- While the Braves still figure to acquire a right-handed hitter, Rosenthal points out that Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward have recently shown signs of heating up. Increased production from that pair could be the equivalent of adding an impact bat.
- The Braves view their starting rotation depth as one of their greatest strengths, and aren't inclined to compromise it by dealing Derek Lowe.
- Rosenthal backed off his Saturday guarantee that B.J. Upton will be traded before the deadline, cautioning that he doesn't know the Rays' exact intentions.
- Before the Giants acquired Jeff Keppinger from the Astros, the Yankees inquired on the infielder.
- The Cardinals are "hotter" on Heath Bell than Mike Adams, especially considering the Padres continue to "need to be overwhelmed" to move Adams.
- One executive offered this metaphor on Pirates GM Neal Huntington using his farm system to facilitate potential acquisitions: "He’s been planting a garden for four years, and now he’s going to be picking flowers out of it."
The Giants acquired Jeff Keppinger from the Astros for right-handed pitchers Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel, the teams announced. The Astros called Jose Altuve up to the Major Leagues in a related move.
Keppinger has experience at all four infield positions, though he has spent the entire 2011 season at second base. Since recovering from left foot surgery and returning to Houston’s lineup at the end of May, the 31-year-old has a .307/.320/.436 line. He has been hitting especially well of late, with five hits, including two doubles and two home runs, in his last 13 at bats.
About $900K remains on Keppinger's $2.3MM salary for 2011 and he is controllable through 2012 via arbitration. When I looked at Keppinger as a trade candidate earlier in the month, I mentioned the Giants as a possible destination.
Sosa, 25, has a 5.51 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 63 2/3 innings for the Giants' top two affiliates this year. In six professional seasons, he has a 3.61 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9. Baseball America ranked Sosa 29th among Giants prospects before the season, citing his electric arm. However, the Dominican Republic native has "fringy" breaking pitches, according to BA.
Stoffel, 22, was a fourth round pick in 2009. Since then, he has posted a 3.78 ERA with 10.2 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 102 1/3 innings, all of which have come in relief. Now at Double-A, Stoffel has a 3.98 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 31 2/3 innings so far this year. Baseball America ranked him 22nd among Giants prospects before the season, explaining that he has a fastball in the 88-93 mph range and a true power slider.
As MLBTR's Transaction Tracker shows, GMs Ed Wade and Brian Sabean have matched up for many trades before, including deals involving Ricky Ledee, Alfredo Simon and, most recently, Matt Downs. Alyson Footer of the Astros first reported the trade (on Twitter).
"We're going to be viewed as a land of opportunity for teams to try to improve the teams that are in contention," Astros GM Ed Wade tells Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). Indeed, as one of the few teams clearly out of the postseason race, the 'Stros should be one of baseball's busiest teams as we head into the trade deadline. Here's the latest on a few of Houston's trade chips…
- Jeff Keppinger's versatility makes him a strong infield option for contenders like the Tigers, Cardinals, Giants, Indians and Pirates, writes Stephen Goff of the Houston Astros Examiner. MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith looked at Keppinger's trade candidacy last week.
- Brett Myers's $10MM option for 2013 will vest if he makes 25 starts in 2012 and isn't on the DL at the end of that season, reports MLBTR's Tim Dierkes (Twitter link). Myers will be paid $11MM in 2012 and is slated to earn roughly $3MM over the rest of 2011. That 2013 option contains a $3MM buyout.
- Bud Norris, Mark Melancon and Jordan Lyles seem to be the only players the Astros won't consider trading, writes MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, though Wade wouldn't confirm if any Houston players were indeed "untouchable." Also from that piece, Wade notes he would run any potential deal by both current owner Drayton McLane and the incoming ownership group led by Jim Crane.
- Manager Brad Mills may be in "a can't-lose position" going into the last year of his contract, writes Chip Bailey of the Houston Chronicle. Even if Mills is fired after the season, he'll lose no respect around baseball since "most outsiders and onlookers recognize he has been managing in an impossible predicament of circumstances."
Heading into today's action, no first place team in either league holds a lead of more than two and a half games, and no division is tighter at the top than the NL Central. Not only are the Cardinals, Brewers, and Pirates separated by a single game in the standings, but all three teams are dead even in the loss column. Here's the latest on the Central, as we look forward to what should be a fun playoff race:
- The Cardinals' pursuit of pitching is "taking shape," tweets Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, though he cautions in a second tweet that he's unsure of the timetable for a deal.
- Discussing the Cardinals' need for arms, Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch says that while prioritizing relief help makes sense, the team could also try to acquire a starter and move Kyle McClellan to the bullpen.
- Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports wonders (via Twitter) if the Astros will receive more interest in Jeff Keppinger than Brett Myers, given Myers' struggles this season.
- In a separate tweet, Morosi notes that Cubs' outfielder Reed Johnson is another useful complementary player who could be available on the cheap this month.
The Astros have had magical late-season surges before, but their chances of making the playoffs in 2011 are essentially non-existent. At 29-57, they have the worst record in baseball and are now open to trading players who don’t figure into their long-term plans.
Jeff Keppinger figures to draw interest this summer and GM Ed Wade will presumably consider offers for the second baseman. Keppinger is under team control through 2012, but he doesn’t appear to be a cornerstone player like Hunter Pence, Bud Norris or Jordan Lyles.
That doesn’t mean he can’t help a contender, though. Since recovering from left foot surgery and returning to Houston’s lineup at the end of May, the 31-year-old has hit .328/.346/.424 with two home runs. He has played second base this year and has big league experience around the infield and outfield.
However, Keppinger’s batting average on balls in play is a robust .331 this year, significantly higher than his career mark of .291. This suggests that his current level of production is not sustainable, though his career line of .285/.339/.393 is still respectable.
Keppinger’s $2.3MM salary makes him a more expensive option than Jeff Baker or Jamey Carroll, two other trade candidates at the position. He's still relatively cheap, though. By the time the trade deadline arrives, Keppinger will have less than $1MM remaining on his contract. Plus, he’s under team control in 2012, so an acquiring team would have flexibility for next year.
The Tigers, Giants and Cardinals are among the contenders that could consider upgrading at second base. Given the Astros’ record and Keppinger’s better-than-expected performance so far in 2011, it won’t be surprising if Wade trades his second baseman within the month.
The Astros will likely be sellers at this year’s trade deadline, according to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Houston has an MLB-worst 29-57 record, so the front office figures to entertain offers for Wandy Rodriguez, Michael Bourn and others. Here are the details from Rosenthal and Morosi’s report, which is a must-read item for Astros fans:
- Though owner Drayton McLane would like to complete the sale of his club to Jim Crane by the July 31st trade deadline, the deal may not become official until August. MLB isn’t close to approving the sale, partly because of its ongoing conflict with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.
- Crane will likely stay quiet until baseball’s owners approve him, but he’ll influence the team’s direction this summer.
- MLB has not told Crane that he has to agree to move the Astros to the AL West for the sale to go through.
- Carlos Lee, who earns $18.5MM this year and next year, wouldn’t be easy to trade even if Houston picked up significant salary.
- The club doesn’t want to trade Hunter Pence, who is under control through 2013. Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles also figure into Houston’s long-term plans, but the Astros will likely listen to offers on most other players, including Brett Myers and Jeff Keppinger.
- Most baseball people expect Crane to fire GM Ed Wade, but the new owner will likely take his time evaluating Wade’s leadership before conducting a search for a new GM.
- Houston native and current Rays executive Andrew Friedman is “an almost certain target,” according to Rosenthal and Morosi. Another Tampa Bay exec, former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker, is also a possibility for Crane. He led Houston to four division titles before joining the Rays.
The Astros are currently an MLB worst 25-45 and are in the process of being transferred to a new owner, so they certainly figure to be sellers at the trade deadline. MLB.com's Bill Ladson hears that they are looking to trade both Brett Myers and Jeff Keppinger, two names that have frequented the trade rumor circuit in recent months (Twitter links). Ladson doubts that the Nationals would have interest in either.
Myers might not be very marketable these days. He'll be 31 in August, and he's pitched to a 5.03 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 87 2/3 innings this season. The 18 homers he's allowed are the most in baseball and his fastball velocity has fallen off considerably. Myers will earn $7MM this season and $11MM next season before a $10MM club option ($3MM buyout) for 2013 comes into play.
Keppinger seems like a much more practical trade candidate. He's hitting .301/.329/.370 since coming off the disabled list following a foot injury, and last year he hit a respectable .288/.351/.393 with more walks (51) than strikeouts (34) in 575 plate appearances. Keppinger has plenty of experience at second, third, and short, and his $2.3MM salary is a little easier on the wallet. He is also under team control next year as an arbitration-eligible player.
- Though the Cardinals probably wish that Albert Pujols and Cubs GM Jim Hendry hadn’t exchanged a heavily scrutinized public hug, they aren’t overly concerned with it, according to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (on Twitter).
- The Pirates recalled Ascanio and placed Michael Crotta on the DL with right elbow inflammation, according to Colin Dunlap of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). The team had to decide whether to add Ascanio to the roster or risk losing him to another team, since he's out of options.
- As MLB.com's Brian McTaggart explains, the Astros will have to clear up roster space when Jeff Keppinger returns from the disabled list. Bill Hall could slide into a utility role, or the Astros could part ways with him. Including the buyout on next year’s mutual option, about $2.5MM remains on Hall’s deal.
Let's look at some notes from the NL Central as we remember the legendary Harry Caray, who passed away on this day in 1998.
- The close relationship between Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols may be the Cardinals' "secret weapon" for keeping Pujols in St. Louis, writes SI.com's Jon Heyman. Of course, La Russa's own contract is only guaranteed through this season, and he could very well decide his future with the club before Pujols has to this winter. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch roundtable looks at how the futures of the Cardinals manager and slugger are intertwined.
- The Cubs "should move heaven and earth" to acquire Pujols if he hits the free agent market, says ESPN's Michael Wilbon. The potential pros of signing a franchise player outweigh, in Wilbon's opinion, the record-setting costs a Pujols contract could entail: "Please don't bother me with what might happen when Pujols reaches 40 or 41 years of age and whether he'll be overpaid by then….when the alternative is stealing away your hated rival's best-ever player and putting him into your lineup in the prime of his life."
- Hunter Pence's arbitration case took place this morning, and MLB.com's Brian McTaggart talks to Astros GM Ed Wade about the process. The arbitration panel is expected to have a decision ready by Saturday. Pence is the last remaining arb-eligible player without a contract, as MLBTR's ArbTracker indicates.
- The Brewers have signed pre-arb players Zach Braddock, Chris Dickerson, Brandon Kintzler and Jonathan Lucroy to contracts, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Reds prospect Yonder Alonso is continuing his outfield training this spring, and talks to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon about how learning a different position is key to his future in Cincinnati. Alonso's natural position, first base, is of course blocked by NL MVP Joey Votto.
- "There is still a good chance" the Astros will trade Jeff Keppinger once the veteran infielder proves he's healthy after offseason foot surgery, says ESPN.com's Jason A. Churchill. Houston shopped Keppinger during the Winter Meetings, with the Yankees showing some interest, but negotiations didn't pan out.
Today is the deadline for players and teams to submit arbitration figures. The sides will then settle on a salary between the team's proposed number and the player's proposed number or go to an arbitration hearing. Arbitration eligible players are under team control, so the clubs don't risk losing them – it's a question of how much the players will earn.
Yesterday, 11 players avoided arbitration. We could see just as many agreements trickle in today and we'll keep you posted on them right here and with our Arb Tracker. The latest updates will be at the top of the post:
- The Angels have agreed to terms with Reggie Willits and Howie Kendrick, tweets Bill Shaikin of The Los Angeles Times. Bill Plunkett of The Orange County Register tweets that Kendrick will earn $3.3MM, Willits $775K (on Twitter).
- The Giants agreed to terms with Santiago Casilla on a one-year deal worth $1.3MM with incentives, according to ESPN Deportes' Enrique Rojas (on Twitter). The team also announced that they avoided arb with Jonathan Sanchez and Ramon Ramirez (on Twitter). Sanchez will earn $4.8MM with incentives tweets Hank Schulman of The San Francisco Chronicle while Ramirez will earn $1.65MM according to Janie McCauley of The Canadian Press.
- The Braves agreed to terms with Peter Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty, according to MLB.com's Mark Bowman (on Twitter). Moylan gets $2MM, O'Flaherty gets $895K according to Dave O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (on Twitter).
- The Mariners agreed to terms with Brandon League, David Aardsma and Jason Vargas, the team announced. Aardsma will earn $4.5MM with plenty of incentives, according to Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times (plus Twitter link).
- The Rangers agreed to terms with C.J. Wilson and Nelson Cruz, according to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan (Twitter links). Cruz gets $3.65MM, and Wilson gets $7.05MM with a chance to earn another $100K according to his agent Bob Garber, via email.