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November 8, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Thursday, November 8

by Daniel Rathman

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If Yasmani Grandal’s 50-game suspension for a positive testosterone test had been announced on Tuesday, it might have gone unnoticed amid the hubbub of the election. Instead, the Wednesday afternoon bombshell sent the Padres catcher soaring to the top of the Twitter Trends list and left general manager Josh Byrnes scrambling to reshape San Diego’s plans behind the plate for the first third of the 2013 season.

Padres will stay in-house to supplant Grandal
Assuming Byrnes sticks to what he told FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi, those plans involve a timeshare between John Baker, who bats left-handed, and Nick Hundley, a righty. Baker spent the first four years of his major-league career with the Marlins, before heading to San Diego in a trade for Wade LeBlanc last November. Hundley started roughly half of the Padres’ games from 2009 through 2011, then lost his job to Grandal, after scuffling to the tune of a .166/.226/.259 triple-slash line during the first half of the 2012 season.

One of the most talented young backstops in the league, Grandal hit .297/.394/.469 in his first tour of the majors, amassing 1.8 WARP in just 60 games, a pace that would have landed between Miguel Montero's 3.9 WARP and Yadier Molina’s 5.8 WARP outputs had he maintained it over a full season. Losing the 23-year-old—who headlined Byrnes’ return package for Mat Latos last winter—deals a significant blow to the Padres, who are a trendy sleeper team for 2013, following a 42-33 showing in the second half of last season.

Fortunately, with Baker and Hundley in tow, manager Bud Black has enviable depth at his disposal. If Hundley rediscovers his 2011 form, which produced 30 extra-base hits in 281 at-bats, the Padres may not miss a beat in Grandal’s stead. And even if the Baker-Hundley platoon merely serves to hold down the fort, the setback—likely capped at two wins—shouldn’t pose an insurmountable obstacle to San Diego’s hopes of reasserting itself in the National League West.

B.J. is a free agent, but could Justin Upton be on the move, too?
When the Diamondbacks sent center fielder Chris Young to the Athletics in October, many presumed that Kevin Towers had chosen to retain Upton in right. But Morosi’s FOX colleague, Ken Rosenthal, tweeted on Wednesday that the third-year general manager may have other ideas.

Upton, who turned 25 in August and should be entering the prime of his career, has not yet lived up to the star-level expectations associated with being the first-overall pick in the 2005 draft and bolstered by his 31-homer output in 2011. He hit only seven home runs, struck out 74 times, and went just 10-for-18 on steal attempts in 79 games before the 2012 All-Star break, and a better second-half showing only brought Upton’s overall value up to 2.6 WARP. Upton’s WARP totals from the past four seasons—4.6, 1.9, 4.5, and 2.6, in that order—have frustrated both fans and the Arizona front office, but his contract, a six-year, $51 million deal with three years and $38.5 million remaining, is hardly an albatross, and Towers would risk selling too low on a potentially elite asset if he shipped Upton out of the desert this winter.

That’s why beat writer Nick Piecoro’s report later Wednesday, that Towers is not shopping Upton and rather simply fielding calls to gauge interest, is the more likely scenario. The Diamondbacks may be able to replace Young’s production with a combination of Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock, but losing Upton could send Arizona, which won the West in 2011 but tumbled down to .500 in 2012, deeper into the abyss in 2013. Only a similarly talented, major-league-ready player at a position of need (third base or shortstop) is likely to convince Towers to cough up his blue chip. And unless the well-stocked Rangers offer up Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar, a suitable match will be difficult to find.

… and could the Diamondbacks also shop Trevor Bauer?
But Towers may be able to plug his infield holes by dangling a different player—namely, Bauer, whose long-toss regimen and alleged immaturity remain points of contention with the team’s staff. Arizona’s farm system does not lack for high-upside arms, with Wade Miley establishing himself in 2012 and Tyler Skaggs getting his feet wet in six starts down the stretch. So, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the 21-year-old Bauer is expendable despite his elite potential, assuming that Towers can find a significant upgrade over incumbents Chris Johnson and Cliff Pennington.

A UCLA product and the third-overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bauer has all the tools to blossom into a frontline starter, but his command and control are works in progress.

Bauer issued 13 walks in 16 1/3 innings last year, many of them attributed to poor pitch selection—or, more specifically, his desire to use every pitch in his deep repertoire without developing a coherent approach. The perils of that strategy are evident in the Outcomes table above: Bauer drew plenty of whiffs with his off-speed pitches, but he struggled to find the strike zone with each of them, and he lacked the fastball consistency to either set hitters up or put them away. “Game management,” unlike arm talent, is teachable, so a team that believes it can help Bauer to harness his arsenal and pinpoint his fastball could offer up the necessary bounty to pry him away.

From that standpoint, pitching-starved teams, such as the Indians and Red Sox, might make the most sense. And the Tribe’s general manager, Chris Antonetti, is apparently looking to deal, too…

Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo on the trading block in Cleveland
The Indians seemed to be on the upswing when they finished 80-82 in 2011, but all of that optimism faded in 2012, when Cleveland posted the second-worst record in the American League (68-94) and wound up only two games away from the junior-circuit cellar. Contending in 2013 is probably a stretch, so Antonetti’s willingness to move short-term assets shouldn’t come as a shock.

According to CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler, both Choo and Cabrera are “very available.” Choo is set to hit the free-agent market after next season, so it makes perfect sense for Antonetti to cash in now, especially considering the right fielder’s injury history. Cabrera, on the other hand, signed a two-year, $16.5 million extension that would keep him in Cleveland through the 2014 season, so his on-the-block status is more difficult to gauge. The Tribe’s long-term solution at shortstop is Francisco Lindor, but the 2011 first-rounder turns 19 on the 14th of this month and spent last season in Low-A ball. Dealing Cabrera would leave the position in the hands of Mike Aviles, who came over from Toronto in exchange for Esmil Rogers, an adequate stopgap, but not exactly a player that Antonetti should be itching to turn to.

A secondary reason for Choo’s availability is that, although the 30-year-old’s .381 career on-base percentage profiles well in the leadoff spot, his platoon splits contributed to one of the offense’s most glaring weaknesses. Choo hit just .199/.318/.286 against left-handed pitching in 2012, dropping his career line versus southpaws to .249/.338/.358, and paving the way for Cleveland’s 18-35 demise in the 53 games where the Tribe faced a lefty starter. The Indians’ 664 team OPS against southpaws ranked dead last in the American League, and acquiring Aviles was Antonetti’s first step aimed at balancing his lineup. Dealing Choo could further that mission, though his 3.1 WARP output would be tough to immediately replace. 

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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