- An MRI on Jacob Webb’s right elbow did not reveal any structural damage, writes Andrew Wagner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As such, the Braves are hopeful that the right-hander, who was placed on the IL with an elbow impingement Monday, can begin playing catch within a matter of days. Webb, 25, has been a breath of fresh air for an Atlanta ’pen that struggled early in 2019. Through 32 1/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 1.32 ERA with nine holds and a pair of saves. Beyond the bottom-line results, Webb’s numbers are a bit of a mixed bag. He sports pedestrian strikeout and walk rates, and he’s benefited from a .233 average on balls in play and an 86 percent strand rate. However, his swinging-strike rate (13.1 percent) suggests more punchouts could manifest in the future, and Statcast is bullish on the low quality of contact he’s allowed to opponents (.281 xwOBA).
Veteran Braves backstop Brian McCann hasn’t yet decided on his future but feels great in the present, he tells David O’Brien of The Athletic (subscription link) as part of a lengthy and entertaining chat. The 35-year-old backstop would say only that “we’ll see what happens” when pressed on his intentions for playing beyond the current campaign. It certainly seems like a tempting proposition for McCann, who says he “feel[s] amazing” after undergoing knee surgery last year. While he has had some ups and downs at the plate this season, McCann carries a solid .257/.328/.427 batting line over 198 plate appearances and has been an excellent value for the Braves at $2MM. His ongoing knee health seems to bode well for the organization down the stretch.
More on a few health situations from around the game …
- The White Sox announced today that they have activated catcher Welington Castillo. He ended up missing about a month with an oblique strain. It remains to be seen how the Chicago org will allocate playing time, but odds are James McCann will continue to receive the lion’s share of the duties behind the dish. Castillo could conceivably be moved later this month, if only because teams will be looking to stash depth in advance of the single trade deadline, but he won’t hold much appeal given his ugly .196/.289/.364 slash. The veteran backstop is also earning a hefty $7.25MM this year and is owed a $500K buyout on a $8MM club option for 2020. The White Sox may also just hang tight and see if their club can make a surprise run at a Wild Card slot.
- Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco won’t bounce back to the majors quite as quickly as had been hoped. As Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, Polanco was pulled from a rehab contest with left shoulder tightness. For now, the club only intends to give him a brief rest without interrupting the rehab assignment. As Mackey notes, the timing is of some consequence to the Bucs. The club is in a tough spot as the trade deadline approaches, having slipped into the NL Central cellar. It’s arguably positioned to sell a left-handed-hitting outfielder regardless of what else it does — highly paid pending free agent Corey Dickerson seems a particular candidate — but it’ll be tough to pull the trigger on a deal if there’s uncertainly regarding Polanco’s availability.
- As expected, Yankees righties Luis Severino and Dellin Betances resumed throwing yesterday, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports. Indications are that all went well for both hurlers in limited sessions, designed only to begin reintroducing their strained lats to the rigors of the MLB mound. Severino told reporters that he’d be willing to work back in a relief capacity if that’s the organization’s preference. While that’d bring him aboard quicker, it probably isn’t the optimal outcome for a club that has a need for quality rotation pieces and can probably afford to be patient.
The Braves are clicking on just about every cylinder at the moment, allowing the team to maintain a healthy advantage in the division even as the Nats have mounted a charge. While the Atlanta organization is no doubt preparing to make some pitching additions in the coming weeks, the position player mix seems mostly to be in fine working order.
Typically, a veteran returning from an injury makes for welcome news in advance of the trade deadline. But much of the Atlanta fan base seems to view the impending return of outfielder Ender Inciarte — who’ll be back as soon as Thursday — with something less like excitement and more like dread.
We’ve been through this topic before, but that was a month-and-a-half back. Some things have changed. Austin Riley looked at the time like a breakout star. But let’s check in on the youngster’s wRC+ by month: 186 (May), 96 (June), 32 (July). Needless to say, that’s not an optimal arc for a contending team. Switch-hitting utilityman Johan Camargo has perked up in the meantime, though he’s also the only position player other than Riley that is a conceivable candidate to be optioned down. Charlie Culberson and Matt Joyce occupy fairly limited roles, but has each been superb. Of course, Inciarate has also been in action of late on his rehab assignment. Let’s just say that his struggles from the early portion of the season have carried over. He has produced just seven singles and three walks in forty trips to the plate.
It’s possible to imagine quite a few possible roster permutations. There are arguments on every side of the discussion. Optioning Riley may or may not be good for his development, but it would mean taking one of the club’s highest-upside bats out of the MLB picture for at least a stretch. Sending Camargo down makes some sense on paper, but he’s an immensely useful player if he’s back to being an above-average hitter. It’s somewhat easier to imagine the club parting with Joyce than Culberson, but the 34-year-old Joyce carries a .296/.400/.494 slash with 14 walks against just 18 strikeouts. Inciarte could be jettisoned, or traded for whatever the team can get, but that’d mean selling quite low on a player who has been such a solid presence and still makes long-term roster sense. (Inciarte has more than five years of service time and therefore may not be optioned without his consent.)
There’s always the option of demoting or designating a reliever, but that’d likely only be a temporary measure, since the Braves are already carrying a four-man bench. Likewise, a temporary move involving one of the reserve players (optioning Camargo or finding a phantom injury list stint) would presumably only delay the inevitable decision. There’ll ultimately be a choice, even if it’s kicked down the road by a few weeks.
How do you think the Braves should handle the return of Inciarte? (Poll link for app users.)
Braves southpaw Max Fried exited his start Monday with a blister on his left index finger, David O’Brien of The Athletic writes (subscription link). The Braves will re-evaluate Fried on Tuesday, per O’Brien, who points out blister issues have “plagued” the 25-year-old in the past. Blisters can be serious enough to lead to injury list stints, though Fried is optimistic he’ll avoid an IL placement. The Braves’ 58-37 record and 7 1/2-game lead in the National League East have come thanks in part to Fried. He turned in five shutout innings in a victory over Milwaukee on Monday, giving him a 4.08 ERA/3.86 FIP in 103 2/3 frames on the season.
The Braves have activated righty Anthony Swarzak from the injured list, per an announcement. To create an opening, the club placed southpaw Grant Dayton on the 10-day injured list with a fractured big toe.
It’s nice to see Swarzak returning quickly from a shoulder malady. After all, he has quickly become an important piece of the puzzle for a relief unit that still clamors for some mid-season additions.
That said, the loss of Dayton makes for an unwelcome development. The 31-year-old southpaw has shown some promise since returning to the majors for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery. Despite showing reduced velocity from his prior work in the bigs, Dayton has generated a 12.4% swinging-strike rate and compiled an 11:3 K/BB rate in 8 1/3 innings.
Dayton will be sidelined for at least a month, per David O’Brien of The Athletic (via Twitter). That will rob the club of a chance to take a closer look at him before finalizing its deadline plans. Regardless, the Atlanta front office seems to have a nice volume of internal pieces to work with. Depth isn’t a particular concern so much as is quality in high-leverage spots. The trick will be deciding how many and what kind of outside additions to make.
The Padres, Cubs, Red Sox and Astros are reportedly among teams with interest in breakout Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd as the July 31 trade deadline creeps closer. Add the Dodgers, Braves and Rays to the clubs involved in the derby, according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
The 28-year-old Boyd has evolved from average starter to potential front-end arm since the season began, and with the Tigers in a rebuild, they may decide to cash him in this month. Boyd’s 3.87 ERA over 107 innings isn’t befitting of an ace, but he has managed a more impressive 3.56 FIP/3.34 xFIP while emerging as one of the majors’ preeminent strikeout artists. With a sky-high 11.94 K/9 against a measly 1.68 BB/9, Boyd ranks top 10 among starters in those categories and top five in K/BB ratio (1.68).
Home runs have recently haunted Boyd, who has allowed at least two in three straight outings and a total of 10 in six starts since the beginning of June. But Boyd’s sudden gopher balls issues don’t look as if they’ll be enough to dampen teams’ enthusiasm in the affordable, controllable hurler. His $2.6MM salary this season and three remaining years of arbitration eligibility would make him a long-term piece for an acquiring team, though they’ll also help drive up Detroit’s asking price. The Tigers are holding out for a lofty return for Boyd, as you’d expect, with McCosky reporting they initially sought a major league-ready hitter and one or more “top” prospects at or above the Double-A level.
For the Dodgers, Boyd would add to a team that already seems to have everything. The back-to-back National League pennant winners own the majors’ best record (60-32) thanks in part to their starting staff. Potential Cy Young candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler have all been good to brilliant, while Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling have performed well in complementary roles. The same applies to Rich Hill, though he has been on the injured list since June 20 with a left flexor tendon strain and, having gone on the 60-day IL, won’t return until at least late August. It’s also worth noting this could be the last season in Los Angeles for Hill, a soon-to-be free agent who’s pushing 40, so Boyd would fit nicely in his spot in the team’s rotation in 2020.
The Braves are the NL’s second-ranked team at 54-37, and there’s an obvious connection between their front office and Boyd. General manager Alex Anthopoulos held the same position in Toronto when the Blue Jays spent a sixth-round pick on Boyd in 2013. Boyd debuted up north in 2015, Anthopoulos’ last year as Toronto’s GM, but the championship-contending club traded him that July to the Tigers to acquire ace David Price.
Anthopoulos fell short of his World Series goal four years ago, but his current employer has a realistic chance to vie for a title this season. The Braves, though, do have needs in their rotation even after signing Dallas Keuchel to a one-year, $13MM contract in June. Keuchel and rookie sensation Mike Soroka are locked into spots. After that, while Julio Teheran has logged a 3.75 ERA in 100 2/3 innings, it’s much harder to trust his shaky peripherals. Max Fried’s secondary numbers are better than Teheran’s, but he has been inconsistent of late. Meanwhile, 2018 No. 1 starter Mike Foltynewicz got off to a miserable start before the team demoted him to the minors June 23, and hasn’t come back since. Kevin Gausman, likewise, hasn’t taken the mound for the Braves in weeks – he went to the IL on June 11 with a plantar fasciitis in his right foot – and has joined Foltynewicz in struggling mightily when he has started this year.
Tampa Bay isn’t the mortal playoff lock LA and Atlanta appear to be in the NL, but the Rays are very much in the AL hunt. The club’s 52-39, a half-game up on its league’s No. 1 wild-card spot and 6 1/2 behind the AL East-leading Yankees. Boyd, who’s easily affordable for the low-budget Rays, would join Cy Young possibility Charlie Morton, reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Yonny Chirinos to give the opener-using team four traditional starters. The team’s also continuing to await the return of Tyler Glasnow, who was enjoying what looked like a breakthrough campaign before forearm troubles forced him to the shelf May 10. Glasnow still believes he’ll factor in again this season even after having suffered setbacks, but the Rays may not be able to bank on that occurring.
The Braves and Blue Jays haven’t had any discussions about Marcus Stroman, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link). While Stroman would be a fit on at least half the teams in the league, Atlanta stands out as a natural landing spot due to both the Braves’ talented but generally inexperienced rotation, and the connection between Stroman and Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos (who had the same job in Toronto from 2009-15). While a lack of talks to this point doesn’t mean that Stroman couldn’t eventually become a Braves target, Atlanta has been linked to other pitchers such as Madison Bumgarner or Zack Wheeler, and could simply prefer one of those players (or another arm altogether) to Stroman.
We’ll continue our evening trip around the summer starting pitching market in San Francisco, where top rental rotation piece Madison Bumgarner resides. Earlier today, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link) updated the market for the burly southpaw, cataloging a variety of suitors.
The Astros, Braves, and Brewers are newly added entrants to the mix, joining the already reported Twins and Yankees. We’ve certainly seen many or all of these teams cited as possibilities — among others, as MLBTR’s Connor Byrne explored a month back — but this is the clearest indication yet of the kind of competition that could be developing.
All that said, there are limits to Bumgarner’s appeal, as Rosenthal explores. We’ve hashed out many of the pluses and minuses of late; suffice to say that there are good reasons to think the long-time star still has some gas in the tank, but no real reason to believe he’s the stud he once was.
Beyond that, there are also some clear alternatives floating around who’ll also draw attention from contenders. On the rental side, the Mets’ Zack Wheeler (latest rumors) has emerged as a younger, lower-salaried, and arguably higher-upside possibility. Teams that prefer future control could look to Marcus Stroman (latest rumors), Matt Boyd (latest rumors), and perhaps even Trevor Bauer (latest rumors).
Bumgarner’s no-trade rights could certainly play into the equation here, as he’ll have the ability to block deals to most of the interested teams. As Rosenthal originally reported a few months back, the savvy veteran put his eight-team list to full use by naming a host of clear contenders (Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, Brewers, Yankees, Phillies, Cardinals).
As Rosenthal rightly notes today, there’s also not much reason to think that MadBum would decline to facilitate a move. Beyond the obvious appeal of another shot at postseason glory after a few seasons away, the 29-year-old stands to shed the qualifying offer entering free agency.
The qualifying offer issue may not seem like a major factor for a player of Bumgarner’s stature, but the recent experience of Dallas Keuchel shows it’s still of real importance. Though he placed fourth on the latest free-agent power ranking from MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes, just edging Wheeler, Bumgarner still faces plenty of variability in his ultimate earning power.
Though Bumgarner left his last start with an elbow contusion, it seems he escaped a worrying injury. There’ll be plenty of time still in the run-up to the deadline for Bumgarner to show off his form to interested clubs, including those listed above.
Trades between the Yankees and Mets have been rare during the crosstown rivals’ histories. The clubs have made just 15 deals since 1966, in fact, but we might see No. 16 this summer. With the starter-needy Yankees pushing for a World Series and the Mets looking like non-contenders, the New York franchises could come together on a trade for soon-to-be free-agent right-hander Zack Wheeler this month. The Yankees are already known to like Wheeler, and the Mets wouldn’t be averse to sending him to the Bronx, Andy Martino of SNY.tv says.
The Mets are more focused on getting the best offer for Wheeler than where they’d trade him. But the Yankees are sure to face plenty of competition for Wheeler if they do make an earnest attempt to pull him in before the July 31 deadline. Martino names Atlanta and Milwaukee as just a couple other teams with interest in the 29-year-old. The Brewers were “enamored” of Wheeler’s upside as recently as last offseason, per Marc Carig of The Athletic (subscription link).
The heat-throwing Wheeler put on a show for an array of scouts Tuesday when he handled, of all teams, the Yankees. Wheeler fanned eight over 6 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits and a walk. He’s still running an uninspiring 4.42 ERA through 114 frames this season, up significantly from last year’s 3.31. It hasn’t helped that Wheeler has pitched in front of a dreadful defense, though, and the rest of his output is far more promising than his simple run prevention numbers. Wheeler has struck out 9.71 batters per nine while walking 2.53, giving him an outstanding 3.71 K/BB ratio. He’s also inducing grounders at a 45.3 percent clip and infield flies 14 percent of the time – the latter of which ranks 13th among qualified starters.
Adding to Wheeler’s appeal, he’s on a $5.975MM salary that every contender should be able to afford. It appears he’ll join Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner as one of the top two rental starters available in July, barring a miraculous Mets turnaround. The Mets have won two in a row, though they’re still just 39-47 and six games out in a jam-packed National League playoff race. Assuming New York elects to sell, dealing Wheeler would give the team a chance to replenish its lackluster farm system to at least some degree. The Mets just may be able to do that at the Yankees’ expense.
The 2019-20 July 2nd international signing period is officially underway, though it’s not exactly laden with suspense. Teams have long since lined up deals with newly eligible teenage players, so the news today largely represents confirmation of what was anticipated. Still, it’s a day of no small moment, particularly for the young men embarking upon professional careers.
Let’s round up some of the most notable signings of the day. Throughout, we’ll be citing to the reporting of Baseball America (signings tracker; scouting links) and MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (Twitter feed; rankings) along with analysis from Fangraphs. You can find each team’s total bonus pool and other information on the process right here. Check the above links for further information and other signings. Here are a few key deals:
- Jasson Dominguez, OF, Yankees: Everyone’s top target is reportedly holding strong on his commitment to go to the Bronx. The deal is said to be for $5.1MM, per Jeff Passan of ESPN.com, with an announcement expected this evening. Dominguez is a switch-hitter who’s said to possess five-tool ability. The Fangraphs team is sufficiently impressed to run him all the way up to the #61 overall MLB prospect ranking right out of the gates (via Kiley McDaniel, on Twitter). The Yanks also have struck a $1.2MM deal with outfielder Jhon Diaz, Sanchez tweets. He was the 18th-rated player on the MLB.com board but ran all the way up to #7 at Fangraphs.
- Robert Puason, SS, Athletics: Another player who’ll command about $5MM, Puason is a toolsy shortstop with big upside. He was said to have a deal in place with the Braves before that team was slapped with international sanctions. It’s worth noting that the Atlanta organization wasn’t actually punished for agreeing to terms early (though that widespread practice is officially forbidden) but rather for structuring a group deal with Puason’s trainer, as Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper explains on Twitter.
- Luis Rodriguez, OF, Dodgers: The value on this one is unknown, but BA’s Ben Badler has photographic evidence of the signing (Twitter link). Rodriguez gets top-three billing from Fangraphs. The Los Angeles club is also in agreement with righty Kristian Cardozo, who’s also considered one of the thirty best players available.
- Bayron Lora, OF, Rangers: Baseball America has made this connection for some time; Sanchez tweets that it’s a $4.2MM deal for the slugging prospect. Shortstops Maximo Acosta and Zion Banister are also members of the Texas signing class. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News (via Twitter) has the former at $1.6MM and the latter at $835K. As he notes, the Texas organization will need to acquire some added pool capacity to make the math work.
- Erick Pena, OF, Royals: This is another signing called in advance by the BA crew. Sanchez has the bonus at $3.8MM (Twitter link). FG labels Pena “a well-rounded outfielder with considerable physical projection.”
- Ronnier Quintero, C, Cubs: Occupying the #6 spot on the boards of both Fangraphs and MLB.com, Quintero will follow Willson Contreras from Venezuela to the Chicago organization. The Cubbies also have a deal with fellow top-ten-ish prospect Kevin Made, a shortstop. Sanchez puts the Quintero deal at $3MM and Made’s mark at $1.7MM. Another Venezuelan backstop, Brayan Altuve, will cost the Cubs another million bucks, seemingly setting up the organization for a search for some added pool money.
- Roberto Campos, OF, Tigers: The Detroit organization popped for a hefty $3MM to secure the services of the Cuban outfielder, per Badler (via Twitter). Campos defected in somewhat dramatic fashion several years ago at just 13 years of age. He wasn’t listed among the best prospects, but Chris McCosky of the Detroit News indicates on Twitter that the Tigers like his bat quite a bit.
Several other well-regarded prospects also secured bonuses of $2MM or more, per Sanchez and/or Badler: