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March 8, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Cold at the Corners

by Will Woods

This morning’s top story is no rumor: 2013 will be Mariano Rivera’s final season. Will they be doing a farewell tour where all the clubs bring gifts? If so, the Diamondbacks should present Mo with a 2001 World Series championship ring, in a box that can’t quite be opened. Can someone make that happen? Tony Womack, maybe? Anyway, here’s to an incredible career. Now to the rumors, where we’ve got two teams beset by injury but filling the holes in different ways, plus the next chapter in the Dodgers’ quest to pare down their starting rotation.

Furcal likely to miss all of 2013, Cardinals trying to fill position internally
Yesterday, word came down that shortstop Rafael Furcal is set to miss the entire season following Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. Furcal’s absence leaves Pete Kozma and Ronny Cedeño as the Cardinals’ only options at shortstop, and according to general manager John Mozeliak, that’s good enough for the time being. Mozeliak, per MLBTR:

From the immediate standpoint, I think we’re OK… Now, as the season develops, if we don’t feel that things are going as we hoped, then we explore other options. But I think in the short-term, we feel comfortable where we’re at.

Now, about those “other options”: Troy Tulowitzki ain’t one of them, tweets Jon Heyman, at least not in the short term. Mozeliak maintains there isn’t an option that’s enough of an upgrade over Kozma to merit a signing (sorry, Jason Bartlett), and seems prepared to withstand a major downgrade at shortstop in the name of sticking to his game plan.

That plan? Well, the Cardinals’ farm system, awash in premium major-league-ready talent (none at shortstop, however), buys them some time on this issue. Coupled with the injury to Chris Carpenter, which throws the team’s chances in 2012 further into question, the quality on the farm means St. Louis was probably taking a wait-and-see approach on upgrading the current roster even before the Furcal announcement. Even with replacement-level production from Kozma, St. Louis will likely be in wild card contention come July, but bringing in Bartlett or Ryan Theriot won’t make them much better than that. If they are in the running, maybe those prospects become trade chips; if not, let the changing of the guard begin. For now, Mozeliak can afford to stand pat.

Yankees in market for corner infielders
With Mark Teixeira not due back until mid-May after straining his wrist, the Yankees are looking outside of the organization for help, and not necessarily for a first baseman, tweets Mark Feinsand. Buster Olney (ESPN Insider required) posits Scott Rolen, Don Kelly, and Russ Canzler as viable options; Ken Davidoff counters with Carlos Lee and, most intriguing in my view, Tyler Colvin. Meanwhile, the Yankees insist that Travis Hafner—despite owning not one, but two gloves! —is not an option—and it’s a very strange time for Aubrey Huff to tell the San Francisco Chronicle that he’s “pretty much retired.”

And so the Yankees will scour the nation once again for a third baseman. To borrow a phrase from my old Tufts baseball coach (who’s a friend of this column’s regular custodian, Daniel Rathman): my question to the Yankees is, why? I’ll cover this in greater detail in the next item, but suffice it to say the AL East will not be won or lost by mid-May. The last time the Yankees went looking for a third baseman, they ended up writing a $12 million check for Kevin Youkilis; if they weren’t willing to shell out the money or personnel for a better option over the winter, it seems unlikely they’ll find anything substantially better than in-house option Jayson Nix at this time of year. Plus, if the Yankees do end up with a third baseman, the pressure on Kevin Youkilis, first baseman, to hit well only intensifies. It all seems combustible to my eye.

Colvin, however, might be a worthwhile option. Somehow a spare part on an awful Rockies team, he hit well enough in 2012 (.273 TAv with solid power) and offers versatility as a left fielder that the Yankees could use with Curtis Granderson also injured. The Davidoff piece notes that trade talks “haven’t clicked” thus far, and Colvin might be superfluous when the Yankees get healthy—although he’s probably more valuable than Hafner, all things considered—but if Brian Cashman feels a move is necessary, Colvin seems a much better fit than a journeyman third baseman, and worth the higher price.

Baltimore emerges as suitor for Dodgers starters
Last week, I wrote a bit about the Dodgers’ glut of starting pitching, with Aaron Harang being the most likely of the eight nominal starters to be dealt. Now, according to Rich Kubatko and an earlier report from Ken Gurnick (which also mentions the Brewers), the Orioles are among the most interested in Harang and the Dodgers’ two other possible spare parts, Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has already said that, of the three, Harang would be least convertible to a bullpen role, and with all three out of minor-league options, GM Ned Colletti will likely be forced into a move sometime this month. The Dodgers have been playing coy over the situation in part due to concerns about Hyun-Jin Ryu’s adaptation to the big leagues, but Ryu struck out five of nine batters he faced Wednesday and, despite mediocre overall numbers, seems at least to have assuaged fears of culture shock. (And there don’t appear to be many other reasons to keep insurance around; Josh Beckett has yet to allow a run this spring. Yeah, this rotation is going to be pretty good.) As for Harang himself, he was lit up in his spring debut last week before firing three scoreless innings in a minor-league game Monday; I’d say the smart money has “minor-league game” being more significant than “three scoreless innings.”

Meanwhile, aren’t the Orioles interesting suitors for Harang? (Or Lilly? Or Capuano?) On the one hand, PECOTA has them as the fifth-best horse in a four-horse race. On the other, they were supposed to lose, like, 175 games last year and wound up making the playoffs, so why should they care? And more practically speaking, this is a starting rotation—really, a whole team—where, if everything goes as right as it did last season, might possibly reap the benefits of a consistent veteran. Behind Wei-Yin Chen, who impressed as a rookie, the Orioles have three starters who impressed at the big-league level but spent half the season either on the DL (Jason Hammel) or at Triple-A (Miguel Gonzalez). The prospective fifth starter, Jair Jurrjens, had a disastrous 2012 that included injuries and poor pitching that had nothing to do with said injuries—and yet, we can’t rule out a productive 2013. The Yankees are falling to pieces; the Red Sox and Rays don’t look improved on paper; the Blue Jays are still the Blue Jays; if the Orioles get good seasons out of three of their bottom four, plus a decent season from Harang, could they win 90 games again? Sure; it’s the trademark of every mediocre team ever, but again, if everything goes right…

By the way, the Dodgers can’t trade Harang—he’s their resident glove repairman

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

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