MLB Rumors: Analyzing All Early-Season Whispers, News and Speculation
The 2014 Major League Baseball season is young, but the news cycle is in midseason form. With narratives building, breakout performances becoming more immune to small sample sizes and the schedule in full force, it's time to talk about what's brooding beneath the surface of wins and losses.
As any longtime baseball fan has probably heard, you can't win a pennant in April, but you sure can lose one. Hot starts, April injuries or inauspicious opening acts for new faces in new places aren't guaranteed to derail the season or ruin offseason work by front offices.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't pay close attention to rumors and trends in April. By honing in on whispers emanating from MLB cities, fans can separate the signal from the noise throughout the summer and on the path to meaningful games in August and September.
Here's a collection of the hot topics among baseball executives, scouts and media members.
Rise in Tommy John Surgeries a 'Trend'
The three most spoken words of the 2014 baseball season thus far: "Tommy John surgery." From spring training injuries to Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Jarrod Parker to awful regular-season news around Bobby Parnell and Jameson Taillon, a rise in damaged elbows has robbed baseball fans of some of the best young pitching in the sport.
After leaving his second start of the year with elbow discomfort, Tampa Bay's Matt Moore—diagnosed with a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, per Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune—could soon be headed for baseball's most popular surgery.
With pitch counts monitored on a constant basis and teams around the sport attempting to keep young pitchers healthy, arms continue to break at an alarming pace. Dr. James Andrews—famous for performing Tommy John surgeries and groundbreaking procedures in sports medicine—believes this is a trend caused by many factors, including velocity and overthrowing at a young age.
Dr. Andrews expressed this theory during an interview with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio.
"So you can usually go back and see a minor injury from when they were a young kid throwing youth baseball that was not recognized, but it set them up for a major injury somewhere down the road," Andrews said.
Angels Lose Josh Hamilton to Thumb Injury
Judging by Josh Hamilton's 2013 WAR (1.5) and OPS (.739), a case could have been made that the Los Angeles Angels would be better off without him and his $17 million contract. That, of course, was before he started the 2014 season by posting a 1.286 OPS through eight games.
Due to a thumb injury caused by sliding headfirst into first base, the Angels will be without a rejuvenated Hamilton for six to eight weeks, per Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.
Balancing the risk vs. reward of sliding into first base is a yearly topic among baseball fans and will only be fueled by Hamilton's long-term injury, especially if the Angels struggle to score runs without their best left-handed hitter. When healthy, few teams posses a trio as accomplished and dangerous as Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Hamilton.
After the injury, Hamilton acknowledged the risk of the play he made but hinted how difficult it is to think about potential injuries in the moment, per Gonzalez's reporting.
"If I could see a future, obviously I wouldn't do it," Hamilton said. "But in the moment, when my mind and my body tells me to do something and react some way, I've always done it. That's what I do. You can't change that."
Ryan Braun Fueled by Jeers
After accepting a suspension last year from Major League Baseball due to ties with Biogenesis and the ugly history of an overturned ruling after a positive performance-enhancing drug test in 2011, Ryan Braun had to expect to hear boos when the Milwaukee Brewers played on the road this season.
However, it's hard to imagine any city topping the vitriol that Philadelphia directed toward Braun in the opening game of a three-game series Tuesday. It's also hard to imagine a player handling it better and letting his bat respond to the jeers.
With three home runs—including a grand slam—Braun ushered in a must-watch element of the 2014 season: his play away from Milwaukee and in clear view of opposing fans that dislike his game, personality and actions.
According to the 2011 NL MVP, the hate fueled his performance, per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.
"I love it," Braun said. "It's great. Seriously, as a competitor, I really do enjoy it. This is a challenging game for all of us, and it's a long season and playing in an environment like this is motivating."
Morales, Drew Drawing Interest
It's about time. After sitting out the entire free-agent period of the winter and then spring training and the beginning of the season, first baseman Kendrys Morales and shortstop Stephen Drew are drawing legitimate interest from teams with lineup holes.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers are showing interest in Morales, and teams like the Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have been linked to Drew.
Nothing is imminent, but the idea of either of these players sitting out all of 2014 is ridiculous. At some point soon, one or both could be on a major league team and headed to extended spring training to receive the requisite at-bats needed to compete at a high level. As Heyman noted, both players have been working out in Florida.
Of the teams linked to each player, the Brewers (Morales) and Tigers (Drew) make the most sense right now.
In Milwaukee, a surprise contender could be emerging. Heading into play on April 10, the Brewers owned the best run differential (+18) in the sport. If a pitching staff led by Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo can hold up, adding Morales to a lineup with Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura and Aramis Ramirez could propel the Brewers into season-long contention.
Realistically, the Tigers should have signed Drew the moment that Jose Iglesias went down with a long-term injury. For now, they remain steadfast in their in-house options, but that could change in June when draft-pick compensation is no longer part of the equation when inking Drew.
Jim Johnson Demoted from A's Closer Role
When thinking of the franchises that would allocate $10 million for a closer, the Oakland Athletics likely wouldn't enter the conversation, yet they traded for former Orioles reliever Jim Johnson with that exact idea in mind.
Less than two weeks into the season, that plan has been put on hold, per Jane Lee of MLB.com. Johnson (5 G, 18.90 ERA, 4.50 WHIP) has been awful in a closing role for Oakland, looking nothing like the pitcher that saved 101 games over the past two years in Baltimore.
According to Athletics manager Bob Melvin, this isn't simply a one- or two-day reprieve. Until the Athletics see serious improvement, Johnson—despite his standing as the second-highest paid player on the team, behind only Yoenis Cespedes—won't be pitching in the ninth inning anytime soon.
“There’s no timetable,” Melvin said. “Let’s just get him straightened out. And we have plenty options. That’s the good thing about our team, our versatility. We’ll play it by ear based on how the game’s going, who’s available on that particular day.”
Giants, Sandoval Shelve Contract Talks
Barring something unforeseen, San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval will hit the free-agent market after the 2014 season. After the team decided to shelve contract talks with their switch-hitting infielder, don't expect anything to change.
According to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, the Giants and Sandoval have ceased discussions about a new long-term contract, allowing the 27-year-old to take the field without financial distractions to think about during the season.
Through 40 plate appearances in 2014, Sandoval has posted a below-average OPS of .507 and only hit one home run for the Giants. Despite the struggles, manager Bruce Bochy doesn't think the contract status has played a role thus far, per Pavlovic's reporting.
"I like his approach right now," Bochy said. "He's seeing pitches and showing discipline up there. He's a guy that should have better numbers with the hard-hit outs he's made. He's swinging better than the .160 or whatever it is. He's swinging better than that."
If Sandoval hits, the free-agent market will be kind to him, perhaps in the form of a $100 million deal. If the two-time World Series champion struggles, the Giants will have a difficult time placing proper value on a player that has posted seasons of greatness (155 OPS+ in 2011) and mediocrity (99 OPS+ in 2010).
Which early-season rumor are you most interested in?
Comment, follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page to talk about all things baseball.