Inside Baseball NL Notes | Rivals Speculate On Cubs Pitching Targets

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01: Chicago Cubs' president of baseball operations Theo Epstein looks on before game 6 of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians on November 1, 2016, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. Chicago defeated Cleveland 9-3. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire).

(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire).

Inside Baseball news and notes from each of the 15 National League teams.


Arizona  Diamondbacks

  • The Diamondbacks have indicated they will wait until the last minute or very late to decide whether to buy or possibly sell.
  • Zack Greinke is said by people who know him to be much happier this year than last, which turned out to be a miserable year for Arizona all the way around. It still seems out of place that he makes nearly $25 million more than the next best paid D-back, but if the team is within striking distance, it’s hard to see ownership wanting to pull the plug after some rough recent seasons, assuming they are anywhere close to the top.
  • In the meantime, they should all appreciate Greinke’s blatant honestly, which is well-known (and much admired here). We applaud him for a recent quote: “It seemed like the whole team played pretty terrible today, including myself.”
  • Robbie Ray’s occasional dominance could easily turn into more consistent dominance. If I have him in Fantasy (and I don’t play Fantasy; haven’t since 1988), I keep him. He had the first 10-K, no-BB performance of the year, too.
  • Three of the first five teams to get to 30 wins were in the NL West.
  • University of Virginia outfielder Adam Haseley, who’s been “a big performer,” has helium and could go in the draft to the D-Backs as high as No. 7, as Keith Law of ESPN has suggested in his mock draft.

Atlanta Braves

  • Bartolo Colon’s fly ball nature may not work in SunTrust Field (6.99 ERA), which has proven to be a home run haven.
  • Colon is said to stay in the rotation “for now.” We still like a return to the Mets for Colon, who’s still only 44.
  • Phenom Ronald Acuna, 19, is slugging .609 at Double-A Mississippi, Mark Bowman of noted.
  • Manager Brian Snitker, who’s been in the Braves organization 40 years, said he’d never seen anything like the Angels’ nine-run inning, when seven runs were unearned (and nine would have been if you could assume double plays).
  • The Braves take high-ceiling high school guys in the draft, so the smart money sees them taking either California prep shortstop Royce Lewis, North Carolina prep left-hander Mackenzie Gore or prep outfielder Austin Beck. All agree Beck has great tools, though Lewis is seen as a talent that’s a little more of a sure thing. They won’t take Louisville first baseman/pitcher Brendan McKay, also because they have Freddie Freeman, and now Matt Adams.

Chicago Cubs

  • Agent Scott Boras went to bat for his client Jake Arrieta, comparing him to other big-money pitchers. 
  • The Cubs very likely will need two or possible even three starting pitchers, with Arrieta and Lackey free agents. Judging by their taste, one rival predicted the Cubs could take a look at Marco Estrada and Derek Holland as free agents after the year. But with three possibly needed, perhaps Arrieta shouldn’t be ruled out, depending on where the market goes.
  • They took a look at Johnny Cueto before he signed with San Francisco. And based on how he performs in Chicago, maybe they’d have an interest in Gerrit Cole should he hit the trade bock.
  • Scott Boras and Theo Epstein have different styles when it comes to long-term deals, so how long will Kris Bryant’s happy marriage with the Cubs last?
  • Kyle Schwarber’s struggles continued, and on the surface he would seem to be a candidate for demotion. But one rival exec says it’s too soon and not necessary. “This guy can hit,” says the rival. He had pulled ahead of Michael Conforto in the competition between the two best 2014 draftees among college hitters but at the moment it’s no competition. Schwarber will be back to form, however.
  • Jason Heyward has made strides.

Cincinnati Reds

  • The Reds are the favorite for Cuban shortstop Jose Israel Garcia. They have some fine shortstop prospects in the fold but do like him.
  • The Reds will take one of Vanderbilt pitcher Kyle Wright, Louisville first baseman/pitcher Brendan McKay and California prep pitcher Hunter Greene, who is said by one rival executive to be “the most talented player” in the draft. The Reds have taken chances before (Aroldis Chapman, Raisel Iglesias) so they could go for Greene, though they are said to like McKay, as well, and their M.O. to take the best available player means the presence of Joey Votto doesn’t eliminate McKay if they think he’s a first baseman. Like a lot of teams, too, they aren’t sure whether McKay will ultimately be a pitcher or hitter, though teams would give his arm a rest and start him out hitting. McKay gets bonus points for pitching the big Friday night game while batting cleanup. He certainly is a gamer.
  • The Reds love Zack Cozart, but his performance and their timetable mean he likely will land elsewhere as a free agent, with a big deal. They have shortstops down in the system but wouldn’t mind bringing back Cozart on a shorter deal — though he’s very likely to get a better contract elsewhere.
  • While Cozart was nearly traded to the Mariners last year, a starting shortstop isn’t the easiest player to trade at the deadline, barring an injury to a contender’s shortstop. Cozart did make our list of 70 who could be dealt last week.

Colorado Rockies

  • The Rockies made a big bet on Greg Holland, and it’s paid off. The Nationals and Rangers missed. 
  • Their nine straight series without a series loss was a franchise record, according to Elias.
  • The Rockies had some talks with Carlos Gonzalez that bled into the regular season. But he was always going to be a tough sign in his walk year. Jeff Bridich said, “He’s had a good career here. He’s been good for the Rockies, and I think the Rockies have been for him to this point.”
  • Chad Bettis did a nice interview with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and MLB Network. He has some doctor’s visit coming up and has hopes to return this year after having chemo to combat testicular cancer.

(Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire)

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers surprise leader in home runs despite a late start to the season. The new star who hit one home run his senior year at Hamilton (Ariz.) High School could easily continue the Dodgers tradition of Rookie of the Year winners.
  • Chris Taylor is one of the better stories of the year. He even batted third for the first time in his career.
  • Chase Utley is thriving again, with an OPS over .800 in May. Turns out, he was a worthwhile signing, especially with Logan Forsythe’s injury.
  • Franklin Gutierrez’s autoimmune illness has cropped up again unfortunately.
  • Dodgers exec Galen Carr and other Dodgers people were said to be in Japan looking at Shohei Otani. Since the money isn’t going to be the difference (barring a change in rules) if he comes over anytime soon, relationships may count.
  • Sergio Romo was said to be working on his delivery.
  • Kenley Jansen tied Adam Wainwright by striking out 35 batters before his first walk. Wainwright did it in 2013, according to Eric Stephen @truebluela).
  • Brandon McCarthy continues to pitch better than he tweets, and that’s quite a compliment.
  • Julio Urias looked A-OK in OKC.
  • In our weekly Hall of Fame thoughts (actually we have two this week), Gil Hodges should easily be in the Cooperstown. He not only managed the Miracle Mets, but he deserves it as a consistent 100-RBI guy who played first base wonderfully by all accounts. Hodges is one of two players to have received more than 60 percent on writers’ ballots in certain years, and still never made it to the Hall. (And those votes didn’t count his work with the Miracle Mets!)

Miami Marlins

  • Here’s why Jeb Bush walked away from Derek Jeter and the Marlins, and what it means for the sale moving forward.
  • Current team owner Jeffrey Loria was in Italy for three weeks, which could be another indication nothing’s close.
  • The more we learn, the more fortunate MLB looks that the Kushner family didn’t get the Marlins. MLB also was fortunate Stevie Cohen didn’t win the Dodgers (the Guggenheim Group has been an excellent owner). Sometimes these things just work out.
  • The Marlins have mapped out a course for Wei-Yin Chen; they haven’t said when they expect him back but it won’t be before July.
  • J.T. Riddle is someone manager Don Mattingly loved even back in the spring. And he’s out-doing even those expectations. He was a 14th round find. The reason he went so late? He was a second baseman at the University of Kentucky. Scout Carmen Carcone spotted him playing shortstop in the Cape, and convinced scouting director Stan Meek to take a chance.
  •  J.T. Realmuto looks like a star. Marlins people admit to getting a little lucky on that one. They made him a third rounder when they happened to catch the one game Realmuto caught at Carl Albert High in Oklahoma City.
  • Gary Sheffield giving his thoughts about what he’d do if he were commissioner is slightly fanciful. I realize there’s been a manager who’s appeared in the Mitchell Report (Matt Williams) and there might one day be a part-owner (Alex Rodriguez). But it’s too much to think Sheffield could be commissioner. I’d like to think his chances are on a par with mine and yours, which is to say zero.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Domingo Santana seems to be hitting his stride, as the Brewers have a plethora of outfielders. That means they certainly could trade Ryan Braun – if they find takers (and he agrees).
  • Corey Knebel is the strikeout leader among NL relievers.
  • Brewers higher-ups insist they are keeping Josh Hader as a starter, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
  • Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall, from Holman (Wis.) High, is a toolsy player with a lot of potential who could be a candidate for his home state team. He was a hockey player first, so he may not have tapped his potential yet. University of North Carolina pitcher J.B. Bukauskas is another possibility.
ATLANTA, GA - MAY 02: New York Mets outfielder Jay Bruce (19) belts his second home run of the game, a ninth inning grand slam, during a game between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets on May 2, 2017 at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, GA. The Atlanta Braves defeated the New York Mets 9 - 7.(Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

New York Mets

  • The Mets are happy they didn’t deal Jay Bruce, but they came closest with the Phillies after several earlier talks with the Giants. Philly wanted the Mets to pay down a bit of Bruce’s $13-million salary, and wasn’t offering much in return. So wisely the Mets said no. The Phillies would eventually get Michael Saunders instead. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN first mentioned the Phillies’ involvement. The Giants showed interest but never figured out how to make it work.
  • The Mets aren’t saying when Yoenis Cespedes will return but the hope is that he can meet the team in Texas next week after perhaps playing a few rehab games over the weekend.
  • Matt Harvey, for all his public issues, isn’t allowing anyone to hit him with runners in scoring positions. This is a good sign.
  • Neil Walker is showing some very positive signs, including a two-homer game at Pittsburgh, his hometown. He may be fully recovered now from offseason back surgery.
  • Addison Reed certainly has the stones to be a closer, firing that 93-mph fastball. The stuff would seem to be a bit short of your normal closer. But moxie counts. The Mets aren’t likely to be sellers, but if they are, Reed is one guy who’d be coveted as a set-up man for a contender.
  • Jerry Blevins continues to be a Mets MVP in this year, such as it is.
  • Jose Reyes gets points for lifelong enthusiasm. But we’re not sure he’s a shortstop anymore.
  • Seth Lugo had an encouraging seven K’s in a rehab start. Lugo and Steven Matz are thought to be fairly close to returning (one or two rehab starts away).
  • Amed Rosario showed some maturity when he tweeted that he understood the Mets delay in calling him up and to “trust the process.” Good for him.
  • Pitching prospect Justin Dunn (@Dunn_Deal19) launched a campaign to raise money for ALS and is contributing $100 per strikeout himself. Good for him.
  • Lucas Duda is extremely likely to play elsewhere net year (first baseman Dominic Smith is their No. 2 prospect). But he has been helping his free agent cause with a quiet .986 OPS.
  • A scout who recently saw Smith says he’s much better, both offensively and defensively, than he realized. Mets officials, who hope he’s ready by next year, say he was “out of shape” last year. He has good hands and is a nice contact hitter, scouts say. Ultimately, the key will be how much power he has.
  • Travis d’Arnaud does show his hitting ability just enough to make you think.
  • Paul Seawald was taking advantage of an opportunity, and getting important late-game outs.
  • When Chad Kuhl faced Jacob deGrom, Mets announcer Gary Cohen noted that it was “Kuhl vs. cool.” Nice.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Odubel Herrera was leading the majors with 28 K’s on pitches out of the strike zone. That’s a lot.
  • The Phillies had a negative 69 run differential in their 6-22 month, according to Jayson Stark, one of many great writers who used to work at ESPN.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Despite all their troubles, in the trouble-plagued NL Central they are only 4.5 games out.
  • They are hoping Gregory Polanco can avoid the DL but it’s still a possibility; they will monitor his progress over the next few days before making a decision.
  • Josh Bell is a Rookie of the Year candidate (though Bellinger looks like the favorite from here).
  • Andrew McCutchen, after a two-game benching, is showing some signs of regaining form. To this point, however, he is doing worse than even last year. There are many theories, and this is only one, but you wonder if McCutchen’s “team-friendly” contract has gotten in his head. He has never said a word about it publicly, to his credit. But sources say that when asked he did advise Gregory Polanco of repeating his choice of an early long-term deal (Polanco also ignored the advice of some of his agents, by signing one, anyway, as he apparently worried after a surprisingly rough rookie year). This is merely supposition, and McCutchen’s surprise slide may well have nothing to do with this, but it’s a theory. (He’s been showing some positive signs lately, though).
  • Journeyman Wade LeBlanc is a surprise bullpen star in a pen that’s been outstanding.
  • Great news: Jameson Taillon’s prognosis is so good that he’s back throwing after three weeks, logging three shutout innings at Double-A. He could be back in the majors fairly soon in one of the game’s most inspiring stories.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • The rotation of Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Mike Leake, Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright is potentially the best in the game. The interest is high, too; when I tweeted just that, it got me trending in St. Louis on Twitter. Folks also noted that Wacha started to give up runs as soon as I mentioned that, wondering whether I am a jinx. (I wouldn’t rule it out, based on my picks this year.)
  • Dexter Fowler had an 0-for-20 streak.
  • Wainwright had been the laggard of the group but he had a three-game streak allowing just one run to drop his ERA to 4.20. He told folks he isn’t relying on a cutter as much, and has been changing speeds more.
  • Randal Grichuk was sent all the way down to Class-A Palm Beach, but the reason he was demoted to that level was so he could work with offensive strategist George Greer. One scout said he was moving his knee “toward the catcher” which is an unusual glitch for a big leaguer. Potentially, he’s a five-tool player.
  • Magneuris Sierra and Paul DeJong have hit in every game they’ve played, and DeJong homered in his first at-bat.

San Diego Padres

  • The Padres remain in the derby for Cuban shortstop Jose Israel Garcia.
  • Wil Myers gets big applause here for flogging himself publicly for not running hard enough out of the box. He’s our kinda guy.
  • We like the way Andy Green’s using Brad Hand, who was receiving calls even two weeks ago, as reported here first. His value is extremely high now.
  • The Padres may have found something with Cardinals Rule 5 pickup Allen Cordoba, who’d never played above Rookie Ball before.
  • Meanwhile, catcher Luis Torrens is struggling quite a bit. Though some believe the Padres are the one team that’s willing to carry him all year, anyway.
  • North Carolina prep left-hander Mackenzie Gore looks like a good option should Hunter Greene not be there at No. 3, as mentioned here last week.
  • When Padres beat writer A.J. Casavell asked of Hunter Renfroe whether a recent throw was his best, Renfroe answered honestly, “No, not at all. I’ve got more.”
  • Mark Vientos is an option for the Padres if he gets out of the first round. He’s an infielder from the Fort Lauderdale area.
  • Dinelson Lamet had a wonderful debut vs. the Mets, becoming the first Padres pitcher since Bob Shirley in 1977 to strike out eight on his first game (then did it again in his second game). And as Mets announcer Gary Cohen noted, his name means The Met.
  • Noting they had a chance to have a negative 100 run differential before June, Dayn Perry of CBS gave the Padres a “massive shout-out” on Twitter. Of course we all know that’s not their M.O. at the moment. But still amusing.

(Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire)

San Francisco Giants

  • The expectation is, Johnny Cueto will opt out. He will have $84 million and four years to go. “Absolutely, he will,” one rival executive said. That makes sense, as he’s clearly a cut above even very fine pitchers like Mike Leake ($80 million), Jeff Samardzija ($80 million) and Wei-Yin Chen ($75 million).
  • Cueto could become a trade candidate, though if he is traded a first time he gets a $500K bonus (he gets $1 million for subsequent trades). The opt out obviously complicates things.
  • The Giants had some conversations about Jay Bruce in the winter.
  • Good for Madison Bumgarner staying out of the insanity Monday while on the DL for shoulder and other ailments.
  • While Samardzija gets points for enthusiasm in the brawl started after Hunter Strickland, crazily trying to take revenge for Bryce Harper taking him deep twice in the 2012 postseason, it says here that Buster Posey did the right thing by doing nothing. Posey has a rebuilt ankle, had a concussion earlier and surely understood the lunacy behind Strickland’s pitch. The other infielders didn’t exactly rush to defend the craziness either.
  • Samardzija has great stuff and he’s a great teammate. But one scout wonders whether he’d be better as a closer.
  • Strickland’s six-game ban was long for a reliever beaning a batter. But it still isn’t long enough for such mindlessness. A month would be more like it. “Asinine,” Chris Rose of MLB Network called Strickland’s pitch. Agreed.
  • Best wishes to Michael Morse, who came out of retirement and suffered a concussion trying to defend Strickland. I hope he gets a get well card from the hopefully repentant reliever (though so far he’s challenging the ban).
  • Bumgarner spoke in this space about how he didn’t regret signing his early long-term deal, and good for him, that he’s saying nothing else publicly, but others around the game suggest he was less than thrilled with the deal (and he has changed agents a couple times since then – though obviously the second agent had nothing do with it it).
  • Christian Arroyo was given a “mental day” off. But he’s still up to work out his struggles, for now.
  • There’s word Tim Lincecum hit 94 mph working out on his own in Seattle. It’s still a bit of mystery why he hasn’t started doing showcases.

Washington Nationals  

  • The Nats were one of the finalists for Greg Holland, and internal word is that GM Mike Rizzo was amenable to the second-year player option that Holland’s side was proposing. However, like all other teams (but the Rockies) the Lerners ultimately preferred a deal without the massive vesting option.
  • Bryce Harper has shown a bit of maturity, toning down his reckless play. But charging the unworthy Hunter Strickland was an unwise move that harkened his early years. He’s only lucky MLB didn’t lose Mike Trout and Harper on the same day. Could have been a double disaster.
  • Even so, some thought the penalty of four games (three, after a challenge) for Harper was too stiff considering the ridiculousness of Strickland’s action. And it’s true Harper had no warning this might come, unlike many other beanings (after all, who’d think someone would keep rage pent up for three years?) As Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote, Strickland had three years to think about it, Harper only three seconds.
  • The Nats didn’t retaliate for Strickland’s ridiculous act the next day. Good for them.
  • Michael A. Taylor is answering the center field challenge nicely.
  • Hard to believe Darren Baker, Dusty Baker’s son who was scooped up by J.T. Snow, is ready to go college. He’ll play baseball at Cal.

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