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A dizzying number of MLB rumors have filled the airwaves leading up to Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline. While most will fade into oblivion, those who dismiss every tidbit will end up bypassing some spoiler alerts.
An important disclaimer before beginning this “Fact or Fiction” game: A “Fiction” verdict does not dispute a report’s veracity. It instead doubts that the subject matter will manifest into anything real.
Teams are often doing their due diligence when inquiring about a certain player. Reporters are fulfilling their journalistic duties by informing the public. A story isn’t inaccurate just because the teams in question don’t reach an agreement or follow through beyond a curiosity call.
But come on, the San Diego Padres’ trading for Noah Syndergaard is as unlikely as the New York Mets’ avoiding any embarrassing headlines for a year.
Let’s parse the usual pre-deadline chatter from the sensible rumors.
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When a last-place team trades its closer, it usually typifies a rebuild. The Padres, however, have not confined themselves to sell-now discussions after sending Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to the Cleveland Indians.
On Thursday, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal said the Padres are making a “big push” for Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer. Later in the evening, colleague Dennis Lin also attached them to New York’s Syndergaard.
Either starter would obviously not propel the 42-63 club into the 2018 playoff picture. The Padres probably wouldn’t make much noise in 2019 either. A loaded farm system led by Fernando Tatis Jr., MacKenzie Gore and the recently acquired Francisco Mejia could start percolating in 2020.
They apparently want some experienced big leaguers around to lead the charge. This thinking led them to sign Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million contract. He has a worse weighted on-base average (.300 wOBA) than Lucas Duda, who inked a one-year, $3.5 million pact with the Kansas City Royals to replace their departed first baseman.
Spending big during a long-term rebuild comes with significant risk. Those worries are only magnified when considering a pitcher’s added volatility.
Archer, who will turn 30 in September, already has 1,057 career innings of mileage. They can keep him through 2021 by exercising club options, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be a front-line starter when they’re ready to contend.
Archer is yet to maintain an ERA below 4.00 since 2015, so he’s arguably not a top-tier starter now either.
Syndergaard, on the other hand, has never pitched 200 innings in a season. Only a Mets player would be unlucky enough to get hand, foot and mouth disease, but he also missed most of last year with a partial lat tear and seven weeks earlier this season with a finger injury. His hard-throwing ways create extra long-term sustainability concerns.
Too much can go wrong in the next two years to mortgage elite prospects for either pitcher. And if either hurler is truly available, San Diego will have to bid against pitching-needy contenders that hope to snag an impact arm for instant glory.
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San Diego is one of four last-place teams to already trade its closer this season. It’s standard procedure; a basement dweller also perceives a bullpen ace as a needless luxury, and the other three besides Hand (Kelvin Herrera, Jeurys Familia and Zach Britton) are headed to free agency anyway.
Now if the reigning World Series champs move their Opening Day closer, that would be a bit more unexpected.
Ken Giles, of course, is no longer working ninth innings for the Houston Astros. They demoted him to Triple-A after two ugly outings ballooned his ERA to 4.99. Per the Houston Chronicle‘s Chandler Rome, manager A.J. Hinch said there’s “still no timetable” on his major league return.
It might happen with another team. While the Astros said they are not marketing Giles, per Rosenthal, rival executives say the AL West leaders are open to the possibility. One team reportedly approached the Seattle Mariners about a three-team trade entailing the recently demoted righty.
A quick look at his FanGraphs page would lead one to call Giles the quintessential buy-low target. The 27-year-old, not eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season, carries a career 2.72 ERA and 32.6 strikeout percentage. A 2.26 fielding independent pitching (FIP), an ERA predictor based heavily on strikeouts, walks and neutralized batted-ball luck, makes him an obvious bounce-back candidate.
Then again, his 4.11 ERA also did not match his 2.86 FIP in 2016. A discrepancy is common among pitchers prone to blow-up outings like Giles, who allowed 12 of his 17 earned runs in four appearances against fellow AL playoff contenders.
Also, every MLB team is aware of his peripherals. Houston would be fools to sell for pennies, but there’s a strong chance someone sees his strikeout dominance and pays at least 75 cents on the dollar.
Giles would benefit from a fresh start, and the Astros should be able to attain a reliever and/or another hitter to fuel their repeat bid.
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Some rumors are more fun in theory than reality.
The Milwaukee Brewers are reportedly thinking outside the box to address their middle infield woes. According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, they have tinkered with the idea of acquiring Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and moving Travis Shaw to second base.
While it’s unclear how seriously they will pursue this plan, Shaw began taking grounders at the unfamiliar position earlier this month. The 28-year-old, who played first base earlier in his career with the Boston Red Sox, has never tried the spot in a big league game.
There would be a method to Milwaukee’s madness if Shaw’s relocation solved the club’s first base logjam. Unless the playoff contender really wants to go crazy and teach Eric Thames the hot corner, the Brewers should leave Shaw where he is.
Batting .249/.309/.468 with four home runs in each of the last three months after an eight-homer April, Moustakas no longer merits the headache. Especially not when other second basemen are available.
The Twins’ Brian Dozier and the Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera are both pending free agents on teams out of the playoff hunt. Minnesota’s Eduardo Escobar or Miami’s Derek Dietrich is more likely to play a passable second than Shaw. If the Brewers pay a steeper price, they could possibly land more than a rental in Miami’s Starlin Castro, Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield or Cincinnati’s Scooter Gennett.
They are also in the market for starting pitching, and one team can solve both problems.
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Morosi also said the Brewers are smitten with Kyle Gibson in addition to the Minnesota Twins’ infielders, presumably Dozier and Escobar. General manager David Stearns would hit this deadline out of the park by landing Gibson and one of those position players.
The Brewers have received minus-0.4 WAR from their second basemen, so even a toiling Dozier represents a significant upgrade. His career wOBA climbs from .326 to .346 from the first half of the season to the second half, so they can hold out rational hope that the 31-year-old regains his rhythm during the final months of his contract.
Escobar may conversely regress from a .357 wOBA 46 points above his career average, but a stadium upgrade will prolong some performance uptick. Last year’s production (.254/.309/.449, 1.7 WAR) would nevertheless boost their lineup considerably at second base or shortstop.
If the Brewers are comfortable with having him handle shortstop, they can even ask for both.
Unlike Dozier and Escobar, Gibson is under contract beyond 2018. Yet the righty, who turns 31 later this year, has registered a 3.42 ERA after back-to-back seasons with a 5.07 clip. Cashing out a year early would land the Twins a better haul.
Attaching him to Dozier and/or Escobar could potentially garner an elite prospect such as Corbin Burnes, who would replace Gibson in their 2019 rotation, if not immediately. Milwaukee’s nine losses in its last 12 games ought to trigger a noteworthy deadline deal.
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Eight games below .500 on July 7, the Pittsburgh Pirates are now 3.5 games away from a wild-card spot at 53-51. An 11-game winning streak snapped Wednesday has added another buyer to the hot stove.
Ranked 12th with a .318 wOBA and 18th in rotation ERA (4.25), they’re perfectly competent but unspectacular in most facets. While their 4.34 bullpen ERA dips to 21st on MLB’s leaderboard, they’re seventh in strikeout percentage and eighth in FIP.
A rolling late-inning unit of Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana, Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez might qualify as the closest thing they possess to a distinguishable strength. That makes their interest in a bullpen upgrade somewhat confusing.
The Pirates have “legitimate interest” in Texas Rangers closer Keone Kela, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Despite his injury past, a 25-year-old with a 3.28 ERA, 29.5 strikeout percentage and three more full seasons under team control won’t come cheap.
It’s tough to that imagine a fringe contender—especially one that cut costs by moving Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole during the offseason—will sacrifice significant prospects for bullpen help. The Pirates are more likely to hedge their bets with a cheap rental such as fellow Rangers reliever Jake Diekman.
Their infield also needs a power spark if they’re serious about maintaining a late playoff push.
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Certainly not contenders, the Detroit Tigers are poorly aligned to sell this summer. A master con artist couldn’t dupe anyone into taking Miguel Cabrera or Jordan Zimmermann, who will make a combined $55 million over each of the next two seasons. Outside of Victor Martinez, a 39-year-old playing out his final year with an $18 million salary and .265 wOBA, only Jose Iglesias and Francisco Liriano will depart for free agency this offseason.
Their top pitcher and position player aren’t going anywhere. The Athletic’s Jayson Stark said they won’t entertain offers for Michael Fulmer, and Nicholas Castellanos will also stay put “barring a huge overpay.” On Wednesday, he clarified that while they will at least listen to inquiries on both, a deal remains improbable.
Fulmer, acquired three summers ago for Yoenis Cespedes, was enduring the worst season of his early career (4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) before going on the disabled list with a strained oblique. Trading an injured 25-year-old ace yet to enter his arbitration years would make no sense.
There’s a better case to make for Castellanos. They could fetch a mighty return for a 26-year-old batting .298/.351/.505 with 15 homers and a career-high .365 wOBA, especially in a market devoid of big-name bats. Detroit is doubtful to construct a competitive team next season, his final year under team control.
If they don’t field offers for him now, they should act with more urgency during the offseason. Superstar slugger J.D. Martinez did not draw a massive trade return months before hitting the open market, so Detroit should learn its lesson and avoid delaying the inevitable.
Yet Tigers general manager Al Avila has enough leverage to stand pat unless he’s blown away with a remarkable offer, so he’ll likely do just that. He should at least dangle starting pitcher Mike Fiers, who can leave after 2019, and closer Shane Greene, who can bolt after 2020.
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The Baltimore Orioles, the summer’s biggest sellers, have already sent Manny Machado and Britton packing. They could continue their extensive teardown by trading the heart of their franchise.
According to Fancred’s Jon Heyman, the Philadelphia Phillies have turned their attention to Adam Jones after missing out on Machado. Although also a free agent this winter, the outfielder can veto any trade using his 10-and-5 rights earned by spending the past 11 seasons in Baltimore.
Heyman cited Jones’ clubhouse leadership as a selling point for the Phillies. Per ESPN.com, they have MLB’s youngest active roster at an average age of 26.7 years old.
Yet Jones, who turns 33 on Aug. 1, no longer looks like a significant on-field upgrade. He’s batting a mundane .276/.303/.420 with his lowest wOBA (.312) since 2008. While Heyman called Jones “one of the best there is” defensively, the metrics don’t support that claim.
In terms of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), he’s been MLB’s worst defensive outfielder since the start of 2017.
Besides, Philadelphia’s Nick Williams has made significant progress this month by batting .333/.412/.573 with an elevated walk (10.6) and depreciated strikeout (16.5) percentage. Perhaps the Phillies only need a fourth outfielder or left-handed platoon partner, and Jones may not approve a deal to a team where he must embrace a limited role.
This seems like a deal more likely to occur later in August if Williams regresses, Philadelphia widens its NL East edge and Jones is more amenable to joining any interested contender. Too many variables remain to sign off on this pairing before the non-waiver deadline.
The Cleveland Indians, tied to Jones along with Philadelphia by Morosi, can offer Jones steadier playing time and a higher probability of playing October baseball.