Rangers lefty Derek Holland has a lot at stake in his final month of the season — and, likely, the postseason to follow — as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News explains. Holland, 29, is not only battling for a spot in the club’s playoff rotation, but also will be auditioning as the team considers whether to pick up his $11MM option for 2017. He has exceeded his limited inning tallies of the prior two campaigns, but still owns only a 4.68 ERA across 84 2/3 frames on the year. But his two outings since returning from his latest DL stint have been quite good — Holland has allowed just two earned runs over 12 innings on eight total hits and one walk, against ten strikeouts — and a continuation of that could make the option desirable once again. As Grant notes, Texas will need to weigh the lack of likely alternatives in free agency. Plus, parting ways with the southpaw would mean paying a $1.5MM buyout for 2017 while also passing on the rights to a $11.5MM option for the 2018 season (while coughing up another $1MM buyout).

Here’s more from the American League:

  • The Red Sox could welcome Koji Uehara back to their bullpen as soon as next Monday, as Tim Britton of the Providence Journal reports. At one point, it seemed that the veteran righty could miss the rest of the season with a pectoral strain, but he’ll instead look to provide a boost to the Sox relief corps down the stretch. While there’s now optimism, Uehara says he won’t push too hard. “It makes no sense to rush at this point in time so I’ll try to be ready when I’m ready,” he said. “The biggest hurdle is getting over the injury mentally. I think I feel pretty good with where I am physically.” It hasn’t quite been a typical campaign for the 41-year-old, who sports an uncharacteristic 4.50 ERA, but he’s still carrying 12.8 K/9 against just 2.3 BB/9 and will be an interesting factor in the free agent market — particularly if he can show that he’s healthy in the final month of the season.
  • Angels righty Cam Bedrosian is still assessing whether to undergo surgery to address a blood clot in his pitching arm, as Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times writes. The procedure would end his season, but the alternative — rest and medication — likely will as well at this point. Either way, it doesn’t appear to be a significant long-term concern, and doesn’t take much away from a breakout season from the 24-year-old. After posting ugly earned run totals in his first two efforts to conquer the big leagues, Bedrosian has tallied 40 1/3 frames of 1.12 ERA ball in 2016 with a strong 11.4 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 and a 49.5% groundball rate.
  • The Tigers are holding their breath yet again with regard to outfielder Cameron Maybin, who left tonight’s action with another thumb injury. As Evan Woodberry of MLive.com tweets, X-rays on his left thumb were negative, but an MRI has been scheduled for a closer look tomorrow. The 29-year-old has been a key cog for Detroit, slashing .328/.398/.415 with 14 steals over 286 plate appearances, but has already spent two stints on the DL — including one for an injury to the same digit that is causing the new trouble. Regardless of the prognosis, it seems fairly likely that the Tigers will end up seeing value in exercising a $9MM option to retain Maybin for 2017 rather than paying him a $1MM buyout.

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We’ve heard before both that the Red Sox have expressed real interest in bringing back former closer Jonathan Papelbon and that a signing no longer seems very likely to come to fruition. Today’s comments from Boston president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, via WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, further cast doubt on the possibility of a reunion.

According to Dombrowski, Papelbon’s failure to sign with the Red Sox or another organization are related to “his own personal reasons.” The veteran executive says that the word the team has received is that Papelbon simply is “not ready to make a decision” at this time.

While that’s certainly well within the veteran reliever’s rights, Dombrowski adds that it impacts the team’s own interest. Papelbon hasn’t appeared on a major league mound for over three weeks, and it isn’t even known just what he has been doing while working out on his own.

“So you’re in a position where you just can’t thrust him out there,” said Dombrowski. “I don’t know what he’s been doing as far as throwing is concerned. I would doubt that he’s been throwing a lot. So you would have to go back out there and build up his arm strength and be in a position to face some hitters. It’s not just inserting him like it would be if you signed him right off the bat.”

It is particularly notable, too, that Papelbon would need to sign before the end of August in order to be eligible to pitch in the post-season. Dombrowski notes that he and his representatives are surely aware of that fact, but are still electing to stand pat for the time being. “It has nothing to do with a club interest,” he said. “It’s just more, for whatever reason, his own decisions are like that.”

All told, it seems increasingly likely that the 35-year-old will be left to re-assess whether he wishes to keep pitching over the offseason. He has experienced his worst season at the major league level thus far in 2016, putting up a 4.37 ERA on the year, representing only the second time he has allowed more than three earned per nine over a single season. While Papelbon was able to punch out eight batters per nine, an improvement on his late-season run with the Nats in 2015, he also posted 3.6 BB/9 — his highest tally since his very first MLB campaign — and ran up a career-low 90.9 mph average four-seamer.

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The Royals have acquired outfielder Daniel Nava from the Angels for a player to be named later or cash, the club announced. Nava will head to Triple-A Omaha.

Nava, 33, has spent the last month at the highest level of the minors after previously losing his roster spot with the Halos.

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Here are the day’s minor moves, all courtesy of Baseball America’s Matt Eddy (except where otherwise noted):

  • The Braves have released backstop George Kottaras, who’ll re-enter the open market not long after he left it to join the Atlanta organization. Kottaras, 33, has only been at Triple-A Gwinnett for about six weeks, but his .196/.328/.294 batting line over 61 plate appearances wasn’t enough to warrant a lengthier stint. The veteran has seen action in seven major league campaigns, posting a useful .215/.326/.411 overall slash in 858 trips to the plate, but he hasn’t seen substantial time at the game’s highest level since 2013.
  • Outfielder Chris Dickerson has signed on with the Orioles on a minor league deal after sitting out the entire season to date. As Dan Connolly of Baltimore Baseball reports, the O’s seem to be looking for another possible major league piece from an unlikely place with this signing. Dickerson, 34, is still working back from shoulder surgery and hasn’t seen the majors since 2014. But he was hitting well before his injury last year, and VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette suggested that he could move into a “fifth outfielder” role at the major league level.
  • The Cubs have cut ties with left-handed reliever C.J. Riefenhauser, per Badler. The 26-year-oldhad briefly reached the majors in each of the last two years. But he was having trouble at the Triple-A level with the Chicago organization, compiling a 4.55 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 5.9 BB/9 over 27 2/3 innings.
  • Left-hander Jason Gurka has been released by the Rockies. He was bombed in brief stints at the majors in each of the last two seasons. But the results were much more promising at Triple-A, where Gurka had a solid campaign in 2015 and was largely lights out this year. In his 21 1/3 innings, he racked up 31 strikeouts against just six walks and permitted only four earned runs.

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The Pirates announced that ace Gerrit Cole has been placed on the disabled list, retroactive to Aug. 25, with “posterior inflammation of the right elbow.” Left-hander Steven Brault is up from Triple-A Indianapolis and will assume Cole’s spot in the rotation against the Cubs tonight.

[Related: Updated Pittsburgh Pirates depth chart]

This will be the second DL stint of the season for Cole, who missed just over a month earlier this summer when he was diagnosed with a strained right triceps. The fourth-place finisher in last year’s National League Cy Young voting, Cole hasn’t looked like himself since being activated from that initial trip to the disabled list, pitching to a 4.73 ERA and yielding 57 hits in 45 2/3 innings. Overall, he’s posted a 3.55 ERA with 7.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 46.1 percent ground-ball rate in 114 innings. All of those rates have gone the wrong direction from last season’s masterful numbers, though there’s been very little loss of velocity for Cole.

Brault, 24, will join the Bucs for the second time this season. Originally acquired from the Orioles in the 2015 Travis Snider trade, Brault allowed four earned runs in 10 innings across a pair of starts earlier this season and has enjoyed a solid season at the Triple-A level as well. In 75 1/3 minor league innings this year, Brault has recorded a 3.70 ERA with a career-best 10.3 K/9 against 4.2 BB/9 to go along with a 41.5 percent ground-ball rate.

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We typically think of trade deadline winners and losers being teams, not players, but if September goes as August has, there will have been few bigger trade deadline winners than Ivan Nova. The righty spent years on the fringes of the Yankees’ rotation, but now could hit the open market as a hot commodity after what could turn out to have been a very useful makeover in the Pirates organization.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Francisco GiantsIn 97 1/3 innings with the Yankees this season, little went right for Nova. He posted a 4.90 ERA, with a reasonable 6.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 but with a stratospheric 1.8 HR/9, and he made only 15 starts while also pitching six times out of the bullpen. He then headed to Pittsburgh in a little-noticed August 1 deal for two players to be named.

Nova figured to perform better with the Pirates, since he was moving to the more pitcher-friendly league and since it’s considerably easier to limit home runs at PNC Park than it is in Yankee Stadium. A.J. Burnett finished his career as a minor hero in Pittsburgh after an uneven tenure in New York, and Nova seemed likely to benefit from the same team change.

The Pirates organization’s reputation for fixing pitchers also figured to help Nova. That reputation has taken a bit of a hit this year with the struggles of Jon Niese, Francisco Liriano and others, but the past successes of J.A. Happ, Edinson Volquez, Mark Melancon, Liriano and Burnett all made Nova’s move look promising.

Since the deal, Nova has greatly exceeded expectations, posting a 2.87 ERA, 6.3 K/9 and only one walk in 31 1/3 innings. It appears the Pirates have helped Nova throw more strikes, and he’s done so with gusto, perhaps in part because he doesn’t have to worry as much about the ball flying out of the stadium if he makes a mistake. Nova’s performance since joining the Pirates looks likely to dramatically improve his standing in the coming offseason.

Of course, it’s still just 31 1/3 innings. There’s time for Nova to falter, and even if he doesn’t, teams perhaps will think twice before making a significant commitment this winter based on only two months of data. But Nova seems likely to benefit from the precedent Happ established last year.

Like Nova, Happ was a fringe starter who joined the Pirates on a forgettable deadline deal and immediately morphed into a completely different pitcher, posting a 1.89 ERA, 9.8 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 63 1/3 innings for Pittsburgh. Better still, he signed with the Blue Jays for three years and $36MM last offseason and continued to perform well with his new team, posting a 3.19 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 155 1/3 innings so far with the Jays. A number of other pitchers who’ve righted their ships in Pittsburgh have enjoyed varying degrees of success elsewhere as well, including Volquez, Jason Grilli, Jeanmar Gomez and Vance Worley. This winter, then, teams will have reason to gamble that Nova will continue to contribute, particularly since he’s only 29.

The next month will be crucial for Nova, and there will be a wide range of possibilities for him in the offseason depending on how he pitches the rest of the year. It might turn out that his first five starts with the Pirates were partially a fluke. This wouldn’t be the first strong, but inconsequential, month he’s ever had — for example, from April 20 through May 19 of this season, he posted a 2.49 ERA while only walking two batters in 25 1/3 innings. But another good month would go a long way toward convincing potential suitors that Nova is for real. If he does continue to pitch well, Nova and his representatives at the Legacy Agency will surely point to Happ’s performance as evidence that small samples can matter. Rich Hill’s performance this year after a handful of outstanding starts with the Red Sox last season will be a good data point for them as well.

Teams will be eager to believe the story Nova will be telling, too, because so little good pitching will be available on the open market. In a free agent market that will be highlighted by pitchers with serious question marks related to age or performance (the key names include Hill, Andrew Cashner, Bartolo Colon, Jeremy Hellickson and Doug Fister), a pitcher who might be the next Happ would stand out in a big way. The fact that the Pirates can’t tag Nova with a qualifying offer will only help his value as well. Volquez got two years and $20MM from the Royals prior to the 2015 season, but if Nova continues to pitch well, he seems likely to get significantly more, given that he’s been better than Volquez was with the Bucs and given the weakness of the market. A three-year deal a long the lines of the one Happ received looks like a real possibility if he can repeat his August excellence. It looks relatively likely, then, that Nova’s performance since the trade will have more than doubled the payday he’ll ultimately receive.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma quietly surpassed 162 innings last week in a start against the Yankees, meaning he has now crossed the minimum innings threshold for his 2017 club option to vest at $14MM. However, MLBTR has learned that Iwakuma’s contract also stipulates that he must finish the season without incurring a specific injury, so while he’s now likely to see his option vest, the 2017 salary is not quite guaranteed just yet.

The specific nature of the injury that Iwakuma must avoid remains unknown, though concerns about his health submarined what would’ve been a three-year, $45MM contract with the Dodgers this past offseason. (He instead re-signed in Seattle on a one-year, $12MM deal with a pair of options for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.) The 35-year-old has avoided the disabled list entirely this season, however, so he’s certainly in the clear at the moment. In fact, not only has Iwakuma avoided the disabled list, he’s been far and away the healthiest member of the Seattle rotation. No other Mariners starter is within 40 innings of Iwakuma’s 163 frames, as each of Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Nate Karns has spent time on the disabled list. In his 163 innings, Iwakuma has pitched to a solid 3.81 ERA, though a number of his secondary statistics have trended in the wrong direction, including his strikeout rate (6.5 K/9), walk rate (2.0 BB/9), ground-ball rate (39.8 percent) and average fastball velocity (87.8 mph).

Iwakuma’s innings count for the remainder of the season is worth keeping an eye on as well, as his volume of innings in 2016 could impact his contract status for 2018. Assuming his 2017 option ends up vesting, Iwakuma’s 2018 option will vest at $15MM if he is able to throw a combined 324 innings between 2016-17. As it stands, he needs 161 innings next year to lock in that $15MM payday in 2018, though every inning he tosses in the final stages of the 2016 season will bring him a small step closer to that goal.

Iwakuma’s contract also contains plenty of incentives for the 2016 season, and he’s already begun reaching them. He took home $500K for reaching the 150-inning mark and is owed an additional $500K for every 10th inning he pitches after that mark, up to 190 innings. In other words, he’s already earned $1MM worth of incentives and could push that up to a total of $2.5MM if he throws another 27 innings, which looks quite likely. Those incentives will not be a part of his contract in 2017-18 if those options vest (though they would be in the event that his options fail to vest, and the club exercises the option anyway).

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