Red Sox ace Andrew Miller trade 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
6:33
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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
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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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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Yoenis Cespedes AP Photo/Ben MargotWhile 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

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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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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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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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Joakim Soria Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsJoakim Soria fills a need for the Tigers, but they paid a steep price to get him.
The price for Joakim Soria is steep, as you'd expect for a pitcher of his pedigree and present performance, but he fills the Detroit Tigers' most critical need and is likely to help them in the postseason as well.

The Tigers needed late-game relief help, and they have always placed a high value (higher than I would) on experience in the closer role. Soria was the best Proven Closer™ available in trade this year -- perhaps a little underrated because he's toiled for non-contenders his whole career -- and he pitches like a starter, with a full assortment of pitches, rather than like a traditional reliever who throws hard and then harder.

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The biggest criticism of the Josh Byrnes era in San Diego has to be the move he never made. The former Padres general manager held on to Chase Headley even after Headley had a career year in 2012, and we're now into a second successively worse season after a bad 2013. An awful 2014 has seen Headley's offense drop well below average around an early-season DL stint.

That poor decision came home to roost on Tuesday, as the Padres traded Headley for two players who

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Midseason top five farm systems 

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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Theo EpsteinGetty ImagesTheo Epstein has stocked the Cubs' farm system with elite prospects such as Addison Russell.
Ranking all 30 organizations based on their minor league talent is a major undertaking each winter, which is why I always decline to do a re-ranking during the season. There's simply no way I could do it justice given the amount of work it requires.

We've had a couple of major news events that affected two of the teams near the top of last offseason's rankings, however, and a slew of questions from readers about which system is now at the top of the heap. So here's a revised look at the top five, considering only what's in the systems right now and excluding anyone on major league rosters.

1. Chicago Cubs

I know Cubs fans have heard this before, but just wait 'til next year, because this club is going to get good in a hurry, at least on the run-scoring side of the ledger.

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Huston StreetStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHuston Street fills a need for the Angels, but they paid a hefty price for his services.
The Los Angeles Angels were desperate for a closer in the best year they've had since acquiring Albert Pujols and the San Diego Padres had a spare closer lying around whom they didn't need, but the amount of talent heading to San Diego in exchange for Huston Street is baffling.

The Angels seem to have paid for name value or the Proven Closer™ tag rather than for production; Street hasn't been worth more than 1.0 fWAR -- a metric that derives a pitcher's WAR using FIP -- in any season since 2009, coincidentally the last time he reached 60 innings in one year.

Street is a good fit for the Angels' park -- a fly-ball pitcher who throws a ton of strikes -- and wasn't just a Petco Park fabrication, but he's also not going to strand every runner he lets reach base indefinitely. There are only a few right-handed relievers in the American League working with a below-average fastball, like Street has, and only one of them, Koji Uehara, is a successful closer. Street is probably worth half a win on paper to the Angels, more than that in the standings because of the high-leverage work he'll get and who he's replacing, but I don't foresee him adding enough W's in the standings to justify all they gave up to get him.

I said on Twitter that I wouldn't have dealt shortstop prospect Jose Rondon straight-up for two-plus months of Street's services, so I certainly don't like the total price for the Angels in this trade -- and love it for San Diego.

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video
In the story of the Houston Astros' failure to sign two of their top draft picks on Friday, there are neither villains nor victors, only victims left holding empty bags. The first overall pick in the draft, Brady Aiken, declined to sign with the Astros, marking just the third time in the June draft's history that the top player did not sign and the first since 1984.

The greatest victim of all in this fiasco is Jacob Nix, the Astros' fifth-round pick, a high school pitcher from Southern California who agreed to a $1.5 million bonus and passed his physical but was not allowed to sign his contract because of a medical issue involving Aiken. While, practically speaking, everyone involved knew that Nix's deal was contingent on Aiken's, that's not permissible under MLB rules and couldn't be made explicit or put in writing, which will likely be the basis of any grievance filed by Nix against the Astros -- or potential litigation seeking to enforce the verbal contract between the parties.

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Josh BellHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesPirates prospect (and Futures Game player) Josh Bell is hitting .333 at high Class A this season.
Here are a some stray notes and observations from Sunday's 16th annual MLB Futures Game. If you missed my first batch, here they are.

• Pirates outfield prospect Josh Bell, the team's second-round pick in 2011 and the recipient of a $5 million bonus that year, earned the "best hit tool" nod in my Futures Game preview, and it was evident in batting practice, where his bat speed was improved and he looked better swinging right-handed than he had in the past. He's still stronger from the left side, setting up more consistently by his rear shoulder with a more pronounced pause when he loads, but right-handed, it's just a question of getting the bat to the zone at a consistent time. He had just one at-bat in the game -- he was left in the hole with James Ramsey on deck for the (winning) USA team in the bottom of the eighth -- and, hitting right-handed, he grounded out to shortstop on a 95 mph fastball leading off the bottom of the seventh.

• Toronto southpaw Daniel Norris has had a breakout year in the Blue Jays' system, which team execs credit to Norris and his coaches working with him in the offseason and this spring to get his delivery more online to the plate and his arm swing more consistent. His delivery isn't perfect, but it's better.

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Standouts from MLB Futures Game 

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
9:11
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Joey GalloAP Photo/Paul SancyaJoey Gallo, a Rangers prospect, hit a towering home run during the MLB Futures Game.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The 2014 MLB Futures Game might someday be remembered as the baseball world's formal introduction to Texas third baseman Joey Gallo, as his grade-80 raw power was on display both during BP and during the game. Gallo still has things to work on as a hitter, but his power is absurd -- he put baseballs into the top deck and onto the right field concourse during batting practice, then hit a mammoth homer off a fastball right down the chute from Astros prospect Michael Feliz. It was a blast that gave the U.S. team a 3-2 lead it never relinquished.

Gallo's bomb followed strikeouts on sliders in his first two at bats -- one swinging on a pitch down and in at his back foot, the other looking on one from Yankees prospect Luis Severino. Gallo wasn't challenged inside like you'd expect, as his power comes when he can get his arms extended on pitches middle to away, but he's already succeeded in improving his coverage from the past season to this spring. If you can live with the strikeouts, he's one of the highest-impact bats in the minors.

Here are more notes from the game.
[+] EnlargeBaez
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsCubs prospect Javier Baez showed off what might be the quickest hands in the minors with an opposite field blast.

• Speaking of power

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