- The Athletics have made it known to other teams that first baseman Yonder Alonso is available in trades “right now,” writes ESPN’s Buster Olney. Alonso’s availability isn’t exactly a new development, as he’s been among the most oft-speculated and reported trade candidates for most of the season’s first half. However, the A’s and Alonso’s camp were also said to be exploring talk of a possible extension. While Olney doesn’t mention the extension possibility one way or another, his newest report certainly doesn’t do much to inspire confidence that the two sides will agree to a deal. In addition to the oft-suggested Yankees fit, Olney speculatively lists the Royals as a possibility.
Here are Wednesday’s minor moves from around the league…
- Catcher Ryan Lavarnway has cleared waivers and been outrighted to the Athletics’ Triple-A affiliate, as first noted on the team’s transaction page at MLB.com. The 29-year-old Lavarnway played in just one game with Oakland in his recent call-up, though he’s spent parts of six seasons in the Majors. In 409 big league plate appearances, the former Red Sox farmhand is a .197/.257/.315 hitter. He carries a considerably better Triple-A track record and has hit at a .274/.362/.378 clip through 232 PAs with Oakland’s Nashville affiliate in 2017.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA chief Tony Clark each chatted with the media today in advance of tonight’s All-Star Game. Here are a few highlights from their comments:
- While the new CBA instituted some rather significant changes to the international signing system, there remain quite a few ad hoc rules in place — with variation, in particular, based on a player’s country of origin. Manfred suggested a more comprehensive change, with the intent of establishing one uniform system for acquiring foreign professional talent, as Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe notes (Twitter links). Clark expressed general agreement with that concept, which suggests that the league and Union will continue working to create one standardized means of acquiring talent from foreign professional leagues in Japan, Korea, Cuba and others.
- The leaguewide power surge has been the source of much discussion of late, with Manfred suggesting there has been no change to the game ball that would explain it. In his most recent comments, he suggested that the current ball falls within rather wide established standards, while also hinting he’s not exactly displeased to see more balls leaving the yard. A tighter variance in testing may be one possible solution, Manfred said (and Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal tweets). But he also noted that bats could be as much of a cause as the baseballs and suggested that MLB will begin testing bats as well, as Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times tweets. As for the MLBPA, Clark says “health and safety” considerations — presumably, recent complaints over blisters feature among them — have led the union to engage the league on the topic, Shaikin tweets.
- Changes in home run propensity and the run-scoring environment can impact the player market in subtle ways; so, too, does the change from a fifteen to a ten-day minimum DL stint. Of course, that latter modification also bears more directly on roster movement, since it makes it easier for teams to give rest to slightly injured or worn down players. Manfred suggested that some organizations may have gone too far already with aggressive DL placements, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweets. “I don’t like some of the activity in terms of what’s going on with the 10-day DL,” said Manfred. That did not seem to be a concern shared by Clark, who indicated he had not received complaints from the players about the way the 10-day DL has functioned.
- Manfred also touched upon a few open stadium issues. As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. “I continue to believe Tampa (Bay) is a viable major-league market, and I also believe it may be better than the alternatives than we have out there,” Manfred said of the Rays and their efforts to move into a newly constructed, more modern facility. “And I am hopeful we get to a resolution.” The commissioner did concede that eventually there may come a point where alternatives must be considered but stressed that such a point is not close at hand. Topkin adds that based on Manfred’s comments about expansion/relocation on Monday, the primary alternatives are believed to be Montreal, Charlotte and Mexico City (or elsewhere in Mexico).
- Regarding the ongoing stadium issues for the cross-country Athletics, Manfred again offered hope that the team would not need to relocate (via MLB.com’s Mark Newman). Newly hired A’s president Dave Kaval, who was brought in largely to oversee the stadium process, has said recently that the team hopes to have a proposal for the site of a new facility this year, and Manfred is heartened by the efforts being put forth. “I think the renewed interest that [managing partner] John Fisher has shown in finding a new site in Oakland is positive,” said Manfred. “Baseball has had a long history of commitment to its communities. We have been the sport least likely to relocate. We’d like to have Oakland be a success. I think the identification of a single site in Oakland will be a step forward in that stadium process.”
- Newman also notes that Manfred continues to have interest in expanding the league, though the commissioner said expansion will not become a prominent focus until the stadium issues for both the Rays and A’s are resolved. “I know the Mayor of Montreal has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal,” said Manfred. “Charlotte’s a possibility. And I’d like to think that Mexico City or some other place in Mexico would be a possibility.”
- Finally, Clark addressed the long-simmering issue of substandard wages for minor-league players. Though the MLBPA does not technically represent non-40-man players, almost all of its members spent at least some time playing in the minors without a 40-man spot. Still, Clark largely demurred when asked about the union’s role in the minimum-wage dispute between minor leaguers and MLB organizations. “We’ve done what we can where we can,” Clark said (via Shaikin, on Twitter).
The Twins are “checking in” on a few starting pitchers around the game, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Minnesota is seemingly limiting its interest to controllable arms at this point.
That’s not terribly surprising to hear. After all, the Twins are still treading water in the AL Central and AL Wild Card races. And GM Thad Levine said recently that the organization “would be very open to spending aggressively on assets that we could use to propel our team forward this year and for years to come.”
As noted in that above-linked post, the Twins have an obvious need — both now and in the near future — for reliable starting pitching. While there’s little reason to think that the team would part with significant future talent just for an immediate upgrade, it makes sense that the club would value the chance at contending this year while also considering arms that could bolster the roster for a few more seasons to come.
Rosenthal notes that Jose Quintana of the White Sox and Sonny Gray of the Athletics are two pitchers who’d likely appear on Minnesota’s list of possible targets, though it’s not clear whether the Twins have eyes for either in particular. He also suggests Dan Straily of the Marlins as an option, though again there’s still no indication that he’s specifically on the radar of Levine and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey.
Of course, those sorts of pitchers — Quintana and Gray, in particular — figure to draw interest from many other organizations. Those two have done so for quite some time, in fact, with the continued demand perhaps also representing a big reason that their respective organizations have felt comfortable waiting to deal them.
At this stage, there’s still a lack of clarity as to how the market will develop. Quintana and Gray might spur bidding wars; certain contenders could pivot to more affordable rental pieces (or even relievers); and/or we could see other long-term rotation assets (such as Julio Teheran or Gerrit Cole, among many other possibilities) reach the market to meet the demand. The level of involvement of teams such as the Twins will very likely play a role in dictating those developments, though the question remains whether Minnesota will press to get a deal done for a new starter.
- Improving the team’s defense will be a focus for the Athletics in the second half and beyond, manager Bob Melvin tells reporters (link via MLB.com’s Josh Horton). The A’s have already begun to move on that front, bringing up slick-fielding third baseman Matt Chapman and moving on from some other veterans as a means of getting younger, more athletic players like Jaycob Brugman and Bruce Maxwell in the lineup. “We’re starting to get some athletic guys, whether it’s Chapman or Marcus [Semien] back in here,” says Melvin. “We were very one dimensional last year and at the beginning of this season, too. Those are areas [fielding and baserunning] that we need to improve in. And I think we can.” With Oakland looking to potentially move multiple veterans this summer, that emphasis is worth keeping in mind, and it will be once again this offseason as Oakland looks to augment its roster with some veteran players on affordable deals.
- Billy Beane told Gammons earlier this week that he hadn’t received any serious interest in Sonny Gray prior to last weekend, and the same goes for any serious calls about Jed Lowrie. The veteran infielder is thought to be a good target for teams in need of middle infield help and the Athletics to find lineup space for prospect Franklin Barreto, though it appears that Lowrie’s market has yet to develop with over three weeks still to go until the deadline. MLBTR’s Connor Byrne examined Lowrie, Gray and other Oakland trade candidates in a Taking Inventory piece earlier today.
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline just over three weeks away, the Athletics are unsurprisingly in position to sell. At the outset of the season, there were no realistic expectations that the A’s would contend for a playoff spot, and they’ve since stumbled to a 39-49 mark to rank as one of the American League’s worst teams. Along the way, Oakland has lost a couple potential veteran trade candidates in third baseman Trevor Plouffe and catcher Stephen Vogt, both of whom received their walking papers last month and are now in different uniforms. As bleak as things may seem for the A’s, some of their other likely trade chips have turned in encouraging performances this year, and moving those players in the coming weeks could produce returns that benefit the franchise for years to come.
Yonder Alonso, 1B | Salary: $4MM
It was somewhat of a surprise last offseason when the A’s elected to tender a contract to Alonso, who was among the majors’ worst first basemen in 2016. Now, three months into the current campaign, it’s fair to say executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst made a wise decision to stick with Alonso. An underwhelming hitter for most of his career, the 30-year-old has changed to a fly ball-first approach this season and posted a tremendous .278/.374/.569 line across 294 plate appearances. Thanks largely to a 49.5 percent fly ball rate (up from 33.3 percent last year), Alonso has swatted a career-high 20 home runs – two more than he combined for in 1,222 PAs from 2014-16 – and recorded the majors’ eighth-best ISO (.290). There’s clearly a lot to like here, though it’s uncertain how much trade value Alonso will have because of a possible lack of leaguewide demand at first base (granted, the Yankees look like a logical match). If the A’s are unable to net a satisfactory offer for Alonso, perhaps they’ll keep him and try to work out an extension. Both sides have interest in staying together.
Rajai Davis, OF | Salary: $6MM
It’s difficult to imagine the A’s finding a taker for Davis without at least absorbing some of his salary. The 36-year-old is in the midst of a career-worst offensive season, after all, having hit a meek .210/.267/.308 in 244 plate trips. At a cheaper price tag, he could entice a playoff-bound team looking for a late-game threat on the base paths. Davis is one of the greatest baserunners of all-time, per FanGraphs’ BsR metric, and has made effective use of his legs this year with a 3.4 BsR and 15 steals. Although unlikely, perhaps Davis’ wheels will cancel out his less-than-stellar offensive and defensive production (minus-one DRS, minus-12 UZR/150 this season) on the trade market. And hey, the ex-Indian’s not far removed from hitting one of the most memorable home runs in postseason history.
Adam Rosales, UTIL | Salary: $1.25MM
Even though he struck out in 35.5 percent of PAs last year, the then-Padre rode a bloated home run-to-fly rate (21.7 percent) and an 11.7 percent walk rate to a .229/.319/.495 line and a guaranteed contract with the A’s. Unfortunately, Rosales has given back those gains this season (7.4 percent HR-to-FB rate, 4.3 percent walk rate) and continued to strike out over 30 percent of the time. Consequently, the 34-year-old has hit a subpar .233/.271/.347 in 210 tries. But Rosales has offered a passable bat versus left-handed pitching, as he typically has throughout his career, and has the ability to play all over the diamond. At his low salary, then, Rosales could potentially bring back a small return in a trade.
John Axford, RP | Salary: $5.5MM
Good luck dealing the somewhat expensive Axford, who has pitched to a woeful 5.95 ERA over 19 2/3 innings this season. To his credit, the 34-year-old Axford is running appealing strikeout (9.15 K/9) and ground-ball rates (54.1 percent). However, the former Milwaukee closer has cancelled out the positives with control problems (6.41 BB/9) and issues keeping the ball in the park (21.4 percent HR-to-FB rate).
Controlled Through 2018
Ryan Madson, RP | Salary: $7.5MM in both 2017 and ’18
After a mediocre 2016 in Oakland, his first year with the club, Madson has rebounded to resemble the reliever who was a significant asset in both Philadelphia and Kansas City earlier in his career. Across 35 2/3 frames, the hard-throwing, 36-year-old right-hander has notched a 2.27 ERA with 8.58 K/9 and 1.51 BB/9. Moreover, Madson owns impressive ground-ball and infield pop-up rates of 56.2 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively. In sum, he’s striking out hitters at a decent clip while limiting walks and rarely yielding threatening contact. Pitchers who can do those things simultaneously are valuable commodities, and bullpen-needy contenders have taken notice of Madson’s success this season.
Jed Lowrie, 2B/SS/3B | Salary: $6.5MM in 2017; $6MM club option (or $1MM buyout) in 2018
Health problems, including poor sleep (via FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris), derailed Lowrie in recent seasons. But the 33-year-old is enjoying a career renaissance in 2017, having logged a .282/.350/.464 line and nine homers in 354 PAs. As a result, there’s interest in Lowrie, whom the A’s seem likely to part with in an effort to open up a spot in the middle infield for well-regarded prospect Franklin Barreto.
Santiago Casilla, RP | Salary: $4.5MM in 2017; $5.5MM in 2018
In his first year back with the A’s, with whom the closer formerly known as Jairo Garcia pitched from 2004-09, Casilla has saved 15 of 19 opportunities and registered a so-so 3.82 ERA over 33 innings. There are some troubling signs that have contributed to the ex-Giant’s mediocre run prevention, including a K/9 that has fallen from 10.09 last season to 8.18 this year, a plummeting grounder rate (40.8 percent, compared to 47.6 percent in 2016) and a decline in infield flies (a still-respectable 10.8 percent; the righty was at 13.2 percent a year ago). Despite his unexciting production and advanced age (37 later this month), Casilla still looks both inexpensive enough and decent enough to generate looks in the coming weeks.
Matt Joyce, OF | Salary: $5MM in 2017; $6MM in 2018
The 32-year-old is in the middle of a typical season relative to his career, having mixed an adequate left-handed bat (.219/.330/.406 with 11 HRs and a 13.8 percent walk rate in 297 PAs) with unspectacular outfield defense (minus-three DRS, minus-9.2 UZR/150). Joyce offers an affordable but bland skill set, one that probably won’t have playoff hopefuls beating down the A’s door for him leading up to the deadline.
Sonny Gray, SP | Salary: $3.575MM in 2017; arbitration eligible through 2019
As the crown jewel of Oakland’s trade candidates, Gray has frequently graced MLBTR’s pages in recent weeks and will continue to be a popular name on this site as the deadline nears. The likelihood is that the A’s will soon say goodbye to the 27-year-old Gray, who has put a rough, injury-laden 2016 behind him to post a 4.00 ERA (3.58 FIP) with 8.47 K/9 and 2.86 BB/9 through 78 2/3 innings. Gray’s strikeout and walk numbers are the best they’ve been since his outstanding debut in 2013, and he has complemented those figures with career-best chase, contact and swinging-strike rates (11.5 percent) – not to mention a 55.3 percent ground-ball mark. Add all of that to Gray’s affordable team control, and it’s clear someone is going to pay a high price for him. In case you missed it, MLBTR’s Steve Adams deftly laid out plausible fits for Gray on June 30.
Khris Davis, LF/DH | Salary: $5MM in 2017; arbitration eligible through 2019
Contrary to Gray, there’s no talk of Davis going anywhere. Additionally, the righty-swinger has made it clear that he’d like to be an Athletic for the long haul. The Beane-led franchise has made surprising deals in the past, though, and bear in mind that Davis is a soon-to-be 30-year-old whose price tag will continue to rise in the arbitration process. There’s an outside chance those factors could make him a candidate to switch teams soon, as the A’s don’t look close to contention and aren’t exactly big spenders. Arbitration rewards players who hit homers, drive in runs and accrue PAs – all things Davis has done since he joined the A’s prior to last year. The former Brewer has already smashed 24 dingers and racked up 60 RBI in 364 PAs this year, giving him a shot at his second straight 40-HR, 100-RBI season, and his overall line (.246/.335/.517) is terrific. An on-the-block Davis would probably garner a fair amount of attention, but whether the A’s would be receptive to giving him up is unknown.
Sean Doolittle, RP | Salary: $2.6MM in 2017; $4.35MM in 2018; club options with $500K buyouts in 2019 ($6MM) and 2020 ($6.5MM)
Shoulder issues have hampered Doolittle in recent seasons, but there’s no doubt he’s among the game’s most formidable left-handed relievers when he’s able to take the mound. While Doolittle has only eaten 19 1/3 innings this season, the 30-year-old has done plenty with them, having put up a 3.72 ERA (2.58 FIP) with all-world strikeout and walk rates (13.03 K/9 and .93 BB/9). Among relievers who have thrown at least 10 innings – a very small sample, granted – Doolittle ranks third in K/BB ratio. He has also induced infield pop-ups on a ridiculous 23.8 percent of batted balls, thereby offsetting a low grounder rate (35.7 percent). Doolittle’s past arm troubles have likely dented his trade value somewhat, but his effective pitching/palatable contract combination should warrant a quality return if the A’s decide to go in another direction.
Liam Hendriks, RP | Salary: $1.1MM in 2017; arbitration eligible through 2019
Hendriks prevented runs with aplomb as a Blue Jay and Athletic from 2015-16, though his ERA has spiked from 3.34 over that 129 1/3-inning period to 5.40 across 36 2/3 frames this year. If you look beyond that, though, there’s a desirable, hard-throwing reliever here. Like Doolittle, the 28-year-old Hendriks has posted a superb K/9 (12.03, with a playable 3.44 BB/9), adding a career-best swinging-strike mark (12.8 percent) and a decent grounder rate (45.5 percent). Hendriks’ .351 batting average on balls in play, 65.2 percent strand rate and 13.9 percent homer-to-fly ball rate are largely to blame for his bloated ERA, which shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent to all playoff contenders in search of bullpen help. The righty has usually been a capable option against both same- and opposite-handed hitters, which, combined with his low salary and team control, ought to have him on clubs’ radars.
The Athletics have announced a series of roster moves, including the demotion of top prospect Franklin Barreto to Triple-A. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway has also been designated for assignment. The two moves create roster space for Josh Phegley (back from the paternity list) and right-hander Chris Smith, who had his contract purchased from Triple-A so he could start today’s game against the Mariners.
[Updated A’s depth chart at Roster Resource]
With Marcus Semien back from the DL, Barreto will be sent back down to the farm to get everyday playing time. Ranked as Oakland’s top prospect and considered one of the better minor leaguers in all of baseball, the 21-year-old Barreto hit .190/261/.381 with two home runs over his first 46 career MLB plate appearances. Barreto is likely to get a more extended look later this season, either as a September callup or if Jed Lowrie is traded at the deadline.
Lavarnway signed a minor league contract with the A’s in the offseason and has appeared in one game this season, representing his first taste of big league action since 2015. Formerly a well-regarded prospect in Boston’s system, Lavarnway has been part of six different organizations since December 2014. He has a strong .280/.371/.459 career slash line over 3117 Triple-A plate appearances, so Lavarnway will continue to provide the A’s (or another team) with some solid minor league depth.
Smith, 36, will become the oldest pitcher in Athletics franchise history to make his first career MLB start. (Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle details the amusing story of how Smith got the news from his Triple-A manager.) It has been a long journey for the veteran, originally a Red Sox draft pick in 2002 who appeared in 50 games for Boston and Milwaukee in 2008-10 before bouncing around the minors and even stepping away from the game for a year. Smith signed a minors deal with Oakland in November 2015 and he made 13 appearances for the A’s last season.
The Brewers are the surprise leaders of the National League Central as the All-Star break approaches, and Jon Morosi of MLB.com writes that they’ve begun doing “background work” on White Sox lefty Jose Quintana and Athletics righty Sonny Gray in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets that any pitcher the Brewers acquire this summer would have to be controllable beyond the current season.
Milwaukee’s place atop the standings was unexpected for most, but it’s not much of a surprise to see them linked to controllable arms. As we noted when listing Milwaukee as a potential fit for Gray last week, assets of this nature mesh with the Brewers’ current status as contenders as well as their longer-term rebuilding vision that’s ahead of schedule thanks to breakouts from Jimmy Nelson, Corey Knebel, Travis Shaw and Eric Thames, among others. That rebuilding effort, it should be noted, has left Milwaukee with one of the game’s top-ranked minor league systems.
[Related: Milwaukee Brewers Depth Chart]
Quintana can be controlled through the 2020 season via a guaranteed $8.85MM salary next season and a pair of club options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, which are respectively valued at $10.5MM and $11MM. Gray, meanwhile, is earning $3.575MM in 2017 and will be eligible for arbitration in each of the next two winters before reaching free agency upon completion of the 2019 campaign. Either player would easily fit into a Milwaukee payroll that is among the game’s lowest in 2017 and has just $25MM committed to two players (Ryan Braun and Thames) in each of the next two seasons.
Neither Gray nor Quintana has numbers that are immediately eye-catching, but each has shown signs of life after poor starts to the season. In his past six outings, Quintana has averaged 9.1 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9 with a 54.8 percent ground-ball rate, leading to a 2.34 ERA in that span. Gray, meanwhile, has averaged 8.7 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 with a 51.3 percent grounder rate across his past seven outings, resulting in a 3.45 ERA.
The Brewers have received 104 sensational innings from Nelson this season, but their second-best starter, Chase Anderson, recently landed on the disabled list due to an oblique strain and could miss up to six weeks. Matt Garza has enjoyed a resurgence in 2017 after a pair of sub-par seasons, but Milwaukee’s rotation has been spotty beyond that trio. Zach Davies is second on the team in innings but carries a 4.90 ERA, while Junior Guerra missed the first six weeks of the season and hasn’t come close to last year’s success when healthy. Wily Peralta, meanwhile, has 6.08 ERA through eight starts.
Given those struggles and their reported desire to upgrade the 2017 roster, Milwaukee figures to be linked to a number of rotation options over the next three weeks. (Morosi speculatively links them to Toronto lefty J.A. Happ as well.) The Brewers currently sit 4.5 games ahead of the Cubs and 5.5 games ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Central.
- Sonny Gray’s name has been frequently mentioned in trade speculation, though it appears teams have yet to engage in serious talks with the Athletics, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com reports (Twitter link). Oakland executive VP of baseball operations Billy Beane hasn’t received any calls about Gray in recent days, and Gammons describes the calls that have come in as ” ’keep me in mind’ requests” rather than substantial inquiries. Gray is enjoying a solid bounce-back season from his rough 2016 performance, and his trade value would seemingly be on the rise after excellent outings in each of his last two starts.