No, this isn’t about the teams that have made the largest improvements this season over last, or which of the good teams has taken the biggest step forward since last season. Nope. None of that. This is about the leap each of this season’s top playoff contenders took when they first hit contention, whether this season is the first or the team has been in the mix for years. Here we go. Los Angeles Dodgers The Dodgers have been legit contenders every season since they finished 86-76 in 2012, their third straight without a playoff berth. In July and August of 2012, the Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, setting them up for a better following season. In 2013, they won 92 games, qualified as a Wild Card teams and lost in the NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals. The jump was a mere six games, but they haven’t won fewer than 56% of their games in a season since. Jumped: 2013 San Diego Padres The Padres won fewer than 48% of their games every year from 2011 until they went 37-23 a year ago and lost 3-0 in the NLDS. What did the 2020 club have the 2019 team didn’t? A lot. A healthy Fernando Tatis Jr., for one, but also: Jake Cronenworth, Jurickson Profar, Trent Grisham, a breakthrough from Dinelson Lamet, and most of the club’s solid bullpen. The 2019 club had Tatis Jr. for just half the season, have most of the second base PAs to Luis Urias and Ian Kinsler, and neither Wil Myers not Manuel Margot hit a whole lot for everyday players. The acquisitions of Cronenworth, Profar, and Grisham did wonders for the lineup that already had Manny Machado. They’ve since added numerous additional talents to push the roster to another level, but their breakthrough year was 2020. Jumped: 2020 San Francisco Giants The Giants ‘ third World Series in five years came in 2014 and incredibly they have three players left from that roster — Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey. The rest, however, has been turned over the past seven years and until 2021 not much was working. San Francisco won 84 and 87 games in 2015 and 2016, then dropped to 74, 73, and 77 leading into 2020 when they threatened .500. This season has been the big breakthrough, but it clearly started sometime last summer. The biggest difference appears to be in the starting rotation where Kevin Gausman has assumed the role of staff ace. But for 2021, the Giants also added Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani. Right-hander Logan Webb had a great year behind the veterans but might be their second-best arm. Jumped: 2021 Milwaukee Brewers Milwaukee won 96 games in 2011 then struggled for five years before getting back competitive levels in 2017 with an 86-76 run that ended in a second-place finish. The following season, the Brewers as we know them, again won 96 games and went to Game 7 of the NLCS vs the Dodgers. They made the Wild Card game in 2019 and 2020 and are back on top in the division headed for their second division title in four years. The 2018 team was the first in the run and the main addition prior to that season was OF Christian Yelich, who won the MVP that year and finished second a year later. But they also signed Lorenzo Cain, who was key for the Brewers his first two season. Jumped: 2018 Atlanta Braves The Braves went through a good old-fashioned rebuild 2014-2017 and went from 72 wins to 90 and a division title in 2018, their first of four straight NL East championships. The one constant was Freddie Freeman, but Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies showed up in 2017, and in 2018 were a significant part of the vast improvement. But the big gun was Ronald Acuña Jr., who burst into the scene in 2018. Jumped: 2018 Houston Astros While the roster has changed a bit the past few years, Houston remains strong. But they started to crawl out of their rebuild back in 2015 and 2016 when they won 86 and 84 games respectively before surpassing 100 victories three straight seasons and winning the 2017 World Series. Most of the big-time changes were development related, such as Alex Bregman, and Dallas Keuchel, and the acquisitions of Brian McCann, Ken Giles, and Charlie Morton. The club would also pick up Justin Verlander on August 31. Jumped: 2017 Oakland Athletics It seems like the A’s have been at least good forever, but that isn’t the case. The current version broke through just four seasons ago. After a run that lasted 2012-2014, Oakland won 68, 69, and 75 games before starting a run as one of the winningest teams in baseball that led to three playoff appearances and counting. The A’s transition lasted three seasons and their big step that resulted in a 22-win increase coincided with the bats of Marcis Semien, Matt Chapman, and Matt Olson, plus the club’s young arms and role players producing. Jumped: 2018 Chicago White Sox After seven seasons winning between 63 and 78 games, the White Sox’s rebuild hit it’s stride in 2020 and has continued this season. Chicago had two winning seasons between 2011 and last season and until 2016 it wasn’t clear which direction they were headed. But they traded Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton after that season, jump starting their rebuild with young talent such as Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito. It’s one of the more talented rosters in baseball now, but just two years ago it was a 72-win team in need of a few veterans to serve as icing on the cake. Enter Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal. Jumped: 2020 Boston Red Sox The Red Sox won 108 games and the World Series in 2018, then after a disappointing 84-win 2019 decided to trade Mookie Betts. Chris Sale missed 2020 with Tommy John surgery, and 2020 also went south. Things have started to come together again in 2021, despite Sale just having made his debut earlier this month. The Boston jump back in 2016 was a roster full of players no longer around — sans Xander Bogaerts and Eduardo Rodriguez — so this has to be viewed as a separate arrival. Jumped: 2021 Tampa Bay Rays The Rays, much like the A’s, seemingly compete every single season, but they’ve had their pockets of rebuilding, too. After four playoff appearances 2008-2013, Tampa failed to finish .500 or better for four straight seasons. They wouldn’t make the postseason again until 2019, but they broke through in 2018 with a 90-72 record in a tough American League East. Between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the Rays turned over nearly their entire lineup and bullpen, and Blake Snell had a career year. While nearly all of the 2018 club is gone, the Rays have moved around the puzzle pieces strategically since that season, and may be better in 2021 than the World Series club from last season. Jumped: 2018 New York Yankees The Yankees slogged along for four seasons 2013-2016, winning no more than 87 games in that span and making just one Wild Card appearance. Since then they’ve been to three ALCS and an LDS, winning 100-plus games twice. The move from 2016 to 2017 came as Gary Sanchez took over full-time behind the plate, Aaron Judge was flying high as a rookie, and the starting rotation was deep enough to set up one of the game’s elite bullpens. Jumped: 2017 Also 2021? Toronto Blue Jays They’re making noise in the Wild Card race now and added a significant piece over the summer that impacts 2022 in RHP Jose Berrios. Cincinnati Reds On the heels of the Padres for the No. 2 Wild Card this season, but with starting pitching a major strength and plenty of offense to lean on, a few key additions over the winter could put the Reds in a position to win the division. Philadelphia Phillies Talent wise, they probably should be better, but they’re fringe good right now thanks to a middling offense and bullpen. More tweaks appear needed for the a real breakthrough. 2022? Seattle Mariners Enough production from young players and those under club control suggest a significant move can be made next season. Miami Marlins Offense and relief pitching. Fix them and the division is within reach. Detroit Tigers The White Sox, at least on paper, will be tough to catch anytime soon, but they’re the only clear road block for the Tigers starting next season. Returning in ’22? St. Louis Cardinals They’re not having a bad 2021, but they’re short in most areas and have some work to do. But they’re not that far from a 90-win roster. Cleveland Guardians I’d bet against Cleveland getting back to 90-win or better status next season after trading Francisco Lindor, Mike Clevenger, and Carlos Carrasco within the past calendar year. The offense needs a lot of helps and most of the farm help is more than a year away. Might they shop Jose Ramirez this winter instead of making the same mistake they did with Lindor in waiting too long? Minnesota Twins They traded Jose Berrios in July and entertained the same for Byron Buxton, but it’s difficult to see exactly what the Twins are trying to do just yet. They have enough young talent to compete now, but if Buxton is dealt over the winter it probably means the other veterans are gone, too, and 2022 will be a full-scale rebuilding year.
Few people expected the Seattle Mariners to remain in the postseason conversation well into July. But here we are with the Mariners tantalizingly close to the second Wild Card spot. Yes, a lot can change between now and game-162 – Seattle knows this better than many fan bases. But let’s face it. Watching the rebuilding club flirt with the possibility of earning a playoff berth has been a blast. With the MLB trade deadline about a week away, now seems like a good time to size up the competition standing between the Mariners and returning to the postseason for the first time since 2001. All told, there are six teams that aren’t division leaders with a reasonable chance of keeping Seattle out of the playoffs. Let’s start with the two clubs currently in the Wild Card spots. Tampa Bay Rays Not only do the defending AL champions hold the top Wild Card spot, they’re closing in on the AL East division-leading Red Sox. Tampa Bay also has a recent history of success with the fifth best winning percentage (.589) in MLB since 2018 with two postseason berths to its credit. The Rays experienced a rough June with a 12-14 record, including a four-game sweep at the hands of the Mariners in Seattle. As a consequence of the team’s struggles, it went from the best record in the majors on Memorial Day to the first Wild Card spot in July. Still, manager Kevin Cash has guided his squad to a 10-5 record this month. Tampa Bay’s lineup is long with six players boasting an OPS+ over 100, which is the league-average mark. As a result, the team ranks eighth in MLB with 4.89 runs scored/game. Defensively, the Rays have 48 defensive runs saved (DRS) – second most in MLB. Losing top starter Tyler Glasnow to injury last month certainly didn’t help. Since the right-hander went down with a flexor strain and partial UCL tear on June 14, the starting staff’s ERA has ballooned to 5.16, which ranks 25th in MLB. Prior to Glasnow’s injury, the rotation had a 3.49, good enough for eighth best. There is some hope that Glasnow rejoins the team later in the season. Still, hope is not a course of action. Fortunately, for the Rays, the team has Cash at the helm. The seventh-year manager has a history of weaving together his rotation and bullpen in a manner that delivers positive results despite having a staff full of lesser-known names. Another factor favoring Tampa Bay, the front office has a knack for making in-season moves that yield positive outcomes. In 2020, it was a relative unknown – Randy Arozarena. According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, the Rays are aiming higher this year. BREAKING: The Tampa Bay Rays are finalizing a deal to acquire slugger Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins, sources tell ESPN. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 22, 2021 Oakland A’s Oakland is an interesting club considering it has a .500 record when playing the AL East and AL West. Yet, its flourished with a 21-9 record against the AL Central and NL opponents. As with the Rays, the A’s have a deep lineup with six players having an above-average OPS+. But the team is mid-pack in multiple categories such as OBP, SLG, OPS+, and the most important stat – runs scored. Moreover, the designated hitter position’s .696 OPS ranks 12th in the AL. It’s worth noting Oakland does generate extra base hits and is top-10 in home runs and doubles. The starting rotation doesn’t have a marquee name, but is effective nonetheless. Oakland starters have a 3.64 ERA this season, which is eighth best in the majors. Leading the way are Chris Bassitt, rookie James Kaprielian, Cole Irvin, and Sean Manaea. As usual, the bullpen has been a strength that’s been well-managed by skipper Bob Melvin. Having said that, adding another reliever or two would benefit the team down the stretch giving it a better shot of going deeper into the postseason. Prior to Passan’s report, there had been a lot of speculation that Nelson Cruz would be a perfect fit for Oakland. He would’ve been, although there’s one issue that should never be overlooked with the A’s – finances. Cruz is owed approximately $4 million for the final two months of the season. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money for an MLB team. But it may be with this organization. In the offseason, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported that after the A’s declined to make the $18.9 million qualifying offer to longtime shortstop Marcus Semien, the team suggested a one-year/$12.5 million contract to Semien with $10 million deferred in 10 one-year installments of $1 million. Oakland also signed reliever Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year/$11 million backloaded deal with the reliever receiving $3 million in both 2021 and 2022 and $5 million in 2023. Toronto Blue Jays Only the Astros and Dodgers are plating more runs than Toronto’s prolific offense, which is averaging 5.2 runs scored/game. To that point, Blue Jays hitters collectively rank top-three in home runs, AVG, SLG, and OPS+. On the other hand, the pitching staff has been far less dynamic. That’s not to say the Blue Jays’ staff is bad. But the rotation and bullpen are closer to league-average than leaders of the pack. The starting staff is headlined by veteran Robbie Ray, who’s having an excellent season. Behind Ray are fellow southpaws Hyun Jin Ryu and Steven Matz with their league-average production and an inconsistent Ross Stripling in the fourth spot. After that, it gets a bit squishy. The bullpen is similar – decent results without standout performers. There’s also an unknown regarding the remainder of the Blue Jays’ season that could tip the scales for or against the club during the stretch run – its home field. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Blue Jays have played their home games in Dunedin, Florida and Buffalo, New York this season. But the club finally gets to head back to Toronto in about a week. How will playing in the Rogers Centre affect the Blue Jays’ offense? Perhaps the new home surroundings won’t impact Toronto’s run-scoring machine. But it’s worth noting that the team has boasted a combined .837 OPS in Florida and New York compared to .732 on the road. For those wondering, the pitching staff’s ERA has been relatively similar at home and on the road. Regardless of park factors, adding rotation and bullpen help prior to the deadline would be the best course of action for the Blue Jays. New York Yankees It’s been a rough season for the Bronx Bombers with injuries playing a big role in the club’s struggles this year. Notable names currently on the IL include Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, Clint Frazier, plus starter Corey Kluber and a plethora of relievers. Coincidentally, the Yankees had the same 12-14 record in June as division-rival Tampa Bay with New York also playing better in July (9-5). Since the All-Star break, the team has consecutive series wins over the Mariners, Houston, Boston, and Philadelphia. Still, the Yankees must play better within their own division to have a chance of returning to the postseason for a fifth consecutive season. The Bombers are 31-19 against AL Central, AL West, and NL teams. But even after taking two of three from the Red Sox, New York is only 19-25 versus the AL East. Assuming the Yankees continue playing well this month, the team may choose to lean forward at the deadline to improve its postseason chances. As with every club, rotation help has to be a top priority. Adding another bat would also benefit the hobbled roster. A name bandied around often is Texas’ Joey Gallo. The slugger would certainly represent an upgrade to the lineup. Not only that, the Gold Glove right fielder has demonstrated in the past he can play any outfield position and first base. Cleveland Indians Cleveland has an uphill battle ahead of it. The team ranks in the bottom-third of MLB in AVG and OBP with its short lineup having just three hitters posting an OPS+ over 100. As always, pitching is the engine that propels Cleveland’s success. Unfortunately, injuries and ineffectiveness have negatively impacted the starting staff with 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale currently on the IL. That said, the bullpen remains a viable weapon for manager Terry Francona. Although Cleveland plays in the weak AL Central division, payroll restrictions probably prevent the club from making up ground in the standings. Last offseason, the front office dealt Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco for financial reasons. This suggests it’s more likely this team moves veteran contracts than acquire them. Los Angeles Angels Although the Mariners have recently enjoyed success against the Angels, we shouldn’t discount this club over the final two months of the season. Especially with Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Upton eventually returning from the IL. That’s tantamount to acquiring a few extra hitters at the deadline without having to make a trade. Still, the Angels’ postseason aspirations will hinge on the starting rotation – not their bats. Everyone is aware that Shohei Ohtani is having an MVP-caliber season. But Ohtani isn’t alone. Rookie Patrick Sandoval has been excellent and veteran Alex Cobb is proving to be a stabilizing presence. On the other hand, Opening Day rotation members Dylan Bundy and Jose Quintana are now in the bullpen due to poor performances and Andrew Heaney has also struggled. Backing up the rotation are several interesting relief arms. Most notably, closer Raisel Iglesias. But the Halos’ bullpen lacks depth and now includes banished starters Bundy and Quintana. Considering the Angels’ position in the standings, it’s plausible the team sells at the deadline. Yes, I could be dead wrong. But the Halos have 12 pending free agents, including Cobb, Heaney, Bundy, Quintana, shortstop José Iglesias, catcher Kurt Suzuki, and relievers Alex Claudio, Tony Watson, and Steve Cishek. This month would be a great opportunity for GM Perry Minasian to begin reloading for 2022 and beyond. Looking Ahead For me, the postseason chances of the six teams we’ve discussed and the Mariners fall in the following order: Rays A’s Yankees Blue Jays Mariners Angels Cleveland Many of the blemishes affecting the clubs we’ve discussed also apply to the Mariners. Seattle’s lineup is short, the roster has been plagued by injuries, and the starting rotation has delivered suboptimal results. Even during the team’s hot stretch since Memorial Day, its offense ranks in the bottom-third of MLB in many categories. Obviously, a lot can change by the last day of the season. Especially with clubs having an opportunity to improve via trade this month. However, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto remains steadfastly committed to the organization’s rebuild process. Therefore, adding big-ticket difference makers by the deadline doesn’t seem likely. Even if Dipoto were willing to throw caution to the wind, ownership likely prevents the sixth-year GM from acquiring the salaries of established players. It’s the same challenge facing the front offices of Oakland and Cleveland, although Seattle is a significantly larger market than those cities. Then again, the Mariners’ current roster could simply prove naysayers like me wrong by playing its way into the postseason. After all, you can’t argue with results – even when underlying metrics suggest there should’ve been a different outcome. My Oh My…
Injuries have devastated the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets to the point each club is struggling to field a competitive roster. I have a solution to their problem – combine the teams. That’s right. What if we blended the Mariners’ and Mets’ 26-man rosters into one unit? Yes, my suggestion is pure folly. But what else are fans supposed to do when their team is falling apart in May? Why not have a little fun by doing a “what if drill” as a distraction from reality? So, what prompted my inane proposal? I live in the Pacific Northwest and grew up as a Mets fan. I thought it’d be cool to build a super-squad by cherry-picking players from my two favorite teams. It’d be like the time the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy teamed-up in a comic book movie. That turned out okay for most of the characters that didn’t die. Walking Wounded Okay, back to the Mariners and Mets. For those of you not fully acquainted with their dilapidated rosters, here are notable names currently on each organization’s injured list. You could build a strong squad from the players lost to injury. The rotation would be particularly formidable. Now that we’ve painted the ugly picture Mariners and Mets fans are staring at on a daily basis, let’s begin this endeavor with position player selections. What I quickly discovered is that combining both rosters didn’t yield the power-packed lineup I expected to create. Lineup The Mets are using Dominic Smith in place of the injured Pete Alonso at first base. Honestly, I would’ve gone with Smith even if Alonso was healthy. New York’s first round pick in 2013 is the better athlete and has a 112 OPS+ during his brief career. Smith can also play left field, when needed. Seattle’s starting shortstop, J.P. Crawford, moves to second base on my squad since the Mets have perennial All-Star Francisco Lindor at shortstop. The Gold Glove defense of Crawford and Lindor would form a impressive double-play combination for my fantasy team. Third base was a no-brainer with Kyle Seager holding down the position. Defensive metrics don’t care for Seager as much as in the past. But the combination of the North Carolina alum’s bat and glove outclasses anything the Mets can muster at the hot corner. Jarred Kelenic is my left fielder despite struggling since his MLB debut two weeks ago. Mets fans are constantly pining over the rookie ever since the team dealt him to Seattle in an ill-advised trade. Including the sixth overall pick of the 2018 draft gives New Yorkers the Kelenic-fix they desire. Filling out the outfield with Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger was an easy decision. Lewis, the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year, started this season in the IL. But the Mercer product’s bat has been heating up lately. Haniger missed all of last season and most of 2019 due to multiple injuries. Still, the Californian was an All-Star in 2018 and is among league leaders in home runs this year. Fun fact: Mitch Haniger was selected by the Mets in the thirty-first round of the 2009 draft. Haniger opted to attend Cal Poly instead and was a first round pick of the Brewers three years later. Sorry NL baseball fans. I’m going with a designated hitter. Let’s face it. Having pitchers hit doesn’t help a sport desperately needing more action. My choice is Ty France, who just completed an IL stint. The former San Diego State Aztec primarily serves as the Mariners’ DH, although he also has experience at both corner infield spots and second base. None of the catcher candidates have a history of sustained offensive excellence. Therefore, I went with Tom Murphy as my primary backstop. Murphy is excellent at handling Seattle’s staff and a strong defender behind the plate. Backing up Murphy is Tomás Nido, another skilled glove. Honestly, it wouldn’t have taken much effort to convince me to make Nido the starter. Reserves The bench was a bit tricky thanks to the multitude of injuries facing both teams. In my initial draft, Mets outfielder Johneshwy Fargas and Mariners utility-man Sam Haggerty were possibilities. Both are now out of commission with injuries. Jonathan Villar has played third base and both middle-infield spots this season and possesses limited outfield experience in previous campaigns. Serving as utility-man is José Peraza. The seven-year veteran has experienced every position on the diamond with the exception of first base and catcher. My backup outfielder is former Mariner and current Met Cameron Maybin. The 34-year-old was playing with Class-AAA Iowa a week ago before New York acquired him from the Cubs for one dollar. Yes, that’s right. Both clubs’ outfield depth is so thin that someone not in the majors a week ago made my roster. Rotation When first considering this piece, I expected the rotation would be the strongest unit. The injury bug had something to say about that. Picking who’d be the headliner was easy, although I grappled with rounding out the staff. Naturally, two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom is my ace. deGrom returns to the Mets after a short IL stint this evening. There have been questions regarding the Stetson product’s physical readiness this season. That said, the Palm Beach Cardinals believe deGrom is perfectly healthy after he demolished them during a recent rehab start. Jacob deGrom is throwing 102 MPH… Someone send help. — Palm Beach Cardinals (@GoPBCardinals) May 20, 2021 The next obvious choice is Marcus Stroman, who’s been excellent this year. Following the former Duke Blue Devil is Yusei Kikuchi. The southpaw fits in nicely behind the 1-2 combination of deGrom and Stroman. After the top-three, it got a bit squishy for me. The final rotation spots go to a pair of youngsters with New York ties. Justus Sheffield, acquired from the Yankees in 2018 and former Mets first rounder Justin Dunn dealt to the Emerald City with Kelenic in the same offseason. Sheffield and Dunn have struggled at times this season. However, both have also flashed their upside in 2021. Other candidates included David Peterson and Chris Flexen. Bullpen Although Seattle’s relievers helped carry the team earlier this season, my bullpen is mostly Mets relievers. That said, Mariners fans are very familiar with the pitcher topping my list. I’m a proponent of not giving relievers designated roles and managers using the best available relief arm whenever the game is on the line, regardless of the inning. That said, I’d designate Edwin Díaz as my top choice to close out games. Behind the native of Puerto Rico is a strong group of relievers capable of protecting leads. Offseason free agent signing Trevor May has been superb. The Washington native is primarily holding down the eighth inning for Mets manager Luis Rojas this season. One-time New York closer Jeurys Familia has also been adept at shutting down late-inning threats. Versatile Miguel Castro has opened games and appeared everywhere from the fifth to the ninth for Rojas. Veteran Aaron Loup serves as lefty reliever, although it’s worth noting the Tulane alum hasn’t been particularly strong against right-handed bats this year. Still, Loup has been a solid relief arm in recent years and welcome in my bullpen. A lesser-known name also gets the nod – Sean-Reid Foley. Born in Guam, then right-hander wasn’t particularly effective during his first two seasons with the Blue Jays in 2018-19. But Foley had a breakout season with Toronto last year and is continuing that success in the Big Apple in 2021. The last two names are the only Mariners – Rafael Montero and Flexen. Seattle fans won’t be ecstatic with Montero making the cut. But he’s been better than fan perception. Besides, the native of La Romana, Dominican Republic won’t be closing games with my squad. Flexen would serve in a long relief role. Before spending 2021 playing with the Korean Baseball Organization, the right-hander spent parts of three seasons with the Mets as a reliever and spot starter. Management Since I’ve gone this far, why not identify who’d run the team concocted for entertainment purposes? Owner: Steven Cohen President: Sandy Alderson GM: Jerry Dipoto Manager: Scott Servais Picking an owner was the easiest decision. Steven Cohen is a Long Islander and life-long Mets fan. More importantly, he’s really rich and willing to spend his money. Cohen routinely engages fans on social media and has expressed a desire to build a sustainable contender modeled after the Dodgers. That said, he expects his club to win the World Series within 3-5 years. On the other hand, the Mariners are owned by a large group led by John Stanton, who rarely makes public statements about the team’s competitive status and future. Whether Seattle’s ownership actually has the appetite to pay for a championship roster is debatable. My team president is Sandy Alderson. The former U.S. Marine has a distinguished career as an MLB executive and led the Mets to the 2015 World Series. Alderson’s use of statistical analysis as the Athletics’ GM opened the door for the Moneyball era spearheaded by his successor in Oakland – Billy Beane. For GM, I’m going with Jerry Dipoto, who currently holds the same position with the Mariners. This choice probably roils some Seattle fans. But the legion of frustrated should remember that Dipoto wouldn’t be budget-restricted with Cohen as owner. Plus, he was a Mets fan growing up and pitched for the team in 1995-96. As far as manager goes, it was a toss-up for me between Mariners skipper Scott Servais and Rojas. I went with Servais since he’s done the job in the majors for a longer time. Again, some Seattle fans will lose their mind over this selection. Fine, go crazy. If I went with Rojas there’d be a contingent of Mets fans screaming about that. Maybe, just maybe, the manager isn’t as important to the daily outcome of games as some fans believe. Finally My squad would be competitive and fun to watch. Still, a lot of Mariners would be pushed aside once Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Noah Syndergaard, and Seth Lugo were available. This speaks to the state of each team’s current 40-man roster. The Mariners are in the process of integrating young players and top prospects into their big-league roster. The team’s goal is to evaluate what they have before adding established talent. As a result, Seattle’s season will likely remain turbulent and susceptible to injuries thanks to a lack of major-league depth. Conversely, the Mets are in win-now mode with an owner committed to becoming World Series champs sooner than later. At some point, New York will turn to the trade market to overcome the loss of injured players. Maybe Alderson calls Dipoto looking for help. Wouldn’t that be something? Put it in the books… My Oh My…
It’s not even June yet but it’s clear there are five teams in Major League Baseball headed for selling at this year’s trade deadline. There are another handful of clubs on the brink, including the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, and Minnesota Twins, but it’s a bit early to write them entirely out of contention for at least the No. 2 Wild Card in their repsective leagues, and the Twins and Angels might be a little more bullish on holding things together and taking a chance the talent wins out over the course of the full schedule. The last-place team in the National League East is just 2.5 games back in the division, so all five teams remain in hunting mode, and even the Reds at 5.5 games back in the NL Central aren’t toast just yet. In addition to the Reds, Angels, and Twins, the Royals may join the sellers list, but are 22-23 and just four games back in the American League Central entering this week. Here are the seven that already appear done for in 2021, and what they may consider trading by July 30. (yes, July 30 is this year’s deadline) Baltimore Orioles The Orioles in a full-scale rebuild and have some interesting pieces they’ll to consider. I don’t see Trey Mancini being shopped this year, and there are a few players not performing, such as Maikel Franco, Shawn Armstrong, and Anthony Santander, that could be sought after if they turn things around quickly. John Means, LHS Means might fetch a solid return package if he’s shopped this summer., but the question isn’t simply about tipping the scale with the right talent, it’s also about whether or not the club believes he’s a key part to the next winner in Baltimore. He’s not a No. 1 starter and his track record as the No. 2 or 3 he’s shown in 2021 is extremely shallow — all of nine starts. Despite a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts last season, he was hit harder than that (4.45 xFIP, 5.60 FIP) and may be valued somewhere in between. Means is 28 and will not be a free agent until after the 2024 season, so it’s three years after this left on his current contract situation, and at very reasonable prices in a world where mid-rotation arms don’t break the bank via arbitration. Freddy Galvis, SS Galvis isn’t likely to getch much as a rental, but he’s having a career year early on (123 wRC+ as of May 23) and legit shortstops with some offensive ability don’t grow on treest, especially in July. Paul Fry, LHR Fry is headed for arbitration for the first time after this season, and he’s backing up a solid 2020 with an outstanding 2021, dominating left-handed batters (.125/.222/.125) and treating righties only slightly better (.211/.302/.237). He’s a two-pitch arm, but he’s getting a ton of value out of his fastball. He’s not a consistent multi-inning option — at least he hasn’t been the past two seasons — and he’s yet to appear in a single true back-to-back, but considering the volatility with relievers and the fact the club is at least two years from competing, the Orioles should dangle Fry and take the best offer. Detroit Tigers The Tigers have flashed a bit early in 2021 but the 40-man roster has a long way to go and it’s difficult to see them winning before 2023. They’ve already moved most of their veterans, but theres a handful that contenders may be texting GM Al Avila about through the deadline. Injured lefty Derek Holland could join the group below, but it’s been three years since he was last serviceable, so I;m not holding my breath. Robbie Grossman, OF Grossman signed a two-year deal worth $10 million prior to this season, but if he keeps running a 130 wRC+ powered by a .384 OBP and acceptable power the Tigers may get an offer they shouldnt refuse. Grossman has a better hit tool as a right-handed batter but more raw power as a lefty and could fill a roll for a contender without a standard answer in an outfield corner, or at DH. Jonathan Schoop, 2B Schoop hasn’t hit much through 43 games (.216/.259/.309) but was solid a year ago and offers a club some pop at second base without giving it back defensively. He’s in Motown on a one-year deal so if clubs call, the Tigers are sure to listen. Wilson Ramos, C Another one-year deal for Avila, Ramos is one hot streak from being a very valuable piece this summer. He owns a career 102 wRC+, but was 11% below average a year ago and is off to a bad start (.200/.238/.392), despite the power this season. If healthy, the 33-year-old Ramos is a solid bet to be moved. Daniel Norris, LHR Norris, a free agent at seasons end, was good in 14 games a year ago, covering 27.2 innings, but he’s allowed earned runs in six of 15 appearances and his walk rate is up more than 3% so far. He’s also getting hit harder than ever (95.2 mph average exit velocity is up more than 5 mph from career), and he’s not getting out lefties or righties, suggesting he’ll need to make an adjustment or two or and perform before he’s the subject of serious trade conversations. Matthew Boyd, LHS Boyd has two years before free agency beckons and he’s having a weird, yet successful season. His strikeout rate is down to 19.4% after he struck out more than 30% of the batters he faced in 2019. He’s also limiting home runs (3.1%) to unsustainable levels right now, but the raw stuff is the same, with one glaring exception; his slider hasn’t been the same since ’19, explaining the huge dip in strikeouts, and swinging strikes, and the increase in contact when he gets batters to chase out of the zone. Still, he’s 30, will be due less than $3 million when the deadline arrives, and has allowed fewer than three earned runs six times in nine starts and fewer than two in four. He’s also gone six or more in six starts and failed to go at least five just once. Clubs are going to call, and the Tigers should pull the trigger. Finally. Seattle Mariners Seattle was hoping to start competing better this season, but former team president Kevin Mather nixed the financial flexibility GM Jerry Dipoto was expecting, so in some ways the club is at least a half year behind where they wanted to be. There arent a lot of pieces left to sell, and there’s a good chance Dipoto looks to add future help this summer to both make up for lost time and get a jump start on the offseason. Mitch Haniger, RF Haniger is finally back healthy after missing 99 games in 2019 and all of 2020 with core injuries and multiple surgeries, and he’s powered up to a 140 wRC+ and above average marks in batting average and on-base percentage. He’s a fringe-average right field glove but has a plus arm, and has lineup versatility from leadoff all the way down to the bottom third. He’s not free-agent eligible until after 2022, and is earning a modest $3M this season. Having said all that, the 30-year-old remains an injury risk to some degree, and the deadline rarely bears a lot of fruit for corner outfielders. Most of all, Haniger’s availability has to be weighed against Dipoto’s attempts to compete some in 2022. If the veteran is traded, it’s likely a sign the club has indeed been forced to push things back a full season. But most signs point to Haniger remaining, and at the end of the day it doesn’t seem like the Mariners would be passing up a lucrative package, anyway. Kendall Graveman, RHR Graveman isn’t going to warrant the kind of trade package a lot of Mariners fans expect, because he’s simply not special. Despite a 1.87 ERA and .111 BAA, his xFIP of 2.87 is rather ordinary for high-leverage arms and the Mariners have babied him all year. The former starter has yet to pitch on back-to-back days and has pitched on fewer than 2 days rest just four times. He’s also pitched on three days rest three times, four days rest once and 6 days rest once. It may be precautionary, as the right-hander was diagnosed with a benign tumor near the C6 of his cervical spine, but if that’s how he needs to go about 2021 it’s going to impact his trade value. That’s assuming the Mariners don’t plan on extending Graveman beyond 2021 and passing on the relatively modest trade return I’d expect to be offered. Tom Murphy, C Murphy entered 2021 as possible trade fodder in July, based on his above-average defense and .273/.324/.535, 18-homer run in 76 games back in 2019. He’s played in 27 games in 2021 and enters the week batting .133/.182/.313 with four home runs. Nobody thought he’d repeat his ’19 success, but this is a but much. If he rebounds for a month or more clubs will call looking for a No. 2 catcher, but despite the fact prospect Cal Raleigh is close, the Mariners should hold Murphy, rather than exchanging him for a bullpen flyer or two. Kyle Seager, 3B Seager’s $15 million option for 2022 may not look bad is he continues to perform at a similar clip — 119 wRC+, .474 slugging percentage, 1.4 fWAR in 47 games — which could entice a club to inquire. The reason the option is a factor is due to a clause in his contract that turns the club option into a player one if he’s traded. Seager’s increase in swinging strikes can be attributed mainly to his increased chase rate, which is up nearly 8% from a year ago, 4.1% higher than his career mark. His zone contact rate is also down enough to think maybe his bat has slowed down, but the sample is small and despite a baseball that’s not supposed to travel as far as recent season’s Seager still is hitting the ball as hard ( career best 90.7 average exit velo) and as often ( career high47.3% hard hit rate) as he ever has. Seager’s ultimate trade fate is somewhat similar to Haniger’s in that the club would have one more hole to fill if they trade him or don’t find a way to bring him back in 2022, either on the option or a new contract. Texas Rangers The Rangers have a lot more to offer than one might assume, considering they’re rebuild is a few years under way. There are a few veterans, namely Jordan Lyles, that likely will be available but difficult to trade considering performance and monies due, but Chris Young will have opportunities to move proven players for future assets. Kyle Gibson, RHS The 33-year-old Gibson is signed through 2022 and will be owed $10 million total once the deadline hits. He struggled some in 12 starts last season, but has been solid in 2021, thanks to the return of his sinker and changeup. Texas could keep Gibson and hope they can break through in 2022, but unless they plan on competing for at least two stars in free agency this coming winter, 2023 is the soonest Arlington is likely to see a winner in the royal, red, and white. There are always contenders needing rotation stability and the fact he’s not a two-month rental and dirt cheap only increases both demand and value. Ian Kennedy, RHR Kennedy is due under $1 million the final two months of the season and has found success in the Rangers bullpen after a terrible 2020 in Kansas City. But success in relief is not new to Kennedy, as he was very good for the Royals in 2019. At press time, he was running a career-high 31.1% strikeout rate and career-best 5.4% walk rate. He’s sitting 93-96 mph and his best secondary has been a solid-average cutter and improved curveball. Kennedy should end up elsewhere by the deadline. He can help a contender. Joey Gallo, OF Gallo’s value peaked in 2017 and held fairly strong in 2019 before he got hurt and missed more than half the season. He hit .181/.301/.378 last season in 57 games and is batting .209/.365/.361 in 47 games this season. He’s fine in a corner outfield spot and will draw walks, and one might wonder if he was surrounded by a better lineup if he might get more pitches to hit and feel incentivized to be more selective. He’s still just 27 and the raw power is at least 70-grade, so a club with a need for some pop that’s willing to put up with low averages could show enough interest to pry him away. Gallo won’t be a free agent until after next season. David Dahl, OF The Rangers’ signing of Dahl was one of the best moves of the winter by any club. It cost the Rangers under $3 million and Dahl has upside, as he showed in 2018 and 2019. But after a fast start this season he’s struggled someting fierce and it appears he’s topping the baseball and/or getting out fron too much. He’d likely have to turn things around for teams to come knocking, but Dahl is a talented hitter who’s healthy so stay tuned here. Pittsburgh Pirates The Pirates were sellers when the year started and even they knew it, but how aggressive they’ll be remains to be seen since there isn’t a whole lot to trade. It would help if Gregory Polanco could find some consistency, because without it no club is going to take on the $6.3 million guaranteed he’s owed. Adam Frazier, 2B Since the Pirates aren’t trading Ke’Bryan Hayes or Bryan Reynolds, Frazier is their most valuable trade chip. The former 6th-round pick is peaking at the right time, batting .335/.396/.462 driven by a line-drive swinf and high rate of contact. He’s an average glove at second base, a very good baserunner with above-average speed and isn’t free-agent eligible until after next season. He also has spent enough time in the outfield to suggest he’s at least average there, too, offering more flexibility to a contending roster, especially if a club that calls on Frazier doesn’t need an everyday player. Tyler Anderson, LHS Anderson should interest some of the Wild Card clubs that are kind of stuck between waiting another year and going for it a bit right now, because he’s a rental with a low price tag in both trade cost and salary (due under $1 million the final two months of 2021). He’s running a career-high strikeout rate of 23.8%, a career best xFIP, throws a lot of strikes, and when he spots his four-seam fastball he’s tougher to hit than his raw stuff would suggest thanks to what has been a very good sinker-cutter combo. Trevor Cahill, RHS Cahill is a No. 5 starter, but has experience in relief and could interest a fringe contender that believes in the veteran’s ground ball arsenal again. Richard Rodriguez, RHR Rodriguez is heading for Year 2 of arbitration following the season and his performance thus far suggests $4 million is not out of the question, which may send the Pirates out this summer to maximize the return on what is shaping up to be another very good season. The righty isn’t posting the huge strikeout numbers he did a year ago (36.6% in 2020, 23.4% in 2021), but he’s issued but one base on balls and has yet to serve up a longball. Rodriguez is a four-seam fastball pitcher with a rare slider (8.7%), which may explain the dive in strikeouts and swinging strikes (down 5%). If he flashes the good slider some before the deadline contenders are going to be interested and the Pirates should be more than willing. Colorado Rockies The Rockies probably should be willing to gut the entire roster and start fresh, but their GM just resigned and the interim GM is scouting director Bill Schmidt, who may or may not be a candidate for the permanent role. How much leash will the club president allow an interim GM? My guess not the kind that makes German Marquez trade bait in July. Trevor Story, SS Story should be one of the elite prizes a this year’s deadline. He’s a free agent after the season, has two 5-win season under his belt and offers speed, power, and defense from the shortstop position. He’s not tearing it up, but is hitting enough to draw significant interest, and he could start a 14-for-25, 6-homer stretch at any moment. While Story should hit anywhere, I do wonder how much he’ll have to alter his general game plan to maintain his power production outside Denver. Story should be sure bet to be moved by the deadline, and it could happen at any moment. Daniel Bard, RHR Bard is a quality arm for the middle innings for a good team, and hes throwing as hard as ever (98.2 mph) with an above-average slider to complement. His contract is club controlled through next season, but the Rockies should have no dreams about 2022. Trade him. Mychal Givens, RHRGivens is a free agent at season’s end, and while he hasn’t been great in 2021 his stuff and deception are lightning in a bottle waiting to happen. He’ll need to string together some success, but he has time to find some mechanical fixes to help him throw more strikes. Robert Stephenson, RHR Stephenson throws strikes and his velocity is up two ticks (97 mph) from a year ago. His curveball is average and the home run ball has bitten him his past 29 appearances, but there’s a controllable, quality middle-relief arm here, perhaps a little more if a club can get more from his secondaries. Jon Gray, RHS Gray was the No. 3 overall pick in 2013 and while he’s been fine, he hasn’t quite lived up to lofty expectations. There’s a chance he’s having his best season in terms of pure results, but it’s difficult to see how its sustainable. After his strikeout rate was cut in half last season, it remains below 20%, and he’s rolling out the worst walk rate of his career. He is, however, generating more ground balls, which is a strategy that theoretically works at Coors Field. His slider, at time throughout his career has been pure filth, and it has been above-average in 2021, but the lack os a quality third pitch has held him back almost as much as his environment. Still, he’s throwing 95 mph, is healthy, and there’s no commitment beyond this season, so I expect the Rockies to trade him. A Wild Card team could use him in the rotation and a World Series contender might see a multi-inning reliever for their October run. Charlie Blackmon, OF Blackmon isn’t hitting much, will be 35 in July and is owed $52 million over the next three years. While it’s difficult to suggest he’s not available, no team is going to take on a significant portion of that money and the Rockies are probably better off hanging onto him and hoping he hits so they can move him next summer. C.J. Cron, 1B/DH Cron is in Colorado on a one-year, $1 million deal, which is going to help him get traded. He’s batting .297/.391/.486 and can fake it at first base. Arizona Diamondbacks I joked in April the Diamondbacks had one good player, Ketel Marte, and while that’s not true — Carson Kelly, David Peralta, Josh Rojas, and Zac Gallen are all good players, and Madison Bumgarner has found a way to be solid again, too — it is true the D-Backs are stuck in purgatory. They’re nowhere near a 90-win team, and 2021 is a lost season, but they do have some talent to dangle in July. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/3B I saw Cabrera’s first professional game for short-season Everett in 2004 and he’s still playing — and hitting — at age 35. He’s a .306/.406/.529 hitter as a lefty this season (154 wRC+), can manage at second in short stints and more than handle third base. Cabrera, on a one-year deal in Arizona, could be a valuable reserve for any club aiming toward October. Eduardo Escobar, UT It’s the final year of Escobar’s three-year deal and as a multi-position glove he’s decent enough trade bait to expect buzz on him in July. He’s hitting .230/.272/.470 with 12 homers, so a good club is likely to see him as a short-term replacement or bench option, but there’s no reason for Arizona to keep him beyond July 30. David Peralta, OF Peralta, 33, is signed through next season and will be due about $11 million from this year’s deadline through 2022. He’s been a steady, yet limited performer for years,posting mostly good but not great power numbers, but carries a .290/.345/.474 career slash into the week, which is almost idnetical to his 2021 numbers. He’s an average corner outfielder who struggles versus left-handed pitching, but he’s hit them enough lately to stay in the lineup, and he owns a lifetime 128 wRC+ versus right-handers, essentially making him the Cabrera of outfielder potentially on the trade block this summer.
Face it baseball fans, the sabermetric revolution is over. The nerds won. Advanced metrics influence roster moves, player development, and gameday strategy for all 30 MLB teams. Ironically, many local and national broadcasters resist using saber-stats despite knowing the clubs they cover depend on this information. Instead, booths across the league continue relying on generations-old conventional numbers when discussing players. It’s as if these holdouts prefer being stuck in a time loop over embracing the future. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating broadcasters altogether scrap conventional stats that were popular when your grandparents were your age. Baseball has a rich history and should preserve it. On the other hand, ducking innovation is a disservice to fans. Isn’t the goal of a game-caller to convey the most meaningful information available to the fan? If the answer is yes, advanced metrics, in some form, have a place in every broadcast. Again, there’s no need to abandon conventional stats such as AVG and RBI for hitters or wins, ERA, and saves for pitchers. These standards, generally preferred by longtime fans, should remain part of our lexicon. That said, it wouldn’t hurt for broadcasters to use advanced thinking when using old-school numbers. Doing so would prevent providing misleading info to fans and might even open the door to introducing the new stuff. Take RBI, for example. Driving in runs is a skill deserving of recognition. But the number of RBI a player has may not correctly reflect his ability. Other than the solo home run, it takes base runners for the batter to generate an RBI. Yes, the man at the plate has to do his part. But in reality, the quality of the lineup and its ability to provide RBI opportunities is a large factor rarely mentioned. Consider this; the 100-RBI season has long been considered a benchmark of offensive excellence. Yet, Mike Trout, one of the best players ever, has accomplished the feat just three times since his 2012 Rookie of the Year season. A retired player, David Ortiz, did it four times during the same span and he hasn’t played since 2016. So has Trout’s teammate, Albert Pujols (because he had Trout to drive in). Does anyone for an instant believe either of these players were better than Mike Trout since he debuted? Instead of touting a hitter’s RBI total, why not focus on the stats measuring the skills needed to drive in runs – reaching base (OBP) and/or slugging (SLG). If the player is adept at both skills, use OPS. Keep the RBI available for the diehards. But why not place the other stats on the screen also? Some local broadcasters are already taking steps in that direction. So how might broadcasters incorporate new-fangled metrics without losing the attention of the casual viewer? Use those new numbers when relevant to the game situation or as a positive reinforcement of a player’s achievements. Whenever possible, deliver the stat in a relatable context – compare a player to the league-average player in some way. Many advanced stats are designed to do just that. Most importantly, avoid explaining how the sausage is made. Honestly, how many casual fans know how to calculate AVG or SLG? Just provide a quick explanation, how the stat relates to the player being discussed, and then move on. That should suffice for the casual fan. The nerds already know how the sausage is made – they’re nerds! On-screen graphics are a great way to interject advanced metrics into the consciousness of viewers. Weighted runs created plus (wRC+) quantifies a hitter’s overall production. Last year, Kyle Seager had a 118 wRC+. Since a 100 wRC+ is always average, that means Seager was 18-percent more productive than the average player. This screenshot from a Mariners broadcast last night says all that with a picture. Seeing Seager’s wRC+ in this light is something Mariners fans will probably appreciate, even if they’re not seam-heads. Their veteran third baseman was above average offensively in 2020. Fans intuitively knew this already. But now, they have an over-arching modern stat quantifying his productivity. How can that be a bad thing? It can’t. Broadcasts can also utilize graphics to illustrate pertinent stats – old and new – together in a fresh manner. That’s something fans of all generations should be able to accept. The below screenshot from a 2019 Mets game provides such an example. It’s a nice blend of conventional numbers with a few newer ones too. There’s even room for a sponsor’s name. Next up is another example from a Giants game in 2019. What’s fun about this graphic is it’s a product of the opposing team’s broadcast. AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain does a fine job of doing everything possible to inform their viewers. In this instance, we see different metrics included with the familiar stuff. The fan learns how Giants starter Drew Pomeranz fared using wins-losses and ERA and that opponents hit .305 against him. Also on display, Pomeranz’s pitch distribution and the AVG hitters produced against each of his pitches. That’s a lot of information in a snapshot. But it’s not overly nerdy and there’s something for everyone. Our next example is something I saw last night. ROOT Sports Northwest did a splendid job of using advanced metrics and familiar conventional numbers to demonstrate how Seattle’s Opening Day starter – Marco Gonzales – ranks among peers within the AL West division. Very quickly, the viewer is left with the impression Gonzales is much better than some at the national level perceive him. In fact, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the AL West over the past three seasons. This is not a narrative you’re likely to hear from a national outlet. Mariners fans will undoubtedly eat up this kind of information even though it’s not in the form of old-school numbers. A stat tending to receive consternation from the old-guard is wins above replacement (WAR). In the preceding, we see the FanGraphs version (fWAR) in use. Like it or not, WAR is increasingly used by fans, baseball writers, and Hall of Fame voters. Now, it’s ever-so-slowly creeping into booths across the league. There’s no reason WAR couldn’t be made available more often during broadcasts. Again, no big definition needed. Just note WAR captures the total value of a player. For a position player, that’s offense, defense, base running. From there, mention the all-time leaders in career WAR are Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Henry Aaron. Sure, some grumps will fixate on Bonds’ inclusion with the best to ever play due to alleged PED use. But the message should be clear to the open-minded – the greatest players in the game have the highest WAR. If you haven’t noticed already, you’re seeing a bunch of screenshots from Mariners games. Their broadcasts provided a plethora of tasty examples on how to communicate advanced stats to the viewer in a smart fashion – particularly in the last year. ROOT Sports Northwest has also found innovative ways to use graphics to deliver snapshot identification of player trends – both good and bad. Last year, a Mariners broadcast captured the difficulties the team’s former designated hitter, Daniel Vogelbach, had against fastballs later in the season. It was a quick and dirty look using batting average and whiff rate – the percent of misses on swing attempts. We even learn most of Vogelbach’s home runs came off fastballs. This was relevant and easily understandable information about a slugger, who wasn’t slugging for Seattle at the time. Just last night, ROOT Sports explored the platoon splits of reigning AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis. Based on batting average alone, a fan might believe the right-handed hitting Lewis struggled against southpaws last year. However, a deeper look by play-by-play announcer Aaron Goldsmith discovered Seattle’s star center fielder was actually productive against lefties and righties in 2020. Former player turned analyst Mike Blowers astutely noted Lewis had so few plate appearances last year that his batting average likely would’ve normalized with more playing time. That’s player-speak for “it’s a small sample size.” This is an instance when sabermetrics and a player’s perspective combined to provide a quality product to viewers. The preceding screenshot doesn’t explain “the why” behind Lewis’ negative split. But the visual does give us reason to pause and consider what Goldsmith and Blowers were discussing. It’s just not in the numbers arena where graphics can help make the broadcast more viewer-friendly. I found this particular visual of the Twins’ lineup and bench players to be quite useful. Not only do we see the batting order, the handedness of both starters and reserves is also presented. Beyond the numbers, there’s another element of game broadcasts that’s in dire need of upgrading across the league – inputs from either the analyst in the booth or the pre/postgame show. Too often, they don’t deliver their valuable insight in a useable form to the masses. Consider this. One of my wife’s responsibilities as a paralegal is retaining expert witnesses for trial. The right expert for the job must possess three important characteristics. They have to be competent and have credibility with the jury. Most importantly, an expert witness must be capable of elaborating on their area of expertise, which is probably complicated, in a manner that jurors will understand. The same rings true with on-air baseball analysis. Unfortunately, analysts frequently fall into the trap of directing their evaluation of a player at the knowledge level of peers in the booth or studio rather than the viewer on the couch. Discussing a hitter’s mechanics or a pitcher’s arm slot without context is tantamount to a nerd spouting off about run expectancy without explanation. Believe it or not, many casual fans have no clue what the analyst is trying to convey about the player. There’s a simple solution to this challenge – at least I think it’s simple. Photographic training aids for the viewer. After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words. Here’s an example from a Mets broadcast in 2019 when former player and now-analyst Keith Hernandez discussed changes in the hand placement of Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. from two different seasons. This is information the average fan can at least relate to on some level. From here, the analyst could potentially explain why the different hand positions mattered or how the different stances affected Acuña’s ability to make contact, hit for power, etc. And isn’t it cool for a local broadcaster to be discussing an opposing player? Learning moments for fans don’t necessarily have to involve the hometown nine. Greatness should be recognized and discussed regardless of uniform. Everything mentioned thus far is doable with the right mindset. Unfortunately, the greatest hurdle to enacting change may be convincing broadcasters to come along for the ride. A common reason heard to justify resistance to advanced metrics is the fear of alienating fans, who don’t want to understand the data. That sounds like an excuse. If a booth crew can’t convey the information to the audience in a useful manner, that’s on them. Not the metrics. Choose the correct stats for a given situation, learn them, and then explain them. Our examples from AT&T SportsNet, NBC Sports Bay Area, ROOT Sports, and SNY demonstrated how to deliver advanced metrics with relative ease and in a manner that shouldn’t turn off fans not interested in the material. In reality, broadcasters have a tremendous opportunity to generate interest and influence fans through the use of advanced metrics. This task can be accomplished without suffocating viewers with big-brain data and overly busy graphics. Having said that, an all-hands effort is needed to deliver that quality product. Specifically, buy-in from the booth, studio, and producers. Easier said than done in some locations. The “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality towards the use of conventional stats won’t help grow a a sport in dire need of a fresher look. How would we have ever reached the moon with such a mindset? Including a few advanced metrics in baseball broadcasts is a smidge easier than space exploration. Make it so, broadcasters. My Oh My…
With Major League Baseball, betting can be about the winner of the game, a game prop like ‘will there be a run scored in the first inning?’, a player prop (total hits in a game by a player), or a Futures bet, which is season-long totals of team or player statistics, including wins, or picking division, league or World Series winners. With a month left before Opening Day, I went and checked the Updated World Series odds and found some interesting lines and odds. Here are my favorites by bet type. To Win 2021 World Series New York Mets +1200 (bet $100 to $1200) Minnesota Twins +2200 Toronto Blue Jays +1800 San Diego Padres +700 Atlanta Braves +1000 Even a $100 bet to $300 on the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers seems worth a stab. To Win 2021 American League Pennant Tampa Bay Rays +900 Minnesota Twins +800 I even like +2000 on the Los Angeles Angels. They’re motivated to keep adding to their roster and they may have the ultimate Wild Card to help with their greatest weakness with Shohei Ohtani likely to pitch some this season. To Win 2021 National League Pennant San Diego Padres +425 Atlanta Braves +600 New York Mets +550 And the Washington Nationals +2500? Seriously? With all that returning talent and a chance to be a lot healthier? Worth the $100 risk. To Win 2021 American League East Tampa Bay Rays +450 The Rays have a chance to be better than last year’s team with Randy Arozarena up to start the year, Austin Meadows healthy and just as much pitching talent as ever. To Win 2021 American League West Los Angeles Angels +360 To Win 2021 National League Central Milwaukee Brewers +375 Often, a club is held to a standard somewhat set by the previous year’s success or lack thereof. The Brewers are better on paper and will start 2021 healthy. Worth the bet. To Win 2021 National League East Washington Nationals +650 New York Mets to Make 2021 Playoffs No: +170 Yes, I’m betting out of both side of my mouth — that’s how it works. This is too good of a bet — risk $100 to win $170 — considering how difficult the NL East is likely to be. New York Yankees to Make 2021 Playoffs No: +550 Same story — too good a bet. It’s also worth mentioning the Yankees’ volatile roster with big-name injury and performance unknowns littering the organization. To Lead MLB in Home Runs in 2021 Yordan Alvarez, +2000 Take this bet. Do it. Bryce Harper, +2000Cody Bellinger, +1300Mike Trout, +1000 To Win 2021 AL CY Young Gerrit Cole, +325 To Win 2021 NL Cy Young Jacob deGrom, +450Max Scherzer, +700Yu Darvish, +1000Jack Flaherty, +1500Max Fried, +1800 To Win 2021 AL MVP Mike Trout, +230DJ LeMahieu, +3000 Yordan Alvarez, +4000 To Win 2021 NL MVP Juan Soto, +850Christian Yelich, +1500 Cody Bellinger, +850 Bryce Harper, +2000 To Lead MLB in Regular Season Strikeouts in 2021 Yu Darvish, +1200 Jacob deGrom, +525 To Lead MLB in Regular Season Hits in 2021 Francisco Lindor, +2000Bo Bichette, +2200Tim Anderson, +2200 To Lead MLB in Regular Season Saves in 2021 Liam Hendriks, +750Edwin Diaz, +1000
Over the last three years, the Oakland Athletics have found ways to cobble together competitive rosters despite being a low revenue organization. From a financial standpoint, this offseason appeared even more challenging than usual. Before discussing money matters further, let’s reflect on the A’s 2020 campaign. Looking Back After winning 97 wins in 2018-19 and only earning a wild card berth, the Athletics won the AL West for the first time since 2013. Oakland defeated the White Sox in the initial round of playoffs marking the first time it won a postseason series since beating the Twins in the 2006 ALDS. The team would subsequently fall to the division-rival Astros in the ALDS. Surprisingly, the A’s lineup wasn’t as potent as recent seasons. Several hitters delivered below average production for manager Bob Melvin. Matt Chapman fell prey to a hip injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. Despite the setback, Chapman did manage to hit 10 home runs with a .535 SLG. However, the 27-year-old had an anemic .276 OBP. Across the diamond at first base, Matt Olson hit 14 home runs, although his .195/.310/.424 slash-line was his worst since debuting in 2017. Staying in the infield, shortstop Marcus Semien finished with a 91 OPS+, just one year after being an MVP finalist. On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. Designated hitter and former AL home run champion hit Khris Davis just two homers and .200/.303/.329 in 30 games. Right fielder Stephen Piscotty had five dingers, although his .226/.271/.358 slash was similarly awful. It wasn’t all bad in Oakland. Several hitters had productive seasons. Among them, left fielder Robbie Grossman (130 OPS+), Mark Canha (126), deadline deal acquisition Tommy La Stella (124), and freshman catcher Sean Murphy (131). Murphy’s performance earned a fourth place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting. On the mound, strong pitching helped the A’s overcome sagging run production. Although the bullpen was the backbone of the staff, the rotation was solid also. There were no marquee names, but the starting staff’s combined xwOBA was sixth lowest among MLB rotations. Chris Bassitt (.289 xwOBA), Sean Manaea (.292), and 23-year-old Jesus Luzardo (.298) were top-50 in the majors. Rounding out the rotation, Frankie Montas (.316) and Mike Fiers (.320) were slightly worse than league-average. Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA last year = .312 The bullpens .283 xwOBA ranked fifth in the majors. Leading the charge was closer Liam Hendriks (.227). Getting the ball to Hendriks was a deep and versatile group. Among the arms used most often: Jake Diekman, (.240), Joakim Soria (.248), J.B. Wendelken (.260), Lou Trivino (.282), and Yusmeiro Petit (.311). Defensively, Oakland took a big step backwards. After ranking twelfth in the majors in defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2019. The team was in the bottom 20-percent with -19 DRS last year. The dramatic decline is traceable back to several players. Semien went from a top-5 defender in 2019 to a bottom feeder last year. At second base, the main offenders were Tony Kemp (-6 DRS) and La Stella (-2). There were also strengths in the field. Although he failed to win a third consecutive Gold Glove, Olson (5 DRS) once again provided stellar first base defense. Across the diamond, Chapman (5) was superb. Ramon Laureano (5) was also excellent in center field, as were Canha (3) and Piscotty (2) in right field. Behind the plate, Murphy rated very well in pitch framing and pop time on throws to second base. In limited action, young backstops Austin Allen and Jonah Heim also made positive contributions. Offseason Action The A’s lost two stars to free agency – Semien and Hendriks. However, GM David Forst chose to remain relatively idle until the first week of February. Forst’s biggest move sent Davis and Heim to the Rangers for shortstop Elvis Andrus and catching prospect Aramís Garcia. Andrus will earn a total of $28 million over the next two years compared to Davis’ $16.75 million paycheck this season. Yet, the A’s managed to find financial relief from this deal. Texas is sending two annual installments totaling $13.5 million to offset Andrus’ salary. Therefore, Oakland pays Andrus $7.75 million this season, essentially shaving $9 million originally programmed for Davis off this year’s ledger. The Athletics’ net savings seemingly spurred several free agent signings. First came veteran relievers Sergio Romo and Trevor Rosenthal. Then, 35-year-old first baseman Mitch Moreland. In the same window, the team re-signed two of its own free agents – Fiers and Petit. All five players agreed to one-year pacts. The team brought back another familiar face. Infielder Jed Lowrie, who previously spent five seasons with A’s, returned on a minor-league contract with a non-roster invite (NRI). Lowrie is the most notable of many players offered an NRI this offseason by Oakland. A non-roster invite (NRI) is an invitation to players not on a team’s 40-man roster to attend Spring Training. This includes upper-level minor leaguers and free agents signed to minor-league contracts in the offseason. Outfielder Ka’ai Tom and reliever Dany Jiménez were Rule 5 Draft picks. Tom spent 2019 at AA/AAA in Cleveland’s system. The right-handed Jimenez appeared in two games with the Giants last season. In 2019, he struck out 93 in 59 frames for Toronto’s High-A and Double-A affiliates. Unless injured, Rule 5 Draft picks must remain on the drafting club’s 26-man roster through the following season. Otherwise, a player must pass through waivers and then be offered back to his original club $50 thousand. If the original team doesn’t choose to pay, the drafting club can then send him to the minors. Looking Forward Olson will continue holding down first base, while Chapman to patrol the hot corner. With this pair, Oakland has arguably the best infield corner defense in the majors. After 12 seasons with the Rangers, Andrus takes over at shortstop. The 32-year-old will attempt to rejuvenate his career after slashing .194/.252/.330 and losing the starting gig in Texas to Isiah Kiner-Falefa. At second base, Kemp, Chad Pinder, and Vimael Machín will vie for playing time. If he’s healthy, Lowrie could factor into the equation. The 36-year-old was an All-Star at the position in 2018, but missed most of the last two seasons due to a knee injury. Both Kemp and Machín are lefty hitters, while Lowrie is a switch-hitter. Perhaps one option for the team is forming a platoon with Pinder’s righty bat. The infield backups likely depends on how the competition at second base goes. Pinder, Kemp, Machín, and Lowrie are capable of playing multiple positions, which bolsters roster depth and versatility. Pinder has starts at every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher. Kemp has played left and center field, while the second-year Machín has touched every position on the field as a professional. Lowrie has time at every infield position, although we have to reemphasize his age and recent health issues. The starting outfield projects to be Canha in left field, Piscotty in right field, with Laureano playing between them. Tom, Dustin Fowler, and Seth Brown are in the mix for playing time along with the gang vying for the backup infield spot. The departure of Davis seemed to signal the club’s departure from a full-time designated hitter. That probably changed with the signing of Moreland last week. The left-handed hitter produced 10 home runs and a .265/.342/.551 slash with a 130 OPS+ with the Red Sox and Padres last year. Moreland has always performed much better against righties during his 11-year career. Perhaps Melvin uses right-handed hitters at DH on days there’s a southpaw starter on the mound. Murphy is the starting catcher. The sophomore is recovering from surgery for a collapsed lung, although the team expects him to be ready for Opening Day. Competition to be Murphy’s backup or serve as minor-league depth includes Allen, the recently acquired García, and non-roster invites Carlos Pérez and Francisco Peña. Bassitt, Luzardo, Fiers, Montas, and Manaea return to the rotation, which bodes well for the A’s. Bassitt is one of the more underrated starters in the majors, while the duo of Luzardo and Montas can still get better. Fiers has a reputation of being durable and delivering innings. That’s a valuable trait in a year clubs will have to manage pitcher workload following a truncated 2020 campaign. After dealing with shoulder problems, left-hander A.J. Puk projects to join the rotation at some point. Management might opt to use the 25-year-old out of the bullpen until he builds arm strength. The Dodgers have succeed employing this tactic with young starters Julio Urías Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin. Other youngsters who could eventually help the rotation include Daulton Jefferies, James Kaprielian, and Grant Holmes. Jeffries, Kaprielian, Holmes were at the team’s alternate training site last summer. Jeffries and Kaprielian made their MLB debuts; Holmes didn’t get the call. It’s conceivable all three could contribute in a relief role. Rosenthal is set to replace Hendriks as closer. Tasked with getting the ball to the 30-year-old will be Diekman, Trivino, Wendelken, Petit, Smith, plus newcomers Romo and Adam Kolarek. After a downward skid in 2018-19, Rosenthal rebounded with the Royals and Padres to tie Tampa Bay’s Nick Anderson for the third lowest xwOBA (.210) among MLB relievers. Entering his age-38 season, Romo remained an effective reliever (.293 xwOBA) with the Twins last season. Kolarek has a unique side-arm delivery, but delivered excellent results with the Dodgers in 2020. The southpaw held hitters to a .164 AVG and .250 xwOBA – both top-40 among MLB relievers. Others vying for bullpen spots are Jiménez, Jordan Weems, Nik Turley, Miguel Romero, and the starters previously mentioned. Considering the recent influx of experienced arms, it’ll be challenging for the club to retain the 27-year-old Jiménez as a Rule 5 draftee. Turley has no more minor-league options remaining, which could play into the decision making of Forst and his staff. It’s worth noting there are several players vying for positions, who are in the same situation as Turley. Players on a 40-man roster have three minor-league “options.” Teams can send players with options to the minors without first having to clear waivers. Only one option is used annually regardless of how many times a player goes to the minors. Players without options must pass through outright waivers before being eligible for assignment to the minors. Pressing Business Oakland dealt its most expensive pending free agent – Davis – this offseason. But the team’s practice of signing free agents to short-term deals means there’s always rental players available to move at the July 31 trade deadline. Considering Oakland’s recent success, shipping out veterans probably isn’t in the cards. Instead, the team would appear more likely to add pieces this summer to facilitate a return to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. Then again, there’s a possibility financial reasons compel the A’s to avoid adding payroll at the deadline. As noted earlier, the A’s remained idle in the marketplace until offloading Davis and his salary, which was the team’s highest. Only then did they sign Petit, Fiers, Romo, Rosenthal, and Moreland. Is this a coincidence or evidence of a need to strictly manage dwindling resources? It’s impossible to know for certain. But the circumstances surrounding a potential reunion with Semien and then details regarding Rosenthal’s contract suggest the A’s may be spread thin financially. When Semien signed with the Blue Jays last month, Ken Rosenthal of the Atlantic reported the A’s had previously floated the notion of a “one-year/$12.5 million deal with $10 million deferred in 10 one-year installments of $1 million each.” This came on the heels of Oakland declining to make an $18.9 million qualifying offer to their longtime shortstop. Then, the team reportedly signed Rosenthal to an unusual one-year deal with deferments. Trevor Rosenthal’s one-year, $11M deal with the Athletics is heavily backloaded, sources tell @TheAthletic. Rosenthal will be paid $3M in 2021, $3M in ‘22 and $5M in ‘23. — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 19, 2021 Is A’s owner John Fisher mired in a financial crisis or is Fisher simply being conservative with his resources? The answer doesn’t matter, but the franchise taking a more austere budgetary approach would have consequences this year and in the future. An inability or unwillingness to spend may prevent Forst from acquiring needed help this season. Moreover, the financial motivation driving recent contract negotiations make it increasingly likely the team trades Chapman and Olson before they reach free agency after the 2023 season. Perhaps the purge begins this summer. All of this must be very frustrating for A’s fans. To be tantalizingly close to reaching the World Series only to be held back for financial reasons. Then again, it probably won’t surprise that fan base if money brings their team’s great run to a screeching halt. My Oh My… [tipjarwp id=”2″]
The Houston Astros’ offseason was absent of significant roster improvements. So much so, it’s reasonable to speculate whether the Astros can win in 2021. We’ll delve into the team’s offseason strategy and much more after discussing its 2020 season. Looking Back First-year manager Dusty Baker did a splendid job guiding his squad through cheating scandal backlash, losing players to injury, and ineffective production from several key contributors. Despite having a losing record, the Astros earned a Wild Card berth and then marched to the ALCS before falling to the Rays. Houston saw a steep decline in run production last year compared to 2019. The problem was attributable to subpar performances by multiple players including 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuvé, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, shortstop Carlos Correa, and right fielder Josh Reddick. Altuvé also missed time due to a knee strain. He wasn’t the only Astro missing time – far from it. An August hamstring strain limited 2019 AL MVP runner-up Alex Bregman to 42 games. Bregman’s offense fell significantly afterwards and into the postseason. Meanwhile, the team lost 2019 Rookie of the Year Yordan Álvarez two games into the season after he underwent surgery on both knees. Correa, who missed significant time to injuries in recent years, played in 58 of 60 games last season. However, he was average-ish at reaching base (.326 OBP) with a below average 92 OPS+. The 26-year-old also suffered from a power outage. His .383 SLG was nearly 100 points below normal. On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. It’s worth noting both Altuvé (five home runs and .375/.500/.729) and Correa (six home runs and 1.221 OPS) performed much better in the postseason. Normally, this might not matter since it was only 13 games. Still, that equates to 22-percent of last year’s regular season. There were also Astros who delivered excellent results. George Springer hit a team-leading 14 home runs with a 140 OPS+. Michael Brantly continued his hitting excellence during his age-33 season with a .300/.364/.476 slash line, while pacing the Astros with 15 doubles. Kyle Tucker had a breakout season leading Houston in triples (6), stolen bases (8), He also hit nine home runs and .268/.325/.512. Despite losing 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander (elbow) for the season after his Opening Day start, the starting rotation was a strength. Houston’s staff had a combined .308 xwOBA, which was ninth lowest in the majors. Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA last year = .312 Wily veteran Zack Greinke headlined the rotation, although there were potential signs of age-related regression by the end of the shortened season. Lance McCullers Jr. had a solid campaign after spending 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Framber Valdéz continued his breakout season into the playoffs. Among pitchers facing at least 40 hitters in the postseason, Valdéz had the fourth best xwOBA (.272) behind Dodgers Clayton Kershaw (.217) and Julio Urías (.251) and Gerrit Cole (.262) of the Yankees. Cristian Javier posted a .256 xwOBA, which was sixth best in the majors among all pitchers facing 200+ hitters last year. This placed Javier ahead of stars like Cole, Kershaw, and Yu Darvish. The 25-year-old’s strong debut resulted in a third place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Another youngster, José Urquidy, performed well in five regular season starts and then went on to help his team in October by holding opponents to a .204 AVG in three postseason starts. Based on xwOBA, the bullpen went from being fourth best (.300) in 2019 to middle-of-the-pack last year (.311). Not helping matters was the loss of former closer Roberto Osuna to a UCL injury after just four outings. Fortunately, Ryan Pressly (.247 xwOBA) was able to take over and perform well in the closer role. Behind Pressly, Baker relied on a cadre of young arms out of the bullpen. Among them; Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, Cionel Pérez, Humberto Castellanos, Nivaldo Rodríguez, Brandon Bailey, Bryan Abreu, and Carlos Sanabria. All were 25-or-younger; some performed better than others did. Although the Astros dropped from third in defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2019 to eleventh last year, the team’s overall defense was good. The following illustrates the team’s DRS totals for each position and respective MLB rankings. Advanced metrics have never cared for Altuvé’s second base defense; last season was no different. There was regression from Reddick in right field, but it wasn’t gross. Still, it’s important to remember that it’s best to consume defensive metrics in large quantities. Therefore, looking too deeply into changes in 2020 could unnecessarily lead you down a rabbit hole. Offseason Action As noted earlier, GM James Click was relatively inactive during hot stove season. This must be particularly concerning for Astros fans with the team losing its best player (Springer) to free agency and its best pitcher (Verlander) out for 2021 due to Tommy John surgery. Houston’s biggest move was re-signing Brantley to a two-year/$32 million deal. The team added a pair of experienced arms – Pedro Báez and Ryne Stanek – to augment its young bullpen. Veteran reliever Steve Cishek signed as a non-roster invite. Outfielders Jose Sirí and Steven Souza Jr. also received an NRI. A non-roster invite (NRI) is an invitation to players not on a team’s 40-man roster to attend Spring Training. This includes upper-level minor leaguers and free agents signed to minor-league contracts in the offseason. The final notable addition was a reunion with the team’s 2008 first round draft pick – catcher Jason Castro. Since leaving Houston after the 2016 season, the 33-year-old played for the Twins, Angels, and Padres. Looking Forward Once again, the infield will consist of Gurriel (1B), Altuve (2B), Correa (SS), and Bregman (3B). It’ll be tough for Houston to challenge for a postseason berth unless this group is more productive than last year. Health will be crucial too. There are few ready replacement options within the organization. Aledmys Díaz remains in the utility role. Díaz has experience at all infield positions and left field. He’s also delivered good production (.273/.327/.460 and 109 OPS+) over five big-league seasons. However, injuries have slowed him during his career. Last year, a groin injury sidelined the 30-year-old. Another player who’ll factor into the infield depth picture is Abraham Toro. The switch-hitter has slashed .182/.269/.327 in 186 plate appearances since debuting in 2019. Considering he’s just 24-years-old and has minor-league options remaining, he may bounce between Houston and the minors. Players on a 40-man roster have three minor-league “options.” Teams can send players with options to the minors without first having to clear waivers. Only one option is used annually regardless of how many times a player goes to the minors. Players without options must pass through outright waivers before being eligible for assignment to the minors. Brantley spent over half his playing time as the designated hitter due to Álvarez’s absence. He’ll return to left field where he’s a very capable defender. Álvarez projects as the full-time DH following two knee surgeries. Myles Straw enters camp as the favorite to be the center fielder. Straw’s defense is excellent and he’s a disruptive base runner. However, his bat will have to justify a starting job. Last season, the 26-year-old slashed .246/.327/.322 with a 37 OPS+. Another potential option for center field could be prospect Chas McCormick. Assuming he picks up where he left off last season, right field will be Tucker’s position with the Astros for a long time. Sousa and Sirí are potential backups for both corner outfield spots. That’s if they make the major-league roster. In the end, the best choice for fourth outfielder may be McCormick, assuming he doesn’t win the center field job. Behind the plate, Maldonado will be the starter. It’s plausible Baker forms a semi-platoon with the right-handed hitting Maldonado and the lefty bat of Castro. However, Maldonado is the superior defender and likely sees more playing time as a result. Garrett Stubbs is the third catcher on the 40-man. The Astros have a talented rotation with Greinke, Valdez, McCullers, Urquidy, and Javier. Backing up the starting five is a gaggle of promising, mostly unproven youngsters. Once a top pitching prospect, Forrest Whitley has become an enigma after suffering injury and performance setbacks in the minors. Is 2021 the season we finally see Whitley’s MLB debut? Other minor-league starters include Luis García, Bryan Abreu, Brandon Bielak, and Nivaldo Rodríguez. García, Abreu, and Rodríguez each made their big-league debut last season pitching mostly out of the bullpen. Bielak, also a rookie, made six inauspicious starts. The bullpen received the most attention in the offseason and should be solid. The top candidates to backup Pressly are Báez, Stanek, Paredes, Taylor, Raley, Scrubb, and COVID opt-out Joe Smith. Other arms in the mix include the young starters just mentioned. Two future options for the bullpen include Josh James and Austin Pruitt. Both are recovering from surgery and will miss the start of the season. It’s worth noting Pruitt and Raley are without minor-league options. This will figure into roster decisions now and during the season. Stanek will get an opportunity to earn a high-leverage role. He became available when the Marlins didn’t tender him a contract. Last year, the 29-year-old lost a month to COVID and logged just 10 innings. He’ll get his shot to bounce back with Houston. Notoriously one of the slowest workers on the mound, Báez had another solid season with the Dodgers in 2020. Still, there were signs of potential erosion. Walks and home run rates were up; strikeouts were down. Moreover, his fastball velocity has incrementally dropped from 97.4-MPH in 2016 to 94.4-MPH last year. Pending Business The recurring theme for the Astros is areas that were once strengths (offense, starting pitching, and bullpen) have significantly regressed since the end of 2019. It’s plausible the downward slide continues into the upcoming season. Since losing the 2019 World Series, the team has lost two Cy Young caliber starters – Cole (free agency) and Verlander (injury). Obviously, finding suitable substitutes is no easy task. Nevertheless, this season likely hinges on whether Greinke slows any potential decline, the oft-injured McCullers remains available, and the staff’s young arms take the next step. With the Mets signing of Taijuan Walker, the most appealing free agent starter remaining on the market is Jake Odorizzi. There are other options, but none as appealing as Odorizzi. They include Mike Leake, Gio González, Jeff Samardzija, Cole Hamels, Julio Teheran, and Rick Porcello. Leake opted out due to COVID last year, Hamels missed nearly the entire season with shoulder issues, and the remaining pitchers were ineffective. The Astros don’t have a proven commodity to replace Springer in center field or in the lineup. In theory, Álvarez’s return should help offset the loss of Springer’s bat. However, Álvarez essentially missed all of last season and his MLB career encompasses 89 games and 378 plate appearances. Shouldn’t a contender strive to add more certainty to its roster? Free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. would be an excellent addition in center field. Perhaps Bradley is asking for more dollars and years than the Astros want to commit to a 30-year-old center fielder. That said, there are few viable free agent options other than the former All-Star. Veteran Jarrod Dyson is available, although he has a 55 OPS+ since 2018 and is 36-years-old. Versatile Danny Santana has center field experience. Santana had a down 2020, but just a year removed from a 112 OPS+. The 30-year-old could help provide additional depth across Houston’s roster – he has double-digit starts at every infield and outfield position. Considering the recent health and performance of the team’s aging roster, this kind of positional flexibility may be appealing. For a club that reached Game 7 of the ALCS last year, leaning forward would have seemed like the thing to do this offseason. But that wasn’t Houston’s strategy. If the season were to take an unexpected downward turn, perhaps the organization takes on an uncharacteristic role at the deadline – sellers. Considering the Astros lost their 2020 and 2021 first and second round picks due to the cheating scandal, moving expiring contracts could help the organization recoup needed prospect value. After all, Keith Law of the Athletic recently ranked Houston’s farm system in the bottom 20-percent of MLB. Obviously, Verlander is going nowhere. But rotation-mates Greinke and McCullers could appeal to buyers, assuming they’re having good seasons. Both have playoff experience and would be unflappable during a postseason run. Talented relievers like Pressly, Smith, and Raley will always be in demand during the deadline deal season. The same applies to backstops like Castro and Maldonado. Perhaps the Astros hope to sign Correa to a long-term extension before he hits the market after the season. Still, considering his reaction to the mega-extension signed by Fernando Tatís Jr., keeping Correa will be costly. Love to see it. Congrats Fernando — Carlos Correa (@TeamCJCorrea) February 18, 2021 Finally Since owner Jim Crane fired previous GM Jeff Luhnow in January 2020, the team hasn’t made a significant trade or signed a top free agent. This stagnation jeopardizes a return to the postseason this year and is uncharacteristic for a proud organization with so much recent success. Perhaps there’s a shift in philosophy on the horizon for Houston. One without as much postseason certainty as we’ve seen over the last half-decade. The rest of the AL West would be just fine with that. My Oh My… [tipjarwp id=”2″]
It wasn’t a surprise when Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno replaced GM Billy Eppler with Perry Minasian. After all, every AL West team has at least one winning season since 2015 except Moreno’s club. But did the front office shuffle actually change the Angels’ trajectory for 2021? We’ll consider the answer to that question and more. First, let’s review the team’s 2020 campaign before digging into Minasian’s offseason maneuvers. Looking Back Not only did the Angels have another losing season, they finished in fourth place behind the Mariners – a team in rebuild-mode. Despite the overall mediocrity, elements of the roster did perform well. The first being the offense. The following illustrates the Halos’ stats and the MLB ranking for each. Mike Trout continued being Mike Trout, although the future first-ballot Hall of Famer “only” finished fifth in MVP voting and his OPS was below 1.000 for the first time since the 2016 season. Then again, the 29-year-old did hit 17 home runs and .281/.390/.603. Last year’s big offseason addition – third baseman Anthony Rendon – didn’t disappoint. Rendon’s .418 OBP was eighth best in the majors, his 151 OPS+ was top-20. On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. Infielder David Fletcher is of the more overlooked players in the majors. The 26-year-old delivered outstanding results hitting .319/.376/.425, while ably filling in for injured shortstop Andrelton Simmons. When healthy, Simmons also performed well (.297/.346/.356 in 30 games) before opting out during the last week of the season. Although he appeared in just 32 games, first baseman Jared Walsh managed to hit nine home runs and finish seventh in AL Rookie of the Year voting. The 27-year-old slashed .293/.324/.646 with a 158 OPS+. Several other part-timers were also productive. Catchers Max Stassi (139) and Anthony Bemboom (130) had an OPS+ over 100. So did Tommy La Stella and Brian Goodwin before leaving via trade in August. Unfortunately, there were also players who struggled last season. Future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols endured career lows in AVG, OBP, and OPS+. Left fielder Justin Upton displayed power with nine homers, although he struggled to reach base (.291 OBP). In right field, touted prospect Jo Adell hit just .161 with a 31 OPS+ in 38 games. The 21-year-old’s -1.3 WAR (Baseball Reference and FanGraphs versions) ranked last in the majors. Two-way player Shohei Ohtani slashed just .190/.291/.366, although he did manage to hit seven home runs and steal seven bases. Regrettably, Ohtani pitched in just two games due to health. This time, a forearm strain that limited him. This came on the heels of not pitching in 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Losing Ohtani certainly didn’t help a rotation that ranked in the bottom-third of the league in walks, strikeouts, innings pitched, and xwOBA. Despite the overall bad numbers, there were bright spots. Particularly newcomer Dylan Bundy. The 28-year-old had a breakout season with a .258 xwOBA, which was ninth best in the majors. Bundy also received Cy Young Award consideration for the first time in his career. Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA last year = .312 Southpaw Andrew Heaney battled inconsistency, but did pace the rotation with 12 starts and a better than average .307 xwOBA. Griffin Canning, who dealt with elbow issues before the shutdown, made 11 starts and matched Heaney’s xwOBA. In seven starts, 24-year-old Jaime Barria also showed promise (.273). Unfortunately, the rest of the starters covered a third of team’s games and were awful. Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval, Julio Teheran, Dillon Peters, Matt Andriese, and Jose Suarez combined for an 11.29 ERA and a .369 xwOBA in 21 starts with opponents hitting .319 against them. Although the bullpen didn’t look good using conventional stats, the unit was better under the lens of xwOBA. Angel relievers combined for a .298 xwOBA, which was ninth best in the majors. Standouts included setup man Mike Mayers, who had a breakout year with a 12.9 SO/9 and a .231 xwOBA. Felix Peña (.283) also proved valuable and even closed out a pair of games. So did Andriese, who held hitters to a .160 AVG. Poor glove work certainly didn’t help the reliever’s traditional stats. As you can see, defensive metrics were not the Angels’ friend last year. Angel outfielders combined for a -24 defensive runs saved (DRS); the worst in the majors. The usually stellar Simmons (-2) had a down year at shortstop, while La Stella (-5) didn’t fare well at second base. To be fair, defensive metrics are most useful with a large sample. The 2020 season certainly wasn’t that. There was some good news. Catchers Max Stassi and Anthony Bemboom rated well as pitch framers. Furthermore, Canning made the pitching staff proud by earning his first Gold Glove. Offseason Action Whether by choice, direction from ownership, or the market dictated it, Minasian added around the edges rather than making splashy acquisitions. There was a reported flirtation with Trevor Bauer, who eventually signed with the crosstown Dodgers. However, it’s unclear how serious talks became between the Halos and the 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner. Minasian did acquire a pair of starters to augment the rotation. Free agent José Quintana and Alex Cobb via a trade with the Orioles for prospect Jahmai Jones. In another deal with Baltimore, the Halos received José Iglesias for a pair of minor leaguers. Iglesias takes over at shortstop for Simmons, who left as a free agent. A recurring theme of the offseason was adding players who previously played for manager Joe Maddon. Most notably, Quintana, Cobb, and outfielder Dexter Fowler, who arrived from St. Louis via trade. Cobb played for Maddon in Tampa Bay. Both Quintana and Fowler were with the 67-year-old skipper as member of the Cubs. Minasian also signed catcher Kurt Suzuki to a one-year deal. Suzuki fills the void created when the team traded Jason Castro to the Padres last August. To help the bullpen, Minasian dealt reliever Noé Ramirez and a minor leaguer to the Reds in exchange for Raisel Iglesias. He also acquired Aaron Slegers from Tampa Bay and inked free agent Álex Claudio to a one-year pact. The team also signed reliever Junior Guerra to a minor league contract with a non-roster invite. Other non-roster invites include outfielders Juan Lagares and Jon Jay and catcher Juan Graterol. A non-roster invite (NRI) is an invitation to players not on a team’s 40-man roster to attend Spring Training. This includes upper-level minor leaguers and free agents signed to minor-league contracts in the offseason. Looking Forward It appears Pujols will be a part-time player this season – the final of his 10-year contract with the Halos. With the 41-year-old moving aside, Walsh should assume a larger role at first base, although it’s worth recognizing his strong rookie debut was a small sample size. Matt Thaiss and Taylor Ward are potential depth pieces. Fletcher will be the everyday second baseman. Even though Iglesias doesn’t have the Gold Glove pedigree of Simmons, he and Fletcher should provide solid middle-infield defense. A caution regarding Iglesias’ 160 OPS+ with Baltimore last season. The nine-year veteran played in just 39 games and has a career 80 OPS+. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Rendon will be the Opening Day starter at third base for a long time. The 30-year-old inked a seven-year/$245 million free agent deal with the Halos in December 2019. Franklin Barreto and Luis Rengifo are candidates to serve in the utility infielder role. Barreto has experience at shortstop and third base. However, second base has been his primary position in the majors. Rengifo has a similar résumé, although he previously spent time in the outfield in the Mariners’ system and during Winter Ball in 2017. BREAKING: Mike Trout will be the center fielder. Upton remains in left field with Fowler expected to take over right field. Both Upton and Fowler could eventually lose playing time to top prospects Adell and Brandon Marsh. Still, Marsh has yet to debut and Maddon suggested in the offseason Adell might need more time in the minors before being MLB-ready. Lagares and Jay are be in the mix for reserve outfield roles. The right-handed hitting Lagares is a premium defender capable of playing all outfield positions, although he’s struggled against righty pitching throughout his career. Entering his age-36 season, the left-handed hitting Jay may be better suited for a corner outfield spot. Stassi and Suzuki project as the catching duo. Stassi should be the starter, although he’s underwent hip procedures in two consecutive years. While Stassi is a strong defender, Suzuki’s best contribution is his bat. Over the last two seasons with Washington, the 37-year-old Suzuki slashed .266/.331/.460 with a 103 OPS+ as a part-timer. Anthony Bemboom is the third backstop on the 40-man roster and likely serves as minor-league depth. Ohtani projects to be the regular DH with Pujols seeing time there too. In theory, Ohtani will be in the rotation and won’t be available to hit on days he pitches. It’ll be interesting how much longer the Shohei Ohtani experiment as a two-way player continues. Injuries have limited the 26-year-old to a combined 18 games and 79.2 innings in Japan and the U.S. since 2017. Heading into Spring Training the Angels plan on using a six-man rotation. The starting staff projects to be Bundy, Heaney, Canning, Quintana, Cobb, and Ohtani. It’s worth noting Quintana missed most of last season due to injuries, although he averaged 32 starts and 193 innings pitched during the seven seasons leading up to last year. On the other hand, Cobb had a 5.10 ERA and .362 xwOBA during three seasons in Baltimore. Potential organizational depth includes Jaime Barria, Patrick Sandoval, José Suarez, and prospects Reid Detmers and Chris Rodriguez. Barria is out of minor league options, so the club may use the 24-year-old out of the bullpen rather than risk running him through waivers. Players on a 40-man roster have three minor league “options.” Teams can send players with options to the minors without first having to clear waivers. Only one option is used annually regardless of how many times a player goes to the minors. Players without options must pass through outright waivers before being eligible for assignment to the minors. When clubs make final roster cuts, minor league options are a planning factor. The Angels have quite a few players without options. Obviously, Stassi is safe. However, Barria and Barreto are names to watch. Leading bullpen candidates are Iglesias as closer, setup men Mayers and Peña, plus Slegers and Claudio, Ty Buttrey, Guerra, and Rule 5 pickup Jose Alberto Rivera. As noted earlier, Barria could serve as a long reliever. Other relief options include Sandoval, Gerardo Reyes, Luke Bard, José Quijada, and Kyle Keller. Unless injured, Rule 5 Draft picks must remain on the drafting club’s 26-man roster through the following season. Otherwise, a player must pass through waivers and then be offered back to his original club $50 thousand. If the original team doesn’t choose to pay, the drafting club can then send him to the minors. Pressing Business The most obvious example of the Angels’ chronic failure is the starting staff. Since Trout’s Rookie of the Year season in 2012, the team’s starting pitchers have the third lowest fWAR (66.2) in the majors. Meanwhile, the crosstown rival Dodgers got 71 fWAR from their starters in about half that time. Heading into 2021, the Halos are heavily relying on hope with their rotation. Hopefully, Ohtani remains healthy and can start at least 20 games – something he hasn’t done since 2016. Hopefully, Quintana returns to being the innings-eater he was with the Cubs. Hopefully, Cobb is better than he’s been in recent years. Hopefully, other starters with a history of arm issues (Heaney and Canning) remain available. That’s a lot of hope! If the season were to go south, it’d make sense for Minasian to pivot and convert pending free agents into prospect capital for his farm system. Keith Law of the Athletic recently ranked the Angels in the bottom-third of MLB. Every projected starting pitcher except Ohtani and Canning is a free agent after the upcoming season. Assuming Bundy repeats his 2020 excellence, he’d certainly be an appealing option to contenders looking for a quality arm. Heaney, Quintana, and Cobb may also garner interest by the July 31 trade deadline. Suzuki and Fowler have postseason experience. Both would be nice additions to clubs attempting to deepen their bench. The same applies to all the non-roster invites, who’ll be free agents if they earn a spot on the 26-man roster. Although it appears the Angels are trying to compete this season, their offseason acquisitions were short-term commitments. As a result, the club’s payroll will be relatively low once Pujols’ contract expires at the end of the season. Perhaps the Halos plan to go big next offseason when the shortstop market will be rife with marquee shortstops such as former Maddon player Javier Báez, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and maybe Francisco Lindor. Maybe then, the Angels will finally put a roster around Trout capable of going deep into the postseason before it’s too late. Want to be they’ll still need starting pitching? My Oh My…
The Texas Rangers were dismal in 2020. Afterwards, the organization underwent a significant overhaul leading to the departure of several longtime Rangers and team’s best player. There was even a front office shakeup. All of this made for a hectic offseason, which we’ll dig into after reviewing last season. Looking Back Texas had the second worst record in the majors last year; only the Pirates were worse. Adding salt to the wound, the team now has a losing record in each of the last four seasons. Its longest stretch of futility since 2005-08. Being a bottom feeder was a recurring theme for the Rangers, particularly with run production. The following illustrates several common stats and the MLB ranking for each. Texas was the only MLB team without a player having 100+ plate appearances and at least a league-average OPS+. Closest to doing so was 37-year-old Shin-Soo Choo (96). On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. Being average was an accomplishment for Texas hitters. Isiah Kiner-Falefa was team leader in OBP (.329). Rougned Odor blazed the way with a below average .413 SLG. Odor did tie Joey Gallo for team lead in home runs (10). However, both Odor (.209) and Gallo (.301) were well below league-average in OBP. Overall, the pitching stats didn’t look much better. But there were several solid performers. Other than Lance Lynn, the starting rotation was a mess. Lynn was a workhorse leading the majors with 13 starts and 84 innings pitched. He also finished sixth in AL Cy Young Award voting. After Lynn, there was a huge drop off. Mike Minor regressed after a career-year in 2019 with the club trading him to the division rival A’s in August. Two other rotation mainstays also had disappointing seasons – Kyle Gibson (5.35 ERA) and Jordan Lyles (7.02). Fortunately, Texas did have a decent bullpen. Its .305 xwOBA ranked eleventh best in MLB. Top relievers included Jonathan Hernández (.245), Brett Martin (.254), Wes Benjamin (.256), Taylor Hearn (.268), and Joely Rodríguez (.274). Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA last year = .312 There were a few rough spots, but Texas fielders were collectively above average. The following lists the defensive runs saved (DRS) for each position and its MLB ranking. The -12 DRS at second base was the combined total of Odor, (-5) and Nick Solak (-5), plus substitutes Derek Dietrich (-1), Anderson Tejeda (-1), and Yadiel Rivera (0). Two Rangers earned their first Gold Glove. Kiner-Falefa at third base after spending time at second base, shortstop, and even catcher during his first three big-league seasons. Gallo took home the hardware for his right field defense. He too moved around the diamond earlier in his career. Previous positions played include both infield and outfield corner spots. Offseason Action Longtime GM Jon Daniels became President of Baseball Operations with former pitcher Chris Young taking over GM duties. Prior to joining Texas, he worked for MLB. During 13 big-league seasons, Young played for the Rangers, Mariners, Mets, Padres, and Royals. As far as action involving players, there was a significant exodus. Some left via free agency, others by trades brokered by Daniels and then Young. Early in the offseason, the team shipped Lynn to the White Sox for pitcher Dane Dunning and minor-league pitcher Avery Weems. Closer Rafael Montero went to the Mariners for prospect Jose Corniell and a player to be named later, who’s likely to be a minor-leaguer. Young later traded shortstop Elvis Andrus with catching prospect Aramís García to Oakland. In exchange, Texas received designated hitter Khris Davis and 25-year-old catcher Jonah Heim. The other notable named added via trade was Nate Lowe, acquired from the Rays for a pair of minor leaguers. Free agent pickups included Japanese starter Kohei Arihara, fellow righty Mike Foltynewicz, and outfielder David Dahl to major-league deals. Several notable players received non-roster invites. A non-roster invite (NRI) is an invitation to players not on a team’s 40-man roster to attend Spring Training. This includes upper-level minor leaguers and free agents signed to minor-league contracts in the offseason. Looking Forward Ronald Guzmán once appeared destined to be the long-term answer at first base, but he’s yet to take hold of the job. Enter Lowe, who’d seem to have an advantage over the 26-year-old heading into Spring Training. Still, it’s worth noting Guzman was Dominican Winter League MVP this offseason and he’s out of minor-league options. Players on a 40-man roster have three minor league “options.” Teams can send players with options to the minors without first having to clear waivers. Only one option is used annually regardless of how many times a player goes to the minors. Players without options must pass through outright waivers before being eligible for assignment to the minors. Prospect Sherten Apostel could eventually enter the first base picture. Primarily a third baseman in the past, four of Apostel’s six starts with Texas last year were at first base. Still, Apostel hadn’t played above High-A before 2020. Expect the 21-year-old to begin the season in the minors. Solak gets a shot to be the full-time second baseman. The 26-year-old had a solid rookie debut in 2019 with a 123 OPS+ in 33 games. Last year, he followed up with a less impressive 84 OPS+. Despite the dip, Solak holds the edge over Odor. Odor followed up leading the AL with 178 strikeouts in 2019 with another bleak campaign – 64 OPS+ in 148 plate appearances. Heading into 2021, the veteran seems destined to be a utility player. However, he’s only played second base in seven big-league seasons and 15 games at shortstop as an 18-year-old minor leaguer. That said, Odor did play third base for Venezuela in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Kiner-Falefa and his Gold Glove move from third base to shortstop. Assuming the defense doesn’t regress at his new position, the issue will be whether the 25-year-old can generate enough offense to remain a starter. In 846 plate appearances spanning three seasons, he’s hit .260/.319/.351 with a 77 OPS+. With Kiner-Falefa abandoning hot corner, it’s likely utility-men Charlie Culberson and Brock Holt vie for playing time with Odor. Still, neither Culberson nor Holt has appeared in 130 games since debuting in 2012. Perhaps manager Chris Woodward platoons the right-handed Culberson and the lefty bats of Odor and Holt. That said, it’s difficult imagining a scenario that includes all three players on the Opening Day roster. Realistically, the Opening Day third baseman is only a placeholder while top-100 prospect Josh Jung continues his development in the minors. The 23-year-old, who hasn’t played above Single-A, likely begins his year with Class-AAA Round Rock. This year’s outfield unit has a chance to be better than the 2020 group with Dahl and Gallo in left and right field respectively and presumably Leody Taveras patrolling center field. Once ranked a top-50 prospect by MLB Pipeline, injuries have sidetracked Dahl’s development since his big-league debut in 2016. The most games the 26-year-old has played in a season is 100 in 2019 with Colorado when he was an All-Star. Obviously, the Rangers hope Dahl repeats his 2019 form. It’s worth noting he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last September, which bears watching during Cactus League play. Despite playing just 33 games last season, Taveras tied Houston’s George Springer for fifth most DRS (6) among center fielders. The 22-year-old’s elite-level sprint speed also led to steal eight stolen bases. As with several youngsters getting the chance to be a regular, Taveras must prove he can hit big-league pitching. A year removed from being an All-Star, Gallo had his worst offensive campaign since his rookie debut in 2015. Certainly, the offensively challenged Rangers need a rebound from their star right fielder in 2021. It’ll be interesting to see how management handles the remaining outfield spots and designated hitter. In the mix are Davis, Delino DeShields, and Willie Calhoun. DeShields spent five seasons with Texas before the team dealt him to Cleveland for Corey Kluber in December 2019. The 28-year-old likely competes with Taveras for time in center field. Fourth outfielder seems like a realistic outcome. Davis and Calhoun appear to be better fits at designated hitter than the outfield. Their bats are their most valuable weapons and advanced metrics rates both players as below average defenders. Still, there’s uncertainty surrounding the pair’s ability to contribute in 2021. In 2015-18, Davis averaged 40 home runs with a .528 SLG and 127 OPS+. Over the last two seasons, he averaged a .378 SLG and 83 OPS+. Is the 33-year-old on an inevitable decline or can he rebound with a change of scenery? Ever since the Rangers acquired Calhoun in the deal sending Yu Darvish to the Dodgers, the narrative has been he could hit. The issue was always where he’d play in the field. The 26-year-old seemed destined to start in left field last year. Unfortunately, a broken jaw suffered in Spring Training and poor results during the regular season have clouded his outlook. Eli White is an interesting option to serve as minor-league depth. Currently on the 40-man roster, White played a considerable amount at shortstop in the minors, plus he spent time at second and third base. Lately, the 26-year-old has been an outfielder, primarily playing left field. White has proven to be a strong defender even if he may not hit. Jose Trevino projects to start behind the plate. However, the recent arrival of the 25-year-old Heim puts pressure on Trevino. Depth candidates include veterans Drew Butera and John Hicks, and top prospect Sam Huff. Although Huff appeared in 10 games with Texas last year, the 23-year-old may remain in the minors a little longer to hone his skills. Arihara, Foltynewicz, Gibson, and Lyles enter camp holding the first four starting rotation spots. The right-handed Arihara should provide a valuable resource to the Rangers after a pandemic-shortened 2020 MLB season – innings. With the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters last year, the 28-year-old tossed 132.2 innings. For context, Lynn led the majors with 84 frames. Foltynewicz had a career year in 2018 posting a 2.83 ERA in 31 starts with the Braves. But the 29-year-old has struggled ever since. So much so, Atlanta outrighted him last season. Now, the right-hander gets a chance to redeem himself in Texas. As noted earlier, Gibson and Lyles each performed poorly in 2020. The Rangers need quality innings from both veterans to depressurize the workload on younger arms likely to see action during the upcoming season. Dunning, a top-100 prospect, is the logical choice to earn the fifth spot. The 26-year-old rookie had an impressive .287 xwOBA during seven starts for the White Sox last season. He even earned a spot on Chicago’s postseason roster. Behind Dunning, there’s a plethora of youngsters. Notable candidates include Benjamin, Hearn, Kyle Cody, Kolby Allard, John King, and Joe Palumbo. Several served as relievers in 2020 and may do so again this year. José Leclerc enters camp as the closer, although he did miss most of last season with a torn shoulder muscle. Setting up before Leclerc will be Hernández and Rodríguez. The remaining candidates are a mix of holdovers, newcomers, and youngsters: Martin, Hearn, Benjamin, Josh Sborz, Nick Vincent, Hunter Wood, former Ranger Matt Bush, Sam Gaviglio, Demarcus Evans, Joe Gatto, and Rule 5 draftee Brett de Geus. Unless injured, Rule 5 Draft picks must remain on the drafting club’s 26-man roster through the following season. Otherwise, a player must pass through waivers and then be offered back to his original club $50 thousand. If the original team doesn’t choose to pay, the drafting club can then send him to the minors. Pressing Business FanGraphs projects the Rangers with a 1.7-percent chance of reaching the postseason this year. That’s reasonable considering the club is rebuilding with many holes to fill. One method to add talent is offloading pending free agents to contenders at the July 31 trade deadline. Not counting non-roster invites, Texas doesn’t have many of those players. Still, the team could find ways to be active sellers. Assuming he’s having a good season, Gibson could interest contenders looking for rotation depth. He’s under contract for a relatively affordable $7.7 million next year. Foltynewicz might also be attractive, if he’s performing well. Next year will be his final year of arbitration eligibility. Leclerc is set to earn $9.7 million through 2022, so he may not draw much attention. However, every other reliever performing well would be potential trade chips. Several other personnel issues could potentially come to a head this summer. Odor is set to make $24.7 million over the next two seasons with a $3 million buyout for 2023. If he doesn’t rebound, how long does the team retain him? Considering his contract size, finding trade partners will prove challenging. With a pair of 40 home runs seasons, Gallo certainly possesses a potent bat. Yet, the 27-year-old hasn’t put together consecutive seasons with at least a league-average OBP since debuting in 2015. With one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining, will Young consider moving Gallo this summer? It may make sense if he’s having a strong first half. Woodward is entering the final year of his contract, although the team holds an option for 2022. Will the third-year manager enter the season as a lame duck or will management commit to their skipper past this year? The Rangers won’t be good this season. However, there are signs of what the future may hold. Expect to see some of the club’s best prospects reach the majors. When they arrive and how they perform likely sets the tone for 2021 and beyond. Such is the life of a rebuilding organization and its fan base. My Oh My… [tipjarwp id=”2″]
The use of defensive shifts is an increasingly contentious topic among MLB fans. Many of whom believe shifts limit action and therefore suck the fun out of baseball. It’s an understandable sentiment also shared by some members of the media covering the sport. Their solution to the shift problem is simple – ban them. Despite the recent groundswell of support for doing away with shifts, I continue to resist the notion of placing restrictions on the defensive countermeasure. For me, nothing about shifts is straightforward. Therefore, taking decisive action without a clear understanding of whether doing so will improve a situation is impractical. Ironically, much of what I’ll be showing you will seemingly justify regulating shifts. Nevertheless, the basis for my refusing to jump onboard the “ban the shift” bandwagon should become clear by the end. Perhaps you won’t agree with me – that’s okay. Respectful discourse and sharing of ideas can generate reasonable recommendations and sustainable solutions. What’s a shift? Intuitively, we know the purpose of defensive shifting is to put fielders in the best position to record outs. Thanks to advanced metrics and cutting-edge technology, clubs can accurately determine the tendencies of individual hitters and then devise a strategy that positions the defense for the greatest chance of success. Think about it. If there were an 80-percent likelihood that a batter hits a ball to a specific zone of the field, why wouldn’t teams consider setting its defense accordingly? Wouldn’t you at least be tempted to gamble with such favorable odds at a Vegas casino? So what exactly is a shift? For our conversation, I’ll be using the Baseball Savant definition, plus two other basic shift-related terms: Standard alignment: All four infielders standing in their traditional spots. Shift: The three or more infielders positioned to the same side of second base. This extreme alignment is the impetus for our conversation. Strategic shift: One player out of position. Example: the second baseman moving into right field. Guarding the lines against doubles, playing the infield in, or at double play depth fall within the standard alignment category. If you want to learn about more about Statcast’s shift classification, you can find information here. We won’t be discussing the use of a fourth outfielder because this defensive oddity is rarely used. Last year, teams used four outfielders 115 times – 0.2-percent of all plate appearances. The two players seeing the tactic most often were Cavan Biggio (24 plate appearances) and former Mariner Justin Smoak (14). Moving forward, the focus will be on the standard alignment and the shift only. Clubs used the strategic shift accounted on less than 10-percent of plays last year, plus it’s essentially a modified standard alignment. Besides, it’s extreme shift causing the stir. Now, let’s turn our attention to shift-related numbers. Shifts are up, but not as much some believe. Teams employed a shift during 34-percent of all plate appearances last season. That’s a steep increase since the beginning of the Statcast era in 2015. Despite this huge increase, extreme shifts were in place for a minority of all plays. The standard alignment remained the most used at 52.1-percent. Lefties see way more shifts. The focus of our conversation is on the entire league. But it’s worth noting left-handed hitters faced shifts much more often than their right-handed hitting counterparts did. MLB – 34-percent LHH – 50-percent RHH – 21.7-percent The universal DH created more shifts. The jump in shifts between 2019 and 2020 may have been less dramatic without the universal designated hitter last year. In 2019, NL pitchers and designated hitters faced a shift during 185 plate appearances – just 0.39-percent of all shifts employed in the majors. In 2020, NL DH plate appearances accounted for six percent of all shifts. Slightly more than half of the 8.6-percent climb in shifts from 2019 to last year was attributable to the universal DH. Therefore, MLB may see a noticeable drop in shifts in 2021. The count matters. It’s become routine during MLB games. Pitcher throws a pitch; the infielders realign their position afterwards. Yes, that’s right. Teams literally determine whether to shift based on the ball-strike count. Even someone like me, who’s averse to restricting shifts, has to admit the aesthetic awkwardness of infielders constantly repositioning is a tedious feature of today’s game. Shifts may affect the amount of balls put in play. One reason I’ve previously railed against curtailing defensive shifts is the recent decline in balls in play. Since 2015, balls in play (BIP) have incrementally dropped from 70.9-percent to 66.3-percent last year. How could shifts affect that? Well, research for this piece led me to realize the BIP rate with shifts deployed was lower than with standard alignments. The anti-shift faction may see this discrepancy as proof of the negative influence extreme shifting has on game action. However, nothing about this subject is straightforward. Since 2015, BIP has decreased by 2.7-percent when shifts were in use. On the other hand, drop during standard alignments is larger (3.9-percent). My takeaway, shifts influence batter and pitcher behavior on some level. However, defensive positioning isn’t the only factor affecting the dip in BIP. Shifts also influences batted balls. We’re also seeing changes in how batters are hitting balls. The following illustrates the rates for the four types of batted ball classifications Statcast uses – fly balls, pop-ups, line drives, and ground balls. We see evidence shifts lead to batters hitting more fly balls and fewer grounders. Is that a bad thing? How are shifts affecting stats? We now know batted balls are decreasing and hitters are putting more balls in the air. How does that translate to player stats? There are obvious changes, plus a few surprises. Please note all rates expressed below are per/plate appearance. Counter to what opponents believe; the shift hasn’t led to a large increase in strikeouts. The difference between shifts and standard alignment last season was rather small – one percent. We’ll return to the strikeout issue later. A stat some shift-haters use as proof of the damage the shift does is batting average. It’s true AVG was considerably lower for batters facing a shift. However, OBP was slightly higher with SLG even better. There was also a notable uptick in home runs and walks. Once again, we encounter numbers suggesting pitchers and hitters behave differently when teams deploy shifts. Base runners remains unchanged. The preceding table illustrated a noteworthy decline in hits and AVG. This ignites the concern shifts disproportionately limit the number of men on the base paths. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. The following illustrates the percent of all plate appearances with a runner on base. Despite a steep climb in defensive shifts since 2015, the amount of men on base with a hitter at the plate remained stable. Again, nothing about shifts is straightforward. Shifts alone didn’t increase strikeouts and homers. We’ve already noted the jump in home runs and strikeouts with shifts in place last season. However, this increase isn’t solely attributable to shifts. Both were climbing long before teams began embracing shifts. To demonstrate this, I put together the following table illustrating the dramatic rise in home run and strikeout rates over the past five decades. It’s amazing how strikeouts have nearly doubled since the Seventies. I’m sure none of us was surprised to see the spike in home runs during the Nineties. Yet, strikeouts didn’t appreciably increase during the decade dominated by steroid use. This changed with the new millennium. Some teams shift a lot more than others do. MLB had a 34-percent shift rate in 2020. However, shift usage varied greatly between teams. Maybe the level of disdain a fan feel towards the shift depends on their favorite club’s approach. Considering the large delta between the World Series champion Dodgers and the Braves, perhaps the league finds a middle ground on shift usage without help from MLB rule-makers. Then again, maybe not. What about the Mariners? This piece is focusing on MLB, but I thought I’d quickly mention the Mariners since Prospect Insider’s primary reader base hails from the Pacific Northwest. As we saw above, the Mariners were mid-pack with their overall defensive shifting. However, Seattle used shifts more aggressively against lefty hitters ranking fourth highest in the majors behind the Dodgers (77%), Tigers (74%), and Reds (72.1%). Conversely, Mariner hitters faced a shift in 26.8-percent of their plate appearances. Here are the individual rates for prominent players from last year’s squad: Kyle Seager – 76.5%J.P. Crawford – 39.7%Evan White – 16.9%Dylan Moore – 7.9%Ty France – 7.2%Luis Torrens – 5.1%Kyle Lewis – 3.7% Please note the numbers for France and Torrens include their time with the Padres last year. Among 193 players with at least 150 plate appearances, Seager’s 76.5-percent shift rate ranked 19th highest in the majors. At the other end of the spectrum, Lewis ranked 178th. What should be done? The shift is aesthetically unpleasing. Therefore, it’s an easy target for people trying to identify what’s wrong with baseball. Yet, it remains unclear to me whether banning shifts would improve the game from an entertainment/excitement perspective. Yes, singles will increase. But we’ve seen the number of runners on the base paths probably won’t change much. There may be fewer home runs, although that’s not a certainty based on decades-long trends we discussed. Limiting or banning shifts won’t fix baseball’s “strikeout problem.” We should remember hitters from this era believe it’s more helpful to their team from a run production standpoint to strikeout than hit a grounder into a double play. They’re not wrong. Even if MLB banned shifts, would hitters abandon trying to put balls in the air? Remember, slugging gets players paid – not hitting singles. At some point, restrictive measures on shifts might make sense. But not right now for me. That said, I do have a compromise suggestion that could potentially curtail extreme shifting without direct intervention by MLB. Perhaps instituting a 20-second pitch clock, like the one the minor leagues already use, would have the second order effect of limiting the constant re-shifting between pitches. That’s something I’d support. MLB wouldn’t be dictating how teams deployed defenders. However, the time crunch between pitches may compel clubs to re-position less often. In the end, this may lead to less shifts league-wide. As I said earlier, I’m okay with people disagreeing with my rationale. But please consider this whenever debating about baseball. Our views about the game probably depend on the era we became fans, so our opinions can vary drastically. Even when we disagree, we still share a common bond – an affection for the game. With that in mind, I’ll continue listening to others’ ideas with an open mind – even if I don’t initially agree with them. Maybe I’ll learn something new. My Oh My… [tipjarwp id=”2″]
Yes, the title reads like a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s done purposefully in order to make sure we’re talking about talents with a high-percentage chance to show up in future MLB stories. The pool of players I’m working off is MLB.com’s Top 100 as of December 15, 2020. Here are the eight most underrated top prospects, and why. Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/DH — Baltimore OriolesMLB RANK: 90 Mountcastle raked in 140 plate appearances in the majors in 2020 (.333/.386/.492) and has a long track record off hitting for average and power in the minors. He’s limited to first base or DH thanks to a poor throwing arm that gets a lot of 30s and 35s from scouts, but he’s a decent athlete who projects to hit .280 with 25-30 homer power, and he’s clearly ready to face big-league arms (again). Reid Detmers, LHP — Los Angeles AngelsMLB RANK: 75 He’s yet to lace ’em up in pro ball, but Detmers should be a quick study thanks to plus command and control and a 65 curveball. He’s a good athlete, repeats a deceptive delivery, and the value in his ETA suggests 75 is a 10-20 spots low. Francisco Alvarez, C — New York MetsMLB RANK: 58 Alvarez has a traditional catcher’s build and is tooled up from a plus throwing arm to defensive instincts and an above-average hit tool that may end up plus. There’s some funk to his non-stride, but it’s conservative if anything. He’s 2-3 years away, but the profile itself is too unique and as risk averse as it gets for young backstops that 58 just too too low. Brennen Davis, OF — Chicago CubsMLB RANK: 72 Davis is a five-tool prospect with at least above-average grades across the board, including plus speed and projectable power that could end up his best tool. He’s still maturing physically, but showed an advanced skillset considering he was 20 years old posting a .305/.381/.525 slash in the Midwest League. He has a real chance to stick in center and the trends are all pointing sky high. Davis has big-time bat speed, generates easy leverage and loft, and covers the zone well for his age and experience. No. 72 is minimum 15-20 spots low. Sam Huff, C — Texas RangersMLB RANK: 69 Huff’s raw power and improved hit tool suggest a chance he’s an average first-base bat if he has to move off catcher, but despite his size — 6-foot-5, 239 pounds — he has good feet, soft, strong hands, has shown adept at framing and may be able to handle catching early in his career, a la Matt Wieters. Either way, there’s 30-homer power in there, and he’s short to the ball despite long levers. George Kirby, RHP — Seattle MarinersMLB RANK: 95 Kirby cruises at 91-94 mph, touching 97, with plus command and three projectable secondaries, two of which already flash big-league average or better. He used the downtime in 2020 to remake himself physically and now looks the part of 200-inning No. 3 starter. There’s so little risk here and the right-hander figures to move quickly due to his ability to throw strikes and locate the fastball that 95 is at least 20-25 spots too low. Luis Patino, RHP — San Diego PadresMLB RANK: 23 Ranking at No. 23 suggests it’s very difficult to be underrated, but at 20 years of age the right-hander competed in the majors and struck out nearly 25% of the batters he faced in 11 appearances. The stuff is undeniable, including a 94-98 mph fastball, a slider that misses bats and flashes plus-plus, and a changeup that’s already a useful weapon. He’s not as udnerrated as some others here, but right now Patino is ranked below CJ Abrams, Matt Manning, Drew Waters, and Forrest Whitley, and for me that’s a mistake. Edward Cabrera, RHP — Miami MarlinsMLB RANK: 80 Despite developing late, Cabrera is 22 and big-league ready after fewer than four years in pro ball. The fastball has plane at 93-97 mph, runs some to his arm side, and the slider is above-average with a chance to be plus-plus in time. He’s shown feel for an average changeup, too, and has at least average control at present. He’s built like an ace and those two potentially-elite pitches offer a high floor and ceiling, screaming ’80’ is far, far too low for the Marlins’ right-hander.
Over the weekend, MLB.com’s Will Leitch penned a piece picking the most likely player in every MLB organization to make the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now, I hate almost every hall of fame conversation, for reasons I won’t get into here and now, but I disagreed with six of Leitch’s picks so I thought I’d do one of my own. Let’s go by league and division, starting in the American League and moving East to West. American League East Toronto Blue JaysLeitch: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.Churchill: Bo Bichette I get the pick of Guerrero here but he’s likely to spend a lot of years as a DH and despite Edgar Martinez breaking down some walls in that regard a few years back such a tag puts a lot of pressure on the offensive numbers. Bichette also has an early advantage over his teammate. At 22, he has posted two stints — 46 games in 2019 and 29 games in 2020 — where he’s batted .300 or better, slugged .500 or better and has showed well enough at shortstop. Baltimore OriolesLeitch: Adley RutschmanChurchill: Rutschman The Orioles are simply devoid of such talents right now, so their top prospect will have to do. Rutschman is a future star, though, so it’s a good pick and the best bet by far. Tampa Bay RaysLeitch: Wander FrancoChurchill: Franco Same as with Rutschman and the Orioles, Franco is the lone star-level talent in the organization with a chance to be a superstar. Boston Red SoxLeitch: Rafael DeversChurchill: Devers Chris Sale is 31, coming off Tommy John and is probably 91 wins from garnering serious HOF consideration. Xander Bogaerts, at this pace, would probably need to play 10 more years to reach such status — and be very very good for most of them. Devers is 24, has 74 career homers and 433 hits and the last full season produced 32 long balls and a 132 wRC+. If he sticks at third long-term, he has the best shot in the org. For now. New York YankeesLeitch: Giancarlo StantonChurchill: Aaron Judge Stanton has 312 homers, 796 RBI, has four 30-homer seasons and a 59-homer campaign. But he’s 31 and already starting to run into the IL quite a bit the last two seasons, which threatens his career numbers and may push him to a lot of DH work the rest of the way. Judge, too, has run into some injury issues despite being three years younger than Stanton, but he has every bit the power and is a better overall hitter than Stanton, suggesting a better shot to produce well into his 30s. American League Central Cleveland IndiansLeitch: Jose RamirezChurchill: Ramirez He’s 28, has been a top-5 MVP candidate three times in four years and should be able to stay on the field for most of his career where he’s a very good third base glove. Kansas City RoyalsLeitch: Salvador PerezChurchill: Perez Perez is the defacto pick here since there’s no one else reasonably close to the conversation, but he’s been an above-average bat just twice since 2013, and one of those is a 37-game sample from 2020. Detroit TigersLeitch: Miguel CabreraChurchill: Cabrera A no-brainer. He’s 37 now and complete toast but he’s 13 homers shy of 500, has driven in 1729, owns a .391 career OBP and won back-to-back MVPs. He’s getting in. Minnesota TwinsLeitch: Josh DonaldsonChurchill: Donaldson Donaldson isn’t getting in, either, but unlike Perez is a consistent all-around performer with an MVP on his resume. Chicago White SoxLeitch: Jose AbreuChurchill: Tim Anderson Despite the MVP in 2020 (which he shouldn’t have won), Abreu is not quite a hall of famer. He’s 33, has hit 198 homers and owns a .294/.350/.520 slugging percentage. Anderson, a fine shortstop, is just 27, has a batting title, 74 homers, 73 stolen bases and the last two seasons has posted a .357 OBP. He has a significantly better chance to post the kinds of numbers a shortstop needs to garner serious consideration than does Abreu versus first base standards. American League West Los Angeles AngelsLeitch: Mike Trout and Albert PujolsChurchill: Trout and Pujols Ummm… Oakland AthleticsLeitch: Matt ChapmanChurchill: Chapman Chapman is Oakland’s best player, will be 28 in April and is among the best third basemen in recent memory. I don’t think he has much of a shot, but he’s far more likely than anyone else on the roster. Houston AstrosLeitch: Justin VerlanderChurchill: Verlander Another no-brainer. Seattle MarinersLeitch: Kyle LewisChurchill: Jarred Kelenic The case for Lewis has a leg up since he’s performed a bit in the majors, but he’s 25 and Kelenic is likely to make his MLB debut before he turns 22. He’ll also enter the bigs with a better hit tool, which lends tons more confidence he’ll hit for the long haul. Texas RangersLeitch: Joey GalloChurchill: Gallo Gallo may hit 500 homers and have a legit shot, but it’s probably going to take more than that if he continues to struggle to hit for average. In five of Gallo’s six seasons — three full, three part — he’s batted .209 or under. National League East Atlanta Braves Leitch: Freddie FreemanChurchill: Ronald Acuna Jr. Freeman just won an MVP and will enter 2021 with a career .295/.383/.509 triple-slash with 240 homers. But he’s 31 and not yet halfway to some of the counting stats it’s likely to take. The one caveat is his 2020 season. If he puts up .341/.462/.640 a few times in full seasons, everything changes. Acuna, though, is just 23 this week, has a 40-homer season under his belt and was on another 40-homer pace in 2020 despite missing 14 games. The power alone may get Acuna in, and it helps that he’s been a passable center fielder and should remain a solid corner-outfield defender for the next 10-plus seasons. Oh, and he’s swiped 61 bags in 313 career games. Miami MarlinsLeitch: Sixto SanchezChurchill: Sanchez The Fish are filled with young talents and Sanchez is the best of them all. New York MetsLeitch: Jacob deGromChurchill: deGrom Cano might have been in the convo here had it not been for a second PED suspension, but deGrom is an easy choice. He’s 32 but already has two Cy Young awards, finished third in 2020 and is showing no signs of slowing down. deGrom, however, isn’t likely to have the traditional numbers voters have looked for historically, namely wins. He has 70 in seven seasons and has no shot to get to even 200. Let’s see how voters treat modern day starting pitchers, starting with CC Sabathia in 2025. Philadelphia PhilliesLeitch: Bryce HarperChurchill: Harper I think he’s going to get in on counting stats, but he does have an MVP and owns a 138 career wRC+. His 232 career homers have come before his 28th birthday and his lifetime .387 OBP makes up for seasons without a high average. Washington NationalsLeitch: Max ScherzerChurchill: Scherzer Mad Max is 36 and has 175 wins, three Cy Youngs and is among the elite starting pitchers of his generation. He’ll get to 200 wins sometime in 2022 and has a shot to surpass 3,000 strikeout if the 2021 is a full slate of games — he’s 216 shy, and hasn’t struck out fewer than 231 in a full season since 2011. Teammate Juan Soto owns a career .295/.415/.557 slash with 69 homers. It won’t matter much that he’s not a very good defender. Best hitter in baseball and he just turned 22 in October. National League Central Milwaukee BrewersLeitch: Christian YelichChurchill: Yelich The Brewers are without another star at the moment, so Yelich is a runaway winner here. His candidacy is rather weak, however. He’s now 29 and has 151 homers, a 296/.381/.488 lifetime slash and despite his MVP just hasn’t had enough great seasons. At least not yet. St. Louis CardinalsLeitch: Yadier MolinaChurchill: Molina Molina has compiled 54.5 fWAR in 17 seasons and has six season of four wins or more, including two near-8 win campaigns in 2012-13. But he’s been a league-average hitter overall and there’s no inherent value to staying in one organization. He’s likely getting in, but I’m not convinced he should with a career .257/.305/.402 line and 160 homers. Chicago CubsLeitch: Anthony RizzoChurchill: Kris Bryant Rizzo is 31, has 229 career homers and a career 131 lifetime wRC+. But he’s finished in the top 5 in MVP voting just twice and has just three top-10 finishes. He’s been very good but has a lot of work to do. Bryant is three years younger, has 142 career homers, a 136 wRC+, and has spent his career playing third base and left field. He also has three 6-win seasons an an 8-win season. Rizzo hasn’t surpassed 5.3 wins. Pittsburgh PiratesLeitch: Ke’Bryan HayesChurchill: Hayes He’s played fewer than 30 games in the majors, but he’s clearly the Bucs’ bets bet. Cincinnati RedsLeitch: Joey VottoChurchill: Votto Votto has a career .304/.419/.517 line with 295 homers and he’s 37 years old. I think he gets in with Edgar Martinez setting the precedent for bat value. National League West Arizona DiamondbacksLeitch: Madison BumgarnerChurchill: Bumgarner Bumgarner is an interesting case. He’s a postseason legend, but has just 119 wins, no Cy Young wins, just two top-5 finishes and is fading fast. But he’s only 31 and has time to find a way to get back. He’s not getting in, but I think he should get more consideration than his win totals suggest. Los Angeles DodgersLeitch: Clayton KershawChurchill: Kershaw Kershaw is the no-brainer, but Mookie Betts has accumulated 40.2 fWAR in five full seasons and two partials, including a 10.4 fWAR MVP year in 2018. San Francisco GiantsLeitch: Buster PoseyChurchill: Posey He’s a better candidate than Molina, even though he doesn’t catch quite as much an the voter sentiment likely favors the Cardinals backstop. Posey’ 2012 MVP helps, as do the World Series titles, but he’s also just 33 and has a chance to add to his 140 homers, 1380 hits and career .302/.370/.456 triple-slash. Also, Posey had the easiest swing to project to the majors I’ve seen in 20 years. San Diego PadresLeitch: Manny MachadoChurchill: Machado I think he’s overrated, but he dos have four 5-win seasons, three of them 6-win efforts and has 223 homers at age 28. This past season may be a sign he’s made an adjustment and his experience is finally starting to pay off at the plate by way of more contact, better batting averages and OBPs. Colorado RockiesLeitch: Nolan ArenadoChurchill: Arenado I do think Arenado is the best bet right now, having posted 32.2 fWAR, but the edge on Trevor Story isn’t large, especially considering the threshold on shortstops versus third basemen.
Every season we see dozens of prospects break through to the big leagues, including many who got a taste the prior season. The following is an introductory look at what may be the best rookies in 2021. A handful of these names were prominent rookies in 2020. Some haven’t even sniffed the majors yet, but have a great chance to next season. This is not an attempt to predict the best ROY candidates. This is not a ranking of prospects or rookies. It’s just an early thought on the the 50 best rookies for 2021, in no particular order. This also is not a projection of wins above replacement, where relievers or back-end starters who spend most or all of the season in the bigs outvalue a high-impact player that comes up in late August or September. NOTE 1: You may notice not every top prospect is mentioned, because of their chances to see the majors or to see enough time to serve in a prominent role. You also may notice there aren’t a lot of pure relievers on the list, for what should be obvious-to-all-of-us reasons. NOTE 2: Players maintain “rookie” status until they have surpassed 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the major leagues, whether it’s over one individual season or combined over multiple years. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B — Pittsburgh Pirates Terrific in 24 games in 2020 (.376/.442/.682, 195 wRC+), the 23-year-old is primed to sustain that explosion next season. He’s a plus-plus glove, a good athlete, and carries the makeup of a true franchise player. Randy Arozarena, RF — Tampa Bay Rays Arozarena hit seven homers in 76 PAs in the regular season and then hit a thousand long balls in October. OK, it was ‘just’ 10, but he did so in just 77 PAs. He also batted .377 in 20 postseason games. He’s among the favorites for the American League ROY entering 2021, and potentially a major returning piece for the defending AL champions. Dylan Carlson, OF — St. Louis Cardinals Carlson spent all of 2020 as a 21-year-old and while the final numbers (.200/.252/.364) weren’t good, he flashed from both sides of the plate and showed solid defensive ability. The scouting report suggests a .280 hitter with above-average on-base skills and power, but he may just need a little more time to put together both swings. Joey Bart, C — San Francisco Giants Bart profiles as a plus defensive backstop with plus pop and a chance to hit .260. He’ll need to be more selective, but has all the tools to make a number of All-Star games and help propel the Giants back to where they want to be. Devin Williams, RHR — Milwaukee Brewers Williams won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2020 but has yet to surpass the innings threshold to DQ him for another run as a ‘rookie.’ His devastating changeup not only helped him strike out 53% of the batters he faced, but it also induced a 64% ground ball rate on the rare occasion batters made contact. That’s repeatable to a large enough extent to keep Williams high on your list. Ian Anderson, RHS — Atlanta Braves Anderson was very good in 38 frames in 2020, filling the void left by Mike Soroka who spent almost the entire season on the IL with an Achilles injury. If the right-hander wants repeat his success from 2020, however, he’ll need to throw more strikes, but he avoids the barrel consistently and misses bats. James Karinchak, RHR — Cleveland Indians Karinchak, like Williams, was great in 2020 and maintains rookie status into 2021. The right-hander used a mid-90s fastball with a lot of life up in the zone to set up an overhand curveball. The stuff produced a 49% strikeout rate to offset a severe fly ball batted ball profile and a 147% walk rate in 2020. Despite the high rate of fly balls, Karinchak kept the ball in the yard last season. Sixto Sanchez, RHS — Miami Marlins Sanchez was good in seven starts last summer, generating 58% ground balls and going at least six innings on four occasions. He’s consistently 95-98 mph with the fastball to go with a hard slider and firm changeup, all of which are quality big-league offerings. He’s still learning how to use his stuff, but when he does expect the whiff rate to spike from the 20.6% rate he posted in 2020. Triston McKenzie, RHS — Cleveland Indians McKenzie is a tall, lean, and athletic right-hander who’s been dripping with projection since he was a comp round pick in 2015. Since Day 1, however, he’s thrown strikes and missed bats, and he did that for 33 innings last season in Cleveland. The velocity is easy from 92-96 mph and his two breaking balls are average or better — the slider might be special. His changeup teases thanks to good arm speed and he repeats a deceptive delivery very well. Nate Pearson, RHS — Toronto Blue Jays Pearson debuted in 2020 but struggled to command his fastball (16% BB), something he rarely experienced in his two-plus minor league seasons. The right-hander can be absolutely filthy, however, with a 95-99 mph fastball that shows arm side run and life up in the zone, and three secondaries that project as average or better, led by a slider that’s already a swing-and-miss pitch. The difference-maker may end up being a plus changeup. Pearson has a shot to be a legit ace. Josh Jung, 3B — Texas Rangers Jung, 23 in February, may have a path to the majors early in 2021 with the Rangers moving Isiah Kiner-Falefa from third base to shortstop and transitioning Elvis Andrus into a utility player. Jung isn’t yet on the 40-man, but his best tool is his ability to swing at strikes and find the barrel. He’s not likely to hit for a lot of power just yet, but he’s always drawn his share of walks and made a lot of contact. He projects as average defensively. Wander Franco, SS — Tampa Bay Rays The top prospect in baseball possesses the best hit tool on a teenage prospect I’ve ever seen, showing plus ability now and a chance to be an elite 80. But the 5-foot-10, 190-pound switch hitter isn’t all contact, as he also brings above-average power potential to the batter’s box. He’s a 60 runner, too, and should be at least average in the field with a plus arm. He could end up a .330/.400/.500 bat with a chance to swipe 30-40 bags and be a value with the glove, and he might do it before it’s legal for him to have an alcoholic beverage. Shane McClanahan, LHS — Tampa Bay Rays The Rays know how to extract value from young arms and McLanahan may be next in line. He finished 2019 in Double-A and has pounded the strike zone all the way up through the minors. He’ll sit 93-96 mph and has one of the better left-handed curveballs in professional baseball, a true 60-grade pitch. His changeup still needs work, but flashes average. While he throws strikes, his fastball command could use a bump if he’s to reach his ceiling as a No. 2 starter. Jarred Kelenic, OF — Seattle Mariners Kelenic, 21, has ascended quickly since being the No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 Draft. He ended 2019 in Double-A and likely figures into the Mariners plans early in 2021 — with left field being filled by placeholders until then. Ultimately, it’s at least a 55 hit tool with 60 power, but I’m bullish on the power and see a chance he’s a 35-40 homer stick in his prime. He throws well and is at least an average runner. Logan Gilbert, RHS — Seattle Mariners Gilbert is the closest among Seattle’s top arms in terms of reaching the majors and likely sees the show by the midway point next season. He’s up to 97 mph with his fastball and cruises 92-94 with a plus slider, above-average knuckle curveball and a changeup that at times has been his best secondary. He’s a beast at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds and figures to be a No. 3 starter — with a chance at more. MacKenzie Gore, LHP — San Diego Padres Gore, 22 in February, is pure filth with a 92-96 mph fastball and three 60-grade offspeed pitches in a 73-77 mph curveball, a changeup at 82-85 and a slider that may end up his most effective of the trio. He has 60 control and 50 command, but he’s athletic from head to toe, his arm work well despite a long path — it actually creates deception — and there’s a solid chance he ends up with plus command, too. Keibert Ruiz, C — Los Angeles Dodgers Ruiz isn’t the athlete Will Smith is, nor as polished as Austin Barnes, but it’s an average present hit tool with a chance to be plus and then some, and he’s already a gap threat with strength and bat speed to project for more power. He’s not a great receiver but can handle the position and has a high-floor offensive game to offer while he’s working out the wrinkles in the rest of his game. How he gets time in 2021 remains to be seen, but he’s ready. “He was ready in back in 2019,” said one AL scout. “He makes good solid contact with a line-drive swing, uses most of the field — uses the middle well — has a very good idea of the zone and doesn’t chase.” Josiah Gray, RHS — Los Angeles Dodgers Gray was under-drafted in 2018 when he fell to the No. 72 pick overall pick, likely for two reasons. One, he’s 6-foot-1 and at the time 180 pounds. Two, the competition he faced at Le Moyne College (NY) was the NFL’s equivalent to the NFC East. But Gray is a great athlete, is up to 95 mph and possesses three potential major-league quality offspeed pitches, including a slider that may be his best. He’s yet to build up the arm strength in the minors, so he’s unlikely to make 25 starts in 2021, but could be a combo or multi-inning relief arm for the Dodgers early next season. Forrest Whitley, RHS — Houston Astros Whitley’s scouting report far exceeds his production the last two years, but he’s also battled through some injuries and has managed just 197 professional innings in four seasons — not counting whatever unofficial work he received in 2020. The stuff is great — a 65 fastball at 93-96 mph, four, yes four above-average to plus secondaries, led by a plus curveball and changeup. Aside from the injuries, Whitleys bugaboo is control, where he’s issues 95 bases on balls in under 200 innings. A fine-tuning that gets him to 45-grade control and command makes Whitley at least a No. 3 starter — if he can stay off the IL, that is. He’s ready for the majors. Bryan Abreu, RHP — Houston Astros Abreu is an underrated arm, but his chances to start lean heavily on his ability to improve his control — he’s walked 174 batters in 287 innings in the minors. The raw stuff, however, is undeniable, including a plus fastball up to 96 mph, a plus slider, and a curveball that gets a lot of 65 and 70 grades from scouts. His changeup also shows some promise. Abreu, like Whitley, has had a few injuries along the way, too. At worst, Abreu has a shot to be a high-leverage reliever, but he’s ready to face major league hitters consistently. Casey Mize, RHP — Detroit Tigers Mize was the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 and reached the majors last summer. He didn’t have his best stuff in seven starts for Detroit, but he’s up to 96 mph with devastating cutter-splitter-curveball combo backed by above-average command. He’s had some issues staying healthy, which may be the biggest hurdle on his way to being the staff ace in Motown. Tarik Skubal, LHP — Detroit Tigers Skubal has great life on his mid-90s four-seamer and an above-average slider. His 75-78 mph curveball and low-80s changeup remain below-average, and his control and command are blocking him from consistent outings. He needs more seasoning in the minors, but can miss bats now so a relief role could be in the offing once the Tigers are ready to start winning. Lefties went 3-for-24 (.136) off him in the big leagues last season — all singles. Nolan Jones, 3B — Cleveland Indians Jones, 23 in May, is blocked at third base by Jose Ramirez, but may be best suited at first base, anyway — I get a lot of 40-grade reports from scouts on Jones’ defense, at least as of September, 2019. The power is very real, however, and could reach the 35-homer level or better if he can improve his bat-to-ball skills. He may be ready for a long look in the majors in 2021, and first base is wide open in Cleveland. Nick Lodolo, LHS — Cincinnati Reds Lodolo was the No. 7 pick in the 2019 Draft and may see the majors in 2021. I thought he was over-drafted a bit, but he has a starter’s repertoire and eventually should throw a lot of strikes. He can miss bats with his changeup and steal strikes with an above-average curveball he commands consistently. Tyler Stephenson, C — Cincinnati Reds Stephenson debuted in 2020 and while it was just an eight-game, 20-PA sample, the bat looked very good (.294/.400/.647, 2 HR), despite a lot of strikeouts. The main question on Stephenson is the glove, where he may be able to get to fringe-average in time, but has a chance to hit .270 with high OBPs and the bat speed to hit 25-30 homers if he can work a power swing into his game plan. He has a great arm, but may not have the feet to play anywhere else on the diamond. Andrew Vaughn, 1B — Chicago White Sox Vaughn mashed in college and while he’s a bat-first, nearly bat-only prospect who batted .252 with a low-.400s slugging percentage in his two full-season stops in 2019 (a 52-game sample), he walks, he makes contact a high rate and carries 30-40 homer pop — the upper range of that in the band box that is Guaranteed Rate Field — which should be called Guaranteed Rake Field, if you know what I mean. Garrett Crochet, LHS — Chicago White Sox Crochet, who started at Tennessee, including one start before the shutdown last spring, then pitched out of the bullpen for the White Sox in September and October. It’s a 96-100 mph fastball in either role, and the slider flashes plus-plus. He has a hard changeup with a chance to get to average over time, but he may not throw it much if the White Sox keep him in the bullpen. If he dialed down the velo a bit in a starting role, he may throw more strikes, and I think early in 2021 Crochet will get that chance in the minors. Brailyn Marquez, LHS — Chicago Cubs Marquez is up to 99 mph and cruises at 93-97, but his third pitch and command need a lot of work. He has thrown strikes at times, but generally doesn’t locate consistently, and has bouts of control problems that knock him out of games early. He’s just 22 in January, and the Cubs are retooling, so there’s no need to rush him out of the rotation right now. Because the Cubs are likely taking a step or two back, Marquez may get most of is work in the majors in 2021. Jeter Downs, 2B — Boston Red Sox Downs is a below-average shortstop glove but should be average or better at second base. He doesn’t do anything really well — there’s no lead tool — but he should hit .280 with solid OBPs and average or slightly above-average power. He’ll also swipe a few bags, despite fringe-average speed. The Red Sox have other options at second base in 2021, but none have the staying power of Downs. He’s not yet on the 40-man, but is due to touch down next season. Adley Rutschman, C — Baltimore Orioles My favorite prospect in baseball right now, and I think he’s closer to No. 1 than No. 3 is to the former Oregon State star. Rutschman is a very good defensive catcher with a plus arm and a chance to be the best in the game in short order. Oh, and he can hit for average and power from both sides of the plate, and brings championship makeup to the ballpark every single day. On the upside, we could see a .300/.400/.550 MVP-type prime from Rutschman. It’s unlikely he’s up early in 2021, but sometime over the summer isn’t out of the question. That’s how gifted he is. Cristian Pache, CF — Atlanta Braves Pache’s bat is going to need some time, especially in the power department, but he’s an elite glove in center — perhaps the best in baseball already — and has right-field arm strength. He’s also a plus to plus-plus runner capable of legging out triples, infield hits and swiping 30-40 bags if given the chance to run freely. In the long run, he should produce enough offensively to stick in the lineup, and there’s All-Star upside here. All that could start from the get-go next April. William Contreras, C — Atlanta Braves Contreras will be 23 this month and got a cup of java last season with the Braves. He’s been inconsistent offensively, but has 15-20 homer raw power and makes enough hard contact to suggest a playable hit tool. He has a plus arm and is about average in the receiving and blocking departments. Contreras has a great chance to be the No. 2 catcher to start 2021, and it may be more a time share if the kid hits. Drew Waters, OF — Atlanta Braves Unlike Pache, Waters isn’t yet on the 40-man, but he’s a five-tool prospect with a chance at four plus tools, including hit, power, speed and throw. Waters finished 2019 by batting .271/.336/.374 in Triple-A, and his power has yet to develop n games, but he does everything on the field, and should fit nicely in either corner once his bat is ready. Waters could very well be Ender Inciarte‘s eventual replacement, and that could be sometime next season. Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B — Minnesota Twins Back in July 2018, an NL assistant GM texted to ask if anyone was talking about Kiriloff in the same conversations as Eloy Jimenez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. “They should be,” he said. “He’s the best hitter I’ve seen all year down here.” Once he got to Double-A a year later, however, he began chasing a bit more — he hits a lot of pitches hard 4-6 inches off the plate, at least relative to the typical prospect — and big-league arms will take advantage with breaking stuff and significantly better command. The power is legit plus and some scaling back of his selectivity could unlock what may be a plus hit tool, too. He’s fringey in right field, but the bat may play at first base, and he’s ready to be tested by the Twins. Deivi Garcia, RHS — New York Yankees Garcia is five-foot nothin’, a hundred and nothin’, but touched 95 mph and misses bats with aa plus changeup. He’s pitched in relief just eight times in pro ball, but five of those came at Triple-A in 2019, which seemingly was a precursor to a middle-relief role in the big leagues in 2020. But the Yankees needed starter’s innings last season, and Garcia came through, averaging nearly six innings per start, pounding the strike zone and perhaps offering the Yankees more role flexibility than some believed he could entering last season. Spencer Howard, RHP — Philadelphia Phillies Howard, 24, is near-ready to grab a rotation spot with the Phillies and auditioned with mixed results in 2020. The fastball is up to 97 mph and dwells 92-95 with relative ease. He has three major-league quality secondary pitches, including a plus curveball and above-average changeup. He throws enough strikes at this point to warrant time in the bigs, but there’s room for more consistent fastball location, which pushes him from back-end arm to potential No. 3 starter. Luis Patino, RHS — San Diego Padres If he can keep his delivery together consistently, he may be a favorite for ROY in 2021. He flashed this past season in 17 innings, sitting 95-99 with an out-pitch slider and useful changeup. Luis Campusano, C — San Diego Padres Campusano may not get much of a chance in 2021 barring injury after the acquisition of Austin Nola last summer, unless he beats out Francisco Mejia in spring training, which is plausible, though not necessarily probable. Neither is more than a fringe defender, but Campusano brings more offensive upside and appears to be progressing with the glove while Mejia’s defensive development has been relatively stagnant. Seth Romero, LHS — Washington Nationals Romero is likely a big-league reliver but he might be a very good one in the mold of Sean Doolittle if he can settle into the role and avoid the off-field issues that have plagued him to date. He’s been up to 97 mph with the fastball but sat 92-94 last summer, albeit with an above-average slider that projects to plus. He also has a useful changeup and when he holds his mechanics together can throw a lot of strikes. Bobby Dalbec, 1B — Boston Red Sox Playable at third base, Dalbec fits best at first base, especially in Boston where Rafael Devers is settled at third for the time being. He has monster raw power thanks to bat speed and tremendous swing leverage. He’s adept at working counts and drawing walks, but hasn’t shown an ability to hit for average in the minors. He batted .263/.359 in 23 games for the Sox last summer, but his BABIP was .394. He ended the season with an xBA of .199. A minor adjustment or two could aid in his efforts to make more consistent contact, perhaps thrusting Dalbec into run-producing corner infielder for years. Adonis Medina, RHS — Philadelphia Phillies Medina’s name has been included in significant trade talks each of the last two winters, but he made his debut with the Phillies last summer, starting and lasting four innings. It’s an average fastball at 91-94 mph, plus a sinker in the same range. The three offspeed pitches all tease average to above-average, but the changeup is the best at present. Depending on what Philly does this winter with their roster, Medina could start spring training with a job to lose in the rotation. It’s a No. 4 profile, there may be a ground ball skill hidden in the profile, which could provide a bit more upside. Royce Lewis, SS — Minnesota Twins Lewis, 21, wouldn’t be buried in this section if it appeared he was the favorite to be the starting shortstop or second baseman for the Twins on Opening Day next season — but he’s not, at least not yet with Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez projected to start up the middle. Lewis is a 60 runner with plus raw power that’s starting to show up in games. The arm is average, but the shortstop defense is fringey, despite the athleticism. Scouts don’t love the swing, but they still like the player quite a bit. Lewis probably belongs in left field on the current Twins roster, but he hasn’t played but eight innings in the outfield in games, so we may not see him do it in the bigs early in 2021. Julio Rodriguez, OF — Seattle Mariners Rodriguez was dinged up in 2019, rebounded quickly to mash at both Class-A levels. In 2020 he missed almost all of full workouts at the Alternate Training Site with another wrist injury, but returned to mash in the Winter League. He’s just 19, but it’s an average hit tool with upside, 65 or better raw power, and a right field defensive profile that includes a 65-grade arm. I wouldn’t put it past Rodriguez to force his way into the majors in 2021, and if Seattle is hanging around in the race for the No. 8 spot in the American League, that roster is going to be fun. Michael Kopech, RHP — Chicago White Sox After TJ surgery in 2018 and opting out of the 2020 season, Kopech should be all healed up and ready to go. The disadvantage here is the overall workload for 2021; the Sox may take it easy on him. When 100% healthy, Kopech has an 80-grade fastball that consistently hits triple digits and has tagged 105. The slider is plus with tilt and the curveball isn’t that far behind. His change has a chance to be average in time, as does his command. Matt Manning, RHP — Detroit Tigers Manning has been Detroit’s most consistent pitching prospect, but he lacks the raw stuff of either Mize or Skubal. He sits 92-95 mph and complements with an above-average changeup and curveball. He throws strikes and in 2019 showed improved ability to locate to both sides of the plate versus both lefties and righties alike. He’s athletic and the trends are all pointing up, suggesting his mid-rotation projection isn’t necessarily his ceiling. Max Meyer, RHP — Miami Marlins Meyer was the No. 3 overall pick last June and could be on the fast track to the show. The arsenal is very good — up to 100 mph and regularly 93-97, with a 70-grade slider — and Meyer’s changeup has a real chance to be average or better. He’s just 6-feet and 195 pounds, but is a brilliant athlete and comes with a high ceiling as a dominant high-leverage reliever available to the Fish whenever they want it. Meyer added strength each year at Minnesota to give him a chance to start long term, so the only chance we see him in relief in 2021 is in a pennant race or playoff run after Meyers logged too many innings in the rotation. Taylor Trammell, LF — Seattle Mariners If Trammell had a better throwing arm he might be the club’s centerfielder of the future (sliding Kyle Lewis to a corner or out the door as trade bait), but it’s a 40 noodle that fits OK in left. Trammell is a great athlete with contact skills that have been disrupted by a lot of tinkering with his swing aimed at unlocking legitimate power potential. He’s a 65 runner and 65 defender — think: Jacque Jones — but if the bat speed meets a better swing, there’s above-average power in there, too. He projects to get on base a lot and swipe some bags. On the upside he’s hitting at the top of the order but otherwise could be a 7-or-9-hole hitter in a very good lineup with no automatic outs. DL Hall, LHP — Baltimore Orioles Hall’s three above-average offerings start with a fastball up to 97 mph in a starting role. The curveball and changeup tease plus, too, and with more work his control and command should get close to big-league average. It’s the makings of a No. 3 starter with a high-leverage floor. He’s ready to face major league bats, but hasn’t thrown more than 94 innings in a season as a pro. Oneil Cruz, SS — Pittsburgh, Pirates Cruz is the tallest shortstop I’ve ever seen at 6-foot-7, and considering he’s 210 pounds at age 22, there’s a great chance he slides to third base sooner than later. He’s a left-handed hitter with plus raw power who offers average hitting skills sans some swing and miss, but since he’s still maturing physically we can’t close the door on the raw power grade, suggesting a 45 hit tool may play just fine, anyway. Brandon Marsh, OF — Los Angeles Angels If there were a minor league season, Marsh may have broken through to the majors last season. At the end of the 2019 season the power was all projection, but he showed average or better hitting tools and the bat speed backs up the raw power grades. Marsh has a good arm and runs well, especially for a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, and hasn’t outgrown center field yet. Because he’s a better bet to hit he may end up a better player than org mate Adell, not unlike how Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar ended up solid major leaguers while Brandon Wood and Dallas McPherson did not.
This time of year in baseball it’s all about the Hot Stove, which may not be as hot this winter, but there will be movement. In reading reports’ tweets and stories as clubs maneuver for roster and payroll flexibility there are nuggets everywhere. Here’s what I’ve seen so far since the end of the World Series that rang up some intrigue, though most of it came with any level of surprise. The Pittsburgh Pirates declined their option on right-hander Chris Archer, which would have paid out $11 million. The 32-year-old had surgery in June to repair neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). As a result, he missed all of 2020 but is expected to be ready for 2021. Archer made 23 starts for Pittsburgh in 2019, covering just under 120 innings and posting a FIP over five and a career high home run rate. He peaked in 2015 and 2017 posting fWARs of 5.1 and 4.5 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Archer represents a potential reclamation project for a club in search of relatively inexpensive help on the mound. The Seattle Mariners may be in a position to discuss such a player, but Archer may represent one of those starter converts we’ve discussed on Baseball Things recently. Archer is likely to get offers to start, but if he doesn’t get starter money — and guaranteed money at that — he may be willing to start thinking about a career coming out of the bullpen. His stuff plays anywhere, including a 93-96 mph fastball and a plus slider. His changeup, however, has been below-average most of his career, putting a lot of pressure on his ability to locate and vary the breaking ball. In relief, the questionable durability — he’s made 50 starts since the end of the 2017 season — goes away, his two-pitch arsenal plays up and the lack of a consistent, quality changeup becomes pretty much irrelevant. Archer the closer? Just a thought. The Minnesota Twins will not spend big dollars. They went to a prorated $158.2 million in 2020 and two seasons hovering around the $140 million range. The 2021 club needs a bat or two, plus some additional pitching to complement Jose Berrios and likely replace Jake Odorizzi in the rotation. They’d like to bring back 123-year-old wonder Nelson Cruz. But in order to do all that they may need to say goodbye to more than free agents. One of those possibilities? Eddie Rosario, per Lavelle E. Neal III. Rosario, 29, had a solid 2020, batting .257/.316/.476 with 13 home runs, resulting in a 110 wRC+. The left-handed batting outfielder is a former infielder due a raise via arbitration. He made a prorated $7.75 million this past season and would be due around $10 million for next season. So the Twins are almost certain to move on from Rosario. Rosario isn’t likely a fit for Seattle, but any club looking for an outfield bat that doesn’t want to splurge for George Springer might wait for the Twins to make this move. But the move could vary from non-tender to trade, and in the current climate it appears the non-tender route is the most likely path. The New York Mets have a new owner, Steve Cohen, and are expected to make a change at GM, a role in which former agent Brodie Van Wagenen has flailed the past two years. What’s apparent just about everywhere else is not in Queens; the Mets aren’t looking to go cheap. Right-hander Marcus Stroman, who opted out of the 2020 season, will receive a qualifying offer from the club, tweets Anthony DiComo. Of course, this report comes while Van Wagenen remains atop the baseball operations totem and Cohen has yet to officially take over, but Cohen has all but given indications he’s going to spend. After all, he is the game’s richest owner and didn’t take ay revenue hits from the pandemic-laden season that just ended. Stroman isn’t likely to accept the QO, but the fact the Mets are willing to dangle it in what is certain to be the dumbest winter ever in terms of free agency says a lot. Which prompts thoughts about how good the Mets could be in 2021, and how aggressive the new GM might be in reshaping that roster. It’s already a good roster led by Jacob deGrom, Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso and Robinson Cano, but it’s imbalanced and has been running with a lot of what-ifs scenarios when it comes to injury-prone players. What might a re-shaping of that club look like? If you’re thinking your favorite team might be able to rob the new GM the way Jerry Dipoto did Van Wagenen 24 months ago, don’t count on it. But some good players might become available, and if I’m betting, the Mets turn their sights toward adding more reliable starting pitching depth — including another frontline arm and at least two more relievers. They could spend money and get a lot of that done with, say, Trevor Bauer, Liam Hendriks and Blake Treinen. But if Bauer signs elsewhere, there are some position players the Mets may want to use as trade bait in order to better align their roster. For example, Dominic Smith is playing out of position in the outfield and whoever takes over the personnel reins may prefer not to have a regular DH so the spot can be used more efficiently. Might this mean Alonso is dangled? Maybe Smith himself is trade bait. More likely, a J.D. Davis or Jeff McNeil is available for pitching, and/or the logjam at shortstop is used to acquired a controllable arm. Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez each can play the position, though Rosario has the better defensive projection. Neither may last long at short with the imminent arrival of prospect Ronny Mauricio, but one of the two incumbents could slide to second and take over for Cano in a year or two. Cano’s contract runs through 2023, but he could serve as DH if the middle infielders force the club’s hand. The most likely scenario for the Mets right now has expected-president Sandy Alderson hiring a baseball-first GM and fills the front office with varied skills and experiences on all sides of the evaluation equation. This strongly suggests an experienced GM or an executive with a unique blend of scouting, market evaluation, and how analytics fit best into the picture. Tampa Bay Rays special assistant Bobby Heck fits this description better than anyone mentioned in various reports. If you’re unfamiliar, Heck drafted Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Kike Hernandez, J.D. Martinez, Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles, Delino DeShields, Jr., Adrian Houser, Mike Foltynewicz, and Brett Phillips over a five-year span, laying the foundation for the recent run by the Houston Astros which included a World Series title and two appearances. Heck has spent the last six seasons with the Rays, gaining first-hand knowledge how that fascinating front office wins games with the most efficient roster approach in the game. The Mets are one good offseason from being as dangerous as any club in baseball and I expect significant player movement, in name or quantity, once the new GM is named. Speaking of the Rays, they’ve been busy since falling in Game 6 of the World Series, declining the options on right-hander Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino. The 37-year-old Morton is likely to retire or return to Tampa, and it’s plausible the Rays look to bring back Zunino at a lower price than his $4.5 million option, but for the first time in years the Seattle Mariners have no need for a veteran major-league catcher. With the trade acquisition of Luis Torrens and the expected return of Tom Murphy, Seattle has no need for a veteran due guaranteed dollars of any kind. They could, however, use another tweener to serve with Joseph Odom as a backup plan should injuries occur. Last year, Joe Hudson, who was recently outrighted and hit free agency, served in this role. Hudson could be brought back, but there are numerous veterans that could fit the mold, too. More Notes Catchers John Ryan Murphy and Luke Maile, recently outrighted by the Pirates, could be among the backstops Seattle looks into this winter to bolster their depth for spring training and perhaps Triple-A… Another low-risk option on the mound is Jimmy Nelson, who has yet to pitch well since having Tommy John surgery in 2018. Nelson struggled in 2019, walking 16.4% of the batters he faced in 22 innings, and didn’t see the big leagues this past season thanks to the depth on the Dodgers roster and a back issue… He’s 31 and last season showed a dip in velocity from 94 in 2017 to 92, but in March was touching 95 in bullpen sessions. Back in 2017 Nelson was the Brewers’ ace, posting a 3.05 FIP and 4.8 fWAR in 29 starts. The right-hander could be an interesting relief option or rotation project for a club that has the room, and Seattle has the room. The Los Angeles Angels don’t have a GM and free agency is wide open. The Philadelphia Phillies don’t have a GM, either, but I’m picking on the Angels because of who the favorites for that job are. From what I’ve been told, the favorites are Michael Hill and Dan Jennings in tandem, who represent an upgrade to Billy Eppler is allowed to run the baseball operations autonomously, but as I said to a friend in the industry over the weekend, I could serve as an upgrade to Eppler simply by emphasizing pitching this winter, rather than continuing to insist the lineup needs work… Foltynewicz should interest the Mariners in some capacity this winter. He’s 29, made just one appearance in 2020 due to what can only be categorized as ineffectiveness. No injury was reported, but the right-hander’s velocity was down three and half ticks — 95 to 91.5 — and he never saw the majors again. In his 3.1 innings, Folty walked four and served up three homers. Prior to 2020, Foltynewicz had a plus fastball and posted 3.8 fWAR in 2019 before fading in 2019. This might be another potential convert option… Free agent Hector Neris is another potential target for the Mariners in their attempt to stabilize the bullpen. The Phillies declined their $7 million option on Neris, who posted a 2.50 FIP and 26% strikeout rate in 24 games this past season. He also walked 12.6% of the batters he faced and has a career swinging strike rate of 16.6%, among the highest in baseball. Philadelphia holds the righty for another year via arbitration, but there’s a chance he’s traded or non-tendered, since his arb number is likely to get to $6 million or beyond after he made a prorated $4.6 million in 2020. If he’s non-tendered and hits the market, Seattle could have legitimate interest in making him their closer for 2021… No team should give J.T. Realmuto anywhere near $200 million. That’s it, that’s the note.
So, the 2020 MLB season has come to an end. The expanded playoffs are about to start. In a month we’ll learn the results of the official voting, but let’s talk about MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year. But first, a couple of notes about the way I look these awards. The MVP, for me, is the best player in the league that year. If, after studying the players’ performances, it’s really close between two or more, his place and value to his team’s winning, or lack thereof, can be a deciding factor, but isn’t part of it until and unless. Not unlike MVP, the Cy Young is more of a Pitcher of the Year for me, and has nothing to do with value to a winning team unless the race is so close I can use that as a tiebreaker. It’s not that when these players perform and how much it means in general aren’t part of my process, but looking at team win-loss to quantify it is shallow and close to meaningless. Rookie of the Year is no different than MVP or Cy Young, but I tend to add a little extra credit if the player is especially young and inexperienced. That, however, isn’t the case in 2020 in either league. And for the record, I don’t do Manager of the Year. It’s a ridiculous award that shouldn’t be voted on by media. How can a reporter possibly have enough info to vote on such an award? Too many of the things one would need to know are intentionally kept secret, and even if one had all the info it would be impossible to quantify it in comparison to the rest of the league’s skippers and their own secret info. Anyway, here are my picks for both leagues. National League MVP: Freddie Freeman, 1B — Atlanta Braves Freeman is a solid defensive first baseman, but a first baseman nonetheless, meaning to be the MVP he’d have to produce special offensive numbers. He did just that in 2020. Freeman finished No. 2 in all of baseball in on-base percentage (.465), slugging percentage (.648), and wRC+ (190), finishing behind Juan Soto in all three categories. Freeman batted .343, No. 3 in MLB and No. 2 in the NL, again behind Soto, and finished No. 1 in runs scored and No. 3 in RBI — No. 2 in the NL behind teammate Marcell Ozuna. Freeman, who posted a 225 wRC+ in high-leverage situations, played all 60 games and led all of baseball with a 3.4 fWAR. So why not Soto? The phenom played in 13 fewer games, which is 21.6% of the season — than did Freeman and wasn’t as valuable with the glove. Had he played a full slate, Soto might very well be the pick here, despite the Washington Nationals sleeping until noon this season. 2. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS — San Diego3. Mookie Betts, RF — Los Angeles4. Manny Machado, 3B — San Diego5. Yu Darvish, RHP — Chicago Cubs American League MVP: Jose Ramirez, 3B — Cleveland Indians Ramirez won this award in September by batting .354/.440/.823 with 10 home runs and a 229 wRC+. He was helped by the struggles of others, but his underrated all-around game and red-hot final month was overwhelming in the end. Ramirez batted .287/.380/.597 for the season, posting 10 stolen bases and another great year on the bases, not to mention the above-average defense at third base. Ramirez’s 158 wRC+ was No. 5 in the AL and he led the circuit with 3.2 fWAR. 2. Shane Bieber, RHP — Cleveland Indians3. Jose Abreu, 1B — Chicago White Sox4. Mike Trout, CF — Los Angeles Angels5. DJ Lemahieu, 2B — New York Yankees National League Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, RHP — New York Mets Darvish got the nod as the top pitcher in my MVP rankings but deGrom edges the Cubs’ ace and Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer because, well, he had a better year. The Mets star led the NL in xFIP (2.46) and K/9 (13.76), and was second in FIP (2.26 to Darvish’s 2.23). DeGrom struck out 10 or more in five of 12 starts, and beat Atlanta twice, the Rays once, and Philadelphia twice. All three opponents ranked in the Top 10 in wRC+. Darvish faced just one of the Top 15 offenses in baseball (White Sox twice). Bauer, who won the Nl ERA title, finished No. 5 in both FIP (2.88) and xFIP (3.26), and while he’d use the total number of playoff teams he faced to boost his candidacy, let’s top off the argument against Bauer with a closer look at how he put up the great numbers. Bauer faced Detroit twice — No. 24 offense in MLB — Pittsburgh twice (No. 29), Milwaukee (No. 25) three times, and both Kansas City (No. 20) and Chicago-NL (No. 21) once. Bauer faced one team with a top-19 lineup, the 6th-ranked White Sox. 2. Yu Darvish, RHP — Chicago Cubs3. Trevor Bauer, RHP – Cincinnati Reds4. Corbin Burnes, RHP — Milwaukee Brewers5. Dinelson Lamet, RHP — San Diego Padres American League Cy Young: Shane Bieber, RHP — Cleveland Indians Bieber had this wrapped up before September. The ace led all starting pitchers in K/9 (14.2), fWAR (3.2), ERA (1.63), FIP (2.07), xFIP (2.07), K% (41.1), SIERA (2.52), and he did it against the White Sox (No. 6) twice, and the No. 16 Minnesota Twins three times. He fanned 10 or more eight times in 12 starts and allowed more than two runs in a game just three times. 2. Kenta Maeda, RHP — Minnesota Twins3. Lucas Giolito, RHP — Chicago White Sox4. Zack Greinke, RHP — Houston Astros5. Framber Valdez, LHP — Houston Astros National League Rookie of the Year: Jake Cronenworth, 2B — San Diego Padres There’s a lot of beat-reporter chatter about Brewers reliever Devin Williams, but Cronenworth was the best NL rookie in 2020, despite a late fade at the plate. His .285/.354/.477 triple-slash says a lot, but he was also versatile defensively, playing 47 adequate innings at shortstop as well as 78 very good innings at first base and the bulk of his time as an above-average second base glove. He hit just four home runs, but tripled three times and logged 15 doubles in 54 games. 2. Tony Gonsolin, RHP — Los Angeles Dodgers3. Devin Williams, RHP — Milwaukee Brewers4. Ian Anderson, RHP — Atlanta Braves5. Sixto Sanchez, RHP — Miami Marlins American League Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, CF — Seattle Mariners Lewis struggled in September, but finished the year a .262/.364/.437 with 11 home runs and a rookie-best 1.7 fWAR. He played a more-than-adequate center field and is an above-average baserunner. Furthermore, Lewis served as an anchor in the Mariners lineup with as little ‘protection’ as any ROY contender in either league. 2. Luis Robert, CF — Chicago White Sox3. Willi Castro, SS — Detroit Tigers4. Sean Murphy, C — Oakland Athletics5. Justus Sheffield, LHP — Seattle Mariners 2020 All-MLB Team POSITION PLAYER TEAM STATS 1B Freddie Freeman Atlanta Braves 187 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR 2B DJ LeMahieu New York Yankees 177 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR 3B Jose Ramirez Cleveland Indians 163 wRC+, 3.4 fWAR SS Fernando Tatis Jr. San Diego Padres 149 wRC+, 3.0 fWAR C J.T. Realmuto Philadelphia Phillies 125 WRC+, 1.5 fWAR OF Mookie Betts Los Angeles Dodgers 149 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR OF Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels 164 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR OF Juan Soto Washington Nationals 200 wRC+, 2.4 fWAR DH Marcell Ozuna Atlanta Braves 179 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR SP Shane Bieber Cleveland Indians 2.04 xFIP, 3.2 fWAR SP Jacob deGrom New York Mets 2.46 xFIP, 2.6 fWAR SP Yu Darvish Chicago Cubs 2.82 xFIP, 3.0 fWAR SP Trevor Bauer Cincinnati Reds 3.26 xFIP, 2.5 fWAR SP Dinelson Lamet San Diego Padres 3.30 xFIP, 2.4 fWAR RP Devin Williams Milwaukee Brewers 1.09 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR RP Liam Hendriks Oakland Athletics 207 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR