- Rays outfielder Mallex Smith has been hospitalized with a viral infection, but manager Kevin Cash issued an encouraging update Sunday, informing reporters that he’s “doing considerably better” and could be released from the hospital today (via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). Cash added that the Rays are hopeful Smith won’t stay on the disabled list for much longer than the minimum of 10 days. Prior to this weekend’s scare, the fleet-of-foot Smith had quietly been enjoying an outstanding season. The 25-year-old leads qualified Rays hitters in OPS (.810) and has totaled 27 steals and 3.1 fWAR over 426 PAs.
The Rays had a scare yesterday in regards to outfielder Mallex Smith, who was hospitalized due to a viral infection and has since been placed on the 10-day DL. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times has the full details here, noting that the infection doesn’t seem gravely serious and is a far cry from the severity of the bacterial infection that ended Indians outfielder Leonys Martin’s season. Smith was hitting .307 and functioning as the Rays’ leadoff hitter prior to being hospitalized, so the club will be keeping a close eye on his recovery. For the time being, right-hander Andrew Kittredge will take his spot on the active roster.
Other injury news and updates from around baseball…
- Though recent trends would have led Giants fans to believe Jeff Samardzija would be making a return to the mound in 2018, a new development has made that significantly less likely. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle hears that Samardzija has suffered a setback in his rehab from a shoulder injury. “There is a little concern there, to be honest,” manager Bruce Bochy said of the right-hander’s shoulder. “There’s some soreness. He’s not real close.” Samardzija has only taken the mound for ten starts so far this season, posting a nauseating 6.25 ERA.
- The Blue Jays don’t expect Troy Tulowitzki to make a return to the field this season, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca tweets. The message comes courtesy of manager John Gibbons. That means Tulo will have missed the entirety of the 2018 season after undergoing surgery on both of his heels at the outset of April. Even last season, Tulo played at replacement level by measure of Fangraphs’ WAR formula. With the shortstop’s lengthy injury history, it’s fair to wonder whether his playing career is in jeopardy.
- Though Michael Pineda was set to make a rehab start on Monday for the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune reports that it’s been canceled in favor of a trip to the doctor. Pineda will undergo an MRI to get to the bottom of the irritation in his right knee. Pineda signed a two-year pact with Minnesota this offseason, even though it was well-known that he wouldn’t pitch for most of the season while recovering from a Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2017.
Aug. 24: Heyman tweets that the Rays did indeed pull Romo off waivers after “multiple” American League clubs placed a claim on the right-hander.
Aug. 23: Veteran reliever Sergio Romo is “not going anywhere,” a source tells Jon Heyman of Fancred (via Twitter). It seems “likely,” Heyman adds, that Romo was pulled back from revocable waivers after being claimed.
Romo, 35, featured prominently on MLBTR’s latest ranking of the top August trade candidates. He’ll be a free agent again at season’s end, so there isn’t much reason for the out-of-contention Rays to hang onto him.
On the other hand, Romo is only owed about half a million dollars for the rest of the season. And he has played a notable role for an organization that has built some momentum with its unusual approach to building out a pitching staff. It certainly seems possible the Rays will seek to bring him back over the offseason to come; perhaps that consideration also weighed in the decision.
In 56 1/3 innings this year, Romo carries a strong 3.36 ERA with peripherals to match. He has generated 10.1 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 and still draws swings and misses on over 13% of his pitches. Romo has held opposing hitters to a .294 wOBA, with Statcast suggesting he has been even a bit better than that (.286 xwOBA).
While it seems he’ll remain in Tampa Bay to finish out the year, Romo ought to be a fairly popular target in free agency over the winter to come. The veteran is on pace to finish out his 11th-straight MLB campaign with a sub-4.00 ERA and recorded 18 saves this year, which may still hold some sway for certain teams. Whether he can secure a multi-year commitment remains to be seen, but he ought at least to have a strong possibility of beating the salaries he has settled for in each of the past two years ($3MM and $2.5MM, respectively).
- The Rays have been rewarded for rolling the dice on first baseman C.J. Cron over the winter, and could now cash him in via trade. Of course, the 28-year-old first baseman cleared waivers in large part because there’s no pressure for the Tampa Bay club to part ways with him. Cron is earning just $2.3MM in 2018 with two more years of arbitration control remaining. He’s sporting a .250/.317/.480 slash with a career-high 24 long balls.
Here’s the latest from the Diamondbacks, who are clinging to a half-game lead over the Rockies in the NL West…
- Clay Buchholz didn’t want to sign a minor league contract last offseason, though the righty tells Fangraphs’ David Laurila that the experience ended up being “a restart” for him, leading to his eventual revival with the D’Backs. “I swallowed my pride and did that [pitch in the minors] for a little bit. It was for the best, because it helped me get to where I’m at now,” Buchholz said. “It feels good to be able to go out there and throw without anything going on, mentally or physically.” Buchholz initially signed a minors deal with the Royals but was released before pitching for the big league team, only to sign another minor league contract with Arizona and emerge as a big piece of the Diamondbacks’ rotation. In 73 innings for the D’Backs this season, Buchholz has a 2.47 ERA, 3.81 K/BB rate, and a 7.5 K/9.
- Rookie catcher Michael Perez has made a strong first impression with the Rays after being traded from Arizona to Tampa as part of the Matt Andriese deal, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. The seeds of the trade were planted in the offseason when Rays scouts became impressed by Perez while examining the Diamondbacks’ system in preparation for the three-team deal that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona and Brandon Drury to the Yankees. “We were fortunate he was in a position where he was blocked by three catchers there in the big leagues….In a lot of organizations he may have had more of an opportunity than he had at the time in Arizona,” Rays pro scouting director Kevin Ibach said.
- Excellent glovework has been an underrated part of Arizona’s success this year, as Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan notes that the Diamondbacks have the best overall defense of any team in baseball. D’Backs pitchers and catchers rank first in the league in combined UZR and Defensive Runs Saved, while their infielders and catchers are also near the top of the list.
It’s been somewhat quiet on this front in 2018, but we’ll use this post to keep track of the names of all of the players who’ve reportedly cleared revocable trade waivers. As is the case every year, there are a few things that should be re-emphasized before diving into names.
First and foremost, the vast majority of Major League players will be placed on revocable trade waivers this month — many assuredly already have been — with most instances going unreported. By month’s end, there will likely be dozens of players who have cleared waivers without garnering any sort of headlines. It also bears repeating that players can still be traded in September, but Aug. 31 serves as the deadline for postseason eligibility, making it a sort of soft trade deadline. Deals of note are rarely consummated in September, though Juan Nicasio did change hands after Aug. 31 in 2017.
Lastly, for those who aren’t familiar with the inner-workings of waiver trades or simply need a quick refresher, MLBTR published a full explanation of how August trades work to kick off the month. We’ll keep this post updated throughout the remainder of the month for those who wish to bookmark it.
Onto the names…
(Last update: 8/29)
- Jerry Blevins, Mets (link): Blevins has a long track record of shutting down left-handed opponents, but lefties have clobbered him so far in 2018 while righties have been unusually ineffective. He’s a specialist who’s owed $1.23MM through season’s end before reaching free agency, making him an expensive piece with a fairly limited role.
- Kendrys Morales & Marco Estrada, Blue Jays (link): Both relatively expensive veterans went unclaimed, with Morales still owed $13MM through the end of the 2019 season and Estrada owed more than $2.5MM through the end of the current campaign. Morales has been one of baseball’s hottest hitters but comes with no defensive value, largely limiting him to an AL club or an NL club with an opening at first base. Estrada has pitched through back struggles for the past couple of seasons and recently acknowledged that he’s been playing through discomfort again recently. He has an ERA north of 6.00 dating back to July 30.
- Josh Harrison, Pirates (link): A run of success in advance of the non-waiver deadline led the Bucs to add two controllable pitchers, but the team has since sunk in the standings. That could lead to some late-August salary dumping, with Harrison among the most likely candidates to be moved. He’s not hitting much this year and is playing on a fairly hefty $10MM annual salary, but it’s certainly possible to imagine a contender adding the scrappy, athletic, and versatile utilityman. It seems likely the Pirates will be paying Harrison $1.5MM in buyouts at season’s end regardless, so perhaps the team will cover that expense while trying to offload Harrison’s remaining 2018 salary.
- Alex Cobb & Andrew Cashner, Orioles (link): Both Cashner and Cobb have struggled through disappointing seasons after signing multi-year deals this past winter. Cobb, in particular, was a lock to clear waivers with three years remaining on an ill-fated four-year deal that promised him $57MM. Cashner’s two-year deal is worth a more palatable $16MM in total, but he’s barely been able to keep his ERA under 5.00 while delivering middling K/BB numbers and career-worst 42.6 percent ground-ball rate.
- Gio Gonzalez, Matt Wieters & Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals (link): A trio of expensive Nats vets reportedly cleared waivers at the same time, though there’s virtually no chance that Zimmerman is moved with more than $23MM owed to him through next season and full trade veto power via his 10-and-5 rights. Wieters hasn’t hit enough to make himself a very desirable trade chip, though perhaps a contender would add him as a backup if the Nats absorbed most of the just over $2MM remaining on his contract. Gonzalez is the most plausible of this bunch, though, as very few starters have made it through waivers. While he was still owed about $2.5MM at the time he was reported to have cleared and is having a down season, Gonzalez still misses bats and induces grounders, and he has a lengthy track record of solid mid-rotation work.
- Andrew McCutchen, Giants (link): Cutch was owed $3.155MM at the time he cleared waivers, and while he’s not the MVP-caliber bat he was in his mid-20s now that he’s approaching his 32nd birthday, he’s still a solidly above-average hitter. In 538 plate appearances with the Giants, he’s slashed .255/.353/.412 with 14 home runs, 26 doubles and two triples. McCutchen’s 44.6 percent hard-hit rate is the best of his career and ranks 22nd among qualified hitters. The Giants would likely be willing to pay down some of his deal to get a decent prospect, and there should be trade interest.
- Starlin Castro, Marlins (link): Castro is owed the balance of this year’s $10MM salary plus another $11MM in 2019 and at least a $1MM buyout on a $16MM option for the 2020 season. He’s given the Marlins slightly above-average offense with respectable defense at second base, but there aren’t too many contenders looking for upgrades at second base. Even if he’s not moved in August, the Marlins will likely shop him again this winter.
- Justin Smoak, Blue Jays (link): It’s at least a moderate surprise that Smoak, an affordable switch-hitting slugger in the midst of a productive season, cleared waivers. He was hitting .255/.365/.463 with 18 homers at the time he was reported to have cleared, and while that’s not up to his Herculean 2017 levels, it’s still plenty productive. He’s earning $4.1MM in 2018 and has a cheap $6MM club option for the 2019 season that the Jays will surely pick up if he is not dealt.
- C.J. Cron, Rays (link): Cron has rewarded the Rays for buying low on him this past offseason, delivering a career-best .250/.317/.480 slash with a personal best 24 home runs through 454 plate appearances as of the time he was reported to have cleared waivers. He’s earning just $2.3MM in 2018 and is controlled for another two seasons, though he doesn’t bring any defensive or baserunning value to the table. Cron also doesn’t walk at an especially high clip, so he’s unlikely to emerge as a serious on-base threat.
- Wilmer Flores, Mets (link): Flores has experience at all four infield positions and was hitting .275/.326/.444 at the time he was reported to have cleared waivers. But he’s been unusually inept against left-handed opponents in 2018 and is due a raise on this season’s $3.4MM salary in arbitration this offseason. He could deepen a team’s bench, but contenders would likely have had more interest were he performing well against southpaws. The Mets maintain that they’re aiming to contend in 2019, so perhaps they prefer to hang onto Flores.
- Lucas Duda, Royals (link): Duda has played far too much against lefties in 2018, dragging down his overall numbers, but he’s still a threat against right-handed opposition. He’s limited to first base, but with a $3.5MM salary he’d be an affordable bench bat for any contending club.
- Logan Forsythe, Twins (link): Forsythe, acquired in the Brian Dozier trade largely as a means of offsetting the duo’s identical $9MM salaries, wasn’t even a lock to stick around with Minnesota after being acquired, but he’s batted .361/.418/.426 through his first 67 PAs in Minnesota, helping to rebuild some stock after a miserable season in L.A. He won’t net the Twins much of anything in a trade if he’s moved, but the Twins might not mind simply shedding the remaining $2.1MM on his salary (as of Aug. 19).
- Adam Jones, Orioles (link): Jones was reported to have cleared waivers on Aug. 16 and was owed $4.27MM of his $17MM salary at the time. While he’s eligible to be traded to any team, it’s entirely up to Jones whether he moves. The five-time All-Star has 10-and-5 rights (10 years of MLB service, the past five with one team), meaning he can veto any trade. Jones reportedly already exercised those rights rather than approving a trade to the Phillies. He’s hitting .285/.317/.438 as of this writing and is in the midst of a torrid hot streak, but he has family and charity reasons (among others) for wanting to remain in Baltimore.
- Curtis Granderson, Blue Jays (link): Now 37 years of age, the Grandy Man isn’t the star that he once was, but he remains a reasonably productive bat against right-handed pitching. He’s playing the season on a one-year, $5MM deal and is still owed about $1.23MM of that salary as of this morning. While Granderson is largely limited to the outfield corners, he could be a useful bench piece for contending clubs down the stretch.
- Francisco Liriano, Jose Iglesias & Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers (link): It was a 100 percent certainty that Zimmermann, still owed $55.9MM through 2020 (including the remainder of this year’s salary) would clear waivers. Even with improved results this season (4.36 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 1.6 BB/9 in 88 2/3 innings), there’s virtually no hope of the Tigers shedding that salary this month. It was less certain that rentals like Liriano or Iglesias would clear, however. Liriano’s ERA ballooned to 4.72 last night after he was roughed up by the Twins, but he’s held left-handed pitching to a terrible .141/.247/.239 slash through 81 plate appearances. With $984K still owed to him through the end of the year, he’d be a reasonably affordable lefty specialist for a contending team’s bullpen. As for Iglesias, it seems quite likely that he’ll be moved to a contender. He’s hitting a respectable, albeit unspectacular .264/.306/.389 while playing terrific defense at shortstop. He’s owed $1.54MM of his $6.275MM salary through season’s end.
- Joe Mauer & Logan Morrison, Twins (link): Morrison won’t be going anywhere after having season-ending hip surgery last week, and it seems likely that the Twins will buy out his 2019 option after a disappointing all-around season. Mauer, like Jones, has the right to veto any trade and wouldn’t be in much demand anyhow. After a strong .305/.384/.417 slash in 2017, he’s posted a more pedestrian .272/.352/.358 line in 2018 — the final season of his eight-year, $184MM contract.
For the first time in several years, the Rays look to have the bulk of next season’s core already in place before the offseason begins, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. And while it’s obvious that nothing can ever be firmly ruled out with the Rays as pertains to the trade market, owner Stuart Sternberg tells Topkin that he believes much of the current talent will be in place for the foreseeable future. “It looks like a chunk of the infield is there,” says Sternberg. “It looks like the outfield is there. … If (Michael Perez) continues to show what he’s shown to this point, you’ve got your catchers in place.”
The Rays have seen well-regarded prospects like Jake Bauers and Willy Adames rise to the Majors this season, while they’ve added Tommy Pham, Austin Meadows and Christian Arroyo, among others, to the fold via the trade market over the past year. Sternberg notes that there’s some uncertainty on the pitching staff, at least in terms of the roles of individual pitchers, but he notes that the Rays have no intention of deviating from their experimental “opener” role and the blurring of the lines between starters and relievers. To the contrary — Sternberg believes that several other teams will adopt the strategy next season.
The Pirates have agreed to send top pitching prospect Shane Baz to the Rays as the player to be named later in last month’s Chris Archer blockbuster, reports John Dreker of PiratesProspects.com (via Twitter). That’ll make Tampa Bay’s total haul for Archer an impressive combination of Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Baz, who was the Pirates’ first-round selection in the 2017 draft.
Still just 19 years of age, Baz was among the top-ranked pitching prospects in the 2017 draft and signed with the Pirates for a $4.1MM bonus that was about $70K over his slot value at the time. At the time of the draft, Baz was the top prospect from the state of Texas and drew praise for a plus heater that could reach 98 mph as well as potential plus offerings in his cutter, slider and curveball. While No. 2 overall pick Hunter Greene was the top pitching prospect in the draft, Baseball America wrote in ’17 that Baz “has the ingredients to surpass Greene going forward due to his more potent breaking pitches.”
Baz is clearly still years away from impacting the Rays at the big league level. He spent his 2017 debut season pitching for the Pirates’ Rookie-level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League before moving to the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2018. To this point, Baz has demonstrated the ability to miss bats but also some shaky control — as one might expect for a raw high school power pitcher making the transition to pro ball. Through 45 1/3 innings this season, Baz has logged a 3.97 ERA with 10.7 K/9 against 4.6 BB/9 with a whopping 62 percent ground-ball rate.
While Baz is as long-term a piece as the Rays could have received in their return for Archer, he adds another elite prospect to a rapidly improving Rays system. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked Baz as the game’s No. 95 prospect on their recent midseason update, while Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs pegged him 110th overall. Baz will need to further refine his control and gain experience against more advanced competition, but he’s already a high-ceiling arm who could quickly improve his stock with improved control and/or a strong showing when he ultimately reaches full-season ball.
Archer has gotten off to a shaky start for the Pirates since being traded, though he’s made all of two appearances to date. The inclusion of Baz undoubtedly stings for general manager Neal Huntington and his staff, who have to be disheartened to see the Cardinals surging back into the mix with a 6-game win streak and an overall 8-2 showing in their past 10 contests. Be that as it may, however, the Pirates’ acquisition of Archer was as much about the 2019 season and beyond as it was their pursuit of a Wild Card berth or a more unlikely NL Central crown in 2018. Archer gives the club an affordable mid-rotation option at worst and a potential front-of-the-rotation piece at best, and he comes with a contract that even the cost-conscious Pirates can afford for three years beyond the current season.
As was the case with the Cubs’ acquisition of Jose Quintana in 2017, that affordable contract proved immensely valuable on the trade market and netted a premium package of talent, even neither pitcher’s recent baseline run-prevention numbers were especially impressive. The Archer trade, like the Quintana trade before it, further serves as another data point that more traditional numbers (i.e. ERA) aren’t nearly as influential when evaluating players in this type of trade as they once were. For the Bucs, the allure of Archer’s K/BB numbers, his superior fielding-independent metrics and the fact that he can be affordably teamed with Jameson Taillon atop the rotation for years to come were enough to part with a package of three high-quality pieces — two of whom (Meadows and Glasnow) are able to immediately contribute to the Rays.
The emergence of Brandon Nimmo has left Jay Bruce as something of an odd man out with the Mets, opines Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Sherman notes that the Mets’ outfield in 2019 and beyond is likely to include Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, making it more difficult for Bruce to secure regular at-bats (barring a move to first base, which would come at the expense of the younger Dominic Smith). According to Sherman, Bruce can block trades to the Orioles, Mariners, Blue Jays, Rays and Athletics, but he can be shipped anywhere else without his consent. Sherman runs through some speculative possibilities in which Bruce, who is owed $28MM from 2019-20, could be swapped out for a player earning at a comparable rate. Of course, it’s also worth noting that Nimmo’s bat has declined in each month of the season since a torrid start, while Cespedes and (to a lesser extent) Conforto come with injury question marks.
- The Mets are considering Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava and Rays special assistant Bobby Heck as candidates to be their next general manager, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Neither man has been a GM before, though both LaCava and Heck have a wealth of front office experience, particularly in the areas of scouting and player development. LaCava has been with the Blue Jays since 2002, when J.P. Ricciardi (now a Mets special advisor) was Toronto’s GM. Heck has been with the Rays since 2012, following lengthy stints with the Astros and Brewers that saw him play a notable role as both those clubs amassed a strong collection of young talent.