- Brandon Phillips has acquitted himself well as the Braves’ third baseman since moving over from second base to accommodate Ozzie Albies, and David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out that the position switch may be a boost to Phillips’ future career. The veteran infielder will have a better chance at finding a new contract this winter now that he has demonstrated more positional versatility, and O’Brien figures Phillips could also handle playing first base as well.
Thanks as always for your questions! If yours wasn’t selected this week, you can always pose it in one of our weekly chats: Steve Adams at 2pm CST on Tuesdays, Jason Martinez at 6:30pm CST on Wednesdays, and yours truly at 2pm CST on Thursdays.
Here are this week’s questions and answers:
Why is it so hard for the A’s to move Jed Lowrie? — Rene H.
Well, there has been a bit of a game of musical chairs in the second/third base market. The Red Sox went with Eduardo Nunez. The Nationals grabbed Howie Kendrick, who can also play outfield. The Brewers ended up with Neil Walker in August. Those deals filled some of the main needs out there, though there are at least a few teams that could still make a move. The Angels stand out; the Indians have looked in this area; and the Blue Jays could be a dark horse if they make a run.
But let’s suppose a few organizations are indeed still poking around on Lowrie. Those same teams will also have other options to consider. Ian Kinsler is now off the market after his waiver claim was revoked by the Tigers. But Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart are both pending free agents who could move. Yangervis Solarte may not clear waivers, but could be claimed and pursued. And Asdrubal Cabrera also represents a possibility.
Cabrera, like Lowrie, comes with a club option for 2018. In Lowrie’s case, it’s just a $6MM cost to keep him (against a $1MM buyout). He has surely played well enough to make that a decent asset to move over the winter. And perhaps Oakland isn’t all that anxious to press Franklin Barreto into everyday duty in the majors just yet. After all, he’s only 21, didn’t hit much in his brief debut, and has encountered a rising strikeout rate at Triple-A. Lowrie could help stabilize the infield the rest of the way or even in 2018, or he could still be flipped if a decent offer comes along.
How do you guys see the [free-agent] market for Jay Bruce developing? I have a hard time believing that a 30/31-year-old who has six seasons where he OPSed over .800 would have trouble locking down a fourth year at a $13MM AAV. — Alex W.
As Alex helpfully pointed out in his email, there are indeed quite a few corner outfielders that have landed free-agent contracts in that range. Recent deals that could work as comparables run from Nick Markakis (4/$44MM) and Josh Reddick (4/$52MM) up to Nick Swisher (4/$56MM) and Curtis Granderson (4/$60MM). Bruce is a plausible candidate to land in that general realm.
I do think Bruce is flying under the radar a bit, given the obvious appeal of his quality offensive output this year — .267/.334/.541 with 32 homers. It doesn’t hurt that he has turned things on thus far since going to the Indians, has finally reversed the abysmal defensive metrics, and is regarded as a top-shelf professional. The two lost seasons of 2014 and 2015 are hard to ignore entirely, and he has never hit lefties nearly so much as righties, but he has returned to his prior trajectory since and has been average at the plate when facing southpaws this season. Plus, there won’t be any draft compensation to contend with.
But where exactly he falls, and whether he gets a fourth year or instead takes a higher AAV over three, will depend upon market forces. J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton (if he opts out) would be the two top corner outfielders, but both are righty bats that would require very significant contracts. Granderson and Melky Cabrera will present alternatives for teams seeking lefty pop, but neither has quite Bruce’s present power and both are much older. All things considered, Bruce should be fairly well positioned.
I’m wondering if the Giants’ plan to re-tool, rather than rebuild, has a reasonable chance of success. Does SF have only two or three spots, like one outfielder and two pitchers, that will make the difference in being competitive? Or will the re-tooling need to involve more spots on the roster, like two outfielders, maybe an infielder (third base), and three or four pitchers? And are there players available in free-agency for them to do that? — Tim D.
Let’s start with the presumption that Johnny Cueto opts into the remainder of his deal. That would fill one of the rotation slots but also keeps a lot of cash on the books — over $150MM total already for 2018, with more than $100MM promised in each of the next two seasons. And the club will also have to consider what it’ll cost to keep Madison Bumgarner around past 2019.
Looking over the roster — see the current depth chart here — the Giants will face questions in a variety of areas. Third base is unresolved, the team needs at least one starting outfielder (a center-field-capable player would perhaps be preferred, bumping Denard Span to left), and several bench/platoon roles are open to question. The team will likely at least look into adding a starter, though it could choose instead to go with Matt Moore along with Ty Blach or another less-established pitcher to line up behind Cueto, Bumgarner, and Jeff Samardzija. Bullpens can always be improved, though the Giants can hope for a bounceback from Mark Melancon and continued performance from reclamation hit Sam Dyson in the late innings.
On the whole, then, perhaps a more dramatic roster overhaul isn’t really needed. Assuming the club is willing to spend up to, but not past, the $180MM-ish payroll it carried entering the current season, that leaves some room to add. But the long-term commitments and 2017 downturns certainly also speak in favor of exercising some caution. I’d expect a focus on striking shorter-term deals with veterans.
Possibilities at third could include Pablo Sandoval, Todd Frazier, and Yunel Escobar, or the Giants could go bigger and chase the still-youthful Mike Moustakas. In the outfield, Lorenzo Cain would be the top center-field target, though he’ll be entering his age-32 season and won’t be cheap. There are some interesting alternatives, including Carlos Gomez, Jon Jay, and Jarrod Dyson. It’s also possible the Giants could chase Bruce or another corner piece while adding a player like Austin Jackson to platoon with Span in center. And as ever, there are lots of different pitchers available at different price points should they look to add there.
Ultimately, there ought to be decent value available in the price range the Giants will be shopping. Whether that’ll work out or not … well, that’s dependent upon quite a few other factors and is tough to predict at this point.
Which young, controllable starters (like Chris Archer, for example) will potentially be available via trade this upcoming offseason? –Matt H.
Archer is certainly a good example of a guy who could be available and who’ll be asked about quite a lot. Depending upon how things end up for the Rays this year — currently, it’s not trending in the right direction — they may be more or less inclined to undertake a more dramatic move such as dealing the staff ace.
Generally, though, I’d expect the pickings to be slim. Several teams that sit in the bottom of the standings and have young arms don’t seem likely to move them. For instance, I don’t really expect the Mets (Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, etc.), Blue Jays (Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez), or Phillies (Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez) to be looking to deal young starters.
There are a few other names to watch, though. Michael Fulmer of the Tigers would figure to draw some of the most fervent interest, and Detroit has to be thinking creatively entering an offseason full of questions. The Pirates could decide that now’s the time to move Gerrit Cole, though he’ll only have two years of control remaining so may not really meet the parameters. Julio Teheran of the Braves will surely again be a topic of speculation, at least, and the Marlins will have to consider cashing in Dan Straily.
In his weekly Inside Baseball column, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag takes a look at the tightly packed AL Wild Card race. He also provides some notes from both the American League and National League. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of relevance to the transactional landscape:
- While the Astros could still conceivably renew their pursuit of Tigers righty Justin Verlander, it may be that the talks are over barring a significant change of heart from one or both of the organizations. Heyman cites a source who said he felt negotiations were “put to bed last week.” In other news regarding Houston, Heyman says the club “never got serious” in their apparently limited pursuits of Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray or Yu Darvish in July, and one source indicated to Heyman that it never even made an offer for Quintana this summer. The Astros, of course, pursued Quintana extensively this offseason, so the front office was likely already well aware of Chicago’s lofty asking price for Quintana.
- It seems the Giants have yet to place righty Jeff Samardzija on waivers, with Heyman suggesting it’s seen as unlikely he’ll be claimed when he does go on the wire. But the belief is that the starter could be targeted if he does clear waivers. Samardzija has carried compelling strikeout (160) and walk (23) numbers through his 155 2/3 innings on the year, though he has also allowed 22 home runs and owns a 4.74 ERA. He has turned in four-straight quality outings, it’s worth noting.
- The Rays are interested in finding a right-handed hitter, according to Heyman, though it’s unclear just what the club might realistically look to do. Tampa Bay has not performed as had been hoped when the team reshaped its roster over the summer, which surely also alters the picture. Reserves such as Trevor Plouffe, Daniel Robertson, and Peter Bourjos have all struggled with the bat, though finding upgrades will be challenging at this stage. (As mostly goes without saying, the decision to part with Tim Beckham has not looked good thus far.)
- After striking a variety of deals already, the Mets are “still working hard” to deal away more players this August, Heyman writes. Veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson still seems like the most obvious possible trade piece, though perhaps infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, lefty Jerry Blevins, catcher Rene Rivera, or even recently-acquired reliever A.J. Ramos could be moved.
- The Braves are considering exercising their $8MM club option over knuckleballer R.A. Dickey for the 2018 season, per Heyman. That option comes with a $500K buyout, effectively making it a $7.5MM decision. The Braves are pleased with the 42-year-old’s durability, innings and leadership. Through 141 frames this season, Dickey has a 3.89 ERA with 6.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 49.5 percent ground-ball rate. Realistically, the club would be hard pressed to find better value on the open market and will need the innings next year.
- Some clubs believe that the Angels are the team that placed the claim on Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, per Heyman, who notes that Anaheim is still in the market for a second base upgrade. However, the Halos have only “limited” interest in Braves second baseman Brandon Phillips, who has reportedly cleared revocable waivers and is having a solid season at the plate.
- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is pleased with how his organization’s rebuild is going, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “It’s nice to see things starting to form into a team and not just form a minor league system,” says Freeman. “It’s been a tough two years; I don’t think anybody’s gonna sugarcoat that around here. We had a team where most teams said, ‘Oh, good, we’re playing the Braves.’ But I don’t think most teams say that anymore. Last year, we’d be 30 games under .500 at this point. It’s been so much better.” Kepner notes that Freeman has earned plaudits from teammates for his willingness to try third base recently to accommodate the team’s changing roster, even though Freeman himself is a veteran in the midst of an outstanding season. Freeman played 16 games at third, although he’s been back at first base recently, with Matt Adams in the outfield and Brandon Phillips at the hot corner.
The Braves have received first baseman Kevin Franklin from the Reds, per an announcement from the Cincinnati organization. He represents the player to be named later from the February swap that sent infielder Brandon Phillips to Atlanta.
Franklin, 22, was taken in the second round of the 2013 draft. But he has yet to make much progress through the system. Indeed, he has topped out thus far at the High-A level, with tepid numbers all along the way. This year, Franklin has appeared in only 27 A-ball games, posting an ugly .179/.225/.238 batting line.
The trade remains something of an odd one, due largely to Phillips’s no-trade protection and sizable salary. Atlanta took on only $1MM of his salary in the trade, while sending pitchers Andrew McKirahan and Carlos Portuondo to the Reds. Neither of those hurlers has seen much action this year or shown a particular likelihood of contributing at the MLB level.
The Mariners have struck a deal with the Braves to acquire lefty Andrew Albers, per David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter). Cash considerations will make up the return in the deal.
Albers had been working at Triple-A Gwinnett; now, he’ll help bolster the depth for the Mariners, who have suffered a variety of pitching injuries of late. The 31-year-old has limited experience in the majors, with just 17 total appearances over parts of three seasons, but he has shown rather well this year at the highest level of the minors.
Through his 120 2/3 innings to date for Gwinnett — covering 17 starts as well as nine relief appearances — Albers carries a 2.61 ERA. He’s also carrying 8.6 K/9 against just 1.4 BB/9 as well as a solid 46.1% groundball rate.
Whether Seattle intends to bring Albers up in the near-term isn’t clear. At a minimum, he’ll provide the organization with a new depth piece as it filters arms up to account for the recent DL placements of David Phelps, Felix Hernandez, and James Paxton.
With Phillips’ previous team, the Reds, paying all but $1MM of his $13MM salary for 2017, the Braves are only on the hook for about $300K through season’s end, as Heyman notes. Despite Phillips’ cheap price tag and history of respectable production, no one claimed the 36-year-old. But the Braves have discussed Phillips with multiple teams, per Heyman, who points to the Rays as a potential fit for the right-handed hitter.
While Phillips has lined up almost exclusively at the keystone since debuting in the majors in 2002, the Braves recently shifted him to third to make room for standout prospect Ozzie Albies. Before that, Phillips garnered mixed reviews from advanced fielding metrics at second, with minus-5 defensive runs saved and an Ultimate Zone Rating just above zero. Offensively, Phillips hasn’t fallen off much in recent years. While he’s not the star-caliber producer he was in his career campaign, 2011, he continues to avoid strikeouts better than most, and his .285/.325/.418 line in 416 plate appearances this season is roughly average relative to his position.
“Knocking Down the Door” is a regular feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.
The Braves were non-contenders in 2016 when they surprisingly called up top prospect Dansby Swanson from Double-A and inserted him into the starting lineup. Out of playoff contention late in the season once again, would they do the same with the 19-year-old Acuña, considering how Swanson has mostly struggled in his first full MLB season?
There is one notable difference between Swanson in 2016 and Acuña in 2017. Swanson was having a decent season in Double-A (.261/.342/.402 in 84 games) at the time of his call-up. Acuña has been absolutely tearing the cover off of the ball and seemingly getting better throughout the season during stints in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. In 26 games since a July promotion to Gwinnett, the right-handed batter is slashing .347/.426/.574 with four homers, seven doubles, 13 walks and 22 strikeouts.
While the Braves will likely explore a trade for one of their current outfielders this offseason in anticipation of Acuña’s arrival as an everyday player in 2018, they could work him into the mix late this season with three-to-four starts per week.
The 23-year-old lefty was pitching in High-A less than a month ago, so a promotion to the Major Leagues soon after probably seems unrealistic. However, the recent trade of Francisco Liriano and the fourth disabled list stint for Aaron Sanchez has left the team’s rotation so thin that journeyman Nick Tepesch is being added to the 40-man roster to start on Wednesday to replace another journeyman, Cesar Valdez, who was placed on the disabled list after allowing 12 earned runs over his past two starts.
Meanwhile, Borucki has been outstanding since a promotion to Double-A, posting three consecutive seven-inning starts with a total of 18 strikeouts while allowing only one earned run, 11 hits and three walks in 21 innings. The former 15th-round pick, who idolized Mark Buehrle as a kid and is comparable in many ways, is already on the team’s 40-man roster and only at 119 innings on the season.
In six games since the July 31st trade that sent him from the Dodgers to the Rangers for Yu Darvish, Calhoun is 7-for-25 with four homers, pushing his season total to 27. Not only can the lefty-swinging Calhoun hit for power—he also had 27 homers and 25 doubles in Double-A in 2016—he’s one of the toughest hitters to strike out in the Minors. Hitting 25+ homers in the upper minors is notable, but accomplishing that feat while striking out fewer than 100 times is extremely rare. The 22-year-old struck out 65 times while drawing 45 walks in 2016. He has 36 walks and only 50 strikeouts this season.
The good thing about being traded to the American League is that Calhoun’s future position in the Major Leagues, whether it’s second base or the outfield, probably doesn’t have to be sorted out before he gets the call to the Majors. The kid can flat out rake. With Mike Napoli struggling—he’s 4 for his last 32 with 17 strikeouts— the Rangers could give Calhoun plenty of at-bats at the DH spot with an occasional look at second base or in left field.
After an impressive stint in Double-A earned him an early-season promotion to Triple-A in 2016, Crawford appeared to be on the fast track to the Majors. Of course, only the “light-hitting” Freddy Galvis appeared to be standing in his way at the time. But in an unpredictable turn of events, Galvis went on a home run binge while the 21-year-old Crawford, considered one of the top prospects in baseball, struggled during his first taste of Triple-A. Since last July, Galvis has homered 24 times in 706 plate appearances while posting an OPS over .700.
Crawford was never going to simply be handed the starting shortstop job, but any chance of a 2017 promotion was dwindling unless he forced himself back into the picture. His performance in July, and so far in August, probably fits that description. With an OPS over 1.000, 10 homers, six doubles, three triples, 21 walks and 27 strikeouts over that span, Crawford has earned a late-season look as the Phillies’ regular shortstop. Galvis, who will be a free agent after the 2018 season, has probably done enough over the past year to generate some offseason trade interest whether he plays regularly down the stretch or not.
With the Phillies committed to giving Tommy Joseph a full season to show what he can do as the team’s starting first baseman, it appeared that Hoskins, one of the most productive hitters in the Minors over the past three seasons, would probably have to wait until 2018 before getting a chance. But following the release of Michael Saunders, the trade of Howie Kendrick, and Aaron Altherr’s second trip to the disabled list, the Phillies’ outfield is looking thin enough that the 24-year-old Hoskins was given the green light to play left field for the first time in his professional career on Monday. He played there again on Tuesday.
While a slight increase in defensive versatility could be a key to Hoskins arriving in the Majors this season, maybe as soon as this week, it’s hard to imagine him not being the starting first baseman in 2018. Joseph is having a below-average season for a first baseman (.741 OPS, 16 HR, 97 K) and is currently in a 1-for-22 slump. Hoskins still has to prove that he can hit MLB pitching, but his current .280/.383/.571 slash line with only 75 strikeouts is a pretty good indicator that he will do just that.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Camargo will head to the 10-day disabled list, but it looks like Braves fans can breathe a sigh of relief, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets that the MRI revealed no structural damage in Camargo’s right knee. Instead, he’s been diagnosed with a bone bruise. Camargo has been told he’ll miss anywhere from 10 to 14 days (Twitter link via Bowman). While not an ideal outcome, it’s a better prognosis than some may have feared when seeing the 23-year-old helped off the field and struggling to put any weight on his right leg. It’s likely that Swanson will take Camargo’s roster spot, though that has yet to be announced by the team.
- Braves infielder Johan Camargo suffered a leg injury prior to tonight’s game and has been initially diagnosed with a hyperextended knee, tweets David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Camargo hopped over the chalk line while taking the field and seemed to trip in doing so, ultimately crumbling to the ground and needing to be helped off the field (video link via FOX Sports Braves, on Twitter). O’Brien notes that Camargo is set to undergo an MRI, and Dansby Swanson has already been pulled from the game with the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett. The Braves figure to have further word on the injury later tonight.
Atlanta pursued a trade for right-hander Sonny Gray before the Athletics dealt him to the Yankees at this past Monday’s non-waiver deadline, but he wasn’t the Braves’ prime target among controllable pitchers. Rather, the Braves had greater interest in Tigers righty Michael Fulmer, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link).
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While the Tigers ended up retaining Fulmer, they could revisit trade talks involving the 24-year-old during the offseason, suggests Rosenthal. The Braves would presumably still covet Fulmer, as would many other teams, considering he ranks among the game’s best young starters. Fulmer fired 159 innings of 3.06 ERA ball en route to American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, and he has also notched strong results in his sophomore campaign. Thus far, Fulmer has recorded a 3.59 ERA, 6.41 K/9, 1.99 BB/9 and a 49.7 percent ground-ball rate across 140 1/3 frames. Although he’s not exactly a strikeout machine, Fulmer has offset that by seldom allowing hard contact on balls put in play – he ranks a solid 26th among starters in infield fly percentage (10.2), and hitters have posted a meager .280 wOBA against him (compared to a .296 xwOBA, per Statcast).
Unfortunately for Fulmer, he hasn’t gotten through 2017 unscathed. He dealt with shoulder bursitis earlier in the year and landed on the disabled list Thursday with ulnar neuritis in his right elbow. The Braves, though, view him as less of an injury risk than Gray, and they also greatly value Fulmer’s team control. Fulmer hasn’t even gone through arbitration yet – that will happen as a Super Two player after the 2018 season – whereas Gray is on track to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2019 campaign.
Considering his combination of performance, youth and club control, Fulmer would be at the center of a bidding war if the Tigers were to place him on the block in the winter. While any team would struggle to pry Fulmer out of Detroit, the Braves might be in the best position to make it happen. They have the premier farm system in baseball, according to recent assessments from Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law (subscription required and recommended), and may be willing to move prospect capital for young, proven commodities in an effort to leave their rebuild behind. At 50-58, the Braves are on their way to a fourth straight sub-.500 season.