Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. Atlanta Braves Sale The Braves started their rebuild over the offseason when they traded the likes of Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton, among others. That trend likely will continue this month with names such as Juan Uribe, Cameron Maybin and Jim Johnson on the market. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is being discussed, too. Maybin is interesting because he’s having a solid year at the plate and can pass as a centerfielder. He’s due about $2.5 million the rest of 2015 and is set to earn $8 million next season. His 2017 option comes with a $1 million buyout or a $9 million salary. Due to the lack of options in center these days, at least a dozen clubs should have some level of interest in Maybin, who shouldn’t cost much more than Austin Jackson did a year ago, a middle infielder with a chance to be a big-league regular, albeit with some risk attached (Nick Franklin). Houston’s Buying With zero chance they sell pieces, the Houston Astros are as firmly in the buyers line as any club in the American League right now. They need a starting pitcher or two, and if they were to land a Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija or cole Hamels, they may just grab the one and call up Mark Appel to shore things up on the back end. They have been linked to Mike Leake, too, however. Leake can get ground ball outs, which fits the Juice Box well, and he’s used to pitching in a hitter’s environment at the Great American Smallpark but has struggled at home in three of his last four seasons. It’s difficult to see Jeff Luhnow whiffing at the deadline. The Astros are going to add a starting pitcher, perhaps two, and if a veteran first baseman falls in their lap, they may jump on that, too. The Astros are three games under .500 this season if you remove their 10-game winning streak, to lend an alternate idea how well they have played. But they aren’t going to fade into oblivion, especially if the rotation gets help. I still like the idea of Scott Kazmir for them, if the lefty is healthy, and if they find a way to get more offense from either their catchers or at first, this remains a dangerous team, a year or two before we thought they might be. They have prospects to move, including Appel (who isn’t likely to be traded, but he certainly wouldn’t be on my untouchables list), outfielders Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips and Danry Vazquez, plus a crop of young arms that may be deep enough from which to trade to get the veteran they need. The Astros even have a couple of young shortstops they may not need to protect aggressively in Nolan Fontana, Joan Mauricio and Miguelangel Sierra. You Can Go Get Him Now Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote Friday that the Brewers are “now showing a willingness to trade Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Gomez, perhaps the best all-around centerfielder in baseball, is under contract through 2016. Segura, a capable a shortstop in the mold of Erick Aybar at the plate, could interest about 20 teams, with the dearth of shortstops available in baseball. The Mets come to mind, as do the Padres, though Segura’s bat isn’t a significant upgrade for either club. His defense is sound, though, and he’s under club control for three more years. He will be arbitration eligible this coming winter, but his 2016 salary is unlikely to be anything but a bargain, still. Gomez could be the prize a contending team needs to get over the top. Imagine the right-handed hitting speedster roaming the pastures at Comerica Park or tipping the scales of the lineup for the Angels, who could move Mike Trout to left field, use Gomez at leadoff and keep their best hitter in the two or three spot rather than moving him around to attempt to spark things. The price for Gomez isn’t going to be easy to reconcile for some clubs, but the chance to add elite speed and defense plus a legitimate option at the top of the batting order that could impact not one but two chances at the postseason probably is worth the risk in most cases. What clubs like Seattle cannot afford to do is sell five years of Taijuan Walker for a year and two months of Gomez. I’m not convinced the Mariners can get Gomez any other way, however. Maybe over the winter such a deal can make more sense, but the M’s need Walker to be what he was for most of the final two months of the season’s first half if they want any shot to get back into the 2015 chase. The Mets, Heyman notes, have Gomez on their radar. In a scenario where Gomez and a healthy Juan Lagares are available, I’m not sure who plays center, but again, Gomez’s presence changes the game in three ways for New York. How they acquire Gomez also is beyond me. They aren’t moving Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz is hurt and dealing Noah Syndergaard cancels out a good portion of the “getting better” part of adding a player like Gomez in the first place. The Brewers have a chance to jump-start their retooling by trading Gomez, Segura and perhaps Jonathan Lucroy, but with so many buyers and so few sellers, I’d wager Gomez gets moved this summer and maybe the other two are dealt over the winter. Milwaukee needs a lot of things, but starting pitcher is atop that list for me. And not just mid-rotation arms. They need upside, near-ready types.
Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. CarGo’s Trade Value An interesting nugget by Jeff Todd at MLBTradeRumors.com turned me to consider the same subject matter. Todd, citing Nick Groke’s report that Gonzalez is finding his timing, posed the question of whether or the recent resurgence will ultimately ignite the trade market for Gonzalez. The outfielder, 30 in October, has been a very good left-handed run producer for the better part of the last six years. I say ‘better part’ because the last couple of seasons have been riddled with injury and struggles. After a .302/.367/.591 campaign in 2013, Gonzalez played just 70 games a year ago, batting .239/.292/.431, and despite his recent hot streak remains well below his career levels at .259/.314/.452 in 82 games this season. The 82 games, however, is a good sign. He’s at .286/.305/.582 over the last 30 days, 26 games, with a .373 wOBA and 123 wRC+. Of course, beyond the health and overall performance concerns — which are legitimate, despite a strong track record prior to 2014 — some will wonder if Gonzalez can hit outside Coors Field. The trap here is to simply look at his road splits, which in both 2014 and this season take a dive — not to completely useless levels but down to part-time performer status. Attempting to determine a Rockies hitter’s ability to hit away from Coors has to go much deeper than simply checking the road statistics. Why? Because, wisely, Rockies batters do what they can to take advantage of their home park. Those are things that do not necessarily work away from Denver, and expecting hitters to make perfect adjustments every road series, several times a month, is ridiculous. Having said that, Gonzalez’s good years are accompanied by good years away from Coors Field. In 2013, his last strong, healthy season — just two years ago, by the way — produced a .332/.381/.606 triple-slash on the road. He was better away from Coors that season. He did struggle on the road in 2012, but was useful on the road in 2011 and solid in 2010. How does a club evaluate, then, what Gonzalez is? The analytical department will delve into how often Gonzalez hits line drives, how hard he hits them, how many of his long balls may not be homers, or even hits, in their home ballpark, or even most road parks. His line drive rates are just under 20 percent, per FanGraphs, much closer to his 20 percent career mark than 2014. He is hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls, which could be a good sign. One front office executive suggested perhaps Gonzalez, the healthy version, can “trust his hands,” more now that he’s healthy. No, he did not have a significant hand or wrist injury — he had knee surgery — but hitting starts with the legs. If you don’t have full strength, agility and flexibility with your legs, you can put more pressure on everything above your hips in attempt to get to good velocity and hit with authority. But he’s hit 85 balls at 90 mph or more and 70 at 95 mph or more, and his BABIP is more than 50 points lower than his career mark, suggesting perhaps he’s been unlucky, too. It’s worth noting that sometimes when a hitter loses bat speed or some other ability for whatever reason, or is hurt in a manner that impacts those abilities, BABIP often sinks then, too. Batting average on balls in play is a very inexact measure in terms of using it as analysis to explain away struggles. A 50-plus point differential is quite large, however. Gonzalez is due about $5.5 million the rest of 2015 and $37 million guaranteed through 2017. If he’s still a .350 wOBA bat, his value is quite high. Clubs that believe that may be willing to give the Rockies exactly what they want, whatever that is. There are reasons for concern, however, and Gonzalez’s average defense (some metrics suggest below average, though the knee problems he’s apparently getting away from now could explain some of that) may or may not help his market grow. My instincts tell me Colorado will not get the offer they want for Gonzalez and are better off holding onto him to see if he hits the rest of 2015 and shows clubs that he still can hit enough to warrant regular time in the middle of a lineup. He’s started hitting, if it continues, his value goes up, both to the Rockies and to clubs that need outfield help. One thing is pretty clear: Rockies GM Jeff Bridlich made it known that he has doesn’t value Gonzalez based on the statistics, “so if a team is just doing that, I don’t know.” The price for Gonzalez will be higher than his present numbers suggest. Market for Justin Upton Justin Upton, who has played for three teams in four years, could be on the move again if GM A.J. Preller doesn’t see a reason to buy versus selling his pending free agents on the trade market. Upton, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, says he wants to stay with the Padres and see this through, adding that he hopes he and his teammates can turn things around quickly. “In a perfect world, we play well over the next two or three weeks and A.J. pumps the brakes on dismantling the team,” Upton said. If that doesn’t happen, Upton is among the most likely players to be traded before the July 31 deadline. He’s a right-handed power-hitting outfielder without long-term salaries attached. He’ll earn around $5 million for the rest of this season before testing free agency for the first time in his career. Upton is having merely an OK season, batting .253/.331/.422 with a .328 wOBA and 114 wRC+. He’s a fringy defender in either corner outfield spot. He strikes out a lot, always has, but he’s still drawing walks at a 10.2 percent rate and in a better hitting environment his raw power may play better. Several contending clubs could use Upton, including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros and with Alex Gordon’s injury and Alex Rios’ struggles, the Kansas City Royals. All of the above, however, have greater needs, such as starting pitching and bullpen help, but Upton is likely to land somewhere. Other possibilities include Seattle, Minnesota and San Francisco. If the Cleveland Indians find themselves buyers, they, too, could be a fit with the struggles of Nick Swisher and Brandon Moss (.220/.296/.427).
Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. M’s Seek Catching The club already traded for and traded away Welington Castillo this season, but properly have identified catcher as a need spot and FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted early Wednesday that Seattle was nearing a deal to acquire a catcher. Since that tweet, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweeted that no deal is “close.” The quotations around the word ‘close’ suggests the club may indeed be attempting to land a catcher but that nothing is imminent. The Mariners have two glove-first catcher in Tacoma in John Hicks and Steve Baron. Neither are full-scale upgrades over Jesus Sucre, however, although offensively either probably has a better chance. Shi David of Sportsnet.ca tweets that Dioner Navarro does not appear to be on Seattle’s radar. Morosi reports via Twitter that Braves backstop A.J. Pierzynski is not close to being acquired by Seattle. Keep your eye on Pierzynski, though. Until the M’s acquire another catcher or Pierzynski is dealt elsewhere, he’s as strong a candidate to end up in Seattle. The M’s are highly unlikely to option Mike Zunino to the minors, but clearly recognize the need for more production from the position and the value a 3-day per week option brings versus Sucre, who plays only when it’s time to give Zunino a breather. The extra time keeps Zunino fresh and could allot more legitimate development as he works with the staff, including Edgar Martinez. Other potential names the M’s may have shown interest in include Colorado’s Nick Hundley and Michael McKenry, Cincinnati’s Brayan Pena, Oakland’s Josh Phegley, Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, Cleveland’s Robert Perez and the White Sox’s Geovany Soto. Alex Avila may be another possibility if the Tigers believe in Bryan Holiday enough to form an acceptable defensive tandem with James McCann. Avila has not been healthy this year, but he’s active now. He’s also the club’s best game caller and the Tigers certainly fancy themselves contenders this year. John Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt are three more names to think about, though the former is a well below-average defender and has caught just one game in 2015 and the latter pair are undoubtedly going to be extremely pricey to acquire. If I had to wager I’d put money on Pierzynski, Ruiz or Soto. Signs The Astros Will Trade The simple fact they’re legit contenders is enough but in case you need more evidence to suggest Jeff Luhnow is likely to make a deal or two, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes, with starting pitching a priority. Drellich notes that there isn’t much to suggest Houston has their eyes on Cole Hamels, but rentals such as Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija “remain names of interest” to the second-place Astros. Drellich also mentions Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner as a reasonable target. Interestingly, Drellich also adds that Luhnow may be more willing to move right-hander and 2013 No. 1 pick Mark Appel than other prospects such as outfielder Brett Phillips. From what I have heard on Appel, capitalizing on his recent surge would be wise. Even though it’s within the division, I wonder if Scott Kazmir, provided he’s healthy, might be a better fit for Houston among the rental starters. He shouldn’t come at the cost of Cueto or Samardzija and it adds another lefty to an otherwise four-righty rotation. Handedness simply is a bonus to break ties. Luhnow choose to strike a bit early to beat others to the punch to ensure he doesn’t get cornered later this month and either end up overpaying or being left in the cold. Paying too much now, however — because not many clubs are willing to call it a season and sell — is the challenge. As pointed out by Steve Adams here, first base may be another spot Luhnow looks to upgrade. Chris Carter has struggled, Jonathan Singleton has yet to gain any traction at the plate and the most likely in-house answer beyond those two appears to be Luis Valbuena once Jed Lowrie returns from the disabled list. Perhaps Adam Lind is an option for Houston, and if the Astros add one of the above three starters plus address first base to the level of an Adam Lind, on paper that’s the best team in the division, and probably the second-best in the American League. The Twins, too Terry Ryan is unlikely to do nothing between now and July 31 and while nobody believes they’ll make the big-money splash, they could get a lot better by making a few improvements to the late-inning bullpen options and perhaps shortstop or catcher, as Mike Berardino of the St, Paul Pioneer-Press reports. Shortstop and catcher will be difficult to address, of course, but Eduardo Nunez may get more time if he keeps hitting. The market isn’t dry, but the top names, such as Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, are more of the impact variety that the Twins may steer clear of to avoid the heavy cost and salary. Ben Zobrist can still hang at shortstop and might be an ideal fit. Not sure the two match up, especially if the Mariners, too, see themselves as buyers, but Chris Taylor may be a nice solidifying piece for the Twins. I don’t expect the cannonball, but I do expect Ryan to make waves this month.
Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. July 13, 2015: Papelbon, Shields, Bruce Should the Mariners be sellers? Whether or not the Seattle Mariners should be buyers or sellers this month is as hot a topic as there is regarding baseball in the city. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins covered the subject last week. Tuesday, MLBTradeRumors posted a poll asking which teams should be sellers. There were 11 teams on the list to vote for. The Mariners received fewer votes than eight other clubs at 5.79 percent, more than only the Indians and Rangers. In my opinion, one big reason for the low “Sell” count is the Mariners don’t have a big name to sell. They don’t have a pending free agent with a flashy name like Justin Upton or Johnny Cueto. They aren’t presently in a position where it’s clear the club is seriously considering tearing down their current roster and starting over, like what could occur in Colorado if they were to move Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Once again, the M’s are stuck in the middle, the worst place to be. The first week out of the break is enormous for Seattle, Texas, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland in the American League, and if the Diamondbacks want to hang around they’ll need to make a move in the win-loss column, too. A lot can change between now and the deadline. If any of the clubs above lose six of their first eight post break, they could go from buyers to sellers or from somewhere in between to aggressive sellers. Winning six of eight puts any of them firmly in line to purchase help and probably steps up the aggressiveness on that side. Johnny Cueto Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports tweets that Cueto is drawing the most interest from Kansas City, Toronto and Houston. All three need the right-hander, but Cueto isn’t the only option. Cueto is due about $3.5 million the rest of the season and will hit the open market over the winter. He could put the Royals over the top in the American League, though now without Alex Gordon they may need a little outfield help, too. I continue to be disappointed that Baltimore isn’t being linked here or anywhere near a legitimate frontline starting pitcher. Why? Because they have none and their division rivals do. They haven’t a soul that can match up with Chris Archer, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, or even Clay Buchholz when he’s on his game. Chris Tillman is not and never has been a No. 1, and Ubaldo Jimenez‘s days as such are gone. If the Jays end up with Cueto or another one of the top arms available, the Orioles will have a significant disadvantage versus every club in their division. If the O’s were to add one, they might end up the second-best team in the circuit. Interestingly, the Red Sox also are looking to acquire more pitching, per the Boston Herald. Cueto and Cole Hamels could be joined by White Sox righty Jeff Samardzija on the trade market. All three are difference-making talents and Hamels is under contract for three more years after 2015. Ideas I haven’t seen a lot of chatter about this, but the Yankees need a second baseman in the worst way, Rob Refsnyder, a rookie, was called up and if he gets hot the Yankees may focus on other needs, but acquiring Ben Zobrist instantly makes the Yankees, already enjoying a 3.5 game lead, the heavy favorites for me in the American League East (acquisitions by other clubs in the division notwithstanding)… The Twins at 49-40 may not be all that aggressive on the trade market beyond a reliever and a part-time player, but with so many rentals available, including Upton, Cueto, Samardzija and Zobrist, Terry Ryan could pull the trigger and surprise some people. How about re-acquiring Carlos Gomez? The chicago Cubs are fascinating, not just because the best front office in baseball is running them but because they are full of young talent that is performing and at 47-40 and a Wild Card leader at the break are in a position to add significant pieces that help them now and beyond. Hamels shouldn’t be out of the question, nor should Gomez or a rental such as Samardzija or Scott Kazmir. I’d bet on at least two moves for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and a summer on the north side to remember… If I am the Angels I acknowledge that despite the presence of the game’s best player Mike Trout, who is all of 24 years old, that my window of opportunity with the current group is very short. The Halos need a starting pitcher and an outfielder. Their farm system isn’t very good, but if they’re willing to take on some salary there are fits that can help them stay out front in the American League West and perhaps be in a better position than they were a year ago when they won 98 games but were without Garrett Richards in October. While Hamels, Cueto and Samardzija would be terrific additions, the Angels may not need to go that far. Kazmir is an upgrade, too, and if they have a young player or two that the Padres really like, perhaps they can pry Tyson Ross from A.J. Preller and the Padres. Jay Bruce is a fit in the Angels outfield, but a less expensive option may work better, such as Milwaukee’s Gerardo Parra, Cleveland’s Ryan Raburn or Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies. Stephen Vogt Vogt is the most interesting player this summer for me. He’s a viable catcher, under club control pre-arbitration through next season and can really hit. The A’s could use him to make a run next season and still be in position to trade him if they again falter, but his value is at an all-time high and the return may be too good to pass up. So many clubs need catchers and Vogt is such a strong bat that on days he doesn’t catch he can play first base or serve as the DH. He changes the lineup dramatically in Texas, Seattle and Boston, It’s difficult to find a team that wouldn’t benefit greatly from acquiring him. If Billy Beane makes Vogt available, he may garner the biggest return this side of Hamels, and he may surpass what Ruben Amaro gets for his lefty ace. The question is whether or not many clubs have the inventory of young talent to send out in such a deal. Beane is as creative as it comes, though. Stay tuned.
Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column. Papelbon, Other Closers ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted last week that closer Jonathan Papelbon was close to being dealt but the Phillies “pulled back.” Stark mentioned Toronto, Texas, Chicago Cubs among those in said discussions. Papelbon’s vesting option and no-trade clause certainly play a large role here. He’s due a around $4.5 million the rest of 2015 and his $13 million club option automatically vests with 55 games finished this season or a combined 100 games finished the past two. He tallied 52 a year ago and has 29 before the All-Star break. Papelbon can block trades to 17 teams, but appears more than willing to sign off on a trade, Jake Kaplan of the Philly Inquirer reports. At 34, Papelbon has yet to show significant signs of decline. He enters the break with a 2.75 FIP and 9.36 K/9 rate, though his velocity has dipped a full tick since 2013 and nearly three since 2012. The closer market rarely is flooded, but there could be some other big-name stoppers available, potentially including Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodriguez. Several setup types likely will be available, too, but if you’re the Rangers and want a proven ninth-inning option, the aforementioned trio likely will be their best bet. Rodriguez, 33, may be especially attractive thanks to his contract, which calls for him to earn just over $1 million the rest of 2015, $7.5 million next year with a $6 million club option for 2017. Jay Bruce, Anyone? Four years ago Bruce looked like a star, but 4 1/2 years into a six-year contract with a club option, he’s being dangled on the trade market, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. He’s just 28 but his production fell to .217/.281/.373 in 2014 after knee surgery. He’s rebounded some in 2015, getting back to .251/.341/.465 in a healthy first half. Bruce is due about $5 million the rest of this season, plus $12.5 million in 2016. His $13 million club option comes with a $1 million buyout. When healthy, Bruce is an average defender with a plus arm and he may be a legitimate 3.0 fWAR player. While his home-road splits aren’t pretty this season he’s had numerous season where he hit better away from the Great American Smallpark, as some pitchers like to call it. Bruce’s contract allows for him to block trades to eight clubs — A’s Jays, Yankees, Twins, Marlins, Red Sox and Diamondbacks — but none appear to be fits for the right fielder, anyway. Who does? How about the Royals, who lost Alex Gordon to injury? The Angels also could be a fit if they have enough trade inventory to interest Reds GM Walt Jocketty. Seattle, Texas, the Dodgers and perhaps even the Giants also could have some level of interest. Bruce isn’t pricey, there’s no long-term commitment and it appears he’s put his struggles behind him after a terrible April. Other outfield bats that may hit the market include Justin Upton, Carlos Gomez, Ben Zobrist and Josh Reddick, all of which will draw heavy interest. Every team anywhere near contention outside Pittsburgh, Yankees, Kansas City, Baltimore, Angels and Dodgers could use Gomez. Who needs him the most? Probably Seattle, San Diego and St. Louis. Gomez puts the Cards’ offense over the top and offers the M’s and Padres an answer in center and leadoff through next season. As for Bruce, I’m curious if the Angels or Giants like Bruce enough to make a run at him. Shields When the recent report that the Padres were testing the waters for James Shields hit the Web, I wasn’t surprised, only reminded that it took a long time for a team to give Shields a deal he liked over the offseason. Shields signed for $75 million over four years, but not until days before pitcher and catchers reported for spring training. Now that he’s halfway through year one and due about $3.5 million the rest of 2015 plus $65 million more guaranteed through 2018. Shields can opt out after next season and in lieu of a $2 million buyout on his 2019 option, is due $16 million that season when he will be 38. He’s pitched OK this season for the Padres, posting a 4.16 FIP and 10.11 K/9 over 19 starts. But OK isn’t worth $21 million per season — unless you’re the Red Sox, who gave Rick Porcello nearly $100 million guaranteed for the same kind of performance. Perhaps that deal is why A.J. Preller wants to see what’s out there for Shields. Clubs that may have interest include Texas, Toronto, Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals. All of those clubs had a shot at Shields six months ago, but a few things have changed due to injury. It’s too bad the Royals don’t have the available payroll for a reunion, but I’d love to see the Tigers grab Shields and make the American League Central that much more intriguing.
Each year, successful major league organizations assemble rosters using various approaches and achieve the same desired results – postseason contention. This year is no different, which can be illustrated by a review of ten projected “contenders” for 2015. So, which teams should be considered “contenders” in 2015? Instead of using my own projections – or those of a national media outlet – to classify a team as a contender, I’ve opted to go “in-house” and use the Major League Baseball (MLB) projections of Prospect Insider founder and co-host of The Steve Sandmeyer Show on 1090 The Fan, Jason A. Churchill. The ten teams that I’ve chosen are the six division leaders projected by Jason and two second-place teams from from each league to represent wild card teams. Before we start The number of players in the categories listed below reflect how each team’s 25-man roster was configured on Opening Day. “Homegrown” refers to players who were selected and signed during the MLB amateur draft process or otherwise signed to their first professional contract. Free agents are players who were already professionals in the major leagues or internationally. Examples of international players are Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig or Seattle Mariner Hisashi Iwakuma. “Rule Five” refers to players who were selected by their current team during the rule five draft this past December or in a previous year. The remaining category of players – trades and waivers – should already be understood. There will be instances when significant contributors on the disabled list will be mentioned, although they’re not on the 25-man roster. Players such as Los Angeles Angel Josh Hamilton and Detroit Tiger Justin Verlander fit into that category. When that happens, their injury will be mentioned or there will be a (DL) after their name. Team payrolls and player salaries were obtained from the compensation page on baseballprospectus.com. Boston Red Sox The team that won the 2013 World Series was awful in 2014. Consequently, the Red Sox started retooling last July by dealing Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Andrew Miller, and Jonny Gomes, while acquiring outfielder Allen Craig, starting pitcher Joe Kelly, and Yoenis Céspedes – who they flipped for pitcher Rick Porcello in December. After the season, Boston added starter-level talent by signing free agents – third baseman Pablo Sandoval, left fielder Hanley Ramírez and starting pitcher Justin Masterson – and trading for pitcher Wade Miley. Importing top talent isn’t a new practice for Boston – designated hitter David Ortiz, outfielder Shane Victorino, closer Koji Uehara (DL), and first baseman Mike Napoli are all imported and have contributed to the team’s championship success.The Red Sox have also been involved in the expanding Cuban import market by signing both outfielder Rusney Castillo and infielder Yoan Moncada, although neither player is on the 25-man roster. Despite the heavy dose of imports, several of Boston’s key contributors are homegrown – star second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Opening Day starter Clay Buchholz, center fielder Mookie Betts, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts were all developed by the organization and are considered key pieces to the team’s success in 2015 and beyond. Cleveland Indians In the mid-to-late 1990s, Cleveland was a powerhouse that won five consecutive division titles and had two World Series appearances. During that era, the team maintained a stable of homegrown players who were signed to long-term contracts. The 2015 team was primarily built through a trade market that landed them their best players – 2014 American League Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber, outfielders Michael Brantley and Brandon Moss, Silver Slugger award winner Yan Gomes, and first baseman Carlos Santana. Conversely, their big free agent acquisitions – center fielder Michael Bourn, designated hitter David Murphy and Nick Swisher – have underachieved.Despite the less-than-expected production from their high-cost free agents, Cleveland is considered a contender because the team’s management has sprinkled-in several homegrown contributors – second baseman Jason Kipnis, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, shortstop José Ramírez, and closer Cody Allen – to complement their key imports. Being successful with such a low payroll is made possible by having many relatively inexpensive players on their roster. Everyone on the team, except Nick Swisher (DL) and Bourn, makes $6.5 million or less. Their four best 2014 performers – Brantley, Gomes, Kluber, and Santana – earned a combined $14.2 million, less than Swisher’s $15 million salary. Detroit Tigers Detroit is a “win now” organization willing to spend money and the heart of its line-up – second baseman Ian Kinsler, perennial Most Valuable Player candidate Miguel Cabrera, designated hitter Víctor Martínez, plus outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez – have arrived via trades and free agency. None of the current starting pitchers – including trade acquisitions David Price and Anibal Sánchez – were originally signed by the team. However, former Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander (DL) is a product of Detroit’s system.The Tigers have the fifth largest payroll in the majors, although their highest paid free agent is designated hitter Victor Martinez, who is earning $14 million and just re-signed with the team after his original free agent deal expired. A second-order effect of trading for proven stars is adding their large salaries to the inventory. Four players acquired in the past three years – Price, Sanchez, Cespedes, Kinsler – account for $63 million, while contract extensions for Verlander and Cabrera account for another $50 million. Los Angeles Angels Although the most notable stars on the Angels’ roster came from within the organization or by way of free agency, over half the roster arrived via trades including third baseman David Freese, catcher Chris Iannetta, outfielder Matt Joyce – all starters – and Huston Street who is closing games. Including the currently injured Josh Hamilton, the team has four free agents – first baseman Albert Pujols, starter C. J. Wilson and reliever Joe Smith – that accounts for 50-percent of the team’s payroll.Among the team’s significant in-house contributors is one of the best players on the planet – center fielder Mike Trout. Other key homegrown players like shortstop Erick Aybar, designated hitter Kole Calhoun, and starting pitchers Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, and Garrett Richards (DL). This hybrid roster of players helped the Angels win 98 games last year and make them a contender once again. Los Angeles Dodgers Since 2012, the Angels’ crosstown rival has almost tripled their payroll, including $28 million for two players – Matt Kemp and Dan Haren – no longer with the team. The Dodgers have five other players making more than $18 million, including three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw at $32.5 million. The franchise has delved into the international free agent market by acquiring Cuban defector, Yasiel Puig, to a seven-year/$42 million dollar deal and Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu (DL) to six-years/$36 million.Hiring former Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman to take over the team’s baseball operations may signal that the organization, which has deep pockets, is interested in balancing short-term success with long-term sustainability. Going into 2016, the team has $166.3 million committed to 12 players – including $3.5 million to Kemp – although that could shrink if pitcher Zack Greinke decides to opt out of his contract after the 2015 season and spurns the $26 million that he’s owed in 2016. New York Mets With the team reportedly enduring financial difficulties, general manager Sandy Alderson has relied heavily on homegrown players and complemented his organization’s talent with a few high-paid free agents and assets cleverly picked up in trades. The Mets’ best players – third baseman David Wright, pitchers Matt Harvey and 2014 National League Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, gold glove center fielder Juan Lagares, all-star second baseman Daniel Murphy, and first baseman Lucas Duda – were all developed internally.The veteran free agents that Alderson has chosen to augment his homegrown foundation are pitcher Bartolo Colon and outfielders Curtis Granderson, and Michael Cuddyer. All are signed to relatively inexpensive short-term contracts that helps the team control cost. His best trades garnered him catcher Travis d’Arnaud and top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard for a Cy Young award winner – R.A. Dickey – and pitcher Zack Wheeler (DL) for pending free agent Carlos Beltran. The Mets rebuilding process is well underway after enduring six consecutive losing seasons. How far they go in 2015 will depend on how far their homegrown players can take them. Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington and his staff have restored an organization that went two decades without a winning record by building a strong farm system, acquiring young talent when trading veterans, retaining their own young talent by locking up players early in their careers, and judiciously signing affordable free agents.The foundation of this team is their homegrown talent, which includes one of the best players in baseball – Andrew McCutchen. The perennial MVP candidate is joined by a core of young players that includes position players Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer, Gregory Polanco, and starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. He’s supplemented his homegrown core with affordable imports such as third baseman Josh Harrison, starting pitchers Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Vance Worley, and Jeff Locke, closer Mark Melancon, reserves Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez, and Andrew Lambo, plus Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang. Every starting position player is under age-30 and the team has locked-up McCutchen, Harrison, and Marte to long-term extensions that rewards the player and promotes organizational stability. Seattle Mariners When Jack Zduriencik took over general manager in late-2008, he set out to improve the team’s minor league system and use it as a foundation to build a winner. Homegrown contributors include gold glove third baseman Kyle Seager, catcher Mike Zunino, left fielder Dustin Ackley, and three starting pitchers – perennial Cy Young award candidate Félix Hernández, along with youngster James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker.Seattle has incrementally increased its payroll by 32-percent since 2011 by retaining their two best homegrown players – Hernandez and Seager – with seven-year extensions. Their free agent acquisitions include second baseman Robinson Cano, all-star and Cy Young award finalist Hisashi Iwakuma, closer Fernando Rodney, slugger Nelson Cruz and outfielder Rickie Weeks. Though the outcome of some of Zduriencik’s trades haven’t yielded the desired results, he’s been able to add veterans Austin Jackson, Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano, and first baseman Logan Morrison without losing any assets that the team was going to need at the major league level. St. Louis Cardinals This franchise is often referred to as one of the best organizations in the baseball for good reason; they have registered seven consecutive winning seasons, been to four consecutive League Championship Series, and made two World Series appearances during that time frame. The Cardinals continue to stay committed to developing their own talent in order to control cost and maintain roster stability, including eight MLB amateur draftees who are vital to the team’s lineup – infielders Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, and Matt Adams, catcher Yadier Molina – and their pitching staff – Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, and Trevor Rosenthal.Although the focus of the organization may be on developing their own talent, St. Louis has strategically imported key elements to their lineup, rotation, and bench. Starting pitchers Adam Wainwright and John Lackey and outfielders Jason Heyward and Matt Holliday have all arrived via the trade market and shortstop Jhonny Peralta was signed as a free agent. Washington Nationals 2015 is a pivotal season for Washington, which has four key players – shortstop Ian Desmond, outfielder Denard Span (DL) and pitchers Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann – who are likely to leave the team via free agency at season’s end. General Manager Mike Rizzo’s squad is loaded with players developed by his organization – Zimmermann, Desmond, infielders Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon (DL), plus outfielder Bryce Harper, closer Drew Storen, and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg.To fill-in their roster, the Nationals have added several valuable pieces with trades – Fister, Span, infielder Yunel Escobar. Plus, they’ve demonstrated a willingness to occasionally go after big-ticket free agents when it makes sense. Most notably, outfielder Jayson Werth in 2010 and pitcher Max Scherzer this year – both players will earn a combined $38.6 million in 2016. Although the team is looking at losing key players after 2016, they’re not abandoning their future as evidenced by trading some of their minor league depth for prospects the team believes will help them in the future – one of the San Diego Padres top pitching prospects, Joe Ross, and reportedly the Padres’ 2014 first-round draft, shortstop Trea Turner. Final thought Regardless of each contending team’s motivation to use a certain blueprint for constructing a winner, they all have two things in common – good players on their major league roster and an increased chance to compete in the postseason. All that’s left is for them to do is perform on the field.
Offensive production in major league baseball has dropped sharply over the past decade. The most frequently suggested causes behind this decline are an aggressive performance-enhancing drug testing, the implementation of state-of-the-art analysis on hitters’ tendencies, rising pitch velocities, increased relief pitcher specialization, and more defensive shifts. Regardless of the cause behind the offensive swoon, teams are seeing fewer hitters reach base. League-average on-base percentage (OBP) in recent years harkens back to the levels that prompted Major League Baseball to lower the pitcher’s mound in 1969. You have to go back to 1972 to find a year where OBP was lower than it was in 2014. The natural by-product of fewer base runners is fewer scoring opportunities. In 2005, teams averaged 4.59 runs-per-game compared to the 4.07 runs-per-game average in 2014. Offense has decreased across the board; home runs, singles, extra base hits, and walks have all declined. With that in mind, is there anything that a team could consider to improve their chances of scoring? Well, there’s an old baseball adage that “speed never slumps.” If that’s true, could the stolen base help offensively-challenged teams generate run production? Taking advantage of speed Potentially, stolen bases provide an opportunity to increase offensive production with a lower slugging percentage from hitters. A single or walk can be the equivalent to a double; likewise, a double can be turned into a triple. The following “run expectancy” table derived from Baseball Prospectus illustrates how advancing a runner an extra base impacts run scoring opportunities. Run expectancy is the average numbers of runs scored from specific base/out scenarios. For example, with no runner on base and no outs, an average of .4552 runs score. Accordingly, the likelihood of scoring increases from .4552 to .8182 when there’s a runner on first base and no out. Regardless of scenario, advancing a runner to the next base increases the odds of scoring. Another benefit of speed on the base paths is that it can be a disruptive force. A speedster can apply pressure on the pitcher/catcher tandem and force defenders to play more “honestly” with regards to defensive shifts. There are potential downsides to this strategy; it can backfire if the runner is caught stealing because run expectancy is zero if a runner is thrown out and sitting in the dugout. Also, a running threat can be equally disruptive to the hitter at the plate depending on the person hitting. Measuring base running performance Two statistics that can help estimate the value of stolen bases and base running are weighted stolen base (wSB) and base runs (BsR). The wSB statistic tallies the number of runs a player contributes to his team, via the stolen base, compared to the average player. A wSB value above zero indicates a player has contributed more runs than the average player with same number of opportunities; a value below zero indicates that a player has contributed fewer runs than an average player. BsR quantifies the run value of a base runner while on the base path. It encompasses stolen bases, caught stealing, extra bases taken, and outs made while on base. BsR serves as the base running component for the FanGraphs version of Wins Above Replacement (fWAR). Different approaches, similar success In 2014, the use of the stolen base varied greatly between organizations. Let’s look at two teams at each end of the stolen base spectrum and one that appeared to balance power and speed more evenly. The Kansas City Royals ran their way to the World Series with a major league-leading 153 stolen bases, while hitting the fewest home runs (95). The Royals spread their thievery throughout their lineup; only five players registered double-digit steals and only two surpassed 30 swiped bags. The American League (AL) champs leveraged the stolen base into an effective offensive weapon, which was reflected in their league-leading wSB of 11.5; far ahead of the second place New York Yankees (7.2). Kansas City skillfully offset their power deficiency and below-league-average OBP by advancing runners with the stolen base. Conversely, the Baltimore Orioles were last in the majors in stolen bases. The team had no players with double-digit steals, posted a -5.9 BsR, and four major league players had more stolen bases than the entire Orioles’ roster (44). The team’s offense didn’t need to rely on speed to win the most games in the AL thanks to leading the majors in home runs and being fifth in on-base plus slugging (OPS). The Los Angeles Dodgers blended their speed and power and were the only team, other than the Royals, to have more stolen bases (138) than home runs (134). The majority of their swiped bags came from two players; second baseman and league-leader Dee Gordon (64) and outfielder Carl Crawford (23). The team liked to run despite its league-average 73% success rate, which can be traced back to the low rates of Gordon (77%), Yasiel Puig (61%), and Matt Kemp (62%). Despite less-than-optimum base stealing efficiency, Los Angeles recorded a 2.9 wSB and 3.0 BsR on their way to winning 94 games and the National League (NL) West division. Leading the majors in OBP certainly helped offset any base stealing setbacks. Different approaches, dissimilar success I’m going to focus on the majors’ top three in 2014 stolen bases and the Seattle Mariners’ top base stealing threat to illustrate the different approaches and their varied results from base stealing. Dee Gordon Entering 2014, Gordon had only 657 major league plate appearances since debuting with the Dodgers in 2011. Last season, he nearly surpassed that total with 650 plate appearances leading the majors in stolen bases and infield hits. The 26-year-old infielder finally had sustained success, although he was far less effective in the second half of the season. After walking 27 times in the first half, he only walked four more times during the rest of the season. His second half offensive swoon was reflected in his base stealing activity too; he was caught stealing 35% of the time in the second half (10 of 31 attempts) after only being thrown out nine times during 52 first half attempts. Despite his second half decline, the Miami Marlins believe Gordon has value and acquired him via a December trade. Assuming he doesn’t improve on the base paths, it’ll be interesting to see if the less-potent Miami offense can absorb his mediocre 77% success rate. Jose Altuve The Houston Astros’ second baseman had a breakthrough season by leading the majors in batting average and delivering an all-star level 5.1 fWAR value. Altuve’s impressive 7.7% strikeout rate was second only to Detroit Tiger Victor Martinez (6.6%). The 24-year-old only attempted to steal during 20% of his base stealing opportunities, but he delivered a league-leading wSB making his speed a valuable, but not singular, component to a balanced offensive approach. Billy Hamilton The Cincinnati Reds’ center fielder has been heralded for his base stealing prowess throughout his minor league career. Any doubts about Hamilton have always been focused on his difficulties at the plate; he had a 2013 triple slash of .256/.308/.343 at AAA-Louisville and a poor .292 OBP during his 2014 rookie season. When the 24-year-old rookie did get on base, he was the majors’ most aggressive base stealer attempting to steal during 46% of base stealing opportunities. The downside to this aggressive approach resulted in Hamilton being caught stealing 23 times and being picked-off eight; both league-leading numbers. As a consequence, his 2 wSB lagged behind 36-year-old veteran Jimmy Rollins’ 3.2, which was earned with half as many stolen bases (28). The Reds’ 2014 offense was one of the worst in the NL. Going forward, Hamilton must get on base more frequently and be more efficient on the base paths. Otherwise, he has limited value to an offensively-challenged lineup. James Jones Mariners outfielder James Jones is proof positive of another old baseball adage; “you can’t steal first base.” The 26-year-old’s 28 stolen bases in just 328 plate appearances was impressive and placed him among the majors’ top 25 in stolen bases. Unfortunately, his OBP was an awful .278. Despite his offensive woes, Jones’ wSB (4.7) was fifth in the majors and he tied for the league lead with an outstanding 96% stolen base success rate. The former collegiate pitcher’s plate patience didn’t help his cause; he walked just 12 times during those 328 plate appearances. Interestingly, he walked 13 times in 173 plate appearances during his stints at AAA-Tacoma. Prior to 2014, Jones had demonstrated more patience with a walk rate that hovered near 10% compared to his 3.7% effort in Seattle. The left-handed hitting outfielder is a great example of someone who could significantly increase their value by being just league-average at getting on base. Conclusion Offensively-challenged teams and players can certainly benefit from speed on the base paths, if utilized as a component of a balanced approach. However, nothing will ever replace a proficient hitter who gets on base often and/or creates runs with their bat. Players like Billy Hamilton and James Jones will always create excitement on the base path for fans unless they can’t reach first base. Then, they’re just an exciting out in the box score.
Despite the commodity that power has become in today’s game, a trio of slugging outfielders were moved west this past week. All three were, somewhat surprisingly, acquired by the San Diego Padres. Matt Kemp was officially acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers after some concerns arose in his physical. Wil Myers was brought on board in a three-team blockbuster with the Tampa Bay Rays. The cherry on top of the newly formed outfield is Justin Upton, acquired from the Atlanta Braves. All three are right-handed, outfielders, and hold plenty of power. All three were also connected to the Seattle Mariners in some capacity during recent times. There were also a myriad of free agent outfielders who found new homes as well. Alex Rios signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals and Mike Morse headed to the Miami Marlins on a two-year pact. Of course Melky Cabrera was also signed by the Chicago White Sox recently, meaning the market for starting-calibre outfielders is barren. Colby Rasmus and Nori Aoki remain, but there are concerns about whether either can be a regular. The Mariners weren’t completely shut out, however, as they picked up Justin Ruggiano from the Chicago Cubs for a minor leaguer. But aside from the Nelson Cruz signing, Seattle hasn’t done anything to significantly augment a lacklustre 2014 lineup. There were reports earlier this week that the M’s were close to a significant transaction, but we are still waiting for that to happen — and it still could. Kemp and the Mariners felt like an inevitability in the fall. Seattle had the need for a right-handed outfielder with some power and the means to assume a significant portion of the slugger’s salary. Despite his flaws, Kemp would have improved the Mariners in 2015 and 2016 at the least. In fact, there was reportedly a deal in place that would have sent Brad Miller and Michael Saunders to LA for Kemp and cash that would cover half his salary. The Dodgers would change their minds and insist that a young pitcher, such as Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, be included in the trade. Seattle said no, and Kemp is now slated to man the position that was famously patrolled in San Diego by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. With Upton it was a similar case as the clubs made somewhat logical trade partners and there was plenty of reported interest. The problem here though was the right-hander’s impending free agency. When Seattle had a deal in place for the outfielder around this time two years ago, they were willing to deal Walker. Upton could have spent three seasons in blue and teal. However at this point there was no guarantee he would stay in Seattle beyond 2015. At the price of a talented young pitcher with valuable years of club control the M’s also balked. Atlanta would be unable to land the coveted young starter they desired and instead sent Upton to San Diego for what they perceived to be the best package of prospects. The Myers trade is the one of the three that really stood out. The Braves had already moved outfielder Jason Heyward and were considered sellers. Los Angeles had an outfield surplus and a new regime looking to change the complexion of a star-studded roster. Myers had just completed his second big league season and was still a couple years away from getting expensive through the arbitration process — usually that is the time when the small-market Rays would deal a player. But as is sometimes the case, the Rays had ulterior motives for dealing the youngster. In return they picked up promising young outfielder Steven Souza from the Washington Nationals who will essentially replace Myers in the outfield, among other players. The Padres were highly praised for securing all three outfielders without surrendering any of the young pitching on the active roster. Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy will anchor the rotation again in 2015. Seattle’s system is unlike San Diego’s in that there really isn’t significant depth to deal from. The Padres were able to protect their top pitching prospects and now have excess pieces, such as Seth Smith, that can be dealt to replenish some of the talent given up. Many of the Mariners’ top prospects have graduated to the big league levels. Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, and James Paxton are now key contributors. Taijuan Walker and D.J. Peterson are the blue chippers that sit atop the system, with Walker expected to take a spot in the rotation if everything goes right. There is obvious concern with dealing any top prospect, but there’s very little in the upper minors in terms of serious young talent. Katel Marte and Austin Wilson, among others, could take another step forward in 2015. But they aren’t considered impact players at this point in time nor do they have the lustre of a first-round draft pick or highly ranked talent. For those reasons of organizational depth, it made plenty of sense for the Mariners to go the free agency route this winter. Nelson Cruz was given $57 million and there was plenty of disappointment when Cabrera decided on the Windy City instead of Seattle. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill recently compared Kemp and Cabrera and what it would cost the Mariners to acquire the outfielders. His conclusion was that it would make far more sense to commit years and money to Cabrera instead of more cash and considerable talent to land Kemp. Kemp appears to be the better player, especially if the power comes back, but both project for similar production moving forward. Would it make more sense to have spent an extra year and $13 million on Cabrera or trade Walker? In that context it seems obvious considering the available funds and lack of success in player development. I don’t want to suggest that the Mariners should or should not deal a younger player to improve the lineup this winter. Depending on the player, it may make sense. If Myers, a young outfielder with star potential, is the target then sure, we have a case. But a one-year rental on a guy like Upton? That doesn’t make much sense. Both the Dodgers and Braves would only deal their outfielders to Seattle for Walker, Paxton, or maybe Roenis Elias. The Mariners wisely abstained and are most likely better off for it. Eventually Seattle will have to take a significant risk to get that piece that they believe will put them over the top. We saw that fail for the Oakland Athletics and Jon Lester. We also saw that succeed for the Kansas City Royals and James Shields — yes, even though they didn’t win it all, that’s still a major victory for the city and club. Upton and Kemp didn’t appear to be the right players for that job. The decision to give Cruz four years and not offer more than three to Cabrera is still puzzling, but it isn’t invalid. Myers could’ve been that player, though we don’t know for sure what conversations the Mariners did or did not have with the Rays. It’s still early in the winter and despite the flurry of activity, there are still plenty of moves that could be made. Acquiring the second half of the right field platoon with Ruggiano — we’re all looking at you, Seth Smith — could give the lineup the extra boost it needs overall. I had opined that there was no reason Seattle shouldn’t look to acquire Smith and Upton before the latter was dealt elsewhere and Ruggiano was brought into the fold. After all, Dustin Ackley isn’t a sure thing in left field and there is some level of concern with Austin Jackson in center. In all reality, the M’s should and probably will continue to look for that impact outfielder that can be had via the trade route. Who that could be very much remains to be seen. If the club can start the year with Ruggiano in a fourth outfielder role or allow Miller to focus solely on being a starting shortstop in the spring, the offseason will have been successful in many ways. Nothing is likely to happen until the new year, but there are plenty of significant players that are acquired in January.
The decision is finally in: Jon Lester will be a Chicago Cub. The left-hander has reportedly agreed to a six-year deal worth $155 million with a $15 million vesting option for a seventh year. According to various reports Lester’s decision came down to the Cubs and his former team the Boston Red Sox. The San Francisco Giants were informed earlier on Tuesday afternoon that they would not be the ace’s destination. The Red Sox reportedly made a six year offer worth $135 million to Lester, who ultimately decided he wanted a chance at making history with the Cubs. Over the past week it was speculated that the 31-year old would receive somewhere between $150-to-$160 million by the time it was all said and done. There are some reports suggesting the Giants would have been willing to go a seventh year, but no club formally offered the extra term. Lester fronts a Cubs roster loaded with young talent that could contend in the National League Central division as early as next year. I had been of the opinion that if Lester wanted to return to Boston the contract would have been signed already, and judging by Chicago’s pursuit of the star hurler, there are few people outside of Beantown that are surprised to hear of his decision. Not to mention the fact that the Red Sox lowball offer in the spring of four years and $70 million and eventually trade of Lester to the Oakland Athletics all but sealed the end of that relationship. The Lester decision has held up a majority of the market up to this point in time. The Red Sox have several players available in trade and were likely to hold off on other deals before getting word from their former prospect. The contract also sets the bar for top free agent starter Max Scherzer who’s believed to be seeking $200 million-plus. Earlier on Tuesday left-hander Francisco Liriano re-signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for three years and $39 million, but otherwise the second-tier of free agent starting pitching has understandably been in flux. Expect the market for pitchers such as Ervin Santana, Brandon McCarthy, and others to become more clear in the coming days. James Shields, the third member of the top trio of starters, is also expected to have his market develop quicker with Lester off the board. The Red Sox are believed to be turning their attention to Shields and Cole Hamels, who is available for the right offer. It didn’t appear that the Seattle Mariners were interested in committing big dollars to a pitcher and were never involved in the Lester talks beyond preliminary conversations. That’s not particularly surprising as the team has a reasonably solid rotation and more pressing needs on the offensive side of things. However a signing of someone such as Lester would have made moving a James Paxton or Taijuan Walker for a bat a much easier pill to swallow. There is still the possibility of adding a McCarthy or Edinson Volquez type to boost the middle of the rotation. GM Jack Zduriencik has all but said that Walker and Paxton will not be moved and because of that the club is believed to be out of the running for outfielder Matt Kemp who has also been connected to the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles. Not only will Lester’s signing affect the pitching market, but the position player market as well. Now that Jon Lester has signed with the Cubs, the likelihood that David Ross and Jonny Gomes end up in Chicago increases significantly. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 10, 2014 Jonny Gomes was linked to the Mariners last week and would make sense for the club as a platoon bat. The outfielder played with Lester in both Boston and Oakland and the Cubs are reportedly looking to add a couple veteran bats to the roster. There is also some speculation that Melky Cabrera could come to a decision in the near future as well. Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that talks with the outfielder are ‘stalled’. Earlier in the week the Mariners were connected to Cabrera from several within the industry and were even considered a frontrunner at one point. It is believed that Cabrera is looking for a five-year commitment and Seattle is willing to go four. Dutton also reports that the M’s are once again showing interest in Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo. The Mariners have been connected to the 25-year old on several occasions and were thought to be in some capacity of trade talks last July. Viciedo would add some right-handed power to the lineup and fill a hole in right field, but isn’t particularly good defensively and has a very spotty track record. The idea of swapping out of options starter Erasmo Ramirez for Viciedo could make sense as the White Sox do have a hole at the back of their rotation even after the acquisition of Jeff Samardzija. The Winter Meetings don’t officially conclude until Thursday, but Wednesday typically marks the unofficial end leading up to the Rule 5 draft on Thursday morning. Expect most management teams to be getting very little sleep tonight. A lot could happen on Wednesday now that Lester has committed to the Cubs.
It’s no secret that the Seattle Mariners have been aggressively striving to upgrade their offense during this off-season. The team has been rumored to have interest in every free agent slugger and several hitters under the control of other teams including Justin Upton (Atlanta Braves), Yoenis Cespedes (Boston Red Sox), and Matt Kemp (Los Angeles Dodgers). After pitchers Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, the players most often mentioned in trade speculation are shortstops Brad Miller and Chris Taylor; the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers are said to be looking for a new shortstop. On the surface, it may appear that Seattle enjoys a surplus at shortstop and that the team could easily move either Miller or Taylor to upgrade their offense without missing a beat. But, Prospect Insider’s Founder Jason A. Churchill believes that both players equate to one total player at the shortstop position. I cannot stress the following enough: The Seattle Mariners have ONE shortstop, and their names are Brad Miller and Chris Taylor. — Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) December 7, 2014 Jason’s contention can be easily substantiated by analyzing the performance data of both shortstops as a tandem and individually. First, the combined 2.8 fWAR of the left-handed Miller and right-handed Taylor would have ranked sixth among all American League shortstops. Individually, the young shortstops ranked 10th and 11th respectively. Leading AL Shortstops Player fWAR Erick Aybar (LAA) 4.1 Alcides Escobar (KCR) 3.4 J.J Hardy (BAL) 3.4 Alexei Ramirez (CWS) 3.3 Jose Reyes (TOR) 3.3 Miller/Taylor (SEA) 2.8 Eduardo Escobar (MIN) 2.3 During the first half of the 2014 season, Miller struggled mightily at the plate. The 25-year-old had a .204 batting average (AVG) and a .272 On Base Percentage (OBP); he did provide some pop with eight home runs (HR). Brad Miller 1st Half Stats AB H HR RBI AVG OBP 270 55 8 24 .204 .272 Miller’s season improved during the second half of the season, which coincided with the arrival of the 24-year-old Taylor from AAA-Tacoma in late July when he replaced the injured Willie Bloomquist. After the all-star break, the joint effort of both players delivered respectable offensive production and helped keep the Mariners in postseason contention until the last day of the season. Miller/Taylor 2nd Half Stats Player AB H HR RBI AVG OBP Miller 97 26 2 12 .268 .330 Taylor 136 39 0 9 .287 .347 Combo 233 65 2 21 .280 .340 Against southpaws, Miller scuffled quite a bit. Taylor provided more balanced numbers against both left-handed and right-handed pitching, although it’s important to note that there’s only a half season’s worth of data available. Similarly, Miller enjoyed better “handedness” success in his first partial season in 2013. Hence, it’s too early to determine what each hitter’s “normal” handedness performance will eventually be. Brad Miller vs RHP/LHP AB HR RBI AVG OBP vs RHP 273 8 28 .238 .309 vs LHP 94 2 8 .170 .233 Chris Taylor vs RHP/LHP AB HR RBI AVG OBP vs RHP 78 0 7 .295 .341 vs LHP 58 0 2 .276 .354 Unless Seattle firmly believes that either Miller or Taylor is the long-term solution at shortstop, there shouldn’t be a rush to trade either player. Their collective effort provides above average value and at a much lower cost than any individual player. Weakening one position in order to strengthen another would be counterproductive.
It has been a busy week for the hot stove as Russell Martin, Billy Butler, Adam LaRoche, and Jason Heyward have all found new homes. The Seattle Mariners were involved in talks with Martin before he signed a five-year, $82 million with the Toronto Blue Jays. Butler was thought to be a primary target of the M’s but ended up taking a three-year deal with the Oakland Athletics. LaRoche didn’t appear to be on Seattle’s radar at all despite the fact that the club has a need at first base and/or DH and could conceivably used his 20-plus home run bat. It’s well known that the Mariners are in the market for outfielders and have been most notably linked to Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves who are reportedly shopping their star. Let’s take a look at the latest rumors surrounding potential outfield targets. Yasmany Tomas has been a hot topic of late with connections to the Braves, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres — who have reportedly made offers, according to Peter Gammons — and Boston Red Sox. There’s a possibility that Tomas’ landing spot will in part be determined by where free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval decides to sign. The Giants, Padres, and Red Sox are believed to be the finalists for Sandoval with the Giants and Padres ready to turn their full attention to Tomas should they not land Kung Fu Panda. Gammons also points out that Seattle is still in the picture for the Cuban outfielder but are on the outside looking in. The M’s have been linked to Tomas previously, but haven’t been connected recently and aren’t believed to have extended an offer. Tomas, 24, would provide a serious boost to the middle of the Mariners lineup and plug a hole in the outfield, though his defensive abilities aren’t particularly well regarded. It’s projected that Tomas could sign a six or seven-year contract worth as much as $100 million. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp has long been coveted by the Mariners with interest dating previous to this time last year. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Kemp is the most likely outfielder to be traded by the Dodgers as he’s received serious interest from clubs. Los Angeles is expected to deal a veteran outfielder this winter but moving Carl Crawford and the $62.25 million owed to him is unlikely. The other veteran in question is Andre Ethier who is owed slightly less than Crawford over the next three years at $56 million. Both have question marks and injury concerns. The Dodgers preference is to keep Kemp as right-handed hitting Hanley Ramirez is unlikely to return. However the club wants to be able to use top prospect Joc Pederson in center field which would force Kemp to left — Yasiel Puig and his arm would move to right — where he was dreadful in the field. I suggested in the summer that Scott Van Slyke, who could also be dealt to make room, might be a good target for the Mariners. Kemp was able to restore some of his value after an improved 2014 campaign but it is still expected that the Dodgers will include salary relief in any deal, especially if it improves the return. LA has holes at shortstop, third base, and in the pitching staff which would make current Mariners such as Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Brandon Maurer attractive trade targets. The Dodgers did add to their bullpen when they picked up Joel Peralta from the Tampa Bay Rays in a trade earlier this week. [pullquote]Free agent outfielder Torii Hunter has been garnering interest but it doesn’t appear that the M’s will be involved. He is believed to be seeking a one-year deal and the right-hander is still strong in the field and is very well regarded by teammates.[/pullquote] The Cincinnati Reds are willing to discuss several higher-profile players including Jay Bruce according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The two-time All-Star is coming off a down year as he struggled to return from offseason knee surgery. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill notes that Bruce’s left-handed bat probably keeps him on the back-burner for the Mariners who are targeting right-handed bats. But, if Seattle were to pick-up a right-handed bat or two in the meantime — Justin Upton and Nelson Cruz are still very much possibilities — potentially targeting Bruce would seem more likely. Bruce is due $24.5 million over the next two seasons and has a $13 million option for 2017 with a $1 million buyout. The left-hander will turn 28 in April and has three 30-plus home run seasons under his belt. The Rays have reportedly made Matt Joyce available in trade talks according to Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. The 30-year old has been an above average hitter throughout his career and posted a .254/.349/.383 line with a 113 wRC+ in 2014. The left-hander is average defensively in either corner spot but did post a 3.5 fWAR season in 2011. Joyce made $3.7 million as a second-year arbitration player and will likely receive another raise in 2015 before hitting free agency. Morosi says that Joyce is comparable to Bruce though at first glance, the Reds outfielder is the superior player. It’s likely that Joyce would come cheaper than Bruce, but would have less club control. Seattle already has a left-handed hitting outfielder who is better overall than Joyce in Michael Saunders, but are expected to trade the Canadian in the coming weeks.
Jon Lester can really pitch. He’s never won a Cy Young and has finished in the top 5 just twice. Heck, he’s made just three All-Star teams in eight years despite high-level consistency across the board, but he’s shown ace-like abilities and is among the top lefties in baseball. Now the former Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics ace is a free agent looking to cash in on a 6.1 fWAR campaign. Throws: LeftAge: 31 on January 7Service: 8.075Agent: ACESQualifying Offer: N/A Scouting Report Lester has one of the better sinker-cutter-curveball combinations in baseball and he’s worked very hard to perfect a delivery that might be the undoing for most starting pitchers. He sat 90-92 witht he sinker with the occasional 94-95 with a four-seamer. The slider has been replaced by a cutter he commands well in on right-handed batters. He’ll steal a strike versus a lefty with it and can throw any pitch in any count. Lester posted perhaps his best command-and-control season of his career, issuing fewer than two walks per nine innings and the second-best HR/FB rate. He remains occasionally susceptible to the stolen base, but has been above average in that regard the past three seasons. He’s pitched in pennant races and is postseason tested, including two terrific outings in the 2013 World Series. He’s a nightmare for lefties but has been better versus right-handed bats the past couple of seasons. The Upside The 30-year-old is bonafide No. 1 starter with no signs of slowing down. The raw stuff can carry a team for weeks and the veteran command he’s developed bodes well for his immediate future. Any contending rotation that adds Lester to the mix automatically jumps a full level and greatly improves its chances to get to and succeed in October. The Downside Lester turned down a four-year contract extension in April, reported Ken Rosenthal. He’s 31 in January and six-year deals for any pitcher generally do not work out well for the club. Considering Lester’s only free-agent competition in terms of top flight starters is right-hander Max Scherzer, the player has great leverage this offseason. There are some high-ranking scouts that wondered early in Lester’s career whether or not his arm slot and somewhat unorthodox mechanics might contribute to a shorter career or some injury concerns. Those concerns went away years ago when he began compiling 200-inning seasons one right after the other. As he ages, however, those thoughts may return. Cost & Conclusion: Mariners Perspective It would shock most in the industry if Lester signed for less than five years, with six years a good possibility. Something in the $20 million range also figures to be a certainty with the lone question being the exact AAV. All be told, Lester could end up with $125-$150 million over 5-7 years. Many have linked Lester to the Seattle Mariners based on Lester having grown up in Puyallup and attending Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep. The connection isn’t strong, however, as the pitcher entrenched himself in the Boston community and with the Red Sox, having spent 12 years with the organization. The good bet is the lefty seeks out the best combination of contract and a chance to win right away. If the bidding gets well beyond the $20 million range, it’s difficult to imagine such a number fits in with what the Mariners are trying to do over the next few years. His addition could free up a Taijuan Walker for GM Jack Zduriencik to acquire a cleanup hitter, but Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano already are eating up nearly $50 million per season. The club is flush with cash; the RSN deal kicked in this year, which reportedly is worth around $2 billion over 17 years ($115-120 million in revenues per season through 2030) and with local interest growing the general revenues are growing, too. But the chances the M’s start splurging huge dollars for multiple player per offseason are slim, and if they do choose that route the chance a starting pitcher is among them is even slimmer. The Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers appear to be the most likely to opt to make the big offer to Lester, and the Kansas City Royals are among the clubs that have checked in on him this month. The Baltimore Orioles could certainly use Lester, as could the Texas Rangers. One recent report by Nick Cafardo makes one think, however. Cafardo wrote Sunday that the Mariners have fielded calls from clubs inquiring about right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma now is under contract for 2015 at $7 million. Cafardo added that Boston has at least had “internal conversations” about the M’s No. 2 starter and that Seattle would want an impact hitter, such as Yoenis Cespedes, in return. It’s an intriguing thought — Iwakuma-for-Cespedes — but the Mariners do not have a starting pitching surplus by any stretch. As I wrote last week, the Mariners’ rotation was solid in 2014, but not great, and relying on kids such as James Paxton, Walker, Roenis Elias, to step up their game, remain healthy and provide impact innings in Iwakuma’s absence is a poor plan and one I don’t believe Seattle will risk. If they spent money on a free agent starting pitcher or two, however, Iwakuma could become available in the manner in which I previously mentioned Walker. But it would take a significant starter — like Lester — to make the right-hander an expendable commodity.
During his time with the then Florida Marlins, Hanley Ramirez was often considered to be one of the top all-around players in the game. A power-hitting shortstop is a commodity in and of itself but one that could also hit for average, steal bases, and more or less hold his own a premium position? That’s a franchise player right there. Injuries and a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers have occurred since that time but he is still a star player. Ramirez is coming off a relatively healthy season compared to 2013 and, although he missed time with a myriad of smaller injuries, only hit the disabled list once in August with an oblique strain. In 512 plate appearances he posted a .283/.369/.448 slash line with a 135 wRC+. But what kind of free agent is Ramirez? Bats: RightAge: 31 on Dec. 23Service: 9.014Agent: Wasserman Media GroupQualifying Offer: Yes Scouting Report For his career Ramirez has hit right and left-handed pitching very well with a higher wRC+ against lefties, albeit in a lesser number of plate appearances. He can hit the ball to all fields and has significantly more power when pulling the ball. The right-hander hits fastballs, sliders, and changeups well and has maintained a contact rate north of 80 percent over the course of his career — he doesn’t swing and miss much. Ramirez has expanded his zone in recent years but remains a very disciplined hitter who boasts a nearly ten percent career walk rate and a 16.6 percent strikeout rate. Ramirez has predominantly played shortstop during his career but saw almost 900 innings at third base in 2012. In his former years the 30-year old was an average defensive shortstop at best with a knack for making throwing errors. Through attrition his range and arm strength have decreased and a move to the less-demanding hot corner in the near future seems likely. Ramirez considers himself to be a shortstop but he has shown willingness to play third and even left field. Given his injury history, having the Wasserman Media Group client see regular reps at designated hitter would likely be necessary, should he sign with an American League team. The legs won’t steal 50 bases anymore, but Ramirez stole 14 in 2014 and is an average baserunner with a reputation that’ll probably do more to distract the pitcher than grab an extra base now and then. The Upside Ramirez boasts one of the most sought after commodities in the game: right-handed power. Although he probably won’t hit 33 home runs again like he did in 2008, even 20 — a very reasonable projection for 2015 — carries significant value given the scarcity of power. That power also does not come with the sacrifice of batting average or a high strikeout rate. The bat is plus-plus at shortstop and even at third base it would still be plus. Throw in 10-to-15 steals and you have a very valuable player. The 20/20 season has become somewhat of an enigma, but a 20/15 finish in 2015 isn’t out of the question for Ramirez. He’s still an above-average athlete overall. Given Ramirez’s ability to take pitches and handle the strike zone with a disciplined approach, he can hit practically anywhere in the lineup. He regularly hit in the No. 3 spot for a loaded Dodgers lineup in 2014 between Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez. Earlier in his career the infielder was the perfect leadoff hitter and regularly refuted the theory of lineup protection while he was with the Marlins. The Downside Although Ramirez will turn just 31 in December, he has a lot of miles on a body that has shown signs of fragility. It would be no surprise to see him spend a significant period on the disabled list at any point during the five or six-year deal he figures to sign. The three-time All-Star can probably handle another year or two at short, but a move to a corner spot is imminent. He’s becoming a liability in the field, if he isn’t already as a shortstop. There’s also the Hollywood side of HanRam who essentially wore out his welcome with the Marlins before basking the the lights of Los Angeles. Questions have been raised about his work ethic although the Dodgers claimed otherwise earlier in the year. When he’s struggling at the plate Ramirez can be a distraction and his loud personality comes off more as arrogance than passion. It’s important to note however that over the last couple seasons the Dodgers clubhouse chemistry has been less than terrible due to the number of high-maintenance personalities and egos with a lack of control shown by manager Don Mattingly. Cost & Conclusion: Mariners Perspective Nobody is going to argue that Ramirez isn’t a great player. Despite the injuries and attitude questions the guy can flat out play. The Seattle Mariners are reportedly showing serious interest in the star, though his price tag may be prohibitive. As one of the top bats available on the market Ramirez is seeking a deal in excess of $100 million over five or six years. Considering Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury received seven-year deals worth $130 million and $153 million respectively last winter, a nine-figure contract shouldn’t be a problem for the former Rookie of the Year. The Mariners have a pair of solid young shortstops in Brad Miller and Chris Taylor as well as a rising prospect in Katel Marte, but it’s unclear whether or not the club believes one of the three is a long-term solution at short. Both Miller and Taylor are above average defensively with Miller showing more power and Taylor showing better contact skills. However Miller struggled mightily at times in 2014 and Taylor’s batting average was inflated by an unsustainably high BABIP. There’s also speculation that one of the two will be dealt with winter in a trade for a corner bat. Marte is still at least a year away from the big leagues. Seattle shocked the baseball world when they handed Robinson Cano a ten-year, $240 million contract last winter and presumably could spend big bucks again. Aside from Felix Hernandez, Cano, and Kyle Seager’s potential extension, the Mariners lack any serious payroll commitments beyond 2015. Depending on how you calculate it, the M’s have around $73 million committed to 2015 without accounting for league minimum and arbitration players. After spending $106 million in 2014 and reportedly having additional payroll available according to team president Kevin Mather, the club presumably has around $40 million — possibly more — to play with this winter. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill opines that, despite his superior offensive skills, Ramirez is not an ideal fit for the Mariners. It’s not that he doesn’t fit as the M’s do need a right-handed bat with some power and conceivably have a hole at shortstop. It’s the fact that this is a club with multiple holes to fill and committing $20-25 million annually to Ramirez would limit the club’s flexibility. Ramirez has to maintain the bat to stay valuable as his defensive skills figure to only continue declining over the next couple seasons. Despite the Dodgers stating their interest in retaining their shortstop throughout the past season they have yet to engage in serious contract talks. A new regime with executive extraordinaire Andrew Friedman at the top is probably going in a different direction as the team could be headed for a major makeover this winter. The right-hander declined the $15.3 million qualifying offer and would cost the Mariners their first round draft pick, No. 21 overall, if they chose to sign him. Hanley Ramirez is an upgrade for the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners need to upgrade their roster. On paper it makes plenty of sense and with available payroll it’s a definite possibility, but seems unlikely at this point. If the bubble bursts and Ramirez sees his price tag fall to the five-year, $75 million range he’d be a more realistic fit for Seattle. However it’s much more likely that he receives the nine-figure contract he seeks and the contract becomes regrettable before Ramirez exits his prime years.
To coincide with our Seattle Mariners of the month feature, Prospect Insider will also be highlighting a couple of top performers from around the major leagues on a monthly basis as well. In June it was outfielder Mike Trout and starter Clayton Kershaw that took home the honors. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Kyle Seager took the awards for July’s M’s of the month, and as a reminder, Mariners players will not be included in these posts. Let’s take a look at who were the best of the best in July. Jayson Werth, OF, WSH — 101 PA, .337/.446/.687, 213 wRC+, .349 ISO, 11 2B, 6 HR, 24 RBI Werth had an outstanding month at the plate and lead all qualified batters in wRC+ and wOBA, and had the second most runs batted in and ISO rating. The 35-year old managed to reach base in all but two games that he started in July — he appeared in one game as a pinch-hitter where he failed to reach base. He had 10 multi-hit games on the month including a streak of four straight multi-hit games at the beginning of the month. Werth’s team, the Washington Nationals, currently hold a three-game lead in the National League East and will need the former first-round draft pick to continue his solid play through the stretch drive Runner-UpJose Abreu, 1B, CWS — 111 PA, .373/.446/.687, 196 wRC+, .293 ISO, 11 2B, 6 HR, 19 RBI Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD — 5 GS, 4-0, 42.0 IP, 1.07 ERA, 2.07 FIP, 2.53 xFIP, 43 K, 4 BB As King Felix tears his way through American League, Kershaw continues to have his way with National League batters. The 26-year old won four of his five July starts and went the distance in three of those outings. His lowest strikeout total in a start was seven while he topped out with 11 in his complete game against the San Diego Padres on July 10th. He did give up a couple home runs, but those were really his only blemishes on the month. His peripherals don’t support his minuscule ERA on the month, but since the All-Star’s home run rate was so low, that’s to be expected as xFIP equalizes home run rates. The Los Angeles Dodgers have been in a tough battle with the San Francisco Giants for NL West supremacy and it doesn’t hurt to have an ace to draw practically every other day. Runner-UpCorey Kluber, SP, CLE — 5 GS, 4-0, 41.0 IP, 1.54 ERA, 2.04 FIP, 2.24 xFIP, 43 K, 4 BB
Rarely does an elite starting pitcher change zip codes in the week leading up to the trade deadline, especially one that was part of a world championship team the year before. However the Boston Red Sox find themselves in a difficult situation with their ace Jon Lester who is set for a major payday as a free agent this winter. There’s mutual interest in keeping the southpaw in Beantown, but the two sides weren’t able to agree to an extension in Spring Training and a deal before the end of the season seems unlikely at this point. The 48-57 Red Sox have already dealt one of their starters, Jake Peavy, and should take advantage of a market inefficiency and deal Lester before July 31st as well. Lester, 30, is in the midst of an outstanding season in which he’s posted a 2.52 ERA and a 2.63 FIP in 143 innings pitched. His 4.5 fWAR on the season has already eclipsed last year’s mark of 4.2. The Red Sox second-round pick in the 2002 amateur draft is owed around $4 million for the remainder of the season and is all but guaranteed to receive a qualifying offer should he remain with the organization beyond the deadline. There’s no question that Lester would be a significant addition to any team looking for starting pitching help, and there are plenty, and could easily be the best available starter given the uncertainty surrounding David Price. The Tampa Bay Rays have been on a hot streak of late and have propelled themselves within a few games of a wild card spot and may prefer to hold on to their ace for the stretch run. Reports indicate that they need to be blown away by an offer for their star and have yet to be. The major point of contention for the Rays, no doubt, is Price’s salary is expected to be in the $20 million range for the 2015 season, his last year of club control before hitting free agency. The Rays are built to win now however, and at this point in time he seems more likely to be dealt in the offseason. Although plenty could change before Thursday’s deadline. [pullquote]Lester owns a 110-63 record in 241 starts across nine big league seasons. His 33.7 career fWAR is 15th among active pitchers and is ahead of both Cole Hamels and Clayton Kershaw.[/pullquote] We do know that Tampa Bay is looking for a blue chip prospect, see the Seattle Mariners Taijuan Walker, as well as a couple other pieces in exchange for Price considering the acquiring team would have an extra year of control. Lester would be a pure rental should he be dealt this week and the acquiring team wouldn’t be able to cash in a draft pick if he signed elsewhere as he’d be ineligible to receive a qualifying offer at season’s end. So what would two months of Lester cost? A lot. Perhaps the best comparison for a Lester deal would be the July 2012 trade that sent Zack Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels. In exchange for two months of Greinke the Brewers received Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, and Ariel Pena. Segura was ranked No. 55 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list entering the 2012 season and is having a down 2014 after a 3.3 fWAR 2013 campaign for the Brew Crew. Hellweg and Pena are both playing at Triple-A this year and only Hellweg has reached the major league level where he played a handful of games last year. Greinke had a 3.44 ERA and a 2.53 FIP in 123 innings pitched for the Brewers at the time of the trade so one could argue that two months and a potential playoff run from Lester should net more than what the Angels sent for the right-hander. There’s been a rumor circulating today in which the Red Sox have discussed sending Lester to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal involving outfielder Matt Kemp, but several outlets have cooled those reports and nothing appears to be imminent between the two clubs at the moment. The Dodgers could be a fit for Lester as they’ve also been connected to Price and the idea of sending Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, and Hyun-jin Ryu out in a playoff series has to be awfully tantalizing. Los Angeles is loath to trade top prospects Joc Pederson and Corey Seager in a trade for Price but may be willing to move one of them in the right deal. One could argue that sending Pederson to Boston in a one-for-one trade for Lester would be an overpayment let alone adding another piece or two to the pie. The Giants probably wouldn’t be interested in Lester now that they’ve added Peavy, but the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, and Mariners have had varying levels of interest in adding a top tier starting pitcher according to reports, but it’s unlikely the Red Sox would trade Lester within their own division, even if he is willing to re-sign in Boston despite being dealt. For #RedSox, would make sense to move Lester for 2-3 good pieces, then re-sign him after season. Perfect scenario for Boston. — Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) July 28, 2014 Lester says he would be willing to re-sign with #RedSox if they trade him, but you wonder if psychological effect of move would change that. — Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) July 28, 2014 ESPN’s Buster Olney also tweeted today that the Red Sox are still listening on Lester and would be willing to trade him if their asking price is met, and it could be higher than the draft pick they’d receive if he walked. Well that much was obvious — why would the Sox deal for something less than the first-round pick which would likely be in the No. 30-40 overall range? Stranger things have happened of course, but it’d likely take multiple pieces to land the left-hander. Seager, the younger brother of Mariner Kyle Seager, entered the year as the No. 37 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, so a package including him and a couple Double-A types of players that offer some upside would be similar to what the Brewers received for Greinke while accounting for the fact Lester likely has slightly more value. It’s worth noting he’s playoff proven and has had no issue with pitching in the spotlight. The Cardinals have plenty of prospect currency to deal from but it’s doubtful they’d want to give up an Oscar Taveras or a Carlos Martinez in exchange for two months of Lester. There’s a possibility they’d deal Tavares and another fairly significant piece in exchange for a year and a half of Price, but even that appears slim. The defending World Series champions have had a disappointing year riddled with injuries and under-performing prospects and have already started turning their attention to 2015. If they feel their best shot at extending Lester is to hold on to him until the offseason, that’s a chance they’re willing to take. Though considering the southpaw is thought to be looking for a six-year deal in the $140 million range, a la Cole Hamels, and the Sox are said to have offered four years and $70 million in Spring Training, it could be difficult to consummate a deal regardless. Bottom line: with David Price looking more and more like he’ll stay with the Rays for the time being, Lester would easily be the best available starter on the market and Boston should have no problem picking up at least one elite prospect if not a pair of very good young players in a trade. Or even Kemp or another major league player if those talks end up materializing. The draft pick would be nice, but the Red Sox are in a position to turn the ship around quick and be serious contenders in 2015. They have plenty of young talent and a solid pool of pitching depth to work with and adding to it would only be a good thing. Considering the potential return Lester could net, Boston should take the risk and deal their ace before the deadline on Thursday. It doesn’t sound as though extending him will be any easier come November and December, and they simply can’t let a player of Lester’s calibre to walk for a draft pick. Just ask the Yankees about losing Robinson Cano.
The Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in an enviable yet difficult position in which they have too many good outfielders. There’s an awful lot of talent between the trio of Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier but injuries have limited the playing time and effectives of all three over the last couple seasons and it’s been rare to see a time when a spot on the disabled list isn’t occupied by at least one of them. Add in superstar slugger Yasiel Puig and top prospect Joc Pederson who’s ready at Triple-A and you presumably have five guys for three spots — and that isn’t including one Scott Van Slyke who could be a useful pick up for a team like the Seattle Mariners. There’s no question that despite their seemingly limitless payroll the Dodgers would love to get out from one of Crawford, Kemp, or Ethier’s contracts. Not including what’s still owed for 2014, Crawford is due $62.25 million over the next three seasons, Kemp is owed $107 million through 2019, and Ethier is owed $56 million including a buyout of his vesting option for 2018. At one time or another all three of the outfielders were some of the best in baseball and would’ve garnered plenty of interest had they been available by trade. How quickly things change. Normally having overpaid former superstars occupying roster spots wouldn’t be a problem for the Dodgers, but they appear to be very interested in getting Pederson to the big league level, ideally before the end of the 2014 season. He’s currently destroying Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .327/.452/.584 line and his defensive abilities are very highly regarded. Pederson is still just 22-years old but is in his fourth minor league season and it looks as though he’s done verything Los Angeles could’ve hoped for in the minors. Obviously Puig isn’t going anywhere and manager Don Mattingly would be silly not to keep the enigmatic star in the lineup everyday, but that leaves two outfield spots between Crawford, Ethier, Kemp, and Van Slyke. At first glance that doesn’t appear to be such a problem considering the injury history of the aforementioned trio and the luxury of having a couple of very good bats on the bench late in the game, but it’d be very difficult to add Pederson to that mix and maintain much roster flexibility. Now there’s always the possibility that the Dodgers could pull off a trade for Kemp in the coming week, he’s said to be very open to going elsewhere, but this situation is far more likely to be resolved in the offseason. So, could that hypothetically make Van Slyke the most likely current Dodger outfielder to go if and when Pederson is summoned? He certainly seems like he’d be the easiest to move. [pullquote]This year the Dodgers have primarily employed Van Slyke in left field but he’s seen some action in center and has made five starts at first base where he’s logged just over 100 innings in his major league career.[/pullquote] The soon to be 28-year old Van Slyke has put together a decent 2014 campaign with a .259/.387/.504 triple slash line and eight home runs while playing slightly above average defence in right field and average defence in center according to UZR. The son of current Mariners first base coach Andy Van Slyke may not be the flashy big-name offensive addition M’s fans have hoped for, but on paper he certainly could plug some holes. He’s shown some home run power during his time in the minors and for his short major league career has 17 in 143 games played. His right-handed bat would also help balance the glut of left-handed hitters the M’s have near the top of the order. More importantly he’s handled left-handed pitching very well this year with a 214 wRC+ while seeing the majority of his at bats in the fifth and sixth spot in the lineup. Van Slyke excels in the on base department and boasts a 12.6 percent walk rate so far in his young career and a 15.3 percent mark in 2014 alone. Perhaps if he was able to hit for a higher batting average he’d be an excellent candidate to hit in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, but he’s the type of player that can fit practically anywhere in a lineup and his ability to get on base could play well for for the top of the order if he hit in the eighth or ninth spot. In a way Van Slyke is similar to Michael Saunders: he’s good in the outfield, has a decent arm and decent speed, and some home run power while hitting for a passable average — he basically does everything well, but he doesn’t excel in one particular area. Van Slyke is also three months Saunders’ senior. The pair could make a very interesting platoon as Saunders has had better success against right-handed pitching in his career. It’s also fair to say that the M’s already have a player like Van Slyke in Saunders based on the reasons above and there’s no reason to double up. Van Slyke would be an upgrade on Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero in right field and should have no problem taking at bats from Dustin Ackley in left. He doesn’t seem quite good enough in center to push incumbent James Jones to right field, but the outfield would definitely become more athletic. Depending on what’s happening with Corey Hart and Logan Morrison on any given day mostly depending on match ups, Van Slyke could hypothetically slot in at first and his bat is good enough to start as the team’s designated hitter. The big question, as with any potential trade target, is what’s he going to cost to bring in? While the Dodgers don’t have any glaring holes on their ball club they could definitely use some bullpen depth and another option for the infield. Hanley Ramirez is a free agent after this season and Alexander Guerrero isn’t quite ready to play everyday in the majors, which could makes Nick Franklin an enticing piece to work with given Dee Gordon‘s flexibility. The Dodgers could also have interest in one of Seattle’s relievers, be it Brandon Maurer, Dominic Leone, Tom Wilhelmsen, or whomever, as a potential return as well. The Dodgers are also in a position were they could take on a prospect with some serious upside but is still several years away from the majors like a Gabriel Guerrero for instance. Now Seattle is said to be pursing Marlon Byrd as an outfield upgrade but the major hitch in a potential deal is the Philadelphia Philles asking price for the veteran. Not to mention that 2016 vesting option Byrd wants guaranteed in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause to come to Seattle. Compared with Van Slyke, Byrd is the superior hitter and had a very impressive age-35 season in which he amassed 4.1 fWAR and a 143 wRC+ in 2013. The now 36-year old isn’t a great defender, but he’s not a complete liability in the outfield. He will be owed $8 million in 2015 and 2016 however, should his option be exercised. Van Slyke won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season so he’s a cost-controlled asset, and should the Mariners want to get really creative they could possibly explore using him in an offseason trade for a bigger fish should they acquire the 27-year old prior to the trade deadline. Or, they could really upgrade the offence and pick up both Van Slyke and Byrd. Again, they’re not perfect players, but they’re very usable within the M’s lineup. There’s no reason to believe that the Dodgers are ready to deal Van Slyke, Mattingly has recently described him as the team’s best defensive outfielder, but he’d definitely be the easiest outfielder to move should the club decide to do so. Reports indicate that Seattle has many conversations on the go about several outfielders, and should Van Slyke become available he could be a solid fit.