Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. M’s Seek Catching The club already traded for and traded away Welington Castillo this season, but properly have identified catcher as a need spot and FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted early Wednesday that Seattle was nearing a deal to acquire a catcher. Since that tweet, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweeted that no deal is “close.” The quotations around the word ‘close’ suggests the club may indeed be attempting to land a catcher but that nothing is imminent. The Mariners have two glove-first catcher in Tacoma in John Hicks and Steve Baron. Neither are full-scale upgrades over Jesus Sucre, however, although offensively either probably has a better chance. Shi David of Sportsnet.ca tweets that Dioner Navarro does not appear to be on Seattle’s radar. Morosi reports via Twitter that Braves backstop A.J. Pierzynski is not close to being acquired by Seattle. Keep your eye on Pierzynski, though. Until the M’s acquire another catcher or Pierzynski is dealt elsewhere, he’s as strong a candidate to end up in Seattle. The M’s are highly unlikely to option Mike Zunino to the minors, but clearly recognize the need for more production from the position and the value a 3-day per week option brings versus Sucre, who plays only when it’s time to give Zunino a breather. The extra time keeps Zunino fresh and could allot more legitimate development as he works with the staff, including Edgar Martinez. Other potential names the M’s may have shown interest in include Colorado’s Nick Hundley and Michael McKenry, Cincinnati’s Brayan Pena, Oakland’s Josh Phegley, Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, Cleveland’s Robert Perez and the White Sox’s Geovany Soto. Alex Avila may be another possibility if the Tigers believe in Bryan Holiday enough to form an acceptable defensive tandem with James McCann. Avila has not been healthy this year, but he’s active now. He’s also the club’s best game caller and the Tigers certainly fancy themselves contenders this year. John Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt are three more names to think about, though the former is a well below-average defender and has caught just one game in 2015 and the latter pair are undoubtedly going to be extremely pricey to acquire. If I had to wager I’d put money on Pierzynski, Ruiz or Soto. Signs The Astros Will Trade The simple fact they’re legit contenders is enough but in case you need more evidence to suggest Jeff Luhnow is likely to make a deal or two, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes, with starting pitching a priority. Drellich notes that there isn’t much to suggest Houston has their eyes on Cole Hamels, but rentals such as Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija “remain names of interest” to the second-place Astros. Drellich also mentions Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner as a reasonable target. Interestingly, Drellich also adds that Luhnow may be more willing to move right-hander and 2013 No. 1 pick Mark Appel than other prospects such as outfielder Brett Phillips. From what I have heard on Appel, capitalizing on his recent surge would be wise. Even though it’s within the division, I wonder if Scott Kazmir, provided he’s healthy, might be a better fit for Houston among the rental starters. He shouldn’t come at the cost of Cueto or Samardzija and it adds another lefty to an otherwise four-righty rotation. Handedness simply is a bonus to break ties. Luhnow choose to strike a bit early to beat others to the punch to ensure he doesn’t get cornered later this month and either end up overpaying or being left in the cold. Paying too much now, however — because not many clubs are willing to call it a season and sell — is the challenge. As pointed out by Steve Adams here, first base may be another spot Luhnow looks to upgrade. Chris Carter has struggled, Jonathan Singleton has yet to gain any traction at the plate and the most likely in-house answer beyond those two appears to be Luis Valbuena once Jed Lowrie returns from the disabled list. Perhaps Adam Lind is an option for Houston, and if the Astros add one of the above three starters plus address first base to the level of an Adam Lind, on paper that’s the best team in the division, and probably the second-best in the American League. The Twins, too Terry Ryan is unlikely to do nothing between now and July 31 and while nobody believes they’ll make the big-money splash, they could get a lot better by making a few improvements to the late-inning bullpen options and perhaps shortstop or catcher, as Mike Berardino of the St, Paul Pioneer-Press reports. Shortstop and catcher will be difficult to address, of course, but Eduardo Nunez may get more time if he keeps hitting. The market isn’t dry, but the top names, such as Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, are more of the impact variety that the Twins may steer clear of to avoid the heavy cost and salary. Ben Zobrist can still hang at shortstop and might be an ideal fit. Not sure the two match up, especially if the Mariners, too, see themselves as buyers, but Chris Taylor may be a nice solidifying piece for the Twins. I don’t expect the cannonball, but I do expect Ryan to make waves this month.Go!

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. July 13, 2015: Papelbon, Shields, Bruce Should the Mariners be sellers? Whether or not the Seattle Mariners should be buyers or sellers this month is as hot a topic as there is regarding baseball in the city. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins covered the subject last week. Tuesday, MLBTradeRumors posted a poll asking which teams should be sellers. There were 11 teams on the list to vote for. The Mariners received fewer votes than eight other clubs at 5.79 percent, more than only the Indians and Rangers. In my opinion, one big reason for the low “Sell” count is the Mariners don’t have a big name to sell. They don’t have a pending free agent with a flashy name like Justin Upton or Johnny Cueto. They aren’t presently in a position where it’s clear the club is seriously considering tearing down their current roster and starting over, like what could occur in Colorado if they were to move Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Once again, the M’s are stuck in the middle, the worst place to be. The first week out of the break is enormous for Seattle, Texas, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland in the American League, and if the Diamondbacks want to hang around they’ll need to make a move in the win-loss column, too. A lot can change between now and the deadline. If any of the clubs above lose six of their first eight post break, they could go from buyers to sellers or from somewhere in between to aggressive sellers. Winning six of eight puts any of them firmly in line to purchase help and probably steps up the aggressiveness on that side. Johnny Cueto Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports tweets that Cueto is drawing the most interest from Kansas City, Toronto and Houston. All three need the right-hander, but Cueto isn’t the only option. Cueto is due about $3.5 million the rest of the season and will hit the open market over the winter. He could put the Royals over the top in the American League, though now without Alex Gordon they may need a little outfield help, too. I continue to be disappointed that Baltimore isn’t being linked here or anywhere near a legitimate frontline starting pitcher. Why? Because they have none and their division rivals do. They haven’t a soul that can match up with Chris Archer, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, or even Clay Buchholz when he’s on his game. Chris Tillman is not and never has been a No. 1, and Ubaldo Jimenez‘s days as such are gone. If the Jays end up with Cueto or another one of the top arms available, the Orioles will have a significant disadvantage versus every club in their division. If the O’s were to add one, they might end up the second-best team in the circuit. Interestingly, the Red Sox also are looking to acquire more pitching, per the Boston Herald. Cueto and Cole Hamels could be joined by White Sox righty Jeff Samardzija on the trade market. All three are difference-making talents and Hamels is under contract for three more years after 2015. Ideas I haven’t seen a lot of chatter about this, but the Yankees need a second baseman in the worst way, Rob Refsnyder, a rookie, was called up and if he gets hot the Yankees may focus on other needs, but acquiring Ben Zobrist instantly makes the Yankees, already enjoying a 3.5 game lead, the heavy favorites for me in the American League East (acquisitions by other clubs in the division notwithstanding)… The Twins at 49-40 may not be all that aggressive on the trade market beyond a reliever and a part-time player, but with so many rentals available, including Upton, Cueto, Samardzija and Zobrist, Terry Ryan could pull the trigger and surprise some people. How about re-acquiring Carlos Gomez? The chicago Cubs are fascinating, not just because the best front office in baseball is running them but because they are full of young talent that is performing and at 47-40 and a Wild Card leader at the break are in a position to add significant pieces that help them now and beyond. Hamels shouldn’t be out of the question, nor should Gomez or a rental such as Samardzija or Scott Kazmir. I’d bet on at least two moves for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and a summer on the north side to remember… If I am the Angels I acknowledge that despite the presence of the game’s best player Mike Trout, who is all of 24 years old, that my window of opportunity with the current group is very short. The Halos need a starting pitcher and an outfielder. Their farm system isn’t very good, but if they’re willing to take on some salary there are fits that can help them stay out front in the American League West and perhaps be in a better position than they were a year ago when they won 98 games but were without Garrett Richards in October. While Hamels, Cueto and Samardzija would be terrific additions, the Angels may not need to go that far. Kazmir is an upgrade, too, and if they have a young player or two that the Padres really like, perhaps they can pry Tyson Ross from A.J. Preller and the Padres. Jay Bruce is a fit in the Angels outfield, but a less expensive option may work better, such as Milwaukee’s Gerardo Parra, Cleveland’s Ryan Raburn or Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies. Stephen Vogt Vogt is the most interesting player this summer for me. He’s a viable catcher, under club control pre-arbitration through next season and can really hit. The A’s could use him to make a run next season and still be in position to trade him if they again falter, but his value is at an all-time high and the return may be too good to pass up. So many clubs need catchers and Vogt is such a strong bat that on days he doesn’t catch he can play first base or serve as the DH. He changes the lineup dramatically in Texas, Seattle and Boston, It’s difficult to find a team that wouldn’t benefit greatly from acquiring him. If Billy Beane makes Vogt available, he may garner the biggest return this side of Hamels, and he may surpass what Ruben Amaro gets for his lefty ace. The question is whether or not many clubs have the inventory of young talent to send out in such a deal. Beane is as creative as it comes, though. Stay tuned.Go!

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. Papelbon, Other Closers ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted last week that closer Jonathan Papelbon was close to being dealt but the Phillies “pulled back.” Stark mentioned Toronto, Texas, Chicago Cubs among those in said discussions. Papelbon’s vesting option and no-trade clause certainly play a large role here. He’s due a around $4.5 million the rest of 2015 and his $13 million club option automatically vests with 55 games finished this season or a combined 100 games finished the past two. He tallied 52 a year ago and has 29 before the All-Star break. Papelbon can block trades to 17 teams, but appears more than willing to sign off on a trade, Jake Kaplan of the Philly Inquirer reports. At 34, Papelbon has yet to show significant signs of decline. He enters the break with a 2.75 FIP and 9.36 K/9 rate, though his velocity has dipped a full tick since 2013 and nearly three since 2012. The closer market rarely is flooded, but there could be some other big-name stoppers available, potentially including Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodriguez. Several setup types likely will be available, too, but if you’re the Rangers and want a proven ninth-inning option, the aforementioned trio likely will be their best bet. Rodriguez, 33, may be especially attractive thanks to his contract, which calls for him to earn just over $1 million the rest of 2015, $7.5 million next year with a $6 million club option for 2017. Jay Bruce, Anyone? Four years ago Bruce looked like a star, but 4 1/2 years into a six-year contract with a club option, he’s being dangled on the trade market, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. He’s just 28 but his production fell to .217/.281/.373 in 2014 after knee surgery. He’s rebounded some in 2015, getting back to .251/.341/.465 in a healthy first half. Bruce is due about $5 million the rest of this season, plus $12.5 million in 2016. His $13 million club option comes with a $1 million buyout. When healthy, Bruce is an average defender with a plus arm and he may be a legitimate 3.0 fWAR player. While his home-road splits aren’t pretty this season he’s had numerous season where he hit better away from the Great American Smallpark, as some pitchers like to call it. Bruce’s contract allows for him to block trades to eight clubs — A’s Jays, Yankees, Twins, Marlins, Red Sox and Diamondbacks — but none appear to be fits for the right fielder, anyway. Who does? How about the Royals, who lost Alex Gordon to injury? The Angels also could be a fit if they have enough trade inventory to interest Reds GM Walt Jocketty. Seattle, Texas, the Dodgers and perhaps even the Giants also could have some level of interest. Bruce isn’t pricey, there’s no long-term commitment and it appears he’s put his struggles behind him after a terrible April. Other outfield bats that may hit the market include Justin Upton, Carlos Gomez, Ben Zobrist and Josh Reddick, all of which will draw heavy interest. Every team anywhere near contention outside Pittsburgh, Yankees, Kansas City, Baltimore, Angels and Dodgers could use Gomez. Who needs him the most? Probably Seattle, San Diego and St. Louis. Gomez puts the Cards’ offense over the top and offers the M’s and Padres an answer in center and leadoff through next season. As for Bruce, I’m curious if the Angels or Giants like Bruce enough to make a run at him. Shields When the recent report that the Padres were testing the waters for James Shields hit the Web, I wasn’t surprised, only reminded that it took a long time for a team to give Shields a deal he liked over the offseason. Shields signed for $75 million over four years, but not until days before pitcher and catchers reported for spring training. Now that he’s halfway through year one and due about $3.5 million the rest of 2015 plus $65 million more guaranteed through 2018. Shields can opt out after next season and in lieu of a $2 million buyout on his 2019 option, is due $16 million that season when he will be 38. He’s pitched OK this season for the Padres, posting a 4.16 FIP and 10.11 K/9 over 19 starts. But OK isn’t worth $21 million per season — unless you’re the Red Sox, who gave Rick Porcello nearly $100 million guaranteed for the same kind of performance. Perhaps that deal is why A.J. Preller wants to see what’s out there for Shields. Clubs that may have interest include Texas, Toronto, Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals. All of those clubs had a shot at Shields six months ago, but a few things have changed due to injury. It’s too bad the Royals don’t have the available payroll for a reunion, but I’d love to see the Tigers grab Shields and make the American League Central that much more intriguing.Go!

Erasmo Ramirez was not going to pitch for the Seattle Mariners this year. At least, barring something catastrophic he wasn’t. With his last minor league option being used during the 2014 season, Ramirez would have to be exposed to waivers if the Mariners wanted to send him to the minors, and he certainly wouldn’t have cleared. So Seattle did the most logical thing: picked-up the value that was available. Mike Montgomery, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Ramirez was a first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals back in 2008. The left-hander spent the first six years of his professional career working as a starter in the Royals organization and spent all of 2013 and 2014 working at Triple-A for the Rays after being included in the Wil Myers/James Shields trade. Montgomery has battled injury and ineffectiveness over the last couple years, though his recent minor league walk and home run rates aren’t particularly ugly. Montgomery, who will turn 26 in July, has a solid fastball — which has reportedly touched 96 miles per hour in recent relief stints — and changeup that is an effective compliment. Despite having two very usable pitches, the absence of at least average secondary stuff has limited Montgomery. He’s utilized a slider and curveball but both are below average and given his age, probably don’t have much room to improve. In the Mariners organization Montgomery will become another relief option that serves as depth at Tacoma. There is some upside that could be capitalized upon in short stints, and with David Rollins suspended 80 games for PED use, the deal gives the club another short-term option from the left side. Ramirez had flashed a few moments of intrigue and if he can figure out his command issues profiles as a back-end rotation option, but he’ll be 25 in May and posted a 4.06 walk rate at the big league level in 2015. The upside could be there, and the Rays do have some uncertainty with their rotation. Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore all have injury concerns and Nate Karns has limited major league experience. There definitely is opportunity in Tampa Bay if Ramirez is able to take advantage of it. The value in Montgomery is simple: he can be a left-handed reliever for the big club and still has an option left. If Ramirez was exposed to waivers, he would’ve been picked-up and he simply shouldn’t take a bullpen spot from a reliever that figures to be more valuable to the Mariners in the coming season. Holding onto Ramirez until the season begins and then trying to sneak him down could have made some sense — it would be less likely he gets claimed on waivers then as opposed to now — but the Mariners decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. This is the type of deal that we expected the Mariners to make leading up to the Sunday deadline for Opening Day rosters to be announced. And really, there was probably not a better deal for the M’s to make. It may be a flyer, but this could work out to be a strong under-the-radar type of move in a few month’s time.Go!

What an offseason it has been for the Oakland Athletics. After a disappointing playoff finish it looked like the club was going to break things down and retool. Jon Lester left via free agency while Josh Donaldson and Jeff Samardzija were dealt for depth and prospects — and those were just the major moves. The rest of the roster was flipped upside down, too. On Saturday the A’s acquired Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for John Jaso, prospects Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell, and cash. The consensus was that Zobrist, a free agent after 2015, would be dealt some time before the trade deadline. After news broke that the Rays had agreed to sign infielder Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year deal, that trade seemed imminent. Many noted that Cabrera will earn the exact same salary that Zobrist was due for the upcoming year: $7.5 million. Tampa Bay picks up the No. 1 prospect in Oakland’s system and stocks the cupboard in what is likely a retooling season. The A’s, in one fell swoop, plug their middle infield holes and reassert their position as one of the American League West’s top teams. Zobrist is coming off a fourth consecutive season of production north of 5.0 fWAR. His 119 wRC+ in 2014 led the Rays. Offense is actually the less noted part of the switch-hitter’s game. Zobrist provides premium defence at five different positions. He saw the bulk of his time last year at second base, but regularly played all three outfield positions and shortstop. The only positions he hasn’t played in his career are catcher and pitcher. The Seattle Mariners had been connected to Zobrist on-and-off for the past year, particularly in the time leading up to last July’s trade deadline. The 33-year old was a much discussed trade target for many teams, but Tampa Bay elected to hold onto their star utility player. It looks like that decision paid off. When the Mariners were connected to Zobrist last summer, names like Nick Franklin and Brad Miller appeared frequently as part of a return package that presumably would’ve included multiple players. Of course Franklin would end up with the Rays in the three-team trade that netted Seattle Austin Jackson. Miller stands to be the club’s starting shortstop for the upcoming season. For Seattle to surrender a prospect of Robertson’s calibre it would probably mean the loss of a James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, or D.J. Peterson from the organization. Paxton is a lock for a rotation spot and Walker figures to break camp as the No. 5 or No. 6 starter on the depth chart. Peterson is likely another year away from the majors but figures to fill the right-handed power void at first base down the road. The Mariners have shown a hesitancy to part with significant young talent this winter. Brandon Maurer was traded to the San Diego Padres for Seth Smith, but the club was dealing from a position of depth. Rookie right-hander Carson Smith can likely step right into the vacated spot. Beyond Paxton, Walker, and Roenis Elias there is minimal starting pitching depth. [pullquote]Zobrist brings a career 118 wRC+ to the Athletics. That mark would be higher than the 2014 production Oakland received from second base (69 wRC+ ), shortstop (89), and all three outfield positions (108, 89, and 101 from left to right).[/pullquote] It’s possible that depth is part of the reasoning for the reluctance to include Walker or Paxton in a trade for Matt Kemp or Justin Upton. Both pitchers have high ceilings and could be key contributors in 2015, but realistically, moving one without first having another quality starter in the picture would have been foolish. For the Athletics, Zobrist and Escober figure to secure the second base and shortstop positions, but you can be sure the club will look to maximize Zobrist’s flexibility throughout the season. For the time being, both players represent a sizeable upgrade to Oakland’s lineup and infield. Escober is also a plus-defender with some pop in his bat, though he lacks the on base skills that Zobrist possesses. Eric Sogard struggled in 2014 with a 67 wRC+ while seeing the bulk of the second base innings and will probably assume a back-up infield role. Marcus Semien, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Samardzija trade, will shift into a utility-type role instead of having to play everyday at shortstop. After the trade, Oakland now projects second to the Mariners in the AL West for the upcoming season. ESPN’s Keith Law figures the A’s added between five and six wins worth of value in the trade. By comparison, Donaldson posted a 6.4 fWAR in 2014 and newly acquired third baseman Brett Lawrie projects as a 3.6 fWAR player in 2015. The two infielders acquired today alongside Lawrie and Ike Davis, who was acquired from the New York Mets, could make for an improved infield overall compared to last year. There is risk associated with all four new players, particularly Lawrie who has had a myriad of health issues in his young career, but it looks as if the departure of Donaldson won’t be felt quite as hard in terms of production. Back in November I wrote that the A’s were taking a step back in the AL West with the loss of Donaldson. What would be next for the club was unknown, but dealing Samardzija and others seemed likely. But at the same time it was possible Oakland could use some of the acquired players to make other trades to bolster the present roster. Acquiring Upton appeared to be a possibility despite he, like Zobrist, will be a free agent at season’s end. It was important that the Donaldson trade not be assessed until we saw what was to follow. The shedding of payroll over the course of the previous transactions is what allowed Oakland to take on $12.5 million in 2015 salary between Zobrist and Escobar. The Mariners were unlikely to acquire Zobrist — or Escobar or Jaso for that matter — so this deal should have minimal effect on their remaining offseason plans. The Athletics now have an improved shot at matching last year’s 88 win total. On Saturday the AL West became a slightly tougher division. The Mariners still stand as favorites, but the Athletics are very much back in the mix for the divisional crown.Go!

Despite the commodity that power has become in today’s game, a trio of slugging outfielders were moved west this past week. All three were, somewhat surprisingly, acquired by the San Diego Padres. Matt Kemp was officially acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers after some concerns arose in his physical. Wil Myers was brought on board in a three-team blockbuster with the Tampa Bay Rays. The cherry on top of the newly formed outfield is Justin Upton, acquired from the Atlanta Braves. All three are right-handed, outfielders, and hold plenty of power. All three were also connected to the Seattle Mariners in some capacity during recent times. There were also a myriad of free agent outfielders who found new homes as well. Alex Rios signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals and Mike Morse headed to the Miami Marlins on a two-year pact. Of course Melky Cabrera was also signed by the Chicago White Sox recently, meaning the market for starting-calibre outfielders is barren. Colby Rasmus and Nori Aoki remain, but there are concerns about whether either can be a regular. The Mariners weren’t completely shut out, however, as they picked up Justin Ruggiano from the Chicago Cubs for a minor leaguer. But aside from the Nelson Cruz signing, Seattle hasn’t done anything to significantly augment a lacklustre 2014 lineup. There were reports earlier this week that the M’s were close to a significant transaction, but we are still waiting for that to happen — and it still could. Kemp and the Mariners felt like an inevitability in the fall. Seattle had the need for a right-handed outfielder with some power and the means to assume a significant portion of the slugger’s salary. Despite his flaws, Kemp would have improved the Mariners in 2015 and 2016 at the least. In fact, there was reportedly a deal in place that would have sent Brad Miller and Michael Saunders to LA for Kemp and cash that would cover half his salary. The Dodgers would change their minds and insist that a young pitcher, such as Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, be included in the trade. Seattle said no, and Kemp is now slated to man the position that was famously patrolled in San Diego by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. With Upton it was a similar case as the clubs made somewhat logical trade partners and there was plenty of reported interest. The problem here though was the right-hander’s impending free agency. When Seattle had a deal in place for the outfielder around this time two years ago, they were willing to deal Walker. Upton could have spent three seasons in blue and teal. However at this point there was no guarantee he would stay in Seattle beyond 2015. At the price of a talented young pitcher with valuable years of club control the M’s also balked. Atlanta would be unable to land the coveted young starter they desired and instead sent Upton to San Diego for what they perceived to be the best package of prospects. The Myers trade is the one of the three that really stood out. The Braves had already moved outfielder Jason Heyward and were considered sellers. Los Angeles had an outfield surplus and a new regime looking to change the complexion of a star-studded roster. Myers had just completed his second big league season and was still a couple years away from getting expensive through the arbitration process — usually that is the time when the small-market Rays would deal a player. But as is sometimes the case, the Rays had ulterior motives for dealing the youngster. In return they picked up promising young outfielder Steven Souza from the Washington Nationals who will essentially replace Myers in the outfield, among other players. The Padres were highly praised for securing all three outfielders without surrendering any of the young pitching on the active roster. Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy will anchor the rotation again in 2015. Seattle’s system is unlike San Diego’s in that there really isn’t significant depth to deal from. The Padres were able to protect their top pitching prospects and now have excess pieces, such as Seth Smith, that can be dealt to replenish some of the talent given up. Many of the Mariners’ top prospects have graduated to the big league levels. Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, and James Paxton are now key contributors. Taijuan Walker and D.J. Peterson are the blue chippers that sit atop the system, with Walker expected to take a spot in the rotation if everything goes right. There is obvious concern with dealing any top prospect, but there’s very little in the upper minors in terms of serious young talent. Katel Marte and Austin Wilson, among others, could take another step forward in 2015. But they aren’t considered impact players at this point in time nor do they have the lustre of a first-round draft pick or highly ranked talent. For those reasons of organizational depth, it made plenty of sense for the Mariners to go the free agency route this winter. Nelson Cruz was given $57 million and there was plenty of disappointment when Cabrera decided on the Windy City instead of Seattle. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill recently compared Kemp and Cabrera and what it would cost the Mariners to acquire the outfielders. His conclusion was that it would make far more sense to commit years and money to Cabrera instead of more cash and considerable talent to land Kemp. Kemp appears to be the better player, especially if the power comes back, but both project for similar production moving forward. Would it make more sense to have spent an extra year and $13 million on Cabrera or trade Walker? In that context it seems obvious considering the available funds and lack of success in player development. I don’t want to suggest that the Mariners should or should not deal a younger player to improve the lineup this winter. Depending on the player, it may make sense. If Myers, a young outfielder with star potential, is the target then sure, we have a case. But a one-year rental on a guy like Upton? That doesn’t make much sense. Both the Dodgers and Braves would only deal their outfielders to Seattle for Walker, Paxton, or maybe Roenis Elias. The Mariners wisely abstained and are most likely better off for it. Eventually Seattle will have to take a significant risk to get that piece that they believe will put them over the top. We saw that fail for the Oakland Athletics and Jon Lester. We also saw that succeed for the Kansas City Royals and James Shields — yes, even though they didn’t win it all, that’s still a major victory for the city and club. Upton and Kemp didn’t appear to be the right players for that job. The decision to give Cruz four years and not offer more than three to Cabrera is still puzzling, but it isn’t invalid. Myers could’ve been that player, though we don’t know for sure what conversations the Mariners did or did not have with the Rays. It’s still early in the winter and despite the flurry of activity, there are still plenty of moves that could be made. Acquiring the second half of the right field platoon with Ruggiano — we’re all looking at you, Seth Smith — could give the lineup the extra boost it needs overall. I had opined that there was no reason Seattle shouldn’t look to acquire Smith and Upton before the latter was dealt elsewhere and Ruggiano was brought into the fold. After all, Dustin Ackley isn’t a sure thing in left field and there is some level of concern with Austin Jackson in center. In all reality, the M’s should and probably will continue to look for that impact outfielder that can be had via the trade route. Who that could be very much remains to be seen. If the club can start the year with Ruggiano in a fourth outfielder role or allow Miller to focus solely on being a starting shortstop in the spring, the offseason will have been successful in many ways. Nothing is likely to happen until the new year, but there are plenty of significant players that are acquired in January.Go!

The prized free agent arms of this offseason belong to Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, but James Shields is an ace in his own right. Given the moniker ‘Big Game James’, Shields has been among the more consistent pitchers in baseball over the last several years. The 32-year old played a key role in the American League Champion Kansas City Royals trip to the World Series in 2014. Shields was acquired by the Royals prior to the 2013 season in a trade that included top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi being sent to the Tampa Bay Rays. He will be a free agent for the first time in his career after an extension originally signed with the Rays in 2008 comes to a close and he enters a very pitching-rich market. Throws: RightAge: 33 on Dec. 20Service: 8.125Agent: PSI Sports ManagementQualifying Offer: Yes Scouting Report Shields utilizes five pitches — a fourseam, sinker, cutter, curveball, and changeup — with a particular reliance on the fourseam and changeup throughout his career. His fastball velocity sits in the lower 90’s and has gradually increased speed to a 93-to-94 miles per hour average in 2014. His cutter has above average movement while his changeup has less. The right-hander throws his curveball with a knuckle-curve grip that has primarily 12-6 movement. Shields has thrown 200-plus innings in eight straight seasons accounting for every full season he has spent in the big leagues. He doesn’t rely on the strikeout to get batters out — his career strikeouts per nine is 7.66 — although he does have a pair of 200-plus strikeout seasons and hasn’t punched out fewer than 180 since 2009. Shields relies on his above average control to induce ground balls and limit walks. His career walk rate is 2.20 per nine and his 1.74 mark in 2014 was the fourteenth lowest in all of baseball. The Upside Shields, soon to be 33, has pitched 1910 and 1/3 innings to the tune of a 3.72 ERA and 3.77 FIP for his career. He is looking for his ninth-straight season with 200-plus innings and makes for an excellent track record. Very few pitchers have been as durable as Shields over the past decade and the right-hander has yet to hit the disabled list in his major league career. He doesn’t carry the risk of a flamethrower and his precision-based skill set should age well. The increase in Shields’ fastball velocity over the last several seasons is interesting as typically the opposite takes place. Although he relies on well-placed pitches to create outs, he does have some swing-and-miss stuff. The Downside Shields will turn 33 in December and should he follow the typical aging curve, begin to see some decline in his performance. The right-hander has logged 932 and 2/3 innings over the last few years and it’s possible that the wear and tear on his body could become evident in the near future. There’s also some who doubt whether or not Shields is an elite starter as he’s yet to post a season worth more than 5.0 fWAR. He has a pair of 4.5 fWAR seasons on his resume but there’s a possibility he gets paid like a No. 1 starter but produces like a No. 2 or 3 starter over the next several seasons. He has also benefitted from pitching in the spacious Kauffman Stadium and the Royals strong defence over the past two seasons. For someone known as ‘Big Game James’ he certainly hasn’t lived up to the hype in the postseason. In 11 playoff starts split between the Rays and Royals Shields has a 5.46 ERA and 4.42 FIP in 59 and 1/3 innings pitched. Given his strong regular season track record, however, the postseasons stumbles probably won’t pose a threat to potential interest from clubs. Should a team sign Shields a first-round draft pick would be surrendered as the right-hander was tendered and declined a qualifying offer. Cost & Conclusion: Mariners Perspective One of the strengths of the Seattle Mariners is their pitching staff. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are one of the best one-two punches in baseball and young pitchers Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Roenis Elias figure to fill out the rest of the rotation. That doesn’t take the M’s out of the running for a pitcher like Shields, however, as the club was connected to Lester earlier in the winter. Acquiring offense is the priority for the club this winter and there are no recent reports to suggest any particular pitcher is being pursued at this time. It has been well discussed that Walker and Paxton are two of Seattle’s top trade chips but both figure to hold prominent roles in the rotation in 2015 and beyond. As has also been mentioned before, the acquisition of a top-flite starter such as Shields would make the dealing of a Walker or Paxton or even an Iwakuma in a deal for a bat a much easier pill to swallow. Although the Royals didn’t believe they would have a chance to re-sign Shields back in the spring, but reportedly would make a serious attempt if they were able to go on a long playoff run, which they did. There’s nothing new on the Shields front in terms of interested parties, but that figures to pick up once Lester or Scherzer makes a decision and teams turn their attention elsewhere. It is believed though that Shields is looking for a nine-figure contract over five years. It’s possible he signs for four, but he has a case for five and that will mark a shorter term than what the other free agent aces will sign for. Prior to the start of the 2012 season Mark Buehrle — another extra-durable pitcher who relies on pinpoint accuracy — signed a four-year contract that paid him $18 million in 2014 and will pay him $19 million in 2015. Shields should have no problem securing an average salary in that range as he is younger and the influx of cash in the game has continued to inflate free agent prices. It’s likely that teams will line up to offer four years but it’ll probably be the team that is willing to go give that gets the starter — the same as with Russell Martin. The Mariners certainly have the money to go after Shields and he’d be a great addition at the top of the rotation. His acquisition would also make the loss of Walker in a potential deal much more bearable. Whether or not Shields is interested in heading to the Pacific Northwest is unknown at this point. There haven’t been any reports suggesting that Seattle is seriously considering Shields either. The goal for the Mariners this winter is to upgrade, and Shields would be an upgrade in the rotation. The club would probably be better served investing the $90-plus million he’ll sign for elsewhere, but at this point, anything is possible.Go!

How’s that for a trade deadline day, eh? Unexpected teams involved, a couple aces trading places — and some of us expected today to be boring. Anyways, the Seattle Mariners actually ended up being one of the more active teams today, and were involved in a blockbuster, though they didn’t end up with the big fish they had been linked to for the past couple months. However, one can’t say that the M’s aren’t better today than they were yesterday, and they didn’t have to mortgage the future to do it. The M’s acquired veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia from the San Diego Padres in exchange for outfielder Abraham Almonte and right-hander Steve Kohlscheen. Denorfia, 34, owns a .242/.293/.319 slash line on the year with a single home run across 268 plate appearances. Although he has just an 85 wRC+ against left-handed pitching on the year, he owns a 128 wRC+ against them for his career as well as a .301 batting average, which should add a boost to a team that’s had some struggles against lefties on the year. Denorfia is owed about a million bucks for the rest of the year and will be a free agent this winter, which makes him a rental. Seattle did give up their Opening Day centerfielder in the trade, but after a weak first six weeks in the big leagues Almonte has been playing at Triple-A Tacoma where he’s put together a .267/.333/.292 line. The 24-year old has some potential that could still develop, but at the moment he has the makings of a No. 4 outfielder who could draw into the lineup often given his speed and defensive abilities. Almonte will join the Padres major league club, but it’s not yet clear if he’ll see regular playing time there throughout the remainder of the season. Kohlscheen was a 47th-round draft pick in the 2010 amateur draft and has been enjoying a decent season in the minors. In 56 and 2/3 innings spent between Double-A and Triple-A, the right-hander owns a 2.70 ERA. The 25-year old does offer some upside as a potential major league reliever, including the fact that he is 6-foot-6, but isn’t one of the M’s more interesting pitching prospects. Not to say he won’t have any value in the future, but this is the type of player a club can deal without too much fear that he’ll come back to haunt them, especially given the volatile nature of relievers. The Tampa Bay Rays did deal staff ace David Price today, but he ends up with the Detroit Tigers while the Mariners sent infielder Nick Franklin to the Rays and acquired outfielder Austin Jackson from the Tigers in a three-team deal. [pullquote]Jackson has seen most of his at bats come in the No. 1 and No. 6 spots in the lineup this year and his skill set will likely fit well at the top of the Mariners’ order in front of Cano and Kyle Seager.[/pullquote] Jackson, 27, has manned center field for the Tigers for the past four and a half years and has posted a .270/.330/.397 slash line in 416 plate appearances for an even 100 wRC+ so far in 2014. The former eighth-round draft choice of the New York Yankees has typically been a plus defender so far in his career — UZR gives him a 7.2 rating in nearly 6000 innings of work — but hasn’t quite played as well in the field this season. However he does give the Mariners a true center fielder and strengthens a strong defensive outfield between Dustin Ackley and eventually Michael Saunders, though Corey Hart has started the last couple games in right. Jackson is arbitration eligible for the final time in 2015 and is owed around $2 million for the remainder of this season. He also has familiarity with manager Lloyd McClendon as he was the hitting coach in Detroit before joining the M’s. After several months of speculation Franklin finally finds himself a new home, and it’s with a team that has reportedly had interest in him for a while now. The infielder has struggled in a handful of major league plate appearances this year but has posted a .294/.392/.455 slash line at Triple-A. The 23-year old still has all the makings of an above average major leaguer, but with Robinson Cano, Brad Miller, and Chris Taylor in the middle infield picture for the foreseeable future, there was simply no room for that to happen with Seattle. And with the Rays’ excellent player development program, it’d be no surprise to see Franklin have plenty of success in the American League East. The Mariners were also linked to super utility player Ben Zobrist, but the Rays elected to hang on to him for now. Overall, general manager Jack Zduriencik made well on his “Trader Jack” moniker today and the M’s were able to address their most glaring need: the outfield. The team is also better off heading into 2015 with Jackson set to be their everyday centerfielder, while notgiving up anything of real significance. Yes, Franklin will likely turn out to be something great, but understanding that that probably wouldn’t happen with the M’s, it’s great to see the team get very good value for him, and to see him get an opportunity to succeed.Go!

The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is now less than 48 hours away and several teams are still trying to determine whether they want to bolster their club for the stretch run or point their thoughts towards 2015 and beyond. Obviously the addition of a second Wild Card slot has greatly changed the dynamic in both leagues and we saw a relatively quiet final few days of July last year. This year could be different however as there are plenty of teams willing to deal and some top tier pitching talent available, but the market is barren for impact bats — something the Seattle Mariners and others are in dire need of. Let’s take a look at the latest news on the rumor front. Jon Lester has emerged as a hot commodity as his club, the Boston Red Sox, have gone from entertaining the possibility of trading him, to marking their price for the southpaw at “two grade-A prospects” as reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. On the weekend I argued that dealing Lester would be in the Red Sox best interest and with news that he has been scratched from his scheduled start on Wednesday, it would appear that a deal is imminent, though nothing is official. Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan makes a case for the Pittsburgh Pirates to make a play for the 30-year old. The Mariners were reported by a few different outlets as one of the clubs interested in Lester and ESPN’s Jayson Stark notes that Seattle’s front office is under a lot of pressure to improve the club in the coming days. Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune has mentioned several times on Twitter that the M’s are still a long shot to acquire the ace, however. Of course anything is possible, but if Boston is really after a pair of top prospects, they probably won’t be coming from the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners were reluctant to deal top prospect Taijuan Walker for David Price, who is controlled through the 2015 season, which makes it enormously unlikely that Walker would be dealt for a rental. Speaking of Price, the Tampa Bay Rays are “talking and willing” to deal their ace, sources tell Jon Heyman of CBSSports.The latest rumor on that front is the St. Louis Cardinals hypothetically sending top prospect Oscar Taveras, starter Shelby Miller, and the club’s first-round competitive balance pick in 2015 to the Rays in exchange for the lefty. The Cardinals have been connected to Price several times now given the fact they have depth to deal from and could use another starter since youngster Michael Wacha isn’t expected back in the rotation until September. Again, Dutton has mentioned on Twitter that the Mariners still appear to be long shots in the Price sweepstakes. The Rays continued their hot streak Tuesday night with a 5-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and now sit just one game under .500 on the year. It’s been an incredible last two months of baseball for Tampa Bay and we’ve often heard that their reluctance to deal Price has to do with the club having a legitimate shot at another playoff run. The American League East is still susceptible despite the Baltimore Orioles Toronto and especially the Blue Jays playing well of night. A potential Lester deal could drastically affect the Rays’ chances of cashing in on Price this week, and could increase the chance he remains with the club that drafted him. [pullquote]Byrd, 36, has a .273/.321/.482 triple-slash on the year alongside 20 home runs; good for a 122 wRC+. His batting average on the year is slightly higher against left-handed pitchers though he has hit more home runs against right-handed pitchers.[/pullquote] On the offensive side of things, Marlon Byrd continues to be a name linked to the Mariners. A few days ago Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill reported that the M’s might have a standing offer to the Philadelphia Phillies for their outfielder and the names of Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, Gabriel Guerrero, and Austin Wilson are believed to be involved in discussions. Again, Seattle is reportedly one of the four teams Byrd can block a trade to and it’s believed he would want his 2016 option for $8 million to be guaranteed in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause. It’s still possible the M’s could get Byrd without the guarantee, but it appears that talks between the two clubs have cooled for the moment as the Phillies debate their next sequence of moves. Josh Willingham is another outfielder that has been loosely connected to Seattle over the past few weeks, and according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports, the Mariners are indeed discussing the 35-year old with the Minnesota Twins. Willingham appeared on Churchill’s list of potential trade targets for the M’s a few weeks ago, and does make sense for the club. The right-hander owns a 136 wRC+ against left-handed pitching on the year and a 129 wRC+ for his career while still holding his own against righties. He has predominantly played left field over the past several seasons — where he’s been slightly under average according to UZR — but hypothetically would be able to spend some time in right or possibly even at first base depending on how the pieces fit. Willingham will be a free agent this winter and is owed around $3 million for the remainder of the season. Seattle already hooked up with Minnesota for a trade in the past week when they re-acquired Kendrys Morales in exchange for reliever Stephen Pryor. The Mariners managed to defeat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 on Tuesday night and are back to being four games above the .500 mark. They still sit two games behind the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot while the Los Angeles Angels still have a firm grasp on the other spot with a 6.5 game lead over the M’s.Go!

Rarely does an elite starting pitcher change zip codes in the week leading up to the trade deadline, especially one that was part of a world championship team the year before. However the Boston Red Sox find themselves in a difficult situation with their ace Jon Lester who is set for a major payday as a free agent this winter. There’s mutual interest in keeping the southpaw in Beantown, but the two sides weren’t able to agree to an extension in Spring Training and a deal before the end of the season seems unlikely at this point. The 48-57 Red Sox have already dealt one of their starters, Jake Peavy, and should take advantage of a market inefficiency and deal Lester before July 31st as well. Lester, 30, is in the midst of an outstanding season in which he’s posted a 2.52 ERA and a 2.63 FIP in 143 innings pitched. His 4.5 fWAR on the season has already eclipsed last year’s mark of 4.2. The Red Sox second-round pick in the 2002 amateur draft is owed around $4 million for the remainder of the season and is all but guaranteed to receive a qualifying offer should he remain with the organization beyond the deadline. There’s no question that Lester would be a significant addition to any team looking for starting pitching help, and there are plenty, and could easily be the best available starter given the uncertainty surrounding David Price. The Tampa Bay Rays have been on a hot streak of late and have propelled themselves within a few games of a wild card spot and may prefer to hold on to their ace for the stretch run. Reports indicate that they need to be blown away by an offer for their star and have yet to be. The major point of contention for the Rays, no doubt, is Price’s salary is expected to be in the $20 million range for the 2015 season, his last year of club control before hitting free agency. The Rays are built to win now however, and at this point in time he seems more likely to be dealt in the offseason. Although plenty could change before Thursday’s deadline. [pullquote]Lester owns a 110-63 record in 241 starts across nine big league seasons. His 33.7 career fWAR is 15th among active pitchers and is ahead of both Cole Hamels and Clayton Kershaw.[/pullquote] We do know that Tampa Bay is looking for a blue chip prospect, see the Seattle Mariners Taijuan Walker, as well as a couple other pieces in exchange for Price considering the acquiring team would have an extra year of control. Lester would be a pure rental should he be dealt this week and the acquiring team wouldn’t be able to cash in a draft pick if he signed elsewhere as he’d be ineligible to receive a qualifying offer at season’s end. So what would two months of Lester cost? A lot. Perhaps the best comparison for a Lester deal would be the July 2012 trade that sent Zack Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels. In exchange for two months of Greinke the Brewers received Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, and Ariel Pena. Segura was ranked No. 55 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list entering the 2012 season and is having a down 2014 after a 3.3 fWAR 2013 campaign for the Brew Crew. Hellweg and Pena are both playing at Triple-A this year and only Hellweg has reached the major league level where he played a handful of games last year. Greinke had a 3.44 ERA and a 2.53 FIP in 123 innings pitched for the Brewers at the time of the trade so one could argue that two months and a potential playoff run from Lester should net more than what the Angels sent for the right-hander. There’s been a rumor circulating today in which the Red Sox have discussed sending Lester to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal involving outfielder Matt Kemp, but several outlets have cooled those reports and nothing appears to be imminent between the two clubs at the moment. The Dodgers could be a fit for Lester as they’ve also been connected to Price and the idea of sending Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, and Hyun-jin Ryu out in a playoff series has to be awfully tantalizing. Los Angeles is loath to trade top prospects Joc Pederson and Corey Seager in a trade for Price but may be willing to move one of them in the right deal. One could argue that sending Pederson to Boston in a one-for-one trade for Lester would be an overpayment let alone adding another piece or two to the pie. The Giants probably wouldn’t be interested in Lester now that they’ve added Peavy, but the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, and Mariners have had varying levels of interest in adding a top tier starting pitcher according to reports, but it’s unlikely the Red Sox would trade Lester within their own division, even if he is willing to re-sign in Boston despite being dealt. For #RedSox, would make sense to move Lester for 2-3 good pieces, then re-sign him after season. Perfect scenario for Boston. — Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) July 28, 2014 Lester says he would be willing to re-sign with #RedSox if they trade him, but you wonder if psychological effect of move would change that. — Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) July 28, 2014 ESPN’s Buster Olney also tweeted today that the Red Sox are still listening on Lester and would be willing to trade him if their asking price is met, and it could be higher than the draft pick they’d receive if he walked. Well that much was obvious — why would the Sox deal for something less than the first-round pick which would likely be in the No. 30-40 overall range? Stranger things have happened of course, but it’d likely take multiple pieces to land the left-hander. Seager, the younger brother of Mariner Kyle Seager, entered the year as the No. 37 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, so a package including him and a couple Double-A types of players that offer some upside would be similar to what the Brewers received for Greinke while accounting for the fact Lester likely has slightly more value. It’s worth noting he’s playoff proven and has had no issue with pitching in the spotlight. The Cardinals have plenty of prospect currency to deal from but it’s doubtful they’d want to give up an Oscar Taveras or a Carlos Martinez in exchange for two months of Lester. There’s a possibility they’d deal Tavares and another fairly significant piece in exchange for a year and a half of Price, but even that appears slim. The defending World Series champions have had a disappointing year riddled with injuries and under-performing prospects and have already started turning their attention to 2015. If they feel their best shot at extending Lester is to hold on to him until the offseason, that’s a chance they’re willing to take. Though considering the southpaw is thought to be looking for a six-year deal in the $140 million range, a la Cole Hamels, and the Sox are said to have offered four years and $70 million in Spring Training, it could be difficult to consummate a deal regardless. Bottom line: with David Price looking more and more like he’ll stay with the Rays for the time being, Lester would easily be the best available starter on the market and Boston should have no problem picking up at least one elite prospect if not a pair of very good young players in a trade. Or even Kemp or another major league player if those talks end up materializing. The draft pick would be nice, but the Red Sox are in a position to turn the ship around quick and be serious contenders in 2015. They have plenty of young talent and a solid pool of pitching depth to work with and adding to it would only be a good thing. Considering the potential return Lester could net, Boston should take the risk and deal their ace before the deadline on Thursday. It doesn’t sound as though extending him will be any easier come November and December, and they simply can’t let a player of Lester’s calibre to walk for a draft pick. Just ask the Yankees about losing Robinson Cano.Go!

With the All-Star Break complete and Major League Baseball’s second half officially underway, nearly all attention turns to the rumor mill as the July 31st non-waiver deadline quickly approaches. The Oakland Athletics set the bar early for contending clubs looking to bolster their roster when they picked up starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs in a blockbuster deal that sent top prospect Addison Russell to the Cubbies. The Seattle Mariners find themselves with a grip on one of the American League Wild Card spots heading into the weekend and are known to be in the market for an upgrade or two, but could they be the next club to make a franchise-altering trade? Reports throughout the past few days have connected the M’s with David Price and Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays, and on Friday I summed up the latest on the trade talks between the two clubs. There appears to be a real possibility that should the Rays choose to deal during a dismal season they could receive a package including Nick Franklin in exchange for the super-utility player. Reports indicated that the clubs have not only discussed a deal for Zobrist, but have expanded trade talks to include Price as well. As expected however, the inclusion of top prospect Taijuan Walker appears to be a sticking point for the Rays if they are to move their ace, and it’s possible that D.J. Peterson could be involved as well. The cost would be high, but consider the boost Zobrist would add to the lineup and a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Price. That’d be alright, I’d say. Sticking with the trade talk, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill gives a run down on several potential trade targets for the Mariners. Although Samardzija, Hammel, and Brandon McCarthy have already been dealt and Seth Smith was re-signed by the San Diego Padres, Churchill mentions Matt Joyce and James Loney of the Rays as potential targets as well outfielders Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, and Josh Willingham. Alex Carson examined Byrd as a possibility in depth this week and opines that the outfielder very much makes sense for the M’s to acquire. Byrd is owed $8 million for the 2015 season and has an $8 million option for 2016 that he would want exercised in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause to come to the Emerald City — Seattle is one of just four teams that he can block trades to. The veteran outfielder may not be able to replicate his performance from the second half of the 2013 season, but Carson argues that he doesn’t have to in order to be a worthwhile acquisition as even adding a slight upgrade over what the M’s have in-house could still end up paying difference-making dividends during the stretch drive. The New York Yankees have now released outfielder and former All-Star Alfonso Soriano and I examined whether or not he would be a fit for the Mariners. James Paxton has slowly been making his way back to the big leagues and made his first rehab start on Thursday with the Everett Aqua Sox. PI’s Brendan Gawlowski was in attendance and reported that the southpaw felt no pain after throwing 42 pitches in two and two-thirds innings pitched; his pitch count was limited to fifty pitches. It’s expected that Paxton will make two or three more rehab starts before he potentially could rejoin the big league rotation. Over on the fantasy side of things, Steve Simas features the prospects selected for this year’s Futures Game in a two-part Nook Nacks series. In part one Simas profiles a quintet of players including Julio Urias who is property of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. In part two he has analysis on another five players including Mookie Betts who has since been promoted to the big leagues by the Boston Red Sox and Enny Romero, a left-handed pitcher in the Rays organization. Prospect Insider’s Mariners of the month for June were a pair of the club’s All-Stars: King Felix and Kyle Seager. Fernando Rodney and Robinson Cano also represented the M’s at the midsummer classic. For the rest of baseball it was another pair of All-Stars, Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, picking up the honors of PI’s players of the month for June. Sticking with the major league side of things, Churchill presented his mid-season report card for the Mariners a couple weeks ago. While it’s no surprise to see Hernandez and Cano with A’s beside their names, they aren’t the only one to receive high praise for their first-half performance. Relievers Fernando Rodney, Dominic Leone, and Yoervis Medina all received top grades in a bullpen that has no doubt been a strength of Seattle’s this year. Churchill also rounded up some of the M’s international free agent signings earlier this month when the signing period began. The biggest deal Seattle has given out so far belongs to Brayan Hernandez, an outfielder from Venezuela, who received $1.85 million. PI’s Chris Hervey has a scouting report on Jamie Schultz who is a pitching prospect in the Rays organization as well as plenty of other notes on Rays and Toronto Blue Jays prospects that are definitely worth checking out. I also got a chance to see Miguel Castro and Ryan McBroom who are with the Blue Jays short-season Single-A club while Gawlowski has reports on Alberto Tirado and Franklin Barreto, also top prospects with the Jays.Go!

Although we’re still two weeks away from the July non-waiver trade deadline, as expected, the trade rumors picked up in a big way yesterday with reports that the Seattle Mariners have been engaged in talks with the Tampa Bay Rays over the past few weeks. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported on Twitter that the M’s and Rays have been discussing a deal that would send super-utility player Ben Zobrist and ace starter David Price to the Emerald City. Seattle has been connected to Price since the offseason and it’s been widely rumored that the Rays are ready to move their top starter in the right deal. Shortly after Morosi reported the trade talks, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports came out to say that the M’s have actually been focussed on Zobrist and rather trade talks could expand to include Price. It’s no surprise to hear that Nick Franklin is reportedly involved on the Mariners end of things as the Rays reportedly had interest in the young infielder back in February. In between the updates from Morosi and Heyman, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill tweeted this interesting bit as well. I was told this morning that the M’s could have pulled trigger on deal for Zobrist (not Price) within the last week or so. Continue to talk. — Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) July 17, 2014 Zobrist’s name has come up more frequently in trade rumors the last little while as his club finds itself 9.5 games out of a playoff spot and have occupied the basement of the American League’s East division for much of the season. The 33-year old has what the Mariners need in a bad way: right-handed pop. Zobrist has hit 20 or more home runs in three of the past five seasons and offers an extreme amount of versatility — he’s been a plus defender in right field and at second base according to UZR, and is also capable of providing adequate play in the other outfield spots as well as shortstop and third base. He could also chip in at first base, but hasn’t seen action there since 2010 and presumably the M’s would prefer to use him to plug an outfield hole or take over at short should Brad Miller struggle. [pullquote]Ben Zobrist, a switch hitter, boasts a career .285/.357/358 triple-slash at Safeco Field and is batting .352/.420/.511 versus left-handed pitching in 2014.[/pullquote] Corey Hart has yet to provide the right-handed punch to the lineup and even if he does, the club could still stand to add another bat. Zobrist is in the midst of a down year of sorts with a .266/.352/.401 line, but his 117 wRC+ is right on pace with his career mark of 118. He is a classic line drive hitter that shouldn’t be harmed too much by the confines of Safeco Field. He also owns a 12.2 percent career walk rate compared to a 15.9 strikeout rate which would be benefit to the lineup. Zobrist isn’t a huge base stealer — his highest total of 24 was back in 2010 — but he does offer slightly above average wheels on the base paths that can get you an extra base or two when it counts. On the financial side of things, Zobrist is owed just $7 million for the 2014 season and will make $7.5 million in 2015 before his club can elect to exercise a $7.5 million option for 2016, or pay a $500 thousand buyout. This type of deal is in line with the reports that suggested general manager Jack Zduriencik has the flexibility to make a moderately significant addition to the club. Whether or not ownership has or is willing to also approve the addition of what’s left on Price’s $14 million deal for 2014 and the upwards of $20 million he could command next season remains to be seen. Now, one key thing to remember is that Tampa Bay doesn’t yet believe they are out of the playoff race. The Rays have been playing better of late, but it still seems unlikely they could make a serious playoff push this year — they have just 11 games before the trade deadline to determine whether or not they should sell. Of course it’s entirely possible that the Rays hold off until the offseason to move either Price or Zobrist, but one could easily make the argument that the pair’s respective value will never be higher than it is right now, especially with Price only under control for one more season before he hits free agency. Back in the winter the Rays were stuck on acquiring top prospect Taijuan Walker in any potential deal for Price, which the M’s balked at. However, in a new report today from Heyman, it sounds as though the inclusion of Walker could be the deciding factor in whether or not Seattle gets Price. Heyman also confirms that the M’s are talking about a package deal including both Price and Zobrist, and notes that Miller is very much on the table in a potential deal. The fact the club is even willing to discuss their top prospect’s inclusion in a deal could suggest that they’ve become more willing — if only ever so slightly — to deal him in the right situation. The landscape has obviously changed in many ways since January, especially with the M’s very much in playoff contention heading into the second half and needed a serious boost for the stretch drive, but perhaps the question now turns to exactly where Walker’s trade value sits at the moment. It was expected that the 21-year old would break camp in the big league rotation and contribute, but after some shoulder issues flared up early in Spring Training, Walker has only just gotten healthy enough to make a couple of major league starts prior to the break and is currently working things out at Triple-A. How much the Oakland Athletics dealing of top prospect Addison Russell and others for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel will affect the M’s talks regarding Price, but it’s been reported that the A’s offered Russell in a package for Price and were turned down. It’s unlikely that anyone will question whether or not Walker still has the talent to be a No. 1 starter after the injury, but now there’s an increased risk added to the already anemic nature of pitching prospects. Not to suggest I’m down of Walker, and I still believe it’d be a mistake to sell low on the youngster, but given the surprise success of Roenis Elias — though he has struggled lately — and rehabbing James Paxton who is feeling no ill-effects after his first start in almost four months, it’s perhaps slightly more palpable to see Walker go in a deal, especially if the return is a pair of superstar-type players. If it’s a given that Walker would have to be included in any deal involving Price, it’s equally likely that Franklin would be going the other way in a potential deal for Zobrist. Franklin could offer some of the positional versatility that Zobrist does and obviously his bat isn’t as polished yet, but he will be owed close to the league minimum for the next couple of years before hitting arbitration and that would be very enticing for the perennially cash-strapped Rays. The next question then becomes what else would the M’s have to part with to get a done for either deal or both? Top prospect D.J. Peterson‘s name has come up recently, but he’s progressing very well in the minors right now — currently with Double-A Jackson — and in the last line of the Heyman article it says Peterson is very unlikely to move unless “it was a really big deal”. Price and Zobrist sound like a big deal to me, but the cost of two of the organization’s best prospects could be a little rich for Seattle. Heyman notes in today’s report that the Rays are in fact interested in Peterson and Paxton as well. It’s expected that the M’s will use some of their bullpen depth to facilitate a potential deal with any one of Danny Farquhar, Brandon Maurer, or Tom Wilhelmsen could hold some reasonable valuable. Other major league ready players such as Stefen Romero, Abraham Almonte, and Erasmo Ramirez could be included as well. Another name off of the active roster, James Jones, has been rumored to be potentially involved as well despite the fact Seattle views him as their centerfielder of the future as well. And there’s always the possibility that Dustin Ackley could be moved as well and Heyman hears that plenty of teams have been asking. It’s also possible that other highly touted prospects such as Luiz Gohara, Edwin Diaz, Austin Wilson, and Chris Taylor could be discussed as well. The book has been well-written on Price over the last couple months and what he can bring to any rotation — a true ace capable of going the distance each time out — and certainly he would represent an upgrade for the M’s rotation, especially when one considers the trifecta of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Price. That’s without even mentioning the boost to the offence that Zobrist would provide. At the very least, it’s good to know that the club is at least in strong pursuit of different options including Marlon Byrd — which PI’s Alex Carson examined yesterday — and isn’t afraid of making “the big one”. As the second half begins the Mariners still hold a two and a half game lead on the second AL Wild Card slot and the division isn’t quite out of reach yet, but the M’s now have an opportunity to do something that it looked liked they weren’t going to prior to the start of the season: make the first year of Robinson Cano’s mega-deal count.Go!

The Detroit Tigers have reportedly lost starting shortstop Jose Iglesias for an unknown but extended period of time, and now have some level of interest in Seattle Mariners infielder Nick Franklin, multiple league sources told 1090 The Fan and Prospect Insider. The Tigers could look to lure free agent Stephen Drew, who shares the same agent as does Iglesias — Scott Boras — but he’d cost a multi-year deal plus a draft pick. As with the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays here and the Baltimore Orioles here, let’s take a look at what the Tigers might have to offer the Mariners in a deal for Franklin. One caveat: It’s difficult to imagine any team, especially a contender such as the Tigers, dealing away a club-controlled regular in a deal for Franklin. It fills one hole, but creates another. For example, some have wondered whether or not the M’s could sweeten the deal to try and pry centerfielder Austin Jackson from Detroit. Despite the presence of Rajai Davis, doing so would create a hole in center for the Tigers, both in the field and in a lineup that sacrificed some offense when they traded Prince Fielder to Texas over the winter. The Mariners do not have a replacement to offer. The same goes for prospect Nick Castellanos, who projects to be the Tigers’ starting third baseman this season. Drew Smyly, LHP Smyly is the No. 5 starter for Detroit as the spring schedule nears the final two weeks, which on the surface suggests he might be available in trade. The problem is, the Tigers do not have a clear replacement. Left-hander Kyle Lobstein may be closest, but he’s made just one start this spring. Trading one of their five starters the third week in March creates some issues getting the next arm ready. They traded away Doug Fister this offseason and did not possess another big-league ready arm. Smyly profiles as a No. 4 starter, perhaps a shade better, but he spent 2013 pitching out of the bullpen — very well, by the way — although he was solid, posting a 3.77 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in 19 starts in 2012. If I am Seattle, who had interest in the southpaw when they eventually dealt Fister to Detroit in 2010, I’d love to have Smyly, but if he’s the headliner in a trade for Franklin I’d pass unless there’s another similarly-valuable piece coming back, even if that dictates sending another player to Detroit with Franklin. Rick Porcello, RHP Porcello is a pitcher Seattle showed interest in a year ago, but things have changed a bit since then. For one, he’s now just two years from free agency. Secondly, he’s set to earn $8.5 million this season with another arbitration raise on its way before 2015. The same rotation issues for Detroit apply here as for Smyly: Who replaces Porcello? Porcello’s salary could also be a significant issue for Seattle, but what’s far more concerning for me is the lack of club control. Franklin is two full years from arbitration eligibility and five years from free agency. The value in controlling a player’s contract and reaping the benefits of his team-friendly salary is understated. Robbie Ray, LHP Ray was part of the return package from Washington in the Fister trade, but is not ready for the majors, nor does he profile as more than a back-end starter or reliever. The changeup is solid-average and his fastball jumped a grade to the 90-95 mph range in 2013, but the breaking ball is below-average and appears at least a year from becoming more than a show-me pitch. Jake Thompson, RHP Thompson, among the scouts to which I have spoken, is a better prospect than is Ray if you’re looking for probability, and he doesn’t lack upside and projection, thanks to a 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, 92-94 mph sinking fastball, potentially-plus slider and promising changeup. He’s working on a true curveball that could end up a fourth weapon. Still, Thompson is likely 2-3 years from threatening the majors as a reliable rotation candidate. Any Outfielders? other than the obvious need of starting pitching the Mariners also could use an infuse of young, athletic outfielders, but the Tigers lack such talent, both in their farm system and on their projected 25-man roster. Torii Hunter is nearing retirement and has one year left on his contract, while Andy Dirks, Don Kelly and Davis are part-time players that lack the upside of an everyday player. It’s also worth noting that the Tigers do not appear to have any catching depth from which to deal, something few clubs have, all clubs are seeking and willing to consider accepting in any trade. Again, it’s difficult to find a match here, but if somehow Smyly is a player the Tigers are willing to discuss, a deal could be built that could make some sense. I’ve stated consistently and from Day 1 that any return for Franklin absolutely should consist of talent that helps the Mariners’ 25-man roster right away, not in June or July, not in 2015 or 2016. Right now. That’s what Franklin is to the other team, and that’s what his value to the Mariners should be, regardless of the fact that there is no regular place for him to start 2014. In the end, I’m not confident a deal will be struck between the two clubs, unless each agrees to expand the trade to include multiple pieces heading in both directions, though that concept complicates the process and likely lowers the chance any trade is made at all.Go!

It’s been a busy past couple weeks for the Seattle Mariners now that Spring Training is well underway. The best news out of camp today is that Taijuan Walker threw for the first time since being shutdown for seven days due to shoulder inflammation. The 21-year old said he felt really good but admitted that it was a tough week for him to standby and rest. Walker is still expected to be out until mid-April at the earliest, but it’s still a step in the right direction. Tests did not reveal any structural damage and the Mariners believe that he simply overthrew in his preparation for camp. There were two important signings for Seattle in the past month: the first was Fernando Rodney, who agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth $14 million, and the second was Nelson Cruz, who agreed to a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles for $8 million. Rodney gives the young bullpen some much needed late inning experience and gives the Mariners a potentially solid one-two-three punch with Danny Furquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen. Many of us, including myself, weren’t too thrilled with the notion that Cruz would inevitably be a Mariner, but it’ll be Baltimore who will attempt to make lemonade out of lemons this year. Instead of Cruz manning right field this year, the Mariners are planning to fill the position with Corey Hart, so long as his health is able to hold up over the course of the season. It’s still too early in camp to get a real feel for what Hart can be expected to produce as a semi-regular outfielder, but it should be considered a success if Seattle can coax 80 or more games out of him. Thankfully Abraham Almonte has put together a great Spring Training thus far and will see plenty of major league outfield time at this rate, making the outfield picture a little less murky. So long as the soon to be 32-year old Hart hits close to what he used to, it probably won’t matter all that much where he plays. The ‘battle’ between Brad Miller and Nick Franklin for the starting shortstop job is ongoing, but we did learn recently that both the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays have expressed interest in acquiring Franklin. In fact, the Rays had a deal in place for the young infielder, but it fell apart after an injury to Jeremy Hellickson. The assumption being made is that the Mariners would’ve acquired a starting pitcher in the deal since Tampa pulled out due to concerns over their depth after the injury. It remains to be seen whether or not Franklin will find a new home before Opening Day, but there’s still plenty of time for a deal to take place. Steve Simas continued with his Fantasy Prospect Rankings series for 2014 and as a gentle reminder, Steve designed his lists based on fantasy value in the upcoming season; it’s not specifically a top prospects list. Click the following links for each positional ranking: second base, center field, first base, pitchers, corner outfield, and a top 25 list. After re-signing for the 2014 season, Franklin Gutierrez told the Mariners in February that he won’t play this year after the stomach issues that kept him shelved for most of 2013 have returned. It’s a rather unfortunate turn of events for the former Gold Glove winner who appeared to have finally taken a positive turn in his health. Hopefully Gutierrez is able to make a full recovery and return to the major leagues in 2015, but it looks like he still has a long and tough road ahead of him. Prospect Insider has you covered with previews and insight for this year’s collage baseball season. Rob Balboni has previews for the Pac-12, the ACC, the Big-12, and the SEC. And if you’re not sure who to pay attention to, Jason Churchill offers a scouting report on several top draft prospects. Eric Longenhagan also has a scouting report on several notable UVA prospects including Derek Fisher. Rob brings us a list of the 2014 All-American teams and top 25 teams while Steve Drumwright offers a piece on the changes to Skyler Ewing’s appraoch. Jeff Hoffman is a name to keep an eye on as one of the top college pitching prospects according to Eric and others. Rob agrees, and has another set of names to keep an eye on. A must read for anyone who follows amateur ball and wants to understand the 20-80 scale is brought to you courtesy of Chris Hervey who gives a quick and to the point explanation.Go!

Typically Spring Training rekindles some of the hot stove talk that cools off during January and February as teams are now attempting to make sense of the pieces currently on their rosters and how they’re going to fill their remaining holes. It’s been widely known that the Seattle Mariners are interested in moving Nick Franklin in a deal to improve their starting pitching or outfield since he was displaced by a certain quarter billion dollar acquisition. Currently Franklin is batting Brad Miller for the Mariners’ starting shortstop job, although many consider that to just be posturing on Seattle’s part. Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reported that the Mariners are likely to deal one of Franklin and Miller by the time Opening Day rolls around, most likely Franklin, and that the New York Mets could be a potential fit for the young infielder. He would confirm the Mets’ interest in Franklin yesterday and that dialogue between the two clubs has been ongoing since the Winter Meetings according to his source. While the Mets seem content with Daniel Murphy remaining their everyday second baseman again this year, Franklin represents an upgrade over Ruben Tejada who currently projects to be the club’s starting shortstop at the moment. After having decent 2011 and 2012 campaigns with the Mets, Tejada saw his stock fall considerably and played more games at the Triple-A level in 2012 than at the MLB level. It’s also worth noting that he arrived to camp overweight for the second year in a row. New York has been connected with free agent shortstop Stephen Drew throughout the offseason and remain interested despite not being too keen on his price tag according to reports. Although Drew’s asking price has likely fallen from where it was back in November, he’ll likely still require a multi-year deal with an average annual salary in the $10 million range though, so it’s possible the Mets prefer Franklin who won’t even be arbitration eligible until after the 2016 season considering Drew will also cost a compensatory draft pick if he were to sign. Even though New York doesn’t have an outfield surplus or a lot of certainty in their rotation, they do have plenty of young pitching that the Mariners would reportedly be interested in. Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard would be a great return for Franklin, but the Mets would probably need to receive a little more value in a deal if they’re even receptive to moving either pitcher at all. Rubin, among other, consider Rafael Montero as a possible bounty for the Mariners’ shortstop and far more likely to be dealt than the other two pitchers mentioned. Montero, 23, has steadily improved in the three years he’s spent within the Mets’ organization and could be ready to start the year in an MLB rotation. He’d also make an excellent mid-season call up if his club prefers to give him some more seasoning at Triple-A to start the year. Lookout Landing suggests  Juan Lagares, an outfielder they describe as the center field equivalent of Brendan Ryan, as another option for the Mariners to consider. Lagares would fill Seattle’s dire need for a true centerfielder and was worth 2.9 fWAR in 2013 despite a rather pedestrian .242/.281/.352 line with four home runs and six stolen bases; he really is that good defensively. A glove first outfielder may seem like a light return, but Lagares is just 24-years old and likely has some more room for his offensive game to grow. Perhaps it’d be best to expand the deal beyond a simple one-for-one swap if Seattle wants to maximize the return on a potential Franklin trade to the Mets, and vice versa. Earlier today, Rubin tweeted that a potential deal sending Franklin to the Tampa Bay Rays was an injury away from occurring. Heard while ago that #Rays and #Mariners were ready to pull trigger on Nick Franklin trade and Jeremy Hellickson’s injury scuttled it. #mets — Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinMedia) February 25, 2014 People misunderstanding: Never said Jeremy Hellickson was going to the Mariners before becoming injured. — Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinMedia) February 25, 2014 The Rays are a curious fit for Franklin on paper considering they have Yunel Escober and Ben Zobrist slotted in at shortstop and second base respectively, although they’ve constructed their roster with plenty of versatile players and could easily accommodate him. Rubin points out that Hellickson wasn’t necessary involved in the deal per say, it sounds like another starting pitcher might’ve been and at the time. But with the right-hander expected to miss the first six to eight weeks of the regular season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow earlier this month, perhaps the Rays felt they wouldn’t have enough depth at the beginning of the season to deal a starter as well. Since Hellickson went down the Rays have picked up Nate Karns in a deal with the Washington Nationals to shore up some of their pitching depth, which could make trading a starter a possibility once again. Karns does only have 12 major league innings to his name at this point, but Tampa Bay has made a habit of churning out quality young arms with little to no big league experience. It’s possible that Matt Moore or Chris Archer could’ve been headed Seattle’s way, but that’s complete speculation on my part. Hellickson’s surgery was announced at the beginning of February, to offer something of a timeline for the reported trade talks. While there’s still a chance Franklin could be Seattle’s starting shortstop come Opening Day, it appears increasingly likely he’ll find himself opening the year on a different club and the Mariners acquiring a much needed starting pitcher or outfielder.Go!

The best part about the idea of adding Colon for a team like Seattle? His contract, even if he were to get Hudson money, doesn’t impact the attempts to add two more hitters, nor does it prevent the club from making a play for Garza, Jimenez or Santana, too. Go!