The Diamondbacks have once again checked in with the Orioles on Manny Machado, primarily as a matter of due diligence, tweets Jon Morosi of MLB.com. There’s little surprise there, given that the Snakes were oft-linked to Machado in the offseason and were reportedly one of the more interested parties in obtaining his services. Beyond that, Arizona has received limited offensive contributions from both the third base (.216/.313/.394) and shortstop (.232/.296/.442) positions so far in 2018. The D-backs are currently hanging onto a 1.5 game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West, and adding someone of Machado’s caliber would be reminiscent of last season’s J.D. Martinez acquisition, though Machado has more defensive value even with poor ratings at shortstop so far in 2018.
- As Piecoro further covers (both in that article and on Twitter), it seems that D-backs righty Shelby Miller is nearly ready to be activated from the 60-day DL. He has managed only a 4.66 ERA in four rehab outings, but is carrying an excellent 28:6 K/B ratio over his 19 1/3 minor-league frames thus far. Miller isn’t listed as one of the four starting pitchers for the upcoming weekend series against the Pirates, however, and manager Torey Lovullo didn’t provide an update on what is next for the right-hander just yet. Fellow righty Matt Koch allowed at least five runs for the fourth time in seven starts last night, though, so logically speaking, the D-backs could bump him from the starting five to accommodate Miller’s return.
Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock is not healing quite as quickly as might have been hoped, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports, though there has been some progress made. Given that he still hasn’t been cleared to swing, and will need some time on rehab assignment thereafter, it seems reasonable now to expect that Pollock won’t return until some time in early-to-mid-July. He’s set for a CT scan Monday. The slow progress, clearly, is not great news for the Snakes, though the club has halted an earlier slide in the standings. and played better baseball of late. They’re currently leading a resurgent Dodgers club by 1.5 games for the division lead.
- Both Diamondbacks outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and right-hander Shelby Miller are progressing in their injury recoveries, according to Richard Morin of AZCentral.com. Souza, out since May 22 with a strained right pectoral, is close to embarking on a rehab assignment. And Miller, who’s working back from May 2017 Tommy John surgery, looked great in his fourth rehab appearance Saturday. Pitching at the Single-A level, Miller threw 81 pitches and struck out 10 (with just three hits allowed and no walks) over 6 1/3 innings. He also saw his fastball top out at 95 mph. It’s not yet clear whether Miller will make another rehab appearance, nor is it known if he’ll work as a starter or in relief upon his return to the majors, manager Torey Lovullo suggested. Regardless, the D-backs are “very encouraged” by his progress, Lovullo said.
The Diamondbacks made a minor league offer to right-hander John Lackey this offseason, writes USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, but the veteran righty passed on the opportunity. Coincidentally, Lackey’s friend and former teammate, Clay Buchholz, ultimately wound up in the D-backs organization on a similar deal and is now thriving in a rotation that has been hit hard by injuries. “I don’t bring that up to him now,” joked Buchholz, who still keeps in touch with Lackey, “because he’s a lot bigger than me. I don’t want to make him mad. But Lackey is a bulldog. I fully expect him to be with some club at some point this year. I know for a fact that he still works out and keeps his body ready.” Both Lackey and Buchholz, of course, are known commodities to D-backs GM Mike Hazen and assistant GMs Amiel Sawdaye and Jared Porter, each of whom has previously worked in the Boston front office.
More out of Arizona…
- Braden Shipley is being asked to work as a reliever for the time being, writes Zach Buchanan of The Athletic (subscription link), but the organization hasn’t closed the door on him as a rotation option. Shipley had actually been set to step into the rotation last month when an elbow injury sent him to the disabled list. In the interim, Buccholz stepped up and seized that spot, however. Shipley acknowledged some frustration at how the scenario unfolded, though he took a positive approach to his new role, viewing it as a chance to ease up on his arm and get some experience at the big league level before hopefully getting another starting opportunity down the line. A former first-round pick, Shipley has just a 5.23 ERA in 98 Major League innings, though the 26-year-old is still just two years removed from ranking among the game’s top 100 prospects and could yet thrive in the big leagues — especially in a new role.
- Steven Souza Jr. began a throwing program Wednesday as he works back from a recurrence of the pectoral injury he incurred during Spring Training, writes Katherine Fitzgerald of the Arizona Republic. Souza threw from 45 feet today and will play catch again Friday before a Monday MRI to determine the progress he’s made in his recovery. He’ll return to a different outfield mix than the one he left, of course, as the Snakes have since acquired Jon Jay in a trade with the Royals. The presence of Souza, Jay, David Peralta, Jarrod Dyson, Chris Owings and, eventually, a healthy A.J. Pollock will lead to some decisions for the D-backs, although that’s a theoretical situation that may or may not present itself, depending on the health of that group as a whole.
We’ll use this post to track Wednesday’s notable agreements from the top few rounds of the draft (rankings referenced are courtesy of Baseball America, MLB.com, Fangraphs and ESPN’s Keith Law — with the scouting reports from MLB and Fangraphs both coming free to the general public) …
- Reds second-round pick Lyon Richardson scored a $2MM payday to forego his commitment to the University of Florida, per MLB.com’s Jim Callis (via Twitter). That’s nearly half a million over the slot value ($1,520,300) for a player who has only recently emerged as a high-end pitching prospect. MLB.com’s team was highest among major prospect outlets, ranking Richardson 67th on the basis of his ample upside as an athletic hurler who has shown big velocity despite unpolished mechanics.
- The Yankees have announced a variety of signings, including deals with second-rounder Josh Breaux and third-rounder Ryder Green. These agreements were first reported by Callis (Twitter links), with the bonus values pinned down by Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (Twitter links). Breaux’s bonus of $1,497,500 handily tops his $1,086,900 slot value, while Green, too, receives an over-slot $997,500 bonus that exceeds his $576,400 slot value. All of the above lists include Breaux among the top 100 available prospects, with an increasingly promising bat and improving work behind the dish justifying the placement.
- The Braves got second-round selection Greyson Jenista for a $1.2MM bonus that leaves them $250,500 of extra pool space to work with, Callis reports on Twitter. The Wichita State slugger received a fairly broad array of grades from prospect hounds, but the Fangraphs crew was highest. With big power and the ability to draw walks, but also plenty of swing-and-miss in his game, there’s a lot to like about the bat. One major question is whether Jenista will be able to work into being a reasonable defender in the corner outfield, or whether instead he’s destined for first base in the long run.
- Second-rounder Alek Thomas will join the Diamondbacks rather than heading to TCU, as Callis also tweets. The deal includes a $1.2MM bonus that tops the $1,035,500 allocation that came with the 63rd overall draft slot. Law was quite bullish on the young outfielder, crediting him with “five-tool potential” and “an advanced feel on both sides of the ball.”
- The Nationals have also agreed to terms with their second-round selection, UConn lefty Tim Cate, Callis adds on Twitter. It’s an at-slot, $986,200 bonus for the 65th overall choice of the draft. Best known for his big hook, Cate is an undersized hurler who has also had some worrying arm health questions crop up. Still, Baseball America ranked him 54th on its board, noting his “exceptional feel to land his breaking ball in the zone and bury it for swings and misses.”
- Still another second-rounder, Florida Atlantic infielder Tyler Frank, will take home a $997,500 bonus from the Rays, per MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo (Twitter link). That leaves the Tampa Bay club with some extra funds to work with, as the 56th slot came with a $1,228,000 allocation. Also going under-slot were Royals second-rounder Jonathan Bowlan ($697,500 bonus vs. $1,168,300 slot) and Twins second-rounder Ryan Jeffers ($800K bonus vs. $1,140,600 slot), according to Callis (Twitter links)
- Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo chatted with Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe about the role that familiarity played in the organization’s decision to sign Clay Buchholz, as well as the importance of what Buchholz has done in the rotation since signing. Lovullo, GM Mike Hazen and AGM Amiel Sawdaye were all with the Red Sox when Buchholz was drafted, and that preexisting relationship helped to facilitate the signing. “Mike and [assistant GM] Amiel [Sawdaye] and I got together and we said, ‘Why not Clay?’ ” Lovullo recalled. “The reports on him were very good and so we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And he’s been outstanding for us.” Lovullo was cautious about making any definitive proclamations about his rotation moving forward but did say that Buchholz “deserves” to remain in the mix. It’s hard to argue, as the 33-year-old has posted a 1.88 ERA with a 21-to-3 K/BB ratio through 24 innings (four starts) with the D-backs so far.
- The Diamondbacks have outrighted infielder/outfielder Kristopher Negron to Triple-A Reno, per an announcement from Arizona. Because Negron has been outrighted in the past, he could reject the assignment in favor of free agency, but it seems he’ll stay with the Diamondbacks. Negron lost his spot on Arizona’s 40-man roster this week when the team designated him for assignment to make room for the addition of outfielder Jon Jay. Prior to that, Negron collected 34 plate appearances with the D-backs dating back to last season (including three this year). The 32-year-old has otherwise played with Reno since 2017.
Walker Buehler left last night’s game before he was able to get through the sixth, but it wasn’t due to poor performance. The promising young right-hander left due to a side injury. Thankfully, Bill Shaikin of the LA Times reports that Buehler is describing his injury as “bruised ribs”. There’s no word yet as to whether he’ll need to land on the DL for a stint, but the news ought to bring a mild sigh of relief to Dodgers fans. Such a description would seem to eliminate the dread of an oblique or intercostal strain, if Buehler’s self-description holds up. Bruises seem far less likely to disrupt his excellent season thus far; Buehler’s been worth 1.7 fWAR across nine starts in part thanks to a 4.91 K/BB ratio and 54.5% ground ball rate.
Other items out of the NL West…
- The Dodgers have received news on Justin Turner that’s far less promising, however. Shaikin also reports that Turner’s performance could be diminished all season by lingering wrist issues. The slugger spent most of the season thus far on the DL after suffering a fractured wrist during a spring training game. Shaikin also points out that he’s been held out of the lineup in three of the last four games, and has managed just a .668 OPS since returning from the disabled list.
- AJ Cassavell of MLB.com revisits the Brad Hand extension in his recent piece, reminding readers that it significantly reduced the likelihood of the reliever being traded any time soon. Hand has been one of the best relievers in baseball in recent seasons by metrics such as WPA, fWAR and ERA, and though he’d certainly fetch a hefty price for the rebuilding Padres, they now control him through 2021. That’s a season in which they could feasibly be contending for a title. For his part, Hand certainly had that in mind. “”When I signed the contract, that was the big part of it,” he said. “I wanted to be here, I wanted to help the young guys come up, and I wanted to win a World Series here.”
- Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo believes Ketel Marte is “100% playable” in spite of a recent injury, says MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert. However, Lovullo adds that he “created some tenderness” with a headfirst slide into third base this past Sunday. He was held out of the lineup on Saturday, but the move seems to have been largely precautionary; his manager reportedly wanted to give him a day to get ahead of the injury. Marte has struggled to produce offensively throughout his career, sporting a .258/.313/.364 line since debuting in 2015. However, his excellent defense has played him to 2.6 wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs’ metric.
- Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen spoke with reporters following his team’s surprisingly early acquisition of Jon Jay to explain some of the thinking that went into the move (links via Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic and Steve Gilbert of MLB.com). “With the way the division is shaping up, where every day matters more and more, we just felt like this was the right thing to do at the time,” said Hazen, who is currently without both A.J. Pollock and Steven Souza. Hazen explained that the D-backs pursued Jay this offseason as well and praised his strong start to the year as well as his outfield versatility. The GM acknowledged that the move had some logjam potential down the line but declined to delve into any specifics as to how that’d be addressed. It’s a purely hypothetical scenario right now anyhow, as neither Souza nor Pollock appears to be on the verge of returning.
9:41pm: Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that the D-backs are taking on the remainder of Jay’s salary and will be on the hook for any of the $1.5MM worth of incentives he unlocks. Jay reportedly receives $100K for every 25th plate appearance beginning at 250 plate appearances and escalating up through his 600th plate appearance of the year. He’s already at 266 PAs on the season.
7:52pm: The Diamondbacks announced that they’ve acquired outfielder Jon Jay from the Royals in exchange for minor league left-hander Gabe Speier and minor league right-hander Elvis Luciano. Infielder Kristopher Negron has been designated for assignment to clear roster space.
Jay, 33, inked a one-year contract worth $3MM this offseason and is still owed about $1.86MM through season’s end. He’s gotten off to a nice start at the plate in his first year with Kansas City, hitting .307/.363/.374 with a homer, nine doubles, two triples and three steals on the year.
That’s a fairly typical year at the plate for Jay, who has batted at least .291 and posted an OBP of at least .339 in four of the past five seasons. While he doesn’t provide much in the way of pop, he’ll give the Diamondbacks a high-average hitter with solid OBP skills who rarely strikes out and can handle all three outfield spots.
For a team that currently strikes out at a 25 percent clip — fourth-highest in the Majors — Jay’s 14.7 percent punchout rate would seem to be particularly appealing. Beyond that, Jay has virtually no discernible platoon split, having hit lefties (.288/.361/.347) at a comparable rate to righties (.290/.354/.393) throughout his career.
Jay will join an outfield mix that also includes David Peralta, Jarrod Dyson and Chris Owings at the moment. Heading into the season, the outfield hardly looked to be a serious need for the D-backs, but they’ve since seen March acquisition Steven Souza hit the DL twice and are also without A.J. Pollock for upwards of two months due to an avulsion fracture in his thumb.
While that has the makings of a potentially crowded outfield mix if everyone can get healthy, the D-backs will worry about that theoretical logjam down the line. For the time being, they’re taking a proactive approach to help stop the bleeding after a dreadful freefall that has seen their once-monstrous division lead whittled down to a half-game advantage over the Rockies.
The price the D-backs paid for Jay appears modest, at best (as one might expect for a part-time outfielder on a modest contract). The 23-year-old Speier was a 19th-round pick by the Red Sox back in 2013 that has now been traded four times in his career. He went from Boston to Detroit in the Yoenis Cespedes/Rick Porcello blockbuster before next making his way to the Braves alongside Ian Krol in the trade that sent Cameron Maybin back to Detroit. Speier never threw a pitch in the Braves organization, though, as he was traded to the D-backs alongside Shelby Miller in the infamous Ender Inciarte/Dansby Swanson deal.
For a player that’s bounced around so much, though, Speier has solid numbers in the minors. He’s currently in his second full season at the Double-A level and has thus far notched a tidy 3.03 ERA with 7.9 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a whopping 60.5 percent ground-ball rate through 29 2/3 frames. In all, he has a 3.67 ERA in 112 2/3 innings at that level, though he’s yet to ascend to Triple-A and is not considered to be among Arizona’s top 30 farmhands.
Luciano, then, may be the more notable of the pair of hurlers headed to Kansas City. MLB.com ranks him 26th among D-backs farmhands, while Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDainiel of Fangraphs noted in their rundown of the system that Luciano has a 55-grade curveball and a chance to start. Of course, at 18 years of age, he’s years away from even sniffing the big leagues.
Luciano pitched in the Dominican Summer League and in Rookie ball last season, posting a combined 2.84 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com give him a chance to have three average or better offerings, highlighted by the aforementioned hook, but he’ll need quite a bit more development. Callis and Mayo, though, note that he has “plus mound presence and maturity” and was well-regarded by many in the D-backs organization.
For the Royals, the trade of Jay figures to be the first of many in a long summer of rebuilding. Jay was among the many veterans on a contract set to expire after this season, and it’s likely that the Royals front office will field offers on everyone from high-profile rentals like Kelvin Herrera and Mike Moustakas to veteran starters like Jason Hammel and even more controllable assets like Whit Merrifield. The rentals seem like virtual locks to go (Herrera and Moustakas, in particular), but GM Dayton Moore and his staff will undoubtedly carry an open mind as they entertain offers for nearly anyone on the roster.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.