What the Red Sox get in Rusney Castillo 

August, 22, 2014
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The Boston Red Sox signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to a six-year, $72 million contract that set a record for an international free agent, reflecting the success of most of the Cuban position players who've come over so far, and the fact that the collective bargaining agreement steers money into Cuba, Japan and Korea. I haven't seen Castillo play live, but talked to many scouts and executives who did, and got some consistent comments on his speed and athleticism though there were some discrepancies

My early award winners, top contenders 

August, 19, 2014
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Mike TroutDominic DiSaia for ESPNMike Trout might finally win the AL MVP award that eluded him the past two seasons.

With just five weeks left in the regular season, we're approaching peak silliness time, the point in the season when we start to hear narrative-based explanations for why players who weren't actually the best at their respective roles deserve more award consideration -- the voters doth protest too much, methinks, but sometimes these campaigns (for that's just what they are) work. An annual August tradition, I've broken down whom I would list if I had the major award ballots, assuming I had to file them today, along with thoughts on how each of them could change based on what happens in September.

These pseudo-ballots represent how I would vote right now on each award, not what I expect to happen, although I talk about any such differences in the commentary. I have the NL Rookie of the Year ballot, so I won't discuss that one, although at this point it's more of a battle of attrition -- the last guy not on the DL gets the award

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Mets' Matz impresses at Double-A 

August, 18, 2014
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Steven MatzAdam RubinSteven Matz has refined his delivery and recovered from 2010 Tommy John surgery.
The New York Mets took left-hander Steven Matz in the second round of the 2009 draft out of a Long Island high school, using their first pick that year on him. But Matz, who had a violent delivery and some elbow issues as an amateur, blew out his elbow almost immediately after signing and didn't pitch in a professional game until June of 2012. He made 21 starts last year, averaging just five innings per start and facing more than 22 batters in only one outing all season, but stayed healthy and had solid results.

This year, he's had a real breakout season, throwing harder with better control and strong enough results to move up to Double-A and become one of the team's top 10 prospects.

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Best pitching tools in MLB 

August, 15, 2014
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Clayton Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman, Felix HernandezGetty ImagesClayton Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman and Felix Hernandez are prominent in the pitching tools ranks.
Our evaluation of the best tools in the game concludes with the pitching tools. On Wednesday, we at ESPN Insider laid out the best defensive tools, and on Thursday, we had the best hitting and baserunning tools. Keith Law looks at nine different pitching categories today.


Best fastball

lastname
1. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
It's certainly the hardest fastball I've ever seen -- I got him at 104 mph on my gun at Petco Park in September 2010 -- and it comes out of his hand shockingly easily given its superhuman velocity.

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Javier BaezAP Photo/Chris CarlsonJavier Baez brings power to the Cubs lineup, and potentially some urgency to the front office.

Javier Baez was my eighth-ranked prospect in the minors before his call-up, a move precipitated by a nearly two-month run of improved results for the talented shortstop -- .309/.376/.619 since ending a five-game hitless streak June 15, with higher walk and contact rates than he showed in April and May. Baez has initially struggled with every promotion in his pro career so far, but

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Astros clean up in Jarred Cosart trade 

July, 31, 2014
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The six-player trade between the Astros and Marlins was the most interesting one of the day because, unlike most of the other deals at this exciting deadline, it included actual prospects -- minor leaguers and very young big leaguers going in both directions -- at a time when you have to pry prospects loose from most teams with a crowbar and a tube of silicone.
[+] EnlargeJarred Cosart
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesIn Cosart the Marlins add a talented pitcher under team control for years to come.
Jarred Cosart came to Houston in the Hunter Pence trade -- a deal that has turned out to be a huge heist for the Astros, with Jon Singleton and Domingo Santana both looking like they're going to pan out -- but he's

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The Yankees were busy on Thursday, and managed to add a pair of small upgrades without doing any damage to their farm system.
[+] EnlargeStephen Drew, Daniel Descalso
AP Photo/Matt SlocumThe bat needs to come around, but Stephen Drew can pick it.

I argued all spring that the Yanks should sign Stephen Drew to play one year at third base, then slide him to shortstop after Derek Jeter ends his Hall of Fame career this fall. They declined to give up the draft pick required to sign him, but now

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Red Sox ace Andrew Miller trade 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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It's a small deal relative to the others we saw on Thursday, but the Red Sox acquiring lefty Eduardo Rodriguez from the Orioles for two months of left-handed reliever Andrew Miller was the best value move of the day -- a great return for Boston, and

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I'm floored that this is all the Rays got for David Price -- as are some of the execs I've talked to so far -- and I can't imagine that the return this winter would have been any worse. The three-way trade that sends Price to Detroit, Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly and Tigers prospect Willy Adames to Tampa, and Austin Jackson to Seattle, nets out as an outstanding move for the Tigers and a solid exchange for the Mariners. But for Tampa Bay, it may end up as a

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Boston's return for Lackey merely OK 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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John LackeyJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesBoston traded John Lackey on Thursday to the Cardinals in exchange for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig.

With Michael Wacha potentially out for the season, the Cardinals needed a better starter than Justin Masterson to shore up their rotation. John Lackey fits the bill, especially because they didn't have to dip into their farm system to acquire him. To get Lackey, the Cardinals only had to trade

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A's built for October, Sox for 2015 

July, 31, 2014
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Yoenis Cespedes AP Photo/Ben MargotWhile Yoenis Cespedes isn't even among the top three A's in offensive WAR this season, his power isn't in question.
Strange as it seems, the 2014 A's don't lack offense, so they could afford to part with a player as productive as Yoenis Cespedes in a deal that makes the team better overall.

Even if Jason Hammel hadn't had one of the worst four-start stretches of his career, Jon Lester still would be a significant upgrade over him. And the A's needed more help in their rotation, which has been around the league median so far this year, than they needed Cespedes in their lineup, which has been among the AL's most productive thanks in large part to smart, cost-effective platoon pairings. Oakland's rotation to date has relied on Jesse Chavez, a career reliever who's already 30 innings over his professional single-season high, and Tom Milone, who's struggled away from home because he's an extreme fly ball guy with a below-average fastball. (Milone is now a Twin, traded for Sam Fuld in a swap of last-roster-spot guys.) Adding Lester and Jeff Samardzija to the rotation this month gives the A's high-impact starters for the playoffs and significant bulk innings to ward off September fatigue from pitchers such as Chavez or Drew Pomeranz, who haven't handled these workloads before. It makes the A's a win or two better the rest of the way, and it also sets them up far better for October.

They also added Jonny Gomes -- whose one major baseball skill is smacking around left-handed pitching -- to an outfield platoon mix that also considers who's on the mound for Oakland (since Fuld is a better defender than Gomes).

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The Cardinals needed another starter with Michael Wacha on the shelf for at least a few more weeks and possibly limited the rest of the way, but in adding Justin Masterson in a trade with the Cleveland Indians today, what they get is a low-end solution that doesn't figure to replace what they've lost. Cleveland probably lost a lot of value by choosing not to deal Masterson over the winter, but the return here is solid considering his current asset value.

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Scouting Royals, White Sox prospects 

July, 29, 2014
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Raul MondesiLisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesYoung shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi Jr. could use a little different approach at the plate.
Some notes from a pair of Class A games I attended in the past week, beginning with a matchup between the Royals' and White Sox's high-A affiliates:

• The Wilmington Blue Rocks' lineup is down two bats of note following last month's promotion of Hunter Dozier. Shortstop Raul Mondesi Jr., who turned just 19 on Sunday, is struggling at the plate, which is not surprising given how young he is for the level. But he's making it worse with his incessant attempts to bunt for hits. He's doing it early in counts, so he's not able to work on pitch recognition or timing or just swinging the bat like you want a prospect to do. He's a plus runner, so bunting for hits would add value, but it shouldn't come at the expense of him learning to hit. I'd put a moratorium on him trying to bunt for any reason the rest of the year, forcing him to work on improving his approach and gaining consistency with his left-handed swing.

• Wilmington lefty Sean Manaea looked better than he did when I saw him in April, showing a more fluid delivery, better use of his legs and a little more velocity.

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Giants fill critical need with Peavy 

July, 26, 2014
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PeavyAP Photo/Nathan DenetteJake Peavy has gone 13 straight starts without walking more than three batters in an outing.
The San Francisco Giants get a huge boost to their rotation, shoring up a surprising weakness in their club, while the Boston Red Sox clear some funds and acquire a fringy starter prospect and a solid relief arm that has had trouble staying healthy.

Jake Peavy gives the Giants exactly what they needed: a starter to provide what they thought they'd be getting from Tim Lincecum and who keeps Yusmeiro Petit out of the rotation.

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The Seattle Mariners need the 2013 version of Kendrys Morales -- they really needed him all year, but their need now remains acute -- and it's not clear if that player

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