Detroit Tigers v Oakland AthleticsTrying to predict what move will be made next by the Oakland Athletics and GM Billy Beane is impossible — and that is an understatement. On Friday night the A’s dealt All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for third baseman Brett Lawrie and three prospects.

Also heading to the A’s is Franklin Barreto, an 18-year old standout at shortstop, Sean Nolin, a 24-year old left-hander who is ready for major league action, and Kendall Graveman, a 23-year old right-hander who was drafted in 2013 and appeared in the majors out of the bullpen late in the season.

The Jays take home the biggest piece of the transaction in Donaldson, who is coming off a 6.4 fWAR campaign including a 129 wRC+ and Gold Glove nomination. The 28-year old has 54 home runs over the last two seasons and has been one of the best position players in all of baseball the last several seasons.

Lawrie was a first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 and has carried the potential to be a star. However he has battled injuries for much of the last three years and has only shown said potential in spurts. Barreto is still quite raw and likely several years away from the majors, but is extremely talented with strengths in all five tools.

Both Nolin and Graveman are intriguing pitching prospects with plenty of potential, but they filled out the second tier of pitching prospects in Toronto’s system. The fact that the Blue Jays were able to acquire a player of Donaldson’s calibre without surrendering one of their top pitching prospects in Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, and Daniel Norris is surprising, but the A’s do receive an everyday third baseman in Lawrie who still has reasonable upside so long as he remains healthy.

After moving all-in this past summer to acquire starters Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija it is very shocking to see the A’s deal a budding superstar and one of the faces of the franchise. And it’s not as if it is a cost thing either. Donaldson is eligible for arbitration for the first time as a super-two player and is projected to earn between $4 and 5 million. Oakland’s midseason acquisitions did deplete the system of prospects, so this is a trade geared more towards the future than the year ahead.

Oakland had a stranglehold on the American League West for much of the first half of 2014, but did not clinch a playoff spot until the final day of the season. The club would lose the Wild Card game to the eventual AL Champions Kansas City Royals. Beane admitted that the club’s shortcomings in 2014 factored into his decision to trade Donaldson.

Is this the first of many moves for a rebuilding Athletics team? Tough to say. The club is listening on Samardzija, who will be a free agent after 2015, but Beane gave no indication that he’s throwing in the towel. After all, the club did just sign Billy Butler to a three-year deal and likely has several more moves to be made.

This deal, and the ones that may follow, could shake up the balance of power at the top of the AL West and provide a small window of opportunity for the Seattle Mariners. At the moment the A’s are a much weaker club, but are reported to be in talks with the Atlanta Braves.

John Hickey tweets that Justin Upton and Evan Gattis are the topics, and Samardzija may “be the bait”. Oakland does have room in the outfield and could look to move Josh Reddick or Coco Crisp as well. The club used a three-headed catcher platoon last year with Dereck Norris, John Jaso, and Stephen Vogt but Jaso has been rumored to be available in trade talks. Gattis can play in the outfield and behind the dish, making him a great fit. It would not be the least bit surprising to see another move of this nature, and the A’s haven’t shied away from players with limited club control, like Upton or Lester.

Considering that Lawrie is the only player the A’s received that will presumably have a regular role on next year’s club — both Nolin and Graveman are expected to compete for spots — acquiring a player like Upton would be necessary for the club to regain the short-term talent that was lost. There is plenty of justification for dealing Donaldson as his stock will likely never be higher, but it can’t accurately be judged until we see what comes next. Including the departures of Lester, Jason Hammel, and Jed Lowrie, the A’s have a lot of talent departing the roster and holes that will have to be filled.

There will be increased pressure on the Mariners to make a splash of their own as the Jays and Boston Red Sox — teams likely to be involved in the Wild Card race — are much improved.

The winter meetings are just around the corner, and the stove is already boiling.…

billy butlerAfter slumping through the final months of the regular season and narrowly making the playoffs as a Wild Card team, the Oakland Athletics have added what they hope will be a solution to some of their offensive woes. The club reportedly agreed to terms with designated hitter Billy Butler on a three-year deal worth $30 million on Tuesday night. Butler had his $12.5 million club option for 2015 declined by the Kansas City Royals and did not receive a qualifying offer.

The 28-year old posted a .271/.323/.379 slash line with a 97 wRC+ in 2014. He hit just nine home runs, marking the first time he failed to post a double digit total since 2007. Butler has a career .808 OPS and 117 wRC+ so it’s fair to suggest that this past year was a down season. The slugger provides no value outside of his bat and should continue to be kept in a designated hitter role.

At first glance it is a little surprising to see the A’s commit considerable dollars to a DH, but it was even more surprising to see the club deal their cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, for an ace starting pitcher, Jon Lester. Despite boasting a loaded rotation and strong bullpen Oakland struggled to win games after the trade deadline. Many pointed to the loss of Cespedes as the reason why the lineup fell apart but at the time the Cuban star had a sub-.300 on-base percentage — he wasn’t the issue. It was more of a collective slump by the bats. Constantly losing games 2-0 or 3-1 isn’t usually the pitching staff’s fault. Everyone in the lineup had to move up a spot and certain players became exposed.

Butler is a career 142 wRC+ against left-handed pitching compared to a 108 wRC+ against right-handed pitching but his salary suggests that he won’t find himself in a traditional platoon situation. Manager Bob Melvin has been known to get creative with his lineup so nothing is out of the question.

The slugger was thought to be a prime target of the Seattle Mariners this winter, not solely because he’s a designated hitter, but because of his ability to crush left-handed pitching. Butler would’ve fit well in the M’s lineup, likely between left-handed stars Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. The M’s do have cash to burn and were willing to give DH Corey Hart up to $13 million in 2014, but at this time it seems likely they found the third year to be prohibitive.

A salary in the $10 million range didn’t appear to be out of the question for Butler this winter but the three guaranteed years is a little surprising. He’s still young enough — he’ll turn 29 in April — that he could have taken a one-year deal to rebuild his value and sought a more lucrative multi-year deal next winter. But if the former first-round pick paid any attention to what transpired last offseason, those who get too greedy and wait for something better — we are looking at you Kendrys Morales — don’t always find it. Given the scarcity of right-handed power on the market there probably would’ve been another team willing to go three years at some point, but it was smart of Butler to take the now while it was on the table.

One thing we’ve learned during the early stages of free agency this year is the team that comes out aggressive will probably get their man. Obviously Victor Martinez wanted to stay with the Detroit Tigers, but had the club waited longer to offer four years and $68 million it’s possible he would’ve taken a larger deal elsewhere. And even likely had a club gotten desperate after other plans fell through.

Russell Martin was far and away the best free agent catcher available, but a five-year deal worth north of $70 million seemed a little high when it was suggested a couple weeks ago. It’s been reported that the Chicago Cubs, his expected landing spot, weren’t willing to go that high in their contract negotiations. The Toronto Blue Jays, however, made it clear he was their guy and got a five-year, $82 million deal completed. Did they have to overpay a little for Martin? Sure. Factor in the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar and a club policy against no-trade clauses and they probably had to buff up the total dollar amount.

Three years for Billy Butler sounds aggressive and the Athletics probably had the advantage of being the first team willing to go that extra year. Trying to predict free agency and what factors will affect the market each year is nearly impossible. Most higher end free agents prefer to take their time and touring a particular city or cities during that process is not uncommon — a la Pablo Sandoval in Boston this week.

What we have seen in the past though, and are starting to see again this year, is that pushing the extra couple chips into the pile will usually get a deal done early.

And if you were wondering what the Mariners were up to tonight, Bob Dutton has you covered.

James-PaxtonAfter 5 1/2 months and 150 games the American League Wild Card race remains very much in doubt. As the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians fade into the summer dust, the Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners are creating what may be another tremendous finish to the regular season.

The standings change daily, as does the momentum. The lack of balance in the schedule only makes it all that much more intriguing.

As play begins Wednesday, here is how things look in the American League Wild Card race:

Oakland: 83-67
Kansas City: 82-68
Seattle: 81-69

It’s worth noting the Detroit Tigers lead the American League Central at 84-67, 1/2 game ahead of Oakland, 1 1/2 games ahead of Kansas City and 2 1/2 games ahead of Seattle. The Tigers remain in the Wild Card picture only if they are overtaken by the Royals in the division race. Those two clubs have a three-game series left on the schedule.

Here is how the remaining schedule stacks up for each team (pitching probables subject to change):

OAKLAND ATHLETICS VS TORONTO BLUE JAYS Athletics pitcher Jeff SamardzijaOakland Athletics
Jeff Samardzija, RHP vs. Texas Rangers: Derek Holland, LHP
Sonny Gray, RHP vs. Texas Rangers: Nick Martinez, RHP
Jon Lester, LHP vs. Philadelphia Phillies: David Buchanan, RHP
Drew Pomeranz, LHP vs. Philadelphia Phillies: Jerome Williams, RHP
Scott Kazmir, LHP vs. Philadelphia Phillies: A.J. Burnett, RHP
Jeff Samardzija, RHP vs. Los Angeles Angels: C.J. Wilson, LHP
Sonny Gray, RHP vs. Los Angeles Angels: Jered Weaver, RHP
Jon Lester, LHP vs. Los Angeles Angels: Hector Santiago, LHP
Jason Hammel, RHP at Texas Rangers: Colby Lewis, RHP
Scott Kazmir, LHP at Texas Rangers: Nick Tepesch, RHP
Jeff Samardzija, RHP at Texas Rangers: Derek Holland, LHP
Sonny Gray, RHP at Texas Rangers: Nick Martinez, RHP

GordonAlexKansas City Royals
Yordano Ventura, RHP vs. Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale, LHP
OFF DAY
Jason Vargas, LHP vs. Detroit Tigers: Kyle Lobstein, LHP
James Shields, RHP vs. Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander, RHP
Jeremy Guthrie, RHP vs. Detroit Tigers: Max Scherzer, RHP
Completion of Suspended Game 8.31.2014 v. Cleveland Indians: Indians lead 4-2, Royals bat bottom of 10th inning.
After suspended game: Danny Duffy, LHP at Cleveland Indians: Carlos Carrasco, RHP
Yordano Ventura, RHP at Cleveland Indians: Danny Salazar, RHP
Jason Vargas, LHP at Cleveland Indians: Trevor Bauer, RHP
James Shields, RHP at Chicago White Sox: Jose Quintana, LHP
Jeremy Guthrie, RHP at Chicago White Sox: Scott Carroll, RHP
Danny Duffy, LHP at Chicago White Sox: Hector Noesi, RHP
Yordano Ventura, RHP at Chicago White Sox: John Danks, LHP

Chicago White Sox v Texas RangersNote: The White Sox have been using six starters of late — Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Scott Carroll, Hector Noesi, Chris Bassitt and John Danks — but could choose to skip one or two spots and go with Sale on regular rest. If they did so, Sale would pitch Wednesday at Kansas City, then again Tuesday at Detroit versus David Price and the Tigers. His final start then would come on the final day of the regular season at home versus the Royals.

The chances Sale goes September 23 may be decent since the club has a day off Thursday, September 20. If the Sox do not use Sale the following Tuesday, he’ll have had six full days rest and his season would be over after that start. Considering he missed some time back in April and May — nearly five weeks, around six or seven starts — Chicago may give Sale the extra start, which could improve his chances to win the Cy Young, too, something clubs love to do if they are presented with the right opportunity. White Sox skipper Robin Ventura says he’s not inclined to do so, but hasn’t ruled it out just yet.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle MarinersSeattle Mariners
James Paxton, LHP at Los Angeles Angels: C.J. Wilson, LHP
Felix Hernandez, RHP at Los Angeles Angels: Jered Weaver, RHP
Chris Young, RHP at Houston Astros: Dallas Keuchel, LHP
Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP at Houston Astros: Brad Peacock, RHP
Taijuan Walker, RHP at Houston Astros: Collin McHugh, RHP
James Paxton, LHP at Toronto Blue Jays: J.A. Happ, LHP
Felix Hernandez, RHP at Toronto Blue Jays: R.A. Dickey, RHP
Chris Young, RHP at Toronto Blue Jays: Mark Buehrle, LHP
Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP at Toronto Blue Jays: Marcus Stroman, RHP
*Taijuan Walker, RHP or Roenis Elias, LHP vs. Los Angeles Angels: Matt Shoemaker, RHP
James Paxton, LHP vs. Los Angeles Angels: Cory Rasmus, RHP
**Felix Hernandez, RHP vs. Los Angeles Angels: C.J. Wilson, LHP

*Elias was removed from his start September 17 in Anaheim with what is being termed a “slight elbow strain” and is likely to miss his start September 21 in Houston, according to skipper Lloyd McClendon. Walker is the likely replacement starter versus the Astros. If Elias is not ready to go September 26, Walker likely will get that start, too, and any others in October if Elias remains unavailable.

**If the Mariners do not need to win the final game of the regular season to clinch a postseason berth or clinch home field advantage in the Wild Card play-in game, Hernandez will be skipped and used Tuesday, September 30 in that Wild Card play-in contest.

The A’s would certainly do the same with Gray. The Royals’ ace, Shields, already is on schedule for availability in case of a one-game playoff or for the Wild Card play-in game.

The Mariners play at 1:10 PT in the regular season finale and may know how important their game is by the time the third or fourth inning rolls around. The Royals and White Sox are scheduled to start at 11:10 PT with the A’s and Rangers slated for 12:05 PT.…

Seager and CanoThe last time we checked in on the American League Wild Card race the Los Angeles Angels were leading the way with the Seattle Mariners holding the second spot, five-and-a-half games back. How things have changed. The Angels have been on a tear the last couple weeks and now lead the AL West by eight games. The Kansas City Royals continue to hang on to the AL Central lead, but the Detroit Tigers are just a single game behind entering Tuesday night’s action.

GB represents how many games the team is behind in the Wild Card race and does not represent where they sit in their respective division races.

Oakland Athletics | 80-63, +1.0 GB
As mentioned at the top, the A’s have faded to some extent since the middle of August and have scored just 198 runs since the All-Star break. Now, many have been quick to surmise the subtraction of Yoenis Cespedes from the lineup as the reason Oakland has struggled to score runs and win games, but hitters like Brandon Moss, Sam Fuld, Coco Crisp, and Alberto Callaspo all of wRC+’s between 45 and 65, so it’s not as simple as that, though it is a factor. Jeff Samardzija has been good but not great for the A’s while Jon Lester has been his usual solid self. It seems that the A’s struggles are more of a situation where everything that could go wrong has. The injury to Sean Doolittle was critical as the bullpen has faltered of late, but he’s expected to return soon. There’s still a very good chance that the Athletics make the playoffs and it’s completely unfair to write them off given the talented roster they boast.

Seattle Mariners | 79-64, —
Despite all the offensive struggles and string of less than royal starts by Felix Hernandez in the second half of August, the Mariners are actually in very good shape heading into the final 19 games of the season. In one month’s time the M’s have made up nine games on Oakland, and yes, you did read that correctly. What’s there to say? Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano have been outstanding of late, Chris Taylor has continued his steady play, and Brad Miller has been red-hot at the dish. Kendrys Morales has even began to show some signs of life. The club also gets Michael Saunders back from an oblique injury that cost him 50 games, but Dustin Ackley — who’s been one of the key contributors over the last couple months — has been battling bone spurs in his ankle and is expected to be out a few more days. For the first time in a long time, the Mariners are a legitimate playoff club.

[pullquote]Aside from the current series with the Houston Astros and the three-game set next weekend, the Mariners will not play a game against a sub-.500 team for the remainder of the year. This includes seven games against the Angels, three against the Athletics, and four against the Blue Jays.[/pullquote]

Detroit Tigers | 79-65, 0.5 GB
Entering the year Detroit boasted an envious rotation with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez and after their addition of David Price at the trade deadline, most were ready to punch their ticket to the American League Championship Series. Not so fast. Sanchez has been hurt, Verlander is still struggling with a sore shoulder, and the pitching staff has some serious holes as the bullpen continues to be an issue. But the good news is that Miguel Cabrera has been red-hot and Victor Martinez has been one of the best hitters in baseball this year. If Verlander is able to recapture some of his 2012-13 magic the Tigers will probably be just fine. However, Detroit looks a lot more susceptible than they have in recent memory and currently sit on the outside looking in. Don’t count them out just yet.

Cleveland Indians | 74-68, 4.5 GB
Aided by a pitching performance that will rival King Felix for the AL Cy Young award this year from Corey Kluber, the Indians have surprisingly been able to stay in the race — as much as one considers four-and-a-half games back with just a couple weeks left to be in the race. Manager Terry Francona lead his club to a near-historic run last September that jettisoned the club into a Wild Card spot so it’s still tough to count them out, but they’ll be hard-pressed to recreate that magic. Lonnie Chisenhall has managed a 77 wRC+ since the All-Star break after a phenomenal first half of play, and it appears that the Indians just don’t have enough firepower to make the necessary push to get past the Tigers and Mariners, but are a team to keep an eye on.

New York Yankees | 73-68, 5.0 GB
Give the Yankees credit for trying to make something out of Derek Jeter‘s final season, but it looks like it’s fair to say that they will fall short this year. Although Masahiro Tanaka has made progress, it’s tough to know what one can expect from him in the couple starts he may make before the end of the year. For my money, it’s not worth it and the club should shut him down. Brandon McCarthy has pitched well enough to earn a moderate payday this winter and Michael Pineda has been effective when healthy, but it’s been Hiroki Kuroda that’s anchored the pitching staff, once again. Oh yeah, and that Jeter guy? Among qualified shortstops, Jeter has the fourth-lowest wRC+ at 73, but I will say that it’s a good thing for baseball that he’s able to go out on his own terms after missing 2013 due to injury. Well done, Captain, it’s been a wonderful career.

Toronto Blue Jays | 74-69, 5.0 GB
The Jays have actually been playing solid baseball lately and have won seven of their last ten, but it looks like it’ll be too little too late for the blue birds. Melky Cabrera was lost for the season due to a pinky fracture that required surgery and Brett Lawrie is officially done for the year as well. Despite the scorching bat of Jose Bautista, the offense still lacks much punch behind Joey Bats and Edwin Encarnacion. Catcher Dioner Navarro has began to heat up as well lately, but the club has had to give regular playing time to Danny Valencia and now Anthony Gose. Not to mention the fact the J.A. Happ has been a regular member of the rotation that has for the most part disappointed, again. On the bright side, young stud Marcus Stroman pitched a complete game shutout on Monday night, the first of his career, and needed just 93 pitches to do it. The Jays may have an ace in the making as they begin to turn their thoughts towards 2015, though baseball allows for just enough randomness that there’s still a chance they could make a late push for a Wild Card spot.…

Jack ZduriencikRarely does Major League Baseball’s annual July 31st non-waiver trade deadline spark as much interest as it did today. In total there were 12 trades made and several significant pieces were moved in the process. Aces David Price and Jon Lester found new homes, the Boston Red Sox cleaned house, and the Seattle Mariners added a pair of outfielders to a club in need of an offensive boost. In a market barren of impact bats and overpriced assets, the Mariners played it safe, and smart.

Chris Denorfia, acquired from the San Diego Padres for Abraham Almonte and a minor league reliever, may be a veteran on a down season, but he has hit left-handed pitching well throughout his career and is an upgrade on the current Seattle roster. Austin Jackson, acquired from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade in which the M’s sent Nick Franklin to the Tampa Bay Rays, is a true centerfielder that’s capable of hitting at the top of a lineup. He represents a significant upgrade to the roster as is.

Both players are now with the club Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune tweets, and are expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night when Seattle wraps up a three-game set with the Cleveland Indians. Now as always, the first question that usually comes to mind is who’s roster spots will the new imports take?

Presumably Stefen Romero will be sent down to Triple-A as the club as already used an option on him for the year and he’s now managed a 52 wRC+ in 180 plate appearances with the big club. Romero is still just 25-years old and only had one full season of Triple-A experience under his belt before breaking camp with the team this spring. He’s received below average grades for both base running and fielding according to FanGraphs and his fWAR on the year is -1.0, meaning even having a replacement level player take his spot on the roster would be an improvement.

The second most likely candidate to face the roster crunch is James Jones as Jackson is expected to take over regular center field duties. Jones, also 25, burst on the scene when he was called up at the end of April and posted an impressive 101 wRC+ in May while hitting at the top of the order. He started to slide in June with a 76 wRC+ for the month before seemingly imploding in July with just five hits and a walk in his last 12 games and 48 plate appearances. Jones’ defence has been a work in progress this year and he definitely had his struggles at times, but a trip down to Tacoma to work on his defence and try and figure his offensive issues out could be very beneficial. Jones could still factor into the team’s plans in 2015 as he’s shown the ability to succeed in the big leagues, but needs to improve his game as a whole first.

The pair of veterans everybody’s been wanting to see disappear, Corey Hart and Endy Chavez, are perhaps the least likely to be removed from the active roster, at least for right now. Hart’s had his struggles this year, there’s no questioning that, and between missing the entire 2013 season as well as an extended stretch in the first half recovering from a hamstring injury, it’s really been a disappointing season for the slugger. His wRC+ is now down to 72 after an 0-for-4 performance in tonight’s win, but he has started in right field three games in a row now. He’s still owed at least $3 million for the year — depending on how his incentives play out — so cutting him would be simply an exercise in opening up a roster spot as the M’s wouldn’t save any money in the process. The move could still happen, but it doesn’t seem imminent, yet.

Chavez has seen far more at bats this year than anybody expected and he doesn’t have much to show for it. Often hitting at the top of the order, the seasoned veteran owns a 74 wRC+ in 173 plate appearances. He’s been below average in right field, but he’s essentially provided replacement level value with a -0.2 fWAR. Chavez hasn’t actually been that awful in his second stint with the Mariners, but if he was utilized as a No. 4 outfielder instead of a regular contributor it’s likely he would’ve provided more value. The 36-year old would hit the waiver wire in the event the M’s decided to designate him for assignment and it appears unlikely he’d accept an assignment to Triple-A, but I suppose it is possible.

Simply replacing Romero and Jones with Denorfia and Jackson stands to make a potentially significant improvement to the club, and if Chavez ends up as the odd man out when Michael Saunders returns — possibly in two or three weeks time — one could suggest that the M’s would finally have a decent group of outfielders together. Between Dustin Ackley, who’s been swinging the bat very well this month, Jackson, and Saunders the club has a set of very competent defensive outfielders with a couple of decent bats to make use of in Denorfia and Hart.

[pullquote]Since rejoining the Mariners lineup on July 25th Morales has just one hit in 21 plate appearances with a pair of runs batted in and one walk. His wRC+ in that time is -41.[/pullquote]

The acquisition of Kendrys Morales should weigh in to the review of the Mariners trade deadline success, and in exchange for the three bats acquired, the team gave up nothing off of the big league roster and nothing of real significance to the future. As I mentioned earlier, Franklin has all the talent to be a very good player but it just wasn’t going to work out in Seattle for him. Almonte is an okay depth piece but he’s replaceable, as is Stephen Pryor.

The M’s received some flack from Jeff Passon of Yahoo! Sports for being involved in the Price trade but not coming up with the player they had coveted for so long and the additions they did make only brought them back to mediocrity. Let’s look at the facts: Seattle was lukewarm at best when it came to including Taijuan Walker in a deal of any kind and didn’t have another comparable player to Drew Smyly to include in the deal. If the M’s offered Franklin, a Smyly-type of pitcher, and a third high-upside prospect they would’ve landed Price. The pieces simply didn’t meet up for the Rays and M’s, and I don’t believe that’s for lack of effort.

I do agree that the return for Price may look slightly on the lighter side, but it was likely still more than the M’s should’ve been comfortable dealing at this point in time. Remember, this wasn’t a club that was one piece away from being a World Series contender. This is a club that was a couple pieces away from even being a serious playoff contender down the stretch, and paying a premium price for Lester, or any other rental, just doesn’t make sense for this club. General manager Jack Zduriencik did well to turn Franklin, an asset who had no opening within the organization, into Jackson who fills several holes on the club and is controllable for the 2015 season as well. If that was the only move Jack Z made, I would’ve been happy with the day. Adding another bat, albeit low impact, only helps improve the club further. As will the returns of Saunders and James Paxton.

Again, even getting back to mediocrity in right and center field is still a boost considering how outstanding the entire pitching staff has been. Think of all those times the M’s had an opportunity to cash in an extra run or two but came up empty. Having Denorfia take the place of Romero, for example, on even a handful of those spots could net the team some extra wins, or at the very least the extending of an inning to create a better chance for victory. Bottom line, Jackson and Denorfia make the current roster better.

In terms of true impact bats, there really was nothing available. I’m surprised the Philadelphia Phillies weren’t able to move Marlon Byrd, though their asking price sounded totally unrealistic, and that the Texas Rangers held on to Alex Rios as well. I don’t blame Seattle for passing on the $16 million that would be owed to Byrd for the next two seasons following this one, but I’d be curious to know why Rios didn’t end up getting dealt. There were several reports of trade talks occurring, but the Rangers obviously didn’t get an offer that they deemed to be worthwhile.

Yoenis Cespedes was dealt today, and he would’ve been a huge addition to the Mariners, but look at the context: the Oakland Athletics were able to bolster their rotation even further with Lester and Jonny Gomes makes for an interesting addition as well. Not to mention the A’s re-acquisition of defensive specialist Sam Fuld as well which will help offset the loss of this year’s Home Run Derby Champion. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the A’s were going to move Cespedes this winter regardless since they didn’t feel they could lock him up to a long term deal before he reaches free agency just over a year from now, and decided to cash in now.

Not to say that Oakland would or would not deal Cespedes within the division, but the Mariners simply didn’t match up well with the A’s. Who on the club is comparable to Lester and could actually be given up? I suppose there’s an argument that Hisashi Iwakuma could be of similar value though he’s not as good as Lester, but there’d be no reason for the M’s to deal him. Aside from Cespedes, there wasn’t another high impact bat traded today.

The Mariners got better without hurting the future. That’s the biggest thing to takeaway from today, in my opinion. Zduriencik didn’t collapse under the pressure he faced and overpay for a player like Price. One could argue that Jack Z should’ve made the flashy acquisition, but I have no problem with the pair of moves made today since they improve on players like Romero and Jones who’s contributions have been sub-par, as well as the Morales acquisition from earlier.

Seattle still has a solid chance to grab a Wild Card slot, and today they were able to improve their chances while a team like the Toronto Blue Jays did not. It’s going to be a fun next two months.…

nickfranklinIt’s not very often that a high major league ready middle infield prospect with plenty of upside is placed on the trade block, but that’s essentially where Nick Franklin has been since the Seattle Mariners signed Robinson Cano back in December. Despite the presence of Cano and incumbent shortstop Brad Miller the 23-year old was given a chance in Spring Training to earn a major league job, but was optioned down to Triple-A in March where he has spent the majority of the 2014 season thus far.

On Monday, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Oakland Athletics are keen on the young infielder and consider him a “top target”. There was nothing in the report to suggest the A’s and M’s are actively involved in trade talks but it’s likely the two sides have at least exchanged some information on the topic as all teams do plenty of their own due diligence throughout the summer months. Franklin’s name has been coming up frequently in trade rumors as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline approaches and was most recently connected to the Tampa Bay Rays in a potential deal for Ben Zobrist and possibly David Price.

So far this year the Athletics have employed a combination of Nick Punto and Eric Sogard at second base and Jed Lowrie has seen a majority of the playing time at shortstop. Lowrie is having a down season offensively owning a .237/.317/.344 slash line and an 87 wRC+ across 395 plate appearances after a strong year at the plate in 2013. He has continued to play his typical brand of strong defence however, so it’s unclear whether or not the club could look to Franklin for an upgrade at short in the present or with more thoughts towards the future. Lowrie will be a free agent after the 2014 campaign.

It seems very likely that the A’s would view Franklin as an upgrade at second base as the club has gotten 60 wRC+ from the position so far this year, which the second lowest total in the majors. For what it’s worth, Mariner second basemen have racked up 122 wRC+ this year, good for second best in the league. Of course that was the kind of performance, for the most part anyways, that’s expected when a club invests $240 million into the position.

Punto, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has played well enough defensively, but has struggled offensively to the tune of a .209/.303/.288 line and a 73 wRC+ in 186 plate appearances — all three are well below his career marks. The 36-year old has always been better known for his versatility in the diamond, but presumably the A’s were hoping for production closer to the 89 wRC+ he put with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year.

Sogard hasn’t fared much better than Punto as his paltry .194/.261/.225 slash line contributes to a measly 41 wRC+. The 28-year old posted a 92 wRC+ in regular playing time in 2013 so as with Punto, the Athletics were hoping for more than they’ve received from the the spectacled infielder so far. Sogard has done his job defensively however, and will be arbitration eligible after this season.

The Athletics need an upgrade at second base, that much is obvious, but whether or not they could match up in a potential deal with the Mariners remains to be seen. They don’t have an available outfield bat that the M’s sorely need and they’d probably be hesitant to trade someone like Stephen Vogt at the moment. Outfielder Craig Gentry, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Texas Rangers, could be an option with regular right fielder Josh Reddick set to return from the disabled list.

Gentry isn’t anything special offensively though his .271 batting average and 83 wRC+ on the year would represent an upgrade over Dustin Ackley‘s performance. The 30-year old is above average defensively and also has 16 stolen bases to his credit on the year. His ability to play center field probably makes him too valuable to the A’s to deal given the fact that Coco Crisp could go down at any moment so it’s unlikely he’d be moved. It’s unlikely Franklin could get Seattle the bat they need, but it’s possible he could extract a starting pitcher.

Left-hander Tommy Milone was demoted to Triple-A after his club acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a blockbuster with the Chicago Cubs and has asked Oakland to trade him according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports. Milone had made 16 starts with the club before the demotion and was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA and a 4.43 FIP. The 27-year old made 26 starts for the A’s in 2013 and put together a 4.14 ERA and a 4.30 FIP across 156 and 1/3 innings pitched.

[pullquote]Milone was a tenth round draft pick of the Washington Nationals in 2008 and was sent to Oakland in a December 2011 trade for Gio Gonzalez.[/pullquote]

In several ways Milone resembles current Mariner starter Chris Young; his fastball tends to sit in the mid to upper 80’s, he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, and relies on getting a lot of ground ball outs. Seattle could use another starter to resolve some of the uncertainty surrounding the back end of their rotation, but there’s no reason to believe Oakland is definitely going to deal the frustrated starter. He’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after this season and no team wants to be short on pitching depth heading into the stretch run. He could also figure into the club’s plans for 2015 and beyond.

It’s unlikely that the M’s would be willing to deal Franklin straight up for Milone, and depending on whether or not the A’s would be willing to deal the starter in the first place and add another piece, a match appears unlikely. Also, don’t put any stock into believing a deal couldn’t happen because the two teams are division rivals in a playoff race. Does the situation complicate things? Of course, but the M’s feel the best deal to be made is with the Athletics, they’ll probably do it.

The caveat here is whether or not the two clubs will even allow talks to substantiate and may prefer to try and make deals with other parties and avoid even the possibility of helping the other out. It’s also likely that Seattle could see more benefit from dealing Franklin to another club if they decide they don’t want to hang on to him until the winter at the least.

Franklin returns to the Tacoma Rainiers tonight after missing a handful of games with a finger injury, while the big league club begins a three-game set with the visiting New York Mets.…

OAKLAND ATHLETICS VS TORONTO BLUE JAYS Athletics pitcher Jeff SamardzijaWith the All-Star Break complete and Major League Baseball’s second half officially underway, nearly all attention turns to the rumor mill as the July 31st non-waiver deadline quickly approaches. The Oakland Athletics set the bar early for contending clubs looking to bolster their roster when they picked up starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs in a blockbuster deal that sent top prospect Addison Russell to the Cubbies. The Seattle Mariners find themselves with a grip on one of the American League Wild Card spots heading into the weekend and are known to be in the market for an upgrade or two, but could they be the next club to make a franchise-altering trade?

Reports throughout the past few days have connected the M’s with David Price and Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays, and on Friday I summed up the latest on the trade talks between the two clubs. There appears to be a real possibility that should the Rays choose to deal during a dismal season they could receive a package including Nick Franklin in exchange for the super-utility player. Reports indicated that the clubs have not only discussed a deal for Zobrist, but have expanded trade talks to include Price as well. As expected however, the inclusion of top prospect Taijuan Walker appears to be a sticking point for the Rays if they are to move their ace, and it’s possible that D.J. Peterson could be involved as well. The cost would be high, but consider the boost Zobrist would add to the lineup and a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Price. That’d be alright, I’d say.

Sticking with the trade talk, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill gives a run down on several potential trade targets for the Mariners. Although Samardzija, Hammel, and Brandon McCarthy have already been dealt and Seth Smith was re-signed by the San Diego Padres, Churchill mentions Matt Joyce and James Loney of the Rays as potential targets as well outfielders Alex RiosMarlon Byrd, and Josh Willingham.

Alex Carson examined Byrd as a possibility in depth this week and opines that the outfielder very much makes sense for the M’s to acquire. Byrd is owed $8 million for the 2015 season and has an $8 million option for 2016 that he would want exercised in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause to come to the Emerald City — Seattle is one of just four teams that he can block trades to. The veteran outfielder may not be able to replicate his performance from the second half of the 2013 season, but Carson argues that he doesn’t have to in order to be a worthwhile acquisition as even adding a slight upgrade over what the M’s have in-house could still end up paying difference-making dividends during the stretch drive.

The New York Yankees have now released outfielder and former All-Star Alfonso Soriano and I examined whether or not he would be a fit for the Mariners.

James Paxton has slowly been making his way back to the big leagues and made his first rehab start on Thursday with the Everett Aqua Sox. PI’s Brendan Gawlowski was in attendance and reported that the southpaw felt no pain after throwing 42 pitches in two and two-thirds innings pitched; his pitch count was limited to fifty pitches. It’s expected that Paxton will make two or three more rehab starts before he potentially could rejoin the big league rotation.

Over on the fantasy side of things, Steve Simas features the prospects selected for this year’s Futures Game in a two-part Nook Nacks series. In part one Simas profiles a quintet of players including Julio Urias who is property of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. In part two he has analysis on another five players including Mookie Betts who has since been promoted to the big leagues by the Boston Red Sox and Enny Romero, a left-handed pitcher in the Rays organization.

Prospect Insider’s Mariners of the month for June were a pair of the club’s All-Stars: King Felix and Kyle Seager. Fernando Rodney and Robinson Cano also represented the M’s at the midsummer classic. For the rest of baseball it was another pair of All-Stars, Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, picking up the honors of PI’s players of the month for June.

Sticking with the major league side of things, Churchill presented his mid-season report card for the Mariners a couple weeks ago. While it’s no surprise to see Hernandez and Cano with A’s beside their names, they aren’t the only one to receive high praise for their first-half performance. Relievers Fernando Rodney, Dominic Leone, and Yoervis Medina all received top grades in a bullpen that has no doubt been a strength of Seattle’s this year.

Churchill also rounded up some of the M’s international free agent signings earlier this month when the signing period began. The biggest deal Seattle has given out so far belongs to Brayan Hernandez, an outfielder from Venezuela, who received $1.85 million.

PI’s Chris Hervey has a scouting report on Jamie Schultz who is a pitching prospect in the Rays organization as well as plenty of other notes on Rays and Toronto Blue Jays prospects that are definitely worth checking out. I also got a chance to see Miguel Castro and Ryan McBroom who are with the Blue Jays short-season Single-A club while Gawlowski has reports on Alberto Tirado and Franklin Barreto, also top prospects with the Jays.…

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle MarinersTo many, this weekend’s matchup against the Oakland Athletics was the biggest series of the season for the Seattle Mariners thus far. For Lloyd McClendon and the boys, it was probably heralded as nothing more than games 93, 94, and 95 of 162, all of which being important. Whatever you decide to call it, there’s little doubt that a series beginning with a matchup between King Felix Hernandez and Jeff Samardzija is bound to be a good one. The M’s would defeat the Athletics 3-2 and 6-2 on outstanding outings from Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, but couldn’t complete the sweep on Sunday as they lost 4-1.

Now, before we talk about the games themselves, I’d be remissed if I didn’t make mention of the incredible atmosphere that fell upon Safeco Field this weekend. Just under 100,000 made their way through the gates in total, including myself and 39,204 on Saturday alone — although I don’t know how much of a factor the Kuma bobblehead giveaway played in that. Maybe it’s finally set in that the Mariners are in fact, not a terrible baseball team, and people are starting to actually buy into it. I can’t remember the last time I was at a game where every single section was populated, or when the Seattle fan base was able to out-cheer the pesky A’s fans that always seem to show up in droves when Oakland comes to town — and I must say, I enjoyed it. Even the mood outside of the stadium on Saturday night was something I haven’t seen in an extremely long time.

The M’s don’t have the Boston Strong mentality that encapsulated the Boston Red Sox fan base in 2013 and catapulted the club to a World Series title. Even the young players expected to play big roles this year like Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, and James Paxton haven’t been able to provide what spark that many hoped would carry over from September of last year. Of course injuries derailed the seasons of the aforementioned pitchers, but aside from the addition of Robinson Cano, there wasn’t any major change to the Mariners personal heading into 2014 outside of the management team — which should be given due credit as well. But what the club has been doing is simply getting it done; any way they can. Guys like Chris Young and Joe Beimel having resurgent seasons and James Jones and Roenis Elias bursting onto the scene with key contributions have propelled this club to a 51-44 record — and people have rallied around that.

Perhaps it all started with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks reigniting Seattle as a sports city, or maybe people are starting to take my advice and attend at least one Felix start this year — more likely the former — but the most likely scenario is simple: people want to see winning teams. But I digress.

On Friday night Felix continued his dominance and allowed just a pair of earned runs across eight innings of work in the victory. He did have a rocky start however, giving up both runs — one of which was a solo home run by Stephen Vogt — in the first inning, but settled down from there on and finished the night with nine strikeouts and just six hits allowed. The win gives the King 11 before the All-Star break for the first time in his career and his 2.12 earned run averaged eclipsed Randy Johnson‘s 2.20 mark for a new team record at the break. The offense managed to even things up quick by scoring a run in both the second and third innings — including a Logan Morrison solo shot — before Cano hit an RBI-double in the sixth to give the club the lead. Fernando Rodney would pitch a scoreless ninth which concluded with a strikeout of Nick Punto on a questionable pitch. He offered this gem of a quote after the game.

Saturday night featured another strong pitching matchup between Iwakuma and A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez. In fact, the Japanese star would’ve earned a shutout on the night if it wasn’t for a two-out Brandon Moss home run in the top of the ninth. Otherwise it was nearly a perfect night for Seattle that featured a pair of home runs from All-Stars Kyle Seager and Robbie Cano and a double for Corey Hart that would lead to the first run of the game. The M’s managed to rack up a total of 14 hits on the night, but more importantly they managed to pick up three of those with runners in scoring position — something that seemed impossible at times during the previous series with the Minnesota Twins.

It almost looked as if the M’s were more interested in their plans for the four-day break than Sunday’s matchup against Sonny Gray who, aside from an RBI-ground out from Cano in the first, shut the team out. Closer Sean Doolittle managed to neutralize the left-handed bats of Seager and Morrison en route to a four-out save. Cano and Seager led the sixth inning off with a pair of hits to give the M’s runners at the corners with no outs, but Cano would be left stranded at third in what would become the last real opportunity Seattle had to do some damage on the night. Veteran starter Chris Young gave the club six innings of work while allowing three earned runs and continues to be a dependable arm in the rotation. This was a classic 2014 Mariners game where the offense just wasn’t able to muster up anything of substance. The club was 0-for-5 on the night was runners in scoring position.

All in all, the Mariners managed to take two of three from the best team in baseball, and that in itself should be worth celebrating to some extent. It’s always nice to go into the break on a winning note, but after a tough week prior to the serious, it was significant to see the M’s step up when it counted in games that provided the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere that this city has scene in years.

Heading into the second half of the season, the boys in blue and teal sit seven games above .500 with a decent grip on a Wild Card berth. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?…

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros

The Seattle Mariners completed a sweep of the Los Angeles Angels for the first time since 2006 on Wednesday night, and they did so in convincing fashion by outscoring their opponents 26-8 over the three games. Everything appears to be clicking for the club thus far as they start a year with three wins for the first time in 18 years. Is it time to get excited about the Mariners again? They just may be up to something here.

Rookie James Paxton made his first start of the 2014 season and looked excellent pitching seven innings of shutout ball and allowing just two hits. He also walked a pair of batters, but struck out nine including a run of six straight outs recorded via the punch out. His velocity was touching 98 miles per hour at times and his curveball was making hitters look foolish. Paxton only needed 99 pitches to get through his night and recording 64 of them for strikes. The 25-year old did find himself in a couple trouble spots, but managed to settle himself enough to escape unharmed.

The offence continued to run on all cylinders with six players collecting two hits a piece. Mike Zunino and Corey Hart  hit their first home runs of the season while Justin Smoak hit his second long ball and collected his seventh run batted in. Stefen Romero got the start in right field and pick up the first hit and run batted in of his major league career after going 0-4 in Tuesday night’s contest. If there’s a negative point anywhere in the box score, it’d be Dustin Ackley failing to reach base for the first time this season, but that was about it; his batting average fell to a measly .364 from the .571 he entered the game with.

We all knew what to expect from Felix Hernandez on Opening Day, but the fact Erasmo Ramirez and Paxton were able to follow him up with solid performances of their own is huge as the rotation is still a work in progress. The trio has allowed just four earned runs in 20 innings pitched and has struck out 26 batters while walking just three. This is great news for the club as their rotation depth appeared paper thin at the beginning of the season and will likely stay that way for another month.

At the top of the lineup Abraham Almonte has managed to get on base five times and Brad Miller picked up his fourth run batted in of the year. Robinson Cano has quietly gone 5-11 with three walks so far and collected his first RBI as a Mariner on Wednesday night. As it stands, Michael Saunders and Logan Morrison are the only Mariners who have yet to collect their first base hits of the season, although LoMo hasn’t seen any action since Opening Day.

Obviously there’s still 159 games separating the team from the finish line, but hey, let’s enjoy this streak as long as it lasts. Things actually look good in Mariner land at the moment, don’t be the guy who spoils the mood for everyone. The starters are pitching effectively, the entire lineup is contributing, the outfield defence hasn’t looked awful, and the bullpen has been solid too, Hector Noesi aside. There actually appears to be some room for optimism beyond the first couple games.

Next up for Seattle is a four-game set with the Oakland Athletics that will feature the major league debut of Roenis Elias on Thursday evening and the first start for Chris Young since September 29, 2012 on Friday.…

CanoST14It was an extraordinarily busy winter for the five clubs in the American League West. Each organization made significant moves, with all but the Los Angeles Angels spending big dollars to improve their respective rosters. Two of the biggest free agents — Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo — joined the AL West and even the Houston Astros made noise spending some money and acquiring an impact centerfielder.

Let’s take a look at what each club gained and lost over the winter, starting with the defending division champions.

Oakland Athletics | 2013: 96-66

It was deja vu for the Athletics who were eliminated in the American League Division Series in five games by the Detroit Tigers for the second straight year. The A’s were lead by a deep pitching staff that combined for a 3.56 ERA, seventh best in baseball, and averaged 4.73 runs per game as one of the league’s top offences. Billy Beane has remained one of the smartest GM’s in the game and only time will tell if his latest efforts will pay off in winning a championship.

Who’s In

Jim Johnson, RP — 0.9 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Baltimore Orioles in exchange for 2B Jemile Weeks and a player to be named.
Luke Gregerson, RP — 1.0 fWAR
Eric O’Flaherty, RP — -0.1 fWAR | Signed two-year, $7 million deal
Scott Kazmir, SP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $22 million deal
Craig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Texas Rangers in exchange for OF Michael Choice
Sam Fuld, OF — -0.3 fWAR | Signed minor league contract

Who’s Out

Seth Smith, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to San Diego Padres in exchange for RHP Luke Gregerson
Grant Balfour, RP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay Rays
Jerry Blevins, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Washington Nationals in exchanged for OF Billy Burns
Pat Neshek, RP — -0.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with St. Louis Cardinals
Bartolo Colon, SP — 3.9 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York Mets
Brett Anderson, SP/RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies in exchange for LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Chris Jensen and $2 million cash
Chris Young, OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York Mets
Kurt Suzuki, C — 0.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Minnesota Twins

2014

In one of the offseason’s surprise moves, the Athletics acquired a reliever, Johnson, who will be paid $10 million this year; quite uncharacteristic for any small market team. The additions of Gregerson and O’Flaherty, who will return mid-season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, figure to give Oakland one of the best bullpens in the majors with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle still aboard.

The departure of Colon will hurt the rotation, but if Kazmir can build off his comeback year with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, they’ll have effectively replaced Colon with a pitcher still on the right side of 30. Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, and AJ Griffin return to the rotation while youngster Sonny Gray is expected to spend his first full season in the majors as well.

Oakland’s lineup remained intact for the most part over the winter with Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick leading the charge again in 2014. Coco Crisp was re-signed and will also play an important role in the A’s lineup once again. Gentry, who is coming off of two solid seasons with the Rangers, has quickly become one of the better defensive outfielders in the game today and could play an important role this year. After sporting just less than a $62 million dollar payroll in 2013, the Athletics 2014 payroll is expected to land around $76 million or so with Cespedes and Johnson being the only players earning $10 million or more. Oakland projects to be a top team in the American League in 2014 and shouldn’t have a problem finding themselves in either the pennant race or at the very least, the Wild Card race when September roles around.

Texas Rangers | 2013: 91-72

After consecutive losses in the World Series, the Rangers failed to reach the playoffs this past year for the first time since 2009. Texas featured a top ten offence again in 2013, averaging 4.48 runs per game and hitting 176 home runs, but you could say that once again, they were done in by their pitching last year; even though the Rangers managed the third lowest bullpen ERA in the bigs. They’ll have their work cut out for them if they plan on going the distance in 2014.

Who’s In

Prince Fielder, 1B — 2.2 fWAR
Shin-Soo Choo, OF — 5.2 fWAR | Signed seven-year, $130 million deal
JP Arencibia, C — -0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.8 million deal
Tommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2 million deal

Who’s Out

Ian Kinsler, 2B — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Detroit Tigers in exchange for 1B Prince Fielder and $30 million cash
Nelson Cruz, OF — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Baltimore Orioles
AJ Pierzynski, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Boston Red Sox
Matt Garza, SP — 2.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Milwaukee Brewers
Joe Nathan, RP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Detroit Tigers
Lance Berkman, DH — -0.2 fWAR | Retired
Craig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR

2014

It was a busy offseason for the Rangers who shipped their All-Star second baseman to the Detroit Tigers for a much needed power hitting compliment in the lineup aside Adrian Beltre. They also saw 130 million reasons to make Choo their leadoff hitter, another hole that needed filling, for the next several years to come.

The veteran Pierzynski will be replaced at catcher with Arencibia and the returning Geovany Soto, who was re-signed back in November. Perhaps one of the biggest determinants in trading Kinsler was the fact it could open up an everyday spot for Jurickson Profar in the lineup, and he will line up at second base with Elvis Andrus. A dash of good health and consistent production should have the Ranger offence near the top of the league again in 2014.

Nathan’s departure will hurt the bullpen to some extent, but Neftali Felix and Joakim Soria are still around to anchor the relief corps. The Rangers did almost nothing to add to a rotation that is susceptible behind ace Yu Darvish, and took a major hit now that Derek Holland expected to miss significant time with a knee injury.

Both Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando are capable mid-rotation arms, but what can reasonably be expected from their acquisitions of Hanson, who struggled with injuries, and Joe Saunders, who struggled to be not completely awful, in 2013? If the rotation and bullpen are able to hold up and Darvish can put together another Cy Young calibre campaign, the high powered offence could be enough to land the Rangers back into the playoffs this year.

Los Angeles Angels | 2-13: 78-84

Times have been tough in Disneyland as it’s now been four years without a playoff appearance for the Angels and believe it or not, Mike Trout isn’t quite good enough to single-handedly guide a team to a Wild Card berth. Despite injuries to key parts of their lineup, LA still managed to put up 4.52 runs per game which was good for seventh in all of baseball. It was the pitching staff that did them in however, as they combined for a 4.24 ERA, placing them near the bottom of the league. With the strength of the Athletics and Rangers, the Halos may have a spend another October watching from the sidelines.

Who’s In

David Freese, 3B — 0.3 fWAR
Raul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.75 million deal
Tyler Skaggs, SP — 0.1 fWAR
Hector Santiago, SP — 1.5 fWAR
Joe Smith, RP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed three-year, $15.75 million deal
Fernando Salas, RP — 0.0 fWAR

Who’s Out

Jason Vargas, SP — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Kansas City Royals
Peter Bourjos, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to St. Louis Cardinals with OF Randal Grichuk in exchange for 3B David Freese and RHP Fernando Salas
Jerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Houston Astros
Tommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWAR
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Arizona Diamondbacks with player to be named later in three-team trade in exchange for LHP Hector Santiago (White Sox) and LHP Tyler Skaggs (Diamondbacks)

2014

It was a different offseason for the Angels than we’ve seen in recent years: they didn’t commit big dollars to a marquee free agent. Instead, they made a couple of trades that could work out nicely for the club. The signing of Smith will help shore up the bullpen alongside Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen, while Salas figures to contribute to the pen in 2014 as well.

Although health is relatively important to any club with playoff aspirations, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that once again, the Angels’ success this year will depend on whether or not Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton can stay healthy and produce like their former selves. Add Trout to those two, and the Angels have as good a 2-3-4 punch as any team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders.

Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will once again form a very solid but perhaps unspectacular duo at the top of the rotation. Never say never with the Angels, especially since they make an interesting dark horse to win the AL West, but they’re going to have some very stiff competition for a Wild Card spot this year.

Seattle Mariners | 2013: 71-91

It’s been a long 13 years since Seattle last saw playoff action and they have managed just one season above .500 since 2008. Despite a Cy Young calibre season from Hisashi Iwakuma in 2013, Mariner pitching produced a combined 4.32 ERA, the fifth-highest in all of baseball, and their bullpen ERA of 4.58 was the second worst. Even with one of the top home run totals in the league, the offence floundered for 3.85 runs per game due to a poor .237 team batting average and a lack of on-base production. The M’s spent big on an All-Star this winter, but it looks like they’re still a couple pieces away from seriously returning to contention.

Who’s In

Robinson Cano, 2B — 6.0 fWAR | Signed 10-year, $240 million deal
John Buck, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1 million deal
Willie Bloomquist, IF/OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $5.8 million deal
Fernando Rodney, RP — 1.3 fWAR | Signed two-year, $14 million deal
Scott Baker, SP — 2.8 fWAR (2011) | Signed minor league deal
Logan Morrison, 1B/OF — -0.6 fWAR
Corey Hart, OF/DH — 2.2 fWAR (2012) | Signed one-year, $5 million deal plus up to $8 million in incentive bonuses

Who’s Out

Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH — 1.2 fWAR | Remains a free agent
Raul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWAR
Henry Blanco, C — -0.5 fWAR | Signed minor league deal with Arizona Diamondbacks
Oliver Perez, RP — 0.8 fWAR | Signed two-year, $4.25 million deal with Arizona Diamondbacks
Carter Capps, RP — -0.3 fWAR | Traded to Miami Marlins in exchange for 1B Logan Morrison
Joe Saunders, SP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year deal with Texas Rangers

2014

The Mariners opened their pocketbooks and landed Cano, the best available free agent, at a cost just shy of a quarter of a billion dollars. It was a peculiar move given the fact Seattle hasn’t been all that good in recent memory, but perhaps the tide could be turning sooner than later.

Felix Hernandez will once again lead a rotation riddled with slightly more uncertainty than expected now that Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker are expected to miss the start of the season with injuries. Baker, who signed an incentive-laden minor league deal this winter, suddenly becomes a very important name in camp with respect to the rotation. The only problem with that is it’s not 2009 anymore when Baker was a 3.9 fWAR pitcher and he’s thrown just 15 major league innings across the past two years. If he’s healthy, and early reports from camp indicate he is, he could end up being a vital part of the pitching staff this year and hopefully can produce like one. It’s also looking like James Paxton has all but locked up a rotation spot as well.

Seattle’s bullpen got a much needed boost with Rodney signed on to be the club’s new closer, likely shifting Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen into set-up or seventh and eighth inning roles. After plenty of trade rumors circulating around the likes of David Price and Matt Kemp this winter, the M’s didn’t make the big splash nearly everyone was anticipating after Cano was signed. It was reported that club had reached the top of their budget, but could make an exception for another player if it was the right situation.

If Hart is able to recover from the two knee surgeries that kept him out for the entire 2012 season he could end up being the much needed right-handed slugger in the lineup behind the All-Star second baseman. There’s also a possibility that Morales could be re-signed as well, but the M’s may prefer to hope he signs before the draft so they can receive a compensatory draft pick, which would then be the pick sacrificed for signing Cano. All in all, Seattle projects to fall short of the playoffs once again, but if a couple of prospects can breakout this year and another piece is added, they just might be in the hunt.

Houston Astros | 2013: 51-111

When the Astros joined the American League West prior to the 2013 season, Mariners fans began to rejoice since they could nearly rest assured that their team was likely only doomed for second last in the division. Houston hasn’t sniffed playoff baseball since losing the World Series in four games back in 2005 and have put together a streak of three straight 100+ loss seasons while they’ve been in a total rebuild. Their pitching staff was the worst in baseball with a 4.79 ERA while their offence managed a meager 3.77 runs per game in 2013. It’ll be another season of development for the Astros in 2014, but the future is starting to get a little brighter for the club.

Who’s In

Scott Feldman, SP — 2.1 fWAR | Signed three-year, $30 million deal
Jerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.1 million deal
Dexter Fowler, OF — 2.2 fWAR
Jesse Crain, RP — 1.9 fWAR | Signed one-year, $3.25 million deal
Chad Qualls, RP — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $6 million deal, plus 2016 option
Matt Albers, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.45 million deal, plus 2015 option
Jesus Guzman, 1B/OF — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.3 million deal

Who’s Out

Erik Bedard, SP/RP — 1.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay Rays
Brandon Barnes, OF — 1.0 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies with RHP Jordan Lyles in exchange for CF Dexter Fowler and player to be named later
Jordan Lyles, SP — 0.4 fWAR

2014

Years of futility in any sport will eventually garner a club enough high draft picks that, if developed effectively, can help make the team relevant again. The Astros have developed Jose Altuve and Jason Castro into a pair of solid lineup cornerstones recently, and there’s much more talent yet to come in the pipeline. Acquiring Fowler for a couple of replaceable players was a great move for the Astros, who also opened the bank account to sign Feldman to a three-year deal and provide a little more certainty to their young rotation. Perhaps the most important moves of this past winter were the additions of Crain, Qualls, and Albers to what was the worst bullpen in the league in 2013.

Despite the improvements to the major league roster, Houston still projects as cellar dwellers in the AL West once again. They will have the first overall selection in the upcoming Rule IV Draft in June which should allow them to add another youngster to a top prospect list that includes the likes of Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and George Springer. It’s reasonable to suggest that eventually the Astros will have obtained enough young talent to be competitive at some point in the next several years, but when that happens is anyone’s guess.

The upcoming season is likely another write-off and 2015 only looks a little better at this point. Perhaps 2016? Whatever the case, Houston has plenty of exciting young players that should be reason for at least some optimism in 2014, and certainly the years to follow.

*All player WAR’s shown are via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

Jack ZduriencikOften considered to be one of the slowest months in terms of meaningful major league transactions, January has seen plenty of them over the years. In fact, the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year deal worth $214 million on January 25, 2012. This month we’ll see a decision from Masahiro Tanaka which will, hopefully, reignite the stagnant starting pitching market with plenty of multi-year deals; some of which won’t occur until February of course. Let’s take a look at some of the notable January transactions the Seattle Mariners have made over the last decade or so.

January 16, 2013 — Seattle trades John Jaso to Oakland; Washington trades Mike Morse to Seattle; Oakland trades AJ Cole and Blake Treinen.

In the Mariners’ eternal quest to stock home run bats last winter, they shipped their best hitter from the previous year for an outfielder who had only topped 20 home runs once in his career and was due to hit free agency following the season. In Morse’s defence, he did string together three decent seasons with the bat for the Nationals, and never was much of a fielder throughout his career. Injuries also played a role in his lack of production last year, but ultimately, Morse struggled mightily in his return to the Pacific Northwest, and was traded to Baltimore in August. Jaso missed some time with a concussion in his first year in Oakland, but still managed to produce 1.1 bWAR and 1.2 fWAR and is under team control for two more seasons. Both Cole and Treinen have yet to pitch in the majors for the Nationals.

January 23, 2012 — Seattle trades Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to New York (AL) for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.

At the time, the deal looked pretty darn good for both clubs; the Yanks got a young high upside arm and the M’s got a young high upside bat. Montero had a decent first year in a Mariners uniform hitting .260/.298/.386 with a 90 wRC+, but that now seems like a distant memory. This past year was one to forget for the 24-year old who not only struggled mightily in the majors, he was suspended for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, and dealt with injuries. He’ll likely get the 2014 season to figure things out at Triple-A and become a proper first baseman, but his top prospect potential is fading fast. Pineda has yet to throw a pitch in as a Yankee since a shoulder injury in Spring Training forced him to miss the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He did manage to start ten minor league games in 2013 however, and could see some major league time in ’14 although he’s no sure thing. Campos has to pitch above Single-A for the Yankees while Noesi has struggled in 134 innings pitched for the Mariners over the last two seasons.

January 18, 2012 — Seattle signs Oliver Perez to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training.

At the time, Perez was 30-years old and had missed the entire 2011 season. Of course, a minor league contract bears little risk for a team, but in this case it turned out to be a great gamble. In 29 2/3 innings of work in 2012, the lefty managed a 2.12 ERA and a 2.93 FIP. Perez was resigned for the 2013 campaign for $1.5 million plus incentives and continued to be a solid contributor out of the bullpen. In 53 innings of work he posted a 3.74 ERA which was actually beaten by his peripherals; 3.26 FIP and 3.36 xFIP, good for 0.8 fWAR and 0.6 bWAR. The 32-year old remains unsigned at this time, and there’s still a possibility he resigns in Seattle for at least another year.

January 5, 2012 — Seattle signs Hisashi Iwakuma to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million plus incentives.

Not much needs to be said about how good of a pick up Iwakuma has been for the Mariners in just two seasons’ time. The Japanese import didn’t require a posting fee to sign in North America since he had already spent ten years in the JPL, and he had received interest from several major league teams before agreeing to wear blue and teal. It’s interesting to note that the Athletics had posted $19.1 million to negotiate with the right-hander the previous winter but talks didn’t materialize. Coming off of a third place finish in the AL Cy Young voting, Iwakuma will play a big role in any success Seattle has in 2014. His $7 million team option for 2015 is almost a lock to be pick up and he will then be arbitration eligible for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

January 20, 2009 — Seattle trades Fabian Williamson to Boston for David Aardsma.

The Mariners bought low on Aardsma after he put up three disappointing seasons with three different clubs from 2006-2008. The righty tantalized teams with his ability to rack up strikeouts but did have difficulty with giving away free bags; his 4.29 BB/9 in 2009 was the lowest mark of his career. Aardsma took over the closer role in his first year with Seattle in which he saved 38 games with a 2.51 ERA and 3.01 FIP, good for 1.8 fWAR and 1.7 bWAR. He managed to carry some of that success into 2010 as he saved 31 games, but began to battle with injuries and would eventually miss almost all of the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He has since resurfaced with the New York Mets where he pitched 39 2/3 innings this past season. While he may have only been a two year wonder as a Mariner, his cost was minimal. Williamson was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2006 amateur draft by Seattle and has yet to pitch in the majors.

January 26, 2005 — Seattle signs Yuniesky Betancourt as an amateur free agent.

As odd as it may be to say it now, the Mariners actually did get a couple of serviceable seasons out of Betancourt when he first joined the club. The slick fielding shortstop impressed many with his glove work and defensive abilities early on, but was never much with the bat. In 2006, his first full major league season, he did manage to hit .289/.310/.370 with a 78 wRC+, good for 1.6 fWAR and 1.8 bWAR. One of the Cuban’s biggest drawbacks was his inability to draw a walk. The owner of a 3.17 percent walk rate in his five seasons in Seattle was only able to slightly improve over the next several seasons to his current career mark of 3.3 percent. Betancourt was dealt to Kansas City in 2009 for a pair of prospects including Dan Cortes, who at the time, was the Royals’ third best prospect according to Baseball America. Cortes managed to pitch just 16 innings for Seattle between 2010-11 however, and hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since.

January 8, 2004 — Seattle trades Carlos Guillen to Detroit for Ramon Santiago and Juan Gonzalez, and no, it’s not that Juan Gonzalez.

Yep. This one hurt. A lot. Guillen played in three All-Star games over the course of his eight year career with the Tigers, and posted three seasons with 19+ home runs and 85+ runs batted in. He also was good for 18.7 fWAR and 18.6 bWAR over that stretch with the Tigers and a trip to the 2006 World Series. Santiago managed just 27 games with the Mariners between 2004-05 and returned to Detroit prior to the 2006 season and has been with the team ever since. Gonzalez never played a game for the Mariners and was seen playing in Italy as recently as 2012. This deal will no doubt go down as one of the worst moves in Mariners’ history, but at least it allowed for a couple of good years out of Yuniesky Betancourt right? Yeah, I didn’t think you’d buy that one either.…

With 2014 just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at how each team is shaping up at this point in the offseason. With several marquee free agents still available, expect these numbers to fluctuate over the next couple months, making this exercise exactly what it’s meant to be; a rough estimate at this point in time. Firstly, we’re going to look at how American League West teams, including your Seattle Mariners, project in 2014 and compare it to their 2013 seasons.

AL fWAR 2014

-All numbers are provided by FanGraphs

Looking at the Mariners, most of us will be happy to see that the team projects to be 15.5 fWAR better in 2014 than they were in 2013. A lot of that increase comes in the form of Robinson Cano and his 5.1 projected fWAR, but the additions of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart project to add 1.7 fWAR and 1.9 fWAR respectively to the M’s lineup as well. It’s interesting to note that both LoMo and Hart are projected to be almost completely average defenders in left field in 2014. That I’ll believe when i see it. Catcher Mike Zunino is also projected to be worth 1.9 fWAR in what stands to be his first full season in the majors. Shortstop Brad Miller is looking to take another step forward after a strong  2013 campaign, and is projected to be worth 3.3 fWAR in 2014; nearly double his 1.7 fWAR in 2013. The only real subtraction to the M’s lineup from 2013 appears to be Kendrys Morales who provided 1.7 fWAR in 2013 as the primary DH.

The M’s pitching staff projects to provide similar value in 2014 despite projected declines in value for both Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Felix will still be Felix, but Iwakuma isn’t projected to repeat his sensational 2013 campaign. Relievers Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush are also projected to regress from their 2013 seasons by nearly 1.0 fWAR each. With the 2014 bullpen situation not entirely clear quite yet, the bullpen projections should be taken with a grain of salt. The real wild cards in the rotation come in the form of prospects Taijaun Walker and James Paxton as it’s unknown what their contributions are expected to be next year. In 140 innings, the pair are projected to be worth 1.5 fWAR and 1.3 fWAR respectively.

While most have reserved a rotation spot for one of Walker and Paxton, it would take the acquisition of at least one decent rotation arm for both to not be the best in-house options for the 2014 staff behind Hernandez and Iwakuma. The M’s may prefer to see both spend a little more time at Triple-A, the new plans of contention in 2014 could dramatically alter the timetable for the youngsters; as would a trade of Walker or Paxton for possibly an establish pitcher. Realistically, the M’s are likely to at least pick up some back end of the rotation fliers to compete for jobs in Spring Training. There’s no sense in banking on two pitchers who’ve thrown a combined 39 innings at the MLB level, especially when a pitcher like Matt Garza is available and will only cost money. If Seattle is truly serious about competing in 2014, they’ll need to add at least one more rotation piece, and probably two to provide a safeguard for the rookies.

Overall, the Mariners project to be a better team in 2014, but that much appeared to be obvious. The new-look lineup and the continued progress of other youngsters will provide a strong boost to the M’s offence in 2014. Ideally the M’s add another arm to the middle of the rotation and at least one veteran reliever, perhaps an Oliver Perez reunion would make sense, to consider their 2014 staff to be improved. There’s a lot of good pieces in place, but it doesn’t appear to be enough compared to the rest of the division as Seattle projects to be the fourth best team in the AL West.

The Texas Rangers project as the top team after opening their pocketbooks this winter to better a championship contender who fell short once again last season. Not only did the team spend big on acquiring Prince Fielder, they also made a splash in the free agent market when the brought Shin-Soo Choo onboard. Despite the additions, the Rangers are only projected to be 0.7 fWAR better in the batting department due to the losses of Ian Kinsler and Craig Gentry who were both dealt.

Joe Nathan‘s departure from the bullpen leaves the closer role vacant, but the Rangers have plenty of internal options. The bullpen will remain a strong point in 2014 as Neftali Feliz returns and Joakim Soria is still around. A healthy season from Matt Harrison would help to offset the projected decline of Derek Holland in the rotation that’s still headlined by Yu Darvish. Pitching doesn’t look to be an issue heading forward if Feliz and Harrison are about to contribute full seasons of work. The Rangers are the favourite it win the AL West, but they won’t be without competition.

The Oakland Athletics will be looking to defend their division crown after a fury of transactions this offseason, but like the Rangers, they project to be a few fWAR worse in 2014. Free agent acquisition Scott Kazmir and his projected 2.7 fWAR come in to replace the departed Bartolo Colon and the 3.9 fWAR he produced last season. Sonny Gray should stick in the rotation for the entire year after a great performance throughout the stretch drive last season. The A’s made a peculiar decision to acquire a star closer in Jim Johnson since the All-Star is likely due $10 million in ’14. The A’s bullpen is projected to regress despite Johnson’s presence though, but that could change depending on how the rotation ends up looking.

Slugger Josh Donaldson is projected to come in shy of his 7.7 fWAR 2013 season, but a 5.0 fWAR year is nothing to make light of. Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie both project to produce approximately 1.0 fWAR less each than they did in 2013, but they still figure to set the table well for Donaldson and the rest of the A’s batting order. Even with a bit of regression from some prominent players, the Athletics should provide plenty of challenge for the Rangers.

Hamilton

The Halos rotation has proved to be troublesome beyond Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson the past couple seasons, and with Jason Vargas leaving for greener pastures, the Angels brought in Tyler Skaggs to help shore up the rotation. It’ll probably be a year with some growing pains for Skaggs as he’s just 22, but he’ll have plenty of room for error with the infamous Joe Blanton still in the picture. Times weren’t so good for the Los Angeles Angels last season, both on but off the field. Between injuries to recentfree agents signings Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and turmoil in the front office with management, dysfunction was a term often associated with the Angels. Not to be overshadowed by the mess though, was phenom Mike Trout who posted a tremendous 10.3 fWAR season. Trout projects short of the 10.0 fWAR mark, but the sky appears to truly be the limit for 22-year old. The Angels have avoided the big ticket free agents so far this winter, and instead acquired David Freese to add some pop to the middle of the lineup.

Overall, the Angels project to be in the hunt for a playoff spot next summer, although their projected 4.3 fWAR increase hinges on Pujols and Hamilton staying healthy and producing closer to the levels they’re paid to play at. If not, it’s going to be another long year in Disneyland.

No it’s not a figment of the imagination; the Houston Astros are projected to be the most improved team in the AL heading into 2014. Coming off a third consecutive season with 100 or more losses, the Astros decided to boost their young nucleus with some veteran talent in the form of Dexter Fowler, Chad Qualls, and Scott Feldman to join budding stars Jason Castro and Jose Altuve. The additions seem slightly surprising as the Astros have worked with an incredibly small payroll the last several seasons, but with new television money coming in, the time may be right to supplant the young core with some more experienced pieces.

Houston has stayed the course with their rebuilding plan the last several seasons and have plenty more quality prospects coming up through their system. Even with a projected increase of 24.4 fWAR for the club, next year looks to be just another step in the rebuilding process as the club projects to land near the bottom of the American League once again. Feldman is the top Astros pitcher on paper, but there’ll be plenty of room for their youngsters to make some noise. Houston has all the time in the world for their youngsters to develop and form what’ll likely be a very good team several years from now.

Despite what the fWAR projections say, it’s easy to see how every team in the division could be improved in 2014. The feeling among many right now, and projections as well, is that the Rangers have an upper hand on the division, with the A’s a close second behind them. Depending on a number of factors, the Angels and M’s figure to hold the three and four spots in the division, and despite a very good offseason in Houston, they appear headed for cellar dweller status yet again.…

A year ago there was quite the debate on the American League MVP race — Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera — and Cabrera won fairly easily. The 2013 AL MVP race hasn’t driven the conversation nearly as much this season, despite both Cabrera and Trout repeating their tremendous seasons and a few others, including Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis and even Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson.

Perhaps the closest awards race in the American League this season is the Rookie of the Year chase. Through the All-Star break, it appeared Jose Iglesias of the Boston Red Sox would have the edge. He’s since been traded to Detroit, and while he’s continued to play well, and in a pennant race, the slick-fielding shortstop has been caught by Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Wil Myers.

As it doesn’t appear there is a pitcher that will challenge the two frontrunner — Seattle’s Danny Farquhar leads AL rookie arms with a 1.8 fWAR, followed by three Athletics arms and then Rangers southpaw Martin Perez — the vote may come down to Iglesias and Myers. Or will it?

Myers enters play Wednesday batting .298/.361/.496 with 13 home runs and a .366 wOBA. He’s been quality in the field, too. Iglesias hasn’t hit for power, but he’s strong on defense and is batting .313/.357/.400 in 102 games. Myers’ 2.3 fWAR leads all AL rookies, with Iglesias coming in at 2.0. There’s a sleeper in the group, however, and he goes by the name of David Lough.

Lough, 27, is the outfielder the Royals turned to when they finally jettisoned Jeff Francoeur and realized they’d traded Myers in a package that landed them pitching. The left-handed batter has been decent at the plate — .284/.306/.406 — but his glove has pushed his fWAR to 2.0, tying him with Iglesias. Lough at least deserves to be in the conversation, though despite his Wins Above Replacement number, he’d be No. 6 for me.

Since the defensive formulas within WAR are a bit behind those of their offensive brethren, I lean heavily away from WAR-based results that are clearly driven by the players’ defensive scores.

Athletics right-hander Dan Straily has posted a 1.5 fWAR in 25 starts and has solidified the back end of the club’s rotation. He ranks second among rookie pitchers in the AL in WAR, but that’s largely based on his advantage in innings. He owns a solid 4.19 FIP.

Sonny Gray has made nine appearances, seven starts, and has been better than Straily with a 2.34 FIP, but he’s logged just 48 innings. Perez has pitched 106 1/3 innings and has been solid for the Rangers.

For me, Myers is the clear leader, and I’m not sure he can be caught, unless he falls on his face the final week and a half of the season.

Others of note include Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun, who has been terrific in 46 games and if he had more time in might be challenging Myers and Iglesias for the honors, as wold Gray had been up much earlier in the season. M’s shortstop Brad Miller has been solid in his 69-game stint, and A’s southpaw reliever Sean Doolittle has been very good for the division leaders all season.

If I were voting and the ballot was due today:

  1. Wil Myers, OF — Tampa Bay
  2. Jose Iglesias, SS — Detroit
  3. Danny Farquhar, RHP — Mariners
  4. Martin Perez, LHP — Rangers
  5. Chris Archer, RHP — Rays
  6. David Lough, OF — Royals

There are only about 10 games left, so this may not change much between now and the end of the season, but it’s interesting that all but Farquhar and Kalhoun play for clubs in the playoff hunt.…