The 2016 Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline came and went without the Seattle Mariners making a significant upgrade to their major league roster. That’s a surprise to most observers — including me — who expected first-year general manager (GM) Jerry Dipoto to be active during the hours and days leading up to today’s 1 p.m. deadline. The most notable deal during this year’s “deadline season” happened yesterday when Seattle sent left-handed starter Wade Miley to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for a minor league starting pitcher. That’s not exactly the kind of action fans were expecting. Why no other moves? Simply stated, the market didn’t permit any. Dipoto explained to Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish that “the greatest opportunities we had were to sell off, and that’s just not something we were willing to do.” That’s a disappointing development for Seattle faithful. At the same time, it’s encouraging that the front office didn’t forsake their future for a slim chance at making the postseason this season. Despite the disappointment felt by fans, Dipoto did make several moves that improve his ball club now and potentially in the future. Let’s look at them starting with yesterday’s transaction. Miley to Baltimore Orioles for Ariel Miranda In retrospect, the Mariners may never have acquired Miley from the Boston Red Sox, if they had known Hisashi Iwakuma would be returning to Seattle. At the time of the deal, “Kuma” was reportedly set to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not knowing that Iwakuma’s deal with the Dodgers would fall through within a week, Dipoto did what anyone in his position would do — find a replacement. That led to the Mariners GM shipping reliever Carson Smith and starter Roenis Elias to Boston for Miley and minor league reliever Jonathan Aro. The deal wasn’t optimal for the Mariners, who were exchanging two young pitchers with a combined 10 years of club control for three years of Miley — a slightly above-average performer — and Aro, who may never be anything more minor league depth. Unfortunately, for the Mariners and Miley, he didn’t even deliver average value. Known for being an innings eater, the southpaw averaged just 5.9 innings-per-start with Seattle after averaging 6.2 since during his four previous seasons. That may not sound like a big difference, but the end result was the 29-year-old not completing the sixth inning in 32-percent of his starts — not exactly what you’d expect from an “innings eater.” In recent starts, Miley did display some signs of improvement with a .243 opponents on-base percentage (OBP) and 2.79 earned run average (ERA) during his last 19.1 innings. Despite the uptick in productivity, Dipoto opted to deal the southpaw to Baltimore rather than wait to see if the former number-one pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks had actually turned a corner. In return for Miley, the Mariners received the 27-year-old Miranda, who Dipoto views as “major league ready.” Currently assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma, the southpaw may eventually transition into another power arm out of the bullpen for Seattle. In the short-term though, he’ll likely see action with the big league club by taking Miley’s former spot in the rotation on Thursday. Whether the Mariners should’ve moved or retained Miley is debatable, but there’s certainly going to be some measure of scrutiny on what Dipoto received from Baltimore, especially when the Tampa Bay Rays received considerably more for a pitcher similar to Miley in age, value, and cost — Matt Moore. In exchange for Moore, Tampa Bay was able to acquire a young major league infielder — Matt Duffy — from the San Francisco Giants, plus two top-30 prospects from the Giants farm system. Although the Moore deal looks far more appealing on the surface, there may be underlying reasons why the Mariners couldn’t strike a similar deal. The most obvious one being money. The Orioles were willing to pay all of Miley’s salary — just over $2 million for the remainder of this season, plus $8.75 million next year. As a result of Baltimore’s willingness to accept all of Miley’s salary, the Mariners had to settle for a lesser return. My takeaway from yesterday’s deal is that Dipoto is willing to acknowledge, through his actions, when he’s made a mistake and that he’s more than willing to adjust course. That’s an encouraging development for an organization that’s historically been too slow or rigid to pivot when confronted with adversity. Mike Montgomery / Jordan Pries to Chicago Cubs for Dan Vogelbach / Paul Blackburn This is a deal that helped the Mariners get younger and deeper and may help them as early as this season. The key to the deal, from Seattle’s perspective, was Vogelbach. With three-time all-star Anthony Rizzo standing in his way, the 23-year-old first baseman didn’t have a future with Chicago. The Cubs’ surplus at first base and need for pitching provided Seattle with an opportunity to pick up the left-handed slugger in exchange for Montgomery and Pries. As with Dipoto views Vogelbach as major league ready. If the Mariners opt to move past their current left-handed hitting first baseman — Adam Lind — in the coming weeks, Vogelbach could find himself first base for Seattle. If he doesn’t get his chance this year, he’s likely to enter Spring Training with an opportunity to win the first base job for 2017. Blackburn, who’s been assigned to Class-AA Jackson, has the potential to be a back-end starter. The combination of Miranda and Blackburn means that the Mariners added two minor league starters closer to reaching the big leagues than nearly any other prospect in their minor league system. That’s a factor that can’t be overlooked for an organization that started the season with one of the worst systems in the majors. Recalling Edwin Diaz from Class-AA Jackson Arguably, the Mariners’ biggest move was the promotion of the hard-throwing right-hander, who only converted from starter to reliever in mid-May. Since debuting with Seattle on June 6, Diaz has quickly ascended to the eighth inning setup role thanks to his 17.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate — highest among major league pitchers with 25 or more innings pitched. It’s plausible that Diaz could move into the closer role, although it’s important to note that assigning the 22-year-old to close games doesn’t fix the bigger problem that the Mariners face — a shortage of high-leverage arms. For now, Steve Cishek remains the closer and Seattle’s bullpen continues to be the team’s weakest link. Joaquin Benoit to the Toronto Blue Jays for Drew Storen This was essentially a change of location move that will, hopefully, benefit both players and teams. Benoit, shut down twice this year due to shoulder issues, had lost his job as the team’s eighth inning setup man to Diaz. Similarly, Storen has fallen on hard times since losing his closer job with the Washington Nationals after the club acquired Jonathan Papelbon at last year’s deadline. Once relegated to the setup role, the 28-year-old’s performance dropped off dramatically and he was dealt to the Blue Jays in the offseason. After vying with Roberto Osuna for Toronto’s closer job during Spring Training, Storen he found himself in the setup role and, once again, he failed to deliver. Since becoming a Mariner, the right-hander has seen action in two relatively low-leverage appearances and delivered mixed results. In his Mariners debut, he pitched a clean sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 3-1 ballgame; however, he surrendered four runs the following inning. During last night’s game with the Cubs, he worked another clean sixth inning. Free agent signing of Tom Wilhelmsen Another change of location move involved the return of a familiar face. Wilhelmsen, who went to the Texas Rangers in the deal that brought Leonys Martin to Seattle, struggled with the Rangers and eventually became a free agent after refusing assignment to Class-AAA Round Rock. That opened the door for “The Bartender” to return to Seattle. Since returning to the Emerald City, the big right-hander has rebounded nicely. Although it’s a small sample size, he’s held opposing hitters to a .278 OBP during his first 10 innings with the Mariners. Whether the 32-years-old can continue to sustain his rejuvenated performance remains to be seen. But, so far, the versatile reliever has been an asset for manager Scott Servais. Player to be named later or cash to the Toronto Blue Jays for Wade LeBlanc During the Mariners’ nosedive known as the month of June, the club suffered significant injury losses to their rotation. Among those lost were Felix Hernandez, Miley, Taijuan Walker, and Adrian Sampson — Miley’s replacement — for most or all of June. In need of someone who could hold down a rotation spot — at least temporarily — Dipoto turned to LeBlanc, who was pitching for Class-AAA Syracuse in the Blue Jays system. In four starts, the southpaw has held opposing hitters to a .275 OBP. With the departure of Miley and the club still waiting for Walker to return, LeBlanc re-enters the rotation this week against the Red Sox. Will this be the most memorable deal made by Dipoto during the deadline season? No. But, the Mariners GM deserves credit for finding a competent replacement player for virtually no cost. Finally There’s no doubt that the Mariners are a good team capable of finishing with a winning record. But, their big league roster lacks the necessary depth for them to be considered a serious contender. Does that mean they can’t make the postseason? No. But, their shallow bullpen and degraded rotation leave them at a severe disadvantage. Sure, King Felix and Walker could return to form and Nick Vincent and Charlie Furbush may come back from injury to reinforce the bullpen. But, that’s a lot to hope for during the last two months of a season that’s seen so many things go wrong. Isn’t it?
Saying the bullpen has been revamped over the past week may not be entirely accurate, but the Seattle Mariners continued to shuffle the deck Tuesday night. Mike Montgomery and now Joaquin Benoit are out and former All-Star closer Drew Storen is coming in after being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays along with cash considerations in exchange for Benoit. The cash included is reported to be the difference between the two reliever’s salaries. Both relievers are free agents at the end of the year. Benoit was an offseason addition to the bullpen and expected to fill the eight inning role vacated by Carson Smith. Despite an improved month of July, the right-hander still posted a 5.18 ERA and a 4.95 FIP over 24 and 1/3 innings of work. His 10.36 strikeouts per nine innings were better than his career mark of 8.94, but it was the accompanying 5.55 walks per nine that caused issues. His 13.8 percent whiff rate was down a couple ticks from the past couple seasons but was still above his career mark of 13.0 percent. The velocity was still there for the 39-year-old, averaging 94-to-95 miles per hour on his fastball. The problem was that he often didn’t know where it was going. Benoit was only able to produce a clean outing in seven of his 26 appearances. He didn’t have to be perfect, but more was expected from the seasoned veteran. Edwin Diaz and his gaudy 17.47 strikeout rate have taken over eighth inning and higher leverage duties and have done exceedingly well. The Blue Jays are getting a reliever who in terms of raw stuff is performing well enough. he’s still missing bats and striking hitters out. But they are hoping that a change of scenery will be rejuvenating, similar to the case of Jason Grilli who was acquired earlier in the year. On the Mariners end, they receive a struggling reliever with a home run issue. In 33 and 1/3 innings pitched Storen HAS posted a 6.21 ERA and a 5.00 FIP due in large part to a career-high 17.6 percent home run per fly ball rate — that number is more than double Storen’s career mark. The good news is that his 8.64 strikeout and 2.70 walk rates are basically right on the right-hander’s career marks so it doesn’t appear to be a command issue at first glance. The biggest issue surrounding Storen’s troubles is not an unusual one: his velocity has declined. After previously hitting 95-to-96 MPH regularly leading up to the 2016 season, the 28-year-old has found his fastball sitting in the 93-to-94 MPH range. I mention his age there because it’s odd for a pitcher who should be in his prime to have such a sharp decline. Usually this would be due to injury, but there hasn’t been any apparent ailments. The decline in velocity has caused Storen’s hard-hit rate to spike to 39.8 percent. His soft contact rate sits at a measly 12.0 percent. Everything he’s been throwing has been hit hard. And if you’re wondering how much of a difference that relatively small decline in velocity can make, just look to the top of the Mariners rotation and the struggles that Felix Hernandez has had dealing with his reduced velocity. Is Storen fixable? His age and solid strikeout and walk rates would suggest so. Pitching at Safeco Field instead of the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre should also help some. But until he can get that velocity back up a couple ticks, or learn how to rely on his breaking pitches, he’ll be in tough to have much success. For anyone wondering how the Mariners could simultaneously buy and sell in the time leading up to the trade deadline, this is an example. They are selling Benoit, a veteran reliever, to a contending team that’s looking to bolster a playoff-caliber pitching staff. They are buying Storen, a former All-Star closer, to aid the relief corps in the middle innings. Technically they are both buying and selling low here, but it paints a picture. Are the Mariners better today than they were before the trade? It’s hard to say. You like Storen’s upside because he’s been a solid reliever up to this point and has ten years on Benoit. But you also liked Benoit for his track record and experience, though that was seven months ago. This could be a trade where a change of scenery helps both pitchers. Or both could continue to struggle. Storen was designated for assignment after all and Benoit’s numbers don’t differ much from Joel Peralta‘s when he was cut loose. Seattle gets another guy with closing experience, which could help if they decide to deal Steve Cishek who’s name has come up in a few rumors. Otherwise Storen is another middle reliever with a home run problem who you hope can be fixed with a couple minor changes. It’s far from an exciting trade, and the net result may not produce a clear upgrade, but the Mariners are betting on Storen’s upside and youth. That’s usually a bet teams are willing to take.
What seemed impossible just a month ago could now be reality. Contending teams reportedly have expressed interest in Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Wade Miley. According to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, scouts from several clubs are likely to attend Miley’s start against the Toronto Blue Jays tomorrow. Essentially, the left-hander’s start sets up as a showcase for potential buyers. Why was trade interest in the 29-year-old so improbable just a month ago? Results, or lack thereof. Just four weeks ago, Miley was coming off the disabled list (DL) due to a sore shoulder and hadn’t been effective prior to his injury. His numbers since returning to the rotation haven’t been inspiring either — four starts, 22.1 innings pitched, 5.64 earned run average (ERA) and a .333 opponents batting average. So, why would teams be interested in Miley? It’s simple. The starting pitcher market is very lean. Sure, there are a lot of names being bandied about by national media outlets, but the market isn’t as flush when you dig into the performance or cost of the players most frequently mentioned names. Take a look. Potential Starting Pitching Trade Targets Player WAR Age Tm GS IP ERA FIP HR BA OBP SLG Earliest Free Agent 2017 Salary (millions) Julio Teheran 4.0 25 ATL 20 129.2 2.71 3.75 16 .203 .256 .345 2020* $6.3 Ubaldo Jimenez -1.5 32 BAL 17 81.2 7.38 4.88 10 .320 .408 .484 2018 $13.5 Jose Quintana 3.1 27 CHW 19 123.2 3.13 3.52 13 .238 .290 .378 2019* $7.0 Chris Sale 3.2 27 CHW 19 133.0 3.18 3.69 17 .216 .270 .358 2018* $12.0 Hector Santiago 0.7 28 LAA 20 110.1 4.32 4.91 18 .233 .315 .417 2018 Arb-3 Matt Shoemaker 1.3 29 LAA 19 112.2 3.99 3.29 13 .264 .302 .420 2021 Arb-1 Jimmy Nelson 2.0 27 MIL 20 119.0 3.40 4.70 13 .248 .340 .391 2021 Pre-Arb Ervin Santana 1.7 33 MIN 18 105.1 3.93 4.02 12 .264 .310 .410 2019 $13.5 Michael Pineda 0.1 27 NYY 19 106.1 5.25 3.88 18 .270 .320 .484 2018 Arb-3 CC Sabathia 1.3 35 NYY 17 100.1 4.04 3.88 7 .256 .332 .355 2018** $25.0 Sonny Gray 0.0 26 OAK 18 101.2 5.49 4.66 15 .283 .343 .476 2020 Arb-1 Rich Hill 3.0 36 OAK 14 76.0 2.25 2.53 2 .201 .293 .266 2017 Free Agent Jeremy Hellickson 1.7 29 PHI 20 119.2 3.84 4.21 19 .247 .294 .455 2017 Free Agent Andrew Cashner -0.4 29 SDP 15 73.1 4.79 4.77 11 .269 .342 .477 2017 Free Agent Tyson Ross -0.3 29 SDP 1 5.1 11.81 2.95 0 .375 .444 .542 2018 Arb-3 Wade Miley -0.0 29 SEA 17 99.0 5.36 5.01 17 .291 .346 .483 2018* $8.97 Drew Smyly -0.6 27 TBR 18 105.1 5.64 4.51 21 .278 .324 .493 2019 Arb-2 Matt Moore 1.1 27 TBR 20 123.1 4.31 4.56 20 .254 .312 .416 2018 $7.0 Jake Odorizzi 1.7 26 TBR 21 118.2 4.10 4.14 18 .248 .300 .426 2020 Arb-1 * Team option for extra years ** Vesting option for next season Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 7/23/2016. The most notable names on the preceding list are Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Julio Teheran. But, there are questions about their actual availability and certainly their cost would be prohibitive. According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Chicago White Sox have already turned down a “king’s ransom” for Sale. Since he’s been scratched from tonight’s start, he may actually be on the move after all. Apparently, someone is offering more than a king’s and queen’s ransom. Another option for contenders could be lower tier pitchers, who are controllable and relatively low paid. Names like Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Matt Shoemaker, and Jimmy Nelson are all rumored to be available. The price wouldn’t be on the same level as Sale, Quintana, or Teheran. But, getting players of this ilk won’t come cheaply either, especially in a weak market. Buyers could look to rental players like Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson, and Andrew Cashner. Hill is easily the best of the bunch and will command a higher price than Hellickson and Cashner. This trio — or other impending free agents — can be attractive to win-now teams. But, why wouldn’t clubs interested in rentals at least kick the tires on a pitcher like Wade Miley? Miley told Dutton “I made a few adjustments,” which he believes led to his solid 6 and 1/3-inning/three-run performance against the White Sox on July 19. If the former first-round draft choice of the Arizona Diamondbacks has truly turned a page, teams may look at him as a cheaper option than the upper tier and rental arms on the market. Obviously, Miley won’t anchor a rotation or carry a club on his back like Sale could, but the southpaw could represent a solid addition for a contender looking to deepen their rotation. That’s assuming that his “adjustments” are permanent. Hence tomorrow’s showcase. There’s only one problem with shipping Miley to a contender needing to reinforce its rotation for a postseason push — he already plays for one of those contenders. Certainly, some Mariners fans would gleefully welcome sending Miley away. On the other hand, he’d be a valuable asset, if his performance down the stretch resembles his career norms. If the Mariners opted to move Miley, they could turn to Nathan Karns or Wade LeBlanc as replacements. Plus, the club is expecting to upgrade their rotation when Taijuan Walker returns from the DL in early August. Still, moving a proven performer with a track record of durability is a risky proposition for a team on the fringe of contention, unless it was one in a series of deals that would lead to getting another experienced pitcher. Otherwise, moving Miley could imperil Seattle’s playoff hopes. With that said, this week’s Mike Montgomery deal proves that general manager Jerry Dipoto is willing to pull the trigger on a deal whenever it’ll help his club now and in the future. He knew that he was selling high with Montgomery and was able to add slugger Dan Vogelbach, who may contribute this season and certainly in the future, and Class-AA starter Paul Blackburn. Perhaps, Dipoto will find a market for Miley too, especially if he performs well during tomorrow’s outing at the Rogers Centre. What a difference a month can make.
Last June, I wrote a piece reflecting on several non-waiver deadline deals made in July 2011. My rationale for looking back so far was simple. Most of these trades involve prospects who are years away from reaching the majors — assuming they ever do. Since I enjoyed picking away at those old trades last year, I thought I’d do it again and put several 2012 deadline deals under the microscope this time. There weren’t many sexy moves that year, but I chose a few that I found interesting. I hope that you will too. Ryan Dempster for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva When the Texas Rangers dealt for Dempster, they were leading the American League (AL) West division and trying to earn a third consecutive World Series appearance. It’s hard to criticize the Rangers for making the deal. After losing two consecutive Fall Classics, they were willing to part with prospects to get over the hump. Dempster pitched adequately during his 12 starts with Texas and became a free agent after the season. Unfortunately for the club though, the resurgent Oakland Athletics won the division and the Rangers lost the Wild Card game to the Baltimore Orioles. The Chicago Cubs were at the other end of the spectrum. They were in the midst of a 101-loss season, which happened to be the first with Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations and Jed Hoyer as general manager. For them, trading soon-to-be free agent Dempster to get much needed prospects made complete sense. At the time of the deal, Villanueva — a third baseman — was considered the centerpiece of the deal for the Cubs, but he has yet to reach the majors. Although the 24-year-old ranks number-26 in Chicago’s stacked minor league system, he’s behind National League (NL) Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant on the depth chart. More importantly though, Villanueva suffered a fractured fibula in Spring Training and hasn’t played this season. Hendricks has experienced better luck and landed in Chicago’s rotation as a full-time starter last season. This year, he’s off to a great start and currently ranks number-13 among NL starters, based on FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR). David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon for Joseph Musgrove, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Carlos Perez, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, and Kevin Comer Another club in the midst of a massive rebuild — the Houston Astros — started trading away major league talent a year earlier when they dispatched Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn in deals to the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves respectively. In 2012, new general manager Jeff Lunhow continued the trend started by his predecessor — Ed Wade — by shipping Happ and two veterans north of the border in an attempt to restock his decimated minor league system. Although ten players were involved in this deal, only a few panned out or provided value to either club. Lyon, Cordero, and Francisco were gone — via trade or release — within three months. After the 2014 season, Perez was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for catcher Hank Conger, who was subsequently purchased by the Tampa Bay Rays last December. Carpenter, along with manager John Farrell were sent to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Mike Aviles. Just four days later, Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes were sent packing to the Cleveland Indians for Esmil Rogers, who has since moved on from Toronto. Rollins was a Rule 5 selection by the Seattle Mariners in December 2015 and currently plays with their Class-AAA affiliate. Wojciechowski was waived last month and subsequently picked up by the Miami Marlins. That leaves Happ, Comer, and Musgrove to discuss. For Toronto, Happ was the centerpiece of the deal. The southpaw endured a tough run of injury problems with the Blue Jays, although he did provide value when healthy. In December 2014, the Jays swapped the veteran hurler Happ for outfielder Michael Saunders of the Mariners. Happ must have enjoyed his stay in Canada because he returned to the team as a free agent last offseason after a brief stay in Pittsburgh last summer. Now, the Jays have both Happ and Saunders contributing to the big league club. For the Astros, Comer hasn’t reached Class-AA yet and isn’t a top-30 prospect. However, Musgrove looks like he’ll eventually pay dividends for Houston. The 23-year-old is currently pitching at Class-AAA Fresno and projects to be a mid-rotation starter. Zack Greinke for Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena and Jean Segura If I didn’t cover this deal made by current Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, I’d probably lose my parking privileges at the Prospect Insider headquarters. At the time of the trade, Dipoto was running the Los Angeles Angels. His ball club was just three games behind the first place Rangers and held the lead in the AL wildcard race. Unfortunately, for the Angels and Dipoto, the team didn’t make it to the postseason despite winning 89 games. The Angels’ dance partner — the Milwaukee Brewers — were hopelessly out of contention and looking to acquire value for Greinke, who was set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Of the three players the Brewers acquired, Segura was the best. In his first full season with the club, he made the 2013 NL All-Star team and posted an excellent .294/.329/.423 triple-slash. The following two seasons, though, he was an offensive disappointment and subsequently shipped off to the Arizona Diamondbacks in January. Hellweg is now in the San Diego Padres organization after signing as a minor league free agent prior to this season, while Pena is still in the Brewers minor league system. Neither is on their respective club’s 40-man roster. Although Segura provided mixed results while with Milwaukee, the club did garner some value when they traded him along with pitcher Tyler Wagner to Arizona for minor leaguer Isan Diaz, pitcher Chase Anderson, and veteran infielder Aaron Hill. This was, in essence, the second layer of the Greinke deal. The 34-year-old Hill will be a free agent at the end of the season and is a likely deadline deal chip for general manager David Stearns. But, Anderson and Diaz have long-term value to Stearns’ organization. Anderson is under team control for five more seasons and currently a member of their rotation, while Diaz — a 2014 second-round draft pick — currently ranks number-11 in Milwaukee’s minor league system. Hunter Pence for Seth Rosin, Nate Schierholtz and Tommy Joseph Just a year after picking up Pence from the Astros, Philadelphia flipped him to the San Francisco Giants for three youngsters. He’d eventually sign an extension with San Francisco and is under contract through the 2018 season. Along the way, the 33-year-old helped his team win the 2012 and 2014 Fall Classic. Rosin is no longer with the Phillies after his selection during the Rule 5 draft by the New York Mets in December 2013. He’s currently with Class-AAA El Paso in the San Diego Padres organization, but not on their 40-man roster. Schierholtz became a free agent after the season and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014. From the Phillies’ perspective, Joseph was the key component of the deal. At the time, the right-handed hitter appeared to Philadelphia’s catcher of the future. Unfortunately, concussions derailed his career behind the plate. As a result, the team moved him to first base on a full-time basis. Now, the 24-year-old appears to be the heir apparent to veteran first baseman Ryan Howard. Randy Choate and Hanley Ramirez for Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough The Los Angeles Dodgers were hot on the heels of the Giants and their new ownership group wanted to make a splash by reaching the postseason for the first time in three seasons. So, they acquired Choate and Ramirez from the Miami Marlins. Unfortunately, for the club, San Francisco won it all and the Dodgers missed the playoffs altogether. Although Choate left as a free agent after season, Ramirez proved to be an important contributor who helped the Dodgers reach the next two postseasons before he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in November 2014. As compensation for losing Ramirez, Los Angeles received a compensatory draft pick — number-35 overall — and selected Kyle Funkhouser from the University of Louisville. Unfortunately, for the Dodgers, Funkhouser didn’t sign and opted to return to school for his senior year. For the Marlins, they recouped some value in the deal, although it was in a circuitous manner — like the Greinke deal. McGough was waived in April, but Miami was able to flip Eovaldi with Domingo German and Garrett Jones to nab David Phelps and Martin Prado from the New York Yankees in December 2014. Phelps is the team’s eight-inning setup man and Prado is their starting third baseman. Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez for Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn and Jacob Turner In another “sell-mode” maneuver, Miami sent Infante and Sanchez to the win-now Detroit Tigers. This deal turned out to be lopsided in favor of Detroit. The Marlins got little value out of the threesome they received. Turner was traded to the Cubs for minor leaguers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer two years later. Arias is no longer playing professional baseball and the 26-year-old Bremer has yet to pitch above the Class-AA level. Flynn was traded to the Kansas City Royals in November 2014 for Aaron Crow, who was granted free agency a year later. Brantly was eventually waived by the Marlins and the Chicago White Sox. He’s currently one of Dipoto’s layers of roster depth at Class-AAA Tacoma. Conversely, Detroit did much better. Infante played well for the Tigers until he became a free agent after the 2013 season, while Sanchez finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting during his first full season and he’s still toeing the mound in the Motor City. Ichiro Suzuki for Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell This deal was a small one, but it did involve a future Hall of Famer and the Mariners. So, I thought I’d mention it. Ichiro asked to be traded from the Emerald City and the organization obliged by sending him to New York. The former AL Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year helped the Yankees reach the postseason and played two more seasons with the club before moving on to the Marlins — his current team. The 42-year-old is on-track to reach 3,000 hits this season and is certain to be a Mariners Hall of Fame member. Perhaps, his Cooperstown plaque will have him wearing a Seattle cap. Seattle received fair value in return for Ichiro considering that he was 38-years-old and regressing. Although Mitchell was out of the Mariners system less than a year later and currently playing independent league ball, Farquhar helped the club for several seasons. The right-hander was an asset out of the bullpen and even served as Seattle’s closer in the second half of 2013. During last offseason, Farquhar was part of a six-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays that brought starting pitcher Nate Karns and outfield prospect Boog Powell to the Mariners. Finally Once again, my takeaway is that time is the best judge of deadline deals, not the instant gratification analysis certain to immediately follow after this year’s trades. My advice to those following a team that deals for prospects next month is be patient and wait about four years before you make your final judgement. That’s easier said than done, but you’ll have a better idea on how your team actually fared. It might prevent your blood pressure from soaring in July too.
It’s been more than 18 months since Brad Miller crossed the plate on an 11th-inning Austin Jackson single to secure a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels and keep the playoff hopes of the Seattle Mariners alive until Day 162. On September 27, 2014 Safeco Field and the surrounding streets following the game had an atmosphere that hadn’t been felt in more than a decade. Tomorrow, the Mariners were sending Felix Hernandez to the hill and, with the help of an Oakland Athletics’ loss, could clinch a Wild Card slot with a victory. Unfortunately, Athletics’ pitcher Sonny Gray mirrored the excellent performance of Seattle’s ace on that day and secured Oakland’s place in the playoffs. Fast forward to Opening Day 2015 where the Mariners found themselves, surprisingly enough, at the top of nearly every pundit’s list of American League favorites. The team had patched some holes in the offseason and Nelson Cruz was brought in to fill the hole behind Cano that loomed for nearly all of 2014. But, as these things have a tendency to, it didn’t happen. Just ask the Washington Nationals. Cano went on to have the worst first-half performance of his career, due in large part to a myriad of ailments. King Felix had moments where he appeared mortal. And the bullpen imploded. Literally, it imploded. What was one of the M’s biggest strengths in 2014 became a brutal weakness in 2015. It would all add up to a 76-86 record and the acquisition of a new, undesirable title: the team with the longest playoff drought in professional sports. Last fall the Toronto Blue Jays tasted the postseason for the first time since Joe Carter touched home plate in 1993. Even the Chicago Cubs took a serious run at breaking their championship-less streak. If the magic of 2001 feels like it was a long time ago, that’s because it was. The disappointment was felt amongst the fan base and the organization, which prompted the firing of general manager Jack Zduriencik in late August. Manager Lloyd McClendon would also become a casualty of failed expectations, but not before a new mind was brought onboard to right the ship. On September 29th Jerry Dipoto was officially hired as the club’s new general manager. A few weeks later Dipoto’s colleague from their days in Los Angeles, Scott Servais, was hired to manage the team. With the front office changes complete, work began on retooling a disappointing team. Without much help waiting in the wings in the upper minors, wholesale changes were coming. The core of the franchise remained intact with Hernandez, Cano, Kyle Seager, and Cruz locked up to multi-year deals and Taijuan Walker still in his pre-arbitration years. But familiar names like Brad Miller, Tom Wilhelmsen, Roenis Elias, and Carson Smith were dealt with names like Wade Miley, Leonys Martin, and Nate Karns set to become familiar in the coming years. After years of acquiring sluggers who impersonated outfielders, the Mariners built an outfield that should be a considerable upgrade defensively and with more offensive potential. Seth Smith remained with the club and will platoon in right field with Franklin Gutierrez, who was re-signed. Nori Aoki will be the primary left fielder and gives the club a legitimate option in the leadoff spot. Leonys Martin was the big name acquired in a multi-player deal with the Texas Rangers and even if he doesn’t hit much, should give the club above average defense or better in center field. One of the benefits of these acquisitions is that Cruz is no longer required to play right field consistently. He still will make the odd appearance though and while he’s not a complete liability for a game at a time in the field, his skill set is optimized when kept to designated hitter duties. Regardless of what the small sample outfield numbers may lead you to believe, this is the case. The infield required less work with Cano and Seager in place. Ketel Marte, who excelled in the second half of last season, holds the reigns for the everyday shortstop gig and will offer the club contact and speed skills and has shown improved defense. Luis Sardinas will back-up the infielders and offers of versatility off the bench. First base received a makeover with Adam Lind coming over to mash right-handed pitching and Korean import Dae-Ho Lee set to be his other half. There’s plenty of uncertainly with Lee and his ability to hit major league pitching, which his roster spot depends on. The catching position also received a makeover with Chris Iannetta brought onboard with Steve Clevenger, acquired in the Mark Trumbo deal, providing back-up. Mike Zunino starts the year in Tacoma where he will have ample opportunity to continue working on his offensive game and could resurface later in the season. The rotation received some help with the additions of Miley and Karns as well as the re-signing of Hisashi Iwakuma. While the rotation lacks a true No. 2 behind Hernandez, Walker is a prime breakout candidate and could find himself in that role by the summer, should everything go right. Lefty James Paxton will start the year at Triple-A after a rough spring in hopes of regaining his command. The benefit of the added rotation depth is that the 27-year-old can be allotted the time to figure things out instead of being relied upon at the major league level. The bullpen situation looks a little more problematic in the early going. Veterans Joaquin Benoit and Steve Cishek were brought in to anchor the back-end of the pen but Charlie Furbush, Evan Scribner, and Ryan Cook will start the year on the disabled list. Tony Zych has the potential to be a shutdown set-up man, but otherwise the bullpen lacks much punch. With the injuries it’s difficult to fairly examine the bullpen. There will also be some fluctuation among the arms with bullpen candidates waiting in the minors. Given the negative impact the bullpen had on Seattle last season I would imagine a close eye will be kept on the waiver wire and trade front for potential arms to bolster the corps. At the start of the 2015 season, I penned a piece entitled “From Optimism to Expectations: The 2015 Seattle Mariners.” To expand, the Mariners found themselves moving from an optimistic state to start the 2014 season to an expectant state. Heading into the 2016 season, Seattle finds itself somewhere in between. With all of the organizational changes and new personnel brought onboard, there is a new optimism surrounding the Mariners. However, considering how the results of the previous campaign and the ascension of the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers over the past season, that optimism hasn’t extended itself into expectations of a playoff run. But, should some things go the M’s way, a meaningful September definitely is not out of the question. Does that make the Mariners a sleeper? Perhaps. With the attention on the Texas teams in the American League West and what should be very competitive AL Central and AL East divisions, it’s easy for Seattle to slip to the back burner. With a first-year manager and superstars coming off disappointing performances in Hernandez and Cano there’s no need for additional motivation. The clubhouse culture also appears to be much more favorable this year, and we saw what some of those effects can have on a club while watching the Blue Jays during their incredible second-half run. Acquiring a David Price helps, too. The Mariners are a veteran club built to win now, not later. The improvements to the organization will likely be seen immediately, but a slow start could kill much of the offseason momentum. On the plus side, the American League remains wide open. There is an upper echelon of clubs including the Jays, Astros, Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and World Champion Kansas City Royals. But it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, and perhaps, the Seattle Mariners are able to grab a Wild Card spot at the least. There’s a level of optimism and a level of expectations for the Mariners and both sides are justified. After all, on Opening Day, every team has a shot.
The odyssey of Jesus Montero and the Seattle Mariners came to a close on Monday. The centerpiece of the deal that sent Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees was claimed on waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays after four seasons in the Mariners organization. All Seattle has to show for it’s efforts are the $20,000 waiver fee and a handful of stories that include an ice cream sandwich. My initial reaction to hearing the news was disappointment after seeing, from a distance, how hard Montero has worked to get his life and career back on track. Considering all that he had been through, to see him show up in camp last spring slimmed down and go on to make the Triple-A All-Star team could be considered inspiring — I’m sure for some it was. He did everything within his power to earn another crack at the big leagues. I wanted to see what he could do with a month’s worth of regular playing time. But the cruel realities of baseball, and to an extent life, kick in and remind us that often it’s less about what you have done and more about what you are going to do now and in the future. The reality in this case is that Montero doesn’t really offer much to the 2016 Mariners. Adam Lind does need a platoon partner at first base. But giving the 25th spot on the roster to a guy who would only hit left-handed pitching a couple hundred times a year while providing no value in the field or on the base paths didn’t make much sense. The leading candidate for that role, however, is offseason import Dae-Ho Lee who doesn’t differ significantly from Montero in what he brings to the table. Lee probably has a little bit more power to offer, but likely benefits most by offering a new or different unknown. The book shouldn’t entirely be closed on Montero at 26-years-old. With nearly 900 plate appearances at the major league level and a measly 92 wRC+ to show for his career, though, the book is several chapters deep. What exactly Montero’s role will be on the Jays is unclear. On the major league side Toronto has Chris Colabello and former Mariner Justin Smoak sharing first base duties and Edwin Encarnacion set at designated hitter. It’s possible they will try sneaking him through waivers to serve as minor league depth or as insurance should Encarnacion struggle to stay healthy all season. There has been some concern that Encarnacion wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day after battling an oblique injury for most of the spring. A temporary stopgap solution could work here, but with the slugger back in game action on Monday — albeit minor league action — the club is optimistic he’ll be ready when the games start counting. With that in mind, there isn’t a fit for him on the Blue Jays’ major league squad, either. But a look at the Jays’ recent history suggests they might know a thing or two about fixing broken power hitters. Encarnacion is a great example of this after struggling during his time with Cincinnati before a 2012 break-out season. Jose Bautista coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates and becoming one of the best sluggers in the game is another example. For both of those players, opportunity to fail without losing playing time aided in their eventual successes. The case is still out for Smoak who only had a slightly above replacement level season. His platoon-mate, Collabello, rode an extremely high BABIP to a breakout offensive season so he’s one to watch going forward. All that isn’t to say Toronto will somehow capitalize on all the talent we know has existed within Montero — it’s not as though they have something akin to the Pirates’ pitcher-fixing factory. But maybe they did see something mechanically they think could be fixed. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote an excellent piece that reminds us of the perils of projecting young hitters, and any prospect for that matter. This is particularly the case when the prospect’s stock is tied entirely to a single tool. Some guys can make it work and many can not with a wide range of outcomes in between. Montero’s tenure in Seattle will be most remembered for the poor and the strange: under-performance, injuries, a PED suspension, eating away an offseason, and the incident with the scout. But at this juncture we have a situation that really isn’t that uncommon: a capable Triple-A hitter who just couldn’t make it work in the show. Nevertheless, the slugger certainly gave us plenty to talk about and to hope for. I don’t think I’m alone in that I would be happy to see Montero succeed elsewhere, or at least get another shot in the big leagues. It’s tough. Prospects are tough. Life’s tough. A couple of poor decisions can sink the ship the salesman guaranteed would float. At minimum, Montero was supposed to hit for the Mariners. He didn’t. His story thus far isn’t unlike many others but at the same time is unique. However it ends, 28 home runs in the major leagues is still 28 more than most will ever get the chance to hit.
Yesterday, we looked at seven National League players set to enter their sophomore year: Kris Bryant, Matt Duffy, Joc Pederson, Odubel Herrera, Randal Grichuk, Anthony DeSclafani, and Noah Syndergaard. Today we will look at seven American League players entering their sophomore seasons. To recap, per MLB’s rules, a player remains a rookie until they exceed 130 plate appearances as a position player, 50 innings pitched as a pitcher, or 45 days on an active 25-man roster — this doesn’t include time spent on the disabled list or when rosters expand in September. This is why, for example, Chris Taylor wasn’t considered a rookie in 2015 after picking up 136 at-bats in 2014 but Shawn O’Malley will enter the 2016 season with his rookie status intact after just picking up major league at-bat No. 58 this past season. Kyle’s younger brother Corey Seager does not appear on this list, despite finding himself in the top 20 NL rookies in terms of fWAR last year and being the consensus top prospect in baseball because, with just 98 September at-bats, he’s still a rookie. Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman is entering his third major league season despite missing nearly all of 2015 following knee surgery since he surpassed the 50 innings pitched mark back in 2014. Without further ado, let’s get to those American League sophomores. Francisco Lindor, SS — Cleveland Indians If it wasn’t for the following shortstop, Lindor would have easily taken home the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year award. Arguably he should have anyways. He posted an impressive .313/.353/.482 slash line and his 128 wRC+ was second among AL shortstops with 400 plate appearances. The 22-year-old was regarded as an excellent defender and proved in year one that he has the range and arm to stick as a major league shortstop. Lindor’s 12 home runs and stolen bases in 99 games only added to his impressive season. The power numbers in his first taste of major league action are likely due for regression considering his .482 slugging percentage is far beyond anything he had posted in the minor leagues. Double-digit home runs should be possible on a regular basis though, and if he gains strength over the next few years he easily could profile as a 15 home run, 15 stolen base guy. The elite defense will keep Lindor in the majors, but his offensive output will be worth watching in 2016 as pitchers will have adjusted and some of the power may not be there. Still, he projects as a star, or even a superstar, in the making. Carlos Correa, SS — Houston Astros Not often are Alex Rodriguez‘ early years referenced, but the comparison is warranted here for the recipient of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Correa burst on to the scene as a 21-year-old and lead all American league shortstops with his 133 wRC+. Equally impressive was his ascent to the majors. Correa began the year in Double-A, but by the second week of June debuted in the Astros’ lineup. He finished the year with 22 home runs and a 9.4 percent walk rate; both impressive numbers for a rookie and key aspects to the team’s run to the Wild Card game. There’s conversation that Correa is already the best shortstop in all of baseball. Offensively, that was the case last season but he did find himself fifth among all shortstops in fWAR, though he played in just 99 games. Expectations will deservedly be high for Correa heading into 2016 and there’s evidence that he could be even better. The 133 wRC+ could be topped if he’s able to add a few more home runs and steals while keeping the strikeout rate steady. There’s also some room for improvement on the defensive side of his game, but we are already looking at a franchise cornerstone before his 22nd birthday Devon Travis, 2B — Toronto Blue Jays It was a year of what could have been for Travis. Among AL rookies he was tied for third with 2.3 fWAR but that was accomplished in just 62 games and 238 plate appearances before losing his season to shoulder problems. He accompanied his .304/.361/.498 slash line with eight home runs and solid defence at second base. At 25 he’s still young enough to have some upside beyond being an average hitter at a premium position, and his only appearances at Triple-A came this past season so his ability to hit major league pitching so well last year was impressive. The power output was a tad unprecedented, but Travis does have a pair of 10 home run seasons in the minors to his credit. Otherwise he profiles as a solid all-around hitter at a premium position. The major question mark though, is health. He still isn’t resumed baseball activities and won’t return for Opening Day but could rejoin the club before summer officially begins. Ultimately health will be what his sophomore season comes down to. He may need some time in the minors to regain strength in his shoulder once he’s healthy, but only Ryan Goins is in his way on the depth chart so he should have every opportunity to contribute to the big league club this season. Miguel Sano, DH — Minnesota Twins If a a major leaguer is going to have success with one above average tool, it’s probably going to be with power. And Sano has all kinds of it. The 22-year-old skipped Triple-A on his way to the big leagues after pummeling Double-A pitching for the first two-plus months of the season. In 335 plate appearances with the Twins, the right-hander posted a .269/.385/.530 slash line with 18 home runs — good for second-most among AL rookies. He was error-free in 82 innings played in the field, but it’s expected that he will primarily DH for the bulk of his career. There’s always significant risk with a true outcome player — a term given to one who is likeliest to strikeout, walk, or hit a home run (the three true outcomes for a hitter) in each plate appearance — and Sano is no different. His 35.5 percent strikeout rate — a good five percent higher than his worst minor league rate — was accompanied by a 15.8 percent walk rate. Since he won’t be providing any value on the field or base paths, cutting down the strikeouts even by a few percent could be a big deal. Sano isn’t the type of player you build an organization around, but Adam Dunn and others have proven that this type of skill set can be valuable for a major league team. There’s a lot of risk here, but we’ve seen how much teams covet right-handed power. Ketel Marte, SS — Seattle Mariners Potentially the forgotten man in an impressive class of rookie shortstops, Marte was late to the party compared to his counterparts as didn’t debut until July 31. In just 247 plate appearances, the 22-year-old ranked third among AL shortstops with his 112 wRC+ and sixth with his 1.7 fWAR. Marte’s .283/.351/.402 slash line provided a spark to the top of the Mariners’ order and was a bright spot in a mostly disappointing season for the club. Given his speed and contact skills, the switch-hitter should be able to maintain an above-average BABIP and hit at the top of the order. There’s still debate as to whether he’d be better suited at second base or center field, but he has made strides at short and in the meantime will stick there. Long-term it’s unlikely to be his best fit though. Brad Miller was dealt over the offseason so Marte will have a reasonably long leash at short in his sophomore year. He did manage to improve his plate discipline in 2015 posting an impressive 9.7 percent walk rate but keeping that up will be a little tougher now that the league has gotten to know him some. There’s a good chance the stolen bases will increase as well under a management team that appears to be encouraging it more. Overall, Seattle could be looking at a solid if unspectacular all around sophomore season from Marte. Lance McCullers, SP — Houston Astros The former first-round pick found himself in the big league rotation due to injuries despite only 32 innings at Double-A but didn’t look all that much out of place. He made 22 starts for the surprising Houston Astros and in 125 an 2/3 innings pitched posted a 3.26 FIP. McCullers’ 9.24 strikeouts per nine innings was second among AL rookie starters to teammate and fellow sophomore Vincent Velasquez. The 22-year-old’s 2.8 fWAR handily topped AL rookie starters as well. McCullers has an excellent fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and an above average breaking ball. He’ll need to further develop his changeup in order to have three major league-caliber offerings that can be mixed, but give him the benefit of the doubt since he probably entered 2015 with another year or two of time in the minors allotted to do so. McCullers is coming off a professional career high for innings pitched and could find himself limited to the 150-range. He’ll have some adjustments to make as the league adjusts to him and I’d expect a few struggles as the changeup development continues, but he has a solid rookie season to build upon and should be fine in 2016. Carlos Rodon, SP — Chicago White Sox It’s rare for any player, even for a No. 3 overall pick, to debut in the big leagues after just 34 and 2/3 innings in the minors. But Rodon and his electric slider debuted in late April and went on to produce a 3.87 FIP across 23 starts and 139 and 1/3 innings pitched. The 23-year-old posted a strikeout rate of 8.98 per nine innings but struggled throughout the year with the free pass at a rate of 4.59 per nine. Obviously the big thing going forward will be reducing the walk rate, but the raw tools are all there — including an improving changeup. As many young pitchers are susceptible to, Rodon had rough patches throughout the season where he was knocked around. The walks came down in August and September last year and the left-hander’s results improved ERA-wise, but his FIP disagreed with what we were seeing. The key to sophomore success will be continuing to develop consistency. At times Rodon’s lack of seasoning was telling in 2015, but with a full year under his belt, 2016 should be a step forward for the rising star.
With the flurry of moves made by the Seattle Mariners over the past two weeks, it’s easy to forget that Major League Baseball’s offseason has only just started. Since that is the case, the market for many free agents, including Hisashi Iwakuma, has yet to develop. This isn’t unusual as many mid-tier free agents sign around the winter meetings in early December, or once one of the big fish have signed and helped set the market. For Iwakuma and the Mariners, the situation seems simple enough: both parties are interested in a reunion. General manager Jerry Dipoto has gone so far as to say re-signing the right-hander is a priority and there hasn’t been any indication Iwakuma would prefer pitching elsewhere. The 34-year-old has accumulated 8.6 fWAR over the past three seasons and owns a career 3.62 FIP in 653 and 2/3 innings pitched. While Iwakuma won’t blow hitters away with velocity, he’s posted a ground ball rate north of 50 percent in all but one of four major league seasons and is excellent at limiting walks. There’s some evidence to suggest that this type of skill set will age well. He’s also been relatively healthy aside from a disabled list stint this past season for a lat strain. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins recently examined the situation and noted that a three-year extension would take Iwakuma through his age-38 season, a risky proposition. Three years isn’t an unreasonable ask for the right-hander, particularly in free agency, but it could be a little rich for Seattle’s taste. For the same reasons that Iwakuma is valuable to the Mariners, he could be valuable to 29 other clubs. And there’s no reason to think that a reunion is a sure thing. There hasn’t been much talk about potential landing spots for Iwakuma outside of Seattle, but these are a few places where I believe there could be a fit. Seattle Mariners A major factor in Iwakuma’s free agency was his rejection of the qualifying offer. Any team looking to sign him would have to commit multiple years and surrender a draft pick for his services. This doesn’t mean that another team won’t make an attempt to sign the right-hander, but does give the Mariners an advantage as there is no draft pick cost. There hasn’t been any indication that the M’s aren’t the leader for Iwakuma’s services. Behind Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker exists three question marks, with James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery, and Nate Karns in that conversation. Walker could well be a question mark, too. Seattle needs to acquire a No. 3 at the least, with a No. 2 behind Felix being ideal. Los Angeles Dodgers The rotation is currently bare behind Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson as Zack Greinke is a free agent and Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu recovering from injuries. LA is expected to be active in the free agent market and have been linked to bigger names like David Price and Jordan Zimmermann. However, Andrew Friedman and co. elected to make lower-level pick-ups at the trade deadline this past July, acquiring Alex Wood and Mat Latos instead of an ace, and could look to make similar value adds this winter. Los Angeles, like Seattle, provides easy access to Iwakuma’s native Japan. It’s wrong to assume that location is always a factor in a player’s desired destination, but there’s a good chance it’s in play here. Obviously money is no problem for the Dodgers, so if they feel that Kuma is the missing piece, they won’t be beat on a dollar-for-dollar basis. New York Yankees The Bronx Bombers are also in the market for rotation depth but appear to be avoiding the higher-priced options. It’s possible Iwakuma could be interested in joining his former Rakutan teammate Masahiro Tanaka. Of course there is concern over Tanaka’s health as he pitched the season with a partially torn rotator cuff and underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery back in October. There’s also some uncertainty with C.C. Sabathia who has battled injuries and ineffectiveness the past couple years and missed the American League Wild Card game after checking into rehab. New York has been a major player in free agency, but in recent years have turned more towards the trade market for potential solutions. They have also made a much-needed push towards getting younger with Luis Severino in the rotation and recently acquired outfielder Aaron Hicks. There’s also some discussion that the Yankees would rather trade for a younger, controllable starter. The club’s preference is for a high strikeout and ground ball rate pitcher with a low walk rate, a mold Iwakuma fits. San Francisco Giants The giants are very much in on this winter’s free agency prizes, Greinke and Price, and have the resources to make that dream a reality. They were also heavily involved with Jon Lester last year. Not to suggest Iwakuma is in the same ranks as these pitchers, he’s not, but should San Francisco fail to lure a big-time starter to the Bay Area, their attention no doubt will turn to other mid-tier options. Beyond Madison Bumgarner the rotation needs help. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are solid veterans but combined for 171 and 1/3 innings last year due to injuries. Sticking with the narrative that the Giants will win the even-numbered 2016 World Series, a couple short-term upgrades should be in order. San Francisco is another west coast team and offers a friendly pitching environment that could interest Iwakuma. Toronto Blue Jays The Jays pursued Iwakuma two summers ago as a trade target, and although Alex Anthopolous is no longer the decision-maker, his right-hand man at the time, Tony LaCava, is the interim general manager. A lot can change in two years, however, so reading too much into that is unwise. But Iwakuma does fit Toronto’s needs in several ways. The club doesn’t appear to be a serious player for Price and also stands to lose Mark Buehrle to free agency or retirement, two holes that need to be filled in the rotation. The Blue Jays are in position to win now and are looking to maximize the seasons of potential free agents Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, though both could be extended. The club also acquired Jesse Chavez from the Oakland Athletics to beef up the pitching staff, but are still looking to add another starter. Iwakuma’s ground ball tendencies and Toronto’s excellent defense could match-up well. Marco Estrada, also a recipient of the qualifying offer, elected to re-sign with Toronto for two years and $26 million. Estrada doesn’t have the track record that Iwakuma does, but the 32-year-old likely saw potential suitors back off, either in total or in potential dollar commitments, with the qualifying offer in play. I’m not prepared to suggest the same fate awaits Iwakuma. If he were to receive a three-year deal though, I could see the average annual value being closer to $13-to-14 million instead of $16-to-17 million with the qualifying offer in mind. As with all free agents it only takes two bidders — or if you’re represented by Scott Boras, one and a ‘mystery team’ — to drive the price past what initially was deemed reasonable. I still think Seattle and Iwakuma get something done, but he’s not without options should a reunion become out of reach.
Jerry Dipoto didn’t wait very long to make his first significant move as Seattle Mariners GM. His acquisition of right-hander Nate Karns, southpaw C.J. Riefenhauser and outfield prospect Boog Powell signals the start of what’s likely to be a busy offseason for the new GM. But, that doesn’t mean that Dipoto will completely overhaul his roster. As Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill pointed out during his offseason primer, the Mariners 2015 roster was good enough to contend for postseason play. Obviously, things didn’t work out for Seattle, largely due to a lack of depth that prevented the club from overcoming injuries. Despite the Mariners disappointing 2015, any team that starts star players like Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager and a stable of young arms like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, and Mike Montgomery can become a contender in one offseason. That’s assuming the GM can infuse enough depth to survive the rigors of a 162-game season, plus a month of October baseball. Even if Dipoto succeeds in building in needed depth in the minors and on the big league roster, the Mariners won’t be ready to win on Opening Day. Seattle will face in-season challenges – every team does. Even the best organizations have to go outside of their organization for help after the season starts. Look no further than last season’s final eight playoff teams to see what I mean. Team Trades Free Agt Total Key Additions Chicago Cubs 3 1 4 Austin Jackson / Fernando Rodney / Clayton Richard / Trevor Cahill Houston Astros 4 0 4 Carlos Gomez / Scott Kazmir / Mike Fiers / Oliver Perez Kansas City Royals 2 0 2 Ben Zobrist / Johnny Cueto Los Angeles Dodgers 4 0 4 Chase Utley / Alex Wood / Justin Ruggiano / Luis Avilan New York Mets 4 1 5 Yoenis Cespedes / Tyler Clippard / Addison Reed / Kelly Johnson St. Louis Cardinals 2 0 2 Brandon Moss / Jonathan Broxton Texas Rangers 7 0 7 Mike Napoli / Josh Hamilton / Cole Hamels / Jake Diekman / Sam Dyson Toronto Blue Jays 6 0 6 Troy Tulowitzki / David Price / Ben Revere / Mark Lowe / LaTroy Hawkins Totals 32 2 34 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThe two teams with the fewest moves were holdovers from the 2014 postseason and happen to be from the “Show Me State.” Both the World Series champion Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals each added just two players from their original group. The Cardinals added two role players, while the Royals were more aggressive by adding starting-level players Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto for their pennant push. Conversely, the most active teams – the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays – didn’t appear in last year’s playoffs. Rangers GM Jon Daniels never lost faith in his team despite starting the season without ace Yu Darvish and rotation mate Martin Perez. To make matters worse, Derek Holland went on the disabled list after his first start of the year. It seemed like 2015 wouldn’t be the Rangers’ year, but Daniels was undeterred. To the surprise of many, the Rangers GM added Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels, plus relievers Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson at the July 31 trading deadline. Some rationalized that adding Hamels might help Texas in 2015, but Daniels was actually looking towards 2016 when he’d have Darvish to pair up with the Philly southpaw. They were wrong. Texas was seven games behind the first-place Houston Astros on the day they dealt for Hamels. The Rangers would go on a tear that helped them leap-frog the second place Los Angeles Angels and eventually catch Houston to win the American League West division. Daniels added several other players like former Ranger outfielder Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli. But, the Hamels deal has to be viewed as the point that the Rangers’ season turned around. Toronto certainly made the biggest splash in July with the acquisitions of both Troy Tulowitzki and David Price in deadline deals. The “Tulo” deal was made even more dramatic because the Blue Jays included starting shortstop Jose Reyes in the trade package. By being so aggressive, the Blue Jays made it clear to their fans and the rest of the baseball world that they intended to go deep into the postseason and they did just that by cutting down the New York Yankees’ six-game lead to win the American League East division and reaching the League Championship. The New York Mets added four new players, but the deadline acquisition of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes certainly was the headline grabber. Cespedes’ performance didn’t warrant the MVP conversation that invaded blogs in August, but there’s no disputing that his performance played a big role in the Mets winning the National League East division. It’s natural for fans to scream for these kind of deals when their team struggles out of the gate. Sure, several teams made major moves that changed the course of their respective seasons. But, that’s not the only way that playoff teams improved during the season. The Mets made a splash with Cespedes. But, they also benefited greatly from minor league call-ups, as did the Chicago Cubs and Houston. Conversely, other teams – like Texas and Toronto – got relief from players returning from the disabled list. It’s easy to overlook or forget about minor leaguers or players on the disabled list – out of sight, out of mind. But, minor call-up or players returning from injury can be difference makers. Take a look at players who were either on the disabled list or in the minors on Opening Day, but went on to earn a postseason roster spot. There are some impressive names on this list, aren’t there? Team DL Returnees Key Minor League Additions Chicago Cubs Chris Denorfia Kris Bryant / Addison Russell / Kyle Schwarber Houston Astros Josh Fields Carlos Correa / Preston Tucker /Lance McCullers Jr. Kansas City Royals Kris Medlen / Luke Hochevar Terrance Gore Los Angeles Dodgers Kenley Jansen Corey Seager New York Mets None Michael Conforto / Kevin Plawecki / Steven Matz / Noah Syndergaard St. Louis Cardinals Jaime Garcia Greg Garcia / Tommy Pham / Stephen Piscotty Texas Rangers Martin Perez Hanser Alberto / Chi Chi Gonzalez Toronto Blue Jays Marcus Stroman Dalton Pompey xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx It’s easy to forget that Addison Russell wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. It’s tougher to forget that his teammate – Kris Bryant – started the season in the minors after his agent Scott Boras questioned why his client wasn’t going to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. Both players were tremendous additions, as was Kyle Schwarber. Does anyone think that the Cubs would have reached the National League Championship Series without these three players? The Mets young starting pitchers were the foundation of the team’s first winning season since 2008, but it’s important to note that two starters – Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz – started games in the World Series despite the fact that they didn’t break camp with the team in April. It’s tough to imagine the Mets playing in the Fall Classic without Syndergaard and Matz. The same applies for returning players from the disabled list. Daniels’ acquisition of Hamels was a great move, but where would Texas have been without Perez and Holland returning to the roster in July and August respectively? They probably wouldn’t have traveled to Toronto in October without those two. Having Marcus Stroman during the home stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs was a great boost for Toronto. Getting significant value from rookies and players returning from the disabled list is akin to making a trade. When teams add rookies like the Cubs and Mets did, it’s essentially the equivalent to a mega-deal – only cheaper. Okay, there’s a lot of moving parts need to come together during any successful playoff run. But, what about the Mariners going into 2016? Seattle’s been behind the player development power curve for years, so you’re not going to see players like Syndergaard, Bryant, or Houston’s Carlos Correa as Seattle call-ups in 2016. It’s more likely that the club will derive their minor league depth via the offseason trade and waiver market with less-notable players like Riefenhauser, Powell, and pitcher Cody Martin. That increases the likelihood of having to make in-season adjustments. It should be encouraging to Mariner fans that their new GM is well-versed with making in-season adjustments – just like this year’s postseason contestants. In 2012, he traded for pitcher Zack Greinke and he reloaded his bullpen by adding closer Huston Street and fellow reliever Jason Grilli, helping propel the Angels to a major league best 98-win season in 2014. I’m not saying that the Mariners won’t be good on Opening Day, but their roster won’t be ready for the postseason – no major league roster will be. All teams encounter injuries and possible sub-par performance from players. Last year’s best teams overcame those challenges, while the Mariners didn’t and that’s why they weren’t even a fringe contender. The fact that the Mariners now have a GM capable of adapting to misfortune improves the likelihood of the club ending their 14-year postseason drought.
With the news breaking Friday morning that the Seattle Mariners parted ways with Jack Zduriencik we’ve already started to hear the names of possible replacements. It’s all speculation at this point, but retreads galore likely are littering your Twitter timeline, drawing eye rolls and even some ‘WTF’ replies. Understandably. Team president and COO Kevin Mather stated publicly via press conference and radio interviews the club wants to find a new baseball guy before the offseason truly gets under way. Part of that is to make sure they don’t get beat to the punch on candidates, part of it is about hitting the offseason ready to go. It’s the only way to go about this these days. Several other things Mather said Friday via the various outlets that struck me as interesting or somewhat important: Despite giving Lloyd McClendon a sort of vote of confidence, the new GM will have the power to bring in his own field staff, including the manager. Mather will encourage but not force McClendon on the new GM Mather believes the 25-man roster is fairly close to being good enough, though clearly there are holes to fill and admits his opinion may not be that of the baseball people he chooses in the end Club prefers a GM that sees the roster is close enough not to suggest a tear-down, at least not heading into 2016. Mather mentioned the GM’s front office staff more than once, strongly suggesting 1) that he, as the president and COO, understands the GM must have the right people in place around him and 2) perhaps Zduriencik did not. (He didn’t). Part of the draw of some candidates will be the people with which they are connected that can be brought in as part of the new regime. The GM can’t do everything. The change is being made not based on 2015 and all its disappointment, but why the club is where it is, seven years after Zduriencik was hired. Mather stated directly the failures in player development. Yes, ultimately it’s about wins at the big-league level, but Mather clearly has people in baseball he;’s been talking to — I mentioned his familiarity with the FO in Minnesota and how he’s talked to them in the past, and he noted said relationship in his interview with Mike Salk and Brock Huard Friday morning. Since Mather prefers not to rebuild, he expects a GM with experience, but if he’s open-minded enough about the process, he’ll interview several inexperienced candidates that won’t require allowance for a rebuild, nor see the immediate need for it, while demonstrating they are capable of adding to the current mix enough to project a winner. Here are some names with which to start, but a few caveats: I don’t know most of these people personally. I derive their candidacy by leaning on those I do know in the game for their qualifications, plus what reports have been out there up to and through today’s news in terms of candidacy. You will hear good and bad about most or all of the following, almost all of which will be complete trash. Pick and choose who you trust on these kinds of matters. Included below are candidates I wouldn’t necessarily hire myself and that I don’t believe are good candidates, but they’ll be mentioned, so they go here, anyway. I do know some of these candidates, some better than others. These are listed in no particular order. I am not sure each of the names below are so eager to get a shot at GM that they’re willing to work under an ownership with a terrible track record of interfering and downright bufoonery, but there are only 30 GM gigs in the world, so … It’s also worth noting that Mather does appear to be leading the search there is always a chance the ownership is willing to budge on some things to get the right candidate to take the job. In no way is the following a suggestion that these are the names Seattle will interview or consider. There will be names below that never are mentioned, never interviewed or considered or even some that may not have interest or are hired elsewhere. Jerry DiPoto: Former Angels GM Having resigned from his GM post in Anaheim, DiPoto brings mixed reviews when I ask around — like most. He’s a former player that believes in scouting and analytics — and a blend of both that cannot be written in stone for even two seconds — and reportedly was the Mariners’ No. 2 choice in 2008 when the club hired Zduriencik. He was an assistant in Arizona overseeing scouting and player development, scouted under Theo Epstein’s crew in Boston before that and now is serving as an extra set of eyes for the Red Sox, who just hired Dave Dombrowski to run the while kitchen. DiPoto could be a strong candidate for GM under Dombrowski. Knowing what I know — which isn’t enough to make the kind of call the Mariners have to make — I’d find it difficult to hate the move if DiPoto was ultimately tabbed the new baseball executive in Seattle. John Coppolella: Assistant GM, Atlanta Braves Coppolella may be my personal favorite for the job, not because I have had many conversations with him but because he seems value exactly what the Mariners need; Detailed in terms of covering all the bases before making decisions, valuing greatly the assessments and work of those around him, no use of the ego in evaluating players or situations, high-impact passion for the game of baseball and winning, and he’s as short on confidence in his abilities as I am on Twitter snark. Which is to say not at all, sir. Coppolella grew up in the New York Yankees organization, was a favorite of the late George Steinbrenner and in Atlanta has overseen the pro scouting department before essentially taking the helm of GM under president of baseball operations John Hart. He’s had the advantage of working with and under some of the most successful baseball executives in the game, including Brian Cashman, John Schuerholz and now Hart. In my dealings with Coppolella, he’s never taken credit for anything, it’s always “we” or he deflects credit entirely. He’s adept in the area of statistical analysis, but player development is extremely high on his list, especially having worked with execs with tremendous track records in growing from within. He was hired by Schuerholz, was a huge draw for Hart when he was contemplating taking the job and I have a feeling he sees eye-to-eye with Mather’s preference of not rebuilding right away, which I believe is the right approach. If Coppolella were to be hired, the Mariners would be getting a GM with a sound plan, capable of adjusting said plan to accommodate the myriad situations that indeed will come up 12 months out of the year. The group that ultimately would land in Seattle to accompany him would likely be quite impressive. Coppolella’s network is as large as anyone’s and he’s as respected on and off the field as much or more than anyone I’ve ever asked about. Jason McLeod: Director of Scouting & Player Development, Chicago Cubs Having worked so much under Theo Epstein, one would think plenty has rubbed off on McLeod, who worked under Epstein in Boston before moving on with Jed Hoyer to San Diego, and then Chicago. I hear only great things about McLeods abilities to evaluate not only players at all levels, but his track record with development strategies, the draft and trade and free agent markets. There are some who believe Epstein’s success is wildly over-the-top because of Epstein himself, but there’s a reason he keeps winning, first in Boston and already in Chicago. The presence of Hoyer and McLeod clearly are critical. Flatly put, McLeod is a winner, has an enormous network from which to choose his lieutenants and has witnessed absolute greatness from a winning standpoint for more than a decade. McLeod should be high on the club’s list of candidates. Erik Neander: V.P. of Baseball Operations, Tampa Bay Rays Neander is among the many that run the Rays baseball operations department and one of a few Rays execs that could be legitimate candidates in Seattle. Scott Sharp: Assistant GM, Kansas City Royals Sharp has been among Dayton Moore’s top assistants as the Royals have ascended to the top of the American League behind pitching, speed and defense. I don’t know tons about Sharp but in looking at the kind of players the Royals have shown they value most, it’s largely what Seattle doesn’t have an needs. Defense, speed, athleticism, multi-dimensional. And they’ve done it on a somewhat limited payroll. Mike Chernoff: Assistant GM, Cleveland Indians Ask one baseball exec about Chernoff and I get positive descriptions. Ask another and I get “meh” type replies. Ask yet another and I get “I don’t know, I’m not sure how much that front office really gets to do on their own.” But anytime I inquire about candidates, Chernoff’s name comes up in conversation. Thad Levine: Assistant GM, Texas Rangers Billy Eppler: Assistant GM, New York Yankees Dan O’Dowd: Former GM, Colorado Rockies Ben Cherington: Former GM, Boston Red SoxCharlie Kerfeld: Special assistant to the GM, Philadelphia PhilliesDan Jennings: Manager & former GM Miami Marlins Tony LaCava: V.P. Baseball Operations, Assistant GM, Toronto Blue Jays Matt Arnold: Assistant GM, Tampa Bay Rays Larry Beinfest: Former President Baseball Operations, Miami Marlins Matt Klentak: Assistant GM, Los Angeles Angels Kevin Towers: Former GM San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks & special assistant to GM, Cincinnati Reds Damon Oppenheimer: Director of Scouting, New York Yankees LaCava interviewed in 2008 and was my preference based on what I was told from those that know him. He’s a market analysis genius and has served the Jays well during his time, playing a large role in their current success. He’s probably as qualified for the job as any of the assistant types that will be mentioned and might have the ability to put together the best staff. Levine has worked under a highly successful executive base in Texas with Nolan Ryan and John Daniels. Is typically among the top 8-10 as I ask around baseball about candidates that have yet to serve as full-time GM. Jennings has a history in Seattle, having served as an area scout in the late 80s and eventually a crosschecker in 1995. He served as the Rays scouting director before moving onto the Marlins as a player personnel V.P. and assistant GM. He was named the Marlins’ GM in 2013 and took the field as the skipper earlier this season. Kerfeld would be an interesting choice in style as he’s old school in the way he scouts in his present role but understands the necessity for a blend, and not simply when it’s convenient to implement. He’s a former pitcher who’s worked for years under Pat Gillick. Arnold is thought to be as instinctive as it comes in baseball operations and with Neander served under Andrew Friedman, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers, during their run the past several years as a have-not beating the haves with consistency. Beinfest, like Jennings, has history in Seattle having served as an assistant in the scouting and player development departments in the late 80s and through the 1999 season. I don’t see how Beinfest fits at all, but we’ve already seen his name linked to the club, which means little to nothing in the end. Cherington is a puzzler for me. I don’t know him personally, but I don’t understand the attraction. Yes, he has a World Series title, and he did make some moves prior to the 2013 championship run that played a key role, but that roster was largely built by Epstein and sandwiched around the ring for Cherington is a last-place finish in 2012, another in 2014 and the roster he built for 2015 is headed for one more. I’m not suggesting he’d be a bad hire, but his track record suggests so and that speaks volumes in my book. Names that may be bandied about that probably make so little sense that the Mariners won’t truly consider in the end include Ned Colleti, Kenny Williams, Jerry Walker. Jeff Kingston, the interim GM in Seattle, is sharp, analytically inclined and always has come across to me as a no-nonsense type that’s all about getting it right and winning. The M’s will get a look at Kingston over the final month.
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. Royals Going For It The Kansas City Royals reportedly were close to acquiring right-hander Johnny Cueto Saturday night. The deal fell through due to an apparent lack of medical clearance for one of the players headed from Kansas City to Cincinnati in the deal. Even with the deal failing to go through, this news tell us the Royals are going for it. Cueto, a legitimate No. 1 starter, is a two-month rental and the Royals went for it. Certainly they will continue to attempt to land such a piece, perhaps even Cueto still. With such aggressiveness at the forefront, one has to wonder if the club also will look to grab an outfielder. Alex Gordon is out for a few months, and while Alex Rios has swung the bat better in July, he may not be a trustworthy bat. Gordon likely will return for October but if there are any setbacks with his rehab the Royals could be down a hitter in the postseason. Brewers’ Sale Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets that right-hander Mike Fiers has drawn trade interest, but adds that the club is trying to move Kyle Lohse and/or Matt Garza, instead. Good luck. Lohse and Garza started the year with a chance to create nice value, but neither have pitched well. Garza has $25 million guaranteed still on the books, too, with a vesting option based on games started and the avoidance of the disabled list worth $13 million or a $5 million buyout. Lohse is movable, perhaps even without cash going with him. Garza is not, unless a bad contract is coming back. Garza has posted a 4.89 FIP while seeing his strikeout rates fall for the fourth straight season. He’s still throwing 91-94 mph with three offspeed pitches but his fastball is getting hit hard and his above-average slider and curveball have also dipped in effectiveness. He’s 32 in November and has not gone more than 163 1/3 innings since 2011. Milwaukee, however, is expected to strongly consider offers for Carlos Gomez, who may net the club a future impact piece. Fiers, by the way, is a solid No. 3 starter with four more years of club control remaining. He will not be arbitration eligible until after the 2016 season. Chapman, KimbrelAroldis Chapman may or may not be traded this summer, but if he or Craig Kimbrel lands in Washington the Nationals will have even fewer excuses for an October failure than they have had in the past. ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted Saturday that rival executives believe if Nats GM Mike Rizzo makes a move it will be a big one. Chapman or Craig Kimbrel would be pretty big. Either’s presence would push solid closer Drew Storen to the eighth inning. The Padres and Reds aren’t contending and could jump start a busy offseason by maxing out their value this month, rather than reducing their value by hanging onto them for two more months. Expect both to be dealt, as A.J. Preller and Walt Jocketty get busy on a reload job.
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. Cishek Deal Not A Market Setter While Oakland’s haul in return for Scott Kazmir may indeed help set the market price for starting pitcher rentals this summer, the Steve Cishek acquisition by the St. Louis Cardinals won’t come close to doing so. For one, Cishek, 29, has struggled this season. So much that at one point he was shipped back to Triple-A. His velocity is down a bit, he’s walking more batters and striking out fewer and simply allowing more hard hit baseballs. He’s also owed more than $2 million over the final two months of 2015. Not only does the trade cost for Cishek — 25-year-old Class-AA reliever Kyle Barraclough — not set the market for closers, it likely doesn’t do so for setup men, either. He may very well end up a solid pick-up for the Cardinals, but we’ve yet to see a legitimate high-leverage reliever change teams, so we’ll have to wait until one does to get a sense of what the price is going to be for such arms. Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria and Francisco Rodriguez are among the proven closer rumored to be somewhat available this month. Late-inning, setup or mid-level closer types that may be available include Brad Ziegler, Joaquin Benoit, Addison Reed, Jake McGee, Will Smith, Jim Johnson, Mark Lowe, Brad Boxberger, Jonathan Broxton and Shawn Kelley. The Red Sox, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, have received interest in Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara but there are no indications Boston will move either right-hander. Who Needs CF Help? Contenders that have not received much production from their centerfielders and could be on the lookout for some assistance there before the July 1 deadline: St. Louis Cardinals: 76 wRC+, .279 wOBAPeter Bourjos has taken away most of the playing time from Jon Jay and has been much more acceptable offensively with a .314 wOBA and 100 wRC+ supporting a solid .339 OBP. With so little available on the market, the Cardinals do not appear likely at all to try and trade for a Cameron Maybin, Austin Jackson, Ben Revere or Rajai Davis. Houston Astros: 76 wRC+, .280 wOBAJake Marisnick is a solid glove but at .229/.266/.367 and a .275 wOBA, the contending Astros could use a little more offense. But they also need corner-outfield help and it appears they’re more likely to get a decent player in that search. San Francisco Giants: 86 wRC+, .286 wOBAAngel Pagan has scuffled most of the season — .302 OBP, 277 wOBA, 79 wRC+ — and he’s not the glove he was three or four years back. The Giants may prefer to go after starting pitching — they have been linked to Mike Leake and might be a terrific fit for Hisashi Iwakuma if the Mariners end up selling — but center field is a weak spot without question. Pagan has hit left-handed pitching well in the small sample that is 102 plate appearances, suggesting perhaps a platoon partner might make more sense than attempting to land an everyday replacement. Revere is the ideal option in this case. Tampa Bay Rays: 91 wRC+, .294 wOBA Moving Kevin Kermeier to a corner or acquiring another centerfield-type defender and playing him left — even if the offensive output isn’t significant — may be the best way a surprise Rays club can get better without spending big in trade cost or salary. Of course, a healthy Desmond Jennings could change the approach and he’s on the comeback trail after knee surgery last month. Catchers Several clubs would like to add at least a No. 2 catcher, if not a split-advantage backstop or even a starting-quality option, but there’s not much available and the cost for those that are is quite steep. Seattle, since trading Welington Castillo in the deal to land Mark Trumbo, has been one of those clubs. One of the clubs they spoke to requested a high-end prospect in exchange for a veteran backup catcher who will be a free agent after the season. The talks, apparently, dies right there. Here are some catchers that may be discussed over the next week, and some of them perhaps beyond into the waiver deadline period in August: Rene Rivera, Tampa BayAlex Avila, DetroitA.J. Pierzynski, AtlantaStephen Vogt, OaklandNick Hundley, ColoradoGeovany Soto, White SoxCarlos Ruiz, PhiladelphiaBrayan Pena, CincinnatiMichael McKenry, Colorado There aren’t a lot of clubs contending right now that are having significant issues behind the plate. Minnesota is getting a down year from Kurt Suzuki at the plate, Baltimore’s Matt Wieters hasn’t hit much yet and the Rays, who may end up selling instead, are getting nothing offensively from their group. Chris Ianetta’s poor year is hurting the Halos but they aren’t going to move on from him at this stage of the season while they lead the division. Some have speculated the Padres may be willing to listen on Derek Norris, and if that is the case, like with Oakland and Vogt, clubs may come out of the woodwork to consider him.
If Hisashi Iwakuma goes out in five days and pitches well again, the Seattle Mariners absolutely will have the opportunity to trade the right-hander to a contender, and the package Oakland received in exchange for Scott Kazmir could serve as a baseline for any deal Seattle makes involving the 34-year-old. This should increase the chances the club makes such a trade. Iwakuma isn’t going to bring back the same level of package as Kazmir just did — he hasn;t been as good in 2015 and is even more of a concern to clubs in terms of his health, but Kazmir returned a potential future above-average everyday catcher in Jacob Nottingham plus a future back-end starter or reliever in Daniel Mengden. Such a haul suggests Seattle could net something useful in return for Iwakuma, provided he doesn’t blow up next time out. He’ thrown the ball well three straight times out and despite giving up for homersin his first start off the disabled list, he did show something in that one, too. He’s struck out 18 in his last 20 2/3 innings, walked just four over that span and has induced a lot of ground balls outs. His four starts since being activated have been versus Detroit twice, the Yankees and a red-hot Angels club, too. Iwakuma could be attractive to clubs that don’t like the asking price for Jeff Samardzija, David Price, Johnny Cueto and even Mike Leake. Those interested in Leake or other mid-rotation types could end up with a better deal and a better pitcher in Iwakuma, who has looked the part of a No. 2-3 type starter of late. Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted earlier Thursday that indications are the Mariners are “hesitant to sell.” Of course they are, because it tells the fan base that 2015 is a failed season, which doesn’t bode well for attendance, TV ratings or the job security of the general manager. It’s the right things to do, however, which is why the A’s went ahead and did so, even though starting play Thursday they were ahead of the Mariners in the standings. Reports surfaced last week that Detroit, who sits several games ahead of Seattle, is exploring trading their own pending free agents such as ace David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. More evidence that a smart seller can take advantage of so clubs preferring to buy this summer. Clubs that may see Iwakuma as ideal may include the Baltimore Orioles, who want to add a bat and perhaps a starter, too, but don’t have a lot of ammo to land both and as a result could get left in the cold for the bigger names. The Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals (who need multiple starting pitchers) and even San Francisco Giants also could see a reasonably-priced Iwakuma as a solid option. Waiting to ‘make sure’ they’re out of the race before selling could cost the Mariners a chance to capitalize on the market. Doing so with Iwakuma and/or J.A. Happ is a ridiculous mistake, especially considering a perfectly capable Roenis Elias is awaiting a recall from Triple-A Tacoma. If the M’s get hot and somehow find themselves in the race in late September, it won’t be because of a negative value differential between Iwakuma (or Happ) and Elias. Not to mention there’s still a chance James Paxton makes it back at some point.
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. Advantage Sellers Since there aren’t as many sellers as there are buyers those clubs ready to sell have a chance to take advantage of the market. The wisest of those clubs will sell aggressively if they get the opportunity. The Seattle Mariners could be one of those. Even with David Price and Yoenis Cespedes added to the trade market, there still is a shortage. Some clubs that want to add to their rosters may not be able to do so because they either cannot afford or prefer not to part with the talent it takes to land Price, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija or Cole Hamels. Some clubs looking for starting pitching will prefer the mid-rotation, innings-eater type, or may even want an option to cover a spot in the rotation until an injured arm can return. J.A. Happ isn’t going to return much, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be advantageous to move him. This landscape may allow for the legit return necessary to bother pulling the trigger. Teams that ultimately balk at the price for Mike Leake could look to Happ or Rangers righty Colby Lewis. Teams looking for offense may run dry on options once Cespedes, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Ben Zobrist are moved. Mark Trumbo has some value. Like Happ, Trumbo isn’t bringing back anything earth shattering, but a piece that can help? No doubt. The Mariners, though, will have to be aggressive in shopping their available players because they aren’t alone. The Padres, Red Sox, White Sox and Rockies have a similar opportunity, and at some point the buyers could run out. Timing is of the essence. Happ’s last start in a Mariners uniform should already have been made. Trumbo’s days should be numbered. Austin Jackson‘s .271/.311/.376 triple-slash since May 26 is just reasonable enough to poach a useful piece from a contender needing help in center field, too. Jackson could be more than just useful in a time share, as he’s hitting .275/.315/.464 versus lefties this season. The St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins are two contenders that have not received much offense from their centerfielders. So little that Jackson would serve as an upgrade. Trading Nelson Cruz Trading Nelson Cruz might be a good idea for the Seattle Mariners. Maybe this summer, maybe over the winter. He’s had another fantastic season at the plate, his best in the big leagues. He’s owed $42 million over the next three years, which hardly is a burden — if he keeps hitting. Cruz is 34 and probably isn’t going to be much more than a league average DH soon. The Mariners, who have had significant issues building a competitive offense, seemingly should cling to Cruz and keep building, and maybe that’s the right move in the end. But if trading Cruz can answer another question or two for 2016, dealing the slugger pushes the reset button a bit. Cruz, though, is the James Shields of hitters. Teams were in no hurry to give him four years last offseason and their assessment of his value may not have changed enough to all of a sudden encourage them to take on the final three years of the contract plus trade talent to do so. In theory, Seattle should trade Cruz and start anew over the winter, attempting to build a roster with more speed, defense, pitching and a bat or two that plays well at Safeco Field. Giving him away to cut payroll doesn’t make sense. If an offer comes along that helps the club get where they need to go, they should pull the trigger. The market for Cruz, however, may to dictate the Mariners keep Cruz.
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. The Mets and Ben Zobrist? The New York Mets have been linked to Ben Zobrist, among other left-side infielders, but Tuesday Ken Rosenthal tweets that discussions have been set aside. The Mets are in the thick of the races in the National League and need offense in the worst way. David Wright may not be back in 2015, Michael Cuddyer now is hurt and the lineup was down a bat or two even with those two healthy. Zobrist could play some shortstop for the Mets, or he could slide into a corner outfield spot. He’s a rental that will likely interest a number of clubs. The Mets may need two acquisitions, however, perhaps a shortstop or third baseman plus an outfielder. Zobrist helps, but another addition to go along with him might put the Mets over the top. The problem is, the Mets, like a few other clubs in buy mode as the trade deadline nears — Orioles, Angels, for example — the Mets don’t have a ton of talents that make sense for them to part with for two-month answers. Their pitching is either hurt — Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler — or completely off limits — Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and there aren’t a ton of mid-level prospects in their system. Finding at least one match may be doable, however, it’s the second one that’s difficult to see happening. Where Zobrist lands is anyone’s guess, but it’s almost certain he gets moved. Several clubs could use him in a number of spots on the field and in the batting order, including the Yankees (2B, SS), Baltimore (OF), Angels (OF, 2B), Kansas City (OF, 2B), Mets (SS, OF), Pirates (SS), Dodgers (SS, OF). My List of Sellers Philadelphia Milwaukee Oakland Seattle Boston Texas Miami Cincinnati Arizona Colorado White Sox Boston San Diego Oakland, Seattle, Boston, Texas, Arizona, San Diego and the White Sox have an outside shot to get white hot for the next 8-9 days and play themselves into buying. It doesn’t appear Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami and Colorado have even that kin of shot. TMany of the former seven clubs may look to buy for the future, including Texas, who continues to be linked to Cole Hamels. Bubble Detroit Cleveland Atlanta The Tigers already have reportedly decided to field calls for Yoenis Cespedes and David Price, but at 46-47 and four games back in the American League Wild Card race, it’s tough to expect them have already decided to sell a few pending free agents and close up shop. Detroit may be the classic sell-buy combo club this month: Trade Cespedes and Price for players that can help them now as well as in the future. Cleveland is the quintessential bubble team at 44-48, 5.5 games out in the Wild Card. A poor next nine games they could find themselves in a position to plan more for 2016 than worrying about this season. If they were to lose three or more games in the standings and perhaps even get pass by the Rangers and/or White Soxm for example, aggressively buying no longer makes much sense. The Indians don’t have the group of pending free agents some other potential sellers have, however, and they’re actually a talented team with a chance to win immediately, so we’re not talking about the big names here, and perhaps not even many of the smallers ones. Atlanta is likely to sell, but if they were to find a way to close the Wild Card gap from six games to, say, 3-4 games, they may not be quite as aggressive in sell mode. Buying for this season appears to be the one thing the Braves won’t do, however, so they are as much sellers, really, as the top group. Buyers Kansas City L.A. Angels Houston Baltimore Toronto Minnesota Washington St. Louis L.A. Dodgers Pittsburgh Chicago Cubs San Francisco New York Mets The Mets may have a tough time landing what they need, but they have the ammo to get at least one helpful deal done. The Royals likely will be looking for starting pitching and the Halos are linked to Jay Bruce, among other bats. Baltimore apparently is after another bat, but can someone get Buck Showalter a frontline starter, please? Chris Tillman isn’t a No. 1 — or a No. 2. Neither is… anyone else in that rotation. The Blue Jays need pitching help, as do the Astros. The Twins may choose the dull route, but they aren’t selling off pieces as the current holder of the No. 2 Wild Card berth. The Nationals are loaded, but aren’t healthy, and shortstop Ian Desmond has been awful at shortstop. Maybe another bullpen arm is on Mike Rizzo’s radar. The Cardinals don’t have any glaring needs, per se. On the surface it would seem they could use a frontline starter to fill in for Adam Wainwright, but Lance Lynn (.278 FIP, 9.67 K/9) has done that job nicely and Michael Wacha (3.20 FIP), John Lackey (3.5 FIP) and Carlos Martinez (3.51 FIP, 9.3 K/9) have been strong solidifying the starting five. With Jaime Garcia also out, howver, St. Louis could set out to acquire a mid-rotation option, perhaps as solid as Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake or Tyson Ross or as ordinary as J.A. Happ. The impact move is Hamels, Johnny Cueto, David Price or Jeff Samardzija. A few potential under-the-radar targets include Hisashi Iwakuma, Andrew Cashner or John Danks. Yovani Gallardo, reportedly being shopped by the Rangers, could fit, too. The club to watch here is the Cubs. They have the inventory to get just about any player, perhaps any two. With bait that for the right return could include Starlin Castro, Javier Baez or Jorge Soler, plus prospects such as Billy McKinney and Albert Almora, the North Siders can bully their way into trade discussions for any available player. There’s probably zero chance two of Castro-Baez-Soler is moved, and it’s unlikely but not out of the question that one of them is moved. The Cubs could use a starting pitcher, a reliever and not a lot else. Dexter Fowler hasn’t been stellar in center field or at the plate, but unless it’s Carlos Gomez the center field market isn’t likely to help here, and Fowler is showing signs of life since the break. The Giants are tough to figure out for me. Anyone?
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. Another Ace on the Market With Bob Nightengale’s report that the Detroit Tigers are preparing to discuss trading ace left-hander David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Price hitting the market could have an impact on the prices for other starters, especially Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels and Jeff Samardzija. I’m not sure if Price’s availability would increase or decrease the value of the others expected to be on the market, or perhaps do nothing. The first one to be moved could kinda-sorta set the market. Price could, however, take a team out of the market for one of the others, particularly the other rentals — Scott Kazmir, Cueto, Samardzija — and reduce the return their clubs ultimately receive. For example, maybe the best chance for Chicago White Sox to max out on Samardzija’s value is to pit, say, the Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers against one another — just for example, not assuming interest or fit here. If the Cubs land price, not only does it remove a club from the bidding, it removes specific talents from the equation. It becomes a two-team bidding war, not three, and the potential asking price from the Cubs is deleted. As for which clubs appears as fits for Price? Any contender this side of Washington could work. The Dodgers may prefer Hamels since he’s under club control beyond 2015 and Zack Greinke may opt out at season’s end. Clubs such as Tampa Bay may not have the inclination to add a little salary on top of the trade cost to reacquire their former ace and No. 1 pick. The Twins may be in the same boat. Some clubs may not be likely matches in terms of talent inventory, possibly including Baltimore and the Angels. As for Cespedes, he could fit what the Angels would like to do offensively, though a left-handed stick makes more sense. They have been linked to Jay Bruce. Gerardo Parra is a better fit — less trade cost, no future commitment. The Halos reportedly prefer a hitter they can use beyond 2015, however. If the Tigers are sellers, though, Price and Cespedes aren’t the lone potential pieces GM Dave Dombrowski could deal. Outfielder Rajai Davis, right-hander Joakim Soria and catcher Alex Avila could make sense to move, too. If they aren’t contending, there’s no point in holding tight to pending free agents. Avila’s father is one of Dombrowski’s assistants, so that situation may be handled differently than some others, but Avila could bring back a useful piece or two, especially considering the high cost of catching. Shortstop Thoughts Several clubs have been after help at shortstop since long before the season started. San Diego and the Mets are two examples. The Pirates, with the injuries to Jordy Mercer, Pedro Alvarez and Josh Harrison, now could use a third baseman or a shortstop. It’s a difficult position to fill in Major league Baseball, and always has been. The Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, Rays, Cubs and Orioles have received very little offense from the position. The Dodgers could call on Corey Seager to help at the position and the Rays, Cubs and Orioles don’t appear to be in any hurry to go outside the organization. Baltimore just signed Everth Cabrera for some depth. The Padres are not currently being thought of as buyers so any acquisition at shortstop has to be about 2016 and beyond. The Rangers would love to get rid of Elvis Andrus‘ contract, but it’s difficult to imagine that occurs. Perhaps a club is willing to take a piece of it, however. Outside of Troy Tulowitzki, Jean Segura may be the best player on the shortstop market, all apologies to Alexei Ramirez, and tertiary names such as Jose Ramirez, Chris Taylor and Cliff Pennington have limited value, although Ramirez and Taylor bring club control and low salaries with them. The shortstop situation — many clubs with a need, pretty much no club with a surplus of a shortstop capable of providing everyday value — begs the question: Would it behoove a club with a solid, under-club-control option at shortstop be wise to take advantage and make theirs available, even without another answer of their own? For teams not close to contention, this is absolutely a good idea — at least see what clubs might pay. For others, those contending now and those with even a chance to contend in 2016, not having a viable option after the current starter.makes it difficult, but still worth casting a net. That includes clubs such as Miami with Adeiny Hechavarria, Seattle with Brad Miller and certainly the Cubs with Starlin Castro. You simply never know what a club may be willing to part with when a starting-quality shortstop with years of club control are on the hook.