The Cubs appear set to be the first of this year’s liquidators, with the Chicago Sun-Times’s Gordon Wittenmyer reporting Saturday that they’ve recently talked with teams about right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Seattle was mentioned as a likely destination for Hammel.
Of course, fantasy leaguers would prefer to see the Cubs clear paths for both shortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Kris Bryant to reach the majors. Baez, though, still hasn’t played any position other than shortstop this year, leaving his short-term fate tied to Starlin Castro’s. Expectations this spring were that Baez would be tried at second, but an early injury followed by a lengthy slump put those plans on hold. If they materialize soon, then perhaps Baez could replace Darwin Barney in August. Alternatively, there’s a slight chance that Castro will be traded. I’m not holding my breath, though.
One Cubs position player who could bring a surprising amount in trade is Luis Valbuena. The 28-year-old has quietly hit .291/.390/.471 in 172 at-bats while splitting time between second base and third base this season. He still has two years of arbitration left and he should remain relatively cheap (he’s making $1.71 million this year), so there’s no urgency for the Cubs to move him. However, there are a whole bunch of contenders that could use help at third or second, and he might bring back a major league-ready starter that would come in handy with Samardzija and/or Hammel getting replaced.
Because Valbuena is much more likely to be traded than Castro (and because Mike Olt is still hitting .149), I think Bryant is the better bet than Baez to have fantasy value in the second half, though it’s still far from a sure thing.
As for the internal candidates to replace Samardzija and Hammel, well, they’re a whole lot less interesting than the offensive options. Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, a former top starter in Japan who underwent Tommy John surgery not long after signing with the Orioles two years ago, has a 2.51 ERA and a 71/18 K/BB ratio in 75 1/3 innings for Triple-A Iowa, which could put him first in line for a shot. He’s all finesse, though. Former Rangers prospect Kyle Hendricks also could get a look before the Cubs go back to old standbys Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin.
- I’ve read a few times now that it’d be a bad idea to trade David Price in fantasy leagues or that he might even be a buy-low candidate based on the idea that his value will increase with a deal. I don’t buy it. For all of Tampa Bay’s troubles scoring runs lately, it’s still an excellent situation for a pitcher because of the Rays defense, pitcher friendly ballpark and, most importantly, the job the catchers do framing pitches.
Now, sure, I’d say Price would have more fantasy value in San Francisco or St. Louis, but what are the odds of him going to either of those spots? Perhaps the best situation of the likely suitors is in L.A. with the Dodgers. Still, it’s more likely that he’d go to an AL contender that presents a worse situation for him than Tampa Bay. He’d get more run support -- though the Rays can’t be this bad forever -- but it’d probably come at the expense of ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.
As for Price the pitcher, he’s still having a truly remarkable season with his crazy 12:1 K:BB ratio but unimpressive 3.93 ERA. His stuff isn’t as good as it used to be, but while it seems like the incredible command would make up for it, it simply hasn’t. He’d be better off if he worried less about walks and pitched off the corners more frequently. I still think the ERA will come down, but I don’t rank him as highly as I did preseason. That's probably not going to change if he's moved.
- Another organization might have given Mikie Mahtook a look in the outfield with Wil Myers (wrist) and Brandon Guyer (thumb) on the disabled list, but the Rays weren’t going to push their former first-round pick. Mahtook is hitting .320/.389/.515 with four homers and 11 steals for Triple-A Durham. Still, he never looked like such an impressive prospect before this -- he had a .708 OPS last year in Double-A -- and it should be noted that the vast majority of his production is coming against lefties. Incredibly, he’s hitting .527/.563/.782 in 55 at-bats versus southpaws, compared to .256/.333/.432 in 176 at-bats against righties. I don’t think Mahtook projects as a long-term regular as is. Perhaps he’ll get a chance in the second half, depending on how Myers’ recovery goes, but I’m skeptical he’ll be a viable mixed-league outfielder if it happens.
- Grant Balfour picked up a highly unusual 2 1/3-inning save in his first appearance after losing his closer gig, but when it came time to protect a one-run lead in the ninth Sunday against the Astros, Jake McGee got the ball. It was the right choice -- he’s Tampa Bay’s best reliever -- and it bodes well for those who picked him up over Juan Carlos Oviedo and Joel Peralta. I’m sure the Rays would prefer Balfour regain the job, and there’s a good chance he’ll get that opportunity with a couple of more scoreless appearances. Limiting McGee to ninth-inning duties seems like a waste anyway. Notice that Sean Doolittle, essentially McGee’s equivalent in Oakland, has made just eight appearances since May 22, three of them coming with leads of four or more runs and three more coming in three-run games.
- Send down Manny Machado? That sounds like crazy talk to me. It’s likely moot for now anyway after he went 6-for-11 with three doubles in the first three games of the series against the Blue Jays (though he did go 0-for-4 on Sunday). Machado obviously needs an attitude adjustment and his approach at the plate leaves something to be desired, but the Orioles are trying to win and he’s far and away their best option at third base. Don’t go dropping him in mixed leagues.
- Felix Doubront (shoulder) is ready to rejoin the Red Sox after striking out 10 in five hitless innings for Triple-A Pawtucket on Sunday, and Clay Buchholz (knee) is just one turn behind. The Red Sox will give both pitchers chances to show they can overcome their early struggles, so both Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Workman will return to Triple-A, unless maybe the Red Sox decide to keep Workman as a reliever instead.
- Taijuan Walker is definitely getting closer to making his season debut for Seattle after allowing one run and one hit in 6 2/3 innings for Triple-A Tacoma on Saturday. Erasmo Ramirez has been somewhat successful in his last two starts (he’s pitched 9 2/3 scoreless innings, but walked nine in the process), yet he’s still not winning over management. Walker is lined up to replace him, perhaps after one more week in the minors. He’ll be worth a flier in mixed leagues once promoted.
- I’m still rather optimistic about Joe Nathan, though neither of his appearances in the last week was particularly encouraging. He did pick up a win on Sunday after giving up two singles in a scoreless inning in a tie game against the Twins. The arm strength is still there, and he’s thrown some good sliders. He should hold on to the job.
- Mariners prospect Chris Taylor rejoined Triple-A Tacoma’s lineup last week after missing four weeks with a broken finger and went 4-for-17 with two doubles, a triple and three walks in his first five games back. Brad Miller has picked it up ever so slightly of late (his .243 average in June is a huge improvement over his .136 mark in May), but he needs to take a real step forward or he could find himself getting replaced by Taylor within the next 7-10 days.
- The writing seemed to be on the wall for Oscar Taveras when the Cardinals never once put him in center field, and he was demoted back to Triple-A on Friday to make room for the returning Matt Adams. Most likely, he’ll remain in the minors through the All-Star break, which would rule him out as a Super Two arbitration candidate after 2016.
Taveras’ situation remains much the same now as it was a month ago. He didn’t hit in the majors, but he also hardly looked overmatched; had the Cards continued to play him regularly, I think he would have busted out soon. However, if he’s not a center fielder, his only role in St. Louis is as a starter over Adams against lefties, plus giving Allen Craig the occasional day off against righties. And that role makes a lot more sense for Randal Grichuk, a right-handed hitter and likely a superior defensive right fielder.
Instead of returning Taveras to center in Triple-A -- he was playing there about three-quarters of the time in the weeks before his callup -- he’s started in the corners both games since his demotion. It suggests it will take a Craig/Matt Holliday injury or an Adams trade to get Taveras an extended look as a regular this year, and I doubt Adams gets moved this summer. Adams has, after all, been the Cardinals’ best hitter against right-handers, and his power is showing up again, with homers in his first three games back from the DL. That makes Taveras droppable in mixed leagues.
- With Adam Wainwright missing his start Monday due to a sore elbow (gulp), Carlos Martinez will make his rotation debut against the Mets. This certainly isn’t how the Cardinals planned it, and yet, it’s the perfect time to try Martinez as a starter while still keeping his innings under control. That doesn’t mean that it will stick, but it is well worth seeing if he’s up to the task. His 4.67 ERA and modest 28/14 K/BB ratio in 34 2/3 innings out of the pen say no, but he has an excellent groundball rate, he’s getting more swings and misses than he did last year and his walk rate has been driven up by five intentional passes (a ridiculous total for someone with Martinez’s stuff, by the way). The ability is there for him to excel, and while he’ll be a five- or six-inning guy initially, I’m excited to see what he can do. He’s worth grabbing in mixed leagues.
- The Neil Walker appendectomy put off any decision on Starling Marte with Gregory Polanco coming up last week. Instead, Polanco essentially took Walker’s spot in Pittsburgh’s lineup, with Josh Harrison moving from right field to second base. Marte has since caught fire, going 15-for-32 with a homer and four doubles in his last seven games. That bodes well for his chances of remaining the everyday left fielder after Walker returns. Harrison, who has been terrific the last six weeks, might go back into a utility role, though with the way things are going right now, there’s a good case for having him play third base over the unreliable Pedro Alvarez.
- I wasn’t expecting much from Vance Worley in his spot start Sunday, but his velocity was up a bit from last year and he had his slider working while throwing seven scoreless innings against the Marlins. That’ll keep him in the Pirates rotation for now, and he rates as a good pickup in NL-only leagues. I wouldn’t touch him in a mixed league.
- Eric Young Jr. (hamstring) is set to come off the DL and Bobby Abreu is looking good in an expanded role, so Chris Young’s time in the Mets outfield is about to be further reduced. The Mets would surely give him up if anyone wanted to take on the $4.2 million or so left on his contract, and there are some outfield needy teams out there that could do worse. Maybe the Red Sox, White Sox or Mariners will take him on.
- With the Cubs’ Hector Rondon nursing a sore elbow, Neil Ramirez earned saves Saturday and Sunday. Rondon is supposed to be ready to go this week, but I’m guessing this isn’t the last we’ve heard about Rondon’s elbow troubles. Ramirez is worth grabbing in all formats.
- Marco Estrada made it very difficult for the Brewers to keep him in the rotation by giving up three more homers on Sunday, bringing his season total to 23 surrendered in 84 innings. Uncertain is whether the club would go to Jimmy Nelson or Mike Fiers as his replacement. Nelson pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in his spot start last month, and he’s allowed just two runs and struck out 28 over 19 2/3 innings in three starts since rejoining Triple-A Nashville’s rotation. Fiers, though, was great in Triple-A, too, and he’s already in the majors pitching in middle relief, which would make it an easy swap if the Brewers opt to send Estrada to the pen. I think Nelson is quite a bit more interesting than Fiers from a fantasy perspective, but either would be worth adding in NL-only leagues if given Estrada’s spot. Nelson is the one with mixed-league upside.
- Chris Owings owners have every right to be frustrated with the Diamondbacks suddenly turning to Didi Gregorius at shortstop. Owings, one of the team’s best players this season, was held out of the starting lineup for the second straight game on Sunday, even though he’s hit .300 with three homers and 10 RBI in 40 at-bats since Gregorius was called up. It appears that the Diamondbacks are showcasing Gregorius in the hopes that someone will give up a quality prospect for him. There’s a good chance he’ll be moved eventually, but probably not quickly enough for Owings owners.