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November 14, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Wednesday, November 14

by Daniel Rathman

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A quiet Tuesday morning gave way to a quiet Tuesday afternoon… and then this happened. As you catch your breath from the 12-player blockbuster consummated by the Blue Jays and Marlins, here’s a look at the stories that were buried in its dust:

Jed Lowrie emerges as popular trade target
Lowrie is no Josh Johnson or Jose Reyes, but the 28-year-old broke out in a full-time role with the Astros last season, rewarding first-year general manager Jeff Luhnow’s shrewd investment. On the heels of a 2.8 WARP campaign, and with the Astros still in the early stages of a long-term rebuilding process, Lowrie reportedly has the phone in Luhnow’s office ringing early and often this offseason, but probably to no avail.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Astros are inclined to retain their switch-hitting shortstop, a perfectly reasonable decision considering that Lowrie thumped 16 home runs in just 97 games, the third-highest total among National League shortstops, trailing only those of Ian Desmond (25) and Jimmy Rollins (23), who both played in at least 130. Lowrie’s output was buoyed by Minute Maid Park’s stingy dimensions, as he took aim at the short porch in right field to the tune of a .262/.356/.500 triple-slash line in Houston and a .265/.345/.474 effort from the left side of the plate.

Lowrie’s triple slashes away from Minute Maid (.227/.307/.381) and against left-handed pitching (.184/.290/.333) were decidedly less impressive, but the latter line actually runs counter to the Stanford product’s career splits, which—including the 2012 season—show an 848 OPS versus southpaws compared to a 695 mark against righties. Hence, the 2012 numbers were most likely a small-sample-size fluke enhanced by Lowrie’s home ballpark, and his track record suggests that the lefty-righty gap will narrow next year.

Meanwhile, Lowrie’s current popularity affirms Luhnow’s decision to pull the trigger on the December 2011 deal that sent reliever Mark Melancon to the Red Sox in exchange for Lowrie and right-hander Kyle Weiland, an organizational arm outrighted to Triple-A Oklahoma City earlier this month. Melancon bounced back from a disastrous first half—during which he coughed up five home runs in just 15 1/3 innings—to post a 28-to-8 K:BB after the All-Star break, but the former Yankees farmhand is unlikely to ever match Lowrie’s impact as an everyday player in Houston. 

Olney’s sources indicated that the Astros would need to be “completely overwhelmed” to flip Lowrie, who will be arbitration eligible for the second time this winter. Melancon may regain the form that enabled him to post a 3.22 FIP over 71 appearances in 2011, but that’s one trade Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington probably wants to have back.

Braves interested in Cody Ross, but may need to be patient
The list of free-agent outfielders is replete with options for teams looking for a jolt against left-handed pitching, and the Braves—who ranked 21st in the league with a 709 OPS versus southpaws in 2012—are itching to dig in. Their preferred solution, according to FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi, is Ross, who played for manager Fredi Gonzalez during his days with the Marlins.

As I wrote in the Nov. 5 Rumor Roundup, the 31-year-old Ross is coming off of his best campaign in five years, but his offensive numbers were inflated by Fenway Park’s dimensions, which were a perfect match for his pull-happy approach. Turner Field is less friendly to right-handed yankers, and Ross’ .232/.294/.390 triple-slash line should give general manager Frank Wren some pause as he mulls a possible multi-year commitment.

Rob Bradford, a reporter for the Red Sox’ flagship radio station, WEEI, tweeted on Tuesday that Ross’ market will become clearer once Torii Hunter chooses his next team. The former Angel visited with the Tigers on Monday, and Detroit is believed to be his most likely landing spot, although the Rangers and other teams are lurking if those plans fall through. Teams that fail to land Hunter may view Ross as a consolation prize, so his agent, Mike Milchin, will probably take a wait-and-see approach in an effort to drum up more interest.

Rays open to dealing starting pitcher for offensive help
Tampa Bay’s collection of quality starting pitchers is the envy of the league, but after a few years of clinging to some of his most prized assets—which followed a period during which the likes of Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir were shipped away—general manager Andrew Friedman now seems open to parting with one or two of them to bolster his lineup. The New York Post’s Joel Sherman wrote in his Tuesday column that Cy Young Award finalist David Price is the only untouchable member of the Rays’ rotation, which amassed a major-league-best 3.34 aggregate ERA in 2012.

Sherman mentioned Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton as a possible target for Friedman, who has a plethora of coveted chips at his disposal. If Sherman’s sources are correct, that list surprisingly includes second-year lefty Matt Moore, along with right-handers James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson, who reportedly garnered interest from the Cubs before talks hit a dead end last week. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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