Starlin Castro rumors

The Cubs have plenty of depth as far as middle infielders go, and fans often ask what the team is going to do with all of them. According to FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi, other teams are inquiring as well. Morosi said the Cubs’ Starlin Castro has drawn some trade interest. But Morosi says sources tell him the Cubs do not plan on moving the shortstop before the Trade Deadline. Castro is in the second year of a seven-year, $60 million contract with the Cubs. Javier Baez did move from shortstop to second base on Thursday for Triple-A Iowa, and was expected to play there a little more regularly, according to manager Marty Pevey. The Cubs also have talented infielder Arismendy Alcantara, and acquired shortstop Addison Russell in the trade with the Athletics. As of today, Castro is the starting shortstop.

“The nice thing about having impact players who are athletic and can play in the middle of the field and can hit is that you have options,” Theo Epstein said when the Cubs acquired Russell. “You can never have too many shortstops. If you look around baseball, you see some of the best outfielders in the game came up as shortstops, some of the best third basemen in the game came up as shortstops, some of the best second basemen in the game came up as shortstops. Heck, some of the best first basemen in the game came up as shortstops.”

– Carrie Muskat

Phillies Busy As Trade Deadline Approaches

The Phillies return to action tonight in Atlanta, and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is 13 days away. The Phillies are busy trying to find trade partners for several veteran players, but just because they have players to trade it doesn’t mean they’ll trade them. They’re not pressured to make something happen before July 31. The front office hasn’t been told by ownership to shed payroll no matter what.

Remember, the Phillies can still trade these players before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline or in the offseason.

Let’s repeat that: The Phillies can still trade these players before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline or in the offseason. Especially if they’re not getting much of a return in their current discussions.

A report Sunday had the Mariners hot and heavy for Marlon Byrd, but reports since said their interest has cooled or talks have stalled. Keep this in mind as you read countless reports between today and July 31: 95 percent of this stuff is teams kicking the tires and reporters taking a kernel of information and writing it. For example, when you read a team with a need for starting pitching has inquired about Cole Hamels, don’t say to yourself, “Oh my God! The (insert team here) are going to get Cole Hamels!” Say to yourself, “Well, no kidding! Of course they’re interested in Cole.”

A team expressing interest in a Phillies player and a team actually making a legitimate offer are two totally different things. Maybe the Mariners called the Phillies last weekend and said, “We’d really like Marlon Byrd, but we’ll only give you a marginal prospect for him.” In that scenario, Ruben Amaro Jr. most likely said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and hung up the phone.

A few reminders as the July 31 deadline approaches:

  • The Phillies are absolutely open to trading Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo. The contracts and limited no-trade clauses for Papelbon, Lee, Burnett and Byrd could be stumbling blocks, but I just don’t see the Phillies making deals if they’re only getting a light-hitting outfielder or a middling reliever in return.
  • They would need to receive a huge package of prospects to trade Cole Hamels.
  • Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have 10-and-5 rights and have repeatedly expressed their desire to remain in Philadelphia. The Phillies will listen to offers for Hamels, Utley and Rollins, but they are not going to give them away.

So, yes, the Phillies are not “looking” to trade Hamels. And they absolutely prefer to trade Lee over him. They would welcome a Papelbon trade, and they are willing to part with Bastardo because they have two younger, less expensive left-handers in Jake Diekman and Mario Hollands.

It is going to be an interesting couple of weeks for the Phillies. Like I said, they are active. But like I also mentioned, there are no indications they’re going to just get rid of players, either.

- Todd Zolecki

Mets must decide whether they’re buyers or sellers, or neither

Two weeks ago, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said his team’s upcoming homestand would be critical in determining how the rest of this month unfolds. The Mets proceeded to win eight of 10, reestablishing themselves as fringe contenders in a crowded National League playoff race.

Alderson has since been quiet, and no deals appear imminent. But if nothing else, the Mets’ recent run decreased the likelihood that they will trade away veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon or second baseman Daniel Murphy before the non-waiver deadline.

Murphy, a first-time All-Star, is under team control through next season and is due for a hefty raise in his final year of arbitration. The argument for trading him is that his value may never be higher than it is right now. Colon, 41, has been mostly successful with patches of inconsistency in his first year with the Mets. The argument for trading him is that he is 41.

If the Mets decide to add pieces instead, their most significant need is another bat for their lineup — perhaps an everyday left fielder to replace the rotating trio of Eric Young, Chris Young and Bobby Abreu. Shortstop is less of a concern considering Ruben Tejada’s recent reemergence, as is first base given Lucas Duda’s recent surge.

Most likely, the Mets will do something minor, or nothing at all, in the next two weeks.

–Anthony DiComo

Tigers talking on bullpen help

The Tigers have been casting a wide net in their search for relief help, but they’ve run into a seller’s market — a lot of teams looking, not enough late-inning relievers available for all of them. With less than two weeks left before the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline, the countdown is on for either the Tigers or sellers to blink on asking price.

Detroit wants help for the eighth inning, and could use some support for the ninth just in case Joe Nathan has another bout of pitching problems, the kind he eventually worked through earlier this season. However, they’ve been insistent that Nathan is their closer.

The Tigers have been in touch with the Rangers on Joakim Soria, who set up for Nathan in Texas last year before taking over as closer this season. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reports that they’ve had ongoing discussions. However, the Rangers have reportedly been seeking two or three prospects in return, something the Tigers aren’t likely to do for a reliever — even Soria, whose contract includes a $7 million club option for next season.

Another target, Joaquin Benoit, was Detroit’s closer for most of last season, but set up for Jose Valverde for two seasons before that. He has been stellar again in setup for the Padres so far this season, allowing just 22 hits over 38 2/3 innings with nine walks and 45 strikeouts. He’s 16-for-16 in holds and 1-for-1 in saves. The Tigers have scouted the Padres heavily this summer.

Benoit’s contract, however, is guaranteed for next season at $8 million, along with an $8 million club option for 2016 that can be bought out for $1.5 million.

Astros closer Chad Qualls also has drawn the Tigers’ interest with solid numbers over the last couple years. The Tigers traded for last year’s Astros closer, Jose Veras, around this point a year ago, but got mixed results down the stretch before opting not to pick up his contract option.

With Joba Chamberlain holding down the eighth inning well, the Tigers can afford to play a waiting game until the end of the month. However, Chamberlain has already pitched in 41 games, four off his total last season, and has topped 50 games only once in his career. With the Tigers starting a stretch of 55 games in 55 days, including three doubleheaders, the Tigers’ reliance on three relievers for the bulk of their setup work — Chamberlain, Al Alburquerque and Ian Krol — will prove difficult to sustain without help.

Jason Beck

Rays Rumors will Pick Up

Tampa Bay begins the second half tonight against Minnesota, they are 9 1/2 games behind first-place Baltimore in the AL East.  If that margin grows, look for the David Price rumors to escalate, along with the rumors about other players.  Take the report by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, who says the Mariners are more interested in Ben Zobrist than Price right now.

More such reports and rumors will flood media outlets if indeed the Rays go on a losing skid out of the gate for their final stretch.

But consider this:  The Rays ended the first half on a high note, fueling hopes that the team can get back into their division race against AL East teams of lesser quality than what we’ve seen in past seasons.  The Rays have never backed away from the fact they like the team they put together, and that the odds were low that said team could be as underachieving as it has been to date.  Given that sentiment, if the club shows any kind of pulse to begin the second half, it’s hard to think they will be sellers.

On top of that, the Rays have always maintained they strive to improve their team daily on a year-round basis.  Adhering to that philosophy means they feel no pressure to make things happen by certain deadlines.

One thing is certain, Price has seemingly figured out how to deal with the distractions created by trade rumors.  He is pitching better than ever and will make his first start of the second half on Saturday night in Minnesota.  Meanwhile, the Orioles begin the second half at Oakland, always a difficult place to play.  The standings could shuffle in a hurry.

Then again, the Rays have a tall mountain to climb in order to play significant games in September.

–Bill Chastain

Brewers’ Melvin: ‘Ears open’ as Deadline nears

If Brewers general manager Doug Melvin plans to be active ahead of the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline, he was not willing to share that information publicly on Thursday.

That came as no surprise. General managers typically do not like to stand in front of microphones and lament their team’s weaknesses.

“If you can add, you add,” Melvin said, “but I like our team. We had one bad stretch, and that came near the end of the [first half]. Winning Sunday’s game was very big. It gave everybody the feeling that that’s how we played earlier on in the year. It’s going to be a tough division; you’ve got four teams over .500. I think it’s the toughest division in baseball.”

The Brewers lost 11 of their final 13 games before the All-Star break but beat the Cardinals Sunday to hold onto first place in the National League Central. The top four teams are within 3 1/2 games of each other as second half play begins.

In a chat with reporters on Thursday, Melvin addressed two areas of perceived susceptibility: A bullpen that has been stretched by injuries to right-handers Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg, and first base, where the Brewers have platooned Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay and are next-to-last in the National League with a .662 OPS.

“If we can get [Henderson and Thornburg] back, they’ll be a boost to our bullpen,” Melvin said. “But we don’t have a timetable. Jim is closer than Tyler at this point.”

Of first base, Melvin cited the lack of availability at the position and praised Overbay for his clutch hitting and both players for their quality defense. He also pointed out that, overall, the Brewers are second in the NL in runs scored.

Melvin insisted he will not get caught up in Trade Deadline drama.

“Look at the Trade Deadline, and it’s no different than the offseason,” Melvin said. “There’s a lot of acquisitions you can make in the offseason, and all it does is make you look better on paper. It doesn’t make you necessarily a better ballclub. You still have to play well as a team. …

“That’s the way I look at the Trade Deadline. You can go out and acquire a relief pitcher, and he may pitch eight innings for the month.”

Melvin also argued that midseason trades don’t always work. For every deal like the Brewers bringing in CC Sabathia in 2008, there’s a Zack Greinke to the Angels in 2012 or Matt Garza to the Rangers in 2013. Those latter two teams paid significant prices but did not reach the postseason.

“We’re out there, we’re going to have our ears open, and we’re open to anything that can improve our club,” Melvin said. “But we still have to play well as a team, and not to think that one acquisition makes a difference. Not many times does that acquisition make the difference without the team still continuing to play well.”

– Adam McCalvy

 

Spot start for Tigers prospect gives teams a look

The Tigers pulled a surprise move by tabbing prospect Drew VerHagen over Robbie Ray to start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Cleveland. For VerHagen, it’ll mark his Major League debut barely two years after the Tigers drafted him out of Vanderbilt. For scouts, it’ll be a chance to see just how close one of Detroit’s most appealing pitching prospects is to Major League ready.

While former Tigers top pick Jake Thompson has generated more buzz on his way up the system, including a mention in the Astros trade talk memos from last summer, VerHagen has built a resume on a relatively fast track up the organizational ladder. He’s a groundball pitcher rather than a strikeout artist, but his ability to keep the ball in the park — just nine home runs allowed in 237 2/3 innings over the last two seasons — compares favorably to Thompson.

“Good sinker, poised and competes, works easy and sneaky,” one AL talent evaluator summarized.

The Tigers have more intriguing pitching prospects at their lower levels, but for teams seeking a pitcher who can make the jump relatively quickly, VerHagen could be an option.

It would not be the first time a Tigers prospect has gone from starting in Detroit to being traded out of Detroit in the same month. Jacob Turner made two turns through the rotation in July 2012 before the Tigers traded him in a package to the Marlins for Anibal Sanchez. Charlie Furbush made a pair of early July starts for the Tigers in 2011 before being dealt to Seattle in the package for Doug Fister.

To call Saturday a showcase start might be overstating it. With Robbie Ray struggling, VerHagen was the best option the Tigers had, though they could have called up Kyle Lobstein to do the same thing. Still, even if it’s a secondary reason, it’s an opportunity for teams to get a look.

Jason Beck

ESPN Links Dodgers and Papelbon

ESPN cited an unnamed baseball source that expects the Dodgers to pursue Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. If true, the Dodgers would be absorbing as much as $30 million in salary for the remainder of this year, next year’s guarantee and a vesting option for 2016. The Dodgers already have a closer in Kenley Jansen, but have indicated they would like to add another set-up reliever. The Phillies are eager to unload salary and the deep-pocketed Dodgers have quickly become the go-to club for salary dumps. The Dodgers, however, have no interest in trading top prospects Joc Pederson, Corey Seager or Julio Urias. The ideal trade for the Dodgers would include moving one of their high-priced outfielders — Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier. — Ken Gurnick

Antonetti: “We’re exploring all avenues”

The Indians have already pulled the trigger on a pair of low-level trades. Cleveland reeled in outfielder Chris Dickerson from the Pirates on in exchange for a player to be named or cash on Monday and acquired Minor League lefty Nick Maronde on Saturday.

Neither move was of the blockbuster variety, but that doesn’t mean the Indians aren’t looking to make a splash before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

“We’re exploring a lot of different things,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said on Sunday, “opportunities to improve our team for the balance of this season and then position us better moving forward, too. We’ve spent a lot of energy on fits for acquiring guys that we’d have control over beyond this year, not just guys that would just be here for the balance of the year.”

One aspect of the Indians that has been problematic through the first half, limiting the club to a .500 showing (47-47) to date, has been the starting pitching. Three of the teams Opening Day rotation members — Justin Masterson (15-day DL), righty Danny Salazar (Triple-A) and Carlos Carrasco (bullpen) — were not in the starting staff when the first half of the season ended for Cleveland.

The Indians are surely in the market for starting pitching help, but Antonetti’s not tipping his hand just yet.

“We’re exploring all avenues to improve,” said the GM. “The one thing we continue to believe is we have quality Major League starting pitchers. Any time you acquire a guy, you have to think about who it displaces from the team and the rotation, in that case. You have to have a high degree of confidence that it’s an improvement.”

Asked which area of the team he’s most like to improve, Antonetti replied: “It’s actually one of the interesting challenges that we have. I think there are teams out there that have glaring holes at particular spots, that it’s clear, ‘Hey, go out and get a right fielder, or go out and get a third baseman, or a shortstop.’

“I think with us, we’re in a little bit of a different position in that we’ve got guys in those roles that are capable of contributing. So, for us to improve, we need to improve upon a higher standard. And, in some cases, we’re counting on guys that we’ve already made commitments to rebounding.

“So, it’s a little bit of a different dynamic for us as we look to try to improve our roster.”

–Jordan Bastian

Marlins in market for controllable starter

NEW YORK –- Add the Marlins to the list of clubs looking for starting pitching before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

But Miami isn’t just seeking any type of starter. The club is targeting controllable young arms, meaning those who are not on the verge of becoming free agents. The club has no interest in a rental.

“A rental, it may help you in the short term,” president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “We want something we can move forward with. I think that will definitely influence the direction we go.”

Along with a starting pitcher, the Marlins also are exploring second base options.

The Marlins felt they had a second base answer when they signed free agent Rafael Furcal in the offseason. But a left hamstring injury has limited Furcal to just nine games.

Furcal was expected to be a speed threat at the top of the order.

On the trade front, the Marlins are looking for a second baseman who can run and potentially lead off.

– Joe Frisaro

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