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

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2014

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

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    With roughly two weeks to go before the official end of the trade season in MLB, contending teams are scrambling to find ways to bolster their clubs for the stretch run. Whether it's adding another bat or arm, general managers are still wearing out their cellphone batteries at a ridiculous pace.

    Yet it's not only contenders looking to make moves, and nearly every team in baseball has its eye on 2015 and beyond. Finding the right balance between focusing on present and future success can be a difficult thing to do for even the most experienced front office.

    But the rumor mill isn't limited to only the on-field product, and it's been spinning furiously about a major change that is forthcoming for America's pastime.

    Let's take a look at the latest the mill has to offer.

     

Alex Rios' Market Drying Up?

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    His sprained ankle apparently no longer an issue, Alex Rios has returned to action for the Texas Rangers. You'd think that a healthy Rios, hitting .290 with a .730 OPS, would draw significant interest from teams looking for a bat down the stretch.

    Yet the market for his services continues to shrink, according to ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins.

    Heading into the July 31 trade deadline, as many as six teams—Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle (h/t CBS Sports' Jon Heyman) and New York (h/t Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram)—were believed to have some level of interest in the 33-year-old.

    Since then, both Kansas City (Josh Willingham) and Seattle (Austin Jackson) have added an outfield bat, while Cleveland, as we'll touch on momentarily, doesn't appear to have room in its budget for the money left on Rios' deal, which includes a $15 million team option or $1 million buyout for 2015.

    Another issue is Rios' limited no-trade clause, which allows him to block deals to six teams, including the Yankees. Then there's his lack of power, with only four home runs on the season (and only one since mid-May) despite playing half his games in Texas. That's a major red flag for teams, says ESPN's Buster Olney.

    However, both Cincinnati and San Francisco could still use his bat—power or not—yet there's no indication that the Rangers are actively discussing him with either club.

    Despite Rios having cleared waivers (per Watkins), it certainly looks like he's more likely to finish the year with the Rangers than he is to be joining a contender.

     

Rusney Castillo Moves One Step Closer to Signing

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    Rusney Castillo might be represented by Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports, but the next Cuban sensation to hit MLB is singing a tune by another hip-hop icon, the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy.

    "It's All About the Benjamins" for the 27-year-old, tweets MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez, who says that Castillo is getting ready to narrow down the field of teams to only the highest bidders for his services.

    But he hasn't played organized ball in over a year, and he went up against undrafted Division II pitching at his showcase for major league clubs. That made it difficult for scouts to get an accurate read on him, as noted by Baseball America's Walter Villa.

    But he intrigued more than a few teams enough that they scheduled private workouts with him, where he faced more legitimate competition. One of those clubs, the New York Yankees, is ready to negotiate a deal, says George A. King III of the New York Post.

    Sources tell King that Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Detroit, San Francisco and both Chicago clubs are also interested in the athletic-yet-compact (5'9", 205 pounds) Cuban. While most view him as an outfielder, the Yankees are eyeing him to play second base.

    Over parts of five seasons with Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series, Castillo hit .319/.383/.516 with 51 home runs and 226 RBI, successfully swiping 76 bases in 105 attempts, per Cuban-Play.com.

    Those are pretty impressive numbers, especially when one considers that he played in more than 100 games only twice in those five seasons. But, as one MLB decision-maker told King, "The league he played in Cuba wasn't great," so perhaps they aren't quite as impressive as they appear.

    Yet when it comes to how much Castillo is going to command in a contract, that same decision-maker notes "there is (Cuban) momentum, (so) who knows?"

    Another source that watched his workouts believes he's got an idea, telling King “this guy could get $35 million to $50 million because of what Abreu, Cespedes and Puig have done. But eventually somebody is going to be wrong about one of these guys.’’

    While that's true—eventually, someone is going to swing and miss with a Cuban player—nobody wants to miss out on the next big thing. Sanchez notes that there is no favorite to sign Castillo, but one thing's for sure: He's going to get paid.

    It's just a question as to who will be signing those checks.

Is Cleveland Out of Cash?

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Among the many reasons Cleveland had for not putting in a waiver claim on Josh Willing ham, who was eventually traded from Minnesota to Kansas City, was that the team didn't want to pick up the $2 million that was left on his deal, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

    To be sure, Willingham isn't the player he used to be. But the veteran outfielder still knows how to get on base and offers power from the right side of the plate, two things that the Indians could certainly use. 

    Per Hoynes, the team pointed to Willingham's shaky injury history, the fact that Michael Bourn is expected back soon and a desire not to rob youngsters like Jesus Aguilar, Tyler Holt and Zach Walters of playing time as the other contributing factors to their decision-making process.

    Yet Aguilar and Walters aren't even on the 25-man roster right now, and really, how much playing time are they (along with Holt) going to get once David Murphy and Nick Swisher return from the disabled list?

    For a team that claims to still be pushing for a spot in the playoffs, the decision not to put in a claim on Willingham seems penny-wise and dollar-foolish. Even if he only served as a part-time player, giving manager Terry Francona a veteran bat off the bench, he'd have been worth the investment.

    Adding an additional $2 million to the payroll shouldn't be a major problem for a contending club. Yet it is.

    That should concern the rest of Chief Wahoo's tribe, as it raises serious questions, not only about the team's motives for the rest of the season, but about its ability to add a useful piece for the stretch run.

    Unless, of course, they don't actually believe that they are contenders at all.

Is Miami Poised to Be the Offseason's Biggest Spenders?

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    While CBS Sports' Jon Heyman says that some in Miami's front office remain skeptical that the team will be able to sign superstar outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term extension, MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reports that the club plans on building around the slugger—and is prepared to spend big to make it happen.

    Per Frisaro:

    As an organization, the Marlins have not thrown in the towel on any chance of signing one of the most feared hitters in the game. The intention is to build around Stanton, and in the offseason make a serious multi-year contract offer.

    With or without a long-term contract, the Marlins are prepared to retain Stanton as long as possible, even if that means waiting it out through the start of his free agency, which is after the 2016 season.

    The Marlins are clearly looking to move forward, not move Stanton. Not now. And barring a complete change of thinking, not in the offseason.

    In fact, looking forward, the hope is to see the payroll increase to around $75 million in 2015, which would make room for Stanton’s salary, and others.

    That last bit of information is perhaps the most important. Owner Jeffrey Loria has earned a reputation (deservedly so) of being, shall we say, a frugal spender, blowing up his team at the first sign of on-field success and purposely keeping payrolls in the bottom-third of the game so he can line his pockets.

    While a $75 million payroll pales in comparison to those of contenders around baseball, it'd represent a significant increase for the Marlins, who had an Opening Day payroll right around $30 million.

    And while things have been much better in Miami this season than anyone (including Stanton) could have imagined they'd be, it's going to take more than money to get him to sign. Frisaro pointed to "others" being added as part of this increased payroll. Who might that include?

    Adding a top of the rotation starter is high on the team’s shopping list. That could mean making a serious push for pending free agent James Shields. Fernandez isn't expected back until around next All-Star Break, and the club wants to build a championship-caliber rotation in anticipation of his return.

    Shields may fall into the second tier of available starters this winter, with Jon Lester and Max Scherzer the true aces available, but he'd be at or near the top of that second tier.

    Making $12 million in the last season of his deal, the 32-year-old Shields is going to get a significant raise this winter, whether it be from the Marlins or another team. As consistent a starter as one can find in the game, Shields would go a long way towards solidifying—and legitimizing—Miami's young, talented rotation.

    But it's fair to wonder whether adding Shields to the mix would be enough to convince Stanton that Loria's intentions are pure—that he really wants to win—and that he won't blow things up again at the first sign of trouble (or a dip in his investment portfolio).

Bud Selig's Successor About to Be Announced?

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, baseball could have its next commissioner decided upon very soon—perhaps within the next day or so. Owners, who met earlier this week, are "optimistic" that they'll have Bud Selig's successor chosen shortly.

    It appears to be a two-man race, with Selig's right-hand man, Rob Manfred, going up against Tom Werner, chairman of the Boston Red Sox.

    But, as Nightengale notes in another piece, there remains a significant divide between owners as to which candidate is the best choice.

    The Manfred camp, led by the New York Yankees and other big-market teams, says he has been assured of 20 votes. They argue Manfred is the perfect choice, maintaining the status quo for a sport that's projected to generate $9 billion this year.

    They point out Manfred, as head of labor negotiations, is responsible for 19 years of peace with the players union. He helped implement the toughest drug-testing program in American team sports. And he headed the Biogenesis investigation, bringing down Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Tony Bosch, among others.

    The Werner camp, led by the Red Sox and small-market teams, maintains he also has strong support: 11 votes, with eight still undecided.

    They argue that Werner is the visionary that baseball needs. Werner and his partner, Marcy Carsey, created hit sitcoms such as 'The Cosby Show,' 'Roseanne,' 'Third Rock From the Sun,' and 'That '70s Show.' With his deep knowledge of the TV industry, Werner has the tools to pump life into baseball's sagging ratings. Baseball needs a fresh face, a new voice, they say, with attendance stagnant the past decade.

    Both sides have legitimate arguments against the other's candidate. Werner's camp points to the Players Association, and not Manfred (or Selig), deserving of the credit for the drug-testing program, while Manfred's camp points to Werner's failed tenure as owner of the San Diego Padres.

    A candidate needs 23 votes to be elected commissioner, and it doesn't appear as if either one has enough support at this point.

    While we'll likely never know what goes on behind closed doors, you can be sure that there's a lot of under-the-table deals and non-binding handshake agreements being made in an effort to bridge the gap between big-market clubs and small-market clubs, which, ultimately, it appears this divide is all about.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are current through games of Aug. 14. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts.

    Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things baseball: @RickWeinerBR

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