MLB Trade Rumors

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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Trade Bait: B.J. Upton

bjupton

Another at-bat, another out for B.J. Upton

When discussing baseball players, the media, the fans, and the players themselves all go to the numbers. But the numbers for B.J. Upton are misleading. He’s not been as productive, and certainly not as consistent, as his career figures might indicate.

The Atlanta Braves, and more precisely ex-GM Frank Wren, did not use their heads when they signed Upton  (along with a good signing of B.J.’s younger brother Justin) to a five-year, $75.25MM after the 2012 season. Upton’s career splits in his eight seasons in Tampa Bay were average – .255/.336/.422 and despite averaging 25 HRs, 79 RBI, and 38 stolen bases his last two season with the Rays, there were warning signs.

The elder Upton’s home splits in 2011 were .209/.300/.374; a year later he posted an .814 oPS at home, but .687 on the road. He had also had a miserable first half in 2012 with a .679 OPS in 71 games. His second half surge (21 HR 49 RBI in 71 games) made his overall numbers look better and certainly influenced Atlanta’s decision to sign him.

Politics can play a big part in awards and rewards, but Upton never made an All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger Award or a Gold Glove. The Braves paid the then 28-year old as if he was that type of player. His two years in Atlanta couldn’t have been much more disastrous than they were. A Brendan Ryan-like .557 OPS in 2013 (including a .184 batting average), followed by a .620 OPS last season. He had 33 doubles and 21 home runs…in two seasons combined.

The Braves can’t get rid of Upton fast enough, but who is going to take him? The Braves will have to eat much of the $46MM-plus  still owed to him to have any chance of a deal. Even then, they are not going to get more than middling prospects and no Major League talent, unless it’s swapping one bad contract for another. Justin Upton becomes a free agent after the 2015 season. The Braves may have to deal the “good” Upton in order to keep the senior Upton.

Let the buyer beware.

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.

That’s Not a July T-Storm, It’s the MLB Trade Winds Blowing!

Clee.jpgIt must be July; Cliff Lee is on the trade block.

by Drew Sarver

Major League Baseball is a week past the All-Star break, which means the MLB trade deadline is less than two weeks away. There’s already been a major trade between the Oakland A’s (Addison Russell) and the Chicago Cubs (Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel) that will have an impact on the AL West race.  Teams have until July 31 to decide whether to be sellers, buyers, or to stand pat at the deadline. It gives them less than two weeks to figure out if they are really as bad as they might be playing or as good as they think they are. Should a team within striking distance of a playoff spot go hard after a big-name player or pull the trigger on smaller deals? Or should they stand pat?

There’s precedence for just about every situation at the break. On July 31, 1997, the Chicago White Sox sat four games in back of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central division. Despite their close proximity to first place in the standings, the White Sox went into “full sell” mode.  They dealt starting pitchers Wilson Alvarez and Danny Darwin, and closer Roberto Hernandez to the San Francisco Giants for a half-dozen prospects: Keith Foulke, Bobby Howry, Ken Vining, Mike Caruso, Brian Manning, and Lorenzo Barcelo.

All three players dealt by Chicago were free agents after the 1997 season, so GM Ron Schueler cut his losses. (Of the six players acquired by Chicago, only Foulke and Howry went on to have successful Major League careers . The Giants won the NL West, but were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual World Champion Florida Marlins. The following season, Alvarez and Hernandez went on to big money deals with Tampa Bay, while Darwin re-signed with San Francisco.)

It’s difficult to tell fact from fiction this time of year, which is why the words “rumor” and “reported” are thrown around like baseballs. More often than not, the player attached to the strongest rumors does not get dealt, or goes to the team that had no rumored association with the player. (Think Cliff Lee.)

So let’s take a look at some of the names being bandied about right now and those names that might be brought up once the deadline gets closer.

Jonny Gomes and Ben Zobrist: There are a lot of moves made at the deadline to shore up a position, or to get one or two more players that might put a team over the edge to make the playoffs and/or make a long run at the title. Gomes and Zobrist would fall into that category. Gomes had several big hits last year to help the Red Sox win their third World Series in the last 10 years. But, with Boston struggling this year, Gomes may be one of the guys to go. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the KC Royals have made Gomes a “potential trade target”. KC is in contention with a group of younger players and could use some experienced, ring-bearing veterans like Gomes.

Zobrist’s name has popped up in many rumors. Though the 33-year old’s bat hasn’t produced as much in the last two seasons, he’s just three years removed from back-to-back 20-home-run seasons. Zobrist, Gomes’ former teammate on the Rays, can also swipe a base when needed and defensively can play both middle infield positions, (second base is his best spot), and the outfield. With a $7.5MM team option for next season, Zobrist comes at a bargain price. That means better prospects will be demanded by the Rays in return.

Fishing for pitching is always a popular sport this time of year, and the biggest fish out there is a Ray. David Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner, won’t be a free agent until 2016, but the Rays may deal him before then to haul in a big catch. Price made $14MM this season and will surely top that in arbitration or a one-year deal next season. The 6’6″ left-hander entered Monday’s play leading the league in strikeouts and games started, and had pitched to a 3.06 ERA and a 1.041 WHIP.

Price has been especially hot of late, with six earned runs allowed in 48 innings (1.13 ERA). He’s pitched less than seven complete innings only once in his 13 starts and has thrown at least eight innings in nine of those starts. With the Rays playing better baseball of late – they’ve won five straight and 14 of 18 – Price may stick around Tampa until next season’s trade deadline.

With Samarzdiga, Hammel, and Brandon McCarthy already moved, San Diego’s Ian Kennedy has heard his name mentioned frequently. Recently, FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the Los Angeles Angels were very interested in Kennedy, but as of this writing, the teams have not been able to match up players for a deal.

Based on the way Kennedy pitched with the Yankees, you never would have thought he would be in demand. But scouts stood up and took notice when Kennedy finished 21-4, 2.88 with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011. He struggled the following two years and was dealt to San Diego at last year’s deadline. This season, Kennedy has turned things around and is back in demand. The USC product made $6.1MM in 2014 and is arbitration-eligible next year.

Scouts are showing up in droves for Philadelphia Phillies games, with the fightin’ Phils not having a whole lot of fight in them. Teams have made inquiries about starters Lee and Cole Hamels, and closer Jonathan Papelbon. The Phillies would reportedly prefer to hold on to the 30-year old  Hamels (They need someone to build around) and deal Lee. (Is it just my imagination, or does it seem like every year Lee is either looking for a free agent deal or he’s the subject of trade rumors?)

The soon-to-be 36-year old Lee is owed the remainder of $25MM this season, another $25MM next year, and at the very least,  $12.5MM in 2016. (The $12.5MM is a buyout; Lee can earn $27.5MM in 2016 if he throws at least 200 innings in 2015.) By comparison, Hamels is owed $90MM from 2015-2018. Just what was GM Ruben Amaro Jr. thinking with these deals and contracts like Ryan Howard’s (min. $60MM owed for the next three years)? Perhaps the Dodgers could swap Matt Kemp’s huge contract for Lee’s?

Papelbon is owed $13MM next year and can get another $13MM in 2016 if he finishes 55 games next season, or 100 games over the current year and 2015 combined. After a shaky 2013 season, Papelbon has bounced back strongly this year. He’s saved 23 of 25 games and struck out 33 batters, while he has allowed nine walks, and has a 1.17 ERA. Opposing batters have only managed to put together a .429 OPS this season. With teams always looking for bullpen help and with so many closers having off years, the Phils could get some very good return for Papelbon.

Well, there you have it for now.  Stay tuned later in the week for another report as the calendar creeps closer to August.

 

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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.