- For the Nationals, health has been a major problem all season long. The club has received reasonably promising news of late regarding two key assets, though. Stephen Strasburg has now thrown the ball twice this week without apparent incident, as Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com was among those to tweet. That seems to indicate that his shoulder inflammation is beginning to subside, though the real tests are surely yet to come. Meanwhile, president of baseball ops Mike Rizzo said in an appearance on 106.7 The Fan (via TalkNats.com) that outfield prospect Victor Robles is nearly ready to resume baseball activities after a long layoff from a hyper-extended elbow. If he’s able to progress from there, Robles may yet be back in action this year. The club may not call upon him to play a role in the majors in 2018, but having Robles available would surely be beneficial, and getting him back in action would also help with sorting the plans for 2019.
In a surprisingly candid interview with Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link, with audio), Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo largely quashed rumors and speculation that have tied his team to star Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. According to Rizzo, the Nationals touched base with the Marlins on Realmuto’s availability but haven’t really circled back this season.
“They’ve got a great player in Realmuto,” said Rizzo. “They’re not going to sell him cheap. We know what the return has to be on Realmuto, and we’re not willing to meet that price. So unless something changes there, on their end, we’re going to go with [Matt] Wieters when he gets healthy and a combination of [Pedro] Severino and [Spencer] Kieboom to back him up.”
Washington’s offseason interest in Realmuto was reported on at length over the winter. Multiple offseason reports suggested that the Marlins asked the Nats for a package headlined by one of their two most-coveted outfield prospects, Victor Robles or Juan Soto, the latter of whom has exploded onto the scene in the Majors at the age of 19. Robles, meanwhile, has missed much of the season with a hyperextended elbow but is still considered by many to be among the game’s 10 best prospects.
While that’s a lofty asking price, to be sure, it’s also not difficult to see why the Marlins would hold Realmuto in such high regard. The 27-year-old batted .290/.337/.440 in 1124 plate appearances from 2016-17 and has taken his offensive game to new heights in 2018, raking at a .297/.355/.524 pace (143 OPS+, 140 wRC+). After missing nearly a month with a minor lower back injury early in the season, Realmuto has already belted nine homers, 15 doubles and three triples in just 232 plate appearances.
Beyond his offensive prowess, Realmuto is considered a strong defensive catcher. He’s thrown out 11 of the 26 runners who’ve attempted to steal against him for a career-best 42 percent caught-stealing rate, and he generally rates as an above-average pitch framer and pitch blocker, per Baseball Prospectus. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly when assessing his trade value, he is eminently affordable from a financial standpoint and can be controlled through the 2020 season. Realmuto is earning $2.9MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility and will be eligible twice more before reaching free agency in the 2020-21 offseason.
Catcher was the Nationals’ most glaring need in the offseason, but the team did surprisingly little to address the deficiency outside of a minor league deal for veteran Miguel Montero, who was quickly released after cracking the Opening Day roster. To Wieters’ credit, he looked to be in the midst of a potential rebound at the plate after a last year’s dreary .225/.288/.344 slash; through a small sample of 76 PAs early in 2018, Wieters hit .231/.342/.385 with three homers and vastly improved strikeout and walk rates. But, he’s now been on the shelf since May 11 due to a hamstring injury that required surgery.
There are other catching options on the trade market, of course. Wilson Ramos’ name figures to be oft-mentioned on the rumor circuit as the deadline approaches, and the Mets would presumably be open to flipping recently acquired Devin Mesoraco when they inevitably begin to trade veteran pieces. Other speculative options include Robinson Chirinos and Francisco Cervelli. Blake Swihart, too, will be a rumored possibility, though it’s more difficult to see a contending club acquiring him and immediately inserting him into a regular role behind the plate when he’s scarcely played there in 2018.
- A fractured left index finger landed Nationals first baseman/outfielder Matt Adams on the 10-day disabled list Tuesday. There’s no word yet as to exactly how long he’s expected to miss, though his absence will surely be felt when the Nats face right-handed pitchers. As has been the case throughout his career, Adams has floundered against lefties this season but thrived when holding the platoon advantage. He’s clobbering opposing righties at a career-best .283/.364/.614 clip this season and has belted a dozen homers in 143 plate appearances against right-handed opponents. With Adams joining Ryan Zimmermann on the DL, it was Daniel Murphy who stepped up at first base last night. Both Murphy and Mark Reynolds figure to be options there moving forward.
The Angels and Dodgers were among the clubs that pursued reliever Kelvin Herrera before he was dealt yesterday from the Royals to the Nationals, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (in an article and on Twitter). In fact, per the report, the two Los Angeles franchises were “in serious talks” about Herrera.
That information is not only of historical interest. For one thing, it may hint something about the process the Royals undertook to move Herrera. The veteran reliever was among the most obvious and the best rental trade pieces in baseball. Most often, teams holding such an asset will take the decision until the deadline approaches, hoping that’s the best way to maximize their return.
With multiple teams involved in serious talks, it seems that the Kansas City organization decided to oversee bidding in mid-June. Perhaps that was due to concern over what other relief arms might reach the market and/or a desire to minimize risk associated with a high-performing pitcher. It also may reflect a universe in which contenders see an advantage to moving aggressively.
That’s all open to interpretation. What is clear, though, is that both L.A. clubs have an eye on bolstering their bullpens — and a willingness to do so by pursuing a pure rental asset. Presumably, they’ll be among the teams to pursue other such hurlers that come available over the coming weeks.
According to Nightengale, the Halos in particular “remain immersed in talks with multiple teams for pitching.” That’s notable given the team’s recent fade and spate of injuries. There’s certainly still a path to the postseason, but it’ll take some internal improvements (including a return to health) and stumbles from one or more teams ahead in the standings. It seems, though, that the organization is willing to chase roster improvements even in this setting — a topic that Nightengale explores in greater length in the above-linked post.
Here are some of the notable recent minor moves from around the league …
- The Giants released outfielder-turned-pitcher Jordan Schafer, according to Baseball America’s Matt Eddy. Schafer had joined the San Francisco organization at the start of the current season in hopes of continuing his attempt to return to the majors on the mound. He had missed the prior campaign owing to Tommy John surgery. Schafer threw 6 1/3 innings at Triple-A prior to his release, allowing four earned runs on ten hits and five walks but also recording nine strikeouts.
- Eddy also reports that the Nationals have released corner infielder Matt Hague from their Triple-A affiliate. The 32-year-old has seen brief action in three MLB campaigns, most recently in 2015. He had joined the Washington organization after being released by the Mariners in April. Over 112 plate appearances at Syracuse, he exhibited typically strong plate discipline (12 walks vs. 18 strikeouts) but was slashing just .242/.321/.323.
- The Twins have cut ties with hard-throwing righty Zack Jones from Double-A Chattanooga, per the Eastern League transactions log. The former Rule 5 Draft pick had allowed just seven earned runs on ten hits through 25 1/3 innings thus far in 2018, racking up 39 strikeouts along the way. Unfortunately, the 27-year-old Jones has also handed out 25 walks this season. Over his seven minor-league seasons, he has recorded 12.9 K/9 against 5.5 BB/9, so the command issues represent a longstanding concern.
The Nationals have officially struck a deal to acquire reliever Kelvin Herrera from the Royals, making for a fascinating early swap. Outfielder Blake Perkins, third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, and righty Yohanse Morel will head to Kansas City in return.
This agreement represents a rare, mid-June strike of real consequence. We’ve already seen a few other notable trades this year, so it could be that the market as a whole will move quicker than usual — and much more rapidly than it did last year.
Herrera checked in at the #2 spot on MLBTR’s initial list of the top fifty trade deadline candidates. Beyond his excellence on the mound, Herrera’s pending free-agent status for the cellar-dwelling Royals made a trade all but inevitable. He’s arguably the most significant player to have been dealt in the month of June in recent memory — a topic we examined just last week.
The Nats will take over the $7,937,500 salary that Herrera is earning in his final season of arbitration eligibility. With 82 of the 186 service days on the MLB calendar already in the books, the Washington organization will be on the hook for something like $4.44MM.
Certainly, the high-octane Herrera looks to be a key new piece for the Nats’ pen. This deal is the latest summer bullpen swap for the organization. Last year, the Nationals added Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler, the same three hurlers that make up the preferred late-inning unit on the current ballclub. In prior years, the team added Mark Melancon and Jonathan Papelbon. (The latter trade was the most regrettable of president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo’s tenure. Not only was Papelbon a disaster in the second season of his deal, but the team handed quality young righty Nick Pivetta to a division rival.)
The 28-year-old Herrera will likely function in a set-up role in front of Doolittle, but skipper Dave Martinez will also have the choice to switch things up as match-ups dictate. Herrera has spent plenty of time as the K.C. closer and has loads of high-leverage postseason experience, so he ought to be able to function in any role that his new team prefers.
Herrera still works at about 97 mph with his fastball, though he once averaged over 99. Notably, he’s also generating swinging strikes at a quality 14.4% rate, marking a return to form after a downturn last year. Unsurprisingly, then, the results have been excellent thus far in 2018. Herrera has allowed just three earned runs in 25 2/3 innings, racking up a stellar 22:2 K/BB ratio along the way. He’s not generating quite as many grounders as he has in years past, but has tamped down on the long ball somewhat and has obviously been exceptionally stingy with free passes.
On the other side of this arrangement, the package features three interesting players that most prospect rankings did not grade among the very best in the Nats’ system. Clearly, though, the Royals felt the package was strong enough to warrant an early move. For the Nationals, shipping out that trio still leaves the club with the bulk of its highest-ranked prospects still available for the future — or, perhaps, for further deals this summer.
Depending upon who you ask, Gutierrez and Perkins each rated just outside of or just within the ten best prospects on the Nationals farm. The former is a 23-year-old third baseman who has scuffled a bit in his first attempt at Double-A this year, but is regarded as a talented corner defender who possesses a quality hit tool and some power potential. Perkins, 21, has run into some troubles at the High-A level but has an interesting blend of speed, power, and plate discipline along with up-the-middle defensive ability in the outfield. As for Morel, a reputedly live-armed 17-year-old, he’ll represent a long-term wild card in this swap.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Though the Marlins made a few headline-worthy changes in the front office following the franchise’s transfer of ownership to Derek Jeter and company, there wasn’t a dramatic overhaul right away. Instead, as FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman notes, the club is “experiencing turnover as they go; it’s happening organically, and perhaps uncomfortably in a couple cases.” Director of player development Gary Denbo is reportedly “appalled by much of what he sees” as he surveys the Marlins system and attempts to turn the franchise around. Denbo’s primary focus is accountability; it’s reported that within the old regime, decisions could “come from anyone,” and weren’t always made by the person who is accountable for them. “We’re hoping to develop a sense of urgency to become the best organization in baseball. That is the objective,” said Denbo. Though he’s reportedly ruffled a few feathers, perhaps that’s acceptable considering the Marlins have put up a losing record every year since 2009.
A few other items from around the NL East…
- Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic sat down for a Q&A with Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long. Among the highlights are rookie Juan Soto; Long raves about his “tight”, “compact” and “connected” swing along with his plate discipline). “I can go on and on about this kid. His routine is flawless. He came in and knew exactly what he wanted to do. I was like, ‘Wow.’ He’s at ease. He’s confident.” Long also discusses Bryce Harper’s relative struggles as well as Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton and the fly-ball revolution.
- In a separate piece, Rosenthal notes at one point that the Nationals are attempting to add one starter and one reliever (according to his sources). With the recent placement of Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler on the DL and Jeremy Hellickson still recovering from a hamstring strain, pitching is thin for Washington outside of Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez.
- “It feels as if Maikel Franco is being phased out,” writes Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports. While it’s (somewhat) worth noting that Phillies management has denied this, Franco has been relegated to a part-time role after enduring continued struggles to get on base this season; struggles he doesn’t particularly make up for in any other way. Clearly this hasn’t been lost on Franco, who is aware of the circumstances. “I understand what’s happening right now,” he said on Sunday morning. “I understand what the manager is trying to do with everybody. I know the situation.” Rookie J.P. Crawford has been getting looks at third base, and the team is also looking for a positional home for Scott Kingery. Franco owns a .233/.281/.408 slash line since the start of 2017.
After a dozen years as the front-man in the Nationals’ ownership, Ted Lerner is transferring control of the organization to his son, Mark, reports Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. The move has already been unanimously approved by the other 29 owners, per the report. Both Ted, 92, and Mark, 64, have issued statements to Svrluga regarding the transfer, and the column is full of quotes from Mark on his new role as well as the organization’s future.
While many ownership changes and transfers are followed by shakeups on the baseball operations side of the equation, that doesn’t sound to be the case in this instance. The younger Lerner notes that most of the team’s larger decisions have been a collaborative family effort. Ted Lerner, his three children (Mark and sisters Marla and Debra), and their spouses have all been weighing in on major ownership-level decisions, even if Ted ultimately had final say. “I don’t think you’ll see much difference in the way Dad and the family running it vs. myself and the family,” said Mark.
Of course, many will wonder exactly what this means for the Nationals’ future with Bryce Harper. The 25-year-old is set to become a free agent following the season, and the rapport between Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, and Ted Lerner has been well-documented. Svrluga notes that Boras negotiated contracts for Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Jayson Werth (presumably, among others) directly with Ted Lerner. The Nats have no shortage of Boras clients on their roster, with Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Matt Wieters, Jeremy Hellickson and Gio Gonzalez all repped by the Boras Corporation (as can be seen in MLBTR’s Agency Database).
Mark calls the relationship between Boras and his father both “interesting” and “successful,” adding that he expects his father to be involved in future negotiations with Boras (i.e. the Harper negotiations) as long as he wants to be. Regarding Harper, specifically, Mark says the outfielder “feels like a member of the family” and speaks optimistically about being able to retain the outfielder on a deal that “makes sense for the long-term vision of the club.”
Nationals ownership already resolved one key issue earlier this season, extending general manager Mike Rizzo through the 2020 season and thus ensuring that he’ll continue to serve as the primary voice overseeing baseball operations, having already done so since 2009. Manager Dave Martinez, meanwhile, is in the first season of a three-year deal that contains a club option for the 2021 season.
The manner in which the Nationals handle the managerial and coaching staff following today’s transfer will be an interesting scenario to follow in the coming years. The organization has become notorious for having short leash on its field staff; Dusty Baker, for instance, was surprisingly cut loose after consecutive NL East titles, and Martinez is somewhat incredibly the seventh manager of the team dating back to 2009. That’s long been attributed to ownership rather than Rizzo, who reportedly fought to keep Baker at the helm before ownership made the call to dismiss him. There’s likely no way to know exactly how (or if) that’ll change in the short-term, with Martinez in his first season as skipper. The 2019 and 2020 seasons figure to be more telling in that regard, though, especially if the Nationals either fail to make the postseason or endure yet another NLDS exit.
Generally speaking, however, it doesn’t sound as if the transfer will bring about radical change in the operation of the club in the near future. Furthermore, it sounds as if the Lerner family plans on retaining control of the organization for years to come. Svrluga notes that a third generation of Lerners is already becoming involved in the business, and Mark Lerner spoke candidly about the fact that he and his siblings have had zero thoughts about selling the team. “We well never sell the Nationals,” said Mark. “…[C]ertainly while I’m alive and my sisters and brothers-in-law are alive — nobody’s going to sell this team.”
The 25-year-old Bautista had been occupying a spot on the 40-man roster but suffered a torn ACL and LCL while playing in Triple-A. In order to open the 40-man spot but also retain him, the Nats released him and quickly brought him back on a new minor league pact that’ll let him rehab with the organization while creating additional roster flexibility.
Bautista made a brief cameo in the Majors this season, going hitless in six plate appearances, and he also had a quick cup of coffee with the 2017 Nats, going 4-for-25 in 17 games. He’d been off to a fine start in the minors this year, hitting a combined .303/.345/.376 with a homer, three doubles, a triple and six steals (in eight attempts) through 121 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A.
While he’s never had much power in the minors and drew 30-grade power in his most recent scouting report at Fangraphs, Bautista does boast excellent speed and solid contact skills. He’s swiped 239 bases in 534 career minor league games, and he’s struck out at just a 15.6 percent clip in Double-A and a 17.5 percent clip in Triple-A. Baseball America, Fangraphs and MLB.com all rated him inside the organization’s top 20 prospects recently, and he has the upside of eventually functioning as a speed- and defense-oriented fourth outfielder at the big league level, assuming, of course, that he can recover from that serious knee injury.
We’ll use this post to track Wednesday’s notable agreements from the top few rounds of the draft (rankings referenced are courtesy of Baseball America, MLB.com, Fangraphs and ESPN’s Keith Law — with the scouting reports from MLB and Fangraphs both coming free to the general public) …
- Reds second-round pick Lyon Richardson scored a $2MM payday to forego his commitment to the University of Florida, per MLB.com’s Jim Callis (via Twitter). That’s nearly half a million over the slot value ($1,520,300) for a player who has only recently emerged as a high-end pitching prospect. MLB.com’s team was highest among major prospect outlets, ranking Richardson 67th on the basis of his ample upside as an athletic hurler who has shown big velocity despite unpolished mechanics.
- The Yankees have announced a variety of signings, including deals with second-rounder Josh Breaux and third-rounder Ryder Green. These agreements were first reported by Callis (Twitter links), with the bonus values pinned down by Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (Twitter links). Breaux’s bonus of $1,497,500 handily tops his $1,086,900 slot value, while Green, too, receives an over-slot $997,500 bonus that exceeds his $576,400 slot value. All of the above lists include Breaux among the top 100 available prospects, with an increasingly promising bat and improving work behind the dish justifying the placement.
- The Braves got second-round selection Greyson Jenista for a $1.2MM bonus that leaves them $250,500 of extra pool space to work with, Callis reports on Twitter. The Wichita State slugger received a fairly broad array of grades from prospect hounds, but the Fangraphs crew was highest. With big power and the ability to draw walks, but also plenty of swing-and-miss in his game, there’s a lot to like about the bat. One major question is whether Jenista will be able to work into being a reasonable defender in the corner outfield, or whether instead he’s destined for first base in the long run.
- Second-rounder Alek Thomas will join the Diamondbacks rather than heading to TCU, as Callis also tweets. The deal includes a $1.2MM bonus that tops the $1,035,500 allocation that came with the 63rd overall draft slot. Law was quite bullish on the young outfielder, crediting him with “five-tool potential” and “an advanced feel on both sides of the ball.”
- The Nationals have also agreed to terms with their second-round selection, UConn lefty Tim Cate, Callis adds on Twitter. It’s an at-slot, $986,200 bonus for the 65th overall choice of the draft. Best known for his big hook, Cate is an undersized hurler who has also had some worrying arm health questions crop up. Still, Baseball America ranked him 54th on its board, noting his “exceptional feel to land his breaking ball in the zone and bury it for swings and misses.”
- Still another second-rounder, Florida Atlantic infielder Tyler Frank, will take home a $997,500 bonus from the Rays, per MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo (Twitter link). That leaves the Tampa Bay club with some extra funds to work with, as the 56th slot came with a $1,228,000 allocation. Also going under-slot were Royals second-rounder Jonathan Bowlan ($697,500 bonus vs. $1,168,300 slot) and Twins second-rounder Ryan Jeffers ($800K bonus vs. $1,140,600 slot), according to Callis (Twitter links)