- There’s somewhat of a market for backup catcher Rene Rivera, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post, and the Cubs are among the clubs with interest. Chicago has been linked to multiple catchers, most prominently Alex Avila, as the team looks to find a more experienced backup to Willson Contreras. Rivera fits the bill, and while he’s not a great hitter, the 33-year-old’s .245/.291/.395 batting line and six homers in 158 plate appearances are passable for a backup option. Plus, Rivera is regarded as an excellent defender and has halted 38 percent of stolen base attempts this season while maintaining his characteristically strong framing numbers. A free agent at season’s end, Rivera is earning a reasonable $1.75MM salary, with about $650K remaining on that deal.
The Tigers have several players known to be available, and ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (on Twitter) that the team is currently exploring trade scenarios involving multiple players as a means of clearing some salary off the books. That would mesh with a recent report from Olney’s colleague, Jerry Crasnick, in which Crasnick reported that Detroit has tried to attach second baseman Ian Kinsler to Justin Wilson in trade talks with the Brewers. (Not to say that Kinsler is a pure salary dump, of course, as he too carries value to other clubs.)
In addition to Wilson and Kinsler, the Tigers are expected to move catcher Alex Avila and are reported to have shopped Justin Verlander around the league. Detroit could also conceivably move right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who has been much improved in six starts since returning from the minors. The team’s enormous commitment to righty Jordan Zimmermann looks largely immovable right now thanks to Zimmermann’s struggles and full no-trade clause, and while Justin Upton has absolutely raked over the past calendar year, he’s owed $88.5MM from 2018-21 and has the right to opt out of his contract at season’s end as well.
Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press adds some more context to the Tigers’ stance on Verlander, reporting that Detroit has shown a willingness to pay off the remainder of Verlander’s $28MM salary in 2017 — a sum of about $10.4MM — but they’re not interested in picking up any of the $56MM he’s owed from 2018-19. That hasn’t been enough to generate any serious talks surrounding Verlander to date.
Michael Fulmer is the most intriguing name to pop up in trade talks this summer, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that it’s been difficult to gauge exactly what the Tigers’ plans are for the reigning Rookie of the Year. Sherman writes that some execs have been told that Fulmer is firmly off limits, while others say the Tigers have briefly floated his name before turning talks to Justin Verlander. Perhaps most interestingly, Sherman writes that one exec said the Tigers pitched a scenario in which Fulmer would be packaged with the remaining money on the contracts of Zimmermann ($80.7MM through 2020) or Upton ($96.7MM through 2021).
MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweets that the Brewers and Tigers remain engaged in ongoing talks pertaining to Kinsler and Wilson, though he also cautions that no deal is close. Earlier tonight, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reported that the Rockies are interested in both Avila and Wilson, which would create another package scenario, though not one that would give the Rox much of an opportunity to shed salary, as both are highly affordable. The Cubs have been frequently connected to both Verlander and Avila as well, with Morosi tweeting a couple of hours ago that Chicago has maintained some level of interest in Verlander but is reluctant to pick up his whole contract in a trade (as are the rest of the teams in MLB). Fenech notes in his above-linked column that the Cubs have had scouts at each of Verlander’s past three starts.
- While the Cubs addressed their most pressing rotation needs already, they are continuing to watch and discuss Justin Verlander with the Tigers, Morosi further reports. As Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network writes (Facebook link), Chicago seems to have the future payroll space needed to add Verlander without risking luxury tax complications. While it’s still unclear just how motivated the Cubs are on the veteran righty, it seems that a match remains plausible.
MONDAY: In addition to the Rockies and Cubs, the Nationals are said to be “expressing strong interest” in Ramos, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Ramos has previously been tied to the Nats, though those talks reportedly took place before the team’s recent addition of a pair of late-inning relievers. Of course, Washington is still said to be looking at yet more relief targets.
SATURDAY: The Diamondbacks, Rockies, Rays, Red Sox, Cubs, Brewers and others all have interest in Marlins closer AJ Ramos, FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweets. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick and others tweeted earlier this week that the Marlins were taking calls on Ramos.
The Marlins, of course, recently traded reliever David Phelps to Seattle for a package including outfield prospect Brayan Hernandez, and Ramos could potentially be an even more desirable trade target. The 30-year-old has a 4.08 ERA and 4.8 BB/9 this season, but with a strong 11.5 K/9. He also has 89 career saves and a long history of success in the ninth inning, making him a strong late-inning option for a contender. (Of course, many clubs on Heyman’s list of interested teams, including the Rockies, Red Sox, Cubs and Brewers, appear set at closer, but that wouldn’t preclude them from having interest in another good late-inning arm.) Ramos can be controlled through 2018 via the arbitration process.
With Phelps gone, the Marlins are expected to lean harder on Junichi Tazawa, as MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro recently explained. Tazawa has pitched nine scoreless innings this month. The team also has Kyle Barraclough, Nick Wittgren and Dustin McGowan to pitch in the late innings. It’s not yet clear, however, who would take over the closer role should Ramos depart.
- The Cubs and Dodgers recently had scouts watching the Phillies’ Pat Neshek in action, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter link). Both teams have been known to be looking at other relievers, so it isn’t any surprise that Neshek is on their radar. Neshek, widely expected to be moved before the deadline, has been linked to several teams — Chicago and L.A. are the newest names on a long list that includes the Nationals, Royals, Red Sox, Yankees, Brewers and Rays.
- Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, out for almost two months with a hand injury, will rejoin their rotation Monday against the White Sox, relays Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. This season was a struggle for Hendricks even before he went on the DL on June 5, as the 2016 NL Cy Young contender posted a so-so 4.09 ERA over 61 2/3 innings (up from 2.13 last year) and logged declining strikeout and walk rates. Still, Hendricks’ return – which will send swingman Mike Montgomery to the bullpen – will be a welcome one for a resurgent Cubs team that has won six of seven since the All-Star break and sits just one game behind Milwaukee for the National League Central lead.
- The impending returns of McHugh and Keuchel don’t mean the Astros are out of the market for rotation help, however. Jon Morosi of MLB Network tweets that the team watched Rangers star Yu Darvish pitch yesterday. The team is keeping tabs on all significant potential rotation additions, Morosi adds. Darvish has lately been connected to a variety of teams, including the Dodgers and Cubs.
- Speaking of Darvish, the Rangers have recently been scouting the Dodgers’ and Cubs’ Triple-A teams, Evan Grant of SportsDay writes. Of course, teams frequently scout one another’s affiliates for any number of reasons, but right now, the Rangers’ interest in the Dodgers’ and Cubs’ minor-leaguers could set the groundwork for a trade. Grant adds, though, that the Cubs might be more interested in catcher Jonathan Lucroy than in Darvish. (The 31-year-old Lucroy is in the midst of a down season in Texas, with a .248/.297/.351 line so far; he’s eligible for free agency after the season. He would complement Willson Contreras behind the plate if the Rangers were to trade him to Chicago.) Grant also notes that rival clubs didn’t scout Darvish’s own start particularly heavily last night, perhaps because the 46-50 Rangers are still on the fringes of contention. It’s still not yet entirely clear what their approach to the deadline will be.
Yu Darvish is pitching tonight for the Rangers, so clearly there’s nothing imminent. Indeed, Texas seems likely to take its decision on the ace to the latest possible moment, even as it begins to solicit interest. As that process begins to take place, it’s important to note that Darvish possesses partial no-trade rights. While it’s not at all clear whether he’d get in the way of a deal, particularly given that he’ll be a free agent in a few months regardless, that adds another potential hurdle. Per Jim Bowden of Sirius XM, via Twitter, Darvish currently can block trades to the Cubs, Indians, Pirates, Red Sox, and Rockies (along with five other teams that are in no position to consider a rental starter).
- The Tigers are reportedly willing to pay the rest of Justin Verlander’s remaining 2017 salary in order to facilitate a deal, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. This works out to roughly $10.89MM. Reports earlier this week indicated that Detroit was open to including some money as part of a Verlander deal, though according to rival executives who have spoken with Fenech, the Tigers would need to bump that figure up to $25MM-$30MM if the club hopes to receive a good prospect return for Verlander. The former Cy Young Award winner’s future salary obligations ($28MM in each of the next two seasons, and a $22MM vesting option for 2020) and his struggles in 2017 have greatly limited his trade value, though Fenech notes that teams like the Cubs and Dodgers still had scouts at Verlander’s most recent outing.
- The Cubs have expressed the most interest in catcher Alex Avila, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports (Twitter links), and Nightengale feels Avila will be the next notable Tiger to leave Detroit now that J.D. Martinez has been traded. Nightengale figures the Tigers would “ideally” receive a mid-level prospect in exchange for Avila, who is enjoying a career year just before hitting free agency this winter. Detroit is reportedly getting a lot of interest in Avila, though the Cubs and Blue Jays are the only teams specifically linked to the catcher (and Toronto has since acquired Miguel Montero).
1:30pm: There hasn’t been much progress in talks between the Rangers and Cubs, Morosi tweets. While the Cubs continue to have interest in Darvish, they’d still prefer to add a starter who is controlled beyond just this season.
9:18am: The Cubs have checked in with the Rangers about Yu Darvish, according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi. Earlier today, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported that Texas was open to at least discussing its ace with other teams, even if a trade doesn’t seem imminent.
Given that Chicago has been so aggressively pursuing starting pitching this summer, it isn’t any surprise that Theo Epstein and company have looked into Darvish. Even after landing Jose Quintana in a blockbuster deal with the White Sox, the Cubs have continued to seek out arms, asking about such names as Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, and (perhaps most seriously) Sonny Gray. The Cubs were still interested in Gray as of last night, Morosi reports.
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A Darvish trade, however, would represent a shift in Chicago’s thinking. The Cubs have been looking into controllable pitchers that can sustain the rotation over the long term since Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents this winter. Darvish is a free agent himself in the offseason, so he would be a pure rental for the Cubs. After already surrendering several top prospects in the deals for Quintana and for Aroldis Chapman last July, the Cubs are likely wary about giving up even more top minor leaguers for just two-plus months of Darvish’s services. Then again, since Darvish would clearly be the best rental pitcher on the market, the Cubs may be willing to take the plunge in this specific case in order to emerge from the crowded NL Central race and take a run at another world championship.
With Darvish’s short-term status in mind, it is possible that a Rangers/Cubs deal could expand to more than just the star right-hander. For instance, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News “would not be surprised” if Jonathan Lucroy also became involved in trade talks between the two clubs, as the Cubs have been looking for a catching upgrade since parting ways with Miguel Montero.