- The Braves and Phillies have been linked to several major names this summer, and Heyman says the two NL East rivals have indeed been “involved in most/all the big stuff” on the trade front. According to some, however, Atlanta and Philadelphia have also seemed less likely than other contenders to move their top prospects. This jibes with recent comments from Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos, who was looking to make upgrades but expressed wariness about dealing top prospects, particularly for rental players. Both the Braves and Phils are somewhat in the same boat as teams who are somewhat unexpected contenders coming out of a lengthy rebuild, and since both are looking to begin some sustained success, they aren’t necessarily looking to make a big all-in push this year.
SUNDAY, 8:01pm: Last year’s failed Britton trade talks between the Astros and Orioles won’t play any factor in this year’s negotiations, The Athletic’s Jim Bowden tweets. A source tells Bowden that Houston is “all in” on acquiring Britton.
3:48pm: The Rockies and Brewers are also in the mix, Heyman tweets.
1:38pm: There are indeed teams ahead of the Dodgers in Britton talks, per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, who lists the Astros, Cubs and Red Sox as being “more active” than LA.
8:06am: It doesn’t appear the Dodgers or Braves are “quite as engaged” on Britton as other teams are, Crasnick relays. LA’s wary of the luxury tax, as mentioned below, while the Braves aren’t keen on giving up prospects for short-term help, Crasnick suggests.
SATURDAY, 8:44pm: It’s “at least” a six-team race for Britton, Jon Heyman of Fancred tweets.
8:14pm: The Orioles are seeking a return equal to or better than the one the Royals received for reliever Kelvin Herrera in a trade last month, Buster Olney of ESPN reports. Washington acquired Herrera for three prospects, though none ranked among the Nationals’ absolute best farmhands at the time.
7:39pm: Both the Cubs and the Astros “are trying to match up prospects with the Orioles,” Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweets. The Dodgers are also among those who would like to acquire Britton, Dan Connolly of The Athletic reports, though Rosenthal notes that it may be difficult because of LA’s desire to stay under the luxury-tax threshold. No matter where Britton goes, the O’s hope to make a deal happen within the next few days, Crasnick adds.
6:38pm: With Brad Hand and Jeurys Familia now off the market, Orioles left-hander Zach Britton may be the best soon-to-be traded reliever in baseball. The 30-year-old has drawn widespread interest in recent weeks, too, with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reporting “virtually every top contender” is in on him (video link). The NL Central-leading Cubs are among that group, and they “remain deeply involved” in the Britton discussions, sources tell Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required).
In at least the near term, Britton would likely serve as a replacement for Cubs closer Brandon Morrow, who went on the disabled list this week on account of right biceps inflammation. Britton has also endured injuries, most recently a ruptured Achilles that shelved him from the start of the season until mid-June. The two-time All-Star got off to a less-than-dominant start in his first action of the season as he returned from that injury, though he has been better of late as the deadline approaches.
Not only has Britton gone eight straight appearances (eight innings) without yielding an earned run, but he has seen his velocity climb closer to its past levels in the process. Of course, Britton has also walked a batter in three straight outings and has issued an unpalatable 10 free passes against 13 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings this year. To Britton’s credit, though, he has posted a 3.45 ERA and a terrific groundball rate (64.1 percent).
While the Cubs are high on Britton, Mooney wonders if they have a good enough farm system to win a bidding war for the pending free agent. Chicago has Baseball America’s 28th-ranked prospect pool, which seemingly places it behind the 8-ball, and Rosenthal notes Britton is likely to yield a “strong” return with so many championship hopefuls chasing him.
Given the competition for his services, Britton to the Cubs may be a long shot. However, if acquired, Britton would further strengthen a bullpen that ranks fifth in the majors in ERA and just added ex-Ranger Jesse Chavez via trade this week.
The Cubs’ relief corps has received great results from Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr., the unit’s top five innings leaders. Although, only one of those hurlers (Wilson) is a lefty, and fellow southpaws Brian Duensing and Randy Rosario are difficult to trust. Duensing has endured a brutal year, having logged a 7.31 ERA with more walks (23) than strikeouts (18) across 28 1/3 innings. Rosario, on the other hand, has done well preventing runs over 27 2/3 innings (1.95 ERA), but with 5.2 K/9, 4.23 BB/9, a sky-high 94.2 percent strand rate and a .238 batting average on balls in play against, he’s an obvious regression candidate. It’s likely Britton would be an upgrade over those two, and if his track record is any indication, he’d join Wilson in giving the Cubs a second formidable lefty reliever.
- Braves utilityman Danny Santana has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Gwinnett, per Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Braves designated Santana on Thursday, less than a month after they selected his contract. The 27-year-old Santana has hit .279/.300/.539 with 11 home runs in 232 Triple-A plate appearances this season, but he has only managed a .179/.281/.286 line in 32 major league PAs. Santana was similarly woeful between Minnesota and Atlanta last year, when he batted .202/.243/.357 in 178 attempts.
Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop and right-handers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are drawing trade interest, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. The Braves have asked the Orioles about all three players, while the Brewers have inquired about Schoop and Gausman, and Kubatko confirms the Yankees’ previously reported interest in Gausman.
Whether the Orioles are open to moving any of those players is unclear, but as a rebuilding team with the majors’ worst record (28-71), it stands to reason they’d listen to offers. Gausman and Bundy would likely bring back appealing returns, considering both the underwhelming trade market for starting pitchers and the fact that they’re affordable and controllable. The 27-year-old Gausman, who’s on a $5.6MM salary, has two arbitration trips remaining. Bundy, 25, is much cheaper ($1.64MM), and he’ll go through the first of three potential arbitration trips during the upcoming winter. Meanwhile, Schoop’s in his penultimate year of arbitration control and on an $8.5MM salary.
To this point, Gausman and Bundy have experienced similar seasons. Gausman has pitched to a 4.33 ERA/4.48 FIP with 7.77 K/9, 2.16 BB/9 and a 46.7 percent groundball rate over 112 1/3 innings, continuing a career of decent production. Bundy has managed a 4.57 ERA/4.85 FIP with 9.64 K/9, 2.61 BB/9 and a 34 percent grounder rate across 108 1/3 frames. He’s currently in the throes of a rough stretch in which he has allowed five earned runs in three consecutive starts. Thanks in part to that, the former top prospect’s ERA has risen by nearly a full run since June 11, when it sat at 3.66.
Schoop, 26, was among the game’s premier second basemen in 2017, when he slashed .293/.338/.503 with 32 home runs and 3.8 fWAR in 675 plate appearances. This season has been a totally different story, though, as Schoop has batted .229/.262/.394 with 11 homers and a replacement-level fWAR over 333 PAs. Moreover, he owns the majors’ fifth-worst xwOBA (.268), per Statcast, suggesting his .281 wOBA isn’t a product of poor luck.
Despite his decline this season, both the Brewers and Braves seem to think Schoop could help them. The fact that the Brewers are looking for an upgrade at the keystone isn’t a surprise, as their second basemen have hit a mere .227/.285/.340 and accounted for minus-0.5 fWAR. The Braves’ interest is an eye-opener, however, considering they have Ozzie Albies at second. Perhaps they could stand to upgrade over Dansby Swanson at shortstop and Johan Camargo at third base, but both players have outperformed Schoop this year, and Schoop has minimal professional experience at those two positions.
- It’s “likely” the Rangers will find a trade partner for left-hander Cole Hamels, writes Cafardo, who adds that the Phillies, Yankees and Braves undoubtedly have interest. The Red Sox may also be among teams with Hamels on their radar, per Cafardo. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak doesn’t seem keen on dipping into the trade market for starters, though, and it’s no lock Hamels would even be part of the solution for them or any other team. The 34-year-old’s struggles this season are well known, and his $22.5MM salary for 2018 and $6MM buyout for 2019 don’t help matters.
Fangraphs recently released its annual rankings of the top 50 most valuable contracts in baseball, or the players who would have the highest value in a trade. High atop the list sits a pair of Indians infielders (Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor), while Aaron Judge, Mike Trout and Carlos Correa round out the top five. The rankings take into account the amount of money each player is owed and the length of his contract in relation to his expected future performance. While the list is top-heavy with young stars (as one might expect), there are a few surprising names later down in the rankings, and a few top prospects even make the list.
Speaking of trades…
- Twins second baseman Brian Dozier has drawn trade interest from the Brewers, reports Darren Wolfson of KSTP. That comes as little surprise considering the tight NL Central pennant race and the fact that Milwaukee’s second basemen have combined for the third-worst production in baseball to date. However, Wolfson also reports that another (unnamed team) has been “showing stronger interest”. For their part, the Twins (who now sit 8.5 games out of first place in the division) are open to moving Dozier.
- The Yankees tried to acquire left-hander Brad Hand (who recently went to the Indians), but balked when they were asked to include young third baseman Miguel Andujar in the return, reports Andy Martino of SNY. That’s just one name the club had been targeting in a search for pitcher, but the prices for some of the available names (Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ, for instance), remain “insane” according to Martino.
- The trade interest in Orioles lefty Zach Britton is “intensifying”, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Kubatko says that he expects Britton to be the “next Oriole out the door.” The Braves have thrown their hat into the ring recently, while the Cubs, Astros, Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Giants have also been “in the mix”. As Kubatko aptly points out, the removal of Hand from the pool of available names should turn a lot of attention towards Britton.
11:19am: The Braves have had interest in Fulmer in the past, and he’s still “on their radar,” Mark Bowman of MLB.com tweets. Atlanta discussed Fulmer with Detroit over the winter, per Bowman, and the Braves also had reported interest in him last summer.
*Note: Fulmer was placed on the 10-day DL this afternoon.
10:23am: With the Tigers gearing up to sell prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline, most of their efforts are on trying to move pitchers Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano and center fielder Leonys Martin, per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. While two of the team’s best players – right-hander Michael Fulmer and right fielder Nicholas Castellanos – have come up in trade rumors, Detroit’s not actively shopping the pair and it would take a lot to acquire either, Crasnick adds. That jibes with reports from last weekend.
Among Fiers, Liriano and Martin, Fiers could be the most valuable trade chip. Not only is the right-hander fairly priced ($6MM salary), but he comes with another year of arbitration eligibility. Of course, the former Brewer and Astro is also enjoying a respectable age-33 season, having pitched to a 3.70 ERA/4.67 FIP with 6.54 K/9 and 1.81 BB/9 in 104 2/3 innings. Notably, Fiers ranks 10th among qualified starters in BB/9 and 19th in infield fly rate (12.7 percent), the latter of which has helped to offset a paltry groundball percentage (38.8). On the other hand, Fiers’ strikeouts are down significantly from the eight-plus per nine he has recorded throughout his career, and the contact he has allowed suggests there has been luck on his side in terms of run prevention.
While the Tigers no doubt hope Fiers garners attention in a weak market for starters, it’s possible Liriano will emerge as a left-handed relief option for someone. After working out of the bullpen with the Astros late in 2017, Liriano has served exclusively as a starter this year. But the results have been poor, as the 34-year-old has posted a 4.67 ERA/5.31 FIP with 7.18 K/9 against a sky-high 5.13 BB/9 over 79 frames. Liriano’s struggles have come almost solely against right-handed hitters, who have teed off on him with a .266/.373/.458 line. If there’s a saving grace for Liriano, it’s that he has held same-handed batters to a comical .088/.200/.193 showing. Any team acquiring Liriano would be taking on a rental, one who’s owed the balance of a $4MM salary.
Martin, like Fiers, comes with another year of arbitration control, which should add to his appeal. He’s also cheap ($1.75MM salary) and has been productive at the plate this season, evidenced by a .257/.327/.431 line with nine home runs and seven stolen bases in 306 trips. On the defensive side, Martin has added to his history of well-regarded work in the field, having earned plus marks from DRS (one), Ultimate Zone Rating (7.1) and Outs Above Average (two). The 30-year-old has endured two stints on the disabled list because of hip troubles, however, and has been on the shelf since July 1 (though he should return tonight). Martin also isn’t far removed from a dreadful 2017 in which he hit .172/.232/.281 in 138 plate appearances between the Mariners and Cubs.
JULY 20, 10:58am: Add the Braves to the list of teams interested in Britton, Crasnick reports.
9:28am: Baltimore’s “barreling ahead” with its Britton trade talks, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweets. Along with the teams mentioned below (the Astros, Cubs, Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox), the Giants are among the clubs in the mix for Britton, according to Crasnick.
JULY 17: If and when the reported trade sending Manny Machado to the Dodgers is formally announced by the teams, the O’s could be quick to turn around and move longtime closer Zach Britton in a separate deal, reports MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli (via Twitter). Interest in Britton has “picked up steam” recently, according to Ghiroli.
Britton missed about half of the 2017 season due to a pair of forearm injuries and was out until June 2018 due to a ruptured Achilles tendon that required offseason surgery. And while his first few appearances since coming off the disabled list raised questions about his trade value, he’s looked more impressive lately.
Britton’s past seven appearances have been scoreless, but beyond the bottom-line results, he’s made some encouraging gains in terms of sinker velocity. His ground-ball rate has been a superlative 68.8 percent in that time as well — a noted increase from his earlier outings in which his sinker wasn’t at its most effective levels. That’s not quite to up to Britton’s (quite literally) historic standards, but it remains elite all the same.
Control has still been somewhat of an issue, as he’s surrendered three walks in those seven innings and thrown a first-pitch strike to just 40 percent of the hitters he’s faced along the way. But there’s no denying that Britton has begun to round into form at a most opportune time for an Orioles organization that, at the very least, looks to be a lock to trade the left-hander and fellow impending free agents Machado and Brad Brach.
Britton is earning $12MM in 2018, which will present a roadblock for a number of clubs interested in acquiring his services. As could be the case with the eventual Machado deal, the Orioles might have to include some cash to facilitate the deal and to improve the return they receive for their prized lefty. Britton is still owed about $4.8MM of that $12MM sum through season’s end.
To this point, the Astros, Cubs, Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox have all been connected to Britton in fairly prominent fashion. Surely, as is the case every summer, though, the top relievers on the market will draw at least some level of inquiry from the majority of contenders. Unlike the Machado saga, in which some contending clubs had little need for another infielder on the left side of the diamond, there’s no contending team in baseball that won’t have some interest in bolstering its relief corps. Certainly, some teams will consider it to be a more pressing need than others, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise if as much as a third of the league is tied to Britton before he inevitably finds himself with a new team for the first time in his career.
Santana, 27, has spent parts of the past two seasons on the Braves’ big league roster, but he hasn’t produced at the plate, hitting just .199/.251/.345 in 184 plate appearances after coming over from the Twins in a minor trade.
More broadly, Santana’s bat has been in a veritable freefall since a terrific rookie campaign with the Twins back in 2014. The switch-hitter posted a .319/.353/.472 slash in 430 PAs that season and even garnered some Rookie of the Year consideration, finishing seventh in the AL voting. However, that rookie effort was buoyed by an enormous .405 average on balls in play — including a particularly fluky .343 average on grounders. As Santana’s BABIP has trended back to more normal levels, his overall offensive output has cratered. In 735 PAs since that time, he’s batted just .219/.256/.319.
While the Mets have received substantial interest in both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, a trade of either still seems unlikely to happen, per James Wagner of the New York Times (all links to Twitter). The Mets are seeking elite prospects and/or young MLB-ready talent for both pitchers, and it’s been tough to find a fit. Contending clubs, such as the Braves and Yankees, have that type of talent but are reluctant to include it in deals. Other contenders, like the Giants and Diamondbacks, don’t necessarily have the type of pieces the Mets are seeking in return. As Wagner notes, many of the best prospects in baseball are on non-contenders/rebuilding teams, such as the White Sox, Blue Jays and Padres — clubs that are spending more effort to trade pieces away at the moment. Wagner adds that he hears the Padres like Syndergaard, though, and hope to contend in the near future, so they could pursue him this offseason. For now, however, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jeurys Familia and Zack Wheeler are the likeliest Mets to be moved.
- Adding a reliever or two appears to be the Braves’ top priority prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline, tweets David O’Brien of The Athletic. Atlanta could alter that approach and pursue a rotation option, but there’s a considerably larger supply of available relievers, even after this morning’s blockbuster sending lefty Brad Hand and right-hander Adam Cimber from the Padres to the Indians. General manager Alex Anthopoulos recently suggested that the team would be reluctant to part with too much young talent in order to acquire a rental player.