Blue Jays Recall Anthony Alford

The Blue Jays announced today that they have recalled outfielder Anthony Alford. He was already on the 40-man roster, so no corresponding moves will be required.

It’s an oddly timed move on the surface, as Alford — who is by most accounts one of the organization’s top prospects — wrapped up his Triple-A season a couple of weeks back. He’s also the last 40-man player, aside from outfielder Dalton Pompey, to be activated.

As Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca explains, though, the timing makes more sense when you look more closely. Alford is being asked up as a way of rewarding him for his efforts this year, Davidi writes, the club is wary of allowing him to accrue enough service time that he may ultimately qualify as a Super Two.

To this point, despite very limited MLB action, Alford has accumulated 101 days of service. Had he spent all of September on the active roster and cracked the 2019 roster very early in the season, he might have been on track for an early arb trip.

As things have turned out, there’ll be no real consideration of Super Two status — at least, that is, at the beginning of the 2019 season. The longer Alford remains in Triple-A next year, in fact, the more important the number of service days becomes, because it’ll also be possible for the Jays to keep him short of a full season of MLB service.

Ultimately, this timing call is hardly a major strategic undertaking, since Alford still needs to show he’s deserving of a full look in the majors. Certainly, this situation doesn’t merit the kind of scrutiny that has attached to decisions not to promote some other, more hyped young players (including a certain teammate of Alford’s).

Alford, after all, managed only a .240/.312/.344 slash line in his 417 plate appearances at Triple-A. That’s not what was hoped for after a strong showing last year at Double-A and in the Mexican Pacific Winter League. After running a 45:35 K/BB ratio in 289 plate appearances at the penultimate level of the minors in 2017, Alford’s 112:30 mix this year is especially disappointing.

Michael Fulmer’s MRI Reveals Meniscus Damage

Sept. 17: Fulmer’s MRI revealed damage to his meniscus, manager Ron Gardenhire tells reporters (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Jason Beck). The results of the test are currently being reviewed by Dr. James Andrews.

Sept. 16: Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer exited yesterday’s game after making just five pitches (and allowing two homers), and he’ll now undergo an MRI to further evaluate the right knee that forced him from that game, per Chris McCosky of the Detroit News (Twitter link). A return in 2018 seems like a long shot, McCosky adds. Manager Ron Gardenhire said after yesterday’s game that Fulmer initially tweaked the knee when trying to field a bunt (Twitter link from MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery).

Fulmer, 25, has struggled through the least-productive season of his big league career so far in 2018, pitching to a 4.69 ERA over the course of what would be a career-low 132 1/3 innings. His strikeout percentage is right in line with his levels from the 2016 season that won him American League Rookie of the Year honors, and his 10.5 percent swinging-strike rate and 33.6 percent chase rate on out-of-zone pitches are both career-bests by a slight margin.

However, Fulmer’s walk rate has spiked this season, and he’s allowing home runs, line drives and hard contact at career-high rates. By measure of Statcast, the average exit velocity of a ball hit against Fulmer is up nearly three miles per hour from 2017 (85.6 mph in ’17, 88.3 mph in ’18), and he’s allowed a career-worst 19 home runs despite a career-low number of innings pitched and games started.

The injury to Fulmer is particularly notable given his status as a player who now perennially frequents the rumor circuit during periods of heightened trade activity. If the injury proves to be nothing more than inflammation, it’s unlikely that it’ll have any major impact on Fulmer’s appeal to pitching-hungry teams. If it’s more serious in nature, though, he’ll see a second consecutive season come to an end due to a notable health issue; Fulmer’s sophomore season in 2017 was cut short when he underwent ulnar nerve transposition surgery in his right arm. He also missed nearly a month of action due to an oblique strain earlier this summer.

Detroit will control Fulmer for another four years beyond the current season, though he’ll reach arbitration for the first time this winter as a Super Two player (meaning he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times, as opposed to the standard three, based on his service time to date). The rebuilding Tigers have dramatically improved their farm system and feature a number of high-upside rotation candidates atop their prospect rankings — Casey Mize, Franklin Perez, Beau Burrows, Alex Faedo, Matt Manning — so perhaps their rebuild could come together a bit more quickly than initially expected. However, it still seems like a long shot that they’ll be playing competitive baseball in 2019, so Fulmer figures to once again draw his fair share of trade interest from teams around the league this offseason. Fulmer may have had a down year in 2018, but young pitchers with multiple years of team control are still the most coveted assets on the trade market.

Latest On Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton has said on multiple occasions in the past that he’s unsure of how long he’ll continue playing — most recently telling The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan back in April that he is “not going to keep playing for a long time” while pondering the possibility of retirement following the current season. At the time, Morton listed numerous factors — his growing family, his health, the quality of his performance, a team’s proximity to his wife’s family in Delaware — as some of the numerous factors that would influence his decision.

Morton once again commented on his future this weekend when chatting with Kaplan’s colleague, Ken Rosenthal, and while he stopped short of a definitive declaration, he did imply that a 2019 return could be in the cards (subscription link). Morton plainly stated that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be apart from his wife and children, but he also suggested he still has the desire to compete at a high level: “If I stay healthy and throw well, chances are I’ll try to continue pitching.”

The 34-year-old Morton has certainly checked all the boxes in terms of health and his own personal performance; he’s just 8 2/3 innings shy of his career-high in terms of innings pitched and has turned in an excellent 3.15 ERA with 10.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.99 HR/9 and a 47.1 percent ground-ball rate. Morton did have a brief stint on the disabled list in late August/early September due to some discomfort in his right shoulder, but he required only a minimal 10-day absence. He’s allowed four runs with a 10-to-2 K/BB ratio in 11 innings since returning.

I’ve speculated in the past that Morton is a sensible candidate to accept a qualifying offer, as issuing a one-year offer in the range of $18MM is a veritable no-brainer for the Astros organization. That’d give Morton the opportunity to remain where he’s comfortable and earn at a relatively premium rate while keeping open the possibility retiring to spend time with his family following the 2019 season.

However, if Morton wants to pursue a more significant contract, such interest would surely be there in the offseason — even were he to turn down that QO. Already at this point, even just two full seasons into what looks to be a legitimate late-career breakout, he’s demonstrated more than Rich Hill had when Hill was able to secure a three-year, $48MM pact. Hill’s contract spanned his age-37 through age-39 seasons; Morton is turning 35 this November, meaning a three-year deal for him would end with the same season (age-37) with which Hill’s contract began.

Last year’s free-agent freeze rightly creates questions about what even the most compelling free agents can expect to earn in the upcoming offseason, but there’s certainly a case to be made that Morton has pitched himself into consideration for a deal that would top Hill’s $48MM guarantee — or at the very least, top his annual salary on a shorter-term arrangement. Even if a three-year deal offer doesn’t materialize, Morton should have little difficulty in finding one- and two-year offers that are enticing for a player whose career earnings to date sit a bit shy of $41MM.

Athletics Move Triple-A Team To Las Vegas

The Athletics announced Monday that they’ve moved their Triple-A club from Nashville to Las Vegas, forging a partnership with the Vegas 51s for the first season of their newly constructed stadium. It’s a two-year deal partnership between the two sides, and while that’s a fairly short term, the two sides could easily extend that player development contract (PDC) for another two to four seasons after the 2020 campaign, as is frequently the case.

Las Vegas had previously been home to the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate, but the Mets purchased the Syracuse Chiefs last winter with the intention of moving their Triple-A club to a considerably more favorable location (geographically speaking).

Oakland was one of five organizations reported to be facing a potential relocation of its top affiliate, and the move to Vegas will now leave Nashville as one of four potential partner cities for the remaining clubs. Notably, the Nationals were reported to have interest in partnering with Nashville, now that their former Syracuse location is home to the Mets’ top affiliate.

For the A’s, they’ll step into a newly constructed facility in Summerlin — about 13 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. Richard Velotta and Betsy Helfand of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last year that construction costs on Las Vegas Ballpark, the stadium’s formal name, would total $150MM.

“It is an incredibly exciting time to partner with the Las Vegas 51s,” said Athletics executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane in the press release accompanying the announcement. “Their ownership group is committed to providing a first-class environment for our players, which includes the grand opening of the Las Vegas Ballpark for the inaugural season of our affiliation. We’re looking forward to working closely with Don Logan and his staff as we both work towards putting a championship club on the field.”

“The new PDC will provide a tremendous environment for the players with the state-of-the-art amenities that will enhance player development with the indoor hitting cages, mounds and workout areas in the Las Vegas Ballpark,” 51s president and COO Don Logan said in a statement of his own. “…McCarran International Airport has non-stop flights to the numerous [Pacific Coast League] markets, as well as the big cities, that enables our team to have the best travel in the 16-team league. This will be a great situation for our fans to watch top prospects in the A’s system as well as players on Major League rehabilitation assignments showcase their talents in the Las Vegas Ballpark.”

SAGNOF Report: The Royal Scam

Maybe it’s the weather. Summer’s heat is starting to break, after all. A handful of teams have been running like gangbusters lately. The Royals are one such team. They’ve taken advantage of weak pitcher/catcher combos. That’s likely to continue as teams look to squeeze a few more wins from the 2018 season. Here are some teams that are in good position to continue that trend.

  • Those running Royals are at it again. The top two base stealers the last week were Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi. You could take a stab at Alex Gordon for some steals.
  • Rumors of Shohei Ohtani’s speed from his time in Japan were hard to believe. It’s been legit. The A’s and Astros also make for a plus schedule. It’s a good thing you don’t need a functional UCL to steal bases.
  • The Rays have a pretty cushy week steals-wise, facing the Rangers and Blue Jays. Joey Wendle is probably the most actionable Ray. Wendle hasn’t been running much lately, but he had five steals in August.
  • Trea Turner and the Nats have a four game series on tap with the Mets this week. Turner will certainly get his. Adam Eaton could also make for an interesting play if he happens to be on your league’s wire.
  • Saves chase: with Trevor Hildenberger having a hard time holding onto leads this weekend Taylor Rogers figures to see some extra saves opportunities. Rogers is a lefty, so Trevor May is worth a speculative add in the event the Twins give up on Hildy.

Below is a table of the top ten catchers to run on…

Orioles Notes: Duquette, Ripken, Mesa, Jones

There’s little certainty regarding the future outlook among Orioles leadership, with both general manager Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter in the final few weeks of their contracts. Duquette said last night on 105.7 FM The Fan that he’s not sure what the future holds but expressed a desire to remain with the O’s throughout their rebuild and beyond (via Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com). “My heart’s here,” said Duquette. “And I’m happy to lead the rebuild and looking forward to it. But I don’t control those things.” 

Meanwhile, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal speculates in his latest notes column that team legend Cal Ripken could find a role with the team (subscription link). While Ripken has “no interest in managing,” per Rosenthal, the O’s did bring another club legend, Eddie Murray, on board as a special advisor to ownership. Rosenthal briefly explores a hypothetical but drastically more influential position more along the lines of Derek Jeter’s role with the Marlins, though he ultimately tabs the scenario is a “long shot.”

More out of Baltimore…

  • Melewski also quotes Duquette with regard to the team’s interest in top Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, who was recently declared a free agent by Major League Baseball. The GM declined to call his club any sort of favorite to sign Mesa, despite the fact that the Orioles have the top international bonus pool available, but he did reaffirm the Orioles’ philosophical shift on the international market and once again voice a strong commitment to continuing to add international amateurs, as the O’s have over the past six weeks. As for Mesa specifically, Duquette acknowledged some intrigue but added that the O’s still need to do some homework. “We don’t have that significant a scouting portfolio on him,” said Duquette. “We saw him in the (World Baseball Classic), so we’re going to have to get up to speed.”
  • Showalter is in something of a tough spot with venerable club leader Adam Jones, a free agent at season’s end whose future with the club is uncertain. The O’s recently benched Jones for an entire three-game series on the road, in favor of younger players with more control. Jones has played more for the Orioles at home as the season winds down, and Showalter discussed the difficulties and the varying factors that play into the decisions with Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun. Showalter said both he and the front office “have always wanted to play” Jones. The Orioles do need to get looks at younger players, though, and Showalter spoke broadly and somewhat vaguely about the need to balance his desire to play Jones with other factors, including what type of crowd will be on hand the day in question and whether the Orioles’ opponent is in a playoff race.

Making the cases for 2018 NL Manager of the Year

Who has done the best job in leading their clubs this season?

The 2018 season is almost over, and that means the races for some of Major League Baseball’s prestigious regular-season awards — the Most Valuable Player, the Cy Young, the Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger, and the Manager of the Year — are about to end as well.

In this series, we are going to make cases for those players and managers who are in the running for these awards to come away with the hardware in their respective leagues. To kick it off, we will examine the candidates for National League Manager of the Year.

  1. Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves — It has been trying times in the ATL over the last four years, but it looks as if Snitker may guide the Braves to the postseason for the first time since 2013 this season. The Braves have not won more than 79 games during their recent down years and have already surpassed that mark. Snitker has not only made good adjustments all season, but has helped keep this young team together and develop their already great intangibles that have been passed down during their culture change under general manager Alex Anthopoulos. And with most critics believing at the beginning of the season that the Braves’ time to contend was in 2019 and beyond, Snitker earns points for getting the club to compete at a high level ahead of its original schedule.
  2. Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs — With the Cubs having the best record in the National League, Maddon is a natural choice to win the award. If that does happen, the 61-year-old will earn his fourth Manager of the Year award and tie Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox for the most awards won (LaRussa won two with the Athletics, one with the White Sox, and one with the Cardinals; Cox won three with the Braves, one with the Blue Jays). However, Maddon can attest that having the most wins in the league doesn’t necessarily lead to winning the award, as the Cubs won 103 games in 2016 under his watch, but the award was given to the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts. But, Maddon has been able to make the Cubs into the best team in the NL for the majority of this season despite losing 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant, closer Brandon Morrow and shortstop Addison Russell to injuries at different points this season and starters Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood struggling during the summer months. He has also done this in his usual even-keeled way, which has helped him become one of the best managers in the game today.
  3. Bud Black, Colorado Rockies — Who would have thought that the young team from the Mile High City would be leading the way in the NL West right now, especially competing in a division against the defending NL champion Dodgers (who they are tied with for first place) and a returning playoff team in the Diamondbacks? Though he he helped the Rockies earn the second wild card spot and was a finalist for this award in his first season last year, Black has been impressive in getting them to this point. One of the best things the Rockies have done under Black’s guidance is excel in one-run games, as they boast a 25-14 record — the best mark in the National League this year and fourth best in the majors behind the Athletics, Red Sox and Mariners, respectively. He also has helped them post their best road record in franchise history, as the Rockies are 41-34. The biggest achievement, though, would be to win the NL West for the first time in franchise history. If that happens, Black may walk away with his second NL Manager of the Year award after also winning one as the Padres manager in 2010.
  4. Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers — What a difference a year makes. After being eliminated from playoff contention in game No. 161 last season, the Brewers are now in a position to make their fifth playoff appearance in franchise history and first since 2011. While getting talented acquisitions Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Mike Moustakas, Gio Gonzalez, and Jonathan Schoop help a lot, Counsell has played a vital role in their success, especially with the way he has managed prized reliever Josh Hader and the veterans on this team In addition, he has them rolling during this final month, as the Brewers have a 9-4 record and are 2 12 games behind the Cubs for first in the NL Central. If the Brewers streak past the Cubs for the division crown and finish with the best record in the National League for the first time in franchise history in the process, Counsell will definitely be in the running for the award.
  5. Mike Shildt, St. Louis Cardinals — Usually, interim managers have a hard time turning around a club after organizations fire its first managers during a season. That did not apply to Shildt, who has guided the Cardinals to a 34-22 record and has them fighting for the second wild card spot since taking over for Mike Matheny on July 15. In the midst of this success, the Cardinals removed the interim tag and signed him to a three-year contract through 2020. A big reason why Shildt has had a ton of success is because of his great understanding of the organization and letting everyone perform their role within it. If the Cardinals end the season strong and get to the playoffs, Shildt may add another feat to his resume, even if he hasn’t managed the whole entire year.
  6. Gabe Kapler, Philadelphia Phillies — There is no doubt Kapler has made the Phillies a better team than they have been over the last five seasons, as their 74 wins are the best win total since 2012 when they won 81 games. Though critics were booing Kapler after only five games, Kapler stuck with his analytical methods and had the Phillies as one of the best teams in the National League at one point. Unfortunately, the Phillies have started to fade in the playoff race, which may prevent him from winning the award. However, he is still in the conversation.

Five Teams Set For Potential Triple-A Affiliate Changes

The majority of clubs throughout Major League Baseball have already announced that they’ve renewed their player development contracts with their Triple-A affiliates, but there are still five clubs that don’t have a clear plan in place just yet. Notably, the Astros and the Fresno Grizzles announced yesterday that they will not be renewing their partnership. As MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart writes, that should pave the way for the ’Stros to land in Round Rock (where they previously had their Triple-A club for a decade). Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan said a return to Round Rock is “at the top of our list,” McTaggart notes, adding that the Ryan family owns the Round Rock Express.

That move, of course, would leave the Rangers searching for a new affiliate, though Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News wrote over the weekend that the Rangers could well end up in San Antonio, where a Triple-A franchise will be added as Colorado Springs loses its Triple-A designation (a move that’ll leave the Brewers, currently in Colorado Springs, looking for a new home as well). As Fraley explores, the facilities to which the Rangers could relocate in San Antonio are currently lacking, which could potentially prove detrimental in pursuing minor league free agents. However, sticking in Texas would come with greater marketing opportunities and a preexisting fan base from which to draw.

The Brewers, Nationals and Athletics are the three other clubs that are yet undecided on next year’s affiliations. The Nats will be seeking a new partner following the post-2017 announcement that the Mets had purchased the Syracuse Chiefs (securing a much-needed geographic upgrade over their current home in Las Vegas). The Athletics, in similar fashion, would reap significant geographic benefits by moving from their current home in Nashville to either Fresno or Las Vegas.

Betsy Helfand of the Las Vegas Journal-Review notes that the Nationals have expressed interest in moving to Nashville, while Bryant-Jon Anteola of the Fresno Bee suggests that the A’s would likely have their pick between Fresno and Las Vegas, as both would prefer to partner with the Athletics for geographic reasons, giving Oakland the advantage. That’ll present the A’s with the decision of whether to play in California or move to a newly constructed facility Vegas and seems likely to leave the Brewers with an even larger gap between their big league club and their top minor league affiliate, though they’ll be moving into improved facilities either way.

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