A “scouting source” told the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales that the White Sox rejected a proposal from the Cardinals that would have netted them top pitching prospect Carlos Martinez in return for shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
The report doesn’t seem all that far-fetched, given that the Cardinals would surely like to improve over Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso at shortstop. Still, it is surprising that they’d part with Martinez, a big-time talent who has posted a 2.05 ERA in 11 minor league starts this year. The 21-year-old right-hander hasn’t quite put it all together yet and he is an injury risk going forward, but there are only a handful of pitching prospects with greater upside. Martinez throws in the mid-90s, and both his curve and his changeups show plenty of promise.
Ramirez, on the other hand, doesn’t qualify as anything special at this point. He’s turning 32 in September. His lifetime OBP is .315. He’s never been an All-Star or won a Gold Glove. Here are his home run totals and OPS+s by year:
2008: 21 HR, 104 OPS+
2009: 15 HR, 86 OPS+
2010: 18 HR, 99 OPS+
2011: 15 HR, 94 OPS+
2012: 9 HR, 74 OPS+
2013: 1 HR, 79 OPS+
Not only is Ramirez arguably overpaid now, but he’s guaranteed $19.5 million for 2014-15, with a $10 million option or a $1 million buyout in 2016. Perhaps he’ll bounce back to a 90 OPS+ and be just about worth the cash, but that qualifies as the optimistic scenario. He has more downside than upside. No, the White Sox don’t really have anyone to replace him, but that isn’t reason alone to keep him. If the White Sox can really get a prospect of Martinez’s caliber for him, they shouldn’t look back.
During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.
The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.
The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:
We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.
While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.
Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.