MLB Rumors: Analyzing All the Latest Whispers, News and Speculation
With almost six weeks of baseball in the books, the 2014 Major League Baseball season can be defined thus far by one word: parity.
At the end of play on May 7, only three teams—the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros—sat at least five games out of a wild-card spot in either league. It's still too soon to dissect the day-to-day standings and playoff odds across the sport, but don't mistake patience for clarity. We may not know which teams will play on through October, but it's clear that many clubs have the potential to stick around the crowded pennant chases.
Unlike in the recent past, a simple and well-established pecking order of trade rumors and obvious future acquisitions isn't likely to emerge. With so many teams capable of playing decent baseball, a marginal upgrade in any roster area could be the difference between a precious win or loss.
Every week, new rumors swirl as baseball executives focus on long-term gains (and ignore small sample sizes). Separating fact from fiction is key for any educated baseball fan, especially in a league where there likely won't be a 100-win team.
Here's a rundown of everything you need to know about the latest big rumors around the sport.
Ryan Braun on Track to Return Tuesday
With a 22-13 record, the Milwaukee Brewers continue to be a major story and surprise of the first six weeks of the 2014 season. Despite losing Ryan Braun to an oblique injury two weeks ago, the NL Central leaders have maintained the best record in the National League.
Yet without Braun's bat anchoring the middle of a deep, powerful lineup, Milwaukee will lose its footing sooner than later. In fact, the team has dropped six of its last 10 games without Braun's stick. Fortunately for the Brewers faithful, the 2011 NL MVP is scheduled to return soon.
According to Andrew Gruman of Fox Sports Wisconsin, Braun took batting practice Wednesday morning and is on track to be activated for Milwaukee's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 13. Considering the severity of some oblique injuries, activating a healthy Braun less than a month after his initial disabled list stint will be a boon to manager Ron Roenicke's lineup.
Mets Could Bolster Bullpen with Triple-A Starters
Prior to a nightmare series in Marlins Park, the 2014 New York Mets quietly had the look of a surprise, scrappy contender. Led by David Wright's underrated excellence and a quality, strike-throwing starting rotation, New York's National League team boasted a 16-14 record.
Of course, the solid 30-game start overshadowed many underwhelming aspects of the roster and the team's overall trajectory in a long, arduous rebuilding process. One of New York's biggest issues: unreliable arms in manager Terry Collins' bullpen.
In Miami, that roster deficiency played a large role in a sweep at the hands of the suddenly competitive Marlins. When Kyle Farnsworth allowed the winning run to score in the ninth inning Wednesday, the Mets fell under .500, and the team watched its bullpen ERA swell to 4.20. That mark is stark compared to the major league bullpen average of 3.71, per ESPN.
Help, however, could be on the way. Assistant GM John Ricco said the team could soon subtract from its surplus of starting pitching depth in Triple-A to fill obvious voids in the major league bullpen, per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News.
“I think we are getting to the point where it’s probably weeks as opposed to months,” Ricco said.
Cubs Not Certain to Deal Samardzija
The Chicago Cubs are at a crossroads with starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
On one hand, Chicago is still far from turning the corner in a rebuilding effort spearheaded by team executive Theo Epstein. With Samardzija performing like an ace this season—7 GS, 50.0 IP, 1.62 ERA, 3.06 FIP—cashing in the 29-year-old starter this summer could net the Cubs a slew of prospects to add to an already burgeoning farm system.
Of course, the team doesn't have to make a decision on Samardzija any time soon. The former Notre Dame product isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, giving the Cubs two trading deadlines and one offseason to commit or move on from their best arm.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer told The Waddle & Silvy Show on ESPN Chicago 1000 that the team hasn't reached a certainty on Samardzija's future with the club, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago.
"We've tried to keep things quiet. We've had a lot of conversations with him," Hoyer said. "There's been pretty consistent dialogue...it hasn't reached the point of fruition yet, but there's always been a dialogue."
Kyle Kendrick on the Path to Riches
Without context, Philadelphia Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick looks like nothing more than an ordinary big league pitcher. Yet considering how teams are in a constant search for capable arms to fill out the back of starting rotations, Kendrick's soon-to-be free agency could garner a lucrative, long-term deal.
CSN Philly's Corey Seidman recently took a look at Kendrick's career, comparable pitchers and where the 29-year-old fits into a star-studded free-agent class that could include Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester.
"It was a bit of a surprise to see the Phillies commit $7.675 million to him in his final year of arbitration eligibility, but if Kendrick continues to pitch like he has in his first six starts, he'll likely find a multi-year deal with an average annual value in that range," Seidman wrote.
Thus far in 2014, Kendrick has been worth the $7.68 million outlay that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro awarded him during the winter. Through 37.2 innings, Kendrick has pitched to a 3.58 ERA. Despite a lack of overwhelming talent, the former reliever owns a 57-54 career record as a starting pitcher.
Due to a FIP (fielding independent pitching) mark of 4.83, it's hard to imagine Kendrick sporting an above-average ERA all season long. Of course, it was hard to imagine teams awarding big-money deals to pitchers like Scott Feldman and Jason Vargas last winter.
Jair Jurrjens Attempting a Comeback
In 2009, eight starting pitchers tossed 200 innings and posted an ERA of 3.00 or better. Sorting by WAR, Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay were the most valuable, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required). Following those three former Cy Young winners: Atlanta Braves righty Jair Jurrjens.
With a 93 ERA+ in just over 324 innings since that magical season, Jurrjens' days of domination are likely over. In fact, the now 28-year-old has pitched a grand total of 55.2 innings since the start of the 2012 season.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Jurrjens is attempting to regain his past form in a comeback effort. After knee surgery in September, Heyman noted that Jurrjens is rehabbing and throwing his fastball at 90 mph. Due to injury issues, Jurrjens hasn't averaged at least 90 mph on his fastball since the 2010 season, per FanGraphs.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts. Stats valid entering play May 8, 2014.
Which early-season rumor are you most interested in?