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The Phillies are at least internally weighing pursuit of Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. The southpaw has emerged as one of the best rental starters available on this summer’s trade market.

Of course, there are also a few other names we’ve seen connected to the Phillies of late, and it’s not clear that Happ is a particular priority for the rising organization. While there’s “definite interest,” per Salisbury’s source, two particular players from another division rival remain bigger targets.

Multiple other contenders have been tied to Happ of late, as well, and it stands to reason that the Jays will let the market develop unless they’re bowled over by an offer. Happ’s recent malaise has certainly dinged his stock, though, and it seems that all involved have reason to see how his next few outings go before a deal is struck.

The 35-year-old Happ got his start with the Phillies but spent only one full season at the MLB level with the organization. He has been quite productive in recent campaigns, but has allowed a few more home runs (1.40 per nine) thus far in 2018 than he ever has before in the big leagues.

Ultimately, there’s value in Happ’s 109 innings of 4.29 ERA pitching this year. Looking forward, too, teams will be intrigued by the fact that he’s sporting 10.0 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9. Those numbers are backed by a career-high 10.1% swinging-strike rate and average fastball velocity that has trended up a bit over the course of the season.

With $13MM in salary this year, Happ isn’t particularly cheap, though there are no future entanglements since he is a rental player. That’s ultimately a reasonable sum for a pitcher who carries his recent track record. Some suitors may ask the Jays to keep some of the contractual obligation, though it seems reasonable to guess that the Phils would prefer to take on the remaining salary rather than upping the prospect return. Toronto’s preferences are not really clear at this stage.

The Phillies’ rotation has had some strong overall performances and is not exactly begging for an upgrade — particularly if Zach Eflin is able to return quickly from the DL with no ill effects, as seems to be the expectation. But depth is always key down the stretch and every game will count in a tight division race. Adding a multi-inning lefty to a possible postseason roster would surely also hold appeal.

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The Mariners have inked backstop Cameron Rupp to a minors deal, according to the Pacific Coast League transactions page. He’ll head to Triple-A Tacoma.

Rupp has yet to earn a chance at the majors this season after spending the last three years as a frequently utilized member of the Phillies roster. He has spent time in 2018 with the top affiliates of the Rangers and Twins organizations, hitting well with the former and then struggling with the latter.

It’s certainly possible that Rupp will be called up to Seattle at some point, though he’ll need to play well and wait for an opportunity. In the near-term, when Mike Zunino returns from the DL, the M’s can either designate the out-of-options Chris Herrmann or (as seems more likely) option down David Freitas.

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The Braves have signed reliever Fernando Salas and outfielder Lane Adams to minor-league deals, according to an announcement by the club’s top affiliate. Both players are reporting to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Salas has turned in quite a few solid MLB innings over the years and will at least be a worthwhile depth asset to have on hand. The 33-year-old righty spent most of the early portion of this season with the Diamondbacks, allowing twenty earned runs in forty frames with 6.8 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. He has engineered mid-season turnarounds in each of the past two seasons, but if he hopes to pull that feat off once again he’ll first have to earn a call-up.

As for Adams, he opened the year with the Braves. He hit well for the club at the MLB level over the past two seasons, but received limited action and was cut loose when roster pressures arose earlier this season. Adams ended up struggling quite a bit upon landing at Triple-A with the Cubs, so he’ll hope to get back in a groove back with the Atlanta organization.

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With the All-Star break at hand, we’ve already completed that portion of the season often referred to as “the first half.” That’s a demonstrably poor choice of phrasing, given that teams played their 81st games weeks ago, but we’ll roll with it. The break offers a chance to take a breath and take stock. It offers a moment to gain perspective, just before the trade deadline period gets underway in earnest and the postseason races truly heat up.

So, it seems an opportune moment to look back at some of the results we’ve seen to this point of the season. We’ll focus here on team-level results, rather than unexpected outcomes for individual players, though of course the two are often intertwined.

  • Densely packed NL West: Okay, this isn’t outwardly the most exciting choice. But it’s rather interesting to see that the phenomenon we observed at the start of June — a densely packed division race — has persisted to the cusp of the deadline. The Dodgers were supposed to run away with things, but simply have not. That means that all the teams involved (that is, the Dodgers, D-Backs, Rockies, and Giants) will need to treat the summer trade period as one that could make the difference between claiming or falling short of a division title.
  • Historically bad Orioles & Royals: I’m sure there’ll be some who’ll laugh at the idea that this is a surprise. But both teams made reasonably significant MLB investments over the winter in hopes of contending or, at least, remaining reasonably competitive. Instead, they both enter the break with sub-.300 winning percentages. In the post-war era, only three teams have finished a season winning less than three of every ten games. What’s scary is that both the Baltimore and Kansas City rosters will likely only get worse over the next few weeks.
  • Upside-down NL East: The Phillies and Braves have risen somewhat earlier than expected, just as the Nationals hit a few rough patches. This race could be a fascinating one to watch, particularly if the Philadelphia and Atlanta organizations decide to make aggressive mid-season additions and/or promotions.
  • Miserable Mets: The overall picture in the NL East is all the more surprising when you throw in the fact that the Mets have collapsed to the point that they have less wins to this point than the Marlins, despite those two organizations’ divergent offseason approaches. Another rental sell-off is inevitable. It’s still anyone’s guess whether the front office troika will end up overseeing a more significant sell-off.
  • Dominant Red Sox: It’s not at all surprising that the Boston organization is winning a lot of ballgames. But this club has stood out even against the other top teams in the league, entering the break 4.5 games ahead of the paces of the Yankees and Astros. The Red Sox have 68 wins, while no National League club has more than 55.
  • Upper middle class M’s & A’s: The stratification of the American League is a notable development in its own right. While many anticipated some super-team formations around the game, it really hasn’t worked out that way at all in the N.L. As interesting as the wide gulf itself, perhaps, is the fact that the Mariners and (especially) the Athletics find themselves on the “well over .500” side. Both entered the season with real hopes of fielding winning rosters, true, but it’s tough to imagine that either organization realistically expected to be 19 (M’s) or even 13 (A’s) games over .500 come mid-July.

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The Rangers announced Monday that they’ve activated catcher Carlos Perez from the 10-day disabled list and sent him outright to Triple-A Round Rock. In doing so, they’re creating a roster spot that’ll go to lefty Joe Palumbo who has been activated from the 60-day DL and optioned to Class-A Advanced Down East. Palumbo had been recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Perez, 27, was claimed off waivers from the Braves back in early May and appeared in 16 games with Texas before landing on the disabled list. In that time, he posted a lowly .167/.205/.286 slash with a homer and a pair of doubles in 46 plate appearances. He’s never been much of a threat with the bat in the big leagues, hitting a combined .218/.260/.322 in 663 PAs between the Angels, Braves and Rangers.

Of course, Perez’s calling card is his glovework behind the dish. He’s successfully halted 39 percent of stolen-base attempts against him at the big league level and has drawn generally positive marks for both his pitch-framing and pitch-blocking skills, per Baseball Prospectus.

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The Orioles are getting “very close” to reaching an agreement on a Manny Machado trade, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). However, despite a report of a “handshake agreement” between the Orioles and Phillies by Barstool Sports, Kubatko adds that there’s no deal between the two teams in place. To the contrary, Kubatko notes that both the Brewers and the Dodgers remain involved in the Machado market. Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com agrees, tweeting that “numerous” sources tell her that rumors regarding an agreement with the Phillies are “untrue.”

To be sure, it’d be strange for any club, especially one in the Orioles’ position, to effectively close off bidding 36 hours in advance of completing a trade when a better offer could come floating in at any time. An arrangement of that nature would come with little in the form of precedent. The inevitable Machado trade will be a franchise-altering moment for the Orioles, and cutting off negotiations this far in advance would be a downright bizarre means of going about it. By agreeing to a delayed agreement, they’d leave no room for the Dodgers, Brewers or any other club — the Yankees, D-backs, Braves, Indians and others have been involved to varying extents — to top whatever is currently being offered by the Phillies.

That said, it’s true that the league generally frowns on news of this magnitude breaking during All-Star festivities. It’s certainly possible that both sides are optimistic about something coming together shortly after the All-Star Game, and none of this is to say that the Phils won’t ultimately come away as the “winners” of the Machado sweepstakes, so to speak. But for the time being, it’s only logical to assume that the bidding for Machado remains open as the the Orioles seek to extract the best possible package of young talent.

Regardless of where Machado ultimately lands, the timeline depicted this lengthy saga may indeed reach its end shortly after the All-Star Game. Reports over the past week have indicated that the O’s are loath to trade Machado prior to the Midsummer Classic, where he’ll represent them in Washington D.C. as the American League’s starting shortstop. Jim Bowden of The Athletic took matters a bit further this morning, tweeting that Machado is “expected to be traded” after Tuesday’s All-Star Game and before the regular season resumes play on Friday.

As one can imagine, the rumor cycle is beginning to wear on even Machado himself. Speaking to reporters during the media hour for today’s events, Machado said that if he is ultimately going to be traded, he “100 percent” hopes it is over with sooner rather than later (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Jayson Stark). “To not answer these questions anymore, that would be good,” said Machado. The infielder also once again acknowledged that he has “no say” in where he plays following a trade (Twitter link via Fancred’s Jon Heyman), but his preference in free agency will be to pursue opportunities where he’s able to play shortstop (Twitter link via Ghiroli).

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Over the past few seasons, there’s been occasional talk of a potential long-term deal between the Mets and ace Jacob deGrom, though clearly nothing between the two sides has ever come together. With that in mind, deGrom’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA Baseball, offered a candid take on his client’s future to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic today (Twitter links).

“We have discussed Jacob’s future with the Mets at length,” said Van Wagenen. “Jacob has expressed interest in exploring a long-term partnership that would keep him in a Mets uniform for years to come. If the Mets don’t share same interest, we believe their best course of action is to seriously consider trade opportunities now. The inertia of [the] current situation could complicate Jacob’s relationship with the club and creates an atmosphere of indecision.”

Van Wagenen adds in a followup to Joel Sherman of the New York Post that his statement is “not a demand for a trade” and is in fact more an expression on his client’s behalf that he’d like to remain with the organization for the long term (Twitter link). Nonetheless, the public nature of those comments only puts further pressure on the current iteration of the Mets’ front office to act in a more decisive manner. And it only furthers the already strong likelihood that if deGrom is not traded in the next couple of weeks that he’ll be a prominent trade target for teams in the 2018-19 offseason — adding another layer of complexity to a winter that will feature one of the more impressive free-agent classes in recent memory.

However, while Van Wagenen’s comments are fairly straightforward and aggressive in tone, deGrom himself unsurprisingly struck a softer tone at today’s All-Star festivities (Twitter links via Anthony DiComo of MLB.com). Asked about Van Wagenen’s statements, deGrom replied:

“We’ve been open to discussing long-term deals with the Mets. There’s been no numbers discussed, and I’ve enjoyed my time here. … I would love it to be here with the Mets. We’ll just have to see what happens. … I would love to play here for my whole career. I think it’s just kind of deciding what we see as the future. It’s something that’s in the Mets’ control, and kind of out of mine.”

It’s certainly telling to hear deGrom himself flatly state that the two sides have never even progressed to the point where they’ve talked about even loose parameters of a contract. Certainly, it’s not likely that the Mets and deGrom will hammer out what would assuredly be a nine-figure extension in the next couple of weeks. Such negotiations would be complex, and the Mets’ front-office trio of John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya will be dedicating a considerable amount of time and energy to trading other players even if the plan is to eventually talk long-term deal with deGrom.

It should be noted, of course, that these types of comments from agents don’t always serve as a catalyst to facilitate a deal. While Christian Yelich was moved this offseason not long after agent Joe Longo made comments similar in tone to those of Van Wagenen today, that wasn’t the case for J.T. Realmuto. In fact, Realmuto is also repped by CAA, and agent Jeff Berry told the Miami Herald back in February that Realmuto preferred to be moved. Realmuto, of course, is still in Miami and enjoying the best season of his career.

The 30-year-old deGrom is under club control, via the arbitration process, through 2020. He’s already earning $7.4MM, and with one of the strongest arb cases in quite some time taking shape, he could find his salary to be pushing $20MM by the end of those remaining arbitration years. It stands to reason that any extension talks would have to be of at least five years in length, though presumably deGrom’s camp would push for a lengthier pact, given the six- and even seven-year deals landed by some of the game’s top pitchers in recent seasons. Locking up deGrom could quite likely push the Mets into a new franchise-record contract; David Wright currently holds that distinction at $138MM (over an eight-year term).

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