James Shields

Rumors: Lester, Bogaerts, Hamels

Lester

Big Papi would love to welcome home Jon Lester.

 

Arguably, only the 1977 album “Rumors”, Fleetwood Mac’s greatest (in sales) album, was more entertaining and talked about than baseball’s hot stove. Believing the validity of MLB rumors is only slightly more dicey than the relationships in one of rock and roll’s longest lasting quintets.

The Boston Red Sox had a big day on Monday, signing infielders Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. One would assume that meant shortstop Xander Bogaerts would be used as part of a package to obtain a front line starter. But two team sources told the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham that Bogaerts is still considered the team’s starting shortstop. That would mean a position switch for Ramirez. Do you buy that?

With Dustin Pedroia entrenched at second base, it would mean Ramirez would move to the outfield. Yoenis Cespedes is in left field with Rusney Castillo in center.  Boston has right fielder Shane Victorino under contract for one more season (at $13MM). With David Ortiz at DH, something has to give.

Despite adding an average of $41MM over the next four years (Only Sandoval has a guaranteed 5th year), Abraham reported that the Red Sox are also said to still be in play on their former ace Jon Lester.  With the Sox going nowhere this past season, the team dealt Lester to the Oakland A’s  for the slugging Cespedes.

Lester made $13MM last season and is likely to land at least a five year deal that tops $20MM per season. Do you buy that Boston can still afford that?

It’s possible Lester will give the Sox, for whom he played with for parts of nine seasons, a hometown discount. But this is a chance for Lester, who turns 30 in January, to land the biggest deal of his career and one of the largest in baseball. (The Yankees truly are crazy if they are not in on trying to signing him.) Boston, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, has also had serious talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for lefty Cole Hamels. (The Dodgers are reportedly also in on the fray.)

Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. – how does this man keep his job? – is trying to unload salary. He failed to move anyone making substantial money at last season’s deadline – Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee (who injured his elbow during the post-deadline waiver period) – and needs to now. Hamels is owed $90MM over the next four years and has a possible 5th year (2019) at $24MM (vesting) or $20MM (team option).

Despite the claim by team sources, Bogaerts would most certainly have to be part of any package sent to Philadelphia along with one of Boston’s top catching prospects, Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez. It would all depend on how much money is picked up by Boston.

The feeling here is that if the Red Sox can’t land Hamels or bring back Lester at a discount, they’ll try to sign a cheaper option like James Shields.

There is action going on elsewhere in the AL East. Toronto, who already overpaid catcher Russell Martin, is said to be pursuing the Cincinnati Reds versatile outfielder, Jay Bruce.

Blue Jays are, however, working to add a left-handed bat to their lineup. One name they are talking about: Jay Bruce.

The left-handed hitting Bruce would be a great addition to any team. The Reds would have to be blown away by any offer though, since the 27-year old outfielder is under contract for the next two seasons at an average of $12.25MM and has a team option for a third year at a minuscule $13MM.

The outfielder is coming off a miserable year in which he hit just .217 and had a sub-.700 OPS. But in the three years prior to that, Bruce topped 30 home runs and averaged 101 RBI.

UPDATE – ComcastSportsNet’s (CSNChicago.com) Dave Kaplan is reporting that the Chicago Cubs have made a “significant offer” of six years and a salary figure “north of $135MM” to free agent pitcher Jon Lester.

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Ishikawa’s Blast Solidified Bochy’s Hall Of Fame Entry

Champagne showers or not, Bruce Brochy belongs in Cooperstown.

Champagne showers or not, Bruce Brochy belongs in Cooperstown.

by Drew Sarver

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy can easily identify with Travis Ishikawa, his sparingly used first baseman. Bochy appeared in just 358 games during a nine-season Major League career. Ishikawa has played in 444 games in his seven-year Major League career. Bochy hit 26 career home runs, while Ishikawa has hit 22 career home runs during the regular season.

But last Thursday night Ishikawa sealed Bochy’s entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager. Ishikawa, who played one game with the Yankees last year, struck out twice and was booed off the field, smashed a walkoff three-run home run to give the Giants a 5-2 NL pennant winner over the St. Louis Cardinals. The blast off of St. Louis Cardinals reliever Michael Wacha sent the Giants to their third World Series in the last five years.

The Bochy-led Giants won the championship in 2010 (vs. Texas) and 2012 (vs. Detroit) and will now face the Kansas City Royals, who have become America’s darlings. This is the first time a Bochy squad has made it to the finals as a wild card entrant. Madison Bumgarner pitched a complete game in the Giants 8-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the one game NL wild card showdown.

As a player, Bochy was best known for the size of his head. Whenever the Houston Astros, New York Mets, or Padres were on television and Bochy was in the lineup at catcher, the conversation would invariably lead to the larger than normal sized pate atop Bochy’s neck and the custom made batting and catching helmets and cap he needed. Apparently the, reportedly, 8 1/8-size baseball cap holds a lot of brains beneath it. You don’t get to the World Series three times in five seasons merely on talent alone. There’s been plenty of teams with talent that never get to the World Series.

The career .239 hitter was hired to skipper the Padres in 1995, eight years after he had retired as a player. Bochy took over a team that had finished a combined 63 games under .500 with manager Jim Riggleman in 1993-1994 and led them to a 70-74 in his first season, which was shortened by the strike that overlapped from the prior year. A year later, the Padres won 91 and the NL West, and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since the team won the NL pennant in 1984.

They were swept in three games by the Cardinals, losing a one-run game and a pair of two-run games. After a subpar 1997 season, the Pads won 98 games, beat the Astros in the NLDS (4-1), and the Braves in the NLCS (4-2) to capture the second NL pennant in club history. The Padres had the unfortunate task of then going up against the New York Yankees, who had won 114 regular season games. After  blowing a 5-2 lead in Game 1, the Padres were swept by the Yankees in four games.

San Diego didn’t make it back to the playoffs until 2005, where they were swept in the NLDS and lost three of four in the following year’s NLDS as well. After the 2006 season and 12 years at the helm in San Diego, and with one year remaining on his contract, the then-51-year old Bochy decided it was time to move on. The Padres granted permission to the Giants to talk to Bochy about their managerial opening and he agreed to a three-year deal to move to northern California.

The Giants had lost the 2002 World Series to the Angels in seven games, but made the playoffs just once more in the next four seasons under manager Felipe Alou. Bochy kept Alou’s pitching coach Dave Righetti, bullpen coach Mark Gardner, hitting coach Joe Lefebvre, and bench coach Ron Wotus. All four remain in their position today (Lefebvre moved to the front office as a senior advisor and serves as an assistant hitting coach to Hensley Muelens) as does Tim Flannery, who joined Bochy as third base coach in 2007 after having served in the same position for part of Bochy’s time with the Padres.

After 71- and 72-win campaigns, the Giants won 88 games in 2009 and were World Series Champions a year later. Two years later they captured 94 victories and their second title under Bochy. Though he has won only one Manger of the Year Award, he certainly has been deserving of more (perhaps this year he’ll add a second).

Bochy has compiled a 1618-1604 regular season record (18th all time in wins) in 20 Major League seasons, 2 World Series titles so far and four pennants. 12 of the 17 managers that have won more games than Bochy have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Of the five not in the Hall, only Ralph Houk matches Bochy’s two World Series titles. None of the five can match the four pennants that Bochy-led teams have won.

Other than the ’98 Padres, which featured Greg Vaughn, Kevin Brown, Tony Gwynn, and Trevor Hoffman, Bochy’s teams in San Diego were not talent laden. Ownership was more into keeping a low payroll than obtaining/keeping talent. The 2000 San Diego roster was drastically different than the 1998 squad despite just two years between.

Bochy has had more to work with in San Francisco, especially when it comes to the Giants’ pitching staff. He also has an ownership that will spend a little extra money here and there, and a front office, led by GM Brian Sabean, that has done a good job of development of home grown talent.

Whether Bochy wins or loses this year’s “Fall Classic”, he should have already earned his place in Cooperstown.

Perhaps on a larger plaque.

 

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

Big Names, Big Games in AL Wild Card Contest

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

by Drew Sarver

It has been 29 years since the Kansas City Royals reached the postseason. 1985 saw the Royals win their one and only World Series Championship. (With a  little help from umpire Don Denkinger.) Tuesday night, the Royals will host the Oakland A’s in a one game showdown between the two AL Wild Card winners. To the victor go the spoils and a divisional round match up with the Los Angeles Angels. You know where the losers go.

The A’s have been to the playoffs 11 times during the Royals drought, but haven’t been to the World Series since 1990. Their last World Series title, the ninth in franchise history (The first five were won when they called Philadelphia home), came in the “Earthquake series” with the San Francisco Giants.

The Royals were an expansion team in 1969, two years after the A’s departed Kansas City after a 13-season run. The only prior postseason meeting between the two squads came after the strike-shortened 1981 regular season. The Billy Martin-managed A’s swept KC in three straight games before they were swept in three games by the New York Yankees in the ALCS. It was a disappointing end of the season for Kansas City, which lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies one year earlier.

Tuesday night, the teams will have one chance to move on to the divisional series. That is the punishment in Major League Baseball for not winning your division.

The Royals are counting on their ace, James “Big Game” Shields, who earned that moniker while a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, to take them to the next step. The Rays’ usual money crunching resulted in a trade that sent Shields and reliever Wade Davis to KC for then prospects Wil Myers (now a regular in the Rays’ lineup), pitchers Jake Odorizzi (now a regular in the Rays’ rotation) and Mike Montgomery.

Shields, a free agent after the season, has been incredibly consistent in his two seasons in the state of Missouri. He followed up a 13-9, 3.15 campaign in 2013 with a 14-8, 3.21 mark this season.  The 32-year old has topped 200 innings in eight straight seasons, and pitched just 1.2 innings less this year than he did in 2013. He’s made at least 33 starts in each of the last seven seasons, a testament to his durability.

A 16th round pick in the 2000 MLB amateur draft, Shields has had his ups and downs in six post-season appearances. He put his team in a 3-1 hole in the 3rd inning of Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS, but the Rays rallied for a 6-4 victory. Shields picked up the victory and settled down, before departing in the 7th inning. Though he lost both of his starts in the ALCS, which Tampa Bay won in seven games, Shields lost the opener to Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, 2-0. He didn’t fare as well in a 4-2 loss in Game 6.

Down one game to none in the World Series, Shields tossed 5.2 shutout innings to help Tampa even the series with the Philadelphia Phillies at a game apiece. Shields didn’t get another chance to pitch, however, as the Phillies closed things out in five games.

Shields will need to be at his best for the one-game playoff, because his counterpart is one tough customer. Jon Lester has a pair of World Series rings, but his victory over cancer is arguably his biggest win. After treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Lester returned to the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and threw 5-plus shutout innings in Game 4 of the Red Sox World Series sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Like Shields, Lester has been a model of consistency in his career. He’s topped 200 innings in six of the last seven seasons and may be having his finest season to date. Lester put up career bests in innings pitched (219.2), ERA (2.46) and walks per nine innings (2.0). He averaged better than nine strikeouts per nine innings, allowed 0.7 home runs per nine innings, and was named to his third All-Star team. For someone that played for over eight years in a baseball hot bed such as Boston, it’s hard to believe how little Lester is talked about when the names of the best pitchers in baseball come up.

Jon Lester is ddefinitelyone of them and that will be reflected this coming offseason when the free agent to be hits the open market. Lester had a tough decision as the trade deadline approached this past Summer. Stay in Boston, destined for last place, or go somewhere with a chance to make the postseason and possibly return to New England over the Winter. Lester chose the latter and produced a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts, of which he won six. Through no fault of his own, Oakland plummeted out of first place (14-23 in their final 37 games) in the AL West and ended up 10 games behind the Angels.

Instead of preparing themselves to play the winner of the Wild Card play-in, and trotting out Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, and Sonny Gray, the A’s will lean heavily on their left-handed ace to give their starting rotation the chance to flex their pitching muscle. They have a good chance to move on with Lester, who enters the game with a 2.11 ERA in 13 playoff appearances, 11 of them starts.

Two big names for one very big game.

Who hits Shields:

Josh Reddick .318/.318/.864  3 HR 5 RBI in 22 plate appearances (PA)
Nick Punto 4-14 (.286) with 4 walks in 18 PA

Who doesn’t hit Shields:

Adam Dunn 7-35 (.200) 1 HR in 40 PA
Coco Crisp 3-24 (.125) in 25 PA
Jed Lowrie 3-16 (.188) in 16 PA

Who hits Lester:

Alcides Escobar .353/.429/.471 in 21 PA
Lorenzo Cain .313/.353/.500 in 17 PA
Eric Hosmer .308/.471/.538 1 HR in 17 PA
Raul Ibanez .333/.333/.667 1 HR in 15 PA

Who doesn’t hit Lester:

Billy Butler 4-28 (.143) in 33 PA
Alex Gordon 4-25 (.160) in 28 PA
Josh Willingham 3-20 (.150) in 26 PA
Omar Infante 3-20 (.150) in 22 PA

 

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

Lester Scratched as MLB Deadline Nears

Will Lester get the ball back in Boston?

Will Lester get the ball back in Boston?

by Drew Sarver

We’re less than two days away from the Major League Baseball trade deadline and the number of rumors is starting to add up. The biggest name among them is Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester. The veteran left-hander has been scratched from his Wednesday start, which means Boston will be making a heavy push to trade him for a boatload of prospects and/or Major Leaguers prior to Thursday’s 4 pm EDT deadline.

With the team and Lester unable to agree on a new contract to keep the left-hander in Boston beyond this year – he becomes a free agent after this season – a trade is now very likely.

Lester’s a grade ‘A’ player; a top performer, team leader, and whose departure would leave a major vacancy in the Red Sox rotation. The 30-year old, who beat anaplastic large cell lymphoma eight years ago, holds a 110-63 (.636) record as of this writing and is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. His K’s per nine innings (9.4) is the highest in four years and he has career bests in ERA (2.52) and WHIP (1.119).

He’s also been solid in the post-season. Last year he helped lead the Red Sox to their third World Series title in 10 years. He won four games, including two in the World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. It will be difficult to cut the cord, but if the Red Sox truly feel they cannot resign him, they might as well try to deal him. Needless to say, they’ve getting calls from many teams. That includes the Pittsburgh Pirates, who last night emerged as a “dark horse favorite”.

Lester could be part of a Boston fire sale now that the Red Sox have dropped 12 games out in the AL East and 9.5 games out of the second wild card position. The team, which dealt starter Jake Peavy to San Francisco on July 26, has been fielding calls on John Lackey, Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, and Jonny Gomes.

The Red Sox are also rumored to be interested in Matt Kemp, which makes no sense whatsoever. The injury-plagued LA Dodgers outfielder is owed $107MM over the next five seasons. The Red Sox would be better off spending money on starting pitcher. They don’t have to look that far back to see how injured and/or overpaid players (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez) failed in Boston.

The next best pitcher available is Cole Hamels. After not being able to pull off a Cliff Lee deal so far, the Phillies have reportedly either been shopping Hamels or steadfastly refusing to trade him. Even if Hamels is dealt, the Phillies would like to deal Lee and the minimum $37.5MM he stands to make the next two years. He’s also owed the remainder of $25MM this season. Lee will not command the return of players he once was able to unless Philly eats the majority of the salary.

Hamels stands to make $90MM through 2018, with a possibility of making an addition $20MM-$24MM in 2019. Like Lester, Hamels is 30-years old and is having a very good season. Tuesday night he tossed eight shutout innings in a win against the New York Mets. It lowered his career-best ERA to 2.55 and a very good ratio to 1.128 His 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings is his highest total since 2006. The Phillies certainly won’t give him away and are probably going to hold on to him.

Like the Red Sox, the Phillies could move several players. Outfielder Marlon Byrd is in high demand and inquiries have been made about A.J. Burnett. The Phillies would love to rid themselves of Ryan Howard’s remaining $60MM over the next three years (the last year is an option with a $10MM buyout.), but that’s not likely to happen.

Other pitchers that could move today are the Mets’ Bartolo Colon, who has one year and $11MM remaining on his contract. The Minnesota Twins would part with Kevin Correia, though there isn’t much demand for a pitcher who leads the AL in losses and whose ERA is over 5. The Twins have also been fielding calls for catcher Kurt Suzuki and outfielder Josh Willingham.

The Kansas City Royals will likely lose James Shields to free agency after the season, but with the team five games behind Detroit in the AL Central and 3.5 games behind Toronto for the second wild card, how could they not keep him?

The Cleveland Indians face a similar dilemma. They’re 6.5 behind Detroit and sit five games in back of Toronto. Do they think they can make a run and become buyers or do they go ahead and become sellers? The Indians are a team that might try to do a little of both. Rumor has it they are trying to move starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who is having a disastrous season. Another player having a bad year is Nick Swisher (.615 OPS as of this writing), though the two years and $30MM will make it harder to move him. Add on his failure in several post-seasons, and Swisher won’t bring much return at this point. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera could be in a new home by Friday, as he enters free agency after this season.

The Padres are reportedly shopping reliever Joaquin Benoit, who can either set up or close. Other players that could move on are pitcher John Danks, outfielder Dayan Viciedo, and 1B/DH Adam Dunn of the White Sox, pitcher Colby Lewis and outfielder Alex Rios of the Rangers, Cubs’ Pitcher Edwin Jackson, Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, and Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra.

Stay tuned!

Done Deals

Cleveland sent Justin Masterson to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfield prospect James Ramsey. Masterson has been having an off-year in a contract year, but the Cards are hoping he can be the second coming of Jake Westbrook. The Cardinals depth in the outfield allowed them to deal Ramsey, the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 draft.

The Red Sox have traded a left-handed pitcher, but it’s not Jon Lester..yet. They’ve sent Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later.  A Cubs official told Peter Gammons that Doubront was getting “One more change to grow up.”

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

KC’s 2014 Goal: Baseball Royalty

yventura

Fireballer Yordano Ventura is ready to take on the AL

by Alli Baker

Key Acquisitions: Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante, Danny Valencia, Jason Vargas

Key Losses: Will Smith, Chris Getz, Ervin Santana, David Lough

For the past few decades, the Kansas City Royals haven’t exactly been regarded as the team to beat. They’ve tended to stay toward the bottom of the pack during the regular season and then remain quiet in the ensuing offseason. 2013, however, was a completely different year for the Royals, as the team had a legitimate chance to make the playoffs in the final month of the season. Although the postseason didn’t happen for the Royals, an 86-76 mark was their best record since 1989 and was good enough for a third place finish in the AL Central.

This past season put some faith back into the organization and gave Royals fans something to hope for. With young stars Eric Hosmer (.801 OPS-17  HR-76 RBI-Gold Glove)), Mike Moustakas (12 HR), Salvador Perez (.757 OPS-13 HR 79-RBI-Gold Glove), Alex Gordon (.749 OPS-20 HR-81 RBI-3rd straight Gold Glove) and veteran Billy Butler (.757 OPS-15 HR-82 RBI), the Royals have an offense and defense to build around. They’re also looking for a breakout year from center fielder Lorenzo Cain.

The organization made moves this offseason to keep that faith alive among the fans and the team’s progress moving forward. Two of the biggest problems faced by GM Dayton Moore were right field and second base. Both Chris Getz and David Lough left the club, leaving these spots vacant. The Royals did exactly what was needed, signing free agent second baseman Omar Infante and acquiring Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for pitcher Will Smith to take over the spot in right field.

Infante, considered to be one of the best second basemen in the league, should be able to help the Royals both defensively and offensively during the upcoming season.

With the departure of free agent starter Ervin Santana and ace James Shields entering the final season of his contract, the Royals were also faced with a pitching problem. They filled the void left by Santana when they signed veteran Jason Vargas, though he isn’t going to give the Royals the same type of performance that Santana did.2 Luckily for the Royals, not all players have to come from trades in the big leagues. The Royals minor league system is deep in starting pitchers, most notably Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura.

Zimmer, who is known for his strong fastball, pitched for the Royal last season, but had his season shortened by bicep tendinitis. However, the injury shouldn’t impact Zimmer’s chances of making it to the majors this season. The Royals still have high hopes for the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft. The right-hander is expected to join the team around mid-season and is being counted on to become a permanent part of the rotation.3

The 22-year-old Ventura is currently competing for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation, joining Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Vargas, and Bruce Chen. The native of the Dominican Republic, who made his major league debut last season with the Royals, is “ready for the major leagues,” according to  Moore. Throwing upwards of 100 mph, Ventura is likely to find a place in the bullpen if he doesn’t win the fifth spot in the rotation.

Zimmer and Ventura are at the top of the Royals promising future and both were ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects List.1  Moore hopes they’ll be joined by talented prospects, including Raul Mondesi and Jorge Bonifacio, give the Kansas City Royals hope that their future is looking favorable.

After their best season in over 20 years, the Royals know that the team has a chance to do something amazing. With their offseason acquisitions and development of prospects, it appears the Royals now have the tools to make 2014 a defining season.

1 – Baseball America.com 

2 – si.com

3 – sbnation.com

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23