James Paxton threw a bullpen session this past Tuesday and reported the next day that his right knee “felt good”. It’s been nearly two weeks since “The BIG Maple” went on the 10-day Injured List with inflammation in his right knee. Rest and a prescription of anti-inflammatories appear to have done their trick and the front office is hopeful that Paxton rejoins the team next week.
It’s a piece of good news for the Yankees, for a change, coming on the heels of the loss of Miguel Andujar for the year to shoulder surgery.
Paxton’s absence, combined with injuries to fellow starters Luis Severino (out at least until the All-Star break) and Jonathan Loaisiga (shut down for four weeks and placed on the 60-day Injured List earlier in the week) have complicated things for manager Aaron Boone.
To date, the team has gotten a huge boost from Domingo German. Slated to be a back-end of the rotation starter, German is pitching like a #1 starter. Entering play on Thursday, he led the Major Leagues in wins with eight, and sported a 2.50 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP.
But, an innings limit looms.
You can bet that the Yankees already have a number in mind for the number of innings they’ll allow German to pitch this year. Between the Major and minor leagues, German has never gone more than 123.1 innings in a season, and that was five years ago.
All of this translates to Cashman scouting opponents in advance of the MLB trade deadline.
Despite the return of Aaron Hicks, the acquisition of fellow switch-hitter Kendrys Morales, and (hopefully) the return of Didi Gregorius next month, Cashman will still be keeping his eye out for a lefty bat too.
The Yankees aren’t the only team that has some serious thinking to do. The Cleveland Indians have to be kicking themselves for not being able to move either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer this past offseason.
The Tribe was favored to win the AL Central but the Indians need to be sellers when this deadline rolls around.
Already missing starter Mike Clevinger since mid-April with a strained muscle in his upper back, the Indians lost Kluber for months with a fractured elbow after he took 102-mph comebacker off of his right elbow.
Cleveland had tried to trade Kluber in the offseason but was reportedly asking for too much in return. Teams rebuked inquiries for the same reasons when it came to Kluber’s teammate and fellow right-hander, Trevor Bauer. Even if Kluber hadn’t been hurt, he was having a miserable first month of the season. And, though his 20 wins and 2.89 ERA were among baseball’s best last season, Kluber struggled with consistency over the second half of the season (he had 1.99 ERA in mid-June).
Even if the Indians won the AL Central or a wild card spot, how far would they get in the postseason? The Minnesota Twins have slugged and pitched their way to the top of the division. Until a recent hot streak by the Houston Astros, the Twins also had the best record in the AL.
They can use Bauer to get back top-tier prospects, and with relievers in such high demand, they should trade closer Brad Hand as well. Hand, acquired from the Padres at last season’s deadline, has a friendly two years remaining on his contract (one year guaranteed at $7.5M, plus a $10M option/$1M buyout) and would fetch a nice return.
It’s time for a change in D.C.
Barring a big turnaround, another team that should sell at the deadline is the Washington Nationals. The Nats entered Thursday’s play with a 17-25 record, which left them seven games behind the first-place Phillies in the NL East. Washington has been a classic underachiever for the last eight years, despite a roster of talented players like Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg.
With the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets as good, if not better than the Nats, it’s time for Washington to go a new direction. The Nats made a huge mistake in signing the injury-prone Strasburg to a seven-year, $175M deal prior to the 2017 season.
The right-hander can opt out after the 2020 season, but why would he with the current uncertainty in the free agent market. As of now, the Nats owe Strasburg $100 over the next four seasons, plus the remainder of this year’s $38.3M salary.
The team should put star right-hander Scherzer on the trade block. Though he’s owed more than $42M for each of the next two seasons (in part, deferred through 2028), teams would kill to get a pitcher of his magnitude.
One is a former Cy Young Award winner and the other one is one of the top-5 closers in baseball. In years past, both free agents would have inked new contracts over the winter. But, their lack of offers has the player’s union talking collusion, and it’s a wonder if either pitcher will play this season.
One of the obstacles to either of them signing is that teams don’t want to lose a draft pick in this coming June’s amateur draft. So, there is the possibility one or both could sign after the draft, but probably not for more than the remainder of the season. Of course, a one-year deal puts both pitchers back in the same boat next year.
A bevy of teams would like to add Kimbrel to their pen, but thus far he has refused to settle for less than his asking price. It’s understandable, considering Kimbrel has racked up 333 saves over a nine-year career and has averaged better than 14 K/9 IP in that time.
Keuchel’s been somewhat inconsistent since he won the AL Cy Young in 2015 but he’s a lot better than many pitchers that are on Major League rosters today. Like Kimbrel, there are a number of teams who are interested in the left-hander.
There’s still a good chance both could return to their last teams (Astros – Keuchel Red Sox – Kimbrel) on short term deals.
Don’t get even, get Madbum
Teams reported that the San Francisco Giants were asking for too much in return for Madison Bumgarner when the Giants fielded inquiries on the pitcher during Spring Training. Reportedly, the Giants are now more willing to move “Madbum”, which means they’ve lowered their expectations for who they’ll get in return.
Bumgarner was an inning-eating beast, averaging better than 200 IP in a season from 2011 – 2016, but injuries limited him to 240.2 innings pitched over the last two seasons combined.
In nine starts to date, Bumgarner has pitched at least six innings in all but one start. He’s allowed three or less earned runs in six of those starts and has averaged 9.4 K / 9 IP. Bumgarner has also posted an excellent 7.25:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The pending free agent has pitched to a 4.04 ERA but his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is more than a half-point less.
Even if the Giants are more reasonable in trade talks, expect the Bay Area to receive high-quality prospects and Bumgarner to be wearing a different uniform on August 1st.
Who stays and who goes?
The Seattle Mariners got off to a surprising 13-2 start before losing 21 of their next 30. Expect 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion to be on the move at the deadline. With a $20M option and a $5M buyout, you can expect Encarnacion to be a free agent next season.
The 15-year veteran is hitting just .219 but still has pop in his bat. He’s slugged 12 home runs and has driven in 28 runs in 41 games. In addition to his .479 slugging percentage (SLG), Encarnacion has drawn 27 walks and sports a .350 on-base percentage (OBP).
White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is all set to hit the open market, but don’t be surprised if he resigns with Chicago, possibly before he hits free agency. The team reportedly wants the Cuban native to be part of their rebuilding process.
The 32-year old is off to a good start with 10 HR, 36 RBI, and a .518 SLG through 41 games.
Former Yankees prospect and current Colorado Rockies left-hander reliever Mike Dunn should find a new home in late July. Dunn has struggled against righties this season but has limited lefties to a .154 average.
In addition to Bumgarner, the Giants would be wise to also move closer Will Smith, who is having an outstanding season. Like Bumgarner, Smith is a pending free agent and adds value as a left-handed reliever.
Now, the only question is how long do we have to wait until Jon Heyman starts talking about mystery teams?