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. Chances Yasiel Puig is Traded Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, who is well-connected around baseball, writes there is growing belief in Los Angeles that Yasiel Puig is “losing popularity” with his teammates, per a league source. Cafardo suggests one possibility if the Dodgers look to move their right fielder may be Philadelphia and their ace, Cole Hamels. A trade centered on Puig-for-Hamels makes a lot of sense on the surface, since the Dodgers may be planning for life without Zack Greinke who may opt out after this season and the Phillies clearly want to get younger, more athletic and to perhaps reel in their payroll a bit. But even though Puig isn’t having a great season — .274/.358/.435 in 45 games — the Dodgers don’t have a surplus in outfielders … at least not productive outfielders, anyway. Andre Ethier has rebounded and Joc Pederson has been very good but Carl Crawford has again struggled when he’s been available and neither Scott Van Slyke nor Alex Guerrero appear to be reliable everyday options; Van Slyke has trouble producing versus right-handed pitchers and Guerrero, also right-handed, is new to the outfield and has problems hitting right-handed pitching, too. If Puig were to be traded, the Dodgers would have a bit of a hole to fill, albeit one that could be closed by adding a left-handed hitting platoon bat. Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Gerardo Parra may fit, as might Cleveland’s David Murphy, among others. If I were the Phillies, however, I’m not sure I’d want Puig if he’s some kind of a clubhouse problem, and I’d focus on adding young arms before big-league players that may not be around when my club is again ready to compete. Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman may prefer to avoid selling low on Puig and making a drastic alteration to his regular lineup, one that has, at times, struggled to produce runs consistently. The rotation may need a boost after this season, if Greinke leaves, but the Dodgers have been one of the better run-prevention clubs in the National League this season with one of the more effective starting staffs. I’d bet Puig stays where he is this summer with the hopes from the Dodgers’ perspective that he has a big second half, helps the club win and improves his trade value for further consideration this coming offseason. Angels, Bruce; Orioles, Upton Jay Bruce is on the Angels’ radar, tweets Jon Morosi, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The Reds, according to John Fay, are expected to discuss any player this side of Todd Frazier, including Bruce and the Halos have a need in the outfield. Deadline deals are strange — sometimes a good trade doesn’t work out because all that has to occur to ruin it is the acquired player struggles for better part of two months. That also makes such trades risky. The question here, however, is more about what the Reds will require for Bruce, whether or not the Angels have it and whether or not they’re willing to part with it. Same goes for Baltimore’s interest in Justin Upton, per Morosi. Upton, a two-month rental, isn’t as valuable so presumably he will cost a lot less in trade. The Orioles’ system is thin and has some injuries balking up their depth, but there’s a few players in that organization I’d trade Upton to take a chance on if I were Padres GM A.J. Preller. Baltimore may not be the best offer Preller gets, however, but the O’s can certainly compete in the Upton sweepstakes — if they want to. For both Baltimore and Anaheim, there may be better options when cost is brought into the equation. Parra could be a fit for both, as might Ben Zobrist and Josh Reddick. Reddick likely will be more costly than any rental — since he’s not one — and may rival Bruce’s price tag, despite the differential in team control. Mariners Idea With each loss the Mariners get closer and closer to having no legitimate choice other to sell off their pending free agents, perhaps including Hisashi Iwakuma, who has had one bad start, one very good one and one OK outing since returning from the disabled list. Lefty J.A. Happ, centerfielder Austin Jackson, relievers Fernando Rodney, Mark Lowe and Joe Beimel also will be free agents after the season. Neither Rodney nor Beimel are going to net much in return, of course — Rodney because he’s had an awful season and Beimel simply because he’s not a high-leverage arm — but Lowe may be worth something useful in the future, as might Happ, Jackson and Iwakuma. I’m not suggesting any of the above are worth a return of a starting outfielder, top prospect at any position or anything like that, but there’s no reason one or more of them cannot help the Mariners rebuild their bullpen for 2016 and/or fill a bench hole or two. The Mariners can be buyers in one sense, however: Focusing on acquiring players that fit 2016 and perhaps beyond. This season may not matter much, but getting a jump start on fixing some issues is not a bad thing. The Mariners, in my opinion, should listen on Nelson Cruz (don’t believe for one second they will), Seth Smith, Mark Trumbo and Charlie Furbush, too. If not now, then over the winter. Exhausting all options is important when building an effective roster, even when it means discussing productive players to which you’d prefer to add. The Mariners need more team athleticism, and more specifically better outfield performance both offensively and defensively. Until that’s addressed successfully, they’ll be a team trying to win with one frontline starting pitcher in Felix Hernandez and the three-run homer.
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. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels? In his latest video post at FOXSports.com, Ken Rosenthal notes that the market for Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels includes the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also adds that the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox have interest, too. My first reaction was to think about a series in October that started with Kershaw, Greinke and Hamels on the mound for the Dodgers. Hamels hasn’t been terrific this season but he has been good. I’d put money on him having a stronger final two months than the 3.40 FIP he’s posted thus far. But how do the Dodgers, or Cubs, Rangers and Red Sox get Hamels in their uniform for the next three-plus seasons? The Phillies feel no pressure to move their ace right now, so they will hold out for the right deal. Here’s what each club has to offer that Philadelphia may have request during negotiations. In no manner is the following a suggestion of a deal that either side would accept, nor does it imply Philly has interest in the specific player or the other club’s willingness to deal said player or players. Dodgers Corey Seager, SS/3B Julio Urias, LHP Hector Olivera, 2B Jose De Leon, RHP Grant Holmes, RHP Alex Verdugo, CF Zach Lee, RHP Seager and Urias may be as close to untouchable as it gets for the Dodgers, probably in that order. De Leon, Olivera, Holems, et al, may not be enough to land Hamels, especially considering there are other clubs with young talent to offer the Phillies. Mike Bolsinger, 27, may carry some value as a tertiary piece in a package for Hamels, but doing so would require the club to fill another spot in the rotation. Cubs Kyle Schwarber, C Carl Edwards, Jr., RHP Albert Almora, CF Billy McKInney, LF Gleyber Torres, SS Dylan Cease, RHP Duane Underwood, RHP Carson Sands, RHP Justin Steele, RHP Jorge Soler, OF Starlin Castro, SS Jorge Baez, RHP The Cubs appear to have so much depth that adding an arm like Hamels may never come back to hurt them even a little bit. The Phillies need everything, probably starting with pitching depth, suggesting at least one of Edwards, Jr., Cease, Underwood, and the like, may be necessary. I did not list Kris Bryant or Addison Russell because common sense says if the Cubs deal an infielder it will be Castro or perhaps Baez. If Castro were to be traded, the general idea is that Bryant would play everyday at third, Baez would move to second and Russell would slide over to shortstop, his natural position, full time. Castro may be involved if the Cubs and Padres get together on a deal for a quality starting pitcher with some club control left. Castro also could interest the Red Sox Mookie Betts, CF Yoan Moncada, 2B Javier Guerra, SS Henry Owens, LHP Blake Swihart, C Manuel Margot, CF Rafael Devers, 3B/OF The Red Sox aren’t as deep as the Cubs or Dodgers but if they are willing to part with any two of the above, they’ll likely be able to pry Hamels away. Boston does not have depth in the starting pitching department down on the farm, so trading both Owens and fellow lefty Brian Johnson in the same four-player package may be asking a but much. Betts and Swihart reportedly interest the Phillies greatly but whether or not the Red Sox will reconsider their availability remains doubtful, perhaps at best. Guerra hasn’t been the slick fielder he was expected to be just yet but despite contact issues he’s mashing in Class-A Greenville, showing more power — 31 extra-base hits in 73 games — than most anticipated. The Phillies don’t have a specific need for a shortstop with J.P. Crawford a top prospect and shoving his way toward a big-league debut, potentially next season, but adding high-end talent never is a bad idea. A package including Guerra, Owens and Devers might be a tough one to turn down in the end. Rangers Joey Gallo, 3B/RF Jorge Alfaro, C Nomar Mazara, OF Nick Williams, OF Jake Thompson, RHP Lewis Brinson, OF Josh Morgan,2B Elvis Andrus, SS The Rangers have holes beyond their starting rotation, including one of the league’s worst offensive outfield collections and bullpen units. Texas may need three arms — two starters and a releiver — plus an addition to their lineup to project well enough to be in the race beyond mid-August. The Rangers probably shouldn’t have much interest in Hamels right now, particularly considering the likely haul in young talent. If Philly insists on a premium four-player package that includes Mazara or Alfaro plus Thompson, GM Jon Daniels probably, and understandably, backs down quickly. Gallo and Alfaro should be off limits, in my opinion. Not 100 percent untouchable, but for the right to pay Hamels for three-plus seasons I would not include either player. Andrus is highly unlikely to be involved in a deal for Hamels unless a third club is involved. In the end, I’m just not sure now is the right time for Daniels and the Rangers to pay big on a big-money pitcher. Sure they get him for three more years, yet stay away from the long-term risks of future free agents, but that kind of talent cost is prohibitive for the return. Texas can go out and get better this month, but they don’t have to pay the hefty toll to do so. Not for a club 42-47 and fading fast with many more holes to fill for 2016. If the Rangers wants to add high-level starting pitching, they can do so on the free agent market after the season. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and company will hit free agency, and the Rangers will get back Yu Darvish at some point in 2016, plus should have a healthy Derek Holland. Martin Perez is back, the Rangers should supplement the rotation on top of that rather than rebuild it with Hamels. Texas should be in the market for Tyson Ross, as are the Astros, per Dennis Lin. Ross won’t come at the cost — salary or trade talent — as Hamels and his ability to induce ground balls (62.9% in 2015), fits the home park. James Shields is another alternative and one Padres GM A.J. Preller may prefer to move over Ross. What About the White Sox and Indians as sellers? They’re each 42-47, seven games out in the American League Central and 6.5 out of the No. 2 Wild Card spot. The White Sox have won six of 10, the Indians have lost six of 10. There’s a chance one or both could end up benefiting from selling a key piece or two rather than trying to add for a run this season. The Sox have pending free agent Jeff Samardzija, a high-quality starting pitcher that may net them a nice return. Beyond that, catcher Geovany Soto, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and perhaps first baseman Adam LaRoche could be dangled before July 31. Soto is on a 1-year deal while Ramirez’s contract carries a club option for next season at $10 million or a $1 million buyout. LaRoche will earn $13 million in 2016. Most of Chicago’s offense has scuffled this season, including Ramirez who, entering Saturday’s game owed a paltry .237 wOBA and 43 wRC+. LaRoche, too, has struggled, particularly thus far in July — .132/.195/.184 with a nice thin wRC+ of 1. You read that correctly. Soto has been respectable at .318 wOBA and 98 wRC+. Worth noting that wOBA is park adjusted, wRC+ is not. The Tribe has a lot of interesting pieces that, if GM Chris Antonetti decided to attempt a quick retool, may get the job done all by themselves. Corey Kluber is going nowhere, and it’s difficult to see any of the other young, inexpensive starters — Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar — being sent out in deals this month. Jason Kipnis is a centerpiece, as is rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor. Outfielder Michael Brantley, however, does not scream ‘building block’ to me. He’s a very nice player without any major weakness in his game. But he’s 28, an average-at-best glove that all comes with a very reasonable price tag if $14 million over the next two seasons plus an option at $11 million or a $1 million buyout, suggesting he could be worth more in trade than if he remains on the roster, considering the lack of quality position players available. Platoon bat David Murphy could help a contender down the stretch, same for Brandon Moss. Ryan Raburn is a nice bench option with a $3 million club option for 2016. Right-handed reliever Zach McAllister is good, cheap and a late-inning option that could fill a need for clubs such as Texas, Seattle, the Dodgers, Cubs and Twins.
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. Atlanta Braves Sale The Braves started their rebuild over the offseason when they traded the likes of Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton, among others. That trend likely will continue this month with names such as Juan Uribe, Cameron Maybin and Jim Johnson on the market. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is being discussed, too. Maybin is interesting because he’s having a solid year at the plate and can pass as a centerfielder. He’s due about $2.5 million the rest of 2015 and is set to earn $8 million next season. His 2017 option comes with a $1 million buyout or a $9 million salary. Due to the lack of options in center these days, at least a dozen clubs should have some level of interest in Maybin, who shouldn’t cost much more than Austin Jackson did a year ago, a middle infielder with a chance to be a big-league regular, albeit with some risk attached (Nick Franklin). Houston’s Buying With zero chance they sell pieces, the Houston Astros are as firmly in the buyers line as any club in the American League right now. They need a starting pitcher or two, and if they were to land a Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija or cole Hamels, they may just grab the one and call up Mark Appel to shore things up on the back end. They have been linked to Mike Leake, too, however. Leake can get ground ball outs, which fits the Juice Box well, and he’s used to pitching in a hitter’s environment at the Great American Smallpark but has struggled at home in three of his last four seasons. It’s difficult to see Jeff Luhnow whiffing at the deadline. The Astros are going to add a starting pitcher, perhaps two, and if a veteran first baseman falls in their lap, they may jump on that, too. The Astros are three games under .500 this season if you remove their 10-game winning streak, to lend an alternate idea how well they have played. But they aren’t going to fade into oblivion, especially if the rotation gets help. I still like the idea of Scott Kazmir for them, if the lefty is healthy, and if they find a way to get more offense from either their catchers or at first, this remains a dangerous team, a year or two before we thought they might be. They have prospects to move, including Appel (who isn’t likely to be traded, but he certainly wouldn’t be on my untouchables list), outfielders Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips and Danry Vazquez, plus a crop of young arms that may be deep enough from which to trade to get the veteran they need. The Astros even have a couple of young shortstops they may not need to protect aggressively in Nolan Fontana, Joan Mauricio and Miguelangel Sierra. You Can Go Get Him Now Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote Friday that the Brewers are “now showing a willingness to trade Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Gomez, perhaps the best all-around centerfielder in baseball, is under contract through 2016. Segura, a capable a shortstop in the mold of Erick Aybar at the plate, could interest about 20 teams, with the dearth of shortstops available in baseball. The Mets come to mind, as do the Padres, though Segura’s bat isn’t a significant upgrade for either club. His defense is sound, though, and he’s under club control for three more years. He will be arbitration eligible this coming winter, but his 2016 salary is unlikely to be anything but a bargain, still. Gomez could be the prize a contending team needs to get over the top. Imagine the right-handed hitting speedster roaming the pastures at Comerica Park or tipping the scales of the lineup for the Angels, who could move Mike Trout to left field, use Gomez at leadoff and keep their best hitter in the two or three spot rather than moving him around to attempt to spark things. The price for Gomez isn’t going to be easy to reconcile for some clubs, but the chance to add elite speed and defense plus a legitimate option at the top of the batting order that could impact not one but two chances at the postseason probably is worth the risk in most cases. What clubs like Seattle cannot afford to do is sell five years of Taijuan Walker for a year and two months of Gomez. I’m not convinced the Mariners can get Gomez any other way, however. Maybe over the winter such a deal can make more sense, but the M’s need Walker to be what he was for most of the final two months of the season’s first half if they want any shot to get back into the 2015 chase. The Mets, Heyman notes, have Gomez on their radar. In a scenario where Gomez and a healthy Juan Lagares are available, I’m not sure who plays center, but again, Gomez’s presence changes the game in three ways for New York. How they acquire Gomez also is beyond me. They aren’t moving Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz is hurt and dealing Noah Syndergaard cancels out a good portion of the “getting better” part of adding a player like Gomez in the first place. The Brewers have a chance to jump-start their retooling by trading Gomez, Segura and perhaps Jonathan Lucroy, but with so many buyers and so few sellers, I’d wager Gomez gets moved this summer and maybe the other two are dealt over the winter. Milwaukee needs a lot of things, but starting pitcher is atop that list for me. And not just mid-rotation arms. They need upside, near-ready types.
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. CarGo’s Trade Value An interesting nugget by Jeff Todd at MLBTradeRumors.com turned me to consider the same subject matter. Todd, citing Nick Groke’s report that Gonzalez is finding his timing, posed the question of whether or the recent resurgence will ultimately ignite the trade market for Gonzalez. The outfielder, 30 in October, has been a very good left-handed run producer for the better part of the last six years. I say ‘better part’ because the last couple of seasons have been riddled with injury and struggles. After a .302/.367/.591 campaign in 2013, Gonzalez played just 70 games a year ago, batting .239/.292/.431, and despite his recent hot streak remains well below his career levels at .259/.314/.452 in 82 games this season. The 82 games, however, is a good sign. He’s at .286/.305/.582 over the last 30 days, 26 games, with a .373 wOBA and 123 wRC+. Of course, beyond the health and overall performance concerns — which are legitimate, despite a strong track record prior to 2014 — some will wonder if Gonzalez can hit outside Coors Field. The trap here is to simply look at his road splits, which in both 2014 and this season take a dive — not to completely useless levels but down to part-time performer status. Attempting to determine a Rockies hitter’s ability to hit away from Coors has to go much deeper than simply checking the road statistics. Why? Because, wisely, Rockies batters do what they can to take advantage of their home park. Those are things that do not necessarily work away from Denver, and expecting hitters to make perfect adjustments every road series, several times a month, is ridiculous. Having said that, Gonzalez’s good years are accompanied by good years away from Coors Field. In 2013, his last strong, healthy season — just two years ago, by the way — produced a .332/.381/.606 triple-slash on the road. He was better away from Coors that season. He did struggle on the road in 2012, but was useful on the road in 2011 and solid in 2010. How does a club evaluate, then, what Gonzalez is? The analytical department will delve into how often Gonzalez hits line drives, how hard he hits them, how many of his long balls may not be homers, or even hits, in their home ballpark, or even most road parks. His line drive rates are just under 20 percent, per FanGraphs, much closer to his 20 percent career mark than 2014. He is hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls, which could be a good sign. One front office executive suggested perhaps Gonzalez, the healthy version, can “trust his hands,” more now that he’s healthy. No, he did not have a significant hand or wrist injury — he had knee surgery — but hitting starts with the legs. If you don’t have full strength, agility and flexibility with your legs, you can put more pressure on everything above your hips in attempt to get to good velocity and hit with authority. But he’s hit 85 balls at 90 mph or more and 70 at 95 mph or more, and his BABIP is more than 50 points lower than his career mark, suggesting perhaps he’s been unlucky, too. It’s worth noting that sometimes when a hitter loses bat speed or some other ability for whatever reason, or is hurt in a manner that impacts those abilities, BABIP often sinks then, too. Batting average on balls in play is a very inexact measure in terms of using it as analysis to explain away struggles. A 50-plus point differential is quite large, however. Gonzalez is due about $5.5 million the rest of 2015 and $37 million guaranteed through 2017. If he’s still a .350 wOBA bat, his value is quite high. Clubs that believe that may be willing to give the Rockies exactly what they want, whatever that is. There are reasons for concern, however, and Gonzalez’s average defense (some metrics suggest below average, though the knee problems he’s apparently getting away from now could explain some of that) may or may not help his market grow. My instincts tell me Colorado will not get the offer they want for Gonzalez and are better off holding onto him to see if he hits the rest of 2015 and shows clubs that he still can hit enough to warrant regular time in the middle of a lineup. He’s started hitting, if it continues, his value goes up, both to the Rockies and to clubs that need outfield help. One thing is pretty clear: Rockies GM Jeff Bridlich made it known that he has doesn’t value Gonzalez based on the statistics, “so if a team is just doing that, I don’t know.” The price for Gonzalez will be higher than his present numbers suggest. Market for Justin Upton Justin Upton, who has played for three teams in four years, could be on the move again if GM A.J. Preller doesn’t see a reason to buy versus selling his pending free agents on the trade market. Upton, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, says he wants to stay with the Padres and see this through, adding that he hopes he and his teammates can turn things around quickly. “In a perfect world, we play well over the next two or three weeks and A.J. pumps the brakes on dismantling the team,” Upton said. If that doesn’t happen, Upton is among the most likely players to be traded before the July 31 deadline. He’s a right-handed power-hitting outfielder without long-term salaries attached. He’ll earn around $5 million for the rest of this season before testing free agency for the first time in his career. Upton is having merely an OK season, batting .253/.331/.422 with a .328 wOBA and 114 wRC+. He’s a fringy defender in either corner outfield spot. He strikes out a lot, always has, but he’s still drawing walks at a 10.2 percent rate and in a better hitting environment his raw power may play better. Several contending clubs could use Upton, including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros and with Alex Gordon’s injury and Alex Rios’ struggles, the Kansas City Royals. All of the above, however, have greater needs, such as starting pitching and bullpen help, but Upton is likely to land somewhere. Other possibilities include Seattle, Minnesota and San Francisco. If the Cleveland Indians find themselves buyers, they, too, could be a fit with the struggles of Nick Swisher and Brandon Moss (.220/.296/.427).
Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. M’s Seek Catching The club already traded for and traded away Welington Castillo this season, but properly have identified catcher as a need spot and FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted early Wednesday that Seattle was nearing a deal to acquire a catcher. Since that tweet, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweeted that no deal is “close.” The quotations around the word ‘close’ suggests the club may indeed be attempting to land a catcher but that nothing is imminent. The Mariners have two glove-first catcher in Tacoma in John Hicks and Steve Baron. Neither are full-scale upgrades over Jesus Sucre, however, although offensively either probably has a better chance. Shi David of Sportsnet.ca tweets that Dioner Navarro does not appear to be on Seattle’s radar. Morosi reports via Twitter that Braves backstop A.J. Pierzynski is not close to being acquired by Seattle. Keep your eye on Pierzynski, though. Until the M’s acquire another catcher or Pierzynski is dealt elsewhere, he’s as strong a candidate to end up in Seattle. The M’s are highly unlikely to option Mike Zunino to the minors, but clearly recognize the need for more production from the position and the value a 3-day per week option brings versus Sucre, who plays only when it’s time to give Zunino a breather. The extra time keeps Zunino fresh and could allot more legitimate development as he works with the staff, including Edgar Martinez. Other potential names the M’s may have shown interest in include Colorado’s Nick Hundley and Michael McKenry, Cincinnati’s Brayan Pena, Oakland’s Josh Phegley, Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, Cleveland’s Robert Perez and the White Sox’s Geovany Soto. Alex Avila may be another possibility if the Tigers believe in Bryan Holiday enough to form an acceptable defensive tandem with James McCann. Avila has not been healthy this year, but he’s active now. He’s also the club’s best game caller and the Tigers certainly fancy themselves contenders this year. John Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt are three more names to think about, though the former is a well below-average defender and has caught just one game in 2015 and the latter pair are undoubtedly going to be extremely pricey to acquire. If I had to wager I’d put money on Pierzynski, Ruiz or Soto. Signs The Astros Will Trade The simple fact they’re legit contenders is enough but in case you need more evidence to suggest Jeff Luhnow is likely to make a deal or two, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes, with starting pitching a priority. Drellich notes that there isn’t much to suggest Houston has their eyes on Cole Hamels, but rentals such as Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija “remain names of interest” to the second-place Astros. Drellich also mentions Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner as a reasonable target. Interestingly, Drellich also adds that Luhnow may be more willing to move right-hander and 2013 No. 1 pick Mark Appel than other prospects such as outfielder Brett Phillips. From what I have heard on Appel, capitalizing on his recent surge would be wise. Even though it’s within the division, I wonder if Scott Kazmir, provided he’s healthy, might be a better fit for Houston among the rental starters. He shouldn’t come at the cost of Cueto or Samardzija and it adds another lefty to an otherwise four-righty rotation. Handedness simply is a bonus to break ties. Luhnow choose to strike a bit early to beat others to the punch to ensure he doesn’t get cornered later this month and either end up overpaying or being left in the cold. Paying too much now, however — because not many clubs are willing to call it a season and sell — is the challenge. As pointed out by Steve Adams here, first base may be another spot Luhnow looks to upgrade. Chris Carter has struggled, Jonathan Singleton has yet to gain any traction at the plate and the most likely in-house answer beyond those two appears to be Luis Valbuena once Jed Lowrie returns from the disabled list. Perhaps Adam Lind is an option for Houston, and if the Astros add one of the above three starters plus address first base to the level of an Adam Lind, on paper that’s the best team in the division, and probably the second-best in the American League. The Twins, too Terry Ryan is unlikely to do nothing between now and July 31 and while nobody believes they’ll make the big-money splash, they could get a lot better by making a few improvements to the late-inning bullpen options and perhaps shortstop or catcher, as Mike Berardino of the St, Paul Pioneer-Press reports. Shortstop and catcher will be difficult to address, of course, but Eduardo Nunez may get more time if he keeps hitting. The market isn’t dry, but the top names, such as Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, are more of the impact variety that the Twins may steer clear of to avoid the heavy cost and salary. Ben Zobrist can still hang at shortstop and might be an ideal fit. Not sure the two match up, especially if the Mariners, too, see themselves as buyers, but Chris Taylor may be a nice solidifying piece for the Twins. I don’t expect the cannonball, but I do expect Ryan to make waves this month.
Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. July 13, 2015: Papelbon, Shields, Bruce Should the Mariners be sellers? Whether or not the Seattle Mariners should be buyers or sellers this month is as hot a topic as there is regarding baseball in the city. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins covered the subject last week. Tuesday, MLBTradeRumors posted a poll asking which teams should be sellers. There were 11 teams on the list to vote for. The Mariners received fewer votes than eight other clubs at 5.79 percent, more than only the Indians and Rangers. In my opinion, one big reason for the low “Sell” count is the Mariners don’t have a big name to sell. They don’t have a pending free agent with a flashy name like Justin Upton or Johnny Cueto. They aren’t presently in a position where it’s clear the club is seriously considering tearing down their current roster and starting over, like what could occur in Colorado if they were to move Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Once again, the M’s are stuck in the middle, the worst place to be. The first week out of the break is enormous for Seattle, Texas, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland in the American League, and if the Diamondbacks want to hang around they’ll need to make a move in the win-loss column, too. A lot can change between now and the deadline. If any of the clubs above lose six of their first eight post break, they could go from buyers to sellers or from somewhere in between to aggressive sellers. Winning six of eight puts any of them firmly in line to purchase help and probably steps up the aggressiveness on that side. Johnny Cueto Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports tweets that Cueto is drawing the most interest from Kansas City, Toronto and Houston. All three need the right-hander, but Cueto isn’t the only option. Cueto is due about $3.5 million the rest of the season and will hit the open market over the winter. He could put the Royals over the top in the American League, though now without Alex Gordon they may need a little outfield help, too. I continue to be disappointed that Baltimore isn’t being linked here or anywhere near a legitimate frontline starting pitcher. Why? Because they have none and their division rivals do. They haven’t a soul that can match up with Chris Archer, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, or even Clay Buchholz when he’s on his game. Chris Tillman is not and never has been a No. 1, and Ubaldo Jimenez‘s days as such are gone. If the Jays end up with Cueto or another one of the top arms available, the Orioles will have a significant disadvantage versus every club in their division. If the O’s were to add one, they might end up the second-best team in the circuit. Interestingly, the Red Sox also are looking to acquire more pitching, per the Boston Herald. Cueto and Cole Hamels could be joined by White Sox righty Jeff Samardzija on the trade market. All three are difference-making talents and Hamels is under contract for three more years after 2015. Ideas I haven’t seen a lot of chatter about this, but the Yankees need a second baseman in the worst way, Rob Refsnyder, a rookie, was called up and if he gets hot the Yankees may focus on other needs, but acquiring Ben Zobrist instantly makes the Yankees, already enjoying a 3.5 game lead, the heavy favorites for me in the American League East (acquisitions by other clubs in the division notwithstanding)… The Twins at 49-40 may not be all that aggressive on the trade market beyond a reliever and a part-time player, but with so many rentals available, including Upton, Cueto, Samardzija and Zobrist, Terry Ryan could pull the trigger and surprise some people. How about re-acquiring Carlos Gomez? The chicago Cubs are fascinating, not just because the best front office in baseball is running them but because they are full of young talent that is performing and at 47-40 and a Wild Card leader at the break are in a position to add significant pieces that help them now and beyond. Hamels shouldn’t be out of the question, nor should Gomez or a rental such as Samardzija or Scott Kazmir. I’d bet on at least two moves for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and a summer on the north side to remember… If I am the Angels I acknowledge that despite the presence of the game’s best player Mike Trout, who is all of 24 years old, that my window of opportunity with the current group is very short. The Halos need a starting pitcher and an outfielder. Their farm system isn’t very good, but if they’re willing to take on some salary there are fits that can help them stay out front in the American League West and perhaps be in a better position than they were a year ago when they won 98 games but were without Garrett Richards in October. While Hamels, Cueto and Samardzija would be terrific additions, the Angels may not need to go that far. Kazmir is an upgrade, too, and if they have a young player or two that the Padres really like, perhaps they can pry Tyson Ross from A.J. Preller and the Padres. Jay Bruce is a fit in the Angels outfield, but a less expensive option may work better, such as Milwaukee’s Gerardo Parra, Cleveland’s Ryan Raburn or Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies. Stephen Vogt Vogt is the most interesting player this summer for me. He’s a viable catcher, under club control pre-arbitration through next season and can really hit. The A’s could use him to make a run next season and still be in position to trade him if they again falter, but his value is at an all-time high and the return may be too good to pass up. So many clubs need catchers and Vogt is such a strong bat that on days he doesn’t catch he can play first base or serve as the DH. He changes the lineup dramatically in Texas, Seattle and Boston, It’s difficult to find a team that wouldn’t benefit greatly from acquiring him. If Billy Beane makes Vogt available, he may garner the biggest return this side of Hamels, and he may surpass what Ruben Amaro gets for his lefty ace. The question is whether or not many clubs have the inventory of young talent to send out in such a deal. Beane is as creative as it comes, though. Stay tuned.
Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. Papelbon, Other Closers ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted last week that closer Jonathan Papelbon was close to being dealt but the Phillies “pulled back.” Stark mentioned Toronto, Texas, Chicago Cubs among those in said discussions. Papelbon’s vesting option and no-trade clause certainly play a large role here. He’s due a around $4.5 million the rest of 2015 and his $13 million club option automatically vests with 55 games finished this season or a combined 100 games finished the past two. He tallied 52 a year ago and has 29 before the All-Star break. Papelbon can block trades to 17 teams, but appears more than willing to sign off on a trade, Jake Kaplan of the Philly Inquirer reports. At 34, Papelbon has yet to show significant signs of decline. He enters the break with a 2.75 FIP and 9.36 K/9 rate, though his velocity has dipped a full tick since 2013 and nearly three since 2012. The closer market rarely is flooded, but there could be some other big-name stoppers available, potentially including Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodriguez. Several setup types likely will be available, too, but if you’re the Rangers and want a proven ninth-inning option, the aforementioned trio likely will be their best bet. Rodriguez, 33, may be especially attractive thanks to his contract, which calls for him to earn just over $1 million the rest of 2015, $7.5 million next year with a $6 million club option for 2017. Jay Bruce, Anyone? Four years ago Bruce looked like a star, but 4 1/2 years into a six-year contract with a club option, he’s being dangled on the trade market, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. He’s just 28 but his production fell to .217/.281/.373 in 2014 after knee surgery. He’s rebounded some in 2015, getting back to .251/.341/.465 in a healthy first half. Bruce is due about $5 million the rest of this season, plus $12.5 million in 2016. His $13 million club option comes with a $1 million buyout. When healthy, Bruce is an average defender with a plus arm and he may be a legitimate 3.0 fWAR player. While his home-road splits aren’t pretty this season he’s had numerous season where he hit better away from the Great American Smallpark, as some pitchers like to call it. Bruce’s contract allows for him to block trades to eight clubs — A’s Jays, Yankees, Twins, Marlins, Red Sox and Diamondbacks — but none appear to be fits for the right fielder, anyway. Who does? How about the Royals, who lost Alex Gordon to injury? The Angels also could be a fit if they have enough trade inventory to interest Reds GM Walt Jocketty. Seattle, Texas, the Dodgers and perhaps even the Giants also could have some level of interest. Bruce isn’t pricey, there’s no long-term commitment and it appears he’s put his struggles behind him after a terrible April. Other outfield bats that may hit the market include Justin Upton, Carlos Gomez, Ben Zobrist and Josh Reddick, all of which will draw heavy interest. Every team anywhere near contention outside Pittsburgh, Yankees, Kansas City, Baltimore, Angels and Dodgers could use Gomez. Who needs him the most? Probably Seattle, San Diego and St. Louis. Gomez puts the Cards’ offense over the top and offers the M’s and Padres an answer in center and leadoff through next season. As for Bruce, I’m curious if the Angels or Giants like Bruce enough to make a run at him. Shields When the recent report that the Padres were testing the waters for James Shields hit the Web, I wasn’t surprised, only reminded that it took a long time for a team to give Shields a deal he liked over the offseason. Shields signed for $75 million over four years, but not until days before pitcher and catchers reported for spring training. Now that he’s halfway through year one and due about $3.5 million the rest of 2015 plus $65 million more guaranteed through 2018. Shields can opt out after next season and in lieu of a $2 million buyout on his 2019 option, is due $16 million that season when he will be 38. He’s pitched OK this season for the Padres, posting a 4.16 FIP and 10.11 K/9 over 19 starts. But OK isn’t worth $21 million per season — unless you’re the Red Sox, who gave Rick Porcello nearly $100 million guaranteed for the same kind of performance. Perhaps that deal is why A.J. Preller wants to see what’s out there for Shields. Clubs that may have interest include Texas, Toronto, Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals. All of those clubs had a shot at Shields six months ago, but a few things have changed due to injury. It’s too bad the Royals don’t have the available payroll for a reunion, but I’d love to see the Tigers grab Shields and make the American League Central that much more intriguing.
After the conclusion of the 2014 season we had a pretty good idea that Michael Saunders had played his final game with the Seattle Mariners. Comments made by general manager Jack Zduriencik and the player suggested that it was time for the two sides to part ways. Such things happen in the world of professional sports, and the armchair GM’s quickly began to determine where Saunders would be dealt and what a potential return would be. I’ll admit it: I wasn’t particularly ecstatic to find out that J.A. Happ would be acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for the outfielder. The pitcher more resembled Chris Young — who was available as a free agent for a couple million bucks — than a starting-calibre outfielder. One of the concerns raised by the Mariners was in regard to Saunders’ durability. The left-hander missed time in 2013 but still managed to appear in 132 games while in 2014 he missed significant time with an oblique strain and was limited to just 78 games. Interestingly enough, however, Saunders finished the year with 2.0 fWAR — tied for third on the team among position players with Dustin Ackley and trailing only Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. Unfortunately for Saunders, his 2015 season was stalled before it could begin — he tripped over a sprinkler head in the outfield of the Jays’ Dunedin practice facility and tore a meniscus in his left knee. Although the early prognosis was positive, Saunders didn’t make his season debut until April 25. The 28-year old barely managed to play in games for a week before the knee became an increased problem. Last Monday he had fluid drained from his knee and received a cortisone shot. After an 0-for-4 performance against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, the club placed Saunders on the 15-day disabled list with knee inflammation. The knee, on his plant leg, has noticeably bothered Saunders at the plate this year and has limited the strength he’s been able to generate. In 36 plate appearances he’s managed just six singles and nearly all of his contact — 75 percent — has ended up on the ground. The idea behind the DL stint is that Saunders simply needs rest and there’s no point in having a dormant roster spot for another week or more. Happ, 33 in October, was coming off his best year since 2009. In 26 starts he posted a 4.22 ERA and 4.27 FIP with a couple added ticks in fastball velocity factoring into his success. So far in 2015 his fastball has averaged about 0.5 MPH less than it did in 2014, but that data is based on April numbers and pitchers typically will build up their velocity as the season goes on. In six starts this year Happ has produced a 3.29 ERA and a 3.48 FIP including five shutout innings against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday night. His strikeout rate is in line with his career numbers though he has managed to slash his walk rate in half — his career rate is 3.71 per nine innings compared to 1.88 per nine innings thus far. Similarly to Young last year, moving a fly-ball pitcher like Happ into the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field figured to yield some rewards. Interestingly enough, the left-hander has performed almost exactly the same at home as he has on the road, in very small sample sizes. His strikeout, walk, and home run rate splits are within decimal points of each other while his FIP and xFIP are identical. Perhaps more importantly than Happ’s home/road splits is the role he has played in the Mariners rotation. He has been the club’s most consistent starter behind Felix Hernandez. Hisashi Iwakuma is currently on the disabled list with a strained back muscle and may not be available until early June. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker have had up-and-down sophomore seasons while the club is considering skipping Roenis Elias’ next start in the rotation. The Blue Jays have had their own rotation struggles. After Marcus Stroman went down with a season-ending knee injury in the spring, Drew Hutchison was placed at the top of an inexperienced rotation. Both Hutchison and top prospect Aaron Sanchez have struggled while flashing signs of their potential. Rookie Daniel Norris has already been optioned to the minors while veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle have struggled. It may be a stretch to suggest anything about an entire season two weeks into May, but I don’t think the Jays would be opposed to the idea of having 150 innings of league average performance from Happ in the rotation. When healthy, Saunders has proved to be a decent player. He hasn’t been able to stay on the field with the Jays as of yet and has the remainder of this year and an additional year of eligibility to prove himself. Happ could be in the midst of a career year on the eve of free agency. He could also turn into a pumpkin by month’s end. Despite how the trade may or may not have looked on paper five months ago the early returns suggest that the Mariners have taken the lead in this deal.
It sounds like the top remaining free agent will soon have a home. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reports that James Shields is weighing multiple offers and is expected to make a decision by the end of the week. Morosi mentions the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres have been in recent talks with the right-hander. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that the Yankees, San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Angels are not among the finalists for Shields. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that the Boston Red Sox aren’t involved either while Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports that the Kansas City Royals are more interested in the draft pick they’re due for Shields rejecting the qualifying offer. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweets that the St. Louis Cardinals prefer to fill their rotation hole internally. By the power of deduction we have the Padres and Miami Marlins, who have maintained interested in Shields, as the most likely destinations for the right-hander at this point. The Seattle Mariners have not been connected to the free agent recently. Although Shields ranked a tier below the top free agent starters this winter, he can still pitch at the top of a major league rotation. For his career the right-hander has a 3.72 ERA and 3.77 FIP in 1910 and 1/3 innings pitched. His career strikeout and walk rates are 7.66 and 2.13 respectively with eight straight seasons of 200 or more innings pitched. Entering his age-33 season, there is obviously some concerns that the volume of innings is going to catch up with Shields sooner than later. The right-hander has reportedly been looking for a five-year deal but at this point that seems like a long shot. Shields is the definition of a workhorse and has averaged just under seven innings per start in his career. Mark Buehrle was able to parlay a similar skill set — albeit with slightly worse overall numbers — into a four-year, $58 million contract prior to the 2012 season. At this point, Shields may well end up with a similar contract. Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors notes that no free agent pitcher has secured more than a $50 million guarantee in February. Most teams have the bulk of their roster constructed and money that was available in December has, for the most part, been utilized. Ubaldo Jimenez did manage to secure a four-year, $50 million deal last winter from the Baltimore Orioles in February, but would appear to be an exception to what has become more or less a rule: significant free agent money isn’t available this late in the winter. When I profiled Shields’ free agent stock back in December, I concluded that the $90-plus million it would cost to sign Shields would likely be better utilized by the Mariners elsewhere. Since then the M’s have added Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith to bolster their lineup. Right now Seattle’s payroll projects to land in the $115-to-120 million range. In other words, it’s about maxed. [pullquote]Even at a reduced cost, Seattle is an unlikely landing spot for Shields. The presence of Walker and Elias serves as a deterrent for committing big dollars to the right-hander.[/pullquote] GM Jack Zduriencik has mentioned in interviews that he still has room for minor moves but suggested under the right circumstances, ownership may allow for a significant addition. As discussed by Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill and Alex Carson on The Hot Stove Report, the possibility of Shields signing in Seattle, even at a deflated price, is still very unlikely. First and foremost, the Mariners don’t really have room in the 2015 rotation for Shields. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, and James Paxton are locks with one of Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias likely to take the No. 5 role. That doesn’t include Erasmo Ramirez who is out of options and would have to clear waivers to be sent down to Triple-A this year. If we are talking about the 2016 rotation, it’s a slightly different story. Both Iwakuma and Happ are slated to hit free agency and at least one rotation spot should be opened up. Between the two and closer Fernando Rodney, upwards of $20 million will be cleared off the books at season’s end. That would essentially cover Shields’ potential salary in 2016 and each year beyond. The question then turns back to 2015: is Shields the guy the M’s want to break the bank for? There’s little doubt that Shields does improve the team in the short-term, despite the starting pitching depth. He’s likely a better starter in 2015 than anyone currently in the rotation mix not named Felix. But we have to look at the marginal increase in value that Shields adds as opposed to purely evaluating what he brings. For example’s sake, let’s say Walker wins the No. 5 job and pitches the entire season with the big league club. He probably winds up producing along the lines of an average big league player — 1.5-2.0 WAR. Shields was worth 3.7 fWAR in 2014 and Steamer projects him for 3.0 fWAR in 2015. Let’s split the difference and call Shields a 3.5 fWAR pitcher in 2015. We’re looking at a projected 1.0-2.0 WAR upgrade over Walker. However, Walker arguably has the potential to reasonably beat that projection while Shields has the potential to fall short. Walker won’t turn 23 until August and Mariners fans don’t need to hear about the talent and potential this kid has. Shields on the other hand, will pitch at 33 and as noted, is likely due for a decline at some point in the near future. Both come with risk, but Walker doesn’t carry a $15-to-20 million salary. The numbers support Shields continuing his pace as he ages — particularly an increase in fastball velocity — but the risk is still there. Shields’ ceiling in 2015 is probably in the 4.0-to-4.5 WAR range. I would not expect a career year out of the right-hander. Does Shields improve the Mariners in 2015? Definitely. Would he be a nice piece to have when planning for 2016 and beyond? Definitely. But considering where the club sits in terms of payroll, and a more pressing need for an additional bat, Shields doesn’t make a lot of sense. Even at a reduced price from the five years and $100 million he was seeking a few months back. And no, Shields will not be signing a one-year deal this winter. Maybe if a team was willing to pay him $40 million for that year, but the chances are practically nil. Even at a $16 million salary, Shields would guarantee himself about $50 million on a three-year deal. Not exactly the contract numbers he was hoping to achieve, but not small change either. The is a non-zero chance that James Shields is a Seattle Mariner in 2015. The veteran is known to prefer signing with a west coast team, but too much stock shouldn’t be put into that. It also appears unlikely that Shields will sign with an American League West foe. The Angels, despite the clear fit, are said to be out and the Texas Rangers haven’t been mentioned in a while. I suppose the Houston Astros could make a surprise run, but that feels unlikely. All three of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays would make sense as landing spots for Shields, especially Toronto. The Jays don’t have a clear ace and despite being near the top of their budget, could convince ownership that the expenditure is needed to break the longest playoff drought in pro sports. The Marlins remain in the picture even though they are out east. If they are willing to go four years, I’d imagine that’d probably put them as the favorites. The Padres, who have already made a number of significant moves, should also be watched closely. It sounds like the club still has some payroll to play with and could also use a boost at the top of the rotation. If Seattle is to make one more major transaction before the start of the season, expect it to be by trade. The missing link simply does not appear to be available via free agency.
As the calendar turns into January, the hot stove typically cools until pitchers and catchers report in February. Although in recent years, including this one, a high-profile Scott Boras client has remained unsigned and figures to be a talking point for the next couple weeks. James Shields is also available, but Max Scherzer is the big fish that has yet to find a home. The Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees are the most discussed landing spots for Scherzer, and one can’t count out the Boston Red Sox or Los Angeles Dodgers. Any of those four clubs, as well as the San Francisco Giants, could be potential fits for Shields too. One team that hasn’t been connected to either of the aces, for a myriad of sensible reasons, is the Seattle Mariners. A rotation topped with Felix Hernandez doesn’t require the addition of a true No. 1 in the same way the rotation of the Red Sox or Toronto Blue Jays do. Hisashi Iwakuma in the No. 2 slot gives the club one of the best one-two punches in the game. If James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are able to pitch up to their top-of-the-rotation stuff, the M’s could easily have the best rotation in the American League. For a team that’s already boosted payroll beyond $110 million for the upcoming season, including a pair of players earning north of $24 million annually, spending big on a starter doesn’t make much sense. The addition of Nelson Cruz already marks a significant expenditure this winter. Realistically, if there’s a sizeable hole on this ball club it’s that the lineup could use one more significant addition, not the rotation. That’s probably why we haven’t seen the Mariners involved with Scherzer and Shields or Jon Lester before he signed with the Chicago Cubs. The need for frontline pitching really isn’t there. However the goal for the M’s this winter was to improve the roster. Arguably that can be done at any position not held by Felix, Robinson Cano, or Kyle Seager. And the M’s have the resources to do so. I don’t want to suggest investing heavily in Scherzer or Shields is the right thing for Seattle to do right now. Safeco Field could set Happ up for a career year, Paxton was excellent when healthy last season, and Elias has another season of professional ball under his belt. Walker is a bit more of a wild card given his struggles last year with injury and effectiveness but showed flashes of brilliance at the end of the season. There’s strength in the rotation with some significant upside. Even if Elias shows some signs of regression, perhaps this is the year Walker puts it all together. This is more an exercise to show that the Mariners do have the financial flexibility to make another big move, should they choose to. Acquiring another starter over the next calendar year may become necessity given the uncertainty that will eventually come. The following is a glance at the contract situations for the Mariners starting pitchers. Salaries for pre-arbitration players typically fall between $500,000 and $600,000 but I was purposely generous with the amounts — $500,000 for first year, $600,000 for second, and $700,000 for third. It’s also not exactly clear how much cash the Blue Jays will be including to complete the Michael Saunders trade. Reportedly it will amount to the difference between Happ and Saunders’ salary. The outfielder is arbitration-eligible and is projected to earn around $4 million in 2015. The part that stands out most in that chart is the $13.7 million set to come off the books with the impending free agency of Iwakuma and Happ. It’s too early to speculate on Iwakuma’s future with the club. He is an extension candidate but there have been no reported talks this winter. Same goes for Happ, though the former seems to be the one more likely to be extended of the two. For example’s sake, let’s assume that the two will depart as free agents. Another $7 million will be taken off the books as closer Fernando Rodney’s contract will expire after the 2015 season as well. That’s approximately $20 million that will be freed up on the pitching side of things alone. Shields figures to command an annual salary around the $20 million mark for his next deal and Scherzer is aiming to top the $25 million Lester will earn over the course of his new deal. Seattle could add a $25 million salary to the books in 2016 given the payroll that figures to be shed. Add in the influx of television money and holding three and eventually four salaries — remember the Seager extension — in the $20 million range in 2017 and beyond is feasible. As it has been noted before, the incoming television money is significant. A future payroll in the $150 million range is palpable. Whether or not ownership is willing to earmark that much to player salary remains to be seen, however. The one thing we do know is that these financial resources will be used in some capacity or another; for example, significant upgrades to the Spring Training facility in Peoria. [pullquote]Earlier in the winter, Prospect Insider profiled the pair of free agent starters. Scherzer’s profile can be seen here, and Shields’ here.[/pullquote] The problem with adding one of these starters may be in the present. Payroll is already set to increase for the upcoming season and it’s unclear exactly how much more ownership is open to spending. The club was willing to pay Melky Cabrera $14 million or so in each of the next three seasons, but that was before acquiring Seth Smith. The left-hander will earn $6 million in 2015. Justin Ruggiano, previously acquired from the Cubs, is projected to earn between $2 and 3 million through arbitration as well. Between the two outfielder most of the Cabrera money has already been eaten up. GM Jack Zduriencik has gone on record saying that ownership is willing to give the green light to the right payroll-adding transaction. But adding another $20 million to the 2015 payroll doesn’t seem likely. Of course the club could backload a deal to make the cost palatable in the short-term, but there’s no evidence to suggest Shields or Scherzer are willing to do that right now. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that Shields may in fact have a five-year contract worth more than $100 million in hand right now and is seeking a higher guarantee. If the dollars get crazy like that then obviously the M’s would be wiser to abstain. Just because there is money to spend doesn’t mean that it should be spent haphazardly. Zduriencik and company obviously have some sort of plan in place, and Shields isn’t the type of pitcher worth blowing it up for. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill and Alex Carson addressed the Mariners payroll situation and potential interest in Shields and Scherzer on this past week’s edition of The Hot Stove Report. The conclusion drawn was that a fit between the two sides is unlikely at this point in time. Adding significant payroll also doesn’t appear imminent given the sizeable increase from Opening Day 2014. Right now the bulk of what will be the 2015 Seattle Mariners roster appears to be in place. The addition of a back-up catcher and some pitching depth are the most likely tasks to be perpetrated over the coming weeks. The Mariners aren’t likely to make another big splash this winter, but at least it’s nice to know that they could if they wanted to.
It wasn’t a surprise to anyone to hear that the Seattle Mariners had dealt outfielder Michael Saunders. After a tumultuous couple weeks at the conclusion of the 2014 season, there was an obvious tension between the two parties that would probably only be resolved by a conclusion of the relationship. The Toronto Blue Jays were identified as a potential fit for Saunders and earlier in the week would acquire the Victoria, BC native in exchange for starter JA Happ. Toronto needed some help in the outfield with the departures of Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus to free agency and Anthony Gose to trade and Seattle had a need for some rotation depth as well. Saunders is pencilled in as the Jays everyday left fielder, but where Happ fits in Seattle is not as clear. After the introductory press conference for free agent signing Nelson Cruz, GM Jack Zduriencik commented that he viewed Happ as a No. 3 or 4 starter in the rotation next year. Suggesting Happ could be a No. 3 starter is a stretch to say the least. Though Erasmo Ramirez began the 2014 season as the club’s No. 2 starter so the order may not be all that important to management. Happ has added some velocity back to his fastball recently, but otherwise is a very average back-end of the rotation starter. On a good team he will be your No. 6. The 32-year old made 26 starts for the Blue Jays in 2014 and posted a 4.22 ERA and 4.27 FIP in 158 total innings pitched. He has struck out less than eight batters per nine over the course of his career but has walked nearly four per nine, which is concerning. The left-hander did post the best walk rate of his career this past year though at 2.91 walks per nine innings. The prevailing wisdom with Happ is that Safeco Field will give him the same boost that veteran Chris Young received last year. The southpaw has a 42.2 fly ball percentage for his career and despite the fact Safeco isn’t as pitcher-friendly as it was a few years ago, it still plays well to hurlers like Happ and Young. The former third-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies is owed $6.7 million for 2015, but Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports that the Blue Jays will be sending some cash Seattle’s way. The amount is expected to be around the difference between the salaries owed to Happ and Saunders in 2015, though nothing has been officially confirmed yet. Saunders was projected to earn a salary in the $3 million range as an arbitration eligible player. For roughly $4 million then, the M’s get a No. 5 starter for 2015 — Happ will be a free agent at season’s end — and a replacement for Young who isn’t expected to return at this point. One other interesting note from Divish is that Zduriencik admitted he had started receiving calls on Happ the day after he was acquired. While it’s certainly not atypical for clubs to ask how a team plans on using a player, there are plenty of teams that could have interest in Happ for the back end of their rotations. If the Mariners were willing to move Happ, and presumably they are in the right deal, perhaps Zduriencik’s description of the left-hander as a No. 3 or 4 starter is merely a case of up-selling or setting his valuation on the player. It’s doubtful that the words of Zduriencik would alter other teams’ valuations, but it doesn’t hurt. After all, he sent an everyday outfielder to the Jays in exchange for Happ and it is doubtful that he will receive similar value in a potential trade given the amount of pitching available on the market. [pullquote]Happ was acquired by the Jays from the Houston Astros in July 2012 as part of a ten player mega-deal that didn’t feature any prominent talent. He was also one of the pieces sent to Houston by the Phillies in exchange for Roy Oswalt back in 2010.[/pullquote] Seattle had a legitimate need for pitching depth and Happ does provide some of that. Beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma the M’s have top prospects Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and rookie standout Roenis Elias to fill the rotation. Ramirez is also in the mix as depth and is out of options. If Happ is in the rotation Elias is likely to start the season at Triple-A. Ideally the M’s keep Ramirez in the bullpen as a swingman or deal him. Otherwise he would have to pass through waivers to be sent to the minors. Happ fits because he gives the club another left-handed arm and, depending on the amount of money the Jays chip in, isn’t unaffordable, but he doesn’t offer much upside at 32. Any number of National League teams could look at Happ as a pitcher who would benefit from pitching in the senior circuit and may be willing to give him a shot. The M’s have been involved in trade talks with the Atlanta Braves who recently non-tendered Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlan and could look to shore up the rotation. Ervin Santana is also a free agent and is not expected to return. Obviously Happ doesn’t bring Justin Upton or Evan Gattis back to Seattle, but he does give the M’s another piece to work with in potential trade talks. Other teams such as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Miami Marlins, and San Diego Padres could be potential fits for the left-hander. There’s obviously no rush to attempt to trade from the pitching staff, but it’s more likely than ever that Jack Z will be tempted to do so at the upcoming Winter Meetings. A Paxton or Walker will bring the highest return, but a guy like Happ can provide some insurance should the club decide to go that route. So far Seattle has shown a reluctance to include Walker in potential deals for Upton and Matt Kemp and things have been very quiet surrounding James Paxton. Stockpiling arms is never a bad thing to do. Especially for a club that saw four-fifths of their rotation on the disabled list last season. Happ is usable in the No. 5 spot, but it’s possible that he could be the sweetener needed to get a deal done. Clubs love cheap starting pitching, but they prefer cheap starting pitching that has shown an ability to get major league hitters out.
With the signing of free agent slugger Nelson Cruz official the Seattle Mariners have turned their attention to other outfielders that could potentially improve the roster. Melky Cabrera is of interest to the club, according to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, and could potentially fill the vacated right field hole. This comes just days after the Mariners dealt their best all around outfielder Michael Saunders to the Toronto Blue Jays for starter JA Happ. Incidentally, Saunders will essentially fill the left field spot that was occupied by Cabrera in Toronto for the past two seasons. Cabrera is coming off his first full season of play since 2011 and posted a .301/.351/.458 slash line with a 125 wRC+. He missed 50 games in 2012 due to a suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal and finished 2013 on the disabled list with what turned out to be a benign tumor in his lower back. Cabrera hit 16 home runs, the second highest mark of his career, and occupied the No. 2 spot in the Blue Jays order for the majority of the season. The 30-year old is reportedly looking for a five-year deal worth more than $50 million according to Dutton, in line with previous reports that he was after a five-year deal specifically. Given his age a contract of that length is certainly feasible, but we have yet to see the market really heat up for the switch-hitter. It could very soon, however, with Cruz now locked up to a four-year, $57 million contract. Cabrera is the top remaining outfielder on the free agent market. Cabrera would be a near-perfect addition for the top of the Mariners order as he hits from both sides of the dish and has solid on base skills. There’s also some home run pop in his bat and he hit 35 doubles last year. His 7.2 percent career walk rate isn’t particularly inspiring, but his career .286 average and .339 on base percentage could be. Especially considering the production Seattle received from Abraham Almonte, James Jones, Austin Jackson, Endy Chavez, and Dustin Ackley at the top of the lineup last year. If the club decides to keep Ackley in left, Cabrera would logically fit on the right side. He saw regular time in center field as recently as 2011, but isn’t a great fielder overall. Cabrera is credited with minus four defensive runs saved in 2014 and hasn’t posted a positive UZR since 2009. He does have a strong arm though, and with the tumor troubles behind him, his mobility in the outfield should be as good as it has ever been. Not having to play half his games on the Rogers Center ‘turf’ in Toronto would certainly help as well. The switch-hitter received and turned down a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays so he would require a compensatory draft pick to sign. However, after the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz and relinquished their first round pick to the Baltimore Orioles, Cabrera would cost the club their second-round pick in next June’s amateur draft. [pullquote]Presuming Austin Jackson will hit leadoff to begin 2015, Cabrera would slot between him and Robinson Cano and provide some needed righty-lefty balance. The M’s preference is still to add another bat on the right side.[/pullquote] Cabrera did indicate a preference to stay on the East Cost, particularly with the Blue Jays, but Dutton says that he is open to other clubs, too. He has spent time with the New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals, and San Francisco Giants aside from the Jays. It is believed that both the Royals and Giants have interest in bringing the outfielder back for a second time. The biggest factor in bringing Cabrera to Seattle will be, as it always is, the cost. The $50 million number isn’t troubling as much as the five years might be. It’s likely that Seattle will be carrying some dead payroll weight on the back end of the Cruz deal, and considering Cabrera’s injury history and PED connection, there’s a possibility that he will present the same problem. That shouldn’t be a concern for the Mariners though, as the club has signalled a clear intention of competing in 2015. The loss of the draft pick shouldn’t matter either. If anything, the M’s should be more inclined to add a second qualified free agent given that they’ve already given up 2015’s first round pick, making it much easier to sacrifice a second pick. On the financial side of things the Mariners are in position to add another significant contract even after the Cruz deal. Reports indicate that Kyle Seager’s brand new extension will be slightly backloaded, as expected, and won’t take up significant space on the 2015 budget. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times asked GM Jack Zduriencik if there was still payroll flexibility available and received, “Yes, yes” as the answer. Given the club’s reported interest in Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, there is certainly room in the budget for a $15 million outfielder. Cabrera shouldn’t have a problem receiving a four-year deal in the $50-60 million range, akin to the deal signed by Cruz, but it will likely be the team willing to go five years that signs him. We saw the same thing happen with Russell Martin. Five years isn’t terrible if the total value of the deal is between $50 and $60 million, but an average annual value of less than $13 million probably doesn’t get the deal done. The best thing about Cabrera is that he only costs money, something the Mariners have a lot of. He’s currently projected for 1.7 fWAR in 2015 by Steamer and for comparison Kemp is projected for 2.1 fWAR and is owed $107 million over the next five years. Though the Los Angeles Dodgers are expected to include cash in any potential trade. A five-year, $75 million contract is a steep price to pay, but certainly isn’t unrealistic at this point. Should the M’s convince Cabrera to head West, the same four-year deal that Cruz signed would be a reasonable price to pay. The fifth year is scary, but as the Mariners are going to find out very quickly, that’s often the cost of success in this industry. Update: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports confirms the Mariners’ interest in Cabrera and reports that the club is thought to be willing to make a deal in that’s similar in value to the one Cruz signed — four-years and $57 million. Heyman points out the relationship between Cabrera and Cano as a potential point of interest as well as the relationship with Cruz. All three hail from the Dominican Republic and were teammates internationally.
The calendar has yet to hit December and the top free agent catcher is already off the board. On Monday Russell Martin agreed to a five-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. The deal does not come with a no-trade clause, per Toronto’s team policy, and is heavily backloaded. Martin will earn just $7 million in the first year, $15 million in the second, and $20 million in each of the final three seasons of the deal. The deal allows the Jays to pursue other players, such as Jon Lester, who they’ve reportedly shown interest in. The 31-year old is coming off one of his better offensive seasons in recent memory with a .290/.402/.430 slash line and a 140 wRC+. Martin is among the best defensive backstops in the game and was credited with 12 defensive runs saved in 2014. He excels in pitch-framing as well as throwing out base runners. Personally I think this is a great signing for the Blue Jays. The contract is about market value but the smaller payments in the first couple years don’t limit the club and by the time the third year kicks in a couple significant contracts will be off the books. The narrative of a Canadian playing in Toronto has been overblown in the past, but Martin was born and raised in York, Ontario — just north of Toronto — but his personality and gritty style of play will quickly turn him into a fan favorite. Martin is a noted leader in the clubhouse and should help ease some of the tension that’s been around the team in recent years. The backstop strengthens the defensive side of the team and pushes Dionner Navarro to a more regular designated hitter role if he isn’t dealt. Top catching prospect Max Pentecost is likely still a few years away from the majors. Even though the Seattle Mariners already have a catcher of the now and of the future in Mike Zunino, there was some rumblings last week that the club was checking in on Martin, if for nothing more than due diligence. On Tuesday Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com reported that the Mariners were actually one of the finalists for the Canadian-born catcher. Checking in on Martin only makes sense. Every team checks in on every free agent, again, that’s the due diligence aspect. But for the M’s to have seriously pursued a high profile catcher does raise an eyebrow given Zunino’s presence and the other needs on the roster. My stance on the Mariners offseason has been that an improvement is an improvement, regardless of position. If the team was able to find similar ground with Martin, there was no reason not to sign him. Not only is he an upgrade over Zunino in the short-term, it also creates a very interesting trade chip in the young catcher. The Chicago Cubs were flagged as the early favorite for Martin’s services and will have to look elsewhere. Even at a surface glance there’s likely a fit between the two clubs where Zunino could be jettisoned in a package for potentially available shortstop Starlin Castro — that’s my own speculation. Other teams like the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Martin’s former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, could have interest in the young catcher. Whether or not the Mariners would be willing to trade Zunino is a debate for another day. What we can take away from this report is simple: Seattle really is pressing on all fronts to improve offensively. There’s been plenty of chatter surrounding Nelson Cruz and reported interest in Hanley Ramirez and Justin Upton. Matt Kemp’s name has also come up again. Seattle’s preference is to acquire right-handed hitters and Martin fits that mould. How far they were willing to go in terms of dollars and years is unknown and probably will stay that way. What we do know is that GM Jack Zduriencik and company are trying. And eventually those efforts will yield results.
The Toronto Blue Jays have claimed first baseman Justin Smoak off waivers from the Seattle Mariners both teams announced on Tuesday morning. Smoak was originally the key piece acquired by Seattle when they sent star hurler to the Texas Rangers in a 2010 trade. Smoak earned $2.6375 million in 2014 and was an obvious non-tender candidate this winter. However he was due a $150,000 buy-out on a $3.65 million club option for 2015 that was going to require a decision after the conclusion of the World Series. The Blue Jays will now be responsible for that buy-out should they decline his option. Smoak is entering his second season of arbitration and can be team controlled through 2016. The switch-hitter posted a .202/.275/.339 triple-slash in 276 plate appearances at the big league level in 2014. Smoak spent over one third of the season with Triple-A Tacoma where he posted a 138 wRC+ in 249 plate appearances. The 27-year old had spent parts of five seasons in the Mariners organization but the former first-round draft pick failed to meet expectations. Smoak owns a 94 wRC+ in 2218 career plate appearances, 1943 were which the M’s, and struggled with finding consistency in the batter’s box on a regular basis. Logan Morrison snatched the first base job from Smoak after returning from early season injuries and saw the bulk of the regular playing time. Smoak figured to be expendable after LoMo seized the job and the club used their final option on the former top prospect in 2014. Should the Blue Jays, or any other club, wish to send Smoak to Triple-A in 2015 the first baseman would have to pass through waivers first. There’s been rumors circulating that Toronto is interested in moving one of their first base/designated hitter types in left-hander Adam Lind who is also due a decision on his 2015 club option worth $7.5 million. It seems likely that Lind will be dealt in the near future after the acquisition of Smoak. Seattle opens a spot on their 40-man roster with Smoak out of the picture and are likely to add depth at first base during the offseason. They also saved the $150,000 buy-out on his club option that was a lock to be declined. It’s speculated that the Jays will decline the option and renegotiate a smaller deal. The final piece remaining from the Lee trade is starter Blake Beavan who has struggled with a myriad of shoulder issues and missed most of the 2014 season. As Smoak turns 28, it appears unlikely that he is going to make it as an everyday first baseman, however a change of scenery could reignite some of the power that still exists in his bat.
The last time we checked in on the American League Wild Card race the Los Angeles Angels were leading the way with the Seattle Mariners holding the second spot, five-and-a-half games back. How things have changed. The Angels have been on a tear the last couple weeks and now lead the AL West by eight games. The Kansas City Royals continue to hang on to the AL Central lead, but the Detroit Tigers are just a single game behind entering Tuesday night’s action. GB represents how many games the team is behind in the Wild Card race and does not represent where they sit in their respective division races. Oakland Athletics | 80-63, +1.0 GBAs mentioned at the top, the A’s have faded to some extent since the middle of August and have scored just 198 runs since the All-Star break. Now, many have been quick to surmise the subtraction of Yoenis Cespedes from the lineup as the reason Oakland has struggled to score runs and win games, but hitters like Brandon Moss, Sam Fuld, Coco Crisp, and Alberto Callaspo all of wRC+’s between 45 and 65, so it’s not as simple as that, though it is a factor. Jeff Samardzija has been good but not great for the A’s while Jon Lester has been his usual solid self. It seems that the A’s struggles are more of a situation where everything that could go wrong has. The injury to Sean Doolittle was critical as the bullpen has faltered of late, but he’s expected to return soon. There’s still a very good chance that the Athletics make the playoffs and it’s completely unfair to write them off given the talented roster they boast. Seattle Mariners | 79-64, —Despite all the offensive struggles and string of less than royal starts by Felix Hernandez in the second half of August, the Mariners are actually in very good shape heading into the final 19 games of the season. In one month’s time the M’s have made up nine games on Oakland, and yes, you did read that correctly. What’s there to say? Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano have been outstanding of late, Chris Taylor has continued his steady play, and Brad Miller has been red-hot at the dish. Kendrys Morales has even began to show some signs of life. The club also gets Michael Saunders back from an oblique injury that cost him 50 games, but Dustin Ackley — who’s been one of the key contributors over the last couple months — has been battling bone spurs in his ankle and is expected to be out a few more days. For the first time in a long time, the Mariners are a legitimate playoff club. [pullquote]Aside from the current series with the Houston Astros and the three-game set next weekend, the Mariners will not play a game against a sub-.500 team for the remainder of the year. This includes seven games against the Angels, three against the Athletics, and four against the Blue Jays.[/pullquote] Detroit Tigers | 79-65, 0.5 GBEntering the year Detroit boasted an envious rotation with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez and after their addition of David Price at the trade deadline, most were ready to punch their ticket to the American League Championship Series. Not so fast. Sanchez has been hurt, Verlander is still struggling with a sore shoulder, and the pitching staff has some serious holes as the bullpen continues to be an issue. But the good news is that Miguel Cabrera has been red-hot and Victor Martinez has been one of the best hitters in baseball this year. If Verlander is able to recapture some of his 2012-13 magic the Tigers will probably be just fine. However, Detroit looks a lot more susceptible than they have in recent memory and currently sit on the outside looking in. Don’t count them out just yet. Cleveland Indians | 74-68, 4.5 GBAided by a pitching performance that will rival King Felix for the AL Cy Young award this year from Corey Kluber, the Indians have surprisingly been able to stay in the race — as much as one considers four-and-a-half games back with just a couple weeks left to be in the race. Manager Terry Francona lead his club to a near-historic run last September that jettisoned the club into a Wild Card spot so it’s still tough to count them out, but they’ll be hard-pressed to recreate that magic. Lonnie Chisenhall has managed a 77 wRC+ since the All-Star break after a phenomenal first half of play, and it appears that the Indians just don’t have enough firepower to make the necessary push to get past the Tigers and Mariners, but are a team to keep an eye on. New York Yankees | 73-68, 5.0 GBGive the Yankees credit for trying to make something out of Derek Jeter‘s final season, but it looks like it’s fair to say that they will fall short this year. Although Masahiro Tanaka has made progress, it’s tough to know what one can expect from him in the couple starts he may make before the end of the year. For my money, it’s not worth it and the club should shut him down. Brandon McCarthy has pitched well enough to earn a moderate payday this winter and Michael Pineda has been effective when healthy, but it’s been Hiroki Kuroda that’s anchored the pitching staff, once again. Oh yeah, and that Jeter guy? Among qualified shortstops, Jeter has the fourth-lowest wRC+ at 73, but I will say that it’s a good thing for baseball that he’s able to go out on his own terms after missing 2013 due to injury. Well done, Captain, it’s been a wonderful career. Toronto Blue Jays | 74-69, 5.0 GBThe Jays have actually been playing solid baseball lately and have won seven of their last ten, but it looks like it’ll be too little too late for the blue birds. Melky Cabrera was lost for the season due to a pinky fracture that required surgery and Brett Lawrie is officially done for the year as well. Despite the scorching bat of Jose Bautista, the offense still lacks much punch behind Joey Bats and Edwin Encarnacion. Catcher Dioner Navarro has began to heat up as well lately, but the club has had to give regular playing time to Danny Valencia and now Anthony Gose. Not to mention the fact the J.A. Happ has been a regular member of the rotation that has for the most part disappointed, again. On the bright side, young stud Marcus Stroman pitched a complete game shutout on Monday night, the first of his career, and needed just 93 pitches to do it. The Jays may have an ace in the making as they begin to turn their thoughts towards 2015, though baseball allows for just enough randomness that there’s still a chance they could make a late push for a Wild Card spot.
When we checked in last week, the Los Angeles Angels had a firm hold on the top American League Wild Card spot while the red-hot Kansas City Royals had surged themselves into the second spot. Since then the Royals have knocked the Detroit Tigers out of the top spot in the AL Central division while the Angels have added a game to their lead. The Seattle Mariners have propelled themselves back up into the second Wild Card slot after taking two of three from the Detroit Tigers who now sit half a game out. GB represents how many games the team is behind in the Wild Card race and does not represent where they sit in their respective division races. Los Angeles Angels | 72-50, +5.5 GB It was a short week for the Wild Card leaders as they had a two-game series in Philadelphia in between a couple of off days. Los Angeles won both games against the lowly Phillies before taking two of three from the Texas Rangers over the weekend. The restructured bullpen continues to be a strongpoint for the club with Huston Street in the closer role. However he did blow the save in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Rangers, but the pair of runs he allowed were the first he’s given up in an Angels uniform after 12 scoreless outings previously. On the offensive side of things, superstar Mike Trout has been struggling of late as he’s recorded just two hits in his last 27 plate appearances — albeit one of those was a two-run home run — but the more publicized slump is the one belonging to Josh Hamilton. After striking out seven times in the first two games in Texas, manager Mike Scioscia described the slugger as “not the same player” he was when he was a Ranger. On the year Hamilton owns a .753 OPS and a 114 wRC+, which isn’t all that bad, but he has just eight home runs and 35 runs batted in. The 33-year old has always been a streaky hitter with a relatively free swing, but if he could get things going with the bat the lineup would become that much more potent. Not to mention the fact he’s being paid to perform like he did in his peak Ranger years. Seattle Mariners | 67-56, — The M’s have been red hot of late after sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays and taking two of three from the Tigers, and for the moment, hold sole possession of the second Wild Card slot. The offense has had a coming out party of sorts as the M’s scored 19 runs in three games against the Jays and 17 in three games against the Tigers. Robinson Cano has swung a hot bat and hit a pair of home runs in the past week while Kendrys Morales has finally woken from his half-season slumber and picked up a pair of doubles and homers in the Toronto series. Kyle Seager and Chris Taylor have continued their consistent play and Trade Deadline pick-up Chris Denorfia has contributed seven hits in his last five games as well. Pitching continues to be the true strength of the club and the staff’s ERA now sits at 2.97 — the AL West leading Oakland Athletics have the next best mark with a 3.17 ERA. James Paxton had another strong outing on Friday going six innings while yielding a single run on five hits and isn’t showing any signs of rust after missing most of the season. The M’s elected to start Roenis Elias at Triple-A this week but he was re-called for Monday’s start in Philadelphia with James Jones sent back down to Tacoma. [pullquote]The Cleveland Indians currently sit five games behind the Mariners in the Wild Card race but have lost five of their last ten games and are starting to look like a long shot. They’ll face the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros this week.[/pullquote] Detroit Tigers | 66-56, 0.5 GB Things haven’t been so nice in Motown lately as the Tigers now find themselves a game and a half back of the Royals in the AL Central and on the outside of the playoff picture entirely on Sunday night. The team split a four-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates before losing two of three at the hands of the Mariners. An MRI revealed that Justin Verlander has been dealing with some shoulder inflammation after he was pulled after just one inning in his last start. The right-hander isn’t expected to spend any time on the disabled list and could start as soon as Friday if a Tuesday bullpen session goes well, but he’s been struggling throughout the year and his velocity has been done. Offense hasn’t necessarily been Detroit’s issue — though they were outscored 17-7 in the Seattle series — their bullpen has continued to be the problem. Joakim Soria is on the disabled list with an oblique strain but is expected to return to action in the next week or so. Closer Joe Nathan has continued his up-and-down play and after finishing Wednesday’s game against the Pirates he made a pair of gestures to the home fans that caused some controversy– he has since apologized. Athletics cast-0ff Jim Johnson was re-called prior to Sunday’s game and allowed three runs, though just one was earned, in his Tigers debut. New York Yankees | 63-59, 3.5 GB After losing five straight games the Yankees managed to stay in the thick of things by winning their last two games against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday and Sunday. The team did receive some good news today as Masahiro Tanaka reportedly felt fine after throwing a 25-pitch bullpen on Sunday. He’s set to throw another in the coming week but there’s still no time table for when he’d be able to return to the majors, but at this rate it’s possible he could return before the end of September, but it may not be that bad of an idea to keep him shut down for the rest of the season. Shane Green has done a solid job filling a hole in the rotation and turned in another six-inning two-run performance on Saturday. If the Bronx Bombers want to hang in the race they’ll need to start getting the offense rolling again. Mark Teixeira has been the hot hand in the lineup, but outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury just snapped a four game hitless streak on Sunday. New York has managed to keep pace up to this point so it’d be unwise to count them out yet. It’s also possible they could make another waiver-trade before the end of the month but nothing appears imminent. Toronto Blue Jays | 61-61, 4.0 GB If there’s one team that appears to be fading, it’s the Blue Jays. Toronto was swept by the Mariners earlier in the week and lost two of three against the Chicago White Sox over the weekend. Slugger Edwin Encarnacion returned to the lineup on Saturday and belted a two-run home run in Sunday’s loss, but the Jays were actually very productive on the offensive side of things in Chicago — it was their pitching that let them down. Toronto managed to score 16 runs against the White Sox but only won one of the three games; the Sox put 21 runs on the board in the series. Starter Drew Hutchison was tagged for for seven runs on Sunday and Marcus Stroman gave up five on Friday and failed to complete the first inning of a start for the first time in his young major league career. Veteran Mark Buehrle owns a 6.67 ERA and has been clubbed for a .963 OPS since the All-Star break while failing to complete the sixth inning in three straight starts. Toronto heads to Milwaukee for a two-game set before finishing the month with series’ against the Rays, Boston Red Sox, and Yankees. They’ll have their work cut out for them if they hope to pull off a playoff spot at this point.