MLB Rumors: Analyzing All the Latest Whispers, News and Speculation

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor IJune 12, 2014

MLB Rumors: Analyzing All the Latest Whispers, News and Speculation

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    When play begins on June 12, the 2014 Major League Baseball season will sit exactly seven weeks away from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. With this year's first-year player draft in the rear-view mirror, each front office can now fully focus on improving itself for a run at October or on trading away assets for a better tomorrow.

    At the end of play on June 11, only three teams—Tampa Bay, Arizona and the Cubs—sat more than six games out of postseason position. With so few teams buried, day-to-day results have taken on increased importance for 27 possible contenders.

    With daily rumors floating around the game, teams that strike early could reap major benefits over the next few weeks. In a season where one or two games could separate a team from finishing in fourth place or receiving a postseason berth, adding major pieces in late Junerather than late Julymay equal an extra win or two in the standings.

    As speculation flies, Bleacher Report is here to unearth the best rumors, dissect the ramifications and bring perspective to the season thus far.

    Here is what you need to know about the latest rumors and banter around the game right now.

    Statistics courtesy of anFanGraphsunless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts

Boston Has Financial Flexibility

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    With an Opening Day payroll of $156.4 million, it's odd to think of the Red Sox as a team that had a cheap offseason. Yet, when considering the lack of headline-grabbing moves and impact signings made in the aftermath of a 2013 World Series title, Boston's front office resisted the impulse to make a splash before the season.

    Now that Stephen Drew is back in the fold, Boston has added payroll to its Opening Day ledger. Roster issues, however, are still prevalent. With production concerns in the outfield and a farm system overflowing with trade chips to potentially fix the flaw, payroll flexibility has become a topic around Fenway Park.

    If a major outfield bat becomes available between now and July 31, do the Red Sox have the ability to increase the payroll over $170 million for only the second time in franchise history? According to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal, general manager Ben Cherington doesn't foresee any issues if that turns out to be the case. 

    Despite a difficult, up-and-down season, the Red Sox sat just five losses behind the second wild-card spot in the AL when play ended on June 10. If Cherington can find a productive outfielder to take at-bats from Jackie Bradley Jr. (.580 OPS), Daniel Nava (.525 OPS) or Grady Sizemore (.618 OPS), the defending champs might be able to make a run back into the land of contenders. 

Atlanta Seeking Bullpen Help

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    The Atlanta Braves are one of baseball's most confounding teams.

    On the surface, there's little reason to be excited about a slightly above-average team that isn't likely to navigate through an October field that could include the Giants, Nationals and Dodgers. Yet, on the other hand, Atlanta's roster—when healthyhas enough talent to play with anyone in baseball.

    In order to keep pace with the red-hot Nationals in the NL East race, one area of the team must improve drastically over the next few weeks: the bullpen.

    Due to the brilliance of Craig Kimbrel, it's easy to dismiss Atlanta's bullpen as even a minor concern for manager Fredi Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren. While Kimbrel is a game-changing force, the team must get him the ball with a lead in the eighth or ninth inning. If Shae Simmons (7 G, 0.00 ERA) continues to emerge, one piece to the puzzle may be secure.

    According to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves may need to add another arm, particularly one that can work in the seventh inning. Entering play on June 11, Atlanta pitchers had posted a 4.57 ERA during the seventh inning this season, the only inning in which the staff owned an ERA above 3.57, per Baseball-Reference.

Terry Collins' Days Could Be Numbered in New York

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    Terry Collins understands the deal in New York. Since taking over as manager prior to the 2011 season, his teams have gone a collective 254-296. Despite payroll slashing and a young, inexperienced roster, fans are tired of losing at Citi Field.

    When that happens on any team, the manger's job becomes a hot topic. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Collins' days are numbered as the Mets skipper. Barring an unforeseen turnaround in the second half of 2015, the idea of Collins returning for a fifth season at the helm is hard to believe.

    While it's wrong to blame all of the losing on Collins, it's also instructive to look at his managerial skills in a separate light from the roster conglomerations he's been forced to work with over the last four seasons in New York. 

    Collins is far from an awful manager, but he's not a great in-game tactician, hasn't shown the ability to help young players truly develop under his wing and too often makes day-to-day decisions based on a win-now edict. Clearly, job security is guiding some of those decisions, but a steady hand is necessary for a young roster.

    Recently, Collins spoke about focusing on his job, not what could happen down the line, per Mike Vorkunov of the Star-Ledger"And you know what, if we don’t win and they make a change, they make a change," Collins said. "I certainly don’t want it, but…I only worry about stuff I can control. The one thing I can control is the lineup and how they play.”

Blue Jays Could Revisit Pursuit of Price, Samardzija

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    In a league of parity, the Toronto Blue Jays must be taken seriously as the current AL East favorites. Despite surprising recent struggles against the Minnesota Twins pitching staff, the Blue Jays possess enough offense to stay in contention all summer long.

    If general manager Alex Anthopoulos wants more than just contention, though, a big move could be necessary prior to the trade deadline. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Blue Jays should be a team in the market for a No. 1 starting pitcher in order to boost a rotation that includes Mark Buehrle (2.03 ERA, 3.26 FIP), R.A. Dickey (4.20 ERA, 4.55 FIP) and Drew Hutchison (3.96 ERA, 3.98 FIP).

    Amid the case for a splashy move, Rosenthal revisits an interesting nugget: Toronto pursued both David Price and Jeff Samardzija last winter. With the Cubs and Rays profiling as two of the worst teams in baseball, it's widely assumed that both pitchers can be had on the trade market over the next seven weeks. 

    If Toronto can land a top-tier arm, the current AL East leaders could stay atop the division all the way to October. 

Ben Zobrist Could Net Rays Big Return in Trade Market

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    Since becoming a full-time player in 2009, Ben Zobrist has been the ultimate commodity for baseball's most resourceful franchise. As the Rays patched together winning campaigns, the versatile and underrated Zobrist helped lead the way.

    Now, as the team is on tack for its first losing season since 2007, speculation surrounding veterans has begun. While it's easy to see why Tampa would move David Price for a haul of prospects, unloading Zobrist could actually bring back more value, per Peter Gammons.

    Although Zobrist's numbers—.686 OPS—are down this season, any contending team would jump at the chance to add a player who is capable of playing almost any position on the diamond, hitting from both sides of the plate and bringing enormous offensive versatility to an everyday lineup.

    Over the last five-plus seasons, Zobrist is one of only 11 players with at least 300 extra-base hits and 400 walks. When sorting that list by WAR, the steady Rays star ranks ahead every hitter in the game except Miguel Cabrera, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).

    Price would be the headline-grabbing name to leave Tropicana Field, but Zobrist could put a team like Detroit or the Dodgers over the top in October.

    Which rumor are you most interested in?

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