With so many teams in contention, the trading season has gotten started even earlier than normal this year. With four major deals already completed, some notes on what to look for next:
Could Indians make a run for Price?
Though the Indians currently sit 7.5 games behind the AL Central-leading Tigers, they could still make a run for a wild card spot, where they're just 3.5 games behind the Mariners. With Justin Masterson struggling to a 5.51 ERA before hitting the disabled list with knee problems, the Indians' starting rotation ranks 13th out of 15 AL teams, leading to speculation that Cleveland could make a run at Rays' ace left-hander David Price.
Sources indicate that Indians' scouts have been told recently to focus on Rays' prospects, which is an indication that the two sides could be working on getting a deal done. Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote back in January that the two sides had discussed a deal for Price, and that the Rays mentioned Indians catcher-third baseman Carlos Santana, righty starting pitcher Danny Salazar, and shortstop Francisco Lindor as players who they would want for Price at that time.
Lindor may be viewed as untouchable by Cleveland, but a deal centering around Salazar and Santana could net Price and a minor leaguer or two (which would make the Indians' scouting of Tampa's farm system make sense). With power and patience, Santana is a tremendous hitter, but he struggled badly to open the season (.159/.327/.301 in his first 50 games, but .277/.386/.521 in 33 games since returning from a concussion timeout) and has been blocked off at catcher by Yan Gomes and third base by a resurgent Lonnie Chisenhall. He's spent most of his time of late at first base.
Lindor, ranked among the top-10 prospects in baseball by Jonathan Mayo and Keith Law and among the top 15 by Baseball America prior to the season, will take over the shortstop job in Cleveland next season assuming Asdrubal Cabrera leaves via free agency. The 20-year old has hit .282 in 81 games with Double-A Akron and is viewed as one of the best defensive players in the minor leagues, leading the Indians to tell teams that he is a non-starter in trade talks. Then again, Addison Russell was reportedly untouchable -- right up until the minute we heard he was traded to the Cubs.
Giants' draft signings lagging behind rest of league
As the July 18 deadline to sign draft picks draws near, our Draft Tracker shows that about 20 players selected in the first 10 rounds of this year's draft remain unsigned. Curiously, five of those players are Giants' draft picks: Second-rounder Aramis Garcia, third-rounder Dylan Davis, fourth-rounder Logan Webb, eighth-rounder Austin Slater, and ninth-rounder Stetson Woods. Yes, teams like to announce a bunch of signings at once, but it's odd that word hasn't leaked out about agreements for half of San Francisco's top-10 picks.
One possible explanation is that the club had ocused all of their efforts on Beede, who just last week agreed to a $2.6132 million bonus with the club after leading Vanderbilt to a College World Series championship. He was not able to negotiate until after he was done playing, delaying the Giants' signing process from the start. Beede had a history of not signing (he turned down a $2.5 million offer from Toronto three years ago and went to Vanderbilt instead), so the Giants might have been making sure that he would turn pro before committing any of their draft resources to other picks.
In any case, the Giants' lack of signings has draftees and agents around the league asking almost daily why they're taking so long. They had better get moving with less than a week to go before the deadline or risk a lost year of player development. If the Giants fail to sign their picks, they will lose the slot money of those picks, shrinking their draft pool and making it almost impossible to sign players to over-slot deals. Teams are always extremely conscious of signability in the first ten rounds of the draft, so the Giants potentially only signing six of their top ten-rounders would reveal a significant weakness in terms of the team's pre-draft scouting.
Aggressive AL West means Mariners should make moves soon
Having left his work undone last winter after signing Robinson Cano, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is looking to round out his rotation and right-handed hitting attack, particularly now that his top division rivals have pushed up the trading season.
On July 4th, the best fireworks were found out west. The Athletics acquired pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs in exchange for top prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, as well as pitcher Dan Straily and a player to be named later, while the Angels filled a glaring hole by receiving lefty reliever Joe Thatcher from the Diamondbacks for two minor leaguers. Seattle trails the division-leading A's by eight games as of this writing and thereby are in need of holding onto the wild-card spot that they currently retain by only 2.5 games over the Royals and Blue Jays. Because their division rivals jumped the gun on the trade deadline, they may be forced into moving faster to upgrade either a soft offense (93 OPS+) or a starting rotation that could use some strengthening on the back end. Though promising rookie James Paxton, on the disabled list with a back injury and left-triceps inflammation since April is moving towards a rehab assignment, and top prospect Taijuan Walker just returned to the majors after a long break to heal right-shoulder bursitis (only to be demoted again so he could pitch through the break), a veteran arm to stabilize the rotation could prove valuable.
The Mariners seem an unlikely candidate to land Price given his stated reluctance (as expressed by his agent) to sign an extension with the team, but sources say that the M's are still on the lookout for starting pitching. Seattle currently ranks last in the American League with a .643 OPS against lefties, and are aggressively searching for right-handed bats to help solve the problem. They have their eyes on Dayan Viciedo but sources indicated last week that they have not had "significant talks" with the White Sox on anything lately, and also are considering Marlon Byrd, who can block a trade to Seattle. For the Mariners to be competitive in the West, they may have to get creative considering the lack of impact right-handed bats on the trade market.
Viciedo is a career .310/.353/.529 against left-handed pitching, but is hitting only .266/.337/.443 against them this year, albeit in a small, 89 plate-appearance sample. The average major league right-handed hitter is averaging .262/.327/.414 against left-handed pitching and some of them might not be the defensive nightmare that Viciedo is.
Yankees add lefty from A's, but is it the wrong one?
The Yankees, looking for arms in wake of the news that Masahiro Tanaka has a partially-torn UCL, acquired Jeff Francis from Oakland on Friday in what seems like a no-risk depth move. Francis, who was made available by the A's after being designated for assignment, has experience pitching for a contender down the stretch and can eat innings as a starter or reliever.
But he wasn't the only A's lefty that the Yankees could have grabbed from Oakland, and he may have been the wrong choice.
Southpaw Brad Mills, who was acquired from the Brewers in mid-June, pitched well in his three major league starts for Oakland against the Red Sox, Mets and Tigers. Mills allowed three or less earned runs in all three of his appearances and struck out 14 in 16.1 innings, at least suggesting that he is a capable major league pitcher, before being displaced by the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel blockbuster.
Conversely, Francis has been ineffective all season, posting a 5.89 ERA in one start and nine relief appearances for the Reds and A's. He has not had an ERA under 4.80 for a full season since 2007, and has never once completed a full season with an ERA under 4.15. Some of that is attributable to a career spent mostly in the inhospitable environment that is Denver, but much more reflects just how damaging labrum surgery can be -- before his 2009 operation, Francis had been a league-average pitcher when Coors Field was accounted for. Since returning in 2010 he's gone 19-36 with a 5.28 ERA.
The price for Mills may have been more than the low-level player to be named later that the Yankees gave up for Francis, but the upside may have been worth it: the 29-year old Mills, who pitched to a 1.56 ERA in 75 innings with the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate before being traded to Oakland.
Angels thankful Smith accepted offer before Mujica
Reliever Joe Smith has been excellent for the Angels this year, posting a 2.38 ERA and notching 14 saves in his first 41.2 innings. His 5.00 strikeout-walk and 9.7 strikeouts-per-nine ratios have also been impressive as he anchors an Angels' bullpen that currently ranks sixth in the majors with a 3.91 ERA.
But the Angels almost signed Edward Mujica instead of Smith last winter, according to major league sources. Word is that the team offered the same three-year, $15.75M contract to both players, and said whomever accepted first would get the deal. Smith called to accept the team's offer before Mujica could, meaning that Mujica had to continue to test the open market and eventually sign a two-year, $9.5M deal with the Red Sox.
The Angels are thankful that Smith called back, because Mujica has struggled all year. The 30-year old has posted a 5.45 ERA in 35 games with Boston so far this season.
Astros send two blocked relievers to hometown teams
Back in late May, a fascinating article by Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle discussed the Astros' unconventional team-building methods and how they caused the team to be a bit of an outcast among the other major league clubs. One anonymous current Astros' player went as far as saying that the Astros, "Take out the human element of baseball" by using their heavily-analytic systems to assess player value.
In what may just be a coincidence but seems like something more, Houston made two minor trades over the last few weeks that involved strong-performing minor league relievers who were blocked at the major league level. Righty Andrew Robinson (2.40 ERA in 26 games at Double-A and Triple-A) and left-hander Alex Sogard (2.91 ERA in 25 games at Double-A) were not regarded as prospects who have great chances at helping the major league club in the near future, and instead were viewed as good organizational relievers. Instead of keeping both arms stashed at their lowel levels, the Astros did what comes across as a very nice gesture -- shipping both to their hometown organizations.
Robinson, who was born less than an hour from Atlanta and went to college at Georgia Tech, was dealt to the Braves for cash considerations. Sogard, who grew up in Phoenix and was originally drafted by the Diamondbacks, was sent to Arizona in exchange for a low-level minor leaguer.
That doesn't seem like an organization that has no regard for the human element of the game.