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November 21, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Wednesday, November 21

by Daniel Rathman

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Most of Tuesday’s action occurred on the transactions wire, with almost all teams scurrying to protect minor-league assets from the Rule Five Draft, and a few others finalizing trades before the holiday weekend. The rumor mill, by contrast, was rather dormant, but here are a few stories to chew on before the turkey is served: 

Diamondbacks pondering various third-base options
Blessed with one of the league’s best hitting environments, the Diamondbacks should not struggle to field a competent offensive player at a corner position, but that’s precisely what happened in 2012. Arizona’s third basemen combined for a .240/.293/.382 triple-slash line last season, and their 675 aggregate OPS—despite the hot, desert air and tight dimensions of Chase Field—ranked 25th in the league.

General manager Kevin Towers sought to address the problem midseason by acquiring Chris Johnson from the Astros on July 29, and the 28-year-old caught fire immediately after arriving in the desert, smacking five home runs in his first eight games. Unfortunately, Johnson went on to collect only two more homers the rest of the way, and while he can be a useful bench contributor offering pop from the right side of the plate, the .276/.315/.430 career hitter lacks the overall skill set to play every day.

And that’s why, according to The Arizona Republic beat writer Nick Piecoro, Towers is now scouring the free-agent market and trade block for possible upgrades. On Monday, Piecoro reported that Jeff Keppinger—who enjoyed a career year in 2012, batting .325/.367/.439 in an infield utility role for the Rays—was on the Diamondbacks’ radar, though it’s unclear whether Towers views the 32-year-old as an everyday player or a roving reserve. Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, on the other hand, has been a starter for the past eight seasons, and there are reasons to believe that he could be available.

Tigers could replace Peralta with Stephen Drew
CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler cautioned on Tuesday that rumors of general manager Dave Dombrowski shopping his shortstop are premature until Detroit secures an upgrade at the position. Dombrowski exercised Peralta’s $6 million option for the 2013 season three weeks ago, and while the 30-year-old’s sub-par range makes the left side of the Tigers infield a significant liability, that shortcoming did not prevent Detroit from capturing the American League pennant.

Peralta scuffled at the plate in 2012, logging his worst TAv (.244) since 2006 and his lowest home-run total (13) since 2009, and that mediocre output combined with his -6.0 FRAA nearly relegated him to replacement-level status (0.3 WARP). Of course, that dud came on the heels of a robust 3.4 WARP campaign in 2011, and it’s difficult to believe that Peralta has suddenly turned into a pumpkin after being the league’s sixth-most valuable shortstop the previous year. The Diamondbacks and Red Sox—the two teams that have reportedly expressed interest—would both offer a cushy ballpark for Peralta to rebuild his value before testing the free-agent waters next year.

And the Tigers, per a Monday afternoon tweet from ESPN’s Jim Bowden, are moving closer to landing the shortstop replacement that Knobler cited as a prerequisite for any trade. Bowden hears that Dombrowski is eyeing Drew, who showed signs of life after being shipped to the Athletics on Aug. 20. The 29-year-old would be a curious choice for a team looking to improve its defense—having posted a positive FRAA only once in the last six seasons and with a serious ankle injury just 16 months in the rearview mirror—but he was once a 4.6-win player, and that sort of upside for a reasonable price is hard to turn down.

The most recent high-profile trade between the Diamondbacks and Tigers was a three-team deal completed on Dec. 9, 2009: Arizona sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit—which also obtained center fielder Austin Jackson and lefty reliever Phil Coke from the Yankees for Curtis Granderson—and reeled in a pair of right-handed starters, Edwin Jackson from the Tigers and Ian Kennedy from New York. Despite undergoing a spate of front-office changes during the past half-decade, the Diamondbacks have also developed a strong rapport with Athletics general manager Billy Beane, dating back to the Dan Haren deal in December 2007. Now, in an odd twist, it’s Beane’s decision to acquire Drew in August, and then decline his $10 million club option earlier this offseason, that could pave the way for Peralta to head to the desert.

With Jeremy Guthrie in tow, Royals hope to trade for one more starter
Meanwhile, Royals general manager Dayton Moore scored one of Tuesday’s biggest free-agent signings, retaining Guthrie on a three-year, $25 million deal. (For more on that move, see R.J. Anderson’s Transaction Analysis post.) Along with the Ervin Santana addition earlier this month, the Guthrie extension is part two of a three-part rotation remodeling process that Moore set out to implement this offseason. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the third piece will likely come via trade.

The year-by-year breakdown of Guthrie’s new hitch—which has him earning $5 million in 2013, $11 million in 2014, and $9 million in 2015—sheds some light on Moore’s reasoning, as relayed by Olney. The combination of Guthrie and Santana, who is due $13 million next year (with the Angels picking up $1 million of the tab), has eaten up most of Moore’s off-season budget, but his farm system is teeming with attractive prospects.

Outfielder Wil Myers, who thumped 37 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012, is Kansas City’s top minor-league asset, but as ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweeted on Tuesday, his star-level ceiling could make him untradeable. Fortunately, the Royals had at least 10 other three-star-or-better talents in their system at the beginning of this year, and many of them could be available in a suitable deal. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wrote five days ago that Moore is itching to follow in the Blue Jays’ footsteps and swing a blockbuster of his own, and his collection of prospects could put coveted young arms like Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore in play. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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