Prospects are the backbone of any trade deadline season.  Here’s a look around the minor leagues…

  • Both Baseball America’s organizational rankings and rival sources from around the industry have unflattering opinions about the Diamondbacks’ minor league system, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes.  The prevailing view is that the D’Backs have several players who project as “a collection of back-end starters and relievers alongside utilitymen” but perhaps no impact regulars at the MLB level.  With not much interest in their prospects, the D’Backs may need to deal from their 25-man roster to address their many needs this offseason, though that could also hurt their depth.
  • Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer get much of the attention when discussing Indians prospects, though beyond those two top names, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer lists several intriguing minor leaguers in the Tribe’s system.  Any of these youngsters could be of interest to the Brewers, as Pluto cites the recent reports of the Indians’ interest in Jonathan Lucroy and/or Milwaukee’s top relievers.
  • One Indians prospect not mentioned by Pluto is shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang, who ESPN’s Buster Olney reports was discussed by the Yankees when the two sides discussed Aroldis Chapman.  (The Tribe looked like the possible favorites for Chapman at one point today, though now it looks like the star closer will be going to the Cubs.)  Chang, who hails from Taiwan and turns 21 in August, has put up solid hitting numbers at high-A ball this season and was ranked by Baseball America as Cleveland’s 16th-best prospect prior to 2016.
  • Cuban third baseman Yanio Perez has drawn interest from the Astros, Padres, Rangers, Reds and Rockies, as per a report from MLB Pipeline (Twitter link).  The 20-year-old was ranked by Pipeline as the 10th-best player available in this year’s July 2 international market, and he is known to have impressive raw power, makeup and above-average speed.  Perez is subject to international bonus pool guidelines.

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With one potential relief pitching blockbuster in the works, let’s look around at some other news and rumors surrounding the bullpen market…

  • The Giants’ list of relief pitching targets includes Angels closer Huston Street, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman reports.  Street, who turns 33 in August, is enduring by far the worst season of his 12-year career — the veteran has as many walks (11) as strikeouts over his 19 2/3 innings pitched, and he missed a month due to an oblique strain.  His 5.03 K/9 would be a career low, while ERA indicators (5.69 FIP, 6.16 xFIP, 5.67 SIERA) show that Street is actually somewhat fortunate to “only” be posting a 5.03 ERA, though he also has a .358 BABIP.  With around $2.8MM still owed to Street this season and $9MM for 2017, the Angels would surely have to eat a big chunk of that contract to facilitate a deal given Street’s struggles.
  • Andrew Cashner has been cited as a possible Giants target, though interestingly, Schulman reports that San Francisco could explore converting the righty into a reliever.  I would guess that this scenario wouldn’t happen unless Matt Cain quickly rounds back into form.  The Padres are getting a lot of interest in Cashner and are certainly demanding a “starting pitcher” price tag for him, which the Giants likely wouldn’t be willing to pay unless they were totally committed to using Cashner in the rotation.
  • Brewers relievers Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith are also Giants targets, with Schulman reporting that Milwaukee has been trying to include either reliever together with Jonathan Lucroy or Ryan Braun as part of a larger trade.  This tactic is of no interest to San Francisco since the Giants have no interest in Lucroy or Braun.
  • If the Nationals aren’t able to land Aroldis Chapman or Wade Davis, that won’t stop the team from searching for back-of-the-bullpen help, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman writes (Twitter links).  David Robertson will surely be a target if the White Sox shop him around, and Heyman figures the CardinalsTrevor Rosenthal will get a look.  Though St. Louis is no longer using Rosenthal as closer, Heyman isn’t sure the Cards would make him available.

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Here’s the latest on some notable players whose names have popped up in trade speculation…

  • The Phillies are scouting the Marlins’ rookie league affiliate for prospects in a possible Jeremy Hellickson trade, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link).  The two NL East rivals have been connected to Hellickson rumors for a few weeks now, as Miami is known to be searching for rotation help.  Given the lack of premium talent within the Marlins’ farm system, Hellickson could be a more reasonable acquisition than other Marlins targets like Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore or even Chris Sale.  The Pirates, Red Sox and Orioles are among the teams also linked to Hellickson in trade rumors.
  • The Rangers are exploring many trade options and have been linked to multiple teams, though they don’t appear to have had any “substantive talks” with the Reds, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweets.  Texas has been linked to Jay Bruce, and the right fielder could be a fit with Shin-Soo Choo constantly battling injuries and Prince Fielder gone for the season, though Grant seems to imply that the Rangers’ interest in Bruce didn’t get too far.  Anthony DeSclafani would certainly the attract the Rangers and other pitching-needy teams if Cincinnati made him available, though DeSclafani’s breakout year may have also made him into a building block for the rebuilding Reds.
  • The Braves are “aggressively shopping” Jeff Francoeur, Erick Aybar and left-handed relievers, a rival executive tells Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link).  Reports from just a few days ago suggested the Braves valued Francoeur’s leadership too much to deal him, though I would speculate that Atlanta could see what it could get for Francoeur now and then try to re-sign him in the offseason.  Aybar would seem to have limited trade value given his horrible year at the plate, as his brief hot streak in June gave way to more struggles in July.  Southpaws Hunter Cervenka and Ian Krol have generated some trade buzz already, and it’s possible Atlanta could be trying to sell high on Dario Alvarez.
  • The Twins are in “listening mode — at best” on right-hander Kyle Gibson, a source on a contender tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter links).  The Twins “appear more focused” on trading Ervin Santana or Ricky Nolasco, which is no surprise given that the team would love to get some salary relief from either of those big contracts.  Gibson has yet to truly live up to his former top prospect status, though he put up solid numbers in 2015 as a low-strikeout ground ball specialist.  Gibson will become eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, and he is under team control through 2019.
  • Also from Berardino (Twitter links), he speculates that the Twins could try to position themselves as the proverbial “third team” in a three-team trade.  The Twins have some prospect depth that could be offered to contenders short on quality minor leaguers (Berardino cites the Marlins, Tigers, Mets and Orioles here) to help facilitate some deals, with Minnesota receiving some players who could help them next season but who are also still in their pre-arbitration years.

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The Rockies will call top outfield prospect David Dahl up to the majors tomorrow for the beginning of the team’s series with the Orioles, Nick Groke of the Denver Post reports.  In a corresponding move, outfielder Brandon Barnes will be designated for assignment to create a roster spot.

Dahl was the 10th overall pick of the 2012 draft, but his path to the big leagues was slowed by a very serious injury in May 2015.  A collision with a teammate in the outfield left Dahl with a concussion and lacerated spleen, and Dahl underwent a splenectomy to remove the damaged body part entirely so he could return to action in 2015, rather than undergo surgery to repair his spleen and face a longer layoff.  It appears as though Dahl emerged from that scare relatively unscathed, as he has torn up Double-A and Triple-A pitching to the tune of a combined .314/.394/.569 line and 18 homers over a combined 400 plate appearances.

Entering the season, the 22-year-old Dahl scored impressive rankings on top-100 prospect rankings from Baseball Prospectus (who ranked Dahl 31st), Baseball America (39th), MLB.com (46th) and ESPN.com’s Keith Law (58th).  The 2016 BA Prospect Handbook ranked Dahl as the second-best prospect in Colorado’s system, describing him as having “the potential to be a five-tool center fielder.”  Dahl already possesses speed, a strong throwing arm and defensive ability in center, and he has quick hands and gap power at the plate, with some scouts believing he has the ability to hit 20-25 homers.

With the Rockies falling well behind in the NL West, it makes sense that Dahl would get an extended look.  The timing of the promotion means that Dahl wouldn’t be able to earn enough service time to gain Super Two status if he stays on the MLB roster for the rest of the season, so if he isn’t demoted, the Rockies are on track to control Dahl through the 2022 season.  As Groke notes, now that Dahl is in the mix for playing time, it will only intensify rumors that Colorado could create room in the outfield by trading Carlos Gonzalez or Charlie Blackmon. For now, Dahl looks to take over in left field while Gerardo Parra is still on the DL.

Barnes, 30, came to Colorado as part of the Dexter Fowler trade package from Houston in December 2013.  Barnes has hit .249/.295/.376 over 703 PA with the Rockies while getting extensive time at all three outfield positions.

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The Rangers are interested in a reunion with Royals right-hander Edinson Volquez, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports.  Volquez actually started against Texas today, holding the Rangers to one run over six innings to earn a no-decision in what ended up as a 2-1 Rangers victory.  As Grant noted, “the entire Rangers inner circle of front office personnel was on hand to see” Volquez pitch.

Texas been looking far and wide for rotation upgrades before the deadline, including checking in on such major names as Chris Sale and the Rays’ collection of starters (Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore and Drew Smyly).  Those pitchers, however, are all controllable and thus have high asking prices.  Between the high prospect cost and the injuries plaguing the Texas rotation, GM Jon Daniels admitted that his team may shift its mindset to consider short-term additions.

I think that’s the only thing that’s really changed is that I was hoping we wouldn’t have to consider rentals,” Daniels said.  “I think if we had a healthy rotation, we’d only be looking at guys who are controllable past this season. [Rentals] would not be our preference, but we’ve got to be open.”

Volquez would fit the bill as such a rental pitcher.  Volquez is in the final year of a two-year contract that paid him $17MM in guaranteed salary, plus there is a $10MM mutual option on his services for 2017 that can be bought out for $3MM.  (Incidentally, Volquez also gets a $500K assignment bonus in the event of a trade.)  He would obviously come at a much lower cost than Sale or any of the Rays pitchers, though the Royals are still undecided about selling at the deadline or making another postseason push.  Grant reports that at least 20 teams had scouts watching the Rangers/Royals series, which is no surprise given that both teams could be such big players before August 1.

Volquez is also something of a known commodity in Texas, having been originally signed by the Rangers as an 18-year-old amateur free agent in 2001 and breaking into the bigs with them from 2005-07.  Now 33 years old, Volquez has had his share of ups and downs over his 12 years in the bigs, though he experienced a bit of a career revival with the Pirates in 2014 as one of the many success stories of pitching coach Ray Searage.  Volquez turned that bounce-back year into his current deal with the Royals, and the righty was a big part of Kansas City’s World Series championship team in 2015.

This season hasn’t gone quite as smoothy for Volquez, as he has only a 4.56 ERA over 124 1/3 innings even after today’s strong outing.  ERA indicators show that his ERA is roughly a half-run higher than it should be, and Volquez is providing his usual contribution of generating ground balls (53.4% grounder rate) while not missing many bats (6.92 K/9).  Volquez also averaged 186 innings per season from 2012-15, so his durability would bring much-needed stability to the thinned-out Texas rotation.

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The Mets are interested in Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and current Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud seems to be part of any potential package the Amazins could send to Milwaukee, Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News reports.  The Brewers rejected a straight one-for-one offer of Lucroy for d’Arnaud, so as Ackert notes, the Mets’ ability to stay competitive in the race for Lucroy’s services will hinge on the caliber of prospect New York is willing to surrender along with d’Arnaud.  As of Sunday, no deal between the Mets and Brewers was imminent.

Lucroy has been speculatively linked to the Mets as a possible solution to their hitting woes, though the Mets were still thought to be looking at d’Arnaud as their catcher of the future.  In my recent examination of Lucroy’s trade market, I also dismissed the Mets as a possible candidate mostly due to d’Arnaud’s presence but also due to a lack of minor league depth.  While New York has some impressive prospects on hand (i.e. Dominic Smith, Amed Rosario, Gavin Cecchini, Brandon Nimmo), their system is rather thin overall.

For dealing d’Arnaud and years of a controllable top prospect, the Mets would land one of the top catchers in baseball in Lucroy.  Not only has Lucroy strongly bounced back after an injury-plagued 2015 season, he has re-established himself as one of the game’s top bargains.  Lucroy is in the final guaranteed year of a five-year, $11MM extension signed prior to his breakout 2012 season, and there is a team option on his services for only $5.25MM for 2017.  With payroll limitations still a lingering concern for the Mets, they could be particularly eager to obtain a top-tier talent at a low price.

It wasn’t too long ago that d’Arnaud was himself a sought-after commodity, as he and Noah Syndergaard headlined the trade package sent by the Blue Jays to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade in December 2012.  While d’Arnaud has looked good when healthy, he has been plagued by a wide array of injuries during his brief career, missing time due to varied injuries to his hand, foot, knee, back, elbow and (most recently) a rotator cuff strain that put him on the DL earlier this season.  Perhaps most troubling of all, d’Arnaud has also suffered at least three known concussions.  There has already been heavy speculation that d’Arnaud will have to be moved to first base for the sake of his health, so he doesn’t necessarily protect as a replacement for Lucroy behind the plate in Milwaukee.

Lucroy may not be the only Mets target on the Milwaukee roster, as the Amazins are known to be looking for relief help and have been linked to relievers Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith.  Ackert reports that the Brewers were one of many teams recently scouting the Mets’ lower-level minor league clubs.  This is just my speculation, but New York may be more willing to part with a top prospect in the Smith/Rosario/Cecchini tier if both Lucroy and one of the relievers could be obtained in the same deal.

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The Yankees and Cubs are working towards a trade that would send star closer Aroldis Chapman to Chicago in exchange for top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres and more, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reports.  Sports Illustrated’s Kenny Ducey reported (Twitter link) earlier tonight that Torres was scratched from the lineup for Chicago’s High-A affiliate, and SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo adds that Torres was indeed removed due to ongoing trade talks.

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