Inside the Clubhouse: Jon Gray trade market, Albert Pujols in L.A. and more

Colorado Rockies, MLB

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This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at the trade market for the Rockies’ Jon Gray, the Astros taking care of their minor leaguers and a potential Albert Pujols fit with the Dodgers.

The expectation in the industry remains that the Colorado Rockies will trade Trevor Story. But rival executives believe that his teammate, right-hander Jon Gray, may be one of the first players dealt ahead of the July 30 trade deadline.

Gray, 29, is pitching like an All-Star. He has a 2.93 ERA in eight starts and is tied for fourth in WAR (1.8) among all pitchers. He is under contract at a reasonable $6 million this season before becoming a free agent, providing teams with a cheaper alternative than some other high-end starting pitchers that are expected to be available.

There are some executives who believe the Rockies should try to extend Gray rather than trade him. He is one of the few pitchers who has performed better at Coors Field (2.00 ERA) than away (6.30 ERA), making him an ideal foundational piece in the rotation alongside German Marquez.

But the Rockies, who have already traded Nolan Arenado, began putting feelers out to teams regarding Gray during spring training. And if they want to maximize a potential return, which would improve their 27th-ranked farm system, they would be wise to consider doing a trade sooner rather than later so the acquiring team can have him for 3-4 months as opposed to as little as two months of production.

Teams are still in the beginning stages of laying out their trade plans, so it’s unlikely a trade happens soon. But interim general manager Bill Schmidt, who replaced Jeff Bridich 21 games into the season, could end up controlling the trade deadline with two of the most coveted players on the market.

Madison Bumgarner is finally healthy

When I asked an Arizona Diamondbacks executive what has led to Madison Bumgarner’s recent resurgence, he quickly responded that it’s “not as as much of a resurgence as it is being made out to be as it is Bum finally being healthy.”

Bumgarner, 31, battled shoulder and back injuries for most of the shortened 60-game season that contributed to down years for many star players, most notably Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger. But in his final two starts last season, he didn’t allow a run in 10 innings pitched and struck out 11 while walking only one batter.

After allowing 17 runs in his first three starts, Bumgarner has given up only three runs in his last 29 innings, including a seven inning (unofficial) no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves. His recent dominance has helped stabilize a Diamondbacks rotation that recently lost ace Zac Gallen to what the team fears is a serious UCL injury in his right elbow.

Bumgarner, however, has added over two mph to his fastball (90.8 mph in 2021; 88.4 mph in 2020) and hitters are hitting only .182 against it this season. The same thing can be said for his entire arsenal, with his cutter also jumping to 86.2 mph after averaging only 83.5 mph last season.

Much of that can be traced to Bumgarner finally being healthy and with baseball returning to normal season. But with Gallen out for the foreseeable future, and the Diamondbacks falling to 18-23, they will need Bumgarner and the other pitchers to continue to step up. Their chances of not falling out of contention in the National League West would seem to depend on it.

“I just look at last year as a complete outlier,” the executive said. “I don’t put any stock in it. His last few years with the Giants he was at a 3.30ish in a couple injury-shortened years as well. I think he’s still right there, it’s just a matter of staying healthy.”

The Astros are doing right by their minor league players

The Houston Astros providing furnished apartments to minor-league players, first reported by Britt Ghiorli of The Athletic, has led to a flurry of agents pushing for other teams to follow suit.

“Better sleep = Better player development,” agent Rafa Nieves of Republik Sports said. “If you have eight apartments in each minor league city to house four players in each apartment, it’s probably $15K average per month. That’s $60K/month across all levels. Four levels = $240K per season.”

There are few other teams that offer a small stipend at different levels of the minors, but none to the extent of the Astros. And with the team taking care of housing, their minor-league players can focus on using their salaries on other living expenses, with one agent saying that it “finally helps give them quality of life” away from the ballpark.

There is still a long way to go, but it’s another step in the right direction as baseball attempts to correct its long-standing issue of taking care of their minor-league players.

Could the Dodgers be interested in Albert Pujols?

The Los Angeles Dodgers were able to get production from David Freese and Chase Utley toward the end of their careers. Perhaps the same can happen with Albert Pujols.

Both Freese and Utley were part time players with the Dodgers. Freese hit .328/.421/.607 and became a leader among the younger players. Utley left a lasting impact after 3.5 seasons and remains in the organization as a special assistant to president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.

Pujols, 41, will be no different and he knew that going in, despite making it clear to the Angels that he did not view himself as a part-time player. The Dodgers are hopeful he can help improve their struggles against left-handed pitching, where the team is hitting 217/.312/.352, and give them a veteran right-handed bat off the bench in addition to Sheldon Neuse and DJ Peters.

At this stage of his career, Pujols resembles little of the 10-time All-Star and three-time MVP that he was early in his career. But the Dodgers will pay him a prorated version of the $575,000 million league minimum salary, meaning there is almost no risk with the move.

The worst-case scenario is that the Dodgers cut him at virtually no cost. But Friedman, who has a history of making these types of deals, is optimistic that Pujols can contribute meaningful at-bats toward what the team hopes is another World Series run.

Around the Horn:

  • The most common comparison that I have heard for Seattle Mariners prospect Jarred Kelenic is former Cleveland outfielder Grady Sizemore. Another, as Jon Heyman of MLB Network wrote, is “close to Bryce Harper good.”
  • Albert Pujols drew interest from 3-4 teams before agreeing to a deal with the Dodgers. The St. Louis Cardinals were not among them and any notion that he reached out to the team before signing with the Dodgers is completely false.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers have used more players (42) than they’ve played games (41) as the injury rate continues to soar throughout the game.
  • Cleveland starting pitcher Shane Bieber has received contract extension offers the last two seasons, as Heyman reported, but a team source with direct knowledge said discussions are not ongoing at this time.

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