- ESPN’s Keith Law wonders (Insider subscription required and recommended) whether the White Sox made a mistake in making such a substantial commitment to Cuban star Luis Robert. As Law notes, position players from Cuba have flopped in the Majors more than they’ve succeeded. Law also adds that he’s spoken to a number of scouts to gauge Robert’s abilities, as he’s yet to be able to see Robert himself, and each scout to whom he spoke offered concerns about Robert’s hit tool. All agreed that he’s athletic and is a plus runner in addition to possessing above-average bat speed and raw power as well, however. Conversely, Law suggests that if one team was going to “overpay” and take such a significant gamble on Robert’s upside, the Cardinals had the best rationale. The Cards are without their top three picks in the 2017 draft after forfeiting one to sign Dexter Fowler and losing another two as punishment in the notorious data breach scandal, thus depriving them of means to add high-impact young talent. While Robert is certainly a risk, the Cardinals’ lack of alternative means of acquiring young talent would’ve made them a better fit to make the gamble. St. Louis was also already over its bonus pool even without Robert, while the Sox only just pushed themselves into the penalty bracket with Robert’s deal.
- It seems that righty Daniel Bard is back at a career crossroads, as he has been released by the Cardinals, according to Eddy’s report. Bard, once an elite bullpen arm with the Red Sox, ran up 19 walks in 8 2/3 outings at the Double-A level as he has continued to struggle to stay in the zone.
- With the White Sox reportedly beating out the Cardinals to sign Cuban prospect Luis Robert, Bernie Miklasz of 101sports.com wonders whether St. Louis should have been more aggressive in its bidding. You’ll need to read through his entire argument to see how you feel, but the gist is the view that the organization ought to have been willing to stake a greater bet on a potential impact talent — particularly given the fact that it had a unique opportunity with many big spenders unable to go after Robert and plenty of available resources given the team’s meager draft assets this summer.
- The Cardinals have provided a few injury updates, as MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports. Notably, lefty Tyler Lyons is nearing a return from an intercostal strain, though the precise timing of his activation isn’t yet clear. The Cards don’t expect a prolonged absence from second baseman Kolten Wong, meanwhile, who is still out with some elbow soreness but doesn’t figure to hit the DL. Interestingly, Langosch also notes, lefty Zach Duke is lining up an effort to return more quickly than is typical from his Tommy John surgery. Duke is already eyeing work against live hitters in hopes of ramping up in time to return to the Cards in August.
- Brett Cecil’s struggles in his first season with the Cardinals after signing a $30.5MM contract, as well as seemingly minor injury issues to pitchers like Trevor Rosenthal (arm soreness) and Kevin Siegrist (neck), have strained the team’s bullpen, Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Cecil has allowed 11 runs (nine earned) and nine walks in 14 1/3 innings thus far (although he’s struck out 18). It doesn’t sound, however, like GM John Mozeliak is yet on the lookout for late-inning relief help. “On paper I feel like it’s a luxury to have three players who can pitch the eighth and ninth,” Mozeliak says, presumably meaning Cecil, Rosenthal and closer Seung Hwan Oh, although Siegrist has also frequently pitched in the late innings this season. “Clearly, the way Cecil’s performed to date, it’s been tough, it’s been better and it’s been tough again. I still think over the course of the year he’s going to be somebody we can count on, but he’s certainly having to work through some early struggles.”
The Cardinals were aggressive in trying to sign Cuban outfield prospect Luis Robert, but general manager John Mozeliak sensed the 19-year-old would end up elsewhere, writes Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. Robert proved Mozeliak correct when he agreed to sign with the White Sox on Saturday. Ultimately, St. Louis wasn’t up to paying north of $50 million, including a 100 percent overage tax, for Robert. “When you’re looking at the overall investment, it’s real and historically there are not too many players that sign for that many dollars,” said Mozeliak. “It’s really hard to justify those types of dollars for any player with a lack of a proven track record. No matter how you try to equate the Cuban league or his international experience, it’s very hard to calibrate what that means to here.”
The Braves have acquired first baseman Matt Adams and cash considerations from the Cardinals for minor league infielder Juan Yepez, according to an announcement from Atlanta. In a corresponding move, the Braves have designated catcher Anthony Recker for assignment.
The Braves already have one of the elite first basemen in baseball in Freddie Freeman, but he suffered a fractured wrist earlier this week and could miss nearly three months. Without any obvious replacements inside the organization – including the recently signed but highly flawed James Loney – the Braves ventured to the trade market for Adams, who MLBTR’s Steve Adams suggested would be a sensible fit in the wake of Freeman’s injury.
Matt Adams was the Cardinals’ primary first baseman from 2013-14, when he combined to hit .287/.327/.474 in 882 plate appearances, but both his performance and playing time have fallen off dramatically since then. The Cardinals moved former third baseman/second baseman Matt Carpenter to first in the offseason, further decreasing Adams’ chances of picking up at-bats in St. Louis. After it was unable to trade Adams over the winter, the club tried the big-bodied 28-year-old in the outfield earlier this season as a way to get his bat in the lineup. However, the Cardinals quickly abandoned that experiment after Adams fared poorly in the grass. Consequently, Adams has totaled just 53 plate appearances this season, hitting .292/.340/.396 along the way.
Having combined for 12 Defensive Runs Saved and a 4.6 Ultimate Zone Rating in nearly 3,000 career innings at first base, Adams should fill in for Freeman with aplomb in the field. But there will be a major drop-off at the plate, especially given that the lefty-swinging Adams has essentially been unusable against southpaws during his career. Adams has posted a woeful .210/.240/.348 line in 283 PAs versus lefties, making him a platoon bat, though the Braves don’t currently have any right-handed hitters with significant first base experience on their bench.
Regardless of Adams’ flaws, the Braves’ hope is that he’ll help them stay afloat in the National League until Freeman returns. Once that happens, the Braves will likely relegate Adams to a pinch-hitting role, and they’ll then have to decide whether to keep him over the winter as he enters his final arbitration-eligible season. Adams is currently on a $2.8MM salary.
To acquire nearly two years of control over Adams, the Braves surrendered a relatively anonymous prospect in the 19-year-old Yepez, whom they signed out of Venezuela in 2014. The majority of Yepez’s work since last season has come at the Single-A level, where he has batted .275/.309/.387 in 152 PAs this year. When Yepez joined the Braves, Baseball America’s Ben Badler wrote that the righty-swinger has “quick hands, a loose swing and good balance with solid power,” adding that his future could be at either corner infield spot. This past winter, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs credited Yepez for his “above-average raw power,” but he suggested that Yepez will need to vastly improve his approach to remain a prospect.
As for Recker, he joined the Braves last May in a trade that saw them send cash considerations to Cleveland. Recker picked up 112 PAs with the Braves last season and held his own with a .278/.394/.433 line. The 33-year-old has tallied just seven major league PAs this season, though, as Atlanta has gotten terrific production from fellow backstops Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki.
Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported the trade (on Twitter). Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- With Jhonny Peralta relegated to backup duty in St. Louis, Cafardo wonders if the Red Sox would considering acquiring Peralta to help their shaky third base situation. Given Peralta’s recent injury problems and his .251/.299/.387 slash line (in 341 PA) since the start of the 2016 season, of course, there’s no guarantee that Peralta is necessarily an upgrade. Peralta is also owed around $7.4MM for the remainder of the season, though Cafardo feels the Cardinals would cover “a great portion” of that salary. Cafardo notes that Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski knows Peralta well, having traded for Peralta in 2010 back when Dombrowski was the Tigers GM.
Jhonny Peralta is back with the Cardinals after being activated from the disabled list, though Peralta told reporters (including Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) that he’ll have to adjust to being a part-time player for the first time in his career. “Everybody is doing good and the team — we’re in second place,” Peralta said. “I understand the situation but it’s kind of hard for me to be on the bench and not play every day, because I know what kind of player I can be….I need to learn to be ready for whatever time or situation it is in the game.” Peralta was a productive starter for the Cards as recently as the 2015 season, though an injury-plagued 2016 opened the door for Aledmys Diaz and Jedd Gyorko to emerge, and those two have now established themselves as the Cardinals’ regulars at shortstop and third base. Peralta, who turns 35 later this month, is in the final year of a four-year, $53MM contract and is owed roughly $7.4MM for the remainder of the season. A trade could be difficult to work given this remaining salary and Peralta’s lack of recent production, though if Peralta is able to get somewhat back into form, he’ll give the Cards some solid veteran infield depth.
TODAY: The Reds likely won’t end up with Robert, president of baseball operations Dick Williams suggested in comments to Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Per Williams, the price is “moving beyond something that we are able to do.” While the club does indeed have interest, says its top baseball decisionmaker, “there’s a certain amount beyond which a franchise in our market just can’t afford.”
YESTERDAY: The White Sox and Cardinals are seen as the two likeliest organizations to land standout Cuban youngster Luis Robert, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. Sources say the same to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
That’s not to say that other teams aren’t still involved in pursuit of the 19-year-old phenom, who will officially be eligible to sign this weekend. He will need to ink a deal by June 15th if he wishes to avoid the hard spending caps that will be instituted for the next July 2nd signing period — which seems a certainty at this point. Passan, in fact, suggests that Robert has already selected a team and will sign soon after he is eligible. Furthermore, he cites three sources in stating that the “suggested floor” when teams began submitting bids for Robert was $20MM — a sum that would be accompanied a 100 percent luxury tax.
Among the others that have been tied to Robert are the Reds, Astros, Athletics, and Padres. Neither the Nationals nor the Braves appear to be in pursuit, per Badler, despite going well over their own allocations. Those organizations have taken close looks at the intriguing prospect and have already accepted the maximum penalties for overshooting their pool allocations.
As Badler explains, the Cards are in a somewhat unique situation because of their lack of draft picks this year. (The club’s top three selections are gone due to the signing of Dexter Fowler and the Astros database access scandal.) That leaves the club with a large war chest with which to work internationally.
The White Sox, meanwhile, have not yet exceeded their 2016-17 pool, meaning they could avoid a two-year ban on $300K+ signings if they don’t get Robert. But Chicago is obviously focused on accumulating high-upside young talent that’s nearing readiness, and Robert is closer to the majors than the typical sixteen-year-old international signee. Notably, per Badler, the club hasn’t lined up deals with high-bonus talent for the ensuing signing period — perhaps suggesting that the organization is eyeing a move on Robert.
Whichever way Robert goes, Passan writes, it’ll be the end of an interesting era of major Cuban signings. For one thing, the pipeline of talent will likely hew to an earlier age, particularly if there’s a continued move to improve relations between the United States and the neighboring island nation. Combined with the new rules prohibiting teams from going past their spending limits on players under 25 years of age — even if they’d be willing to pay a 100% tax on overages — there’s little prospect for another major payday unless and until the system undergoes an unexpected change.