- Center fielder Lorenzo Cain might end up as the Royals’ most valuable trade asset in the coming months, posits Rosenthal, who relays that the team isn’t convinced first baseman Eric Hosmer would bring back a “sufficient return.” Hosmer’s hitting a solid .299/.362/.408 in 174 PAs, but that’s not great production relative to his position, and first base typically isn’t an in-demand area around the deadline, notes Rosenthal. The same goes for third base, which could make it difficult for the Royals to move Mike Moustakas – another of their high-profile impending free agents – for a sizable return. Meanwhile, pitchers Jason Vargas, Kelvin Herrera and Mike Minor are also names to watch as the Royals potentially prepare to sell.
Jon Heyman of Fan Rag takes a look around the league in his latest notes columns. In addition to providing updates on every National League and American League team, he takes a particularly close look at the Nationals in separate posts. Let’s take a look at some of the items of particular relevance to the transactional landscape:
- The Nationals are beginning to put in phone calls to rivals as they start the search for a new closer in earnest, Heyman writes. Among the players under consideration by the team, at present, are a variety of names with differing contract situations. David Robertson of the White Sox, Kelvin Herrera of the Royals, and A.J. Ramos of the Marlins all have two years remaining at less-than-bargain rates (the latter two via arbitration). Alex Colome of the Rays and Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays, meanwhile, bring more years of cheap control — and, in all likelihood, astronomical asking prices. Then there’s old friend Mark Melancon, who is in the first year of the four-year pact he signed with the Giants — who evidently beat the Nats’ offer over the winter. Needless to say, there’s quite a lot that could change that picture over the coming months.
- Looking back a bit, the Nationals came closer than any other team to landing Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates over the winter, Heyman adds.Per the report, the sides held talks that “revolved around three players, including Lucas Giolito and veteran Gio Gonzalez.” It’s not immediately clear what else might have been involved, and where things went south, but it’s interesting to hear those parameters. The Nats ultimately pivoted to Adam Eaton, of course, but he’s now out for the year. Perhaps it’s conceivable that the team could take another look at McCutchen, though no doubt the teams would need to start discussions anew with Giolito in Chicago, Gonzalez a key member of the Nats staff and McCutchen struggling.
- The Marlins sale talks had seemingly been building, but Heyman writes that there’s no deal ready to be made at present. For one thing, there are whispers that the purchase price will continue to drop as the organization’s financial health comes under greater scrutiny. For another, there are still questions about where the money will come from on the buyer’s side. “[A]t least the Bush-Jeter group and maybe the Romney-Glavine group, too, [are] still seeking investors,” per Heyman.
- Two significant recent investments made by the Marlins aren’t delivering value at present. Per Heyman, lefty Wei-Yin Chen is headed for a second opinion with his elbow issue still failing to progress. It seems the team could be bracing for a relatively lengthy absence. And Heyman notes that some in the baseball operations department weren’t thrilled at the idea of extending Martin Prado last year at $40MM over three years. He has been playing well enough, but is back on the DL with a recurring hamstring injury.
- Pirates righty Gerrit Cole has looked strong in the early going, but Heyman says the team may not be interested in dealing him even if they continue to lag in the standings. “We’re not in any rush,” a club source tells him. “I don’t think we’re there yet.” The 26-year-old owns a 2.84 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9; while the peripherals are largely in line with his 2016 work, the improved results are supported by jumps in swinging-strike rate (9.9%) and average fastball velocity (a career-high 96.1 mph). With two more years of arb eligibility to go, Cole would likely command a big price at the deadline.
- While the Rays entered play today just one game under .500, that doesn’t mean they aren’t readying for the possibility of selling. Of course, given the team’s pitching depth, it’s imaginable that the team could send out a veteran while still maintaining hopes of cracking the postseason. Per Heyman, Tampa Bay has “already begun calling to get a gauge on the value of Alex Cobb.” Rivals also think the club will be amenable to discussing both Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer, he adds. Cobb, though, is the most obvious possible trade chip. The 29-year-old was homer-prone in his return from Tommy John surgery last year, but has looked solid through 56 1/3 innings this year — his last before reaching free agency. He carries a 3.67 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 to go with a 47.5% groundball rate. Cobb still isn’t getting swings and misses like he used to, but his velocity is better than ever and he has tamped down on the long balls thus far.
- Royals righty Ian Kennedy is showing signs of improvement in his injured right hamstring, as Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star reports. The 32-year-old could return by this coming weekend, per manager Ned Yost. That would rate as a welcome development for the scuffling Royals, who have received six solid outings from Kennedy thus far. He has held opposing batters to just 23 hits and currently carries a 3.03 ERA with 7.8 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9. If Kennedy can pick up where he left off, he’ll set up some interesting scenarios. Kansas City could explore trading him this summer if the team can’t turn things around. And then there’s the question of Kennedy’s contract, which allows him to opt out of the three years and $49MM that remains (in favor of a $6MM buyout) after the season.
- While many are beginning to wonder whether the Royals will engineer a tear-down of the current MLB roster this summer, GM Dayton Moore says he’s not yet entertaining that possibility, as Dodd further reports. There’s no rush in making any decisions, Moore emphasized, noting that trades can come together quickly “if you have two willing partners.” While the club is still six games under .500, moreover, it has performed better of late and remains within reach of the front of a tightly-bunched pack in the AL Central. Moore drew an interesting analogy to the 2015 Tigers in explaining why he sees little reason to contemplate a summer sale effort. While that organization seemed prepared to hold at the deadline, he notes, “all of a sudden, some things changed, and Dave Dombrowski says he’s going to trade David Price, and the deal comes together very quickly.”
The Reds have claimed first baseman/outfielder Peter O’Brien off waivers from the Royals, per a club announcement. He has been optioned to Triple-A. Lefty Brandon Finnegan will head to the 60-day DL to create 40-man space.
[Related: Updated Cincinnati Reds depth chart]
Cincinnati has had some recent success with plucking high-power prospects who had fallen out of favor with other organizations, and will look to do just that here. O’Brien was designated recently by Kansas City, though he had not appeared at the major league level with the organization. Over his 115 plate appearances on the year at Triple-A, the 26-year-old owns a .162/.235/.276 slash with 31 strikeouts.
That’s a disappointing showing, to be sure, but it’s not a representative sample of O’Brien’s overall minor-league track record. He has been a steadily productive hitter, and carries a .259/.307/.503 batting line with 53 home runs in 1,083 career plate appearances at the highest level of the minors. Though his high-strikeout, low-walk approach makes him a questionable bet ever to reach base at a palatable clip in the majors, O’Brien’s power is a strong enough tool that the Reds will take a chance.
[Related: Updated Miami Marlins depth chart]
Colon, who just turned 28, had played a limited role thus far for Kansas City in 2017 and was designated for assignment recently. He carried a .263/.323/.329 batting line over 348 plate appearances in his four seasons with the Royals. While that fell far shy of expectations when Colon was taken with the fourth overall pick of the 2010 draft, he did end up playing a notable role in the organization’s 2014-15 postseason runs.
The Marlins have scrambled to find infield help over the past several weeks amidst a wave of injuries. Colon will now take the place of Lombardozzi, who was hitless in eight plate appearances. He has appeared in just 34 MLB games since the start of the 2014 season, but had been a regular contributor for the Nationals before that. Lombardozzi opened the current season at Triple-A New Orleans, where he slashed .250/.289/.317 over 129 plate appearances. He seems likely to clear outright waivers and return to New Orleans, though due the fact that he’s been outrighted earlier in his career, he’d also have the ability to reject that assignment and elect free agency
The Royals announced on Wednesday that they’ve selected the contracts of right-handers Seth Maness (as Derrick Goold first reported earlier this morning) and Al Alburquerque from Triple-A Omaha. In order to clear spots on the 40-man roster, Kansas City designated infielder Christian Colon and minor league outfielder Peter O’Brien for assignment. Additionally, righty Jake Junis was optioned to Omaha.
Kansas City was obviously looking to get some fresh arms into the bullpen, and they’ve chosen two veterans who are looking to get their careers back on track. Maness has been a steady contributor but was non-tendered after undergoing a primary repair procedure (a Tommy John alternative) last year. Alburquerque has plenty of MLB experience, too, though he only received two major league frames last year.
Colon, 27, was the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft but never lived up to that billing. He looked to have potentially carved out a spot on the Royals’ roster back in 2015 when he slashed .290/.356/.336 through 119 plate appearances as a rookie, but he followed that performance up with a lackluster .231/.294/.293 in a larger sample of 154 PAs last year. Thus far in 2017, Colon had played sparingly, logging 19 PAs and hitting and going 3-for-17 at the plate.
The 26-year-old O’Brien drew plenty of attention in Spring Training after clubbing seven homers and posting a 1.112 OPS, but the slugger’s production wilted in Omaha, where he got off to an unsightly .162/.235/.276 start through 115 plate appearances. The former catcher has long intrigued fans and MLB clubs with his considerable power, but strikeouts and a lack of defensive contributions have limited O’Brien’s opportunities. He did receive 79 MLB plate appearances with the D-backs in 2015-16, though he turned in a .176/.228/.446 batting line and punched out 32 times.
Right-hander Seth Maness is on his way to St. Petersburg to join the Royals prior to tonight’s game against the Rays, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Twitter link). The Royals have a full 40-man roster, so in order to formally select Maness’ contract, they’ll need to either designate someone for assignment or move a player from the 10-day DL to the 60-day DL.
The promotion of Maness, 28, comes with a fair bit of intrigue. The longtime Cardinals reliever tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last summer, but rather than electing the typical Tommy John surgery as treatment, Maness instead underwent a newer “primary repair” surgery that comes with a shorter recovery. (Goold chronicled the details of that operation earlier this year in a must-read column for those who aren’t familiar with the surgery.) Maness will now return to the Majors less than nine months after going under the knife, and he’s already tossed six innings in Triple-A as well.
A healthy Maness would be a boon to a Royals bullpen that ranks 23rd in baseball with a 4.60 ERA (though their 4.00 FIP, 3.91 xFIP and 3.77 SIERA all suggest the current unit could turn things around). From 2013-15, Maness averaged 72 appearances per season for the Cardinals, serving as one of their most durable and most dependable bullpen arms. To this point in his career, he’s compiled 237 1/3 innings with a strong 3.19 ERA. Maness doesn’t miss many bats (5.8 K/9), but he offsets that lack of whiffs with pristine control (1.7 BB/9) and an excellent 59.4 percent ground-ball rate.
If Maness is indeed healthy from this point forth, it’s easy to envision other pitchers that suffer partial UCL tears during the season electing the primary repair surgery as a means of treatment, assuming they meet the requirements for the procedure. (As Goold explains in the aforementioned story, the surgery is only an option for those with partial tears and is dependent on both the location and severity of the tear.) And beyond that, the Royals could reap the benefits for several years. Maness is returning to the Majors with three years and 154 days of Major League service time, meaning the Royals can control him via arbitration through the 2019 season.
- The Royals are “likely” to re-sign shortstop Alcides Escobar. The veteran shortstop is a free agent after this season and is off to a very rough start in his walk year, with just a .486 OPS over 104 plate appearances. While Escobar has always been a below-average hitter, he has provided good value in the past as a baserunner and defender, though advanced metrics are somewhat split on his glovework (he is a plus defender per UZR/150 but has minus-11 Defensive Runs Saved from 2014-16). It seems unusual that the Royals would be set on bringing Escobar back given his struggles, the fact that it is quite early in the season and the presence of Raul Mondesi Jr. as the team’s potential shortstop of the future. With Mondesi himself still unproven at the plate, however, the Royals could see Escobar as a bridge player on an inexpensive contract, potentially no longer than one guaranteed year.
- Speaking of Royals free agents, the team has scouts looking at various farm systems preparing for potential deals of Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. “The prevailing thought is the Royals can move Cain the easiest, but he’s the one they’d most like to keep,” Cafardo writes.
The Royals announced that right-hander Ian Kennedy has been placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a strained right hamstring. Kennedy exited last night’s game due to the injury, and while there’d been some optimism that he may not need to miss a turn in the rotation, it now appears that he’ll miss at least his next two starts. That’s an unfortunate development for the 32-year-old and for the Royals, as Kennedy has been strong through his first six appearances in 2017. The right-hander, who can opt out of the remaining three years and $43MM on his contract at season’s end, has a 3.03 ERA with 7.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a 38.9 percent ground-ball rate through 35 2/3 innings this year. It’s not yet known exactly how much time Kennedy will miss, but any lingering injury issue would only add to the widespread expectation that he’ll forgo his opt-out provision at the end of the season. Fellow righty Miguel Almonte was recalled from Double-A to take Kennedy’s roster spot.