Bucs a near playoff lock.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you've checked the standings at any point in the past few days, you've seen something quite unusual: The Pittsburgh Pirates have the best record in baseball. We're not talking about being 1-0 after Opening Day, either, but the best record at the halfway point of the season.
The Pirates made appearances at the top of the National League Central in July of 2012 and 2011 yet finished below .500 on both occasions. This time around is different -- Pittsburgh fans should start clearing their schedule for at least the first week of October.
The 2013 Pirates have an important difference from the 2011 and 2012 Pirates as they have a sizable cushion in the overall NL standings. If the season ended today, the team with the best record in the National League that would not make the playoffs, the Washington Nationals, would be 9½ games behind Pittsburgh. That gives the Pirates an impressive surplus of breathing room, and it would take a major collapse for one of the wild-card spots to fall out of reach.
Using the ZiPS projection system and a Monte Carlo simulator, I simulated the rest of the 2013 season to gauge just how strong Pittsburgh's playoff position is. Based on talent, ZiPS sees the Pirates as a "true" 82- or 83-win team, but they have outplayed their projection to this point and those wins are in the bank, so to speak. As a result, their playoffs odds are much better than that of your typical 82-win club.
Thanks to a 51-30 record, they have a 91 percent chance to make the playoffs and a 38 percent chance to win the NL Central (see table). In other words, Pittsburgh would have to play some terrible ball the rest of the summer to not be playing meaningful baseball in the fall for the first time since 1992.
NL Central projection
ZiPS says both the Cardinals and Pirates have at least a 90 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Team W L GB Div. Playoffs
STL 92 70 -- 43% 92%
PIT 92 70 -- 38% 91%
CIN 90 72 2 19% 81%
CHC 74 88 18 <1% <1%
MIL 71 91 21 <1% <1%
Such a collapse would be highly unusual. Before the Pirates did it this year, 40 teams have started the year at exactly 51-30. On average, they finished with a .601 winning percentage, which comes out to about 97 wins over a normal 162-game season. And every single team finished at .500 or better, another feat Pittsburgh hasn't accomplished since we were all a lot younger.
Patience pays off
Getting the Pirates to this point is a major victory for the current front office, headed by team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington. The regime in power had a tall challenge in that, to get the Pirates back to relevance, it had to rebuild and think long term. Working for a fan base that had grown accustomed to always being in Year 1 of a five-year rebuilding plan under previous regimes, that was a tall order.
If anything, Pittsburgh's success is a terrific example of the virtue of patience. The Pirates have avoided that usual peril of the sad-sack franchise and resisted any temptation to make big moves simply to try to "look relevant" for the fan base, as the Baltimore Orioles did up until a few years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays did in their early years and the Kansas City Royals have been doing for a few decades (hello, Gil Meche!).
The Pirates were put together in a fundamentally sound way: through developing the farm system and making smart, low-risk/high-upside moves in filling the holes around the players they develop.
Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker represent the homegrown core of the team right now, but the rest of the team, mostly populated by thrifty, low-cost signings and trades, has a lot to do with Pittsburgh's current record, as well. There's Russell Martin and A.J. Burnett, both signed by the Pirates when their stocks were at their absolute lowest. Gaby Sanchez, with a .777 OPS, was picked up last year from the Miami Marlins when no other team wanted to take a chance on him in the middle of a disastrous 2012 season.
There's no Jordy Mercer (.284/.333/.448) or Jeff Locke (7-1, 2.06 ERA) if the Pirates tried to fill those holes with major league retreads. It's taking tantalizing upside over dependable mediocrity that led Francisco Liriano to be employed by Pittsburgh in 2013 instead of Kevin Correia.
Perhaps the scariest thing about the Pirates is that they are where they are without the emergence of any of their current top prospects. Gerrit Cole has just four starts in the majors, and neither Jameson Taillon nor Alen Hanson has arrived in Pittsburgh.
The Rays and the Oakland A's might be held up as two of the model organizations in baseball for very good reasons, but the Pirates are also making the case for winning being more than simply signing big-name players to contracts with a lot of commas in the salary. Get used to watching the Pirates; you'll probably be seeing them this October and in more Octobers to come.
Farm systems rising and falling.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With the major league season reaching its midpoint and the bulk of high picks from this year's draft already agreeing to contracts, it's a good time to re-examine farm systems to see which organizations have improved or declined since my organizational rankings at the start of the season.
For the purposes of this exercise, some parameters to keep in mind:
1. I'm only including draft picks who've signed.
2. I'm going to assume players in the majors right now are going to lose their rookie eligibility and won't count for the next org rankings I do in the winter. (This matters because graduating prospects will hurt a system as much as a lack of performance.)
With that noted, let's take a look.
Minnesota Twins | Preseason rank: 2
The Twins have benefited from big jumps by several of their top prospects, balancing out the promotions of their No. 3, 4, and 5 prospects to the majors this year. Byron Buxton has fully justified my ranking of him as the top prospect in last year's draft, tearing up the low Class A Midwest League at Cedar Rapids before earning a promotion a week ago to high-A Fort Myers. His combination of electric speed and plate discipline has prompted some unfair comparisons to Mike Trout -- at Buxton's age, Trout was about to start the season in Double-A, and reached the majors before he turned 20 -- but Buxton clearly has superstar potential and is one of the top two prospects in the game.
Buxton passed Miguel Sano as Minnesota's top prospect, but Sano also has had a huge year -- he was recently promoted to Double-A New Britain -- and could reach the majors by early 2014, giving the Twins the kind of middle-of-the-order power bat they've lacked for several years. Max Kepler is finally healthy again and off to a solid start in Cedar Rapids; Eddie Rosario crushed high-A and joined Sano in Double-A in June.
Alex Meyer, acquired in the Denard Span trade, had a strong two months before hitting the DL with a shoulder issue; he's about to start his rehab, but before the injury he was missing bats and getting ground balls and continuing to show that he can succeed in a rotation. And the Twins added the top prep arm in this year's draft in right-hander Kohl Stewart, a Texas A&M football commit who has a plus fastball and slider with a raw delivery; he will benefit from work in a pro development system.
With no major prospect taking a serious step back -- Meyer's 2013 might be the worst, because of the injury -- the Twins are in even better shape today than they were in February.
Philadelphia Phillies | Preseason rank: 27
The Phillies' system has been a bit of a mixed bag this year, but the net result is positive, primarily because of a strong draft class that added upside (their usual modus operandi in June) without going for broke on players who were too raw, instead taking players with strong baselines of present baseball skills, such as catcher Jake Sweaney and shortstop J.P. Crawford.
They've also seen two of their top prospects, lefty Jesse Biddle and third baseman Maikel Franco, take strong steps forward, while losing just one of their top 10 prospects, Jonathan Pettibone, to promotion.
They've been brought down by several disappointing seasons within the system, including the loss of Adam Morgan for the entire year because of a small tear in his rotator cuff, Roman Quinn's extreme difficulties at shortstop for low Class A Lakewood, and awful seasons from right-hander Ethan Martin (52 walks in 86 2/3 inning at Triple-A) and first baseman Larry Greene (hitting .218 for low Class A), who figured to hit for power if nothing else but now has three pro homers in more than 530 plate appearances.
Their top 10 heading into 2014 will look quite different than it did in February, with their top five draft picks likely all appearing there, perhaps six if Oregon State's Ben Wetzler passes his physical (he missed time with back trouble this spring) and signs.
Boston Red Sox | Preseason rank: 17
The Red Sox have had several prospects experience breakout years, led by Double-A right-hander Anthony Ranaudo, finally healthy again, throwing strikes and sitting 92-93 with a plus curveball; high-A lefty Henry Owens, who is throwing harder than he did before to add to the deception he already had in his delivery; and third baseman Garin Cecchini, hitting a combined .352/.470/.534 at age 22 across high-A and Double-A.
Their top overall prospect, Xander Bogaerts, dominated Double-A and has now reached Triple-A at age 20. Catcher Blake Swihart has made more incremental progress this year, boosting his walk rate and throwing out 42 percent of base stealers so far in high-A. They also had a strong top of their draft, landing two-way athlete Trey Ball, who'll start his pro career as a left-handed pitcher, with their first pick, and grabbing out-of-favor catcher Jon Denney, who came into the spring as a potential top-15 selection, with their third-round pick.
They'll lose Jackie Bradley Jr., and possibly Allen Webster to promotions, but that could be all from their top 10. They've had a disappointing full-season debut from shortstop Deven Marrero at high-A, seen Matt Barnes struggle with his secondary stuff at Double-A, and watched Travis Shaw lose all his power with the promotion to Double-A, but have had more than enough positives in the system to make up for what little has gone wrong.
This could change depending on trades or the potential promotion of someone such as Ranaudo, but the Red Sox should slide back into the top half of farm systems this winter.
Other improved systems: Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers
Seattle Mariners | Preseason rank: 8
The Mariners are promoting their way out of the top tier of farm systems, losing half of their top-10 prospects to promotions to the majors this year while three of the remaining five have struggled with either performance or health.
The major league team has called on Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, Brandon Maurer and Carter Capps already this year, with mixed results from that group. The Mariners didn't restock well enough in the June draft to make up for such a large exodus from their system, although I did love the second-round selection of Austin Wilson, a potential first-rounder had he been healthy for the entire spring.
Lefty Danny Hultzen has missed time with a sore shoulder at Triple-A, while fellow southpaw/teammate James Paxton has continued to struggle with command; righty Victor Sanchez still hasn't regained his old velocity. So far, only lefty Tyler Pike and outfielder Guillermo Pimentel seem to be taking steps forward among players already in the system, and they are at low-A.
The M's will be judged on what's happening in Seattle, not on the farm, but the wave of prospects hitting the majors right now represents the crest, not the start of a flood.
Atlanta Braves | Preseason rank: 20
It has been a rough year in the minors for Atlanta, although the team's success in the majors probably makes that much easier for their fans to take. Their top prospect, Julio Teheran, no longer qualifies as a prospect but is contributing in a big way in the big leagues after a shaky April in which he wasn't using his changeup often enough.
Their No. 2 prospect, right-hander J.R. Graham, has missed over a month with a sore shoulder, and their No. 4 prospect, Christian Bethancourt, now sports a .279 OBP across a full season's worth of games in Double-A, and looks like he'll never hit enough to be an everyday player.
Among their top prospects who still have rookie status, right-hander Lucas Sims is the only one who has taken a real step forward this year, even improving his strikeout and walk rates after the team moved him into the low-A rotation in late May. The Braves also had one of my least favorite drafts this year, taking a probable reliever (Oklahoma State's Jason Hursh) with their first pick and no one who projects as a likely everyday player or league-average starter.
The system is far from hopeless -- Sims has promise, Mauricio Cabrera still has a great arm and is just 19, and shortstop Jose Peraza has a good contact rate for a barely-19-year-old in low-A -- but it's heading in the wrong direction overall.
Tampa Bay Rays | Preseason rank: 3
I had Tampa Bay among my falling systems last year, but the Rays restocked the system in the offseason with the James Shields trade. As usual, however, they've lost a number of their top prospects to promotions to the majors that will cost them their rookie status, including Wil Myers, Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Alex Torres and perhaps Jake Odorizzi.
Hak-Ju Lee will miss the entire season after a leg injury that could cost him some speed and/or range at shortstop even when he returns. Their top pick in 2012, Richie Shaffer, has had an awful half-year in high-A, hitting .244/.298/.376, and their second pick from 2011, Mikey Mahtook, is struggling in his second year in Double-A.
Their draft this year was fair, but not great, led by prep catcher Nick Ciuffo, and their second pick, Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek, still hasn't signed. After those two, they took some low-ceiling prep bats who were reaches in my opinion. The system is still strong relative to the rest of the majors, but barring another trade of a veteran (such as David Price), they'll enter 2014 with a much lower ranking.
Other falling systems: San Diego Padres, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers
Buxton profile; top prospects for '13.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Normally we use the top of this column to profile players who can help your fantasy team in 2013.
This week we're going to make an exception. Minnesota Twins outfield prospect Byron Buxton is simply that good.
I don't usually advocate investing in Class A prospects outside of deep keeper leagues, because you're usually going to have to wait 2-3 years before they make an impact on your fantasy club. But if Buxton is still available in your keeper league, grab him now.
Baseball America's top-rated prospect in the 2012 draft, Buxton went second overall and signed for $6 million. The Appling County High (Baxley, Ga.) product has legitimate five-tool ability, and all five of the 6-foot-2, 189-pounder's physical tools (hitting ability, power, speed, center field defense, arm) have a chance to be well above average once he's fully developed.
Brace Hemmelgarn/Four Seam Images/AP Photo
Byron Buxton, still just 19, made surprisingly light work of the Midwest League.
His development may not take as long as originally anticipated either. After a modest .248/.344/.448 pro debut in 2012, Buxton was slated to spend all of this season in the low Class A Midwest League. He's only 19, and the MWL is one of the minors' toughest hitting environments. But he handled the assignment with aplomb, hitting .341/.431/.559 with 32 steals in 68 games at Cedar Rapids, demonstrating a fine eye at the plate (44 walks versus 56 strikeouts) as well. The last player to generate as much buzz in the MWL was Mike Trout three years ago, and Buxton had more power at the same stage of their careers.
The Twins promoted Buxton to high Class A on Tuesday, and he has the ability to mirror Trout's rapid ascent to the major leagues. That would put Buxton in Minnesota before the end of 2014, and it might not take him much longer to develop his 30-homer/30-steal potential. Simply put, he's the best prospect in baseball.
With that, let's move along to the (updated) top 10 fantasy prospects for the 2013 season:
1. Brad Miller, SS, Seattle Mariners (Last week: unranked)
Season totals: .356/.426/.596, 6 HR, 28 RBIs, 2 SB in 26 games at Triple-A Tacoma; .294/.379/.471, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 4 SB in 42 games at Double-A Jackson.
Update: Miller went 9-for-22 (.409) with three doubles and two homers over the past week, extending his hitting streak to 22 games and boosting his overall season numbers to .319/.399/.521 with 12 homers and 53 RBIs in 68 contests. That apparently was enough to persuade the Mariners to relegate Brendan Ryan's good field/no hit act to the bench, as they'll promote Miller to the big leagues today.
Prognosis: A second-round pick out of Clemson in 2011, Miller has hit throughout the minors, batting .334/.409/.516 in 219 career games. He profiles as an offensive-minded shortstop, and though Safeco Field could keep his power numbers down, he could hit .270 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in the second half.
2. Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians (Last week's rank: 1)
Season totals: 3-2 record, 4.13 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 67 K's in 65 1/3 IP (12 starts) at Triple-A Columbus.
Update: The Indians had Bauer pitch on three days' rest on Sunday, and he wasn't his sharpest, giving up nine baserunners and five earned runs in three innings. But the results didn't matter as much as lining him up to start the opener of Cleveland's doubleheader today against the Chicago White Sox.
Prognosis: Bauer's control and command may get dicey, but he has better stuff than anyone in the Indians' rotation. He already has made three spot starts for Cleveland this season, and if he performs well in his fourth today, perhaps that will be enough from him to cement a regular rotation spot.
3. Nick Castellanos, OF, Detroit Tigers (Last week's rank: 4)
Season totals: .296/.376/.475, 10 HR, 38 RBIs, 3 SB in 81 games at Triple-A Toledo.
Update: It was a ho-hum week (5-for-20, two doubles) for Castellanos, but he's still hitting .354/.442/.552 in June. He also showed off his improved plate discipline by drawing walks in five of his past six games.
Prognosis: The Tigers have seen their American League Central lead shrink to 2 1/2 games, and they're not getting much production out of outfielders Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia or DH Victor Martinez. Castellanos has proven he can thrive against Triple-A pitching and is ready for a shot in the big leagues.
4. Michael Wacha, SP, St. Louis Cardinals (Last week's rank: 3)
Season totals: 4-1 record, 2.34 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 40 K's in 57 2/3 IP (10 starts) at Triple-A Memphis.
Update: In an attempt to keep his innings down in his first full pro season, the Cardinals are having Wacha skip a couple of starts at Memphis. He last pitched on June 18 and will take the mound again next Tuesday. He's using his downtime to fine-tune his fastball command and work on his breaking ball.
Prognosis: Giving Wacha some time off now improves his chances of being strong down the stretch. St. Louis still hasn't settled on a fifth starter, and he could give them (and your fantasy team) solid starts in the final 10 weeks of the season.
Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images
Sonny Gray has been cruising right along in the hitter-favorable Pacific Coast League.
5. Sonny Gray, SP, Oakland Athletics (Last week's rank: unranked)
Season totals: 7-5 record, 3.02 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 98 K's in 95 1/3 IP (15 starts) at Triple-A Sacramento.
Update: Gray struck out eight batters in seven innings Thursday to take over the Pacific Coast League lead. He also ranks third in wins and fifth in ERA in the hitter-friendly circuit. He rattled off 10 straight quality starts before giving up four runs in each of his past two outings.
Prognosis: The 18th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Vanderbilt, Gray has a pair of plus pitches in his fastball and curve. The A's won't need a fifth starter again until July 8, and when they do, he'd be a better choice than the struggling Dan Straily, whom Oakland just demoted to Triple-A.
6. Drew Pomeranz, SP, Colorado Rockies (Last week: unranked)
Season totals: 8-1 record, 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 96 K's in 85 2/3 IP (15 starts) at Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Update: Pomeranz was coming off his best back-to-back starts of the year (two runs in 13 2/3 innings) when he was scratched from a scheduled outing Thursday night. The Rockies are expected to promote him and insert him into Juan Nicasio's spot in their rotation for a Sunday start against the San Francisco Giants.
Prognosis: The fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Indians and the key to the Ubaldo Jimenez trade a year later, Pomeranz has gone 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 26 big league starts. He has swing-and-miss stuff (hammer curveball, low-90s fastball) but doesn't always have consistent control and command. If he can harness his pitches, he could provide six wins, 80 strikeouts and decent rate stats in the second half for fantasy owners.
7. Tyler Skaggs, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Last week's rank: 6)
Season totals: 5-6 record, 4.79 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 74 K's in 67 2/3 IP (12 games, 10 starts) at Triple-A Reno.
Update: Skaggs was uncharacteristically wild Monday, walking four batters and hitting another while yielding four runs in five innings. That was the first time in his past four Triple-A outings that he had surrendered more than one earned run.
Prognosis: The Diamondbacks continue to lead the National League West despite having just two consistent starting pitchers, Patrick Corbin and Wade Miley. Skaggs, who has made three starts for Arizona this season, could help the playoff push if he can keep the ball in park (10 homers in 46 big league innings over the past two seasons).
8. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds (Last week's rank: 9)
Season totals: .247/.302/.343, 5 HR, 28 RBIs, 49 SB in 76 games at Triple-A Louisville.
Update: Hamilton drilled his fifth homer of the season Wednesday, nearly matching his previous career total (seven in 379 pro games). His best tool was on display as well, as he used his top-of-the-scale speed to steal three more bases last week and boost his International League-leading total to 49. He now has 369 swipes in 455 pro contests.
Prognosis: Chris Heisey came off the disabled list for the Reds, adding another impediment to Hamilton making his big league debut. Hamilton still shows inconsistency with the bat, but his potential to steal 10-15 bases with even sporadic playing time in Cincinnati makes him a fixture on this list.
9. Archie Bradley, SP, Diamondbacks (Last week's rank: 10)
Season totals: 6-3 record, 2.03 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 67 K's in 66 2/3 IP (11 starts) at Double-A Mobile; 2-0 record, 1.26 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 43 K's in 28 2/3 IP (five starts) at high Class A Visalia.
Update: Bradley had his worst start of the season on Saturday (six runs in five innings, two homers after permitting just two previously this season), but bounced back by not allowing an earned run in 7 2/3 frames Thursday. He walked just three batters between the two outings, demonstrating the improved control and command that have vaulted him into the discussion of baseball's best pitching prospect.
Prognosis: Bradley may have the best fastball/curveball combination in the minors. The Diamondbacks would prefer to give him more minor league seasoning, but if they keep contending while getting little help from the back of their rotation, they may not be able to avoid turning to Bradley.
10. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox (Last week: unranked)
Season totals: .214/.279/.429, 4 HR, 8 RBIs, 2 SB in 14 games at Triple-A Pawtucket; .311/.407/.502, 6 HR, 35 RBIs, 5 SB in 56 games at Double-A Portland.
Update: Bogaerts homered three times in his second week in Triple-A and made more consistent contact than he did in his first. He has started taking ground balls at third base, though he has yet to play a pro game at any position other than shortstop.
Prognosis: Could Bogaerts be this year's Manny Machado? The Red Sox have the AL's best record but also have question marks at third base after demoting Will Middlebrooks -- unless you think Jose Iglesias can keep batting .417. Should Iglesias' bat falter, or should a Stephen Drew injury necessitate returning Iglesias to shortstop, Bogaerts could be Boston's best hot-corner option. The precocious 20-year-old could hold his own at the plate and provide power if the Red Sox call on him.
Dropped out (with last week's rank): Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (
, was placed on Triple-A DL because of an ankle injury.
Called up (with last week's rank): Martin Perez, SP, Texas Rangers (2); Kyle Gibson, SP, Minnesota Twins (5); Marc Krauss, OF/1B, Houston Astros (7).
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Garza improving trade value
July, 2, 2013
Jul 21:41PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintRight-hander Matt Garza is finding his groove at just the right time, at least as far as the Chicago Cubs are concerned. The veteran, a free agent after the season, started the year on the disabled list but could be among the better starting pitchers available this summer. As the deadline nears -- 33 days and counting down -- Garza is putting together a strong stretch.
Since struggling June 11 versus the Cincinnati Reds, Garza has allowed just two earned runs over three starts and 22 innings. He's issued five walks in that span and struck out 23. He's now been solid in six of his nine starts since returning, and could get in as many as six starts more before the trade deadline.
Among the clubs that could show interest include the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, who have each been linked to Miami Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco, as well as the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians.
The Cubs will weigh the top trade offers against keeping Garza for the rest of the season, tendering him a qualifying offer over the offseason -- which is expected to be worth around $14 million -- and receiving draft-pick compensation should he sign elsewhere.
Tags:New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco
Corner infield trade market
July, 2, 2013
Jul 212:35PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet3Comments0EmailPrintAmong a few other clubs, the New York Yankees could be in the market for help at first base and/or third base. With Mark Teixeria back on the disabled list with more wrist problems, Kevin Youkilis out 10-12 weeks and Alex Rodriguez's return still up in the air, GM Brian Cashman could check the league for an everyday option at one of the two positions, and if it's one over the other, third base may be the bigger need with Lyle Overbay on the roster to man first base.
Potentially available third basemen include San Diego Padres All-Star Chase Headley, but the price is likely to be sky high with the Friars preferring to sign Headley to a long-term deal. Milwaukee could dangle Aramis Ramirez, perhaps in exchange for pitching that can help them in 2014. Headley's struggles since returning from the disabled list only cloud that scenario, suggesting it may be even more unlikely he's moved this summer, if he's traded at all.
Possible part-time fits include Albert Callaspo. Luis Valbuena and Trevor Plouffe. If the Phillies fall out of contention, veteran Michael Young could be of interest to the Yankees or other clubs seeking third base assistance. Rodriguez's progress in rehab between now and July 31 may dictate whether or not Cashman believes his club needs more help. Jayson Nix, who has been playing a lot of shortstop, could play some third once Derek Jeter returns, but he's not producing at the plate and may be best suited as organizational depth in Triple-A.
As for first base possibilities, Minnesota's Justin Morneau, a free agent after the season, may be prime trade bait. He's not hitting for much power -- two home runs, sub-.400 slugging percentage -- but has managed to inch his batting average toward .290 in recent weeks, and has been healthy all year.
Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion could be an intriguing trade target if the Blue Jays are willing to consider such a move, and Paul Konerko, a free agent after the season with Morneau, could also be in play before July 31. Seattle's Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse are two more first base types that could generate some buzz this summer, as the Mariners aren't contending and neither player is signed beyond this season.Tags:Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, Justin Morneau, Mark Teixeira, Paul Konerko, Lyle Overbay, Aramis Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion
White Sox on trade block
July, 2, 2013
Jul 211:24AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintWhile the club isn't necessarily shopping specific players, the Chicago White Sox are reportedly willing to discuss any player on their roster outside of veteran first baseman Paul Konerko and left-hander Chris Sale.
Konerko has 10-5 rights, anyway, but names that are apparently available include right-hander Jake Peavy, some interesting bullpen arms such as Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton, as well as outfielder Alex Rios.
Peavy and Rios are both signed beyond this season, which may make them extremely popular this summer among both contenders and even clubs that are eyeing 2014.
Crain has had a terrific 2013 and may be among the very best relievers on the market. He'll be a free agent after the season, so he's a rental, but he could help a club such as Boston or Detroit as they attempt to bridge the gap in their bullpens.
Peavy's currently on the disabled list and his injury history could scare some teams away, but if he's right his $14.5 million salary for next season shouldn't be much of a hurdle. It's worth noting that if the right-hander reaches 400 innings pitched over 2013-14, he'll receive a player option for 2015 at $15 million.
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez hasn't hit much this season, but the lack of options at the position across the league could create quite the market for him. He's solid defensively by all accounts and is signed through 2015 with a team option for 2016. His salary does spike from $7 million to $9.5 million and $10 million after this season, but the going rate for good shortstops is probably right in that range.
Peavy, for what it's worth, told Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com that he doesn't want to be traded.
And while Konerko may be off limits, ESPN Insider Jim Bowden, makes the case for dealing the veteran:
Sox can replace Konerko
"Konerko is a free agent at the end of the year and general manager Rick Hahn already is talking about moving Dayan Viciedo to first base. [Konerko would] like to get to the postseason one more time and going to another team gives him the best chance of accomplishing that. The Baltimore Orioles or Rays could use him as a DH, while the Pittsburgh Pirates could use him at first base."
Tags:Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, Jake Peavy, Jesse Crain
Dariel Alvarez's free agency
July, 2, 2013
Jul 210:01AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments1EmailPrintCuban outfielder Yasiel Puig followed Yoenis Cespedes with strong debuts in Major League Baseball and Chicago Cubs prospect Jorge Soler is a top prospect moving his way through the farm system with big-time tools. The next in line appears to be Dariel Alvarez, a 24-year-old outfielder who is eligible to sign and is being scouted by a handful of clubs.
Among those are the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported last Thursday.
While there isn't a lot of information available on Alvarez, it's worth noting that clubs are not subject to the new international free agent bonus regulations, since Alvarez is at least 23 and has three or more years of professional experience. Since the initial reports, there hasn't been any further buzz on Alvarez or which clubs appear most likely to make a strong bid.Tags:Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox
Trade market for catchers
July, 2, 2013
Jul 29:11AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintFinding catching help isn't easy in Major League Baseball and may be the most difficult task during the season. That doesn't mean there won't be any options this summer, however, and Chicago Cubs veteran Dioner Navarro may be among the top backstops available.
The 29-year-old switch hitter has had a strong season as the backup to Welington Castillo, with an enormous portion of the damage coming from the right side of the plate. Overall, Navarro is batting .260/.336/.521 with eight home runs. He's just 14-for-75 (.187, 5 HR) as a lefty, but has 11 hits -- three long balls -- in 21 at-bats as a right-handed batter.
He's a fringe-average defender and isn't conditioned to catch six days a week, but could be a valuable second option for a number of contenders, potentially including the Yankees and Orioles.
Other catchers that could be discussed this summer include Philly's Carlos Ruiz, who will be a free agent after the season, John Buck of the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies backup Yorvit Torrealba. Buck may be the most likely to be available while the Phillies and Rockies appear set to wait it out and see if they can stay in contention.Tags:New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs, John Buck, Yorvit Torrealba, Dioner Navarro
Utley headed west?
July, 2, 2013
Jul 28:21AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments1EmailPrintThe Philadelphia Phillies have yet to make it known whether or not they will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, but if second baseman Chase Utley becomes available, the Los Angeles Dodgers may be among those interested, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
The Dodgers have been using Mark Ellis at the position primarily, and the veteran has struggled as well as spent some time on the disabled list. Utley is shy of having earned 10-5 rights, but he does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract. The veteran, however, is from the L.A. area, having attended UCLA and high school in Long Beach, so if the Dodgers make a play for him and it becomes Utley's choice, there's a chance he waives such rights.
Other clubs that could show interest in Utley include the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics, both contending clubs that have not received much production from their second basemen this season. The Baltimore Orioles also could have some interest, but they appear more focused on starting pitching.Tags:Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics
July, 1, 2013
Jul 14:39PM ETBy Jason Catania | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintWhat's the latest in the Alex Rodriguez saga?
Last week, A-Rod, who's recovering from offseason hip surgery, told the world via Twitter that he was cleared to start playing in rehab games by his doctor -- except New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman then made it known that Rodriguez had not been medically cleared by the club.
That all caused quite a stir off the field. But what about the on-field impact of this situation?
The latest, from Michael O'Keeffe of the Daily News, is that the Yankees actually announced that their third baseman is scheduled to begin his rehab assignment. Rodriguez is slated to start Tuesday night for Class A Charleston of the South Atlantic League.
The goal is for Rodriguez, who's been working out at the team's spring training complex in Tampa, to play at least three innings.
Rodriguez will be 38 later this month, and he's a shell of the superstar he once was, but his return -- which is still a question given Rodriguez's link to the Biogenesis performance-enhancing scandal and potential suspension -- could help a Yankees offense that has spiraled in the past month or so. Kevin Youkilis, who was supposed to handle third base until Rodriguez was ready to return, was lost for 10-to-12 weeks with a severe back injury, and the club has been forced to use journeyman Jayson Nix and rookie David Adams at the hot corner.Tags:New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, Jayson Nix, David Adams
Milwaukee's plan for K-Rod
July, 1, 2013
Jul 13:53PM ETBy Jason Catania | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrint
As one of the few teams that is already out of the race and in "sell mode," the Milwaukee Brewers have a handful of interesting trade chips that could help clubs, including a one-time star closer.
Since returning to the majors in mid-May, Francisco Rodriguez has taken over a share of ninth-inning duties in Milwaukee.
The 31-year-old initially helped replace the injured Jim Henderson, but K-Rod has been arguably the Brewers best reliever over the past month-and-a-half, so for now, it's a mix-and-match game, according to manager Ron Roenick, as Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel reports.
"It changes with matchups, but generically, as of now, Frankie is closing," Roenicke said.
Rodriguez has given up only 17 baserunners in 17.2 innings this year, to go with 17 strikeouts, showing that he has the ability to help a big league bullpen in a late-inning role.
The fact that the Brewers are continuing to give Rodriguez, who recently earned his 300th career save, ninth-inning work may be an indication that they are trying to build up his value as much as possible before dealing him this month.
With three blown saves since coming back in June, though, Henderson hasn't exactly re-seized the role he grabbed when incumbent John Axford fell apart in April.Tags:Francisco Rodriguez, John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers, Jim Henderson
If Parker misses time
July, 1, 2013
Jul 13:18PM ETBy Jason Catania | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintThe Oakland Athletics may or may not have dodged a bullet with Jarrod Parker's injury.
The right-hander, who had to exit his Saturday start early, is either dealing with a cramp in his right hamstring or a strain in the area, but an answer remains unknown, writes John Hickey of InsideBayArea.com.
The good sign here is that Parker is slated to throw a bullpen session Tuesday, which wouldn't be the case if the club thought he was incapable of doing so. The plan, then, is to keep him in line for his next scheduled start on Saturday.
If anything changes between now and then, we'll likely hear about it after Tuesday's workout.
If the A's need to dip down to the minors to fill in for Parker for a start or three, they could bring back Dan Straily, who's been so-so in his 12 starts with the club this year (5.00 ERA but a 4-2 record and 1.22 WHIP).
The other option on the farm, though, is 23-year-old righty Sonny Gray. The 2011 first-round pick has been excellent at Triple-A this season, sporting a 3.02 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and a strong 9.3 K/9.
The A's certainly need Parker, who's been great after his early-season struggles, but they do have some fill-ins capable of covering for him on a temporary basis, if need be.Tags:Oakland Athletics, Dan Straily, Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker
Lincecum's role and future?
July, 1, 2013
Jul 12:22PM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrint
Following a rocky 2012 regular season that included 15 losses and a 5.18 ERA, Tim Lincecum restored his credibility by pitching out of the bullpen in the playoffs and helping the San Francisco Giants to their second World Series title in three years. Could Lincecum be headed to a relief role once again?
Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reported last month that the Giants would turn Lincecum into a late-inning reliever "in a heartbeat," if they had another starting pitcher in the system ready to take his place in the rotation.
The club may not have an in-house option to replace Lincecum, but that doesn't mean the Giants couldn't acquire help via trade. The Giants have been linked to pretty much every available arm in recent weeks, including Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo.
Lincecum, to his credit, has said he is open to a bullpen role if necessary. With an ERA north of 4.50, Lincecum doesn't have that long of a leash, even though he's a two-time Cy Young winner.
The elephant in the room here, too, is the fact that Lincecum will be eligible for free agency for the first time after the season, which complicates matters even more, as ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney points out:
Lincecum lacking velo
"Tim Lincecum will be eligible for free agency, and while there’s no telling what he or the Giants will want this winter, it’s safe to assume he will not be making $22.5 million next year -- that’s his 2013 salary -- or that he’ll be back as a starting pitcher for San Francisco. As his velocity has declined, so has his strikeout rate, while his ERA has climbed. "
Tags:San Francisco Giants, Tim Lincecum
O's pitching targets
July, 1, 2013
Jul 11:33PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet1Comments0EmailPrintThe Baltimore Orioles continue to look for starting pitching help, reports Dan Connolly of theBaltimore Sun.
Connolly mentions mentions right-handers Ricky Nolasco, Jake Peavy, Matt Garza, Edinson Volquez, Andrew Cashner and Bud Norris, as well as lefty Joe Saunders among those in which the club has interest.
Connolly adds that the Orioles aren't likely to be willing to move top prospects for rentals, which limits their options and complicates the entire process. Eduardo Rodriguez, the club's top left-handed pitching prospect, could be among the bait.
Baltimore is joined by the Giants and Dodgers, perhaps among others, in their pursuit of Nolasco. The Padres may be buyers and in that case aren't likely to move Volquez or Cashner. Last week, we learned that the White Sox are open for business.
FanGraphs' Paul Swydan, writing for ESPN Insider, explains why the O's are in such desperate need for rotation help:
The O's "five"-man rotation
"It's hard to know who's in and who's out on a daily basis, given how many pitchers the O's have shuffled through. Ten different pitchers have started games for Baltimore this season. Of them, only three -- Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman -- have pitched well enough to retain their starting spot as we move into the second half. The bottom line is that their starting rotation -- which ranks 28th in FIP- -- is not getting the job done."
Tags:Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Joe Saunders, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres, Matt Garza, Houston Astros, Ricky Nolasco
Latest on Nolasco
July, 1, 2013
Jul 112:15PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintThe trade buzz for Miami Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco has heated up recently, and the latest comes from FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, who reported that the Los Angeles Dodgers have major competition right in their own division.
The San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants are the Dodgers' top rivals for Nolasco.
Rosenthal adds that the Rockies are not a factor any longer and that the Baltimore Orioles, while still in it, don't feel confident they're a major player.
Rosenthal also writes that the Texas Rangers are a possibility and that Cubs right-hander Matt Garza is another potential target for clubs looking for starting pitching.
If the Giants acquire Nolasco or Garza or any starting pitcher this summer it will be interesting to see what changes they make to their current rotation. Tim Lincecum has struggled again for the better part of the season and could be a significant addition to the club's bullpen, as he was during last October's World Series-winning run.
The Dodgers presumably would use an acquisition in place of Stephen Fife, while Robbie Erlin figures to be the odd-man out if the Padres add a proven starter.
ESPN Insider Jim Bowden recently constructed a handful of potential trades involving Nolasco.Tags:Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Ricky Nolasco, Tim Lincecum, Robbie Erlin
Garza deal sooner than later?
July, 1, 2013
Jul 112:13PM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet5Comments0EmailPrintMatt Garza's recent string of success may have accelerated the timetable of a trade involving the Chicago Cubs' righthander.
Garza missed the first 1 1/2 months of the season with a strained lat muscle, and any interested party needed to see that he was healthy upon returning. Given that Garza has allowed just two earned runs over 22 innings in his last three starts, it appears he will be dealt “well ahead of the deadline,” reports Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
A free agent at the end of the season, Garza would be an ideal fit for the Baltimore Orioles or the San Francisco Giants, two teams who are looking for a pitching boost.
As of last week, it was widely believed that Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins would be the first notable pitcher traded. The Cubs may be the latest team looking to deal quickly, especially since Garza’s stock is rising.
ESPN Insider Jim Bowden has more:
The Cubs' need to trade an arm to get arms
"The Cubs’ front office is concentrating on fixing its pitching in the long-term, and that’s what they’ll focus on in any trade talks for Garza. The preference will be acquiring young starting pitching which is either close to the big leagues or major league ready...The Cubs match up well with the Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies, as all can offer them major league-ready pitching either in the rotation or the bullpen. Garza’s injury history makes him somewhat of a risk, and perhaps that will temper some the return on Garza the Cubs are hoping for."
Tags:Chicago Cubs, Matt Garza
Odds of a Willingham deal
July, 1, 2013
Jul 19:54AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet1Comments0EmailPrintLeft fielder Josh Willingham was out of the Minnesota Twins' starting lineup due to his troublesome right knee, but manager Ron Gardenhire expects to have him back in the field as soon as Monday against the Yankees, reports La Velle Neal of the Star Tribune.
Willingham appeared as a pinch-hitter on Sunday against the Royals and delivered an RBI double.
The Twins have every reason to show Willingham is healthy because he is valuable trade bait. ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden puts the odds of Willingham being traded at 50 percent:
20 hitters who could be traded
"Willingham has been battling a bad knee but is expected to be healthy by the trade deadline. He belted 64 home runs the past two years and already has 10 this year. He’s a below-average left fielder but his pull power plays in any park. Teams might have to sub him out for defense late in the game, but he’ll definitely help a team in the No. 6 spot in the lineup. The Reds, Rangers, Giants and Philadelphia Phillies might have interest."Tags:Minnesota Twins, Josh Willingham
Cards looking for a pitcher?
July, 1, 2013
Jul 19:28AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintThe St. Louis Cardinals might be looking to add a reliever or a veteran starting pitcher as the trade deadline approaches, but any deal involving top prospects like Oscar Taveras or Michael Wacha is off the table, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
There might be a catch in any pursuit of a starter. Two officials with the Cardinals said dealing with division rivals is “not desirable,” which would exclude the Cubs’ Matt Garza and Scott Feldman and the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo from consideration. That might prompt the Cardinals to show greater interest in a deal for Houston’s Bud Norris.
The surprising success of the Pittsburgh Pirates has made the NL Central the most competitive division in the majors, so the Cards have added incentive to deal.