-- The MLB trade deadline is nearing, and speculation is heating up across baseball. Here is what our writers are hearing:
Friday's trade buzz
Jerry Crasnick's take: Reds president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty vented to the media on Thursday that the offers for Bruce haven't been nearly at the level of what the Reds think he's worth. So Bruce and Oakland's Josh Reddick enter the weekend as talented corner outfielders in a state of trade limbo. Bruce has a $13 million club option for next season, so he doesn't even fall under the category of "rental.'' But to this point, no team has been motivated to part with the kind of top-shelf prospect that Jocketty and the Reds are seeking.
Jayson Stark's take: When the Mariners put Marte on the disabled list with mononucleosis, there were reports he could be out as long as six weeks. So sources say the Mariners checked in with the Reds on Cozart, who is available and under control through next year. Now it appears Marte will be out considerably less time. But the Mariners and Reds are said to be still talking, about both Cozart and Jay Bruce.
The Mariners have been portrayed as "sellers." But in fact, other clubs describe them more as "shoppers" in this market. Haven't given up on this year. Looking to maximize their chances to win next year. So while Cozart wouldn't seem to have a defined spot once Marte returns, it's possible the Mariners view him as a "value" type buy. He's fifth among NL shortstops in OPS, is making just $2.93 million and is viewed as an above-average defender.
Meanwhile, Bruce's .895 OPS is 133 points higher than the OPS of Seattle right fielders. So he's an obvious fit for the Mariners. And by talking about both, they could help round out a potentially larger deal than originally thought.
Jayson Stark's take: On the one hand, one source Friday estimated that the chances of Sale getting traded were "less than 5 percent." On the other hand, the White Sox sure do keep listening. So it's always notable to pay attention to who's in attendance when a guy like this pitches. Of this group of teams, the Marlins are now out after trading for Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea . . . the Orioles wouldn't seem to have enough depth in their system . . . the Rangers' interest has been no secret . . . and the Nationals are a surprise, because they appear to be focusing more heavily on relief pitching.
Beyond those clubs, the Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees are all known to have some level of interest. But teams that have spoken with the White Sox continue to report that the price on Sale is so high, it's almost impossible to envision someone paying it.
An executive of one team's summation: "They want your five best prospects, and that might not be good enough, because they want major-league ready pitching."
An exec from another club described it this way: "They're asking for a huge haul. But if they get overwhelmed with major league pitching, and controllable guys, they'll strongly consider it."
So it's not impossible that Sale could change area codes in the next few days. But it's still a thousand miles away from likely.
Scott Lauber's take: As much as any team, the Red Sox have the assets -- at the big-league level and in the minors -- to pull off a Hershel Walker-style blockbuster for Sale. What's less clear is whether they actually have the appetite for it. Any deal almost certainly would start with top prospect Yoan Moncada, considered by most talent evaluators to be a future All-Star and recently compared by Double-A Portland manager Carlos Febles to a young Carlos Beltran. The Red Sox also likely would have to include players off the big-league roster (someone like catcher-left fielder Blake Swihart, for instance) and maybe top pitching prospect Michael Kopech.
Because of the hefty price, it still seems more likely than not that Sale stays in Chicago -- at least for now. But as Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said this week, teams' motivations tend to change as the deadline creeps closer. And just in case the Red Sox want to get serious, it appears the White Sox are doing their homework on Boston's farm system.
Jerry Crasnick's take: Cleveland is the most noteworthy team on that list. The provision in Lucroy's contract doesn't preclude a trade, but it's an additional obstacle the Indians would have to surmount.
Adam Rubin's take: I'm hearing there is nothing imminent with the Mets involving a trade. So if anything materializes, and there are no guarantee, it is a lot more likely to come closer to Monday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver trade deadline. Remember, the Mets acquired Addison Reed last year in August via a waiver deal. I have heard the Mets have no intention of trading Double-A prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith.
As for the Brewers and Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee officials came back to the Mets on Thursday with a proposal that was not out-of-hand rejected. The Mets previously had believed any chance of landing Lucroy was dead. Still, Mets personnel don't have a handle on whether Milwaukee's interest in a deal with them is genuine or being used to drive up bids elsewhere for Lucroy.
Katie Strang's take: The fact that the Tigers are now out of the Jonathan Lucroy sweepstakes is not entirely surprising, since the team was considered a long-short to pull off a trade for the Milwaukee Brewers catcher in the first place. Organizationally, there are more pressing needs for Detroit than at that position, anyway. Should the Tigers swing a deal for the deadline, it makes much more sense for them to add pitching depth instead -- either an upgrade to the back end of the rotation or adding an extra arm to the bullpen.
Jayson Stark's take: By giving up their two best remaining prospects (Josh Naylor and Luis Castillo) in their trade for Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea, the Marlins showed how hungry owner Jeffrey Loria is to make the playoffs this year. But the deals they didn't make shows there was a limit to that hunger. They talked with the Tampa Bay Rays about deals involving Matt Moore or Jake Odorizzi, but sources said the Rays weren't high on the Marlins' system. So presumably, any deal would have had to start with everyday players off their big league roster, such as outfielder Christian Yelich, catcher J.T. Realmuto or shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. It now sounds as though they never got far enough along to get that specific. The Marlins also targeted Jeremy Hellickson, but the Phillies reportedly told them they had better options, after scouting the Miami farm system from top to bottom.
Jerry Crasnick's take: Ramirez isn't the flashiest name out there. But the Orioles need a starter, and he's the one arm Tampa Bay is truly interested in moving now that the Rays have determined they'll probably hang on to Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly into the offseason. Ramirez has shown he can compete in the AL East, and he's under team control through 2019. It's not a sexy move for Baltimore, but it's a functional one.
David Schoenfield's take: The Marlins were desperate for rotation help, especially with Wei-Yin Chen on the DL, and they dealt probably the biggest chip in their weak system in first baseman Josh Naylor, last year's surprise first-round pick. Cashner and Rea aren't big upgrades, but both should move into the rotation. Naylor is a Canadian first baseman with power potential and a physique from the David Ortiz school. He's holding his own in Class A, hitting .269 with nine home runs, although most felt he was an overdraft last year because he's limited to first base. Good upside play by the Padres because Cashner will be a free agent at season's end.
Giants acquire All-Star infielder Nunez from Twins
David Schoenfield's take: This is exactly the kind of trade an organization like the Minnesota Twins has to make: Cash in on a veteran player having a career year and obtain a prospect who should help in the future.
The Giants pick up a versatile infielder who also can play the outfield, although it appears they're finally close to getting healthy again. Second baseman Joe Panik returned to the lineup Thursday after missing a month with a concussion, Hunter Pence is rehabbing in Triple-A and third baseman Matt Duffy is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment this weekend as he recovers from a strained Achilles tendon.
Thursday's trade buzz
Jerry Crasnick's take: Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is in serious win-now mode, and his baseball people are frantically scouring the landscape for a starting pitcher. Miami's need for an arm became even more acute when Wei-Yin Chen went on the disabled list with a strained elbow this week. Ultimately, the Marlins have to decide if a two-month Jeremy Hellickson rental is a significant enough upgrade over Tom Koehler, Jarred Cosart and Jose Urena to justify digging deeper into an already weak farm system.
Jerry Crasnick's take: Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy is out of the lineup Thursday against Arizona lefty Robbie Ray, but hold the hysteria. It's a day game after a night game and Lucroy is hitting .238 vs. left-handers this season, so it makes sense for Brewers manager Craig Counsell to rest him in favor of Martin Maldonado. There's a good chance Lucroy gets moved by Monday's deadline, but he's sitting Thursday because it was a scheduled day off -- not because a trade is imminent.
Jayson Stark's take: Beyond Jeremy Hellickson, whose situation we covered Wednesday in this space, the Phillies have next to no veteran trade chips of value -- in large part because they unloaded all those chips last July or over the winter. They were trying to trade Peter Bourjos this week to open a roster spot for Aaron Altherr, who comes off the disabled list Thursday. But Bourjos sprained his shoulder Tuesday, so they'll put him back on the market in August. They were looking for so little in return, his trade value won't be much different next month anyway.
The Phillies have also listened on closer Jeanmar Gomez and setup man David Hernandez. But Gomez is under control for next year and inexpensive. So the Phillies have been telling teams that unless someone values him as a late-inning weapon and is willing to give up a legitimate prospect, they're likely to keep him. And while Gomez has 26 saves in 29 opportunities and a 2.70 ERA, his low strikeout rate (5.6 per 9 innings) makes it unlikely any team would pay that price.
There is no indication the Phillies have heard much more than lukewarm interest in Hernandez, although he has pitched well lately, still averages 94 miles per hour on his fastball and has struck out 57 in 46.2 innings. And it appears the last holdovers from their glory days, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard, will finish out their Phillies careers as backups, although it's still possible Ruiz could be dealt in August to serve as some contender's backup catcher.
Wednesday's trade buzz
Jerry Crasnick's take: It's looking increasingly likely that the Brewers will move Lucroy, one of the prized hitters of the trade deadline market. They're talking to several clubs, and it appears that someone will meet general manager David Stearns' asking price by the Aug. 1 deadline. The team that acquires Lucroy will have him for two months this season and the entire 2017 season, when he's signed for an affordable $5.25 million.
Jerry Crasnick's take: The Seattle Mariners are among the teams that have expressed interest in Cincinnati's Jay Bruce, who is likely to be on the move by Monday's trade deadline. Seattle has received middling production from Seth Smith, Nori Aoki and Franklin Gutierrez at the corner outfield spots this season, and Bruce would provide a major upgrade in 2017 -- he has a $13 million club option next season.
Jayson Stark's take: Now that they've dealt away another back-of-the-rotation starter ( Lucas Harrell), the Braves appear to be focusing on relatively small-scale moves. They would love to find a taker for underachieving shortstop Erick Aybar and second baseman Gordon Beckham, both of whom can be free agents. But it's hard to find any team that has admitted to having interest in those two. They've fielded calls on Jeff Francoeur, thanks to his .781 OPS against left-handed pitching, but seem inclined to keep a good clubhouse presence who is only making $1 million. And they would only move currently injured closer Arodys Vizcaino (oblique) as part of a much bigger deal.
So that leaves Johnson, who has thrown much better in recent weeks since returning from a groin injury that landed him on the disabled list in May. His average fastball velocity is up two miles per hour, to 94.2 mph, since his return. And while that's still a tick below where he was when he was power-sinkering his way to back-to-back 50-save seasons in Baltimore in 2012-13, as ROBaseball.com tweeted Wednesday, his strikeout rate is back up to 19.9 percent. That's actually higher than his 19.2 percent strikeout percentage for the Orioles in 2013. As many as two dozen relievers could get traded in the next five days -- it wouldn't be surprising now if Johnson turns out to be one of them.
Katie Strang's take: The Tigers managed to sweep the Boston Red Sox in a three-game series this week, completing a five-wins-in-seven-games road trip. Consequently, there is a growing feeling within the clubhouse that the team can secure a postseason spot and contend when healthy. That doesn't mean that Tigers brass will abandon its previously stated plans to stand pat, but it does give general manager Al Avila something to think about with the deadline approaching.
Jerry Crasnick's take: The Giants have been in an almost daily tug-of-war over whether they need to fortify the rotation or the bullpen first. They'd love to add a reliever, but the ongoing struggles of Jake Peavy and Matt Cain in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots have increased the possibility that they'll try to add a starter. Volquez is an interesting name, if only because he pitched with Johnny Cueto in Cincinnati and Kansas City. Could the Giants try to unite them a third time?
David Schoenfield's take: Cashner looks more like rotation depth at this point, considering he has struggled with walks and home runs this year while not compensating with a higher strikeout rate. He could be an intriguing arm out of the bullpen, however, if his fastball plays up in relief. He has averaged 93.9 mph as a starter in 2016, but back when he pitched out of the bullpen, he averaged 96-97, so he could be a sneaky relief alternative without the big price the Cubs paid to get Aroldis Chapman
Jerry Crasnick's take: Gallo has been mentioned as a prime trade chip in the Rangers' search for pitching. But some teams have enough reservations about his ability to make contact that they don't see him as the centerpiece of a deal and might be more inclined to focus on Nomar Mazara, Jurickson Profar or Lew Brinson in discussions with Texas. If Gallo develops into another Chris Davis or Adam Dunn, he'll be worth the risk. Until he cuts down on the strikeouts, he has a little too much boom-or-bust for some evaluators' tastes.
Jayson Stark's take: After trading for Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery and activating Joe Nathan, the Cubs have addressed the bullpen, the one area of their team that they viewed as a defined weakness. Although they clearly aren't finished shopping, rival teams say the Cubs have been asking about controllable starting pitchers. Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore in Tampa Bay fit the profile of a trade they could match up with.
The Cubs balked at including young players who have already reached the big leagues -- Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, etc. -- in their pursuit of Chapman and other closers. Tampa Bay has been asking for big league-ready players in virtually any deal it would make for a starting pitcher, so that could be a deal-breaker for now, possibly to be resumed this winter. But a team with as many prospects to trade as the Cubs can't be counted out of the discussion about almost any name currently bouncing around.
Jayson Stark's take: With five days left before the deadline, Hellickson has emerged as the Phillies' one trade chip with real value. He has gone at least six innings in 13 of his past 14 starts, with a 3.14 ERA and a respectable 70-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 89 innings in that span. Teams looking for back-of-the-rotation innings-eaters (Marlins, Orioles, Giants, Pirates, Rangers) have been watching him closely.
Those teams are reporting that the Phillies are looking for a young player who "isn't your best prospect but would fit somewhere in your top five prospects" in return. Their rationale is that, as a Scott Boras client approaching free agency, Hellickson is a player they would almost certainly tender a qualifying offer to this winter, with confidence that he'd be unlikely to take it. As such, they're telling clubs that they see no upside in trading him without getting a player better than the No. 35-40 pick in the draft, which is what they'd end up with.
Although it's probable that they find a taker this week, Hellickson is one of those players who seems to rank as no team's first choice but slots as a Plan B for a number of teams. His next start for the Phillies is Saturday in Atlanta. It's now a good bet that he'll make that start.