Unwilling to rest on baseball’s best record, the A’s struck first in the trade market Friday, sending former first-round picks Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, plus right-hander Dan Straily, to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
The traded created one of the rare situations in which a starting pitcher could move from the NL to the AL and gain fantasy value. The Cubs haven’t been as bad as expected this year (they probably will be now), but the A’s will give Samardzija better defensive support and more runs to work with, all while playing in a bigger ballpark. That should be enough to make up for the designated hitter and the superior competition in the AL, and Samardzija now looks like a top-20 overall SP for the rest of the year.
I’m a little more skeptical about Hammel, given his past troubles staying healthy. He’s been about as good as Samardzija this year, and I wouldn’t chalk it up as a fluke; he was also very impressive in 20 starts for the Orioles in 2012. However, he’s already up to 108 2/3 innings, leaving him about 70 shy of his career high, and the A’s will want to make sure he has something left in the tank in October. That could mean babying him some these next two months, perhaps to the point of coming up with a reason to stash him on the DL for a few weeks.
Unfortunately, with Samardzija and Hammel entering, one worthy starter (plus Brad Mills) had to go, and Tommy Milone was the choice. Milone, who had a 3.55 ERA, got the boot despite having gone 6-0 in his previous 11 starts. He’ll be back, though. Jesse Chavez was the other option, not so much based on performance but because of the likelihood that he’ll wear down as a starter. After all, his career high is a mere 140 innings and he’s at 103 right now. His ERA has been steadily climbing anyway, and if things go according to plan, he’ll be in the pen in the postseason. My guess is that he’s transitioned to middle relief at the end of July or in early August.
The Cubs will soon plug Straily into one of the spots vacated by Samardzija and Hammel, but they’re apparently going the same route they did after getting Jake Arrieta in a trade last year and leaving him in the minors for a couple of weeks to get his bearings or some such. Straily is a difficult case at the moment. His velocity was well down early on this season, and he got yanked from the A’s rotation after going 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA in seven starts. His 4.71 ERA in Triple-A isn’t really any better, but he has fanned 67 in 63 innings in the minors and reports indicate that his fastball has regained some steam. He could be a nice piece for the Cubs, but I wouldn’t expect all that much in the second half.
While it was no surprise the Cubs wanted to take a chance on Straily, the trade was much more about Russell and, to a lesser extent, McKinney. They now have two of the four elite shortstop prospects in the minors in Russell and Javier Baez (Houston’s Carlos Correa and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor being the others). Since Russell is the superior defender of the two, Baez seems destined to move to another position, though where is anyone’s guess. It’s not a decision that has to be made this year, but the Cubs do need to figure out if either Starlin Castro or Baez is going to end up at third so that they can decide what they’re doing with Kris Bryant.
The obvious assumption, given the presence of three elite infield prospects and a fourth very good one in Arismendy Alcantara, is that Castro will be traded. Castro, though, is a perfectly legitimate building block himself. While it’s his fifth year in the majors, he’s still just 24, and he’s under control through 2019 with a club option for 2020. He’s had a bounce-back offensive season this year, showing more power than ever before, but even with the elimination of many of the mental mistakes that have plagued him, he’s still an average defender at best. If he stays in Chicago, he’d probably work best at third base for the long-term. But while he has the bat to be quite an asset there, I think it would make more sense to trade him for the right offer. So, we’ll see. Some will suggest acquiring Russell applied more pressure on the Cubs to trade Castro. However, I think it actually gives them more time to make a decision. After all, it’s Russell now, not Baez, who should be the shortstop of the future and Russell is further away from the majors than Baez. The pressure now is on to find Baez’s next position.
- In a masterful counterstroke, the Angels pulled off their own trade just a couple of hours after Oakland’s deal, pilfering lefty-specialist Joe Thatcher and pinch-running-specialist Tony Campana from the Diamondbacks. No fantasy ramifications there. I just wanted to write “pilfering.”
- The Yankees’ subsequent acquisition of Brandon McCarthy from Arizona was a bit more relevant. McCarthy, once one of the game’s most extreme flyball pitchers, is actually a big groundball pitcher these days and he’s throwing with more velocity than in his younger days. The odd thing is that he’s still giving up as many homers as ever anyway, which left him with a 5.01 ERA, but also a 3.79 FIP and a 2.89 xFIP, in 18 starts for the Diamondbacks. All of that suggests there’s some upside for the Yankees here. However, there’s also the downside: McCarthy has never made more than 25 starts in a season and he’s exceeded his current total of 18 just three times since reaching the majors in 2005. He has a long history of stress reactions and fractures in his shoulder, and it’d be unprecedented for him to make it through the second half of the year injury-free. He’s surely worth picking up in AL-only leagues now, but he remains a fringe guy in mixed leagues.
- The move to designate Alfonso Soriano for assignment seemingly had to be done, though I imagine the Yankees would have felt better about it if Ichiro Suzuki’s play hadn’t steadily dropped off since April. Zoilo Almonte might be a superior option in right field against right-handers. The switch-hitter was batting an unexceptional .272/.320/.467 in Triple-A, but he had an .889 OPS in 190 at-bats against righties, compared to a .500 OPS in 67 at-bats against lefties. Ichiro, though a left-handed hitter, has been far more productive against lefties than righties in his two years with the Yankees. Almonte is worth a try in AL-only leagues.
- I should give some credit to the Mariners for sending Justin Smoak down. I figured he’d be handed his job back, whether he deserved it or not. However, I think the club is better off giving Logan Morrison a long look at first. Now the question is how much longer they’ll remain patient with Dustin Ackley and his .231/.287/.346 line on the season. I think there’s a good chance we’ll see the Mariners pick up a left-field upgrade in coming weeks. Marlon Byrd might be one possibility. They could also take a flier on Soriano, if he’s willing to spend a couple of weeks in Triple-A before getting another shot.
- After Zach Putnam blew a save Saturday by giving up a run in the ninth, the White Sox let Jake Petricka convert a two-inning save Sunday against the Mariners. I’m not at all a Putnam fan, and I still think letting Javy Guerra close would have made the most sense for the White Sox. However, Petricka is a bigger talent than both guys, and while I prefer him in the multi-inning role, he has a pretty good chance of seizing the job over Putnam, perhaps immediately. Both are worth owning in mixed leagues right now, but Petricka is the better grab.
- Edwin Encarnacion (quad) joining Brett Lawrie (finger) and Maicer Izturis (knee) on the disabled list heightens the Blue Jays’ need for an infielder. They’ve talked to the Padres about Chase Headley, but it looks like they’re still hoping the price will come down. And it should, given that Headley has been lousy this year and was mediocre for much of last season. At this point, the Padres can’t even count on getting a draft pick back for him if he leaves as a free agent, since there’s a great chance he’d accept the approximately $15 million qualifying offer this winter. The Blue Jays should weigh a run at the Cubs’ Luis Valbuena instead. He’s the better player right now.
- With the Red Sox needing an extra starter after Saturday’s doubleheader, it looks like Rubby De La Rosa will be recalled to pitch Wednesday against the White Sox. There’s a good chance he’ll be sent back down again immediately afterwards, but if he impresses again, he should get Brandon Workman’s rotation spot after the All-Star break. He has a chance to be of use in mixed leagues down the stretch.
- Getting Vidal Nuno for a free agent-to-be in McCarthy was a nice move for the Diamondbacks. While he’s going to another hitter-friendly ballpark in Arizona, at least Chase Field won’t be so unkind to his home run tendencies. He’ll also appreciate not having to face designated hitters. Nuno doesn’t have enough on his fastball to be a top-of-the-rotation guy, but his slider and curve are both pretty good. At worst, he should remain a nice swingman, and I think it’s more likely that he lasts as a starter, though perhaps not one with much fantasy value. He should go right into Arizona’s rotation for now, but only NL-only leaguers hard up for pitching should try him.
- While Straily waits, Kyle Hendricks appears set to get a chance to secure a place in the Cubs’ rotation. The 24-year-old Dartmouth product is 10-5 with a3.58 ERA and a 93/23 K/BB ratio in 100 2/3 innings for Triple-A Iowa. His fastball is below average, which will serve to limit his upside, but since his changeup is very good, he might be able to hold his own against left-handers. He’d be a better pickup than Nuno in NL-only leagues.
- In the six days since Oscar Taveras has rejoined the Cardinals, he’s started five games, including two in center. Those starts in center have come even though he never played the position after being sent back to the minors last month and even though Jon Jay has been outhitting Allen Craig all season. Craig is the guy who should be sent to the bench if the Cardinals want to play Taveras, but he’s started four of the six games. I’m pretty sure Taveras will hit if the Cardinals stick with him, but I don’t think Mike Matheny will ever consistently bench Craig, which means juggling things to make room for Taveras every day. And I’m skeptical that will work out. Really, I don’t think they should have called Taveras up unless they were committed to making Craig a bench player (and as disappointing as Craig has been this year, I also don’t think he needs to be a bench player). I have no idea how the whole mess is going to shake out. I doubt the Cardinals will want to send Taveras down again, but it might happen anyway.
- Troy Tulowitzki isn’t exactly asking out of Colorado, though he’s sounding increasingly frustrated with the Rockies’ inability to build a contender. I’d say it’s highly unlikely that he’s traded in a midseason deal, not unless he makes it clear he wants out. But if something does come together, St. Louis is still the obvious destination for him. The Cardinals reportedly made an offer for him before signing Jhonny Peralta over the winter, and though they have Peralta locked up for four years, they do have the option of moving him to third and putting Matt Carpenter back at second if need be. The Cardinals’ original Tulo proposal was reportedly centered around Shelby Miller and Matt Adams. Now perhaps it could be done with Carlos Martinez, Craig and Kolten Wong instead. Again, it’s quite a long shot, but an interesting one to think about.
- The Marlins sure were quick to pull the trigger on Andrew Heaney’s demotion, though that’s their modus operandi. Of course, we will see other young starters sent down this week to free up a roster spot and allow them to make a start in the minors during the All-Star break. The Marlins, too, could just recall Heaney after the break, though I don’t think that’s the immediate plan. For the most part, I still liked what I saw of Heaney in the majors. There’s nothing that really needs fixing before he comes up next, though he does need to be more consistent keeping his slider down.
- Domonic Brown continues to be absolutely brutal for the Phillies, but there’s not really any incentive for the floundering team to move on. The reasons not to write him off are clear: Brown is still just 26, he finished fourth in the league in homers with 27 last year and he’ll make little as a first time arbitration-eligible player next season. So, while I imagine the team would be better right now with Grady Sizemore in left, there isn’t much motivation to make the switch. They might yet need Sizemore anyway if they trade Byrd this month.
- The Mets’ Wilmer Flores was almost exclusively a shortstop in the minors and the majors this year until being returned to Triple-A on June 25. He’s since started four games at third, three each at second and short and one at first base. He’s also been on a massive hot streak, hitting six homers in his last five games. I wonder if we’ll see him playing more second in the coming days in anticipation of a possible Daniel Murphy trade. Flores simply isn’t a legitimate shortstop and David Wright isn’t going anywhere, so second base is where it makes the most sense to put him.
- Coming next week: super-preliminary 2015 rankings.