On Saturday, I listed the top starting pitchers available on Twitter and asked: “If you’re a GM selling a top starter, shouldn’t you be motivated to act sooner rather than later? The market already is deep and could get deeper.”
At least 10 starters of varying qualities are available, and they soon could be joined by pitchers such as Jeff Samardzija, Yovani Gallardo and even David Price. One executive looking for pitching said Sunday that his strategy will be to wait until closer to the non-waiver deadline to move, believing prices will fall due to the abundant supply.
Another executive does not buy that theory, saying that the market may soften for lesser starters, but not top pitchers such as Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto. The same exec said that because almost all teams are flush with cash, they will not need to purge salaries at the last minute.
My guess: The stalemate is going to continue, maybe right until the final days leading to the deadline. The buyers need a fuller picture of who exactly is available and how those pitchers are performing. The sellers, meanwhile, need the urgency of the deadline to spur action — and in some cases, more time to polish their goods.
I’m not talking about Hamels, who will return to his old self the moment he escapes the losing, angst-ridden environment in Philadelphia. But Cueto’s six-walk performance on Sunday likely renewed concerns for teams already worried about his elbow; his average fastball velocity of 93.23 mph was his fifth-lowest of the season, though an improvement over his last start before the break, according to Brooksbaseball.net.
Perhaps a 47-minute rain delay in the first inning disrupted Cueto, but conditions often are not ideal in October, either. His struggles stand in contrast to the recent successes of Scott Kazmir, who has left two starts early due to minor arm issues but allowed only one earned run in his last 20 1/3 innings.
The Athletics could jump the market by moving quickly, but if they’re confident that Kazmir is healthy, why bother? Kazmir, who like Cueto is a potential free agent, is pitching the best of any trade candidate. The demand for him only will rise, and the A’s figure to do better than the compensation draft pick they would receive if they made Kazmir a qualifying offer and he then left as a free agent at the end of the season.
The Phillies, in theory, also could keep Hamels, knowing that he has three years left on his contract and a club option for a fourth. Their position remains unchanged – they will trade him for the right offer. Then again, if Hamels is going to continue pitching as if he is distracted, it’s not going to help his value. Or his sanity.
I say the same thing every year: For all of the speculation by myself and others, things will happen at the deadline that we do not expect, that will make our heads spin. My sense is that the market is going to erupt and that the activity will be frenetic. Just not right away.
If any team is the favorite to award Zack Greinke his next contract, it’s the Dodgers. Greinke in fact, might only opt out of his deal at the end of the season to negotiate a higher guarantee with management, which currently owes him $71 million over the next three years.
Then again, Greinke turns 32 on Oct. 21 — and even though he is precisely the type of pitcher who should age well, the data-driven Dodgers might be reluctant to splurge on him.
In which case, why not the Giants?
Nearly $50 million is coming off the Giants’ payroll at the end of the season, if you combine the salaries of Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Marco Scutaro, Jeremy Affeldt, Ryan Vogelsong and Casey McGehee.
The Giants might want to retain one or two of those players, but they should have plenty of flexibility, even with other salaries rising. Greinke surely will want to remain with a competitive team. With the Giants, as with the Dodgers, he could operate in the shadow of an ace, though Madison Bumgarner is not Clayton Kershaw.
One other thing: Greinke recently told USA Today that he admired the Giants players and couldn’t decide whether to root for San Francisco or his original team, Kansas City, in last year’s World Series.
ORIOLES IN A BOX?
The Orioles are interested in the Reds’ Jay Bruce and Padres’ Justin Upton, according to FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi, and they’ve even inquired on the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez, who would be a duplication of Adam Jones in center field.
General manager Dan Duquette is serious about wanting to add an outfield bat, according to major-league sources. The question is how the heck will he pull it off?
Both of the Orioles’ top minor-league pitchers, Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, have been shut down due to arm trouble. And even with those two at the top of the O’s prospect list, the team ranked only 29th in Baseball America’s talent rankings entering the season.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman, a former No. 1 pick who has had mixed results in the majors, rejoins the Orioles’ rotation on Monday. Three other righties — Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson and Zach Davies — are faring well at Triple-A. And the team also has some interesting position prospects, including Triple-A first baseman Christian Walker, Triple-A outfielder Dariel Alvarez and Class-A catcher Chance Sisco.
So, could the Orioles put together a package to land an Upton or Bruce? Perhaps. But the O’s also face the losses of a number of potential free agents on their pitching staff, including left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, as well as catcher Matt Wieters and first baseman Chris Davis (all three players are represented by Scott Boras).
Manager Buck Showalter has spoken repeatedly about the need for some of the prospects to replace some of the players who are expected to depart. If the Orioles landed Upton, they could not even make him a qualifying offer and recoup a draft pick.
Maybe Duquette can figure out a creative solution, but the current team does not represent his strongest effort.
The Orioles already have jettisoned three players they signed as major-league free agents — left-hander Wesley Wright, infielder Everth Cabrera and outfielder Delmon Young — and traded a player whom they re-signed in arbitration, Alejandro De Aza.
Above all, they failed to adequately replace the two corner outfielders they lost in free agency, Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. Which brings them full circle to their current predicament and their ongoing search for outfield help.
The looming personnel changes in the sport also extend to the executive ranks, as several of the execs making decisions at the deadline do not figure to be in their current positions next season.
Angels: Named Bill Stoneman interim GM following the resignation of Jerry Dipoto and need to find a permanent replacement.
Brewers: Expected to promote GM Doug Melvin to a club-president type role and hire a replacement under him.
Blue Jays: Need to replace Paul Beeston, who will retire as president and CEO at the end of the season. That person then will decide upon the fate of GM Alex Anthopoulos.
Mariners: Signed Jack Zduriencik to an unspecified multi-year extension last August, but could reconsider if the team stumbles to a losing record for the fifth time in the past six years.
Phillies: Almost certain to replace GM Ruben Amaro Jr. after Andy MacPhail takes over for Pat Gillick as team president at the end of the season.
Tigers: Need to address the future of Dave Dombrowski, the team’s president, CEO and general manager, who is in the final year of his contract.
MARINERS MESS (CHAPTER 67)
The Mariners are not simply looking for a platoon partner for Mike Zunino, but a veteran catcher who would enable them to send Zunino to Triple-A, according to a rival executive.
Of course, the Mariners had such a catcher, Welington Castillo, but they traded him to the Diamondbacks for Mark Trumbo. Castillo’s OPS since the trade: .889. Trumbo: .550.
Meanwhile, Zunino has batted .123/.188/.172 in 137 plate appearances since June 1. If Zduriencik ultimately loses his job, it will be due in part to the failures of his first-round draft picks.
Zunino was the third overall selection in 2012, Danny Hultzen the second overall pick in ‘11, Dustin Ackley the second overall in ‘09, Nick Franklin the 27th overall that year.
The jury is still out on Taijuan Walker, the 43rd overall pick in ’10. But the draft was supposed to be a strength for Zduriencik, who previously was the scouting director for the Brewers. Hultzen got injured, but the Mariners have only themselves to blame for Zunino, whom they rushed to the majors.
Zunino’s strikeout rate of one every 2.78 plate appearances is the worst in the majors. And in this age of undisciplined swinging, that’s saying something.
DODGERS’ ROSTER QUESTIONS MOUNTING
And no, we’re not talking about a trade — yet.
Left fielder Carl Crawford is due to come off the disabled list on Monday or Tuesday, but the Dodgers have no easy way to make room for him.
Kike Hernandez is the team’s only backup at shortstop and in center field, Alberto Callaspo the only backup at third (Hernandez does not play third and Alex Guerrero, a poor defender, hasn’t started at the position since May 24).
Adding to the intrigue: Guerrero cannot be sent to the minors without his permission. So, barring a trade, Scott Van Slyke is perhaps the leading candidate to be optioned — and Van Slyke is an effective right-handed hitter off the bench who would start for many teams.
AROUND THE HORN
● The Padres talked to the Diamondbacks in spring training about a trade for outfielder Ender Inciarte and second baseman Aaron Hill and recently inquired again on Inciarte, according to major-league sources.
Clubs also are asking the D-backs about David Peralta, but the front office is not inclined to move either outfielder, sources say. Both Inciarte and Peralta are under club control through 2020.
● This might sound crazy, but the Phillies will not necessarily trade outfielder Jeff Francoeur. Think about it: The value Francoeur has to the Phillies is probably greater than any middling prospect that he would bring in return.
● Some teams view Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna as an interesting change-of-scenery, bounce-back candidate, but one club official says Ozuna remains very much in the team’s plans, even though he is now at Triple-A.
● The Astros want to add a bat, but their search for offensive help is “way on the backburner” compared to their search for a starting pitcher, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking.