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February 6, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Wednesday, February 6

by Daniel Rathman

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The Astros breathed life into the Hot Stove earlier this week, when they agreed to send infielder Jed Lowrie to the Athletics in a five-player swaps, but the flames have since died down again. Fortunately, second-year general manager Jeff Luhnow might soon provide more fuel…

Astros could keep wheeling and dealing, with Bud Norris on the block
According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, after a dormant month and a half, the market for Norris is once again gaining steam. The Astros, as Rosenthal pointed out in the afore-linked blog post, have plenty of candidates to take over Norris’ spot in the rotation, and since the right-hander is gradually becoming more expensive, it makes sense for them to cash-in now.

I previously covered the trade landscape for Norris in the Roundup on Dec. 18, and although spring training is now around the corner, not much has changed since then. The Cardinals and Padres, two teams that were bandied about as possible destinations in December, remain interested, per Rosenthal, and the Orioles have reportedly now entered the fold. Meanwhile, Norris is still a two-pitch righty, whose future as a starter is clouded by a mediocre changeup and rough mechanics.

St. Louis became a somewhat more intriguing option on Tuesday, when general manager John Mozeliak announced that Chris Carpenter is a long shot to contribute to the Cardinals in 2013. Luhnow’s relationship with the Cardinals, his previous employer, could help to accelerate negotiations, but his intimate knowledge of the farm system might also impede the process. Additionally, a source told St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Joe Strauss that the team’s interest in bringing back Kyle Lohse is “negligible at this time,” and Mozeliak has an enviable collection of young arms with which to remedy this setback.

Right-handers Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, and Joe Kelly all enjoyed moments of brilliance in their first major-league tours last year, and each of them is talented enough to outperform Norris—while earning the league minimum, no less. The soon-to-be 28-year-old Norris forewent his first year of arbitration eligibility by agreeing to a $3 million paycheck for 2013, and although that’s hardly a steep outlay for a consistent, 1.5-win pitcher, the Cardinals are among the few teams that have the farm depth to replace comfortably from within.

It’s unwise to look past St. Louis entirely, but Baltimore and San Diego appear to have a more pressing need. Dan Duquette has kicked the tires on a number of starting pitchers this winter, but with Joe Saunders looking likely to depart in free agency, his rotation is short on dependable arms. Adam Sobsey wrote last September about the role that Duquette’s constant roster tweaks played in the Orioles’ surprising wild-card run, and adding Norris would enable him to stash some younger arms in the bullpen or at Triple-A Norfolk, in case rotation reinforcements are required in midseason. Duquette tacked Joel Pineiro onto his list of non-roster invitees earlier this week, but after undergoing surgery to repair a SLAP (labrum) tear in his shoulder, the 34-year-old is little more than a low-jackpot lottery ticket.

Over in San Diego, Josh Byrnes has been similarly quiet for much of the offseason, perhaps counting on his excellent farm system to continue bearing fruits. The Padres have a plethora of question marks in their rotation, which is currently fronted by Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez, with Cory Luebke on the mend from Tommy John surgery. Casey Kelly and upper-minors prospects like Robbie Erlin should quell those doubts in time, but Freddy Garcia and Tim Stauffer—who signed minor-league pacts in recent weeks—are shaky short-term options. Although it doesn’t take outstanding stuff to survive at Petco Park, fans like our own Geoff Young surely would like the retread era, which brought Kip Wells back to The Show last year, come to an end.

With Lohse and Saunders still unemployed, and several other veterans—including, as Rosenthal mentioned, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Luke Hochevar—available via trade, the market might suddenly have excess supply. Norris’ relatively inexpensive, controllable contract sets him apart from the group, but it might also force suitors to part with more young talent.

Given that there are multiple interested teams, it seems likely that Luhnow’s asking price will be met before Opening Day. Then again, since Norris is only entering his fourth full year of major-league service, the GM can afford to bide his time until one of his counterparts grows more desperate. From that standpoint, Norris may not be traded before Saunders signs or another injury—especially if it involves a pitcher in a shallower organization than the Cardinals—accelerates the market.

Bargain-hunting Indians would welcome a discounted Michael Bourn
Speaking of growing desperate, Bourn’s future is as muddled now as it has been for the past two months, and eventually, agent Scott Boras’ asking price may need to come down. If it does, then ESPN’s Buster Olney believes that the Indians will jump into the bidding.

General manager Chris Antonetti’s two biggest moves this offseason combined to reshape the Tribe’s outfield, which now projects to feature Michael Brantley in left, Drew Stubbs (acquired from the Reds in the Shin-Soo Choo trade) in center, and Nick Swisher (signed to a four-year contract) in right. Another free-agent addition, Mark Reynolds, tops the depth chart at first base, and the designated-hitter slot is up for grabs.

In the unlikely scenario that Bourn lands in Cleveland, first-year manager Terry Francona could enjoy one of the league’s best defensive outfields, or opt to hide Stubbs on the bench against right-handed pitchers. The former option would involve using Swisher as the primary designated hitter—a spot now occupied by Chris McGuinness—and occasionally at first base, with Reynolds serving as the DH and Stubbs moving over to right. The latter would shift Stubbs (.290 career TAv vs. LHP, .220 TAv vs. RHP) into a fourth-outfielder role, leaving Swisher in right field, and making it easier for Francona to keep Carlos Santana’s bat in the lineup on days when he is not catching.

The Indians’ first-round pick (fifth overall) is protected, and since they already surrendered their second-round selection to sign Swisher, Bourn would only cost Cleveland its third-rounder. Still, given the importance of draft picks to a rebuilding team and, more importantly, the degree to which Bourn’s five-year, $75 million price tag would need to drop, there is probably little to see here.

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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