The Chicago Cubs’ quick rise, amazing any way you look at it, was built on no less than seven great decisions. Signing Jon Lester, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist were solid or better moves, but those players were known entities. The real key to the Cubs’ ascension is seven deals for less-known, far-less-certain players. Taken together, they added up to the building of a champion, and perhaps a World Champion.
Here they are, the seven moves that turned the Cubs into baseball’s best team, and the inside story behind them …
1. Taking Kris Bryant No. 2 in the 2013 Draft. They caught a bit of a break when the Astros went with Stanford right-hander Mark Appel a Houstonian who was a senior and signed for a little less. Top Cubs executives are said to have had a very spirited debate about the consensus top three players – Jonathan Gray and especially Appel and Bryant. The belief is that while the Cubs also like Appel, who has yet to make the majors, there was a slight leaning toward Bryant after a very productive meeting with Bryant and Cubs execs Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod in Stockton, CA while Bryant was there for his college conference tournament. They loved the way Bryant loved talking baseball and how “comfortable he was in his own skin,” as one Cubs person put it. They decided then and there he was a guy who could handle being the No. 2 overall pick by the closely watched Cubs. They may have felt similarly about Appel, who is also a terrific and smart kid, but they never had to make that call, as the Astros removed the righty from the equation in an all-time draft gaffe. The Cubs may have taken Bryant, the very likely 2016 NL MVP, anyway, as they saw him as the “least risk” among the three, as the positon player who had a monster junior year.
2. Trading Andrew Cashner and Kyung-Min Na for Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates. This was no fluke or stroke of luck, as Hoyer and Epstein had Rizzo with the Red Sox, and Hoyer traded for him with the Padres (in the Adrian Gonzalez deal). As with Bryant, they loved the makeup, seeing him as a leader in a future clubhouse. They also saw him as a middle of the order hitter. They didn’t know he’d hit for this high an average, but they knew he was willing to try to make necessary adjustments. After a brutal first foray into the majors with the Padres, Hoyer and manager Bud Black sat him down and talked about how, after his very first brush with failure, he needed to shorten his swing. Rizzo immediately went to work, and Hoyer became the beneficiary of the changes. While Rizzo was working on redoing his swing, Hoyer followed Epstein to the Cubs, and not long after helped engineer the deal to land Rizzo. Cashner, a 100-mph thrower, was seen as having a huge upside. But as a hard-throwing pitcher he came with more risk. Ultimately, though, the key was that they loved Rizzo, seeing him as a potential “building block.”
3. Trading Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger for Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta. The Cubs knew the Orioles liked Feldman very much, as pitching coach Rick Adair had Feldman in Texas, and they needed more certainty in their rotation as they took aim on a title. The Orioles were also likely growing frustrated with Arrieta, an extremely talented pitcher who was showing only flashes of brilliance while going up and down with the Orioles over parts of four years. The Cubs actually tried first for Zach Britton or Chris Tillman, but the Orioles said no to those two. Arrieta’s weak overall big-league record severely limited his trade value at the time, but the Cubs saw possibilities (though no one could have predicted the utter dominance that led to his 2015 NL Cy Young win). When he arrived, they told him to pitch however he feels comfortable, and that appears to have been the key. The Orioles generally prefer to not have their pitchers throw across their bodies, so they discouraged Arrieta from doing so. It’s also seen as more of an injury risk to throw that way. But the Cubs figured he needed to do something different. They take no special credit. “I think we benefited from a fresh start,” is the way Hoyer put it. (The Orioles made this better from their perspective when they sent Clevenger to the Mariners for Mark Trumbo.)
4. Trading Ryan Dempster for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva. The Cubs admit to getting a little fortunate here, too. They originally had a deal worked out for Dempster to go to Atlanta for pitcher Randall Delgado. But Dempster, who had 10-and-5 veto rights, nixed that deal. It appeared for a while that the Cubs might be in a tight spot, as word was getting out that Dempster most preferred to go to the Dodgers, who indeed sought Dempster, due to a roster that included ex-Cub Ted Lilly and some other close friends. The Cubs believe that they couldn’t get a good deal with the Dodgers, as they felt the Dodgers believed they had the Cubs “over a barrel.” Their recollection is that the Dodgers rebuffed all their requests, though some say those requests, while showing excellent taste, didn’t necessarily reflect any desperation to send him to the Dodgers (word is, they sought one of Corey Seager, Joc Pederson or Julio Urias). Anyway, in an effort to show Dempster that they were struggling to make a deal with L.A., Cubs higherups invited Dempster into the room at the deadline to see what their negotiations were like, and in the final few hours he approved Texas. The Cubs settled on Hendricks, a great thinker and person who wasn’t a very hard thrower. They didn’t necessarily see him as a potential Cy Young winner (to the surprise of all he has become a favorite this year), but they did have good info on him, and heard he was a real “student of the game.” It was the Cubs’ pro scouts, including Kyle Evans, who provided the prescient info. The Rangers liked him, too, but he certainly wasn’t a prospect of the class of Seager, Pederson or Urias, and they needed to solidify their rotation heading toward the playoffs. Dempster later became a Cubs front office member, and others say he jokes that he deserves the credit the Hendricks deal. (Dempster is known for his sense of humor.)
5. Trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily. The A’s sought to add surefire innings to their rotation and focused on the workhorse Samardzija, an innings eater who could bolster the A’s’ rotation. Oakland didn’t have enough good prospects to make this deal without Russell, who was the Cubs’ focus for a month. Russell, the first Cubs shortstop since Ernie Banks to go 20 and 90 (HR and RBI) and a star for years to come, was on rehab with a hamstring issue, and Cubs people quietly followed him for a month. While they already had two young shortstops in Starlin Castro and Javier Baez, they just loved Russell so much that they couldn’t resist (as it turns out, they didn’t necessarily love Castro, and after an initial struggle with strikeouts in the majors, have found great value in Baez by moving him around the diamond; he’s one of the best defensive players in the majors). While there were some questions about Castro’s focus and Baez’s background, Russell was another who had that perfect makeup they sought.
6. Picking Kyle Schwarber with the 4h pick in the 2014 MLB draft. The Cubs preferred a college hitter, and especially a left-handed one, so they focused on Schwarber and Michael Conforto. While others seemed to prefer Conforto, after serious debate the Cubs liked Schwarber for his power and quietly pursued him in what turned out to be a surprise move even if they weren’t absolutely sure the Indiana University star would be a catcher long-term. Schwarber, who missed the year with a knee injury but is still held in such high regard he was deemed untouchable at the deadline, also happens to be another one with outstanding makeup, so he fit in a few ways.
7. Taking Hector Rondon with a Rule 5 pick. The Cubs saw this one as a flyer, a pitcher with an arm but real questions (if not for the questions, he wouldn’t have been exposed via the Rule 5). The Cubs had good reports, and their scouts liked how his fastball cut, so they took what was admittedly no sure thing. Employee Franklin Font happened to coach Rondon on his Venezuelan winter ball team when Rondon was an Indian, and another Cubs person Tim Kissner knew of Rondon as well, leading to the smart pick. Now he’s a key back-end piece, the main bridge to closer Aroldis Chapman.
No official notice on manager Chip Hale yet, though word is that he’s hiring big-time agent Alan Nero, who negotiated Joe Maddon’s $25-million Cubs deal and Art Howe’s amazing $10-million Mets deal. There have been rumors about Hale’s job security since June, but brutal injuries and the underperformance of key pitchers Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin are really what’s cost them … De Jon Watson was the first front office casualty. Watson has been seen as a hard worker and very successful throughout his career (he helped develop Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and others while with the Dodgers). Our Robert Murray confirmed a conflict with farm director Mike Bell was an issue. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and MLB Network and Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic were on this story … Brandon Drury is a player. Funny how many positives there are in such a dreadful season.
The Braves say interim manager Brian Snitker has done a fine job and is in the mix, but as expected, they plan to interview manager candidates, which seems to suggest there’s also a good chance they’ll hire a new manager. Terry Pendleton and Bo Porter are the other main inside candidates. In addition to Torey Lovullo, other names that could be considered include Bud Black, Ron Gardenhire and Don Wakamatsu … Give the Braves credit for not doing anything like tanking and happily allowing the Twins to get that No. 1 pick. And actually, the Braves are suddenly “dangerous” on offense, according to one scout. Ender Inciarte and Adonis Garcia have been very productive lately, joining Freddie Freeman, who’s been on fire. Garcia incidentally was signed after his release by the Yankees for a minor-league salary ($2,000 a month). Ex-Yankee execs Gordon Blakeley and Alex Cotto (nephew of Henry) deserve the credit there … A lot was made of GM John Coppolella’s remark that while Matt Kemp has been a terrific help to the lineup that they’d also prefer to see him improve his shape (said here and on MLB Network), but from here the GM made a rather obvious statement of fact and did so diplomatically. The truth is, while Kemp has hit and aided their lineup, his poor shape is shocking to everyone who’s seen Braves games recently. It would be impossible not to notice. How sensitive have we all become? … While Atlanta definitely is in the market for a catcher, they aren’t seen as likely to meet Matt Wieters’ price. Wieters has engendered significant Braves speculation since he is a Georgia Tech product … Max Fried, 13 K’s the other day, was throwing 93-96 mph and found his old curve. Good sign for him … Longtime former GM John Schuerholz’s Hall of Fame candidacy will be debated at the next veterans committee meeting, and with Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz having gone in recently, it would be just for Schuerholz to make it, too. Fourteen straight division titles won’t ever be repeated.
The free agent call made in this space last week for Wieters to get $30 million over three years as a free agent was apparently quite controversial, with some saying it was way too low for a catcher with his resume (three All Star teams, 2 Gold Gloves, 4 times 15-60 in home runs, RBI). To see what others thought, I asked two top management people and two agents (not his own). The two agents said they thought he’d get $70-80 million, based on the deals for Brian McCann and Russell Martin and the lack of good catchers in MLB, more than double what I guessed. However, the two management people thought I was actually a little high, with one guessing as low as $8 million for one year. This should be an interesting one … Anyway, with Wieters’ price tag expected to be affected by the McCann/Martin numbers, it’s not too easy to see the Orioles getting there. Agent Scott Boras is traveling to Baltimore this week to meet with Orioles people, but there’s little expectation of a quick Wieters deal. The Orioles love Zach Britton, another Boras client, but don’t want to talk contract for such a young star during the season, especially when he’s still a couple years from free agency … Britton has stayed perfect (44 for 44) so it’s fair to see with this wide-open field of starters, there’s an outside chance he may steal the Cy Young award … Mark Trumbo is expected to receive a qualifying offer after his big year … Adam Jones had some thought-provoking things to say in an interview with Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Jones made some fair points, I thought.
Boston Red Sox
Carlos Beltran, who they pursued strongly at the deadline, makes a lot of sense as David Ortiz’s possible replacement … Steven Wright’s inability to get back (shoulder) may give pause to managers using pitchers as pinch runners … David Ortiz passed Mickey Mantle on the all-time home run list. Mantle was third in career home runs when he retired, as Brian Kenny of MLB Network pointed out. He is 18th now. (He still leads in World Series homers, with 18 though.) … Hanley Ramirez could always hit.
The Theo disguise was absolutely brilliant, even if it’s done before (by him and Bobby Valentine) … Epstein is still expected to receive a big new deal after the year, but based on what’s been done (see above) he can’t be too concerned nothing has been done yet.
Chicago White Sox
Jose Abreu created a bit of stir when he answered honestly that the Royals seem to have greater “desire.” Hard to disagree, based on the results of recent years … Robin Ventura’s seat appears to be getting warmer. Most likely, the only thing that could spare him is Jerry Reinsdorf’s well-deserved rep for great loyalty … I’m not usually one to recommend retirement for anyone, but Justin Morneau has been battling head and neck issues for a decade now. He had a .725 OPS in limited duty with the ChiSox and uncharacteristically struck out five times for every time he walked this year. He attributed a recent absence to “old man neck.” But he’s only 35.
Joey Votto is trying to become the third player to produce a .400 batting average and .500 on-base percentage in a half. Ted Williams and Barry Bonds are the only two to do so … Jose Peraza is hitting .375 since Aug. 20 recall. So the Todd Frazier deal may be better than first thought … The Reds set an MLB record by allowing 242 homers, with 11 games to play … With an average season next year Brandon Phillips will become the fifth player as a second baseman to produce 200 home runs, 2,000 hits and 200 stolen bases, joining Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg … Congrats to Dan Straily for logging his first hit after 48 hitless at-bats. Folks celebrated, saying .021 looks a lot better than .000. Not sure that’s true as .000 could pass for 0-for-3 while there’s no disguising .021 … Reds great Barry Larkin is managing Team Brazil in the WBC, with LaTroy Hawkins and Steve Finley coaches.
Some believe my $12-million free-agent call for Mike Napoli may prove low. He’s won everywhere, so I’m inclined to agree. He’ll likely hit $10 million this year, as he’s closing in on the final $1 million in incentives (he gets 500K for 625 and 645 plate appearances; more reason for Party at Napoli’s). It’ll be an interesting call whether he gets the qualifying offer (with a big-market team it may be more obvious) … The Indians have survived season-ending injuries to Michael Brantley and now Danny Salazar, but the latest one, that will sideline Carlos Carrasco, will be a real test. Carrasco suffered a break in his pitching hand on a comebacker … Very longtime Indians writer Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer penned a piece recently saying the Indians are “doomed” in the playoffs now that their rotation is down to ace Corey Kluber, plus Bauer and Mike Tomlin and Mike Clevinger. Hoynes took a lot of heat, with even Bauer tweeting that he was cowardly for missing the next game. Hoynes is entitled to a day off after 33 years covering the Indians, I’d say. I’d also say Hoynes might have a point. (As for me predicting on MLB Network the Indians wouldn’t even make the playoffs about a month ago, that was just plain dumb.)
Jon Gray, the player picked after Bryant in the draft looks like he may turn out to be a very good one. A 16-strikeout performance this week is a very positive sign … Sons of Rockies great Dante Bichette, Dante Bichette Jr. (Yankees minors) and Bo Bichette (Jays minors), are on Team Brazil in the WBC.
Tigers people are saying manager Brad Ausmus has done a “good” job, but if the Tigers don’t make the playoffs, he could be an issue. Their chances are probably still less than 50-50, though it’s in their hands … It doesn’t help that they have four games left with Cleveland, their nemesis. If they don’t make the playoffs, their inability to beat Cleveland is the reason … Tigers players are quite upset with the Indians after Indians starter Trevor Bauer hit three Tigers with pitches early this week. Adding insult to injury, Ian Kinsler, after being hit on the head in the game, was ejected after he had a hand gesture he was meaning for Miguel Cabrera misconstrued … Justin Verlander has obviously had a great year, and he’s also pitching pretty well. In fact, in the wide-open A.L. Cy Young race, he’s a candidate to win his second award. Verlander and kids Daniel Norris, Michael Fulmer and Daniel Boyd are the four solid pieces in the rotation at the point.
Dallas Keuchel, Alex Bregman and Lance McCullers Jr. aren’t likely to make it back for the regular season … The Astros are expected to target starting pitchers this winter. If Keuchel and McCullers are OK, so are they. But without them, their rotation is thin. Doug Fister is also a free agent … Yulieski Gurriel has been terrific in his first days in Houston, and has a .941 OPS … His much younger brother Lourdes was said to be impressive in his initial showcase last week. The Astros were there (via Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle), the Marlins (via Jorge Edro of Nuevo Herald) and the Cardinals (reported here first), as well as about 20 other teams. Private workouts are being set up following a successful showcase, and all three of those NL clubs could be among the parties still interested … Evan Gattis is catching quite a bit for them. But one scout insists, “He’s a DH.”
Kansas City Royals
Bench coach Don Wakamatsu could be a hot managerial candidate this winter. He did well with the Mariners before an abrupt dismissal … Reymond Fuentes, who was DFA’ed this week, is a former first-round pick of the Red Sox and a cousin of ex-Royals great Carlos Beltran, who they tried to sign back three years ago.
Los Angeles Angels
Tim Lincecum is said to be determined to come back next year and give it another try. He did better at the Triple-A level after struggling with the Angels, with both his velocity and control. Lincecum believes that while he concentrated on making sure his surgically-repaired hip was strong, he needed to concentrate more on arm strength … Jered Weaver is saying he wants to come back to pitch, as well, and he didn’t do too badly (he leads the team in wins and innings) despite an 81-to-83-mph fastball … Garrett Richards is scheduled to throw against live hitters Oct. 1 reports Jeff Fletcher from the Orange County Register … Bud Black will be a good managerial candidate somewhere.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Yasiel Puig is reported to have been a “model citizen” so far on his return trip to the Dodgers. He’s fighting with the opposition now (Madison Bumgarner), so that’s a plus … One Dodgers issue continues to be left-handers, though one wouldn’t think that would necessarily be the case, with righty swingers Justin Turner, Howie Kendrick, Carlos Ruiz and Puig, and all-around hitters like Adrian Gonzalez and Corey Seager … Medical reviews aren’t always exactly perfect. It’s science, but not an exact science. Scott Kazmir passed his test, and has been hurting a lot this year. Brett Anderson passed twice. Meanwhile, Kenta Maeda had to redo his deal after elbow and shoulder issues were found and he remains asymptomatic, and Hisashi Iwakuma’s three-year Dodgers deal was canceled after an issue was found (apparently elbow), and he’s been perfectly healthy as well, though with the Mariners. Maeda actually has been their one completely healthy starter in a year of almost unprecedented pain … The Seager brothers have had similar statistical seasons. But we’ll take Corey the shortstop helping his team to a division title.
There’s speculation on the net about the Marlins trading Jose Fernandez this winter. Particularly with the All-Star Game coming, I don’t see it. “What do they need? Starting pitching. They’d be fools to trade Fernandez,” one rival GM says … Fernando Rodney might be set free, adding to a strong relief market, as his 2017 team option will probably wind up at over $4 million plus big and makeable incentives. Due to incentives reached based on games finished, Rodney is going to make over $4 million for this year … The Marlins saw Jeremy Hellickson as a back-end starter (as did many others) but he would have been a much better choice as a trade target than Andrew Cashner, who couldn’t pitch without his beard, it turns out … They’ve shown interest in Lourdes Gurriel … The Marlins are expected to make some changes in the player development dept. They have let go Craig Wiseman, a Dan Jennings hire and longtime baseball guy.
Keon Broxton, whose season ended when he broke his wrist on the ivy-covered Wrigley wall, had a nice if uneven season, with a .349 on-base percentage and .776 OPS. Looks like Milwaukee may have its center fielder … Josh Hader, a lefty with deGrom-like hair, will be a star … Chris Carter is a “modern day Dave Kingman.,” one scout says. Laugh if you will, but Kingman had a pretty good MLB career.
Brian Dozier told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he’d like to stay long-term but is interested to see who the new GM will be first … There shouldn’t be worries about some good folks turning down an opportunity to interview for the Twins’ top baseball job — at least Ben Cherington and David Forst are reported as having done so (LaVelle Neal of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had the Cherington story, Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 had the Forst story) — as all that matters, ultimately, is whether they find the right person. Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo and Cubs AGM Jason McLeod are among the candidates that seem to have the right qualifications and experience, and they are likely among the favorites, though there’s no reason they couldn’t look at a current GM, too. Mets AGM John Ricco had been linked to the job, and would make a great candidate, but for whatever reason doesn’t appear to be in the mix at the moment. While they have identified execs with great reps, it seems like a leap to consider guys in their early 30s who’ve been an AGM for a year or two for another team for a position akin to baseball president or chief baseball officer. They are hoping to have a decision within the next few weeks … If anyone does turn the job down, or simply can’t do it, it shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a slap by Twins people. The timing wasn’t right for ex-Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, who just moved his young family to LA. But if there are drawbacks to a Twins job, they are, in nor order: 1) a lack of pitching, 2) a weak and long local TV deal, 3) promises to keep multiple high-ranking folks (though from here, Paul Molitor should keep his job, despite an awful season) … As of today, Hunter Greene, a SS-RHP out of Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame High, the same school that produced Giancarlo Stanton, would be the No. 1 pick. One scout said he could be either but he favors him as a pitcher while another scout says hitter. One GM calls him “the best high school prospect in years.” So they’ve got that going for them.
New York Mets
Terry Collins is expected to easily make it back if the Mets make the playoffs, and maybe even if they don’t as the Mets have done a decent job weathering a lot of key injuries. But at least one team that may be looking for a manager has some interest in him, if he’s let go … Even if Tim Tebow doesn’t make it to the majors (and almost no one thinks he will), it’s good pub for him, and better marketing for the Mets, who’ve made the $100,000 back already, in spades. “It’s like a free ad,” one executive says … Not everyone sees the upside. “Among Heisman winners, Johnny Manziel is a much better baseball player,” another rival GM says. “And he’s a lot younger, too.” Not that anyone’s going to be signing Manziel anytime soon (he’s not going to bring the same sort of positive press, to say the least) … One rival GM thought my $100-million prediction for Yoenis Cespdes was low. That GM sees $150 million to $200 million for Cespedes. “He’s better than Heyward,” that GM pointed out … Steven Matz is said to be throwing, and feeling better, and they are targeting him to start Friday. But the Mets need to be careful with the rookie with both elbow and shoulder questions, and are saying he will throw only two or three innings. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler are all already out for the year. The deGrom injury is a real blow to their World Series chances, though with their great recent play, and ridiculously easy closing schedule, they should easily grab a wild-card spot … The Mets might also want to watch the work load of top relievers Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed, who are both in the top four in appearances. Reed has had a brilliant season, and mostly under the radar … It’s going to be interesting to see whether the Mets pick up Jay Bruce’s $13-million option or buy him out for $1 million. His performance in New York has earned boos, not calls of Bruce, from the Queens crowd. They don’t believe it’s that Bruce isn’t cut out for N.Y., they just see him as a streak player on the wrong end of a streak … Lucas Duda’s return, without benefit of minor-league games, is pretty amazing … Robert Gsellman has a labrum team in his left non-throwing shoulder, Adam Rubin of ESPN reported. This is an issue when he bats … Asdrubal Cabrera was a great signing, it turns out.
New York Yankees
Dellin Betances hasn’t done as well as closer as he did as set-up man. So word is the Yankees may go back after Aroldis Chapman as a free agent … GM Brian Cashman did a nice job kick-starting the mini rebuild, but if the Yankees wind up only a few games short, there will be some wonder whether they could have sneaked in had they still had Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran. If there’s any regret, it’s probably not over Chapman since that deal looks pretty good for a free agent … Gary Sanchez is a superstar but his one weakness may have been found: blocking balls. Nonetheless, his amazing rise has put him in the two-man Rookie of the Year mix, with Detroit’s Michael Fulmer.
Henderson Alvarez experienced serious shoulder pain every time he tried to throw this year, and has undergone should surgery. Sources initially indicated he could be out eight months or so, putting his possible return in late May or June. He may be amenable to a low-base two-year deal, possibly as a make-good with the A’s, for whom he has yet to appear … The A’s look like they may be en route to a decent (and surprising) finish. They absolute crushed the Royals in a recent four-game set (they outscored the World Champs by 31 runs) … Ryon Healy continues to look like a future star, as has been mentioned in this space the past few weeks. He added a 480-foot home run to his resume.
More and more, Jeremy Hellickson looks like a candidate to be given the qualifying offer … Tommy Joseph looks like he hit enough to be in their plans for a lot of at bats at first base. They may look for a left-hander, though, to replace the at-bats of Ryan Howard, who will be gone.
Francisco Cervelli has to be happy to he took the sure thing of the $31-million, three-year deal. While he’s played well, he faced the two things that would have hampered him in free agency: 1) injuries, and 2) lack of power (he has zero home runs).
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have had an atypical season in many respects, but they continue to produce talent. Carlos Martinez took a nice step forward in the rotation this year, and the uber-talented Alex Reyes plus Luke Weaver look ready to contribute there as well. The Cardinals opted not to talk extension with Martinez at the All-Star break but they could look at it in the winter. Same goes for Reyes. Though it’s rare for a pitcher to sign long-term after less than a year, it’s not unprecedented (i.e. Matt Moore) … They are believed interested in Lourdes Gurriel … Hard to believe Adam Wainwright has a 6.14 ERA on the road, worst in the NL.
San Diego Padres
That GM A.J. Preller survived the revelation that the team kept two sets of medical information (one for them, and a less complete one for others) shows how much his bosses, including team president Mike Dee, think of him. The 30-day suspension, while perhaps not the punishment the Red Sox hoped for (Red Sox president Tom Werner expressed disappointment in the resolution) shows MLB powers were none too pleased … The Padres were also fined an undisclosed amount, according to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune … Trevor Hoffman is the bullpen coach for Team Great Britain in the WBC … Best wishes to the Solarte family. It’s just amazing Yangervis Solarte has been able to play, and to play this well, during this heartbreaking year. His wife Yuliett died of cancer at 31 Saturday. The Solartes have three young girls.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are second-guessing not making a stronger push for reliever Mark Melancon … Jake Peavy would like to return next year. While he hasn’t had the year he hoped to have, he should be able to find a job, with pitching at such a premium.
Edwin Diaz looks like a star in the closing role … Ketel Marte is “not the guy” to be their shortstop, one scout opined. But GM Jerry Dipoto didn’t sound like he was ready to give up in a recent interview … Robinson Cano is a legit MVP candidate … The Mariners would like to bring back Nori Aoki, who has a .770 OPS despite two demotions. He’s also got a chance to get to the 480 plate appearances needed for his $5-million option to vest … In their continuing makeover, the Mariners let go organization pitching coaches Rick Waits and Gary Wheelock, former big-league pitchers.
Tampa Bay Rays
Logan Morrison’s season ended with a torn sheath in his left wrist, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported. The Rays are emphasizing range and agility at first base, so LoMo probably isn’t a long-term fit, though he had his moments this year following a slow start … The Rays may have a tough turnaround. “They don’t have a lot coming,” one rival GM said.
Between them, deadline pickups Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gomez have 21 home runs and 70 RBI. No one helped their offense as much at the deadline. No one came close … Rougned Odor joined an elite group who’ve hit 30 home runs by their age 22 season (Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols, according to Jared Sandler, of Rangers radio). Extensive extension talks were halted earlier this season over a few million plus Texas’ request for two team options. Odor apparently was willing to do one option at the time. Also, he wanted somewhat more than the $35-million, six-year the Rangers deal offered (basically, the Gregory Polanco deal). Odor’s reps explained that that Pirates deal was driven by Polanco, who felt he needed the security to perform his best. Odor, as we have seen, tends to be the feisty type who’s willing to take a chance … Rangers people still don’t seem certain whether Jeremy Jeffress would make it back this year. That’s not a surprise, as drug rehab takes priority, understandably.
Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista very likely will turn down a qualifying offer by the Jays, but since he does have a ton of ties/marketing deals in Toronto, it’s probably something less than a certainty that he rejects the offer. Considering his reasons to stay in Toronto, It’s somewhat possible he might decide to try to re-establish his value for 2018 after taking the $17-million QO. Sources say the Jays plan to extend the offer, which is no surprise … It makes sense that Ben Cherington should wind up with the Jays. Cherington worked for Mark Shapiro in Cleveland, and continues the Red Sox-Jays-Indians link. Cherington and John Farrell have worked for all three teams. So has Torey Lovullo. Shapiro, Terry Francona and Ross Atkins have worked for two … Josh Donaldson’s recent 0-for-25 slide may cost him a second straight MVP, though the race remains quite interesting … Kevin Pillar, who plays the game as hard as anyone, may understandably take the offseason to rest. But he also may consider playing for Team Israel in the WBC. Pillar, from LA, is Jewish. Team Israel plays in qualifiers Thursday and Friday at Brooklyn. Ike Davis, Craig Breslow, Josh Satin, Cody Decker and Ryan Lavarnway are on the current roster.
The Nationals have opened up contract talks with Wilson Ramos, but the sides don’t appear to be close … Jayson Werth has found “the Fountain of Youth” one Nats person said, pointing out he’s still producing. Werth has long said he’d like to pay as long as he possibly can. He has two years to go on the $126-million, seven-year deal that was widely panned but turned out actually well … Ryan Zimmerman’s struggles have continued, and if they continue into the playoffs it’s possible Dusty Baker could play Stephen Drew at second base and move Daniel Murphy to first base. Perhaps less likely would be moving Trea Turner to second base, and Murphy to first base with Ben Revere playing center field … Max Scherzer has 18 starts with seven innings and no more than two earned runs. Now those are truly quality starts. The Cy Young race seems to pit him and the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks at the top, though others (Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard. Jon Lester) are close … Joe Ross looked decent Sunday, though his changeup wasn’t quite up to standards, one scout said. The Nats are expected to line up a rotation of Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Ross vs. the Dodgers. The lefty Gio could be trouble on the Dodgers … They hold out some hope Stephen Strasburg could make it back for the second round, if they get there … Turner continues to amaze, and would be a Rookie of the Year candidate had it not already been wrapped up by Corey Seager.