The Blue Jays got out in front of what could be a heavy reliever market at the trading deadline with their acquisition of Braves righthander Jason Grilli last week.
While Grilli has had a less-than-stellar season after returning from a ruptured Achilles’, the Jays feel the former All-Star will gradually improve and factor into their bullpen if they’re in the playoff race.
It appears there won’t be a significant trade market for starting pitchers. It’s iffy at best as to whether the A’s would deal Sonny Gray. They would deal Rich Hill, who is 36 and entering free agency.
Other starter possibilities include Phil Hughes and Anibal Sanchez. Justin Verlander has a no-trade clause that he could waive. There’s Julio Teheran and Andrew Cashner.
But relievers could be abundant in the trade market, especially those on noncontending teams.
Lefty relievers are like gold, and if you have one to deal you can expect a good return. Among those who could be available: Oakland’s Sean Doolittle, the Yankees’ Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, Minnesota’s Fernando Abad, Colorado’s Jake McGee, and Milwaukee’s Will Smith.
As for righthanded relievers, the Braves could decide to part with 25-year-old closer Arodys Vizcaino. Others likely to be available include Minnesota’s Kevin Jepsen, Milwaukee’s Jeremy Jeffress, San Diego’s Fernando Rodney, and Toronto’s Gavin Floyd. The Braves could also sell off Alexi Ogando and Bud Norris.
The Diamondbacks are an interesting team to watch. They figured to be contenders, but they have had a disappointing season. Closer Brad Ziegler, Tyler Clippard, and Daniel Hudson could be made available and would fetch a nice return.
Besides Doolittle, the A’s could deal John Axford, Fernando Rodriguez, or Ryan Madson.
The Phillies have dropped to their expected level after a fast start. But the benefit of their hot start was increasing the value of relievers such as Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, and David Hernandez.
The Angels could move Joe Smith by the deadline, a good setup piece for any team.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski passed on Grilli, feeling it was too early to get into any pitching market. Sox manager John Farrell has praised Grilli for being able to assume multiple roles in the bullpen.
The key for relievers is to get them on the uptick. Even if a reliever has a horrid first half, if he shows signs of improvement over four or five appearances, teams usually forget the bad start and go after him. The scouting of relievers is very difficult.
One National League team’s top adviser, who’s looking for relievers, said, “You start with the teams that aren’t going anywhere — San Diego, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Minnesota, then there’ll be teams who are on the fence like Colorado, Oakland, Philadelphia, Angels, etc., and before the deadline guys will be available.
“You have to look at workload,” he added. “How he’s reacting to a heavy workload and whether the workload means he won’t be as effective late in the season. After all, that’s what it’s all about. If the guy you trade for is burned out by Aug. 15, what good is that? There are teams very careful with their guys and other teams that abuse guys. That’s part of scouting, recognizing the relievers that have something left in the tank.”
That’s one reason the Red Sox’ Junichi Tazawa was scratched off most deadline lists last year: He had been overworked. One NL scout who was assigned to Tazawa knew right away that Tazawa would not be one of the relievers he would recommend because he thought the righthander had a tired arm. That proved to be true. Now the Red Sox have to mull whether to tie up Tazawa before he hits free agency this offseason.
The Rangers have already shaken up their bullpen internally.
“The easy answer is that we’ve got to have somebody else step up and be able to close out four- and five-run games, but we’ve blown seven saves,” manager Jeff Banister said. “We’ve lost multiple-run leads to a point where we had to change closers. When you don’t hold on to leads, it does something to the psyche of a club. There was a trend going that had to be reversed. The management of the bullpen has been somewhat imperfect, but we are continuing to nail down games so that we can keep winning.”
SIDE TO SIDE
Move to AL can challenge hitters
David Ortiz first brought this up last season, when he took notice of former NL hitters struggling in their transition to the AL.
“There’s more offspeed pitches in the American League,” Ortiz insisted. “You’re not getting as many fastballs over here. These lineups are really good in the American League. The pitching is different.”
Said Red Sox teammate Hanley Ramirez, who spent nine seasons in the NL before returning to the AL in 2015, “In the National League, you’re getting fastballs on 2-1 or 3-0 [counts]. In the American League, you’re getting sliders.”
Ruben Amaro Jr., the former Phillies general manager and now the first base coach of the Red Sox, has a theory that pitchers in the AL have to be so good because of the offensive talent they face; that leads to them refining their secondary pitches, and therefore AL hitters see more quality offspeed stuff.
Troy Tulowitzki has had a hard time offensively since leaving Colorado. And before you blame it on not playing at Coors Field, Rogers Centre is also a hitter’s paradise. Look at Justin Upton’s struggles with Detroit after spending his first nine seasons in the NL. Brian McCann had trouble in his first season with the Yankees after having much success in Atlanta.
Pablo Sandoval has been a bust in Boston after seven years in San Francisco. Chase Headley was better in San Diego than he has been with the Yankees. Carlos Beltran didn’t have an easy transition back to the AL after spending 10 years in the NL. There are plenty of other examples.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t NL-to-AL success stories among hitters. Todd Frazier started out poorly after going from Cincinnati to the White Sox, but through Thursday he led the league in homers. Ian Desmond is having a better year with the Rangers than he did with the Nationals last season. Adrian Gonzalez did well in his transition from San Diego to Boston, knocking in 203 runs in close to two full seasons with the Red Sox.
“New ballparks, new routines, different hitting backgrounds, new defensive alignments, being in a new uniform with fresh and higher expectations. It takes a hitter time to be comfortable and or know what to expect from a new pitcher,” said Angels third base coach Gary DiSarcina. “The AL pitchers seem to use their secondary stuff, and due to the DH being involved, pitch very carefully, around the edges, where in the NL pitchers throw their fastball. The human side plays a role, especially if the player makes a lot of money.”
Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan said he didn’t notice any difference between calling games in the AL and the NL, where he spent seven seasons. But he did mention changing leagues can affect a hitter.
“I understand that some guys struggle, but I think there are a variety of reasons that usually have to do with lack of familiarity of the pitchers,” he said. “I think it takes a while to get to know different pitching.”
Through June 1, NL pitchers had thrown fastballs 59.1 percent of the time, compared with 54.8 percent in the AL. NL pitchers threw sliders at a 15.3 percent rate, the AL 13.8 percent. For curveballs, the NL was at 9.4 percent, the AL 10.6. Splitters were also more frequent in the AL at 2.3 percent, compared with 0.9 percent in the NL.
Apropos of nothing
1. The Dodgers last week tried to use laser rangefinders to position their outfielders at Citi Field against the Mets. The Mets protested, and the league had to make a decision; it decided that this technology was going a bit too far. The Dodgers were trying to perfectly position their outfielders based on metrics, an advantage that was not available to other teams.
2. Orioles manager Buck Showalter offered Adam Jones a choice: Take a couple of days off to get his swing together, or move to the leadoff spot. In his first seven games atop the order, Jones hit .345 with a .984 OPS.
3. As rookie catcher Francisco Pena took the field for the Orioles Thursday night, I remembered that 26 years earlier in Santiago, Dominican Republic, I had held him in my arms. His dad, former All-Star catcher Tony Pena, handed him to me so he could take a phone call. I had gone to Pena’s home to do a feature story after the Red Sox signed him to a free agent contract in November 1989. Francisco was 2 months old. On Thursday, he hit his first major league homer, at Camden Yards against the Red Sox.
4. Scott Boras pointed out that he got Stephen Strasburg signed in season with the Nationals before becoming a free agent. He also got Adrian Beltre signed to an extension with the Rangers while in season. So it’s now hard to peg him as an agent not willing to listen to in-season extensions. Which brings us to two more Boras clients — Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Really, there’s no incentive for the Red Sox or Boras to get long-term deals done right now. Bradley Jr. and Bogaerts are arbitration-eligible after this year and won’t become free agents until 2020 (Bogaerts) and 2021 (Bradley). Boras said he speaks to the Red Sox on many matters, but wouldn’t reveal whether he’s talked to them about contracts. It’s also not in Dave Dombrowski’s history to lock up young players this early.
5. Remember how we always heard of Jim Rice having a candlepin bowling lane in his house? Well, Dombrowski has a 10-pin bowling alley in his house.
6. Saw Brady Anderson belt two home runs during Orioles batting practice. The team’s VP of baseball operations, now 52, can still hit.
7. We hear that as long as the Dolans own the Indians, there won’t be a threat of them leaving Cleveland, where they simply can’t draw. But if the Dolans sold the team? Well, that could be a different story. The Indians are already down about 2,500 fans per game from last season, when they averaged 17,172 after 26 dates.
Updates on nine
1. Jose Bautista, RF, Blue Jays — Let’s watch Toronto closely. While the Jays are showing signs of coming out of their slumber, if they don’t feel they’re contenders by mid-summer, they would likely try to sell off pending free agents Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Mark Shapiro will likely want to put his stamp on this team. Look for teams such as the Giants, Cardinals, and Cubs to have interest, especially in Bautista, who is still a good outfielder and can play first base and third if need be. Encarnacion would be more of a DH/1B. Neither player has been involved in extension talks. Investing big money in 30-something players doesn’t seem to be in Shapiro’s playbook.
2. Steven Wright, RHP, Red Sox — He has been one the great stories of the season and has really saved the Red Sox staff — three complete games — in becoming a true No. 2. It reminds me of 1995, when Dan Duquette took Tim Wakefield off the scrap heap and the knuckleballer went 14-1 in his first 17 starts and saved Boston’s season. The Red Sox got Wright from Cleveland in 2012 for journeyman first baseman Lars Anderson. In his last start, Wright’s knuckleball had a 10-mile-per-hour variance (64-74), he threw an 86-m.p.h. fastball, and also a curve. Pretty tough for the hitter.
3. James Shields, RHP, White Sox — A poor outing vs. the Mariners May 31 (10 runs in 2⅔ innings) really gave a few teams who were interested in dealing for the veteran some pause. The White Sox were close at one point, backed off, and then decided to go for it Saturday after they were able to get the Padres to pay $29 million of the remaining $57 million on the deal. As one GM pointed out last week, “Do you think [White Sox] owner Jerry Reinsdorf would take on that kind of money?” The answer was no, but Reinsdorf eventually heard the right number. The Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, and Dodgers also had expressed some interest.
4. Brad Ausmus, manager, Tigers — Ausmus’s job security seems to be OK despite an underachieving year for the Tigers. Ausmus is in the final year of his deal, and if things get worse he may not be renewed. Sources in the Tigers organization indicate that there are no immediate plans to replace him.
5. Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves — The Red Sox are definitely one team that matches up well with the Braves as a trade partner. The Red Sox would have to give up a top positional player/prospect, such as Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada, Travis Shaw, or Blake Swihart. The Red Sox may be more apt to give up Swihart, whom the Braves could use as their future catcher, but it would take more than Swihart to get a deal done for Teheran. There’s no question the Red Sox need a proven starting pitcher, and the Braves want a proven bat. Teheran has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 14 of his last 17 starts dating to last Aug. 30, compiling a 2.35 ERA in that span.
6. Billy Beane, vice president, A’s — Beane has positioned himself perfectly to obtain decent talent for some of his veteran pieces. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, John Axford, Josh Reddick (once he gets healthy), and Jed Lowrie could all be moved for prospects. Sonny Gray is injured and out of the trade mix for now.
7. Aaron Wilkerson, RHP, Pawtucket — Wilkerson was stocking frozen foods at a supermarket before he caught a break playing independent league ball. The 27-year-old was undrafted in 2011 out of Cumberland (Tenn.) University and played in three independent leagues before signing with the Red Sox in August 2014. He recently moved up to Triple A and allowed one run over 6⅔ innings in his first start, with nine strikeouts. In two levels this season he is 3-1 with a 2.26 ERA and 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
8. David Ross, C, Cubs — Ross has rated as one of the best defensive catchers in what he has said will be his last season. The Cubs rank No. 1 in catcher ERA at 2.60 (through Thursday). Asked about retiring, Ross said, “We’ve only gotten through the first two months. Ask me in September.”
9. Jered Weaver, RHP, Angels — Weaver, once among the best in the league, has been fighting for his spot in the rotation in virtually every start. Weaver, who is in the final year of his contract, was 3-0 with a 3.86 ERA in his first four starts. But since then he’s 2-4 with a 5.93 ERA. The Angels would love to move him in a deal, but with his reduced velocity and poor numbers, that’s going to be tough to do.
From Bill Arnold’s goodie bag: David Ortiz has registered the three slowest home run trots in 2016, according to trot tracker Larry Granillo. The Red Sox DH strolled around the bases in 32.03 seconds on April 30, 30.76 seconds on May 8, and 30.13 seconds on May 28 . . . Happy 30th birthday on Monday to Junichi Tazawa.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.