Kansas City to undergo an MRI on his right elbow, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan tweets that the MRI is to examine Davis’ forearm, though regardless of the specific portion of the arm that is being checked out, the test is still an ominous bit of news out of Kansas City. Casey Jones first tweeted that Davis was flying back to K.C. for an examination.
Davis, 30, has seen his name pop up frequently in trade rumors over the past week as the Royals have reportedly begun to consider selling veteran pieces prior to Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. The uncertainty around his elbow now, however, would seem to all but eliminate the already minimal chances of Davis being moved. Even if the MRI yields positive results, it’d be difficult for a club to meet Kansas City’s exceptionally high asking price just a day or two after the MRI.
Reports over the past week have suggested that the Royals sought names like Lucas Giolito from the Nationals in trade talks or hoped to package Ian Kennedy and the remaining $62.5MM on his contract with Davis in trade talks. That would indicate a daunting asking price even if Davis were healthy and in top form on the mound, but now it looks that neither of those is the case. While Davis has a terrific 1.60 ERA and 21 saves on the season, he’s averaging just 8.6 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 after averaging 12.1 K/0 and 2.8 BB/9 from 2014-15 with Kansas City. His velocity, while still a strong 94.9 mph, is down a full mile per hour from last season as well.
Davis spent two weeks on the disabled list with a forearm strain earlier this month, making the news of an MRI all the more troubling for the Royals. The two-time All-Star, who has a 1.09 ERA in 173 regular season innings out of the Royals’ bullpen since 2014, is earning $8MM this year and has a $10MM club option for the 2017 season.
11:25am: Hoynes reports that the Indians weren’t planning on cutting Lucroy’s playing time in 2017. Hoynes’ source indicated to him that the club wouldn’t have been willing to part with the level of talent it had agreed to without having every intention of allowing Lucroy to start behind the plate (links to Twitter).
10:35am: Brewers GM David Stearns tells reporters that Lucroy talks with the Indians are “totally dead” (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy), while Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tweets that the Indians are no longer negotiating with Lucroy.
10:29am: Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reports (via Twitter) that Lucroy asked the Indians to void his 2017 club option in order to hit the open market at the end of the season in order to approve the deal (Twitter link). Understandably, Cleveland was in no way willing to meet that request, as the option is a significant factor in Lucroy’s value to the club. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, meanwhile reports that the Indians weren’t promising Lucroy that he’d be their starting catcher in 2017, which gave him pause in approving the deal. Cleveland planned to rotate Lucroy between catcher, first base and DH in 2017.
10:15am: ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets that the efforts to convince Lucroy to approve the trade will continue, so the book on the proposed trade may not be fully closed just yet. Lucroy, it should be noted, is on one of the most team-friendly contracts in Major League Baseball, and teams will often utilize financial incentives to convince players to waive no-trade clauses. An extension or at least a restructuring of his 2017 salary ($5.25MM) could make sense, though that’s simply speculation on my behalf.
9:58am: Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Jonathan Lucroy has exercised his no-trade clause and vetoed a trade that would have sent him to the Indians in exchange for four prospects (Twitter link).
It was reported last night that the Brewers and Indians had agreed to a trade sending Lucroy to Cleveland in exchange for four minor leaguers: catcher Francisco Mejia, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang, outfielder Greg Allen and right-hander Shawn Armstrong. However, despite repeated statements about his desire to play for a contending club, Lucroy has chosen not to play for the Indians, who were one of the eight teams to which he could veto a trade under his contract’s limited no-trade provision.
Of course, the fact that Lucroy didn’t approve this trade doesn’t ensure that he’ll be remaining with Milwaukee. There are 21 teams to which Lucroy cannot block a deal, and two of those clubs — the Rangers and Mets — have both been linked to him frequently within the past week. For the time being, however, Lucroy will remain with the only organization he’s ever known, as GM David Stearns and his staff determine the next-best course of action.
If Cleveland still wants to acquire another catcher, there’s not shortage of available options. Division-rival Kurt Suzuki of the Twins figures to be available and is in the midst of a strong offensive season, while the Padres’ Derek Norris is also widely known to be available. Neither represents the upgrade that Lucroy would have to the Cleveland roster, but considering the dearth of production from incumbent options Yan Gomes (who is now injured), Chris Gimenez and Roberto Perez, a catching acquisition still seems like it would be prudent for the Indians, who are in clear go-for-it mode after acquiring Andrew Miller this morning.
10:50am: The Diamondbacks have announced the trade — a one-for-one swap of Clippard and Campos.
9:29am: The Yankees have reached a deal to acquire right-hander Tyler Clippard from the D-backs, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). The Clippard acquisition signals that in spite of this morning’s stunning trade of Andrew Miller to Cleveland, the Yankees aren’t waving a white flag on the 2016 season just yet. Joel Sherman of the New York Post was first to report that the Yankees were looking for veteran bullpen help even after moving Miller (Twitter link).
Clippard, 31, is in his first season with the D-backs after signing a two-year, $12.25MM contract, so the Yankees will control him for this season and next. He’s pitched to a 4.30 ERA this season, averaging 11.0 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9 in 37 2/3 innings with Arizona. Clippard is an extreme fly-ball pitcher (though he did reduce his fly-ball rate to a career-low 45.9 percent in 2016), which unsurprisingly didn’t mesh well with Arizona’s homer-happy stadium. The seven homers already allowed by Clippard in 2016 are just four shy of his career-high 11, and and his 1.7 HR/9 and 17.1 percent homer-to-flyball ratio are both the highest of his career. In that sense, shifting to Yankee Stadium and its short right-field porch might continue to cause problems for Clippard.
However, Clippard has a long track record of success, having pitched to a 2.68 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 524 1/3 innings from 2009-15. There were some red flags in his 2015 campaign — namely his K/BB ratios going in the wrong direction and his velocity dipping — but Clippard’s track record made him appealing to a number of clubs this winter and likely to the Yankees in this instance. It presumably helped that the Yankee front office is already familiar with Clippard, having originally drafted him back in 2003 before trading him to the Nationals several years later.
In Campos, the D-backs will receive a 24-year-old righty that reached Triple-A for the first time this season and is in the midst of a strong overall year. Campos, originally acquired by the Yankees in the Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero swap, has a 3.20 ERA with 7.8 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 121 innings across three levels this season. MLB.com ranked him 14th among Yankees farmhands on their midseason update of the team’s farm system, noting that he has three potentially above-average offerings but also serious concerns about his durability. The 121 innings Campos has thrown already represent a career-high, and it’s possible that he could head to the bullpen eventually if he cannot prove capable of handling a full workload in the rotation. He has mid-rotation upside but could end up as a power arm in the bullpen when all is said and done.
Duke, 33, is pitching well in the second season of a three-year, $15MM contract signed with the White Sox prior to the 2015 campaign. He currently leads the American League with 53 relief appearances, though he’s clearly been deployed in a largely specialized role, as he’s totaled just 37 2/3 innings in those 53 contests. Duke has posted a 2.63 ERA with 10.0 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9 and a 58.8 percent ground-ball rate. While Duke has been used in left-on-left matchups with great frequency, he’s held right-handed opponents in check this season (albeit with the help of a .238 BABIP). He’ll give the Cardinals some needed bullpen depth and join Tyler Lyons and Kevin Siegrist as a third left-handed option for manager Mike Matheny.
Duke is earning $5MM this season — of which about $1.78MM remains — and is owed $5.5MM for the 2017 season as well. Cardinals fans may recall Duke from his days with the Pirates, but he reinvented himself as a reliever with the Brewers in 2014 and parlayed a brilliant season with Milwaukee into his current contract. Since that 2014 breakout, Duke has a 2.87 ERA with 10.4 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a 57.2 percent ground-ball rate.
Tilson, meanwhile, ranked 10th among Cardinals prospects on Baseball America’s midseason update of the organization’s top prospects and 12th on MLB.com’s version of the Cards’ top 30. BA writes that he has some of the best speed in the organization and strong contact skills but bottom-of-the-scale power. MLB.com agrees, noting that he’s selective at the plate, can bunt for hits and is capable of hitting to all fields but lacks pop. Tilson has the speed and range to play center field, and both reports indicate that he can be at least a fourth outfielder in the Majors, if not an everyday player whose game is geared toward speed, contact and defense.
JULY 31: MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo reports that right-hander Shawn Armstrong is also a part of the proposed Lucroy package (Twitter link). The 25-year-old has risen through Cleveland’s minor league ranks and posted gaudy strikeout totals along the way to serving as the closer for the Indians’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliate in recent seasons. Armstrong reached the Majors for the first time in 2015 and has an inning there in 2016 as well. In total, he’s yielded three runs with an 11-to-2 K/BB ratio in nine big league innings, and he has a 2.46 ERA in 95 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level. Armstrong does struggle with his control, as evidenced by the fact that he’s walked 5.7 hitters per nine innings in his time at Triple-A. However, he’s also averaged 13.7 strikeouts per nine at that level and comes with a career 12.1 K/9 rate in the minors.
JULY 30, 11:08pm: Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports tweets that top catching prospect Francisco Mejia would head to the Brewers in the deal. Rosenthal tweets that shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang and outfielder Greg Allen are going to the Brewers as well, if he approves the trade.
11:00pm: The Brewers will get a fourth player as well, per Rosenthal, though the fourth prospect is of lesser quality. The trade will be four players going to Milwaukee in exchange for Lucroy. No others will be going to Cleveland, despite previous rumors of the Indians’ interest in Milwaukee’s relief corps.
10:48pm: The Brewers and Indians have reached an agreement on a trade that will send Jonathan Lucroy to Cleveland if Lucroy will waive his no-trade clause to approve the deal, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Rosenthal adds that Milwaukee will receive three players if the trade ultimately goes through. Lucroy has spent his entire career with the Brewers since being selected in the third round of the 2007 draft, so the decision almost certainly presents him with some mixed feelings. However, Lucroy has stated on multiple occasions this year that his strong preference is to play for a contending club, and the Indians certainly fit that bill at the moment, as they hold a 4.5 game lead over the American League Central division.
The 30-year-old Lucroy represents a massive upgrade to a Cleveland catching corps that has been the least productive in baseball this season. Indians catchers Yan Gomes, Chris Gimenez and Roberto Perez have provided sound defense this season but batted a combined .168/.215/.289 on the year, which has more than mitigated the group’s defensive work. Beyond that trio’s lack of production, Gomes is currently sidelined by a separated shoulder which, as of July 18, was expected to keep him on the shelf for four to eight weeks. Getting Lucroy from Milwaukee would give Cleveland a backstop that has slashed a brilliant .300/.360/.484 with 13 homers, 17 doubles and three triples on the year, quieting any concerns about his ability to rebound from a concussion sustained late in the 2015 season.
In addition to his terrific work at the plate, Lucroy is among the game’s best behind the plate as well. He’s halted 40 percent of stolen-base attempts against him this season and has long graded out as one of the game’s best pitch-framers, per Baseball Prospectus. Their metric has him in the midst of a down season in terms of stealing extra strikes for his pitchers, though even a “down” season for Lucroy simply means he’s been about average in that regard. And beyond his on-field performance, Lucroy is valuable in that he is eminently affordable; he’s earning just $4MM in 2016, and a $5.25MM club option for the 2017 season only adds to his allure.
The addition of Lucroy could present some moderate roster construction issues for the Indians, as Gomes himself is under a long-term deal, having inked a six-year, $23MM extension in Spring Training 2014. Gomes is slated to earn $4.5MM next season, and while that salary isn’t exactly prohibitive, it’s probably more than the Indians would like to pay a player that will be relegated to a backup role with them. The team’s projected 2016 backup, Perez, could find himself pushed off the 25-man roster entirely in 2017 with Lucroy added to the fold. For the time being, Lucroy figures to split catching duties with one of Perez or Gimenez. The latter of those two is out of minor league options and would need to be exposed to waivers in order to be sent to the minors, and given Perez’s woeful 1-for-33 start to the season — he only recently returned from a hand injury — Gimenez strikes me as the likelier of the duo to serve as Lucroy’s backup.
Mejia, 20, is one of the most highly regarded catching prospects in all of minor league baseball and ranked 70th on the midseason Top 100 prospects list published by Baseball America. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, in fact, tweets that the Brewers insisted that one of Mejia, Clint Frazier or Bradley Zimmer be included in the deal, so it’s clear that Milwaukee holds him in high regard. Mejia has split the season between Class-A and Class-A Advanced and entered play Saturday with a combined .344/.374/.524 slash before going 1-for-4 to extend his current minor league hitting streak to an amazing 42 games. He’s matched Lucroy’s 40 percent caught-stealing rate this season between his two stops, and Baseball America notes that he’s made improvements with the bat and the glove in 2016 (specifically in blocking pitches). MLB.com notes that the switch-hitter makes consistent hard contact and has good bat speed from both sides of the plate, leading to plenty of raw power. He has the upside to be an everyday catcher that is at least an average defender, they add.
Chang, also 20 and also playing at Class-A Advanced Lynchburg, is hitting .273/.347/.493 with a dozen homers and 10 steals on the season through 94 games. BA has him 10th among Cleveland farmhands on their midseason update, and he’s 12th on MLB.com’s midseason Indians top 30. Chang draws more praise for his above-average raw power than his glovework, as MLB.com points out that he has only an average arm which may not play at shortstop long-term. Even if he moves to second base or third base, though, the Taiwanese infielder has a chance to hit enough to carry value there.
Allen is the oldest prospect of the bunch at 23 years of age. Up until recently, he too was stationed at Lynchburg, but he recently moved up to Double-A Akron on the heels of an excellent .298/.424/.402 slash in Class-A Advanced. Allen’s calling card is clearly his speed, as he swiped 38 bases in 92 games with Lynchburg and snatched 46 bags in 126 games in 2015. He didn’t crack BA’s Top 10 Indians prospects, but they did make sure to highlight him as a rising prospect in the system. MLB.com ranks him 22nd, citing a lack of power but above-average speed and defensive skills in center field. Allen gives the Brewers’ system a potential top-of-the-order hitter down the line, and the fact that he’s walked nearly as many times as he’s fanned throughout his minor league career (140 vs. 143) speaks volumes about his plate discipline.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Indians have dramatically fortified their bullpen as they look to further pad their lead on the American League Central, announcing on Sunday morning the acquisition of left-hander Andrew Miller from the Yankees in exchange for outfield prospect Clint Frazier, minor league left-hander Justus Sheffield and minor league right-handers Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen.
Miller, 31, has been one of baseball’s most dominant relievers for the third year in a row, but the 2016 season has been arguably his best. He’s pitched to a lights-out 1.39 ERA with a 77-t0-7 K/BB ratio and a 52.9 percent ground-ball rate in 45 1/3 innings. He’s earning $9MM this season and in each of the next two to come — a highly reasonable price for a pitcher that has shown his level of dominance late in games. That he’s controllable for another two campaigns beyond 2016 undoubtedly made this deal more palatable for the Indians, who have a deep enough farm system to make this move without gutting their entire pipeline of prospects. However, the price that looks to have been paid is unequivocally steep, as Frazier is widely regarded as one of the top 25 or so best prospects in the game, and Sheffield has worked his way onto a number of top 100 rankings as well.
While future iterations of the Indians may suffer down the line if Frazier and Sheffield reach their ceilings, Cleveland holds a 4.5 game lead over the American League Central division and has definitively announced itself to be in win-now mode. Cleveland reportedly had an agreement in place with the Brewers to acquire Jonathan Lucroy, but that move was blown up when Lucroy exercised his no-trade clause to nix the deal. Whether or not the Indians can pull off another major acquisition, they have filled one clear need on their roster with a top-of-the-market upgrade as they push to capture their first World Series title since 1948.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have seemingly become reluctant deadline sellers, now trading two-thirds of what was one of the most dominant late-inning trios Major League history. Dellin Betances will step into the ninth inning for the Yankees, who have parlayed their investments in Miller and Chapman into a slew of intriguing prospects. The Yankees’ farm system is now teeming with top-tier talent, positioning them well for the future either by allowing them to develop a number of core young players or put together a package for controllable, impact talent at the Major League level.
Frazier, 21, is one of the game’s most highly touted outfield prospects and draws rave reviews for his exceptional bat speed. He was recently promoted to Triple-A after hitting .276/.356/.469 with 13 homers and 13 steals in 391 plate appearances against much older competition at Double-A Akron. He rated 21st on Baseball America’s midseason list of the game’s top 100 prospects, 24th on MLB.com’s same version of that list, 26th on Baseball Prospectus’ midseason top 50 and 34th on Keith Law’s midseason top 50 at ESPN.com. He’s playing center field right now, but he may have to eventually move to a corner spot, where his bat will still play. Frazier draws positive reviews for his plus raw power and improving plate discipline. His walk and strikeout rates have improved significantly since his debut in pro ball, and given the fact that he’s already in Triple-A, he could be an option for the Yankees as soon as next season if his development doesn’t stall at the top minor league level.
Sheffield, 20, is currently holding his own against much older competition in the Class-A Advanced Carolina League. He’s worked to a 3.59 ERA with 8.8 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9 with a 45 percent ground-ball rate in 19 starts this season, spanning a total of 95 1/3 innings. Cleveland selected Sheffield with the 31st overall pick in the 2014 draft, and he currently rates 69th on BA’s midseason top 100 and 95th on MLB.com’s version of the list. Sheffield’s fastball has some sink to it and sits in the 92-93 mph range, occasionally reaching as high as 96 mph, per MLB.com. He’s a bit undersized at 5’10”, but most scouting reports on Sheffield peg him as a potential mid-rotation starter with a potentially plus curveball and a developing changeup.
Both Heller and Feyereisen could help the Yankees’ bullpen in the near future, tweets MLB.com’s Jim Callis. Heller rated as the Indians’ No. 30 prospect, per Callis and colleague Jonathan Mayo, He’s currently pitching at Triple-A after posting a dazzling 0.55 ERA with 12.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 16 1/3 Double-A innings to open the season. The 24-year-old Heller has had continued success since moving up a level, logging a 2.49 ERA with a 25-to-7 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings. Heller’s fastball sits in the upper 90s and can touch 100 mph, and his slider draws above-average reviews from Callis and Mayo. The 23-year-old Feyereisen is currently pitching in Double-A, where he’s compiled a 2.23 ERA with a 56-to-20 K/BB ratio in 40 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. Though he’s averaged 4.5 walks per nine innings this season, control hasn’t been a major issue for him in past seasons.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported that Miller had been traded to Cleveland (Twitter link). ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that Frazier, Sheffield and two others were in the deal (links to Twitter). FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported the inclusion of Heller and Feyereisen (Twitter link).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.