The Rays are “moving close” to striking a deal to land Mets first baseman Lucas Duda, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter links). While it’s not expected that a deal will be struck tonight, Sherman says there’s real momentum towards agreement.

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Francisco Liriano has struggled mightily this season, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that the lefty is still drawing some interest. Sherman adds that the Blue Jays “may be close to dealing him.” To this point, the Royals have been the one club that has been definitively connected to the 33-year-old Liriano.

Playing out the final season of a three-year, $39MM contract, Liriano has seen his strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates each trend in the wrong direction, and his ERA has correspondingly soared to an unpalatable 5.99. Liriano’s 8.2 K/9, 4.9 BB/9 and 43.1 percent grounder rate would all rank as his worst marks since a disastrous 2012 campaign split between the Twins and White Sox. The lefty reinvented himself upon signing with the Pirates in 2013 and had three strong seasons there before being dealt to Toronto last season at the halfway point of the free-agent deal he signed to return to the Bucs.

Liriano was outstanding for Toronto down the stretch in 2016, averaging 9.5 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 and a 52.2 percent ground-ball rate en route to a 2.92 ERA. Obviously, he’s been wholly unable to replicate that production in 2017. He’s still owed the balance of his $13MM salary in 2017 — a sum of about $4.69MM.

Yesterday, when profiling the trade market for left-handed relievers, I speculated that it’s at least plausible that some clubs would view Liriano as a relief option. Nearly all of his struggles this season have come against right-handed hitters (.289/.394/.512), as he’s limited opposing lefties to a putrid .241/.267/.379 batting line. Liriano has a 16-to-1 K/BB ratio against lefties in 2017 and has struck out nearly 27 percent of the left-handed hitters he’s faced. His heater is still averaging 92.6 mph as a starter, and one has to imagine that said velocity would tick upward if Liriano were to move to a short-relief role.

Then again, some clubs may simply look at the past success Liriano has had as a starting pitcher and think that a change of scenery could get him back on track. Consistency has long been a problem for Liriano in the Majors, but he’s often flashed stretches of brilliance when his mechanics are at their best. Considering his struggles in 2017, it wouldn’t cost an acquiring club much of anything (in terms of prospect value) to get its hands on Liriano and hope that he can again deliver some value, be it in a rotation or relief capacity.

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After dropping three straight games to the Dodgers and falling below .500 for the first time since April, the Twins are now fielding offers on their shorter-term assets, reports MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (on Twitter). That includes right-hander Ervin Santana and newly acquired lefty Jaime Garcia. They’re also getting hits on closer Brandon Kintzler and second baseman Brian Dozier, Feinsand adds. MLB.com’s Jon Morosi suggested yesterday that the Twins would be open to such moves if their struggles continued.

[Related: Minnesota Twins depth chart]

The 34-year-old Santana paced the Majors in ERA for a full calendar year, working to a 1.75 ERA from June 1, 2016 to June 1, 2017. However, Santana’s peripheral numbers never came close to supporting that aesthetically pleasing figure, and he’s regressed substantially over the past couple of months. That said, he’s still as durable veteran with quality results that has averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings per start this year. He’s also averaged 6.9 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 with a 42.8 percent ground-ball rate and is still averaging a respectable 92.7 mph on his heater.

Santana is earning $13.5MM in 2017 and is controlled through 2018 at the same rate. His contract also includes a $14MM club/vesting option for the 2019 season ($1MM buyout) that’ll automatically kick in if he throws 400 innings between now and the completion of the 2018 campaign (with at least 200 frames next year).

Dozier was the focus of rumors all offseason, primarily drawing connections to the Dodgers, but he ultimately remained in Minnesota. He’s predictably seen his power regress after last year’s 42-homer campaign, but he’s still on pace to approach 30 homers and is hitting a solid .249/.334/.441 with 16 homers, 21 doubles and two triples on the year. He’s earning a highly affordable $6MM in 2017 (with about $2.1MM of that sum remaining) and will make $9MM in 2018 before hitting free agency upon completion of his age-31 season.

Kintzler has gone from minor league signee to closer in short order since joining the Twins, and while he doesn’t miss many bats, he’s a ground-ball machine with strong control. Set to turn 33 years old the day after the non-waiver deadline, Kintzler is earning $2.9MM this season and has averaged 5.6 K/9 against 1.6 BB/9 with a 58.7 percent ground-ball rate since joining the Twins in 2016. That’s led to a 3.01 ERA in 98 2/3 innings. Most clubs probably view the impending free agent as more of a setup option, but his strong results against lefties and hard sinker would fit well on a number of teams looking for short-term ’pen help.

The inclusion of Garcia likely causes some to raise an eyebrow, as the Twins gave up a prospect to acquire him just three days ago. Minnesota, though, also took on the entirety of Garcia’s contract as well as $200K of what the Braves still owed catcher Anthony Recker. In doing so, the Twins minimized their cost of acquisition and also created the possibility of flipping him for a greater return. Garcia reportedly drew interest from roughly a half-dozen teams before he went to the Twins, and if Minnesota is willing to remain on the hook for some or all of the $4.5MM remaining on his contract, the Twins could conceivably flip him for a superior prospect to the one they surrendered (Huascar Ynoa). In essence, that would be akin to buying a better prospect. Garcia, a free agent at season’s end, is set to make his first start for the Twins tomorrow in Oakland.

Of course, the mention of Oakland makes it worth reminding that the situation is likely fluid. The Twins drew a tough schedule coming out of the break and have already faced baseball’s two best teams, the Astros and Dodgers. Their next six games are against the rebuilding Athletics and Padres, so a quick rebound in Oakland could cause new chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine to pump the brakes a bit.

The Twins’ presence near the top of the AL Central was a surprising development for most, and comments from Levine and Falvey all summer have suggested that the team wouldn’t deviate from its long-term focus by mortgaging significant pieces of its future.

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After focusing primarily on trades involving their relievers over the past couple of weeks, the Marlins have now informed teams that they’re open to trading right-hander Dan Straily, reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter).

The 28-year-old Straily was essentially a free pickup for the Reds in Spring Training 2016 and has continually built up increasing trade value over the past season and a half. Cincinnati dealt him to Miami in exchange for a prospect package headlined by flamethrowing rookie starter Luis Castillo this offseason, and it’s possible that the market for controllable starters is thin enough that the Fish can recoup comparable or even superior value after four more strong months out of Straily.

While Straily definitely won’t be mistake for a top-of-the-rotation starter, he’s been a durable mid-rotation piece dating back to Opening Day 2016. Over his past 308 2/3 innings, Straily has averaged 7.8 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 with a 33 percent ground-ball rate en route to a 3.79 ERA. Alternative metrics like FIP and xFIP don’t love Straily, though as an extreme fly-ball pitcher, he’s more likely to sustain his .251 BABIP than a more ground-ball oriented pitcher would be. (Fly-balls in play, generally speaking, are easier to turn into outs than grounders.)

Straily’s true value, however, comes through the simple fact that he’s a solid mid-rotation piece that is controlled not just through the 2017 campaign but all the way through 2020. He’s yet to reach arbitration eligibility (though he will this offseason) and should be affordable, from a financial standpoint, for any team in the Majors.

The Marlins have begun to replenish a perilously thin farm system by trading David Phelps to the Mariners, and it stands to reason that they’ll also part with closer AJ Ramos and, perhaps, Straily over the next 96 hours. Virtually all reports on the team have suggested that they’re not open to trading core offensive players like Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and J.T. Realmuto, and the team has several potential trade chips on the disabled list in the form of Kyle Barraclough, Edinson Volquez and Martin Prado.

Whether their likely inability to cash in on those players impacted Miami’s willingness to move Straily isn’t clear, but now is among the best times possible to be marketing an affordable, controllable starter — even if his ceiling is that of a workhorse rather than that of an ace. Moving both Straily and Ramos in the coming days won’t dramatically overhaul the Miami farm system, but it’d further begin to build up a minor league reservoir of talent that has been thinned out by trades and injuries to recent top picks Tyler Kolek and Braxton Garrett.

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Justin Wilson has been among the most talked-about assets on the trade market, and the sheer volume of updates on the expansive market for his services is enough to warrant its own dedicated post with the deadline looming. Here’s the latest on the Tigers southpaw, who currently boasts a 2.75 ERA with 12.6 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a 36.1 percent ground-ball rate…

  • The Yankees have joined the pursuit of Tigers lefty Justin Wilson, reports Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. It was New York that traded Wilson to the Tigers in the first place (for righties Chad Green and Luis Cessa), and while the Yanks have already beefed up their ’pen with the additions of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, they appear further interested in adding a shutdown lefty. The Tigers, though, are aiming extremely high in talks for Wilson, with Fenech suggesting that they’re seeking an Aroldis Chapman -esque return for Wilson. While the 29-year-old Wilson is earning a bargain $2.7MM salary and can be controlled through 2018 via arbitration, that’s still a sky-high ask. The Cubs sent Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, Adam Warren and Rashad Crawford to New York in exchange for Chapman last summer.
  • The Astros could be the most focused team on Tigers southpaw Justin Wilson, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). Wilson has leapfrogged Orioles closer Zach Britton on the Astros’ list of targets, though all indications are that the ask on Wilson is extremely high. Houston is hardly alone in its pursuit of Wilson and has yet to definitively separate itself from the pack, however, per Crasnick (Twitter links). There are at least six teams still in on Wilson, with the Nationals “strongly” in the mix. Lastly, Crasnick tweets that the odds of a package deal sending Wilson and Justin Verlander to a team “are not good” due to the complex nature of such negotiations.
  • FanRag’s Jon Heyman writes that the Brewers, Astros and Red Sox were recently considered to be the leaders in the Wilson sweepstakes, though others are in on him as well. Heyman lists the Cubs, Rockies, D-backs, Dodgers and Nationals as other potential landing spots in a trade.

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With next Monday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline looming, there’s a chance right-hander Yu Darvish’s start on Wednesday will go down as his last in a Rangers uniform. If that 3 2/3-inning, 10-earned run disaster against Miami does represent the impending free agent’s swan song in Texas, it’ll be a shame for both parties. Darvish has generally been masterful since signing a six-year, $56MM contract in 2012 to emigrate from Japan. The 30-year-old has pitched to a 3.42 ERA and totaled upward of 18 wins above replacement across nearly 800 innings, making his deal well worth the investment for Texas, even when including the $51.7MM posting fee.

Yu Darvish

Darvish’s pact is now on the verge of expiring, while the Rangers are the owners of a 49-52 record after their 22-10 drubbing at the Marlins’ hands. That uninspiring mark has helped make the Rangers irrelevant in the American League West, which the 67-34 Astros ran away with long ago, but they’re still a more manageable 4.5 games out in a parity-laden wild-card race.

With his team tenuously clutching to postseason hopes, Texas general manager Jon Daniels isn’t a lock to sell by Monday. Even if he does, Darvish might not go anywhere. Multiple reports this week have indicated that it would take a godfather offer for Daniels to part with Darvish, whom the Rangers would like to re-sign. And if the team keeps the four-time All-Star through season’s end but isn’t able to prevent him from testing free agency, it would surely make him a qualifying offer in order to receive compensation – a pick after the second round of next year’s draft – for his departure. That wouldn’t be much immediate consolation for the Rangers, but it’s among several factors that could influence them to retain Darvish past the deadline.

Although the Rangers may be content to ride it out with Darvish, pitcher-needy contenders have inquired about the Arlington ace in recent weeks and figure to continue doing so leading up to Monday. As such, there will be opportunities for clubs to pry Darvish away from the Rangers. The Cubs, Dodgers, Astros and Yankees come to the fore as potential landing spots, having already shown interest in Darvish.

In Chicago, Darvish would join Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and the just-acquired Jose Quintana to comprise one of the Majors’ most proven rotations. That quintet would more than likely do enough to help the reigning World Series champions fend off the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates in the National League Central. The Cubs aren’t exactly a flawless fit, though, given that they’re on Darvish’s limited no-trade list and also seem more inclined to chase a controllable starter (such as the Athletics’ Sonny Gray) than give up a prospect bounty for a rental.

As MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk pointed out last week, the Cubs are only a year removed from paying a heavy price for a free agent-to-be, closer Aroldis Chapman, whom they acquired from the Yankees in a deal that included standout infield prospect Gleyber Torres. Picking up Chapman helped the Cubs win their first championship in 108 years, but that doesn’t mean they should continue to deplete their farm system to acquire stopgaps. Further, should the Cubs reach the playoffs with their current rotation, they’d be in more-than-adequate shape, thereby lessening any need for Darvish. While all of Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks and Quintana have failed to replicate their 2016 numbers, that doesn’t make them weak links. The only significant disappointment has been John Lackey, who’s not going to factor into the Cubs’ rotation plans in the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers and Astros, who possess the two best records in baseball, aren’t hard up for starting help. Nevertheless, the Dodgers’ interest in Darvish was reportedly “serious” even before ace Clayton Kershaw suffered a back injury last Sunday that will keep him out until late August or early September. At an astounding 71-31, the Dodgers can cruise to the NL’s top seed even with Kershaw and Brandon McCarthy on the disabled list, and they still boast four decent to excellent healthy starters in Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

It’s true that there are durability concerns scattered throughout the Dodgers’ staff, yet Darvish still remains much more of a luxury than a need. Therefore, even with a World Series in their sights, it’s tough to imagine the Dodgers meeting the Rangers’ asking price for Darvish. Los Angeles would probably have to part with one of its most extolled prospects, whether it’s outfielder Alex Verdugo or a young righty in Walker Buehler or Yadier Alvarez, which doesn’t seem like something president Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi would do in this instance.

The same applies to Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, who refused for months to budge in a standoff with the White Sox over Quintana. Unlike Darvish, Quintana is under team control at eminently affordable rates through 2020. Nevertheless, Luhnow wouldn’t deal a package including outfielder Kyle Tucker and righty Francis Martes for the southpaw over the winter. Keeping his team’s prospect pool together has worked out nicely for Luhnow, who has seen Houston establish itself as the premier unit in the AL this year.

The Astros have gotten ace-caliber performances along the way from Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers (the former has missed notable time with neck issues, though), while Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock and Mike Fiers have provided quality complementary work. The club also just welcomed back bona fide mid-rotation starter Collin McHugh from an elbow issue that kept him out for nearly the entire first four months of the season. All of that is to say there’s enough starting talent on hand to confidently rely on in a playoff series. Consequently, the Astros don’t seem like serious suitors for a couple months of Darvish, and Luhnow has indicated that he’s comfortable with his bevy of current options.

As for the Yankees, with Masahiro Tanaka in the midst of a mediocre to poor year and Michael Pineda having undergone season-ending Tommy John surgery this month, they do have obvious rotation issues. The problem for the Rangers, if you want to call it that, is New York’s eyes have been on Gray far more than Darvish. The only current Yankees starters who are surefire bets to be in their rotation next season are Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery, as Tanaka could opt out of his deal (which looks improbable, granted) and CC Sabathia is set to become a free agent. Even though Darvish is arguably superior to Gray, then, the latter would perhaps be the more sensible acquisition for a Yankees team that needs to better their starting staff for both this year and the coming seasons.

Beyond those four squads, a match for Darvish is even more difficult to find. Most clubs either occupying wild-card spots or at least hanging around the league’s playoff races – the Royals, Rays, Mariners, Twins, Angels, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates – don’t look like proper fits for various reasons (mainly weak farm systems and/or low playoff odds).

The Royals have been red hot and are in their last hurrah of contention with the core that helped deliver a championship in 2015, but their farm is lacking enough to impede a Darvish pursuit. Kansas City, which isn’t on Darvish’s no-trade list and has a flaw or two in its rotation, would otherwise be a logical destination.

The Rockies, who have a four-game lead on the NL’s second wild-card position, possess a middle-of-the-pack rotation that would certainly benefit from Darvish’s addition. However, even if Colorado were to make a serious run at Darvish, there’s a large roadblock in that it’s among the teams on his no-trade list. Whether he’d waive that right just to spend the stretch run of his contract year at Coors Field is questionable to say the least.

As first-place teams, the Red Sox, Nationals and Indians look like strong bets to earn playoff berths. They’re hardly clear-cut bedfellows for Darvish, though. Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski is never shy to make a daring move, but the club’s rotation is in fine shape as it is with Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez in the equation.

Speculatively, the Nationals may have been been a big factor in the Darvish sweepstakes had Stephen Strasburg’s nerve injury been serious. Strasburg’s OK, according to the club, which isn’t in on Darvish. It’s interesting to imagine Darvish teaming with Strasburg and the great Max Scherzer as the Nats’ top three starters come October, but there’s nothing to suggest it’s going to happen.

Cleveland, another place on Darvish’s no-trade list, has come up as a potential suitor for Gray. The Indians have been the beneficiaries of Mike Clevinger’s breakout, but their rotation could still use a surer thing to complement Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Darvish would provide that, but again, it would mean waving goodbye to acclaimed farm talent for a Band-Aid. That’s something the Indians might not want to do 12 months after sending touted prospects Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield to the Yankees for Andrew Miller.

Darvish’s next scheduled start is Aug. 1, the day after the deadline, and there’s a legitimate possibility that outing will come in a Rangers uniform. Barring an intrepid move from one of the imperfect fits highlighted above, it appears Darvish and the Rangers will continue their union for at least another two months. Regardless of whether that proves to be the case, the impending free agent will spend the rest of the year making an argument for a mega-deal. With a 4.01 ERA that looks pedestrian in comparison to his marvelous career production, it appears he has work to do on that front. Darvish remains a flamethrowing strikeout maven, though, which means some playoff-bound team could talk itself into paying a ransom for him in the coming days.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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