10 Biggest Takeaways from May’s MLB Action

It may be hard to believe, but the second month of the 2015 Major League Baseball season is over already.

A lot happened in May that changed the landscape not only from April but also going forward into June and beyond.

What did this month mean, and what does the rest of the season hold? Let's review with the 10 biggest takeaways as May flips to June.

Begin Slideshow

Fantasy Baseball 2015: Week 8’s Buy-Low, Sell-High Trade Advice

What good is a fantasy owner who lacks a sense of timing?

Fantasy baseballjust like the real thingis a game of skill, luck and timing. That last trait in particular comes in handy in regard to getting value in the trading game.

Knowing which player(s) to trade away and which to deal for—and knowing just the right time to do so—can make all the difference.

After all, it doesn't get much better than making a move to unload a hot flavor-of-the-week type who's about to cool off in exchange for a slumping stud who's ready to take off.

Now, speaking of timing, let's get to some players to sell high and buy low.

Begin Slideshow

Andrew McCutchen’s Blistering Turnaround Has Pirates Rolling Back to Contention

The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the San Diego Padres 11-5 on Thursday to win their seventh in a row, the longest in Major League Baseball at the moment and a streak that formerly slumping superstar Andrew McCutchen has been behind.

A 3-for-5 performance with two runs and two RBI marked McCutchen's third three-hit outing in his last eight games, bringing his season line up to .272/.364/.473 with seven home runs, 27 runs and 29 RBI.

And yet not long ago at all, folks couldn't stop wondering: What's wrong with Andrew McCutchen?

Bothered by a balky left knee that had lingered since early in spring training, the 2013 NL MVP was scuffling so badly through the first month-plus that his batting average was below .200.

In fact, that was the case as recently as May 7, barely three weeks ago. Since that fateful day, however, McCutchen has turned his season around—and so have the Pirates. Coincidence? Unlikely.

Over that 20-game stretch, the star center fielder has hit .368/.463/.691 with five of his seven homers and nine of his 11 doubles.

It shouldn't be at all surprising, then, to find out that in that same span the Pirates have gone 13-7, giving them more wins in that span than any club other than the Washington Nationals (14) and San Francisco Giants (15).

Pittsburgh has gone from three games under .500 to three over, and although they still trail the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals by six games, the Pirates are only 1.5 out of a playoff berth.

That goes in the books as a much-needed and well-timed hot stretch for the Pirates, who are coming off two consecutive postseason appearances and hope to continue that run this year despite being in the ultra-competitive NL Central with the consistent Cardinals and upstart Chicago Cubs.

"It’s the confidence we have right now," catcher Chris Stewart said after Wednesdays' win, per Josh Yohe of DKonPittsburghSports.com. "We’ve got our swag back. We’re as good as any team in baseball, especially when we’re playing like this."

As much credit as McCutchen is due, he's not doing all of this by himself.

The rest of the offense has picked it up around him, including the surprising Francisco Cervelli (1.024 OPS since May 6), the returned-to-relevance Josh Harrison (.935), the very underrated Starling Marte (.850), and the breaking-out Jung-Ho Kang (.840), the latter two of which homered in Thursday's victory.

Over the past 14 days, the Pirates offense ranks in the top five in each of batting average (.288), on-base percentage (.343) and slugging (.453). After scoring just 4.0 runs per game in April, Pittsburgh is up almost half a run to 4.4 per. 

But McCutchen and the offense haven't been the only impressive aspect of the Pirates of late.

The pitching staff, led by ace-in-the-making Gerrit Cole, the dominant-when-on Francisco Liriano and the back-from-the-dead (again) A.J. Burnett, sported a 3.01 ERA across the past two weeks entering Thursday's game.

Burnett wasn't especially sharp but did get his fifth straight win and kept his season ERA below 2.00 on Thursday, which was the first of 10 games in a row Pittsburgh will play on the road in San Diego, San Francisco and Atlanta.

The Pirates' recent run has put them back in the playoff picture just at a time when they could have sunk further into a funk that would have been disappointing—and could have been disastrous.

If McCutchen and Pittsburgh can continue to play well through this road trip, they will be in line to benefit big time when they get back to PNC Park and face the woeful Milwaukee Brewers, the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies and the underwhelming Chicago White Sox for eight games.

Now that McCutchen is playing like his usual self and the Pirates are streaking, both parties' sluggish starts feel like they happened in another month or even another year.

But it wasn't nearly that long ago—it was only a few short weeks in the past. Emphasis on the last three words.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Thursday, May 28, and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Top MLB Prospect Call-Up Radar Report, Week 8

The 2015 season is not even two months old, but already a number of notable prospects have received call-ups to the major leagues. Undoubtedly, there are more to come—and soon.

Highly regarded youngsters like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Roberto Osuna and Archie Bradley have been seeing regular action for their respective clubs for quite some time now. Others, like Carlos Rodon, Noah Syndergaard and Maikel Franco, are still settling in.

In the past week or so, the big prospect promotion belonged to Rusney Castillo of the Boston Red Sox, who are looking to jump-start a moribund offense. The 27-year-old outfielder has started just 3-for-15 (.200), but did make a pair of great catches in right field on Tuesday.

Beyond that, the New York Yankees promoted a pair of former early-round picks in outfielder Slade Heathcott (first round, 2009) and lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren (second round, 2014), while the Kansas City Royals brought back up left-hander Brandon Finnegan, who pitched in the postseason months after being their top pick last year.

Elsewhere, the San Francisco Giants recalled right-handed reliever Hunter Strickland, who also pitched last October, and righty Kendall Graveman came back up for the Oakland Athletics. Detroit Tigers shortstop Dixon Machado made his MLB debut filling in for ailing Jose Iglesias.

More young impact talent will join the mix, too, particularly with MLB's Super Two date only a few weeks away. Who will be the next to reach the major leagues? In order to predict estimated times of arrival this season, we've classified the prospects on this list using the following scale:

  • Red: September call-up at best
  • Orange: Second-half call-up
  • Yellow: Call-up within a month
  • Green: Call-up within a week/call-up is imminent

Here's a look at the top-prospect call-up report for Week 8 of the 2015 MLB season.

Begin Slideshow

Top MLB Prospect Call-Up Radar Report, Week 8

The 2015 season is not even two months old, but already a number of notable prospects have received call-ups to the major leagues. Undoubtedly, there are more to come—and soon.

Highly regarded youngsters like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Roberto Osuna and Archie Bradley have been seeing regular action for their respective clubs for quite some time now. Others, like Carlos Rodon, Noah Syndergaard and Maikel Franco, are still settling in.

In the past week or so, the big prospect promotion belonged to Rusney Castillo of the Boston Red Sox, who are looking to jump-start a moribund offense. The 27-year-old outfielder has started just 3-for-15 (.200), but did make a pair of great catches in right field on Tuesday.

Beyond that, the New York Yankees promoted a pair of former early-round picks in outfielder Slade Heathcott (first round, 2009) and lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren (second round, 2014), while the Kansas City Royals brought back up left-hander Brandon Finnegan, who pitched in the postseason months after being their top pick last year.

Elsewhere, the San Francisco Giants recalled right-handed reliever Hunter Strickland, who also pitched last October, and righty Kendall Graveman came back up for the Oakland Athletics. Detroit Tigers shortstop Dixon Machado made his MLB debut filling in for ailing Jose Iglesias.

More young impact talent will join the mix, too, particularly with MLB's Super Two date only a few weeks away. Who will be the next to reach the major leagues? In order to predict estimated times of arrival this season, we've classified the prospects on this list using the following scale:

  • Red: September call-up at best
  • Orange: Second-half call-up
  • Yellow: Call-up within a month
  • Green: Call-up within a week/call-up is imminent

Here's a look at the top-prospect call-up report for Week 8 of the 2015 MLB season.

Begin Slideshow

2015 MLB All-Star Game Voting Initial Update, Biggest Takeaways

The initial voting results for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game have been released, and while the game is still roughly a month-and-a-half away, we already have an idea of what the starting rosters could look like on July 14.

This year's game will be played at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, which opened in 2003.

Here's a look at the early returns for the voting, which is being done entirely online for the first time this year, and a handful of takeaways based on the results in each league so far.

 

American League

Let's get into things by first running through the Junior Circuit, where Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez is the surprising leader with 1,447,753 tallies to date, per Tuesday's release:

 

AL All-Star Voting Takeaways

1. Royals fans have been voting, like, a lot

Among third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon and leading vote-getter Perez, five Royals players currently are starters. That is both impressive—no other club in either league has more than four starters after the first results—and deserving, as Kansas City (28-17) has the second-best record in the AL entering play Wednesday.

Additionally, first baseman Eric Hosmer, second baseman Omar Infante and designated hitter Kendrys Morales each check in at No. 2 at their respective positions, so the Royals have just about every spot covered. Heck, even outfielder Alex Rios is sixth among his brethren—and he hasn't played since April 13 while recovering from a fractured left hand.

It's clear that after enduring nearly three decades of ineptitude, the club's fans are riding the wave of reaching the postseason—and World Series—for the first time since 1985, as well as this year's hot start to make sure as many Royals get to the Midsummer Classic as possible.

If five (or more) Royals do, in fact, wind up being voted in as starters, that would be the first time a team registered that many in the All-Star Game since 1976, when it was done by this year's host squad, the Reds.

 

2. Shortstop is coming up, well, short

For now, Escobar leads the position, but he's hitting just .270 with a .666 OPS that ranks fourth among AL shortstop qualifiers. Those aren't exactly blow-you-away numbers. Frankly, he's a fringy top-five candidate, but being on Kansas City is helping him immeasurably.

After him, there's defensive wizard Jose Iglesias, who still is batting a strong .333, as well as upstart but error-prone Marcus Semien, who has six homers and seven RBI already but also an MLB-worst 17 errors (yikes).

The rest of the top five is filled out by veterans Jed Lowrie and Jose Reyes, who have spent more time on the disabled list than off to this point. Other options, such as Xander Bogaerts, Alexei Ramirez and Elvis Andrus, just haven't played all that well but could make a push at the polls if they get hot.

Long story, ahem, short (sorry): There's no really strong candidate at this spot, which last year belonged to Derek Jeter, who also wasn't the greatest candidate but at least was a Hall of Famer-to-be and had a ceremonial farewell tour to propel votes and intrigue.

 

3. As usual, there are a few noticeable snubs

Maybe folks forgot about the Texas Rangers' Prince Fielder at first base because he missed all but 42 games in 2014 due to neck surgery. But the slugger is leading the entire AL with a .371 batting average and has started to hit for his signature power with 10 homers and 38 RBI, the latter of which also tops the circuit. The competition at this position is stiff, but Fielder should be in the mix.

Same goes for Jason Kipnis, whose .335/.408/.519 line presents a strong case that he deserves to be among the five at second base, certainly over Omar Infante, Devon Travis and Dustin Pedroia. Meanwhile, Robinson Cano's run of five consecutive starts at the spot looks to be in serious jeopardy with his slash stats sitting at .257/.297/.339 with just one homer.

Last but not least, Stephen Vogt of the Oakland Athletics needs to be acknowledged at catcher, where his .313 average, 10 homers, 33 RBI and 1.008 OPS all pace qualifying AL backstops. Blame it on his no-name factor as a 30-year-old with just 193 career games in The Show—or, you know, the worst-in-the-AL Oakland Athletics.

 

4. Apologies to the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians but...

...you have not a single representative receiving enough votes to place in the top five at any position.

While the Indians have been slightly disappointing so far, they at least can claim Michael Brantley, last year's second runner-up in AL MVP, in the top 10 outfielders.

As for the Rays and Twins, well, they don' have a player listed—at all. Granted, these are not the most star-studded rosters, but it's surprising nonetheless considering Tampa Bay was leading the AL East as of Tuesday and Minnesota was sporting the third-best record (27-18) in the circuit entering play Wednesday.

As for those two clubs' best All-Star candidates based on the first quarter of 2015? Try Logan Forsythe of the Rays (.855 OPS, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 3 SB) and Brian Dozier of the Twins (.833 OPS, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB). Neither is likely to garner much support going forward despite their hot starts.

 

National League

Let's move on to the Senior Circuit, where phenom Bryce Harper is the leader with 1,116,582 votes so far, according to Wednesday's release:

 

NL All-Star Voting Takeaways

1. Cardinals fans are a lot like Royals fans

As discussed already, the Royals have an MLB-leading five players in starting spots so far. Well, the 30-16 Cardinals, owners of the best record in baseball, have four: catcher Yadier Molina, third baseman Matt Carpenter, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and outfielder Matt Holliday.

The biggest takeaway from this? People in Missouri really, really like to participate in All-Star Game voting.

 

2. The NL needs more love

While the AL features a whopping nine players already north of the one million-vote mark, the NL can claim only two to date: Carpenter with 1,113,060 and Harper with his league-leading total.

That also jibes with the fact that the overall leader—Perez with 1,447,753—hails from the Junior Circuit, as do the eight-highest vote-getters at this stage. Harper's 1,116,582 puts him ninth, followed by Carpenter, the only other NLer in the top 10.

In other words, if you're a fan of an NL squad, head here and do your civic duty.

 

3. There are snubs galore!

The NL outfield almost has too many worthy candidates to be limited just to three starters.

Harper and his league-leading 17 home runs certainly need to be in there, but all of Starling Marte, Justin Upton, Ryan Braun and even rookie Joc Pederson have a case over one or both of Giancarlo Stanton (13 HR and 42 RBI but a .237 BA) and/or Matt Holliday (just three homers but with a franchise record 42-game on-base streak). Don't mistake that to mean Stanton and Holliday don't deserve their so-far-starter status, but it will be interesting to see if it holds up against such stiff competition.

One competition that shouldn't be quite so close, however, is catcher, where Buster Posey is out-OPSing Molina .839 to .673, and yet the latter has a lead of more than 100,000 votes over the former.

Speaking of snubbed Giants, Brandon Crawford bears mentioning here for his fast start with the stick (.299/379/.506). Peralta is a fine pick, but going on 2015 alone to date, Crawford shouldn't be in fifth place compared to first for the St. Louis shortstop.

Taking those last two tidbits into account, it's odd to see a team that is coming off its third World Series championship in five years and currently is battling the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West lead leaving a few of its players hanging.

 

4. No Philadelphia Phillies (duh) but also no Milwaukee Brewers

Just like in the AL, there are three clubs without a rep in the top five at any position. At least the Pittsburgh Pirates, however, have Andrew McCutchen, 2014's NL MVP second runner-up, checking in at No. 11 among outfielders. That eerily mirrors the Indians and Brantley over in the AL.

While it's no surprise the rebuilding Phillies are sans candidates, it's at least a little shocking that the Brewers are in the same boat—after they sent two starters (Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez) and four players overall (also Jonathon Lucroy, Francisco Rodriguez) to Minnesota just last season!

Of course, last year at the All-Star break, Milwaukee had the second-best record in the NL. So far this season? Try dead last with a .340 winning percentage. No further explanation needed.

 

5. First and third base are going to be painful picks

The NL is loaded at both corner infield spots.

The Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs are performing as well (or even better) than Adrian Gonzalez, who is the vote leader at first.

Across the diamond, Todd Frazier of the Reds, Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies, and Chicago Cubs wunderkind Kris Bryant all are giving Carpenter a run for his money in the production department.

When it comes to votes, though, Gonzalez and Carpenter have rather hefty leads out of the gate. 

That could change, however, as there's still plenty of time between now and the end of voting on July 2. Players no doubt will be jockeying for starting roles as various fanbases take to the polls in light of these early returns.

Keep an eye out for the next updates, which the league will announce June 1 for the AL and June 2 for the NL.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Wednesday, May 27, and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.comSports on Earth and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

2015 MLB All-Star Game Voting Initial Update, Biggest Takeaways

The initial voting results for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game have been released, and while the game is still roughly a month-and-a-half away, we already have an idea of what the starting rosters could look like on July 14.

This year's game will be played at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, which opened in 2003.

Here's a look at the early returns for the voting, which is being done entirely online for the first time this year, and a handful of takeaways based on the results in each league so far.

 

American League

Let's get into things by first running through the Junior Circuit, where Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez is the surprising leader with 1,447,753 tallies to date, per Tuesday's release:

 

AL All-Star Voting Takeaways

1. Royals fans have been voting, like, a lot

Among third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon and leading vote-getter Perez, five Royals players currently are starters. That is both impressive—no other club in either league has more than four starters after the first results—and deserving, as Kansas City (28-17) has the second-best record in the AL entering play Wednesday.

Additionally, first baseman Eric Hosmer, second baseman Omar Infante and designated hitter Kendrys Morales each check in at No. 2 at their respective positions, so the Royals have just about every spot covered. Heck, even outfielder Alex Rios is sixth among his brethren—and he hasn't played since April 13 while recovering from a fractured left hand.

It's clear that after enduring nearly three decades of ineptitude, the club's fans are riding the wave of reaching the postseason—and World Series—for the first time since 1985, as well as this year's hot start to make sure as many Royals get to the Midsummer Classic as possible.

If five (or more) Royals do, in fact, wind up being voted in as starters, that would be the first time a team registered that many in the All-Star Game since 1976, when it was done by this year's host squad, the Reds.

 

2. Shortstop is coming up, well, short

For now, Escobar leads the position, but he's hitting just .270 with a .666 OPS that ranks fourth among AL shortstop qualifiers. Those aren't exactly blow-you-away numbers. Frankly, he's a fringy top-five candidate, but being on Kansas City is helping him immeasurably.

After him, there's defensive wizard Jose Iglesias, who still is batting a strong .333, as well as upstart but error-prone Marcus Semien, who has six homers and seven RBI already but also an MLB-worst 17 errors (yikes).

The rest of the top five is filled out by veterans Jed Lowrie and Jose Reyes, who have spent more time on the disabled list than off to this point. Other options, such as Xander Bogaerts, Alexei Ramirez and Elvis Andrus, just haven't played all that well but could make a push at the polls if they get hot.

Long story, ahem, short (sorry): There's no really strong candidate at this spot, which last year belonged to Derek Jeter, who also wasn't the greatest candidate but at least was a Hall of Famer-to-be and had a ceremonial farewell tour to propel votes and intrigue.

 

3. As usual, there are a few noticeable snubs

Maybe folks forgot about the Texas Rangers' Prince Fielder at first base because he missed all but 42 games in 2014 due to neck surgery. But the slugger is leading the entire AL with a .371 batting average and has started to hit for his signature power with 10 homers and 38 RBI, the latter of which also tops the circuit. The competition at this position is stiff, but Fielder should be in the mix.

Same goes for Jason Kipnis, whose .335/.408/.519 line presents a strong case that he deserves to be among the five at second base, certainly over Omar Infante, Devon Travis and Dustin Pedroia. Meanwhile, Robinson Cano's run of five consecutive starts at the spot looks to be in serious jeopardy with his slash stats sitting at .257/.297/.339 with just one homer.

Last but not least, Stephen Vogt of the Oakland Athletics needs to be acknowledged at catcher, where his .313 average, 10 homers, 33 RBI and 1.008 OPS all pace qualifying AL backstops. Blame it on his no-name factor as a 30-year-old with just 193 career games in The Show—or, you know, the worst-in-the-AL Oakland Athletics.

 

4. Apologies to the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians but...

...you have not a single representative receiving enough votes to place in the top five at any position.

While the Indians have been slightly disappointing so far, they at least can claim Michael Brantley, last year's second runner-up in AL MVP, in the top 10 outfielders.

As for the Rays and Twins, well, they don' have a player listed—at all. Granted, these are not the most star-studded rosters, but it's surprising nonetheless considering Tampa Bay was leading the AL East as of Tuesday and Minnesota was sporting the third-best record (27-18) in the circuit entering play Wednesday.

As for those two clubs' best All-Star candidates based on the first quarter of 2015? Try Logan Forsythe of the Rays (.855 OPS, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 3 SB) and Brian Dozier of the Twins (.833 OPS, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB). Neither is likely to garner much support going forward despite their hot starts.

 

National League

Let's move on to the Senior Circuit, where phenom Bryce Harper is the leader with 1,116,582 votes so far, according to Wednesday's release:

 

NL All-Star Voting Takeaways

1. Cardinals fans are a lot like Royals fans

As discussed already, the Royals have an MLB-leading five players in starting spots so far. Well, the 30-16 Cardinals, owners of the best record in baseball, have four: catcher Yadier Molina, third baseman Matt Carpenter, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and outfielder Matt Holliday.

The biggest takeaway from this? People in Missouri really, really like to participate in All-Star Game voting.

 

2. The NL needs more love

While the AL features a whopping nine players already north of the one million-vote mark, the NL can claim only two to date: Carpenter with 1,113,060 and Harper with his league-leading total.

That also jibes with the fact that the overall leader—Perez with 1,447,753—hails from the Junior Circuit, as do the eight-highest vote-getters at this stage. Harper's 1,116,582 puts him ninth, followed by Carpenter, the only other NLer in the top 10.

In other words, if you're a fan of an NL squad, head here and do your civic duty.

 

3. There are snubs galore!

The NL outfield almost has too many worthy candidates to be limited just to three starters.

Harper and his league-leading 17 home runs certainly need to be in there, but all of Starling Marte, Justin Upton, Ryan Braun and even rookie Joc Pederson have a case over one or both of Giancarlo Stanton (13 HR and 42 RBI but a .237 BA) and/or Matt Holliday (just three homers but with a franchise record 42-game on-base streak). Don't mistake that to mean Stanton and Holliday don't deserve their so-far-starter status, but it will be interesting to see if it holds up against such stiff competition.

One competition that shouldn't be quite so close, however, is catcher, where Buster Posey is out-OPSing Molina .839 to .673, and yet the latter has a lead of more than 100,000 votes over the former.

Speaking of snubbed Giants, Brandon Crawford bears mentioning here for his fast start with the stick (.299/379/.506). Peralta is a fine pick, but going on 2015 alone to date, Crawford shouldn't be in fifth place compared to first for the St. Louis shortstop.

Taking those last two tidbits into account, it's odd to see a team that is coming off its third World Series championship in five years and currently is battling the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West lead leaving a few of its players hanging.

 

4. No Philadelphia Phillies (duh) but also no Milwaukee Brewers

Just like in the AL, there are three clubs without a rep in the top five at any position. At least the Pittsburgh Pirates, however, have Andrew McCutchen, 2014's NL MVP second runner-up, checking in at No. 11 among outfielders. That eerily mirrors the Indians and Brantley over in the AL.

While it's no surprise the rebuilding Phillies are sans candidates, it's at least a little shocking that the Brewers are in the same boat—after they sent two starters (Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez) and four players overall (also Jonathon Lucroy, Francisco Rodriguez) to Minnesota just last season!

Of course, last year at the All-Star break, Milwaukee had the second-best record in the NL. So far this season? Try dead last with a .340 winning percentage. No further explanation needed.

 

5. First and third base are going to be painful picks

The NL is loaded at both corner infield spots.

The Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs are performing as well (or even better) than Adrian Gonzalez, who is the vote leader at first.

Across the diamond, Todd Frazier of the Reds, Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies, and Chicago Cubs wunderkind Kris Bryant all are giving Carpenter a run for his money in the production department.

When it comes to votes, though, Gonzalez and Carpenter have rather hefty leads out of the gate. 

That could change, however, as there's still plenty of time between now and the end of voting on July 2. Players no doubt will be jockeying for starting roles as various fanbases take to the polls in light of these early returns.

Keep an eye out for the next updates, which the league will announce June 1 for the AL and June 2 for the NL.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Wednesday, May 27, and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.comSports on Earth and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Red Sox’s Pitching Problems Overshadowing Unexpectedly Weak Offense

For all the talk of how bad the Boston Red Sox pitching, especially the rotation, has been, there's another element of the team that has also struggled mightily—and rather unexpectedly—through the first quarter of the season.

That would be the offense.

Coming into the campaign, everybody just knew the Red Sox's pitching staff would be shaky and inconsistent at best and downright dreadful at worst. It has been troublesome, and with a team ERA of 4.51 that ranks as the fourth-worst in baseball, the arms have been more the latter than the former.

That is particularly true of the starting rotation, which sports a ghastly 5.10 ERA, the worst in the sport. Yes, even behind the dreadful Colorado Rockies' five-man rotation. This, combined with the club's disappointing 21-25 start, is why there have been almost-daily columns across Boston calling for the team to trade for an ace or two to shore up the staff.

But the Red Sox offense? That was supposed to be an undeniable strength—a dynamic, dangerous one-through-nine built around still-productive franchise stalwart David Ortiz, returns to health by Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli, bolstered by lethal free-agent additions Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval and further fueled by young up-and-comers Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts.

Instead, the bats have been shaky and inconsistent at best and—that's right—downright dreadful at worst.

Consider where Boston's offense ranks among all 30 MLB teams in a number of key categories:

Plain as day, the Red Sox are in the bottom half, if not the bottom third, of the league in all of the above areas.

Making matters worse, things have been especially bad in May. In the season's second month, Boston is sporting a .234/.296/.362 triple-slash line and ranks dead last in runs scored with 66, or nine fewer than the next-to-last team.

And although the Sox have been shut out only two times so far, they have scored three runs or fewer in 22 of their first 46 games—essentially, half of their contests.

And how's this for a disturbing statistic: Of the 30 MLB teams, 28 have reached double digits in runs in a game at least once. The two who have yet to do so? The condemned Philadelphia Phillies and—yep, you guessed it—the Red Sox, who scored a season-high nine runs all the way back on April 13 and have topped six runs all of once since April 29.

The team's production (or lack thereof) has gotten so bad that manager John Farrell has begun shaking up the lineup a bit with the hope of jarring some runs loose.

As Ian Browne of MLB.com writes:

In an effort to get more consistent production from his lineup, Red Sox manager John Farrell continues to try different combinations. The latest was Tuesday's move of David Ortiz to the fifth spot in the batting order, marking the first time the slugger batted anywhere but third or fourth since 2012.

[...]

In recent days, Farrell flip-flopped Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts in the order, with Pedroia now leading off and Betts hitting second.

Farrell's motivation? "I think it's about maybe just a little bit of a different look," the skipper said. "We're going to rely a lot on those three guys in the middle of our order—David, Hanley and Pablo. Those guys have every capability to be an elite three guys in a lineup, and we're trying to gain a little bit more production and consistency."

While Ramirez had a hot start in his return to the Red Sox with 10 homers and 22 RBI in April, he has gone ice-cold in May (.230 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI) as his shoulder injury continues to linger after he banged into an outfield wall on May 4.

Same goes for Sandoval, who has battled through foot and knee ailments already and who may be considering the possibility of abandoning switch hitting because of his increasing trend of ineptitude from the right side (2-for-41, .049 BA).

As for Ortiz, well, he simply isn't hitting much at all, what with a .222 average and a sub-.700 OPS amid questions that the 39-year-old no longer is the force he was for the past dozen seasons with Boston.

Despite the above, there are positive signs. For one, Napoli finally broke out of his season-long slump by going 9-for-21 (.429) with five homers and 10 RBI to win AL Player of the Week honors.

For another, the Red Sox's team BABIP of .268 is the lowest in baseball, which means they have endured their fair share of bad luck on balls in play, especially since their walk rate (8.9 percent) and strikeout mark (17.0 percent) are each in the top five.

In other words, Boston's bats may very well turn things around in short order. The team certainly has the personnel and pedigree to do just that.

The silver lining in all of this is that for as all-around bad as the Red Sox have been—both pitching and offense—they remain just four games under .500 and, better yet, only three games out of first place in the mediocre, wide-open AL East.

While the pitching staff may wind up needing a trade to solve its lacking-an-ace problem, the lineup has room for major improvement and a clearer path to it.

But until that happens, the offense remains nearly as big of a problem as the pitching, which is a narrative nobody was expecting coming into the season.

 

Statistics are accurate through Tuesday, May 26, and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.comSports on Earth and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Top 10 Pickups for MLB Week 8

A new week, another batch of waiver-wire additions just the way you like 'em: hot and fresh out of the oven.

Some players mentioned last week—including Brandon Belt, Maikel Franco, James Paxton, Jake McGee, A.J. Ramos, Delino DeShields Jr., Mike Wright and Lance McCullers—are already owned in many leagues, but they remain quality pickups if they're available.

In the interest of keeping the names new, though, let's avoid any repeats. Here are the top 10 waiver-wire pickups for Week 8.

Begin Slideshow

It’s Time for MLB, Players Union to Soften Foreign-Substance Rules

Baseball has found itself in something of a sticky situation yet again, one that has cropped up enough recently to raise the question about whether the sport needs to address the problem going forward, perhaps by changing or even softening the rules.

In the span of about 48 hours this week, two different pitchers on two different teams were caught with and ejected for having a foreign substance on their person.

On Thursday, May 22, Milwaukee Brewers left-handed reliever Will Smith was thrown out after Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez prompted umpires to check his right forearm. Smith, who was suspended for eight games but is appealing, did not appreciate the investigation:

As John Donovan of MLB.com reported:

Smith said he placed a mixture of rosin and sunscreen on his right arm while he was warming up in the bullpen in order to get a firm handle on the ball on a cool and blustery night at Turner Field. He simply forgot to wipe it off, he said, when he was rushed into the game.

...

Pitchers are trying to get grips on the ball. We've had hitters on other teams asking for pitchers to get a grip on the ball. We've had [our] hitters hit in the head asking for [opposing] pitchers to get grips on the ball," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said in a surly clubhouse after the Braves' 10-1. "It's very common.

"It goes on on the other side, I guarantee you."

Said Smith: "It helps you be able to throw the ball. That's it. It's not going to spin more. You're not going to throw harder. You've got what you got."

An eerily similar late-game turn of events played out Saturday, May 23, when Miami Marlins manager Dan Jennings requested the Baltimore Orioles' Brian Matusz, also a lefty reliever, be inspected, which led to his ejection when a foreign substance was discovered on his right forearm:

Matusz left the field a little less heatedly, but after the game, he refused even to go into the event.

"We're not going to address the issue right now," Matusz said, per Steve Wilaj of MLB.com. "Obviously I have my own personal opinions about the issue, but right now with emotions running high, we're going to let this settle and address questions at a later time."

The reality is that what happened with Will Smith on Thursday and Brian Matusz on Saturday are really just continuations of other recent foreign-substance incidents. Like the one involving New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda, who was caught and ejected for having some sort of substance on his neck last April:

...as well as Boston Red Sox righty Clay Buchholz, who reportedly had coated his left forearm in BullFrog suntan lotion in May of 2013:

...and left-hander and then-rotation mate Jon Lester, whose glove was covered in a "goop" during the World Series later that same year:

...and even reliever Joel Peralta, then with the Tampa Bay Rays, who was thrown out of a game in June of 2012 after umpires were alerted to check his glove by the opposing Washington Nationals, for whom Peralta happened to have pitched in 2010:

When Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports looked into the Buchholz controversy (non-troversy?) in 2013, here's what he found:

Two veteran pitchers and one source close to the Red Sox told Yahoo Sports that about 90 percent of major league pitchers use some form of spray-on sunscreen—almost always BullFrog brand—that when combined with powdered rosin gives them a far superior grip on the ball.

To reiterate: That's "about 90 percent" of pitchers.

That sentiment was supported by Al Leiter, a longtime big league left-hander who now is a studio analyst with the Yes Network and MLB Network. Leiter, who pitched for 19 seasons in the majors, said on the latter in discussing Smith's ejection: "Just about every pitcher does something to get a grip."

So this prevalent "problem" falls under the everybody's-doing-it umbrella. That doesn't make it legal or even right, but it does make for a very tricky—and sticky—situation for the sport.

On one hand, managers who call for the opposing pitcher to be checked put their own pitchers at risk, too. Turnabout, after all, is fair play.

On the other hand, it's not exactly good for baseball to have pitchers carry on what is technically cheating by the rulebook:

The pitcher shall not ... Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addition, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically. 

While this isn't nothing, it's also not on the same par of cheating as, say, steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs that have plagued baseball for most of the past two-plus decades.

The fact is, players, coaches and managers themselves have acknowledged that this goes on all across the league and that they, in many ways, prefer a pitcher to have a better grip on the ball considering he's hurling a hard object upward of 95 miles per hour in the direction of the batter.

Counsell indicated as much in his comments above. And Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, per Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com: "I want [opposing pitchers] to be able to grip the baseball against our hitters, to an extent. Same reason hitters have pine tar. We all understand the crux of the problem is gripping the ball, it's not trying to (doctor the ball)."

As O's righty setup man Tommy Hunter said, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun:

If it's a rule, it's a rule. If it's sticky, it's sticky. They have to enforce it, so you can't really call fault on the umpires or anything. It's kind of a petty thing because if you ask any hitter they would rather us have control of a baseball or be able to hold onto it and not let it slip out of your hand—if that's what you are using sticky stuff for.

There isn't necessarily an easy fix for this, but there are some possibilities for baseball to consider going forward.

Maybe managers could be forced to treat having a pitcher's person checked as a replay challenge. That might make them save it for the more egregious incidents for fear of losing their lone challenge if nothing is found.

Or perhaps—and this is really out there for a sport that is so steeped in tradition—there could be some approved substance, such as a specific suntan lotion, that pitchers are allowed to use as long as it's applied under the observation of the crew chief umpire.

Knowing baseball, though, when it comes to foreign substances, that idea probably is a little too, well, foreign.

 

Statistics are accurate through Saturday, May 23, and courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com, Sports on Earth and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Fantasy Baseball 2015: Week 7’s Buy-Low, Sell-High Trade Advice

What good is a fantasy owner who lacks a sense of timing?

Fantasy baseballjust like the real thingis a game of skill, luck and timing. That last trait in particular comes in handy in regard to getting value in the trading game.

Knowing which player(s) to trade away and which to deal for—and knowing just the right time to do so—can make all the difference.

After all, it doesn't get much better than making a move to unload a hot flavor-of-the-week type who's about to cool off in exchange for a slumping stud who's ready to take off.

Now, speaking of timing, let's get to some players to sell high and buy low.

Begin Slideshow

Giants’ Scoreless Sweep of Dodgers Catapults World Champs Back Up NL West Ladder

Do not adjust your calendars. It is 2015, and the San Francisco Giants are the hottest team in baseball outside of the nation’s capital.

The Giants pulled off a 4-0 victory Thursday over the Los Angeles Dodgers and reigning NL MVP and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. The win capped a remarkable three-game sweep of the NL West rivals, who—get this—didn't score a single run.

For serious: Prior to Thursday's win, Wednesday's game brought an identical score, while Tuesday's series opener was a 2-0 victory. This, mind you, against an L.A. club that has scored more runs than all but five teams.

The sweep-completing game was the most impressive of all, as ace Madison Bumgarner, the reigning World Series MVP, hurled 6.1 scoreless innings and even hit a home run in the third inning off Kershaw to open the scoring. The solo shot was the seventh of Bumgarner’s seven-year career—and the first the Dodgers ace has ever surrendered to an opposing pitcher in his eight seasons.

L.A. entered the series with a fairly comfortable 4.5-game lead in the division. It leaves San Francisco with a 24-16 mark, and with that the gap shrunk to just 1.5 games over the 23-18 Giants, who now have won an MLB-best six straight.

What’s more, the Giants already have won seven of nine against the Dodgers this season.

Apparently, somebody forgot to tell the Giants, who won it all last year as well as in 2012 and 2010, it's not an #EvenYear.

San Francisco is getting it done behind Bumgarner (5-2, 2.84 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) and catcher Buster Posey (306 BA, team-best 7 HR), the team’s two superstars.

It’s not a coincidence, however, that this six-game winning streak coincides with the return of outfielder Hunter Pence, arguably the heart and soul of the squad who missed the first month-plus with a fractured forearm suffered in his very first spring training game.

But the Giants also are getting quality performances so far out of many of their other (as usual) underrated-slash-overlooked starters, including first baseman Brandon Belt (.867), shortstop Brandon Crawford (.906, team-high 27 RBI), second baseman Joe Panik (.287/.361/.412) and outfielders Angel Pagan (team-best .325 BA) and Nori Aoki (.297 BA, team-topping 10 SB).

Meanwhile, rookies Chris Heston and Matt Duffy were as unheralded as it gets coming into the season, and yet they are contributing regularly and performing like they’ve been here before through the first quarter of their first year.

This is where Tim Lincecum’s mini-revival needs to be mentioned too. The two-time Cy Young winner’s team-best 2.08 ERA seems to be a product of lots of smoke and several mirrors, especially since his fastball now sits in the upper 80s on a good day. But it’s hard to argue with the results, at least to this point.

That said—and stop us if you’ve heard this before with regard to the Giants—San Francisco wasn’t supposed to be doing this.

Not after playing deeper into October than 28 other teams. Not after watching fan favorite Pablo Sandoval depart and losing out on lefty Jon Lester in free agency. And certainly not after entering the season with Pence as well as veteran right-handers Matt Cain and Jake Peavy on the disabled list.

Yet despite all that, the Giants are not only surviving; they’re right in the thick of things after a quarter of the season.

The way the Giants are going, maybe 2015 actually is an #EvenYear after all.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Thursday, May 21, and courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Giants’ Scoreless Sweep of Dodgers Catapults World Champs Back Up NL West Ladder

Do not adjust your calendars. It is 2015, and the San Francisco Giants are the hottest team in baseball outside of the nation’s capital.

The Giants pulled off a 4-0 victory Thursday over the Los Angeles Dodgers and reigning NL MVP and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. The win capped a remarkable three-game sweep of the NL West rivals, who—get this—didn't score a single run.

For serious: Prior to Thursday's win, Wednesday's game brought an identical score, while Tuesday's series opener was a 2-0 victory. This, mind you, against an L.A. club that has scored more runs than all but five teams.

The sweep-completing game was the most impressive of all, as ace Madison Bumgarner, the reigning World Series MVP, hurled 6.1 scoreless innings and even hit a home run in the third inning off Kershaw to open the scoring. The solo shot was the seventh of Bumgarner’s seven-year career—and the first the Dodgers ace has ever surrendered to an opposing pitcher in his eight seasons.

L.A. entered the series with a fairly comfortable 4.5-game lead in the division. It leaves San Francisco with a 24-16 mark, and with that the gap shrunk to just 1.5 games over the 23-18 Giants, who now have won an MLB-best six straight.

What’s more, the Giants already have won seven of nine against the Dodgers this season.

Apparently, somebody forgot to tell the Giants, who won it all last year as well as in 2012 and 2010, it's not an #EvenYear.

San Francisco is getting it done behind Bumgarner (5-2, 2.84 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) and catcher Buster Posey (306 BA, team-best 7 HR), the team’s two superstars.

It’s not a coincidence, however, that this six-game winning streak coincides with the return of outfielder Hunter Pence, arguably the heart and soul of the squad who missed the first month-plus with a fractured forearm suffered in his very first spring training game.

But the Giants also are getting quality performances so far out of many of their other (as usual) underrated-slash-overlooked starters, including first baseman Brandon Belt (.867), shortstop Brandon Crawford (.906, team-high 27 RBI), second baseman Joe Panik (.287/.361/.412) and outfielders Angel Pagan (team-best .325 BA) and Nori Aoki (.297 BA, team-topping 10 SB).

Meanwhile, rookies Chris Heston and Matt Duffy were as unheralded as it gets coming into the season, and yet they are contributing regularly and performing like they’ve been here before through the first quarter of their first year.

This is where Tim Lincecum’s mini-revival needs to be mentioned too. The two-time Cy Young winner’s team-best 2.08 ERA seems to be a product of lots of smoke and several mirrors, especially since his fastball now sits in the upper 80s on a good day. But it’s hard to argue with the results, at least to this point.

That said—and stop us if you’ve heard this before with regard to the Giants—San Francisco wasn’t supposed to be doing this.

Not after playing deeper into October than 28 other teams. Not after watching fan favorite Pablo Sandoval depart and losing out on lefty Jon Lester in free agency. And certainly not after entering the season with Pence as well as veteran right-handers Matt Cain and Jake Peavy on the disabled list.

Yet despite all that, the Giants are not only surviving; they’re right in the thick of things after a quarter of the season.

The way the Giants are going, maybe 2015 actually is an #EvenYear after all.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Thursday, May 21, and courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Top MLB Prospect Call-Up Radar Report, Week 7

The 2015 season is only a month old, but already a number of notable prospects have received call-ups to the major leagues. Undoubtedly, there are more to come—and soon.

Highly regarded youngsters like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Roberto Osuna and Archie Bradley have been seeing regular action for their respective clubs for quite some time now. Others, like Carlos Rodon and Noah Syndergaard, are still getting their feet wet.

In the past week or so, the big prospect promotion belonged to Maikel Franco of the Philadelphia Phillies. The 22-year-old third baseman has started 7-of-24 (.292) with three extra-base hits, including his first big league home run, since coming back up.

Beyond that, the Houston Astros brought up right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. fresh out of Double-A, just like Washington Nationals infielder Wilmer Difo, and the Baltimore Orioles gave a start to righty Mike Wright, who turned in 7.1 scoreless innings.

Meanwhile, Carlos Sanchez has taken over the Chicago White Sox's second base job from the demoted Micah Johnson, and righties A.J. Cole and Corey Knebel came back up for the Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers, respectively.

More young impact talent will join the mix, too, particularly with MLB's Super Two date about a month away. Who will be the next to reach the major leagues? In order to predict estimated times of arrival this season, we've classified the prospects on this list using the following scale:

Red: September call-up at best

Orange: Second-half call-up

Yellow: Call-up within a month

Green: Call-up within a week/call-up is imminent

Here's a look at the top-prospect call-up report for Week 7 of the 2015 MLB season.

Begin Slideshow

Top MLB Prospect Call-Up Radar Report, Week 7

The 2015 season is only a month old, but already a number of notable prospects have received call-ups to the major leagues. Undoubtedly, there are more to come—and soon.

Highly regarded youngsters like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Roberto Osuna and Archie Bradley have been seeing regular action for their respective clubs for quite some time now. Others, like Carlos Rodon and Noah Syndergaard, are still getting their feet wet.

In the past week or so, the big prospect promotion belonged to Maikel Franco of the Philadelphia Phillies. The 22-year-old third baseman has started 7-of-24 (.292) with three extra-base hits, including his first big league home run, since coming back up.

Beyond that, the Houston Astros brought up right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. fresh out of Double-A, just like Washington Nationals infielder Wilmer Difo, and the Baltimore Orioles gave a start to righty Mike Wright, who turned in 7.1 scoreless innings.

Meanwhile, Carlos Sanchez has taken over the Chicago White Sox’s second base job from the demoted Micah Johnson, and righties A.J. Cole and Corey Knebel came back up for the Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers, respectively.

More young impact talent will join the mix, too, particularly with MLB‘s Super Two date about a month away. Who will be the next to reach the major leagues? In order to predict estimated times of arrival this season, we’ve classified the prospects on this list using the following scale:

Red: September call-up at best

Orange: Second-half call-up

Yellow: Call-up within a month

Green: Call-up within a week/call-up is imminent

Here’s a look at the top-prospect call-up report for Week 7 of the 2015 MLB season.

Begin Slideshow

Hyun-Jin Ryu’s Surgery Makes Acquiring a Front-Line Arm Inevitable for Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers took another big hit to their rotation Wednesday with the news that lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who had been out all season with a lingering shoulder injury, is headed for what is likely to be season-ending surgery, according to Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times.

Because Ryu hit the disabled list with the same problem last year and then lost almost all of spring training this season, too, this outcome appeared all but inevitable, especially after he had a recent setback while rehabbing.

But just because it might have been expected doesn't mean it doesn't hurt the Dodgers, who already are without $48 million free-agent acquisition Brandon McCarthy after he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Without their Nos. 3 and 4 starters, the NL West-leading Dodgers (24-14 entering Wednesday games) have practically everything riding on co-aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Fortunately, that duo is arguably the best in baseball.

After them, Band-Aids and string are more or less holding together LA's five-man, what with injury-prone Brett Anderson—who actually might be made up of Band-Aids and string at this point—as well as unknowns Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias in the final three spots.

Among the club's other internal options? Brandon Beachy, who is recovering from his second TJ surgery himself, and inexperienced youngsters like Joe Wieland and Zach Lee.

And in case you're wondering about the chance that 18-year-old lefty phenom Julio Urias could make a late-season debut, that's unlikely after he's due to have surgery on his eye at the end of May, a cosmetic procedure that will keep him out for about a month, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

The bottom line is that the Dodgers, as good as they have been so far, can only wait so long before looking outside the organization for pitching help. That means a trade—or two.

Arms like Bolsinger (2-0, 1.04 ERA) and Frias (3-1, 2.55 ERA) have looked capable enough so far, but a team that has designs on a third consecutive division title can't be counting on them for the long haul.

If LA can coax another six weeks or so out of this current compilation of arms, that's probably the best-case scenario before reality starts setting in, followed soon thereafter by concerns over the possibility that Anderson will get hurt (again), or that opponents will eventually expose Bolsinger or Frias over the second half.

And that's well before the postseason starts, should the Dodgers survive and make it to October.

This is going to be quite a test for Los Angeles' new front office, headed by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi. Those two decision-makers know what they're doing, as evidenced this season by their successful remaking of the Dodgers' middle infield, outfield and bullpen.

But injuries are the ultimate equalizer, even for a franchise with a record-setting $270 million payroll.

So where might Friedman and Zaidi go from here? Well, they still have options. For one, they could consider trading an infielder like Alex Guerrero for a pitcher, especially now that fellow Cuban signee Hector Olivera is officially in tow and working toward the majors, as Mark Saxon of ESPN.com writes:

But none of those options [Bolsinger, Frias or Beachy] are particularly bankable. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman's preference is to work in the shadows, but he is making little effort to conceal the team's approach to this July's trade season: The Dodgers will turn over every leaf for a starting pitcher.

"From where we sit right now, if we can add an arm, that would certainly be helpful," Friedman said.

The Dodgers also have quite a few highly coveted prospects who could come into play. While it's unlikely they would move untouchables like shortstop Corey Seager or Urias, there are plenty of intriguing upstart youngsters on the farm, from right-handers Jose De Leon and Chris Anderson to catcher Julian Leon to outfielder Scott Schebler, among others. 

What's more, there should be no shortage of quality starters on the trade market in the coming weeks, including potentially Johnny Cueto, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake and Kyle Lohse, all of whom are free agents at season's end. Meanwhile, the pitching-rich New York Mets would love to pawn off one of Jonathon Niese or Dillon Gee for some offense, so maybe that's a match.

And of course, there's Cole Hamels, if LA gets desperate and wants to meet the Philadelphia Phillies' sky-high asking price of "at least two 'impact players,'" per Arthur Weinstein of Sporting News.

The difference between losing McCarthy and losing Ryu is that the latter was still a possibility to pitch in 2015 when the former went down for the year. But carrying on without both means not only is there a greater need for a starter, but also for a higher-caliber one too.

That's where the Dodgers are going to have to figure something out, and soon, because this is a team with World Series-or-bust expectations. And right now, the state of the rotation, in the wake of another season-ending surgery for a key starter, is much closer to bust.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Wednesday, May 20, and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

5 Hot MLB Prospects Turning Themselves into Coveted Trade Bait

It's late May, which means that although the first quarter of the season is complete, the July 31 trade deadline is still a good two full months away.

While the latter part means there likely won't be any major deals coming for several weeks still, it's never too early to start speculating about potential trade chips.

In this case, the focus is on a handful of prospects whose strong starts to 2015 have turned them into intriguing, coveted pieces whom contending clubs might dangle to land an in-season upgrade to fill a need or address an injury.

Because promising prospects are very valuable currency on the trade market.

Begin Slideshow

Astros Sparkplug Jose Altuve Rising as Dark-Horse AL MVP Threat

Wouldn't it be something if the shortest player in the majors who happens to be on the team with the longest active streak of losing seasons actually wound up winning Most Valuable Player this year? It sounds crazy, but it's not. Not the way sparkplug Jose Altuve, the huge-impact-in-a-tiny-package force that is driving his surprising AL West-leading Houston Astros, is going.

Altuve, who had something of a cult following upon breaking into the bigs in 2011 purely for his specs (5'6", 165) isn't exactly new to the spotlight. The attention he has been getting more recently is well-deserved for much more than his height (or lack thereof).

The just-turned 25-year-old enjoyed a full-on breakout season in 2014, when he led the sport in both batting average (.341) and hits (225) while stealing more bases (56) than all but speedster Dee Gordon (64). Altuve also ranked 14th among AL position players in wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.

"If he is on a team that’s playing in a pennant race, you’re looking at a guy that you've got to give MVP votes to," Oakland Athletics skipper Bob Melvin said of Altuve last September, per Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. "He does everything. He’s just one of the better players of the game."

The two-time All-Star second baseman did all that amid the Astros going just 70-92—their sixth consecutive sub-.500 campaign—which is about the only reason Altuve finished merely 13th in AL MVP voting.

The start of 2015 has gone much the same for Altuve—and yet so very different for Houston. That's a good combination for him to jump up the MVP ranks as a dark-horse candidate.

While Altuve is hitting .319/.374/.466 with a league-best 14 steals and an fWAR among the top 20 AL position players (1.7) so far, the 26-14 Astros have the best record in the Junior Circuit entering play Wednesday.

For as much as the MVP is an individual award, it also carries some context in terms of team performance, too. As Altuve found out last year, it's hard to be on a losing team and be a real MVP threat. On the other hand, being on a winning team—or at least a relevant one—tends to boost a player's case.

Should Houston be able to hang around into September, in large part to Altuve, he'll be rewarded for it.

Another element that often results in more MVP love? Power. It's no secret that voters are suckers for standout totals in homers and RBI. For instance, was it only coincidence that Mike Trout didn't get the award until last year when he hit the third-most homers in the AL and led the league in RBI?

While Altuve is never going to approach the league leaders in either stat, the fact that a hitter who last year set career highs with seven home runs and 59 RBI already has five of the former and 24 of the latter shows he's capable of putting up louder numbers in categories that draw votes.

Still, baseball likes its MVPs to be hitters with more than a little power, like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Buster Posey, Joey Votto or Ryan Braun. To wit, the last position player to win the hardware who didn't reach the 20-homer mark was Dustin Pedroia, who hit 17 in 2008.

The only other MVP to fall shy of 20 long balls this century? Ichiro Suzuki, who managed only eight in 2001.

But if Altuve keeps this kind of performance up—and so do the Astros—he's going to have quite the narrative driving his candidacy.

Also in his corner is the fact that the sport has come to appreciate defense much more over the past handful of years. And Altuve has gone from a subpar fielder to a strong one, particularly this season, whether ranging to his left:

..or to his right:

In fact, Altuve has been so brilliant defensively that he ranks seventh in MLB with seven defensive runs saved to this point. This after registering negative-seven DRS a year ago.

Again, Altuve is getting better, which is something that will resonate with voters, too. As if to prove as much, he has yet to make an error through his first 190 chances over 40 games.

Put it all together, and this is a special player in the middle of another special individual season.

The difference? This time, the team through the first quarter of the campaign looks capable of sticking in—or at least around—the playoff picture, which would go a long way toward enhancing Altuve's end-of-year award stock despite a profile and skill set that isn't typical of a traditional MVP.

On second thought, maybe Altuve's MVP case isn't all that dark-horse-like after all.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Tuesday, May 19, and courtesy of MLB.comMiLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter:@JayCat11.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Assembling the Perfect Cubs-Mets Blockbuster Trade Package

Concocting trades is fun, but it isn't easy, even from the outside looking in. There are any number of challenging factors that need to be weighed—from talent to finances to timing to need—in order to try to come up with a swap, especially one that actually makes some sense for both sides.

Sometimes, though, two teams seem destined to make a move given all of the above elements being just right. That doesn't mean it actually will happen, but the basic idea appears to be realistic and reasonable. At least, in theory.

Like the possibility that the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, a pair of squads finally on the upswing after half a decade in the dumps, could match up for a major maneuver.

"We haven’t made a deal yet, but there’s been matches that made sense, and I’m sure we’ll talk to them in the future," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said last week about the potential for a transaction, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. "When you factor in the hitting [the Cubs have] and the pitching [the Mets have], I guess people think it’s unusual [the two teams haven't consummated a trade].

"But it'll happen at some point."

Hey, if one of the GMs is giving the go-ahead, there's no reason not to put together a little ditty that is—that's right—realistic, reasonable and beneficial for all parties.

What would be the perfect blockbuster trade between the Cubs and Mets?

Let's start this endeavor by pointing out each club's needs. For Chicago, it's primarily pitching, both in the bullpen and, especially, the rotation after Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel; perhaps a catcher for the long-term after soon-to-be 32-year-old Miguel Montero's contract is up after 2017 (because 2014 first-rounder Kyle Schwarber's defense likely isn't enough to stick behind the plate); and possibly an outfielder, considering Dexter Fowler is in his walk year and Chris Coghlan is nobody's idea of an answer.

New York, on the other hand, has a major need at shortstop, where it's become clear that Wilmer Flores can't cut it in that role every day in the majors. It also wouldn't hurt to have some more infield depth for aging, injury-prone third baseman David Wright and free-agent-to-be Daniel Murphy at second, in case Dilson Herrera needs some adjustment time going forward. Plus, an impact outfield bat would bring a boost, too.

Given that outfield is a target for both sides, let's leave that out of the mix for fear of complicating matters too much.

But there's plenty to work with to get the Cubs some arms for a staff that sports a 4.05 club ERA through Monday and a backstop, while also finding infield and offense for the Mets, who rank in the bottom five in team OPS at .663 entering Tuesday.

That's because, as Hoyer alluded to, each team has strength, talent and depth in the other's area of need.

The Mets possess more pitchers than they can fit into a rotation, what with ace Matt Harvey, reigning Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, veterans Bartolo Colon, Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee and top prospect Noah Syndergaard, as well as youngsters Steven Matz, Rafael Montero and eventually Zack Wheeler once he's back from Tommy John surgery.

GM Sandy Alderson also has two quality catchers at his disposal in rookie Kevin Plawecki and injury-prone but former top prospect Travis d'Arnaud.

The Cubs, meanwhile, have all kinds of infielders, from shortstop Starlin Castro to elite rookies Kris Bryant at third base and Addison Russell, a natural shortstop playing second base. There's also Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, both of whom have lost some of their luster due to early struggles in the majors despite being very highly regarded prospects at this time just last year.

Much like the Mets' pitchers, the Cubs don't have enough space to easily squeeze in all of those players without making some changes at some point (i.e., Bryant to left field).

There's supply on one side and demand on the other, which is pretty rare, whether you're talking economics or baseball.

Since we're being reasonable and realistic about this theoretical, mutually beneficial blockbuster, it's fair to say that the Cubs won't be parting with Bryant or Russell, while the Mets are going to hang on to Harvey and Syndergaard.

On the flip side, Chicago won't have much interest in the likes of Colon, Niese or Gee, who lack upside and aren't great values due to their cost, as well as Wheeler or d'Arnaud, who currently are out with injury.

Everything considered, here is a proposal that would have to make both the Cubs and the Mets think hard:

Cubs get: RHP Jacob deGrom, RHP Rafael Montero and C Kevin Plawecki

Mets get: SS Starlin Castro, INF/OF Arismendy Alcantara and 1B Dan Vogelbach

Here's why it just might make sense...

DeGrom would give Chicago a very strong starter to go with Lester, Arrieta and Hammel. He flew under the radar as a prospect before becoming a revelation and ROY last year, but he's also about to turn 27 in June and is more of a No. 3 in a rotation long-term than a front-end guy, which is fine for the Cubs.

The Mets would be able to replace deGrom in short order with Matz, who is about to turn 24 and is tearing up Triple-A.

Chicago also lands Montero, who, at only 24 years old, has experience pitching out of the five-man and the bullpen, so he's another quality arm that would help the Cubs in some capacity. Of course, they would want to make sure his medicals check out, considering he's been out since late April with shoulder tightness.

And Plawecki would become the Cubs' catcher of the future, although for now he would fit best back at Triple-A, because the 24-year-old has only 52 games at that level after being forced to Flushing following d'Arnaud's injury. Besides, Chicago is carrying three catchers as is in Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo.

New York would be relying more heavily on d'Arnaud, who has had serious trouble staying healthy, but he looks like the more polished all-around backstop.

As for the Mets, they would pick up their sorely needed shortstop in Castro, who isn't an great player but has been a good one for years and just turned 25 in late March. More than anything else, New York needs a capable, proven player at short, and Castro is that—and might even have a little upside left if he's pushed.

This would allow the Cubs to shift Russell back to short, his natural position, and eventually it would open up second base for Baez, who would be a good defender there and would still offer power potential at the plate.

Alcantara brings a ton of defensive versatility and at least some offensive promise in the form of pop and speed from both sides of the plate, all at the age of 23. Having played second and third base as well as center field in the majors, Alcantara could help the Mets cover a lot of ills and/or injuries, and if he improves overall, he could become a starter-caliber player at any of those positions down the line.

Vogelbach is the last piece, and he's a fun one. The 22-year-old former second-rounder has a bad body and is confined to first base only (if that), but he has a ton of promise as a hitter, what with a .333/.452/.532 line and as many walks as whiffs so far in his first shot at Double-A. Plus, the lefty slugger has no future in Chicago with Anthony Rizzo around.

Aside from purely the players' talents and skill sets, there are two outside considerations that go into this trade. The first is that Castro is easily the most expensive, although his contract actually is rather team-friendly at $37 million from 2016 through 2019, after which the team has a $16 million option or a $1 million buyout. Even the Mets should be able to afford that.

The other factor? Position players inherently hold more value than pitchers simply because they play every game and come with less risk of injury. So if you feel like giving up deGrom is steep, well, don't forget he already has had Tommy John surgery.

The way this deal breaks down is with deGrom and Castro as the headliners, each of whom has established himself in the majors and proved to various extents he can succeed at an All-Star-caliber level. Montero and Alcantara are both former prospects who have lost a little luster since breaking into the bigs in 2014, but each fills a hole for their new team. And Plawecki and Vogelbach are two pieces that are useful for different reasons, with the former drawing value from his position and the latter from his bat.

Is this the perfect trade? C'mon, there's no such thing. But is it a deal that covers needs, matches up talent and leaves both sides feeling like they gave up something to get something? That's a realistic outcome—and maybe even a reasonable one, to boot.

Were this offer actually on the table, would either side go for it? Would both? Or if one were to express apprehension and back away, would it be the Cubs or the Mets?

After all, coming up with trades is one thing. Getting them to come to fruition, well, that's another thing altogether.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Monday, May 18, and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter:@JayCat11.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com