Which teams are real, frauds?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Baseball's unofficial second half finally begins Friday night, a thankful return after a four-day stretch featuring just a single game of Major League Baseball. Teams have spent three and a half months tearing up what all the various projections and pundits had to say in April, a practice that will persist until October.
ZiPS projections for every team, including their chances of winning the division and making the playoffs.
ALE W L GB DIV% PLAY%
BOS 92 70 -- 57 88
TB 90 72 2 31 75
BAL 87 75 5 8 39
NYY 85 77 7 4 24
TOR 81 81 11 1 6
ALC W L GB DIV% PLAY%
DET 89 73 -- 78 82
CLE 85 77 4 22 31
KC 77 85 12 <1 1
CHW 70 92 19 <1 <1
MIN 70 92 19 <1 <1
ALW W L GB DIV% PLAY%
TEX 90 72 -- 51 76
OAK 90 72 -- 47 74
LAA 82 80 8 2 7
SEA 74 88 16 <1 <1
HOU 60 102 30 <1 <1
NLE W L GB DIV% PLAY%
ATL 91 71 -- 86 90
WAS 84 78 7 11 27
PHI 81 81 10 3 8
NYM 73 89 18 <1 <1
MIA 64 98 27 <1 <1
NLC W L GB DIV% PLAY%
STL 94 68 -- 63 98
PIT 91 71 3 23 89
CIN 89 73 5 14 81
CHC 75 87 19 <1 <1
MIL 71 91 23 <1 <1
NLW W L GB DIV% PLAY%
ARI 85 77 - 58 60
LAD 83 79 2 34 37
SF 78 84 7 5 6
COL 77 85 8 3 3
SD 72 90 13 <1 <1
But even with half the season done -- from a mathematical standpoint, more than half -- the big 2013 storylines we've been following aren't set in permanent ink. Some teams having disappointing seasons will look much fonder on 2013 than they would right now, and some will go the way of the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates or 2011 Boston Red Sox. The teams below are my favorites to rewrite the book, both positively and negatively.
Given how dangerous it is to predict the future a second time, risking being wrong twice, I've also asked the ZiPS projection system to give the updated rest-of-season standings and projected final standings for all 30 teams (see table). After all, if one of the teams doesn't cooperate with my prognostication, I'm going to need a scapegoat.
New York Yankees (51-44)
You might say that this is needless given that nobody's been exactly gushing about this year's Yankees, but the team has still managed to put together a respectable win-loss record through 95 games. But even this limited success is precarious. The reason the Yankees have a poor offense going forward is the team is still old, has little major league depth offensively and is still missing its key contributors from recent years.
Curtis Granderson should be back, but he's only one player and the Yankees are several short of having a potent offense. Even GM Brian Cashman's friends staging an intervention to cure Cashman of his habit of not releasing Vernon Wells won't be enough to turn on the run spigot.
Philadelphia Phillies (48-48)
From the coverage of the Phillies for winning six of eight games heading into the All-Star break, you'd almost think that they had just won the World Series. They are hanging around .500, but it's also a team that has been solidly outscored, for a 43-53 Pythagorean record. It's a mediocre team all around, rather than one with great front-line performances and a couple of awful holes they can patch in-house (see Washington).
The Phillies aren't hopelessly behind in the wild-card race or the division, but the problem remains that everyone above them is probably a better team going forward than they are.
San Diego Padres (42-54)
There has been an emerging storyline this season that the Padres were on the brink of being competitive in a very weak NL West, and an idea that they are only a pitching addition away from worrying the rest of the league. They're not and they aren't.
Petco Park's park effects have hidden the fact that the starting pitching has generally been atrocious -- league-average pitching overall at Petco actually comes out to an ERA of 3.47. The rotation's 4.73 ERA comes out to an ERA+ of 68, an abysmal figure. Just how abysmal is a 68? Colorado's rotation last year finished with an 82.
Washington Nationals (48-47)
The Nats are kind of the opposite of the Yankees in that despite their disappointing record, most of the reasons that we all thought they'd be a solid team going into the season remain intact.
Strangely, for an offense ranked 13th in the National League, the Nats have four starters with an OPS+ at or above 120 (Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond) and a fifth regular in Adam LaRoche at 107. Two of the team's biggest problems from the first half are in the process of being eliminated, with Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos being upgrades over Danny Espinosa and Kurt Suzuki, respectively.
Cincinnati Reds (53-42)
Although the Reds remain on a 90-win pace, looking up in the division at the Cardinals and Pirates is disappointing after a 2012 season in which the Reds had a large enough lead to spend most of the summer on cruise control.
While making up five games on the Cards will be tough -- the Reds aren't 10 or 11 games per 162 better than St. Louis, the necessary pace to catch them -- there are reasons to be optimistic. The Reds are better equipped to handle a starting pitcher injury than most other teams, Zack Cozart won't have a .262 OBP by season's end, and Ryan Ludwick -- who is expected to return soon from a shoulder injury suffered on Opening Day -- should be an upgrade on the team's left fielders, who have hit a combined .244/.314/.376 with only eight home runs this year.
Los Angeles Angels (44-49)
No, the Angels aren't winning the AL West this year, and their chances of winning a wild card are long, but they are a better team than they've displayed so far this year. People are too quick to write off Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
Remember, Pujols was a 5-WAR player just last year, and while Josh Hamilton's plate discipline woes are well documented, he has never been Ted Williams at the plate and shouldn't have declined quite this fast. A positive finish to 2013 could remind Angels fans that the team can very easily be back in 2014, though it may not be enough to save Mike Scioscia's job.
Puig, Ramirez bound to decline.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If it seems like everything is finally going right for the Los Angeles Dodgers these days, that's only because it more or less is in comparison to how miserable the first three months of the season had gone. After a seemingly endless stretch of injuries and ineptitude, they've finally managed to get healthy -- or something close to it -- and play like the talent-laden team most had expected them to be.
Since a loss on June 20 to San Diego that sunk the Dodgers to a season-worst 12 games under .500 and 9 1/2 games out in the division, they've won 19 of 24, and put themselves right on the heels of the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks.
It's not difficult to see how. Rookie sensation Yasiel Puig has made an enormous splash, hitting .391/.422/.616 through the All-Star break while wowing fans both on defense and on the basepaths. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez was somehow even better, hitting .386/.444/.693 after finally returning from injuries to both his thumb and hamstring. But the fact is Puig and Ramirez can't keep this up all season, and if the Dodgers are going to make the playoffs, they're going to need to get their two key performers some help.
In Puig's case, the downturn has already begun, and while many like to point to the shocking amount of press coverage he's received -- not all of it friendly -- there's no shortage of real-world reasons. Puig isn't going to contribute all season the way he did in his first few weeks in the big leagues simply because more than 100 years of established baseball history dictates that he can't.
Over the first month (28 games) of his career, the 22-year-old Cuban was hitting .440 with a .506 batting average on balls in play. It's just not realistic to expect that pace to last all season long, and the rational laws of nature mean that his next few months are not going to be as great as his first. It's not a drag on Puig to say that; it's just the way this sport works.
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
Yasiel Puig's aggressive outfield play could cause him further injuries.
Of course, Puig has more working against him than merely the inevitable regression back to reality. On July 3, he slammed into the right-field wall at Coors Field, eventually needing to leave the game due to a sore left hip.
That injury bothered him so much that he was pulled out of back-to-back games early on July 11 and 12, and then wasn't in the starting lineup for either of the final two games of the first half on July 13 and 14. It's difficult to think that the pain hasn't had an impact, since he was hitting .440/.466/.743 with eight homers before that game, and just .256/.310/.282 without a home run since.
The final issue for Puig is that pitchers are beginning to realize that his hyper-aggressiveness knows no bounds, and are taking advantage of his propensity to give away plate appearances by feeding him increasing amounts of low-and-away breaking pitches.
For example, in June, only 19.1 percent of the pitches he saw were sliders. In July, that's up to 27.2 percent. In June, 40.6 percent of all pitches to him were within the strike zone; that figure has dropped in July and is among the lowest in all of baseball. The combination of all these factors has led to Puig's swinging strike percentage in July coming in at 23.8 percent, the third-worst in the game this month.
Puig is young and undeniably talented, so as his hip heals and he learns to make adjustments, he'll be fine. But he won't perform like he did for most of June, so as he and Ramirez (.387 BABIP) inevitably come back to earth, the rest of the lineup is going to need to step up. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been steady all season and third baseman Juan Uribe has miraculously not been a black hole for once, so the burden falls squarely on second base and the remainder of the outfield.
Nowhere is that need more acute than in center field, where Matt Kemp has struggled all season to regain his form after offseason left shoulder surgery. After missing most of June with a hamstring injury, Kemp played just 10 games before re-injuring the shoulder on July 5. When he's been able to play, he's offered little, contributing a minus-1.1 WAR that ranks among the worst in the game. Kemp is expected to return shortly after the break, and while Andre Ethier has been surprisingly decent covering in center field, regaining the healthy and fearsome Kemp the Dodgers enjoyed prior to 2012 is crucial.
In fact, despite the apparent problem of having four outfielders for three spots, the limited availability of the fragile Carl Crawford and the absence of Kemp has meant that too often, manager Don Mattingly has had to start backups Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker or Scott Van Slyke in the corners. While Crawford has been effective when he can play, it's now been since late May that he has been both fully healthy and productive.
The other trouble spot is at the keystone, where veteran Mark Ellis, along with the iron-gloved Schumaker and utility man Nick Punto, have struggled on both sides of the ball. Combined, Dodgers second basemen have been below replacement level, making this the most likely spot in the lineup for general manager Ned Colletti to upgrade. It's difficult to think that this isn't an ideal landing spot for Los Angeles native Chase Utley should Philadelphia decide to sell.
The fabulously wealthy Dodgers still boast an embarrassment of riches, along with a rotation now reinforced by a healthy Zack Greinke and a newly-added Ricky Nolasco. But they can't simply depend on Puig and Ramirez all season long, and without increased support from the rest of their lineup, their march back to first place might very well fall short.
How Red Sox can maintain success.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
BOSTON -- The cracks are there in the Red Sox, as with all teams, and Boston's front office is faced with the question of whether the fix is just a matter of slapping on some Spackle and paint, or if there is a need for something more substantive.
Boston is in an enviable position, holding the best record in the American League (59-40). But those two figures in the rearview mirror, the on-rushing Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles, appear larger by the day, and the cold reality is that the Red Sox have absolutely no idea what they're going to get out of the two starting pitchers that began the season as their No. 1 and No. 2 guys.
Clay Buchholz's return from some sort of shoulder/neck issue has been delayed repeatedly. Maybe he'll come back in the next few weeks and be as good as he was in the first two months -- or maybe he'll be something much less than that. Rob Bradford writes that he's going to see Dr. James Andrews.
Jon Lester had a 7.62 ERA in June and ranged from good to much worse in his first three outings of July, and then was scratched from his start Sunday night. The Red Sox say they're looking to get him some extra rest, but as Lester played catch Saturday, he was accompanied by an athletic trainer, which suggests that perhaps there's more to his situation than simple first-half weariness. Koji Uehara has been excellent filling in at closer, but he is 38 years old and on a pace to shatter his personal MLB record for appearances, and rival evaluators are watching him and wondering if he'll hold up, or if he'll break down -- like Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Miller and Andrew Bailey, three veteran relievers lost for the year.
So Boston is taking stock and considering a range of possibilities for its pitching staff. The Sox are looking at their own pieces from their well-stocked farm system, John Tomase writes, and it's possible that they will go this route, relying on prospects they promote rather than veterans they can trade for.
But the Red Sox also are looking at the trade market. They are looking at possible bullpen additions, like the Brewers' Francisco Rodriguez, who would fit the Tigers or Red Sox for myriad reasons: He is throwing well, he is cheap ($2.25 million prorated, with $450,000 in incentives based on games finished) and he can handle any role in any market.
Rodriguez has a reputation for being a fearless, tough competitor, which is what the Red Sox focused on in the winter as they added the likes of Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. If needed, he could close for the Red Sox, or pitch in the seventh or eighth, or serve whatever other role they choose. However, Boston might have to outbid other teams; there is some hope within the Detroit organization that it will be the team that lands Rodriguez.
And the Red Sox were among the teams that had scouts watching Jake Peavy throw in Chicago. Peavy had been on an accelerated rehabilitation schedule in his recovery from a broken rib, and his first start off the disabled list Saturday marked just his fourth time throwing off a mound in a competitive situation since his injury. But Peavy impressed, throwing his fastball in the low 90s and working through defensive lapses in his six innings, walking none and striking out three.
He would not be a rental for the Red Sox, or any other team looking to acquire him. Peavy is set to make $14.5 million in 2014, and as one rival evaluator noted earlier this week, if Peavy continues to throw as well as he did last season -- when he had a 3.37 ERA in 219 innings -- he would represent strong value. He has demonstrated his arm is healthy. Red Sox scout Bob Hamelin saw this firsthand.
So Boston GM Ben Cherington will consider all of this and make a choice: Do the Sox rely on the internal options in the last 10 weeks of the season, or do they go for the retrofit on the foundation, in a year in which the franchise has so much to gain?
For the readers: What would you do?
Around the league
• The Rangers -- who may be looking for an alternative to Matt Garza -- are tracking Peavy, and so are the Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies.
• All Peavy wants to do is win, he says.
• The Cardinals may be looking for a starting pitcher like Peavy, given the needs of the rotation and the fact that Chris Carpenter didn't look good Saturday, as Joe Strauss writes.
• Mariano Rivera got a standing ovation in Fenway Park, writes Anthony McCarron.
• The Red Sox made a bunch of baserunning mistakes.
• Alex Rodriguez has a quad issue, which may slow his return to the Yankees.
• This seems impossible, but the Mariners pulled it off: They had one hit and beat the Astros 4-2.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: The Astros lost 4-2 on Saturday despite holding the Mariners to one hit. Entering Saturday, teams allowing one hit were 987-44 (.957) since 1920.
• Alex Rios, who was benched Friday, came back and had a big day Saturday.
By the way: There have been reports that the Pirates are targeting Rios, but it's hard to imagine that happening unless there is a significant buy-down -- as in, almost certainly unworkable -- of the $18 million or so he is owed for the rest of this year and next year.
Neal Huntington won't lose sight of the big picture before the trade deadline.
• The Cubs may be having second thoughts about the Garza deal that was arranged with the Rangers.
I suspect that a massive contest of trade leverage is playing out, with the Cubs positioning themselves to try to nudge the Rangers into giving up a little bit more.
Texas is looking for a right-handed-hitting outfielder, and presumably, Alfonso Soriano's name has come up at some point.
The Rangers are no closer to the Garza trade being done, writes Jeff Wilson.
• The Brewers won again, with another shutout.
• Henry Urrutia fit right in as the Orioles beat the Rangers.
• When some rival hitters discussed Justin Verlander recently, they wondered out loud about his velocity. "If he's lost velocity now," said one rhetorically, "how's he going to be when it gets really hot, in August and July?"
• Verlander lost his first outing of the second half, to Kansas City.
From ESPN Stats and Information, how Verlander lost:
A. Verlander threw a season-low 37 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, including 42 percent of his fastballs.
B. He couldn't put hitters away. Verlander took 14 hitters to a two-strike count and seven of them reached base (four hits, three walks). It's just the third time in the last five seasons that half or more of the batters to reach two strikes against Verlander got on base.
C. Verlander went to four three-ball counts and would walk ALL four batters. It's the first time he's done that in more than four years. Three of those four walks came after he started the hitter with a first-pitch strike.
• The Royals are back to within four games of the Indians and six games of the Tigers. But Chris Getz sprained his knee.
1. Injuries have hurt the Brewers' ability to find helpful trades, writes Tom Haudricourt.
2. Corey Kluber was hurt as the Indians lost to the Twins again. While they have been linked to the Matt Garza talks, they have been reluctant to part with prospects for a rental, to this point. Terry Francona likes his team even if a deal is not made, Paul Hoynes writes.
3. Other teams say the Mariners have shown no inclination to trade off players like Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, and are focused on winning as many games as they possibly can in 2013.
4. Similarly: While there has been a lot of speculation about Justin Morneau and other Twins, rivals haven't sensed a big push from Minnesota to make deals.
5. Ned Colletti doesn't see any big trades in the works.
6. Moving Jonathan Papelbon may be a good move, writes Bob Brookover. He's right, but I wonder if the Phillies would struggle to find any takers unless they were willing to do two things: (A) buy down a significant portion of the money he is owed, or (B) be willing to take a relative pittance in prospects in return. He is viewed by a lot of rival evaluators as an asset plummeting in value, with a diminished fastball and the biggest closer contract in baseball.
• Mark Buehrle was typically blunt with his words after the Jays' latest loss. From Mike Rutsey's story:
"I don't know, maybe we're overrated, maybe we're not as good as we thought we were. During the 11-game win streak (in June), we had everything going for us. Guys were making plays, guys were hitting the ball just out of reach of guys and it seemed like we were making the right pitches at the right time. Now it seems like nothing's going our way.
"Everybody is trying, but no one can pinpoint what's going on. I can't pinpoint what's going on. It's frustrating. Everybody's out there trying to turn this around, trying to win games. It's just not happening right now."
Dings and dents
1. Matt Holliday landed on the disabled list.
2. This is a tough break for the Rockies: Rafael Betancourt had his appendix taken out, after his 10-year-old son intervened.
3. Matt Kemp is on track to be activated today.
4. Yoenis Cespedes continues to be out. His absence from the lineup following his Home Run Derby victory is generating a lot of commentary from players in other clubhouses.
5. Jeremy Affeldt is likely headed to the DL.
6. Ryan Vogelsong continues to make progress.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Justin Ruggiano was moved out of the leadoff spot.
Which relievers could be on the move?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
BOSTON -- The Farmers' Almanac weather forecast might be more reliable than a guesstimate on how relief pitchers will fare. The Boston Red Sox added Eric Gagne at the deadline in 2007, when his ERA was 2.16, and within a few weeks he appeared to develop a case of the yips. He allowed 17 runs in his 25 innings with the Red Sox, another way of saying they didn't get their money's worth.
Reliever Heathcliff Slocumb had a 4.13 ERA for the Mariners after joining them in a deadline deal -- after Seattle surrendered Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for him, in what turned out to be one of the most one-sided swaps in history.
Bullpen investments are frightening for general managers. In an era in which a six-inning outing is considered good work by a starting pitcher, there are almost always outs to be accounted for at the back end of each game, and no good team wins without good work from its relievers. You have to have it.
But most relievers work like tides, with their flows and ebbs, and teams will try to catch them when they're on the rise.
There are a lot of teams looking for bullpen help. Boston might head the list, given the devastating shoulder injury to Andrew Bailey. Arizona. Detroit. The Dodgers. The Indians. Atlanta.
There just aren't a lot of good options on the market, some general managers report, and in so many cases, it's unclear what you'll be getting.
Some of the available relievers who are throwing effectively of late:
(And yes, these are small sample sizes -- which matter in July in a way they don't any other time of the year.)
Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers
He has pitched effectively the past couple of months, pushing his ERA down to 1.14. Some evaluators believe he'd be a solid add for Boston because of his history as a closer -- and he's 10-for-10 in save chances. He could be a good fit for Arizona, too.
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
His whole career has been built on streaks, from All-Star-worthy bursts of success to the slumps that caused him to be dropped out of the closer role. Since May 15, Axford -- working as a piece in the middle of the Milwaukee pecking order -- has allowed a run in just one of 30 outings, taking his ERA from 9.00 to his current 3.63.
Chad Qualls, Miami Marlins
He knows he's being talked about, as Clark Spencer writes.
Jared Burton, Minnesota Twins
He hasn't allowed a run in his past seven outings and has allowed just three hits in his past seven innings. Interestingly, it appears that he has gone away from using his changeup as much in that time.
Matt Lindstrom, Chicago White Sox
He has allowed earned runs in just two of his past 26 outings.
James Russell, Chicago Cubs
Other teams say Chicago is pushing to move him before the end of the month, and, in his role as left-handed specialist, he's been good lately.
Mike Gonzalez, Milwaukee Brewers
The Indians, Atlanta and others are looking for a lefty, and his experience would be attractive to them.
Relievers who have been struggling:
Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees
Since coming off the disabled list, he has allowed 10 earned runs in 14 innings, with seven walks.
Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs
He's been excellent for most of this season, but, in the past month, there have been some rough outings. He has allowed runs in six of his past 11 outings.
Relievers with an incomplete grade:
Jesse Crain, Chicago White Sox
The calendar has become a factor because he might not be ready to pitch by July 31.
If he shows he's healthy in the next 11 days, he'll be coveted, and could make sense for just about any contender. From Crain's perspective, it'd better for him to take as much time as possible to recover from shoulder soreness because he'll be a free agent in the fall. For the White Sox, it'd be better if he were back on the mound sooner rather than later.
Around the league
• Red Sox GM Ben Cherington will keep an open mind about adding a reliever, writes Scott Lauber, and they added Brandon Lyon and Jose Contreras.
• Josh Collmenter could get an even more prominent role in the Arizona bullpen -- maybe even a shot at closer.
• You cannot stop the Tampa Bay Rays, you can only hope to contain them. They might be the most dangerous American League team right now.
• Matt Garza was right in the middle of trade talk Friday. Stay tuned. The two sides are working through some issues, as Jeff Wilson writes.
• A whole bunch of scouts were on hand to see Bud Norris.
• The Red Sox told Dustin Pedroia last year that he was the player they want to build around, followed that up with contract talk and, as Gordon Edes writes, made a formal proposal in recent days.
• Brandon Phillips said he was lied to by his bosses.
This was Phillips being Phillips, writes Hal McCoy.
• Rival executives believe the Mariners, despite their ugly situation in the AL standings, are extremely ambivalent about trading before the deadline. It is important for Seattle to demonstrate progress the rest of this year, the officials say, and the Mariners might be focused on winning as many games as possible rather than on adding prospects.
• Seattle's offense is improving, and Brad Miller clubbed a couple of homers Friday.
• Raul Ibanez would rather stay, writes Larry Stone.
• The Dodgers keep winning, with a whole lot of help from Hanley Ramirez.
From ESPN Stats & Information: Yasiel Puig has received most of the credit for the Dodgers' resurgence, but, overall this season, Hanley Ramirez has a better batting average (.382 versus .381), more home runs (9 versus
and more RBIs (27 versus 19). Their season stats are very close, but, since the Dodgers' recent run, Ramirez has clearly been the team leader on offense.
• The Royals must take advantage of the many games they have left with the Tigers and Indians, and Ervin Santana shut down Detroit on Thursday.
• The Cardinals went 6-for-14 with runners in scoring position Friday, pushing their 2013 average to .339 in those situations. The sample size has grown to more than 900 plate appearances.
Some of that came from Jake Westbrook on Friday.
• The timing of this was surprising: Alex Rios got pulled for not playing hard, at a time when other teams are trying to decide whether to invest in him for 2013 and 2014.
Dings and dents
1. Sean Marshall suffered a bit of a setback, and Ryan Ludwick is making progress, as John Fay writes.
2. Aramis Ramirez plans to be patient.
3. Within this notebook, there is word that Brett Myers has been shut down.
4. Matt Holliday still feels a little tug from his hamstring.
5. Ross Detwiler is going to miss at least another week.
6. Derek Jeter is on the disabled list, again. And Zoilo Almonte is headed there, too.
7. Nolan Reimold is likely out for the year. He has talent, but just can't stay healthy.
8. The follow-up exam on Clay Buchholz was benign.
9. Yunel Escobar expects a quick return.
10. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton expect to be back soon.
11. Lance Berkman has started baseball activities.
12. Ryan Vogelsong is making progress.
What Cubs can get for Garza.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A highly ranked executive marveled the other day at the incredible shift in the trade market over the past 15 years. It used to be, he said, that if you had a good veteran pitcher -- even someone not far from free agency -- you could get three of another team’s top 10 prospects. “And really, it wasn’t hard to get that,” he said.
But as salaries have increased, the perceived value of prospects has skyrocketed, to the point that many officials believe that they are coveted far beyond their actual worth. A top Class A pitching prospect is now worth as much as say, someone such as Matt Garza. Another official said Thursday, “Now, if you get one of a team’s top prospects [for someone like Garza], plus a couple of other middling minor leaguers to round out the deal, you’re doing pretty well,” he said.
The Cubs have been pushing other teams for their last, best offers, sources say, with the Texas Rangers long thought to be the team with the most reason to be aggressive and the team most likely to make the deal (and now probably the closest). Martin Perez is a finished product and in the big leagues, and he is a major league ready pitcher who would probably create the most splash for the Cubs.
But given the realities of the marketplace, the Cubs are more likely to get C.J. Edwards, a former 48th-round pick who has had an excellent season in Class A -- where he has 122 strikeouts in 93 1/3 innings, with a 1.83 ERA -- or Luke Jackson, another young pitcher who is more advanced but is also still probably two years away from pitching in the big leagues. These are two players who don’t necessarily have the buzz among casual fans that Perez does.
But they are attracting a lot of conversation among rival evaluators, and given the Cubs’ possible timetable for the promotion of their growing stock of minor league talent -- it probably will be 2015 when Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler become rooted in the big leagues -- it makes sense for Chicago to invest in a high-end pitching prospect still developing.
I’m filling in on "Mike & Mike" today, so I couldn’t get to all the links. Here’s some stuff:
1. The Indians are looking for a left-handed reliever.
2. By calling up Henry Urrutia now, the Orioles give themselves a couple of weeks to evaluate the DH candidate. He is 6-foot-5, 195 pounds and isn’t a plus runner, and isn’t a big power guy either -- but the left-handed hitter smokes line drives to the opposite field. The Orioles are 14th among 15 teams in OPS at DH, and they are looking for some kind of spark at the position, and for their lineup; eventually, somebody behind Chris Davis needs to hit better because he’s going to see fewer and fewer strikes, inevitably.
3. The Royals are going to keep pushing, says Dayton Moore.
4. Alex Rodriguez continues to make progress.
5. Billy Hamilton’s swing got slammed.
6. Clay Buchholz had another setback. The Red Sox may have reason to look for a starting pitcher in the next 12 days, because they may well be blocked in the waiver period. Jake Peavy could be a nice fit for them. This won’t cause a trade panic, writes Scott Lauber.
7. David Murphy looks at the Phillies’ place.
8. Jose Fernandez is likely to be shut down in late August or early September.
9. Rotation uncertainty has the Rangers looking for a starter.
10. Chances are the Rangers will trade Jurickson Profar in the offseason, if not sooner, writes Tim Cowlishaw.
11. Peter Bourjos suffered a setback.
12. The pressure is on Theo Epstein to make a Garza deal, writes Paul Sullivan.
MLB's luckiest pitchers.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Patrick Corbin is enjoying a breakout season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. After posting a 6-8 record and 4.54 ERA in 107 innings last season, he is 11-1 with a 2.35 ERA, which is the third lowest in baseball among qualified starters, behind only Clayton Kershaw and Jeff Locke.
To some extent, Corbin's impressive line is a reflection of his own improved performance, but much of his success can be credited to great defense. In fact, based on plus/minus runs saved -- Baseball Info Solutions' estimation of runs saved or cost by fielder range -- Corbin has gotten more defensive support than any other pitcher in baseball.
While the D-backs employ some good fielders, there is some good fortune involved there that probably won't last. With that in mind, let's take a deeper look at Corbin and some of MLB's other "lucky" pitchers.
Patrick Corbin, LHP | Arizona Diamondbacks
Plus/minus runs saved by all fielders: 24
Despite the dramatic improvement in his record and ERA, it is remarkable how similar Corbin's peripheral statistics are to that of last season. For example, he struck out 7.29 batters per nine innings last season and has slightly improved that number to 7.53 batters per nine innings this season. His 2.28 walks per nine innings this year are slightly worse than his 2.10 walks per nine innings last year. The most significant differences between Corbin's 2012 and 2013 statistics are in his BABIP, strand rate -- the percentage of baserunners a pitcher leaves on base -- and home runs per fly ball allowed.
His BABIP is down from .317 in 2012 to .246 this year, which is seventh lowest among qualified starters. His strand rate is up from 71.2 percent to 81.9 percent, well above the league average of 73.1 percent. His home run per fly ball rate is down from 13.5 percent to 7.8 percent.
And while good defense gets credit for some of this -- particularly the BABIP -- teammate Wade Miley has had 8 plus/minus runs saved behind him, which is the second most on the team. Chances are Corbin will not be so fortunate the rest of the way.
Jeff Locke, LHP | Pittsburgh Pirates
Plus/minus runs saved by all fielders: 19
Based on his underlying numbers, Locke has had a bigger surprise season than even Corbin. Neither his 6.03 strikeouts per nine innings nor his 3.88 walks per nine innings impress, but his 2.15 ERA ranks second in baseball among qualified starters. Not surprisingly then, his .228 BABIP is also the second best, and the Pirates' defense has been a big reason why.
In particular, Locke has taken advantage of the Pirates' increased willingness to deploy defensive shifts. After shifting on only 105 balls in play in 2012 (ranking 16th among all major league teams), the Pirates already have 325 shifts on balls in play this season (ranking first).
Locke has a 52.3 percent ground ball rate, which ranks 12th among qualified starters. Interestingly, A.J. Burnett is fourth with a 54.9 percent ground ball rate and has 8 plus/minus runs saved behind him. Locke will regress, but as long as the Pirates stay committed to the shift, he and Burnett should both continue to benefit from the strategy.
Jason Marquis, RHP | San Diego Padres
Plus/minus runs saved by all fielders: 17
While the other names on this list are turning good seasons into excellent ones, Marquis is turning a terrible season into a mediocre one.
At his best, Marquis is successful by limiting baserunners and inducing weak contact. However, after consecutive years with fewer than three walks per nine innings, that number has ballooned to more than five this year. His good defensive fortune is reflected in his 4.05 ERA, which is nearly two runs better than his 5.66 FIP, which is the worst in baseball among qualified starters.
The Padres are in last place and likely not in the playoff mix. With Marquis being 34 years old and on a one-year contract, they should look to trade Marquis quickly. Since the Padres are a middle-of-the-pack defense in the NL, his defensive help to date seems least likely to continue.
Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo, RHPs | Cincinnati Reds
Plus/minus runs saved by all fielders: 17 (Leake), 14 (Arroyo)
Reds pitchers have been mainstays on this list in recent seasons. From 2011 to 2012, Johnny Cueto benefited from 25 plus/minus runs saved, the third-highest total in baseball. This year, Leake and Arroyo are both in the top five at the halfway point.
Whether by coincidence or due to a concerted effort by their coaching staff, Reds pitchers have been among the best at helping themselves. Since 2011, Leake, Cueto and Arroyo are three of the 11 pitchers in baseball with 10 or more DRS.
The fact that Leake and Arroyo are so good at helping their own cause on defense isn't quite so "lucky," and is a big reason they could set career bests in ERA.
Top 50 MLB prospects update.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
At the MLB season's midpoint, just past the signing deadline for drafted players, here is a fresh look at the top 50 prospects still in the minor leagues, including a new name on top.
Fantasy Focus Baseball
Nate Ravitz talks to Keith Law about his updated prospects list, including the guys who can help fantasy teams soon.
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These rankings are based primarily on upside or ceiling, not on proximity to the majors, so the list includes a mixture of players as high as Double-A or Triple-A and a few who have signed but either have yet to make their professional debuts or who have just a few appearances in the low minors.
Players who have already passed the cutoff for Rookie of the Year eligibility are ineligible, as is anyone currently on a major league roster.
Note: I use the 20-80 grading scale in these comments to avoid overuse of the terms "average" and "above average" across the player comments. On that scale, a grade of 50 equals major league average, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 45 is fringe or below average and so on.
1. Byron Buxton, CF | Minnesota Twins (age 19)
Current level: High Class A (Fort Myers)
Preseason ranking: 22
I've been a Buxton fan for a while and thought he was the best talent in the 2012 draft, although even I'm a little uncomfortable with the extent of the hype around him right now.
He's explosive across the board, with 80-grade running speed, an 80 arm and the potential for 70 or 80 defense in center as well as great bat speed and a slightly quieter approach than he had in high school. He has the upside of a top-five overall player in the majors, and I would just like to see him maintain his strong contact rates and patient approach as he faces better pitchers this year and next.
2. Oscar Taveras, OF | St. Louis Cardinals (age 20)
Current level: Triple-A (Memphis)
Preseason ranking: 2
Taveras might have appeared in the majors by now were it not for recurrent ankle trouble this year, an injury that knocked him out of the Futures Game. He's still a high-impact bat, probably the Cardinals' opening day right fielder next April, with big power and tremendous plate coverage.
3. Xander Bogaerts, SS | Boston Red Sox (age 20)
Current level: Triple-A (Pawtucket)
Preseason ranking: 5
I still see no reason Bogaerts can't stay at short, and he continues to impress with his quiet setup and swing and strong plate discipline. He's 14 months older than Buxton but two full levels higher in the minors. Jose Iglesias' glove is special, but he's no match for the overall package Bogaerts offers the Red Sox at shortstop.
4. Miguel Sano, 3B | Minnesota Twins (age 20)
Current level: Double-A (New Britain)
Preseason ranking: 11
He'll always strike out a lot, but that's the nature of the game today, especially when you have this kind of prodigious raw power. When Sano squares one up, Twins fans feel the earth move.
5. Francisco Lindor, SS | Cleveland Indians (age 19)
Current level: Double-A (Akron)
Preseason ranking: 7
It might be unfair to call Lindor a lower-ceiling guy, although he lacks the MVP or superstar potential of the four guys ahead of him, projecting more as a regular All-Star who gets on base at a high clip with plus defense at short and who boasts a high probability of becoming that, and soon.
He's just a month older than Buxton and just moved up to Double-A, which doesn't speak much to their relative ceilings but says a little about Lindor's polish.
6. Addison Russell, SS | Oakland Athletics (age 19)
Current level: High Class A (Stockton)
Preseason ranking: 10
A slow start due to a back injury masks what a strong season Russell has had as a 19-year-old in the California League, typically a hitters' league but one with high strikeout rates.
He's hitting .326/.379/.565 since June 1, to choose one arbitrary (Gregorian) endpoint, and continues to impress with his range and especially his hands at shortstop.
7. Carlos Correa, SS | Houston Astros (age 18)
Current level: Low Class A (Quad Cities)
Preseason ranking: 24
Lost in the hype over Buxton is the strong pro debut for Correa, just 18 years old and already in the Midwest League, posting a .421 OBP (third best in the league, 10 points behind Buxton) and a .455 slugging percentage even though he's barely begun to grow into his 6-foot-4 frame.
He's also been better than expected at shortstop, keeping his body lean and showing better range and hands than he had in high school. He may outgrow the position, but even at third this could be a special bat.
8. Archie Bradley, RHP | Arizona Diamondbacks (age 20)
Current level: Double-A (Mobile)
Preseason ranking: 29
His command has improved over last year, as well as the control, while he's still in the 93-98 mph range with his heater.
His curveball has been a little less consistent this year, still hard at 79-83 but not quite as sharp as last year, while the changeup continues to improve and should be no worse than a solid-average pitch. The curve is still a swing-and-miss pitch for him, and with the huge fastball and his No. 1 starter build, he's the minors' best pitching prospect.
9. Mark Appel, SP | Houston Astros (age 22)
Current level: Low Class A (Quad Cities)
Preseason ranking: Ineligible
This year's top draft prospect is now in Class A, still sitting in the mid-90s with above-average command, although I expect Houston will keep his outings short this year to try to build him up slowly for next year. He has ace potential, with three above-average to plus pitches and an easy delivery he can repeat all day.
10. Taijuan Walker, RHP | Seattle Mariners (age 20)
Current level: Triple-A (Tacoma)
Preseason ranking: 9
Walker's mid-90s fastball, up to 97 regularly, is incredibly easy, and he still has the loose, athletic body that scouts love to see. This year, he's using a good cutter as his out pitch, which is good because it's the best secondary weapon he's ever had but not good because it's come at the expense of his curveball, which has become less tight and is now just a fringe third pitch.
He's still so young and athletic that I wouldn't bet against him, but as close as he is to the majors, he should have a stronger third offering in his arsenal.
11. Dylan Bundy, RHP | Baltimore Orioles (age 20)
Current level: Has not played (injury)
Preseason ranking: 3
Bundy is out for the year after Tommy John surgery and probably won't pitch again until mid-2014, pushing his timetable for a return to the majors back significantly.
There's at least an 80 percent chance that he comes back as good as he was before the elbow injury and probably another 10 percent or so that he comes back as something almost as good, so the odds are the Orioles still have an elite pitching prospect on their hands. We just won't know for a while.
12. Christian Yelich, OF | Miami Marlins (age 21)
Current level: Double-A (Jacksonville)
Preseason ranking: 6
I love Yelich's swing, one of the best in the minors, but he's had trouble staying healthy this year. More importantly for these rankings, his inability to hit left-handers isn't going away at all -- hitting .182 against southpaws this season.
For a hitter as gifted as he is, he should be making some adjustments, even small ones, against lefties by now.
13. Jameson Taillon, RHP | Pittsburgh Pirates (age 21)
Current level: Double-A (Altoona)
Preseason ranking: 20
Much like fellow Pirate Gerrit Cole, Taillon throws gas that's too easy to hit given its velocity, due to a lack of life on the pitch. His season line may be a touch misleading, as his last outing (3 1/3 innings, 10 runs) added eight-tenths of a run to his ERA; he had allowed just nine earned runs in his previous six outings combined.
14. Kyle Zimmer, RHP | Kansas City Royals (age 21)
Current level: High Class A (Wilmington)
Preseason ranking: 27
I saw Zimmer recently and wrote about the electric stuff he showed -- a 70-grade fastball, 70 curveball and 60 changeup -- and he's had better results since then, with 36 strikeouts and 3 walks in his past four starts, covering 25 innings. He should be unhittable but wasn't for almost three months, so the Royals can only hope he's just now approaching his ace potential.
15. Kris Bryant, OF | Chicago Cubs (age 21)
Current level: Short-season Class A (Boise)
Preseason ranking: Ineligible
Signed to the biggest bonus in this year's draft (as predicted in this space), Bryant has huge raw power from the right side, a rare and valuable commodity in and of itself, and profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat whether he's at third base or in right field. He's yet to play a game as of this writing.
16. Corey Seager, SS | Los Angeles Dodgers (age 19)
Current level: Low Class A (Great Lakes)
Preseason ranking: 46
Although he's still most likely a third baseman in the end, Seager has been the best hitter in the Midwest League since his return from a DL stint in early June, hitting .342/.439/.586 in that span. He's going to be big -- at 6-4, 215 pounds, he's already bigger than every full-time shortstop in MLB history -- but that's going to produce plus power that makes him a potential All-Star.
17. Gregory Polanco, OF | Pittsburgh Pirates (age 21)
Current level: Double-A (Altoona)
Preseason ranking: 55
Polanco's BP before Sunday's Futures Game was one of the best of any hitter, showing more power than scouts had seen from him before. It counts more when it shows up during a game, but even knowing he has that raw ability is useful.
I think he's a center fielder long term, although I've heard dissenting opinions on that point. What everyone agrees on is that his swing and advanced plate discipline make him a high-probability hitter.
18. Aaron Sanchez, RHP | Toronto Blue Jays (age 20)
Current level: High Class A (Dunedin)
Preseason ranking: 19
His season has been slowed since a minor shoulder injury in late May led the Jays to shut him down rather than risking structural damage, so he's still more pure potential than results, showing easy mid- to upper-90s velocity with the chance for two plus secondary pitches.
The lack of reps hurts him most in command, where the clean delivery has yet to translate to above-average location and feel.
19. Kevin Gausman, RHP | Baltimore Orioles (age 21)
Current level: Triple-A (Norfolk)
Preseason ranking: 26
In hindsight, Gausman came to the majors too soon, but it doesn't tell us much about his long-term potential other than that he's not ready yet. He didn't use his changeup, which is plus (if not better), enough, and his slider was a little worse than it had been in the minors and last year.
He's back at Triple-A and still projects as at least a solid No. 2 starter as long as all three pitches are there, with no reason they won't be in time.
20. Jorge Soler, OF | Chicago Cubs (age 21)
Current level: High Class A (Daytona)
Preseason ranking: 42
Soler would have been in the Futures Game and likely in Double-A were it not for a stress fracture that has him on the shelf until at least early August and possibly until instructional league, although he could pick up some needed at-bats in the Arizona Fall League.
He remains a high-ceiling player, with a quick bat, easy power and running speed, but losing a half-season of reps doesn't help.
21. Garin Cecchini, 3B | Boston Red Sox (age 22)
Current level: Double-A (Portland)
Preseason ranking: Unranked
Cecchini has just one plus tool, but it's the most important one for a position player; he can hit, showing an impressive, innate ability to barrel up the ball throughout 2013 now that he's regained the strength he lost after a July 2011 wrist fracture.
He hasn't been running as often this year after rolling his ankle in mid-May, but his base stealing was less about speed than about instincts, as he's become one of the best readers of pitchers' deliveries in the minors.
22. Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF | Detroit Tigers (age 21)
Current level: Triple-A (Toledo)
Preseason ranking: 38
Castellanos is now a full-time right fielder, which hurts his potential value relative to what it might have been had he stayed at third base, but he's putting together a solid season as one of the International League's youngest every-day players, working the count more effectively while already setting a career high in home runs.
He might be more above-average regular than superstar after the position switch, which still makes him valuable and a likely trade target for sellers this month.
23. Jonathan Gray, RHP | Colorado Rockies (age 20)
Current level: Rookie (Grand Junction)
Preseason ranking: Ineligible
The third overall pick in this year's draft, Gray will touch triple digits with his fastball and complements it with a plus slider. He should be able to reach a full-season league later this summer -- a desirable move for the team since the Rockies' lowest affiliate, Grand Junction, plays at more than three-quarters of a mile above sea level.
Gray is a potential No. 1 starter due to his sturdy 6-4 build and two primary pitches, and he should be able to put the mini scandal over his positive amphetamine test from before the draft behind him.
24. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF | Boston Red Sox (age 20)
Current level: Triple-A (Pawtucket)
Preseason ranking: 40
Hyped way beyond the point of reason after hitting .419/.507/.613 in 62 spring training at-bats, Bradley hit .155/.258/.310 in 58 regular-season at-bats before being demoted. Everyone should really remember this next March but won't because reality is boring.
Anyway, Bradley still projects as a plus-plus defender in center who hits for average and gets on base, with just a little power. He'll be an above-average every-day player who will make a solid, cheap replacement for Jacoby Ellsbury when he likely leaves as a free agent over the winter.
25. Albert Almora, OF | Chicago Cubs (age 19)
Current level: Low Class A (Kane County)
Preseason ranking: 33
The irony of one of the game's most prominent sabermetrically inclined front offices overseeing a farm system of guys who walk once a month deserves more attention than it's gotten. I wonder if Bryant, who walked a ton in college this spring, will become an unrepentant hacker the moment he gets to Daytona.
Almora doesn't walk much, but he has great feel for the bat, making a lot of hard contact, and plays plus defense in center.
26. Robert Stephenson, RHP | Cincinnati Reds (age 20)
Current level: Low Class A (Dayton)
Preseason ranking: 48
Stephenson has torn apart Midwest League hitters with just two pitches, a plus-plus fastball and plus-plus breaking ball, and may need to move up a level just to force him to work on his changeup and to continue to refine his fastball command.
He's had no trouble with lefties and has gone eight straight starts where he's walked two batters or fewer. I understand caution with a young pitcher, but Stephenson has ace potential and should be pushed a little to help him achieve it.
27. Javier Baez, SS | Chicago Cubs (age 19)
Current level: Double-A (Tennessee)
Preseason ranking: 31
The player with the best bat speed in the minors should be higher on this list, in theory, but Baez operates under the strong belief -- not entirely unfounded -- that he can hit anything within a foot of the strike zone, which results in low walk rates and a tendency to give away at-bats when he doesn't get a pitch he can crush right away.
He continues to play solid defense at shortstop and the power is insane, but it would be nice if someone in this farm system would walk more than twice a month.
28. Eddie Butler, P | Colorado Rockies (age 20)
Current level: High Class A (Modesto)
Preseason ranking: Unranked
Butler was the one player at this year's Futures Game who exceeded expectations. He has big sinking life on his mid-90s fastball, thanks to a low three-quarters arm slot, and pairs it with an upper-80s slider that wipes out right-handed hitters and that he can throw at the back foot of a left-handed hitter.
His changeup has already improved substantially since he entered pro ball last year, and if that continues, he's a potential No. 2 starter or better who gets ground balls and misses bats.
29. George Springer, OF | Houston Astros (age 23)
Current level: Triple-A (Oklahoma City)
Preseason ranking: 43
Springer is a true five-tool player with big raw power, plus speed and absolutely no two-strike approach, which is the one thing keeping him out of the top 10 on this list. Only a handful of players in major league history have played full seasons and struck out at the rate at which Springer has struck out in Double- and Triple-A this year.
If he develops any kind of two-strike approach, though, he's a potential monster, a 30/30 candidate who can get on base and provide solid defense in center or plus defense in a corner.
30. Kohl Stewart, RHP | Minnesota Twins (age 18)
Current level: Rookie (Gulf Coast)
Preseason ranking: Ineligible
The fourth overall pick in this year's draft, Stewart walked away from a commitment to back up Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M to join the Twins' system as their best pitching prospect, a four-pitch starter up to 97 with a plus slider who needs to work on fastball command and using his lower half more in his delivery.
31. Henry Owens, LHP | Boston Red Sox (age 20)
Current level: High Class A (Salem)
Preseason ranking: Unranked
Owens' fastball has ticked up this year to consistently above-average velocity for a lefty, to go along with the plus changeup, slow curveball and great deception. His main issue is just a lack of strikes, giving hitters opportunities they wouldn't have if he were getting ahead in the count more frequently and could use his secondary stuff.
He's probably a No. 3 starter, maybe a little more if he has more velocity in the tank.
32. Michael Wacha, RHP | St. Louis Cardinals (age 21)
Current level: Triple-A (Memphis)
Preseason ranking: Unranked
Wacha's brief call-up didn't tell us much about his potential, other than that he doesn't, or the Cardinals don't, believe in his breaking ball enough to use it more than five or six times a game right now. As an above-average fastball/plus-plus changeup guy with plus command, Wacha is a back-end starter already but could end up as a solid mid-rotation guy if that curveball gets just a little bit sharper.
33. Jonathan Singleton, 1B | Houston Astros (age 21)
Current level: Triple-A (Oklahoma City)
Preseason ranking: 32
Singleton missed the first 50 games of the season after he tested positive for marijuana, a pointless exercise for everyone involved and one that may explain why he's struggled so badly in Triple-A after the long layoff -- striking out 40 times in his first 105 at-bats. He remains a potential impact bat at first base who gets on base and hits for power, although it would be nice to see a better contact rate from him this year.
34. Noah Syndergaard, RHP | New York Mets (age 20)
Current level: Double-A (Binghamton)
Preseason ranking: 97
Syndergaard has an easy 70-grade fastball, sitting mid-90s and touching 98 regularly, with a great pitcher's build and repeatable delivery. His secondary stuff is just average, both the curveball and changeup, with a fringe slider that's kind of flat and doesn't suit his arm slot as well as the curve and change do.
The worst-case scenario is probably a league-average starter between the velocity and outstanding control, with No. 2 starter upside if the breaking ball improves a little more and the fastball command continues to develop. He's become the key guy for the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal, passing the always-hurt Travis d'Arnaud, whose talent may end up unfulfilled because he can't stay on the field.
35. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP | Tampa Bay Rays (age 20)
Current level: Low Class A (Bowling Green)
Preseason ranking: 47
Guerrieri's velocity has been off a little this year. He was up to 97 mph last year and in high school but has been 89-93 this season with a stiffer delivery and a recent bout of arm trouble, with shoulder fatigue taking him off the Futures Game roster and elbow soreness taking him out of his last start for Bowling Green.
He still has the potential out-pitch curveball and fills up the strike zone, but the lost velocity, hints of arm trouble and makeup questions going back to his prep days all push him down the rankings.
36. Alen Hanson, SS | Pittsburgh Pirates (age 22)
Current level: High Class A (Bradenton)
Preseason ranking: 34
Overshadowed this year by Polanco, Hanson remains a work in progress at shortstop. His footwork has been less erratic this year -- he's always had the hands and foot speed for it -- while his throwing has been more so. He has great bat speed and a strong approach and has bounced back after a rough start to the season in high Class A.
He can run, work the count and square up good stuff, so if he can hit like he did in May and June over a full season and proves he can stay at shortstop, he's a potential above-average regular for a team that needs a long-term answer at short.
37. Kyle Crick, RHP | San Francisco Giants (age 20)
Current level: High Class A (San Jose)
Preseason ranking: 76
Crick has flown past teammate Clayton Blackburn this year. Blackburn has better command and control, but Crick has huge stuff, sitting mid-90s and touching 98 with a plus breaking ball but, as you saw in the Futures Game, less than perfect command. He missed two months this year with an oblique strain, punching out 32 and walking 10 across four starts since his return.
38. Alex Meyer, RHP | Minnesota Twins (age 23)
Current level: Double-A (New Britain)
Preseason ranking: 61
Meyer continues to generate ground balls and miss bats, so while it's not a perfect starter's package, as long as he does the two most important things a starter can do, he should get the chance to work in a major league rotation.
His fastball remains 94-95, up to 97, with heavy sink, and his slider is a bona fide out pitch against right-handed batters. His command will never be great, the hazard of being 6-9 and trying to keep those long limbs in check, and his changeup is a work in progress at best. If that changeup comes along, even without good command he's at least a good No. 3 starter, with a chance to be a legitimate No. 2.
39. Jake Marisnick, OF | Miami Marlins (age 22)
Current level: Double-A (Jacksonville)
Preseason ranking: 82
He should be the Marlins' long-term answer in center field, if by long term we mean until his first year of arbitration, after which he'll be far too expensive for Jeff Loria's parsimonious tastes.
Marisnick is a four-tool guy who can run and plays a great center field, with emerging power but still needing work on that fifth tool, the ability to hit, part of which is tied up in mediocre recognition of breaking stuff.
Even if he never improves, he's a big league regular because of his glove, raw power and speed, but he has star potential if he can tighten up his plate discipline.
40. Raul Mondesi Jr., SS | Kansas City Royals (age 17)
Current level: Low Class A (Lexington)
Preseason ranking: Unranked
Formerly known as Adalberto Mondesi, the Sally League's youngest every-day player (turning 18 on July 27) has held his own against much older competition, boosting his season line with a brief .349/.440/.512 run over his past four series, all while showing tremendous instincts at shortstop.
At worst, he might turn into Elvis Andrus, a fine hitter for a shortstop whose value comes more from defense and position, but Mondesi's feel for the game and hand strength should lead to better results at the plate, including more pop.
41. Eddie Rosario, 2B | Minnesota Twins (age 21)
Current level: Double-A (New Britain)
Preseason ranking: 65
Rosario doesn't have the star power of the other Twins prospects on this list, but he does have a long track record of hitting for average, with doubles power and adequate walk rates to go along with gradually improving defense at his new position of second base.
The former center fielder may never be above average at second, but his bat will be. Rosario's ceiling is a .290-.310 hitter with 30-35 doubles, 10 homers and 50-60 walks a year, which would make him one of the best at that position in the game.
42. Jesse Biddle, LHP | Philadelphia Phillies (age 21)
Current level: Double-A (Reading)
Preseason ranking: 95
Biddle has slowed down some after a hot start that saw him punch out 26 guys over his last two starts in April, but the swing-and-miss potential of his low-70s breaking ball is real as long as he can command the fastball well enough to get to curveball counts.
He'll need to continue to improve the changeup, and there's always some hope that a pitcher of his size (6-4, 225 pounds) will find one more half-grade of velocity before he's done filling out. If not, he's probably a solid league-average or slightly better starter for a long time who has added value in trade because he's left-handed.
43. Luc Giolito, RHP | Washington Nationals (age 19)
Current level: Rookie (Gulf Coast)
Preseason ranking: 77
Giolito is just back from Tommy John surgery, less than 12 months after going under the knife, and has regained his velocity, sitting 95-98 mph in short outings in the Gulf Coast League as the Nats build him back up.
The curveball should be next and command last. As those return, which they should given how well his recovery has gone, he'll continue to move up these rankings and could easily finish the year in the top 20 because of his No. 1 starter ceiling.
44. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP | Baltimore Orioles (age 20)
Current level: Double-A (Bowie)
Preseason ranking: 100
After an aggressive promotion to Double-A, Rodriguez appears to be the next starting pitcher in line for a rotation spot in Baltimore after Kevin Gausman. With the chance for three above-average pitches, Rodriguez could be a pretty good one in his own right.
Rodriguez will sit 92-94 with a hard upper-80s changeup that gets swings and misses more from tailing action than from deception, and his breaking ball has a chance to be at least a solid grade 55. He'll pitch the whole year at 20 and shouldn't see the majors until this time next year at the earliest.
45. Austin Hedges, C | San Diego Padres (age 20)
Current level: High Class A (Lake Elsinore)
Preseason ranking: 36
There's little elite catching in the minors right now, in case you hadn't noticed, with Hedges the leading catching prospect by default. He's a plus-plus defender in all aspects of the game and has surprising raw power that doesn't play in games yet because he's still on the raw side as a hitter.
Even if he ends up just a .250/.310/.430 guy, with his defense that's a potential All-Star, and if you believe catchers develop later as hitters, you can easily dream on him to become something more.
46. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP | Houston Astros (age 21)
Current level: Double-A (Corpus Christi)
Preseason ranking: Unranked
Foltynewicz has been hitting triple digits as a starter this year and sitting in the 95-98 range, missing bats and even getting some ground balls since the Astros wisely shipped him out of the hitters' paradise of Lancaster and sent him to Corpus Christi.
His secondary stuff isn't as advanced, with the changeup the most promising of his off-speed weapons, and his feel for pitching and command are both far above what they were when the Astros drafted him in 2010. There's some sentiment among scouts that he might end up a closer due to the lack of a plus second pitch and the command, which still has a ways to go, but in a starter's role he might have a No. 2 ceiling.
47. Andrew Heaney, LHP | Miami Marlins (age 22)
Current level: High Class A (Jupiter)
Preseason ranking: Unranked
Heaney should be in the Southern League by now -- and should have been in the Futures Game -- as a major-college product dominating high Class A in his first full pro season. He works with two plus pitches in his fastball and slider and has actually been even more effective against right-handed hitters this year (sample-size caveats apply).
He's on the slight side for a starter -- 6-2, 190 pounds -- and probably isn't a 210- to 220-inning guy, but as a potentially strong No. 3 starter from the left side, he's jumped up into the top tier of prospects this year.
48. Max Fried, LHP | San Diego Padres (age 19)
Current level: Low Class A (Fort Wayne)
Preseason ranking: 51
Fried, the Padres' first pick in the 2012 draft, is still mostly potential at this point, with a solid performance for low Class A Fort Wayne but not the kind to push him up the rankings yet. He's an outstanding athlete who repeats his delivery well, throwing in the low 90s with a sharp curveball and feel for a changeup, but needs to work on his command and feel for pitching, typical stuff for a 19-year-old in his first full pro season.
49. Gary Sanchez, C | New York Yankees (age 20)
Current level: High Class A (Tampa)
Preseason ranking: 18
What a dismal year for the Yankees' top prospects. Tyler Austin has struggled and is out with a wrist injury, Mason Williams has been worse, Slade Heathcott has underperformed, and Ty Hensley has been out after hip surgery.
Sanchez is the best of the group, but his stock has taken a hit as his receiving, much improved last year, has regressed while his explosive hands and raw power haven't produced offensive results yet either. He's a stretch to make the top 50, but I still see too much potential, mostly on offense, to walk away entirely.
50. Lucas Sims, RHP | Atlanta Braves (age 19)
Current level: Low Class A (Rome)
Preseason ranking: Unranked
Sims has blown up since Atlanta moved him into the rotation after a stint in the pen to limit his innings for the year, now sitting 91-96 with a plus curveball and much-improved changeup.
His walk rate dropped by nearly half when he returned to starting, and other than the lack of life on his fastball, he doesn't have any major concerns besides the usual command/control questions on any teenage starter. He's starting to look at least like a potential No. 3 starter and is the team's best starting pitching prospect on the farm.
Honorable mentions/just missed/names to make you feel better: Julio Urias, LHP (Dodgers); Yordano Ventura, RHP (Royals); Miguel Almonte, RHP (Royals); David Dahl, OF (Rockies); Lance McCullers Jr., RHP (Astros); Zach Lee, RHP (Dodgers); Arismendy Alcantara, SS (Cubs); Blake Swihart, C (Red Sox)
Rookie rankings: Fernandez new No. 1.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It's been an incredible year for rookies, particularly in the National League, and we saw that first-hand in Tuesday's All-Star Game. Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez, who has allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his past eight starts, was as good as anyone that night, striking out two batters in his lone inning of work.
Rays manager Joe Maddon told me that Fernandez is the best 20-year-old pitcher he's ever seen, and I have to concur. That's why he leads the latest edition of my rookie rankings.
1. Jose Fernandez | RHP | Stock: Up
Buster Posey, the Giants' All-Star catcher, who caught Fernandez in the All-Star Game, said afterward, "He really impressed me especially given the situation he was pitching in. I thought he’d have nerves because of all the excitement but instead he demonstrated great poise and composure. We all know his stuff speaks for itself."
Fernandez joined Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller as the only All-Star pitchers to ever record two strikeouts before their 21st birthday. Fernandez has really begun to learn how to pitch, changing hitters' eye levels better and, more importantly, starting to understand how to set hitters up.
2. Shelby Miller | RHP | Stock: Down
Miller has a 6.87 ERA over his past four starts, which knocked him out of the top spot here. The Cardinals are concerned about the number of innings he is throwing in his first MLB season, so they have pushed back his next start until July 23, which gives him 13 days off. His career high for innings in the minors is 139 2/3, and he's already at 104 2/3 for the season. How he handles a big jump in workload will be a major storyline for the Cardinals down the stretch.
3. Yasiel Puig | OF | Stock: Down
The 22-year-old continues to show off an impressive array of tools, but he also shows that he needs to work on playing under control. It would also be a good idea for him to demonstrate some humility from time to time so as not to alienate the rest of the league. That said, his ceiling is unlimited and he is one of the main reasons the Dodgers have become the favorites to win the National League West.
4. Hyun-Jin Ryu | LHP | Stock: Same
Ryu has been the most consistent left-handed rookie starter in baseball this year, lasting at least five innings in each of his 15 starts. He has impressive command of his fastball to both sides of the plate and his changeup is a true out pitch. He's not going to overpower you, but he should be a key part of the Dodgers' rotation for years.
5. Julio Teheran | RHP | Stock: Up
Teheran had been a top prospect for years and he is finally living up to the hype. Braves catcher Brian McCann told me at the All-Star Game that Teheran's rise can be traced back to the improvement of his two-seam fastball, which he is now commanding very well. There is no doubt that Teheran has finally arrived for the Braves and he will be a key for them in the second half as they try to hold off the Nationals and Phillies in the NL East.
6. Jose Iglesias | SS/3B | Stock: Up
Iglesias has always been one of the best defensive shortstops because of his soft hands, accurate arm and tremendous jumps, and those skills have translated well at third base. The big improvement for him has been at the plate, which goes back to 48 hours he spent practicing with Dustin Pedroia over the winter. Iglesias stands up much straighter in the batter's box now, and the results have been astonishing, as he's hitting .367. He's a big reason the Red Sox are in first place.
7. Chris Archer | RHP | Stock: Up
The emergence of Archer has many folks believing the Rays are now the favorites to win the AL East. Archer, 24, has started to really figure it out with a mid-nineties fastball, a wipeout slider and effective changeup. His best performance of the year was last Sunday when he threw a complete-game shutout of the Astros. His command in the strike zone is light-years better than it was a year ago, and his emergence gives the Rays the deepest rotation in the league.
8. Trevor Rosenthal | RHP | Stock: Up
Rosenthal had a sensational first half with a 2.20 ERA in 45 innings while striking out 68 and walking just 10. However, he’s also been overused, already appearing in 43 games. It’s very important that the Cardinals lighten his workload in the second half to preserve him for a possible postseason run (and beyond).
9. Gerrit Cole | RHP | Stock: Up
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft has lived up to expectations so far. He's gone at least five innings in all seven of his starts, while never giving up more than three runs in any of them. He's been pounding the zone with his mid-90s heat, and has walked just six batters. The reason the Pirates are going to break their 21-year streak of losing seasons is improved pitching depth, and Cole is a big part of that.
10. Matt Adams | 1B | Stock: Up
Even without an everyday job he’s made the top 10 on this list because of the damage he’s doing when he’s playing (.917 OPS). He’s given manager Mike Matheny tremendous flexibility and protection from injuries or slumps, as Matheny can slot Adams in at first and move Allen Craig to either outfield corner. Adams could also be used as a trade piece at the deadline if the Cardinals can acquire a better long-term solution at shortstop.
11. Evan Gattis | C/LF/1B | Stock: Down
Gattis was reinstated from the disabled list on Sunday after being out since June 18 with a right oblique strain. His injury combined with not having an everyday job are the reasons he’s dropped out of the top 10. He has tremendous power and continues to be a real threat when he plays, as demonstrated by the fact he leads all rookies with 14 home runs.
12. Anthony Rendon | 2B | Stock: Up
Rendon has taken over second base for the Nationals and probably for the long term. He’s off to an impressive start with a .301/.352/.460 slash line while learning a new position (he's a third baseman by trade). His bat is legitimate and sweet spot contact is consistent. He has great presence at the plate and knows how to work the count and the Nationals are pleased that their long–term solution at second base has arrived.
13. Nick Franklin | 2B/SS | Stock: Up
The Mariners had agreed to a blockbuster deal with the Diamondbacks this past offseason that would have sent top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin for Justin Upton, a deal that blew up when Upton wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause. That could end up being the best trade that Jack Zduriencik didn’t make in his career with the Mariners. Walker profiles out to a No. 1-type starter and Franklin is clearly their long-term solution at second base, as he's hitting .268 with six homers in 169 plate appearances.
14. Didi Gregorius | SS | Stock: Down
Gregorius and Adeiny Hechavarria are the two best rookie defensive shortstops in baseball, with both having above-average range to both sides. Gregorius has been the better offensive player, hitting .274/.341/.403, but the league has started to figure out how to pitch to him, as his batting average has been declining each month. His defense has been consistent but the bat is what to watch in the second half, especially since teams are starting to pitch him much differently.
15. Jim Henderson | RHP | Stock: Down
Henderson leads all rookies with 10 saves in 13 opportunities, not to mention a 2.41 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings. His mid-90s fastball and late-breaking slider continue to be effective and I expect him to have a solid second half leading the way for rookie closers.
Rest of the top 30
Rank Player Pos. Team
16. Tony Cingrani LHP Cincinnati Reds
17. Justin Wilson LHP Pittsburgh Pirates
18. Jedd Gyorko 2B San Diego Padres
19. Wil Myers RF Tampa Bay Rays
20. Nolan Arenado 3B Colorado Rockies
21. Adeiny Hechavarria SS Miami Marlins
22. Cody Allen RHP Cleveland Indians
23. Jurickson Profar 2B Texas Rangers
24. Zack Wheeler RHP New York Mets
25. Jonathan Pettibone RHP Philadelphia Phillies
26. Paco Rodriguez LHP Los Angeles Dodgers
27. Yoervis Medina RHP Seattle Mariners
28. Marcell Ozuna CF Miami Marlins
29. Pete Kozma SS St. Louis Cardinals
30. Preston Claiborne RHP New York Yankees
Rockies need bats, not arms.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Colorado Rockies, fringe contenders who this week improved one spot to 19th in the ESPN Power Rankings, have featured prominently in trade rumors this July.
Matt Garza and Jesse Crain have both been specifically mentioned as targets, and the overall tenor of chatter seems to be that the Rockies need pitching. And generally speaking that is true -- Colorado has rarely had an abundance of quality arms from which to choose. But this season, the Rockies are in greater need of a bat or two to help round out their lineup if the want to be taken seriously.
At the season's outset, the Rockies were firing on all cylinders. At the end of April, they were second in the majors in runs scored, and first in the National League. However, their 299 runs scored since May started is tied for 12th-best in the majors. And while their runs allowed have remained flat all season, their runs scored has trended down in a big way. This month, they are averaging just over three runs per game, and that number is in and of itself a misrepresentation given how the runs have been broken up.
They have scored eight or more runs three times, and four runs or less in 12 of the other 13. That's a big problem because the only teams with a worse winning percentage than Colorado when scoring four runs or less are the Marlins and Nationals. With Dexter Fowler and Troy Tulowitzki back in the lineup, everything should have improved, but in the seven games since they've returned, the team has scored just 21 runs.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Nolan Arenado can pick it at third, but his bat has a ways to go.
It would be hard to put the blame for this on the pitching, because as mentioned earlier, they have been doing essentially the same work all season. By month, the team's runs allowed have been 4.30, 4.29, 4.57 and 4.38.
Both Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa have been top 25 pitchers according to WAR, and since joining the rotation full-time, Tyler Chatwood has been a revelation as well. Combine them with a bullpen that as a unit has the best FIP- in baseball, and it's tough to see the pitching as the main problem.
There are several holes on the position player side of things. Second base has been a black hole. DJ LeMahieu has been awful, as he has just a 70 wRC+, and Josh Rutledge (46) has been even worse. Much was expected of Rutledge, and while it's maybe not yet be time to give up on him completely, he's now an unknown rather than a valuable commodity. Collectively, their wRC+ at second base ranks 28th out of 30 teams.
Third base has been just as awful. Rookie Nolan Arenado has been a very adept fielder, but his bat has been anemic. Of the 29 third basemen to notch at least 250 plate appearances this season, Arenado's 68 wRC+ ranks 27th -- only Jayson Nix and Jeff Keppinger have been worse. A big league contributor with the leather at age 22, Arenado is certainly a large part of Colorado's future, but if they are serious about wanting to win this season, they may need to find him a platoon partner. He has been an average hitter against lefties, but entering Sunday's action he was hitting a woeful .234/.273/.351 against righties.
Finally, there is first base. The Rockies have tried very hard to be deferential to Todd Helton, who has been front and center for the Rockies franchise for more than a decade. But it's past the time for him to take a back seat. Helton no longer plays every day, but he has started more than half the time, and while not awful in a vacuum, his production has not been commensurate with what a first baseman should be producing. Helton's 91 wRC+ ranks 34th of 39 at his position (min. 200 PA).
His backup, Jordan Pacheco, has been even worse. Gifted a role on this year's team after hitting an incredibly empty .309 last season, Pacheco has been hit hard by the regression stick. He is walking less, striking out more and with his batting average on balls in play at .266, he has been completely worthless. Only 14 players have a worse WAR than Pacheco's -0.8 mark, and two of them are actually Rockies (Rutledge and Tyler Colvin). Moving Helton into the Jason Giambi "pinch-hitter extraordinaire" role and getting anyone who can play first and out-hit him shouldn't be too tall of a task.
Though the Rockies are below .500, they sit just 3 1/2 games out of first place in the National League West. If they want to be taken seriously as playoff contenders, they must improve their stagnant lineup.
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Interest in Ollie
July, 22, 2013
Jul 2211:04AM ETRecommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintRelievers always are in high demand this time of year, so the Seattle Mariners could get some value in any deal for Oliver Perez.
The 31-year-old Perez has resurrected his career as a reliever in Seattle, posting a 1.98 ERA and a 12.4 strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio in 39 appearances for the Mariners this season. The Braves are a team that could use Perez, given their need for a lefty reliever with Eric O'Flaherty sidelined, says Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
GM Jack Zduriencik recently told Jon Heyman that he was not shopping anyone, but that can easily change the closer we get to July 31.
The Orioles also have been linked to Perez and the San Francisco Giants might now have an interest following a groin injury to Jeremy Affeldt. That assumes that the Giants decide on being buyers and not sellers as the deadline approaches.Tags:Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Oliver Perez
Soriano deal more likely in August?
July, 22, 2013
Jul 2210:32AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrint
Matt Garza is not the only big-ticket trading chip of the Chicago Cubs. Outfielder Alfonso Soriano remains on the radar of the New York Yankees, reports Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
A deal involving Soriano could easily happen after July 31 because his $25 million in outstanding salary obligation makes him a virtual lock to clear waivers. Soriano has full no-trade rights but has been open to going to a club in realistic playoff contention.
Soriano, who has enhanced his value with eight homers and a 1.007 OPS in July, also has been linked to the Rangers, notes Todd Wills of ESPNDallas.com.Tags:New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, Alfonso Soriano
Parting ways with Pena
July, 22, 2013
Jul 2210:07AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet1Comments0EmailPrint
The Houston Astros ended up with very little to show for their one-year, $2.9 million investment in Carlos Pena, who was designated for assignment Sunday to help clear roster space for highly touted shortstop Jonathan Villar.
Pena was hitting .209 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 85 games. Unless a team claims Pena off waivers this week, Houston will be responsible for about $1.2 million of that contract, says MLB.com’s Chris Abshire.
The stock on the 35-year-old Pena is way down, but he still could interest a contender such as the Pirates who are seeking some power off the bench.
Tags:Houston Astros, Carlos Pena
Olney: Bucs won't break bank on Rios
July, 22, 2013
Jul 229:39AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrint
There has been some talk that the Pittsburgh Pirates may be targeting Alex Rios of the White Sox, who found himself in the center of a controversy Friday when he was benched by manager Robin Ventura for failing to run out a ground ball that ended up as a double play.
Rios made amends a day later when he returned to the lineup and busted out a slump with a grand slam against the Braves.
The Pirates, currently 26th in the majors in runs scored, could use another bat, but the perceived lack of hustle could make them less likely to pull the trigger on a deal for Rios. ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney has another reason why Rios is not a good fit:
Bucs won’t break bank on Rios
" There have been reports that the Pirates are targeting Alex Rios, but it's hard to imagine that happening unless there is a significant buy-down -- as in, almost certainly unworkable -- of the $18 million or so he is owed for the rest of this year and next year. GM Neal Huntington won't lose sight of the big picture before the trade deadline."
Tags:Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, Alex Rios
Tigers look for bullpen help
July, 22, 2013
Jul 229:10AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet2Comments0EmailPrint
The Detroit Tigers have been looking for relief help since they decided in spring training that Bruce Rondon would not be the immediate answer at closer.
The Tigers, however, remain a first-place team, and their bullpen came out of the All-Star break by throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings in a weekend series in Kansas City, as Chris Lott of MLive.com points out. Joaquin Benoit capped the series by earning his ninth save in Sunday’s 4-1 win.
That doesn’t mean the Tigers aren’t looking. ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney tweeted Saturday there is “some hope” in the organization that Milwaukee’s Francisco Rodriguez could end up in the Motor City.
Meanwhile, Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com tweets that the Tigers have made “initial inquiries” on Padres relievers, which could mean Huston Street and/or Luke Gregerson. Street, under contract for 2014 at $7 million, would give the club an answer at closer beyond a three-month rental.Tags:Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers, San Diego Padres, Huston Street, Milwaukee Brewers, Luke Gregerson
Should the Nats deal?
July, 22, 2013
Jul 228:40AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrint
As Yogi would say, it is getting late early for the Washington Nationals, who were swept in a three-game home series by the Dodgers coming out of the All-Star break. The Nats are two games under .500 and seven games off the pace in both the NL East and wild card races.
Could the disappointing record prompt the Nats to seriously pursue a deal for Matt Garza or Ervin Santana? Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post cautions against making a move for a two-month rental, noting the price in prospects is too high for a team that has a statistically less than 20 percent chance of making the postseason.
“They still have enough ability on hand to redeem their season — if they can,” Boswell writes. “But they haven’t shown enough poise, maturity or offensive punch to trade long-term assets to help their postseason chances now.”
The Nats have scored two runs or less in seven of their last 10 games.Tags:Washington Nationals, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana
Saunders a fit in Baltimore?
July, 22, 2013
Jul 228:10AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrint
The trade market for starting pitching appears to be on hold as the Chicago Cubs decide what to do with Matt Garza. But once the righthander is dealt, other dominos will fall, and the list could include Joe Saunders of the Seattle Mariners.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports the Mariners aren’t looking to deal Saunders but will listen to offers. Cafardo connects the dots and says it would not be a surprise if the Baltimore Orioles try to re-acquire the lefthander who pitched well for them late last season.
Saunders was the winning pitcher in the wild card playoff win over the Rangers last October.Tags:Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Joe Saunders
Hafner on thin ice?
July, 22, 2013
Jul 227:54AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrint
Travis Hafner may be on thin ice as a member of the New York Yankees.
Hafner is hitting less than .180 over the last three months and doesn’t play the field, which could make him a roster casualty at some point, says Andrew Marchand of ESPNewYork.com. Another bad sign for Hafner came Sunday night in Boston when he was pinch-hit for by Brent Lillibridge.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote Sunday that Hafner’s roster spot could be in jeopardy since he essentially ties up the DH spot. That is a position that could occasionally used by Derek Jeter when he comes off the disabled list.Tags:New York Yankees, Travis Hafner
Dodgers eye K-Rod?
July, 22, 2013
Jul 227:34AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintIt was over the All-Star break two years ago that Francisco Rodriguez landed in Milwaukee following a trade with the New York Mets. Could the reliever be part of a July deal in 2013 as well?
The Dodgers have scouted the Brewers reliever the heaviest in recent days while the Tigers and Red Sox are among the other teams that have expressed interest, reports Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com. The last-place Brewers also could offer left-hander Mike Gonzalez and ex-closer John Axford to teams looking for bullpen help.
K-Rod has raised his value with a 1.09 ERA and nine saves in 25 appearances.
Tags:Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Francisco Rodriguez, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers
The Garza Watch
July, 22, 2013
Jul 227:10AM ETBy Doug Mittler | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet2Comments0EmailPrint
Amid speculation that he may soon he headed out of Chicago, Matt Garza will make his next start for the Cubs Monday night against the Diamondbacks.
That word comes from manager Dale Sveum: “I would say 100 percent he will be pitching (Monday),” the skipper told ESPNChicago.com before Sunday’s game against the Rockies.Garza will have had eight days of rest since he last pitched July 13 against the Cardinals, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.
There was some talk over the weekend that Garza may have been on his way to the Texas Rangers, but no potential deal is close enough to prevent the righthander from making Monday’s start, says Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun-Times. That would make his next start Saturday against the Giants as the calendar date to circle on the Garza Watch. San Francisco is one of the teams that have been linked to the righthander.
As for a possible deal with the Rangers, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune says the Cubs may be having second thoughts. There may be some questions about the health of third base prospect Mike Olt, who suffered a concussion in the Dominican Republic Winter League and is struggling at Triple-A Round Rock.Tags:Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Matt Garza
Red Sox need bullpen help
July, 22, 2013
Jul 226:40AM ETBy Jason Catania | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintThe Boston Red Sox bullpen just might be cursed.
While Koji Uehara has held down the ninth inning since taking over the closer job a few weeks ago, the Red Sox had to deal with a season-ending injury to Joel Hanrahan early in the first half, as well as fellow righty closer Andrew Bailey and lefty specialist Andrew Miller more recently.
The oft-injured Bailey is expected to miss the final few months of 2013 with a shoulder problem, while Miller is already done for the year with a foot injury.
That leaves the Boston bullpen shorthanded -- well, short-armed -- even after the acquisition of Matt Thornton from the Chicago White Sox. Only Uehara, Thornton, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow have any real big-league experience and/or success under their belts.
Among the relievers Boston could take a look at for late-inning roles and depth, include righties Francisco Rodriguez of the Milwaukee Brewers, Jared Burton of the Minnesota twins and Jesse Crain of the White Sox (currently on the DL), each of whom could help replace Bailey. And Oliver Perez of the Seattle Mariners, Michael Gonzalez of the Brewers and James Russell of the Chicago Cubs could all help cover the loss of Miller from the left side.
Boston has the best record in the AL entering play Sunday, but the beleaguered bullpen is becoming a cause for concern.Tags:Francisco Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox, Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan, Oliver Perez, James Russell, Koji Uehara, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Michael Gonzalez
If the Royals are buyers
July, 21, 2013
Jul 214:02PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet1Comments0EmailPrintThe Kansas City Royals mortgaged a large portion of their future to compete sooner than later when they shipped Wil Myers, Patrick Leonard and pitching prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays to land right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis. The club also traded for Ervin Santana, paying all but $1 million of the right-hander's $13 million salary for this season, making him the highest paid player on the roster.
The moves have paid off, to some extent, as the club is just four games under .500 and within shouting distance in both the American League Central -- six games back -- and the Wild Card chase -- eight games back. By comparison, the Royals were 10 games under .500 at the All-Star break a year ago. If GM Dayton Moore decides to add to his club, Kansas City could become legitimate playoff contenders.
The club isn't getting much offense from second base, third base and right field, so an upgrade at one or more of those positions would certainly be of assistance, and the starting rotation could use another boost, especially with Davis struggling so much.
Among the potentially-available bats that could interest Moore and the Royals include Phillies infielder Michael Young -- and Chase Utley, too, if Philly makes him available -- Minnesota's Trevor Plouffe, Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants, Cubs outfielders Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus and Michael Cuddyer, if the Rockies decide to move the veteran.
Among the pitchers Kansas City could make a play for could include the likes of Houston's Bud Norris, Cubs lefty Travis Wood and perhaps a rental such as Colorado's Jorge De La Rosa.
Of course, if Moore decides to go the other route and sell, Santana would be an interesting card to play and could be a good fit for, say, the San Francisco Giants, as ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski writes:
How Santana would help the Giants
"The Giants aren't quite out of it, and an additional starter is necessary for them to maximize their chances of playing meaningful games come September. Santana being actual trade bait is unusual, but he's had a legitimately solid season, and San Francisco could use him even if he's only a mid-rotation guy going forward. AT&T Park is a rough home for lefty sluggers with less power than Barry Bonds, and Santana's downfall is frequently the home run. He may be that rare player who doesn't mind that the Bay Area seems to be about 20 degrees at night during the summer."
Tags:Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs, Michael Cuddyer, Alfonso Soriano, Jorge De La Rosa, Kansas City Royals, Hunter Pence, David DeJesus, Chase Utley
Rotation trade market
July, 21, 2013
Jul 213:55PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet1Comments0EmailPrintWe've heard a handful of names mentioned in trade rumors, most notably right-handers right-hander Yovani Gallardo of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs. But that duo isn't alone. Jake Peavy, RHP -- Chicago White Sox
Peavy returned from the disabled list Saturday and needs to show he's healthy or his value may not be high enough to warrant the club moving him. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote a few weeks ago that the Sox are open for business. I discussed the club's potential trade bait here. Peavy, when healthy, is a frontline option, something the trade market lacks this summer.
Cliff Lee, LHP -- Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies have been hovering around .500 for much of the past few weeks, which means they're still on the buyer/seller fence. If GM Ruben Amaro fields calls, though, Lee would become the biggest chip out there, though his contract could complicate things and limit the interest. Lee is owed $25 million in each of the next two seasons, plus a $27.5 million salary for 2016 or a $12.5 million buyout. That is in addition to the roughly $8 million he'd be owed over the final two months of 2013, assuming he's not dealt until deadline day. To get the kind of return that might motivate them to make a deal, the Phillies may have to agree to include some cash. The Pirates could be a fit for such a package, as Dan Szymborski speculates for ESPN Insider.
Bud Norris, RHP -- Houston Astros
Norris has been more or less available since the winter months and could be the most likely Astros player to go this summer. He's fairly cheap, earning just $3 million this season with two more arbitration go-rounds to come and is not free-agent eligible until after the 2015 campaign. Norris is more a mid-rotation starter, but can eat innings and clubs such as the Angels, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Giants could have interest.
Others: Edinson Volquez, RHP -- San Diego Padres; Travis Wood, RHP -- Chicago Cubs.Tags:Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Houston Astros, Cliff Lee, Bud Norris, Travis Wood, Edinson Volquez, Jake Peavy
New bat for O's
July, 21, 2013
Jul 211:33PM ETBy Jason Catania | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet1Comments0EmailPrintThe Baltimore Orioles are giving a rookie a shot to help them in their quest for a second straight postseason appearance.
With outfielder/designated hitter Nolan Reimold expected to miss the rest of the 2013 season due to back surgery, the O's have called upon Cuban import Henry Urrutia to take on some of Reimold's duties.
While not a top prospect, largely because he's already 26 years old, Urrutia did participate in last week's Futures Game and was having a fine season split between Double- and Triple, hitting .365/.427/.531 with seven homers, 20 doubles and 43 RBI in 67 games.
Urrutia got the start at DH in his first big league game Saturday against right-hander Ross Wolf of the Texas Rangers, but he actually got an RBI single -- he went 1-for-4 in the game -- off of lefty reliever Joseph Ortiz. For now, the lefty-swinging Urrutia is likely to handle DH duties mostly against right-handers while Danny Valencia gets the gig against lefties.
The O's, though, face rookie lefty Martin Perez Sunday, and Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com wonders whether Urrutia will get another start after his success against Ortiz.
Urrutia could be a nice little add for a club that has struggled to fill the DH spot all season long. If he has some early success, it may mean Baltimore doesn't have to acquire a bat to help that problem spot.Tags:Baltimore Orioles, Danny Valencia, Nolan Reimold, Henry Urrutia
Corner infield trade market
July, 21, 2013
Jul 2112:35PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet3Comments0EmailPrintWhich first and third baseman could be gettable over the next week or so leading up to the July 31 trade deadline?
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, except Ramirez is expected to miss up to two more weeks with his injury, per Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com and may have to be traded in August, if he's moved 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 clubs seeking third base assistance.
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 -- seven home runs, and a slugging percentage just north of .400 -- but does have the ability to help a contender, and he's 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.