9:32am: Teams besides the Twins are still talking to the Braves about Garcia, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (via Twitter). It isn’t known who the other clubs in the mix are, though earlier today, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweeted that the Astros and Royals were two of the the teams that had previously shown interest in Garcia. Kansas City, however, now appears to be more focused on acquiring a right-handed starter.
- The Astros appeared to be making a serious push for Athletics righty Sonny Gray at one point this week, but they’re not aggressively involved in the sweepstakes for the 27-year-old right now, according to Rosenthal (FanRag’s Jon Heyman issued a similar report Thursday). Given the recent success of starters Mike Fiers and Brad Peacock, Houston could pursue an elite reliever instead of another piece for its rotation, suggests Rosenthal, who adds that prospect Derek Fisher will likely take over in left field next month if the team doesn’t trade him. Baseball America’s 54th-ranked prospect, the 23-year-old has slashed .311/.380/.584 with 21 home runs and 16 steals across 375 Triple-A plate appearances this season. Fisher got his first taste of big league action last month and swatted two homers in just 21 trips to the plate.
Astros righty Collin McHugh will make his 2017 big-league debut in a start against the Orioles, the Astros have announced. McHugh had missed the entire season to this point with shoulder trouble. Before 2017, McHugh had an impressive three-year run in Houston in which he posted a 3.71 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 over 543 innings. His return improves an Astros rotation that also currently features Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers and Brad Peacock. Dallas Keuchel is now on a rehab assignment after heading to the DL with neck discomfort in early June. Here’s more out of Texas.
- 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.
6:25pm: Houston may actually be setting its sights elsewhere at the moment, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (Twitter links). Indeed, he says it’s not even clear if the sides are engaged presently in “serious talks.”
He adds that the Athletics have “named their price” on Gray with the Yankees. While there’s no indication that those two clubs are near to a deal, that certainly suggests it’s still an open situation.
10:28am: Trade talks between the Astros and Athletics pertaining to Sonny Gray are “heating up,” according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (Twitter links). Morosi adds that while Houston is in talks with the A’s, the Astros are also maintaining interest in trying to work out a deal that would net both Justin Verlander and Justin Wilson from the Tigers.
Rumors connecting the Astros to Gray date back to the offseason and have been persistent throughout the regular season. The Astros’ roster lacks a clear need, though most reports indicate that if they’re to make a splash, it’d be for someone that could step into the postseason rotation. Gray certainly fits that bill, as he’s rebounded from a triceps injury in 2016 and a lat strain earlier this season to look more and more like his old self in recent months.
Over the past two months, Gray has made 11 starts and totaled 68 1/3 innings with 9.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 54.9 percent ground-ball rate. The resulting 3.56 ERA is solid but appears unspectacular, however the Athletics have also backed Gray with one of baseball’s worst defenses. Fielding-independent metrics like FIP (2.87) and xFIP (3.12) are much more bullish. It’s also worth noting that Gray’s past month has been especially impressive, as he’s posted a 1.62 ERA in his past 33 1/3 innings across five starts.
If talks with the Athletics do come to a head, the Astros will be getting a boost not only for their 2017 postseason chances but also through the 2019 season. Gray is earning just $3.575MM in 2017 — a slight silver lining resulting from last year’s injury troubles — and will be eligible for arbitration twice more before hitting the open market in the 2019-20 offseason. He’d slot into the Houston rotation behind 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and righty Lance McCullers, who are controlled through 2018 and 2021, respectively.
The talks for Verlander and Wilson are another story entirely, as the hurdles involved with a potential Verlander trade have been well documented by this point. The 34-year-old Verlander is having a down season with more than $65MM owed to him through the 2019 season, and he also has a full no-trade clause that would allow him to veto any deal. The Tigers wouldn’t be able to both shed Verlander’s salary and command a significant prospect return for him, and given his status as an icon in Detroit, it’d be a tough sell to the fans to simply move him to shed his contract.
Adding Wilson to the talks would obviously sweeten the pot and could allow the Detroit front office to extract a more lucrative return, though they could potentially do better simply by trading Wilson in a standalone deal. Interest in the dominant setup-man-turned-closer has been extremely strong this month, and he stands out as Detroit’s best trade chip. Unlike J.D. Martinez, an excellent player that nonetheless commanded a lukewarm return due to a lack of a market for his services, more than a third of the league could conceivably have legitimately strong interest in Wilson.
The Brewers have interest in Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander, reports Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter links). Milwaukee has been linked on multiple occasions to rotation pieces that it can control beyond the 2017 season, though there’s yet to be much of a serious connection to the longtime Detroit ace. Notably, Fenech adds that the Cubs are still monitoring Verlander and further reports that while the Astros have interest, their involvement in talks “has been minimal.”
Milwaukee is currently trailing the division-rival Pirates in today’s game and has seen its lead on the NL Central dwindle to 1.5 games with both the Cubs and Pirates on winning streaks. The Brewers have had a top-heavy rotation for much of the season, and that only became a truer statement when Chase Anderson, their second-best starter in 2017, landed on the disabled list with an oblique strain that is likely to sideline him into the month of August.
The obstacles standing in the way of a Verlander trade (to any club) are notable. Verlander is owed about $67MM through the end of the 2019 season and has a full no-trade clause that allows him to veto any trade scenario with which the Tigers approach him. He’s also in the midst of one of his worst big league seasons, although he’s been sharper over his past three outings, which may at least present scouts with some confidence that he’s rounding into form.
Whether that’s enough of a sample to convince any team — let alone a fairly low-payroll club like the Brewers — to take on a significant chunk of his remaining contract remains to be seen. The Tigers are reportedly willing to include “some” cash in a trade to help enhance the return they’d get, but they’d likely have to pay down a major chunk of the contract in order to both find a taker and receive meaningful prospects in return. The Brewers have a fairly clean slate when it comes to their long-term payroll outlook, with only Ryan Braun and Eric Thames on guaranteed contracts beyond the current season, but they do have quite a few important players up for arbitration raises this winter (including Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Jonathan Villar, Hernan Perez and Carlos Torres).
While it’s certainly possible that there’s some gamesmanship at play here — it’d behoove the Tigers to play up the interest of two closely competing division rivals, after all — the Brewers have been linked to controllable rotation help frequently enough that it’d almost be a surprise if they didn’t check in on the Verlander market and gauge the asking price. As for the Cubs, they’ve already acquired Jose Quintana from the White Sox, but there have been indications since that time that they’re still on the lookout for pitching help, and for a team with considerable payroll capacity and questions in their long-term rotation, the notion of acquiring Verlander and having some of his $28MM salary in 2018-19 offset undoubtedly holds appeal.
The Astros were said, as of this morning, to still be in the market for Verlander, though there have also been reports that talks between Houston and Oakland regarding Sonny Gray have begun to intensify. The Brewers and Astros have both also been linked to Tigers lefty Justin Wilson, meanwhile, as each team looks to upgrade its bullpen.
- ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick writes that the Dodgers and Astros have put themselves in such strong position that neither strongly needs to make a move prior to the trade deadline. However, both Dodgers president Andrew Friedman and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow are viewed as extremely opportunistic types and figure to look at ways to upgrade their roster anyhow. Crasnick classifies the Dodgers’ interest in Orioles closer Zach Britton as “legitimate” but notes that they’re a bit cautious due to his 2017 forearm issues. Ken Rosenthal wrote yesterday that L.A. is reluctant to part with prospects Alex Verdugo and Walker Buehler in trades, and Crasnick echoes that statement while also adding righty Yadier Alvarez to the list. While the three aren’t quite “untouchable,” none of the three seems especially likely to go. As for the Astros, they’ll continue looking for a starter that could join the playoff rotation behind Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, though they, too, could look instead to a late-inning lefty like Britton or Detroit’s Justin Wilson.
July 19: Correa announced today (via Instagram) that he’s undergone surgery to repair the ligament and that the operation was successful.
July 18,5:18pm: Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle tweets that Gonzalez is likely to see the bulk of playing time at shortstop, though Bregman could play there on days when Gonzalez is needed elsewhere on the field. Gonzalez can play first base, second base and in the corner outfield as well. Regardless, that combination will likely allow the ’Stros to cover Correa’s absence for the next month and a half or so.
3:12pm: The Astros announced devastating injury news today, revealing that shortstop Carlos Correa is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb. Astros field reporter Julia Morales tweets that the injury will require surgery. Infielder Colin Moran has been recalled to replace Correa, who suffered the injury on a swing in last night’s game.
“Losing a player of Carlos’ caliber for an extended period is a big blow to our club, but I believe we have the roster to persevere and continue to win games,” said GM Jeff Luhnow in a press release announcing the news. “We do expect Carlos to return to the club in September and be ready to contribute down the stretch.”
That injury is the same ailment from which fellow AL West superstar Mike Trout just returned. Trout ultimately missed about six and a half weeks, although no two injuries are created equal, and we obviously don’t know if the extent of the tear is the same in each instance. But, that does serve as somewhat of a rough benchmark for Correa’s return to activity.
The Astros, meanwhile, will soldier on without one of the American League’s foremost MVP candidates for a significant stretch of time. On the plus side, Houston has a 15.5 game lead on the division, so the ’Stros aren’t really at risk of ceding the division to one of their rivals. Furthermore, Houston has a deep roster, with both Alex Bregman and Marwin Gonzalez capable of stepping in to play shortstop on a consistent basis. As such, a trade for someone such as Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart doesn’t seem particularly likely — especially not with Correa expected back well before season’s end.
- The Astros, too, would like to add a left-handed reliever and may find more of a difference-maker in that pursuit than in seeking rotation upgrades, Rosenthal writes in his column. If the Astros don’t land Sonny Gray, they’ll likely at least look at rotation rentals, but they’d have to be convinced that whoever they acquire is an upgrade over Charlie Morton and/or the returning Collin McHugh. A more definitive upgrade would be easily apparent in the ’pen.
Athletics righty Sonny Gray is an obvious target for contenders, and he’s among the players touched upon in a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today (which also delves into some analysis and predictions). The Brewers “may be the most aggressive” suitor for the Oakland starter, per Nightengale, with the Royals even entering the picture to some extent. He guesses, though, that the Astros are most likely to land Gray. That’s not to say that it’s Houston’s first choice; Nightengale says that the team spoke with the Tigers on Michael Fulmer but “came up empty.”
- Olney lists Sonny Gray, Yonder Alonso, J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson and Pat Neshek as five players that definitively will be traded prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. All of those players are known to be available, with the Athletics and Phillies at differing stages of a lengthy rebuilding process and the Tigers aiming to pare down payroll by moving short-term veterans. But, Olney’s strong characterization of the likelihood is nonetheless notable, especially since both Gray and Wilson are controllable beyond the 2017 campaign. The Brewers, Cubs, Astros, Yankees, Braves and Indians are among the teams in the mix for Gray, though likely not all to the same extent. Alonso, meanwhile, has reportedly had talks with the A’s about an extension, though Billy Beane’s rebuilding comments yesterday certainly lend credence to the notion that a trade could be the likelier outcome.