A year after losing 95 games, the Rangers have been solid in 2015. At 48-52, they sit just four games out of the second Wild Card in the American League. Needless to say, if they weren’t 14-26 against the AL West, they’d probably be in a better spot, but, even after dealing with major injuries and several changes within the organization, Jeff Banister has led the club to respectability.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels has done a solid job of acquiring talent without crippling the franchise with a Joey Votto-like contract, landing Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, and Josh Hamilton in deals; however, he saved his best work in the deal that he made yesterday for LHP Cole Hamels.
The Rangers were able to acquire Hamels without giving up their top two prospects, 3B Joey Gallo and OF Nomar Mazara, while dumping the $28 million that LHP Matt Harrison was owed over the next two seasons (including his option buyout for 2018). Hamels, who is guaranteed $76.5 million between 2016 and 2019, will anchor a staff that will include the returning from Tommy John surgery RHP Yu Darvish, another several months removed from the same surgery LHP Martin Perez, and a healthy LHP Derek Holland.
Clearly, the pitching staff is loaded, if healthy, but Hamels could be enough to get the Rangers into the playoffs this season. The Rangers are getting some solid pitching – you just have to dig deeper to see it:
If you take away the two starts that RHP Colby Lewis was obliterated in (9 ER on 5/27 vs. CLE, 10 ER on 7/5 vs. LAA), he would have a 3.29 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 125.2 IP – NOT the inflated 4.42 ERA and 1.19 WHIP that he has in 132.1 IP. After leading the AL in losses in 2014 (14), Lewis is 11-4 in his 21 starts – not bad for a $4 million investment.
- Gallardo, who was acquired for INF Luis Sardinas, RHP Corey Knebel, and distant RHP prospect Marcos Diplan, has revived his career in the unlikeliest of places. His 3.19 ERA, the best of his MLB career, is surprising, especially since he has posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career (6.2) and is walking 3.4 batters per nine this season. His 24.8% hard hit ball rate ranks 14th in MLB, but the 6.8% HR/FB is much lower than his career rate (10.9%) and would seem unsustainable as he heads towards free agency after the season. While he is providing a lot of value for the time being, he, much like free-agent-to-be Lewis, may not be a factor next season.
Adding Hamels to those performances could be enough to get the Rangers over the hump; however, it isn’t certain that those performances will continue to be enough, as youngsters Perez and RHP Nick Martinez have struggled of late.
As always, the Rangers have strong offensive parts. 1B Mitch Moreland is having a career-best season, Fielder has regained his stroke after missing most of the 2014 season after having neck surgery, and OF Delino DeShields, Jr. has provided solid speed and on-base skills, but the decline of 3B Adrian Beltre (career-worst .677 OPS) and the unpredictable nature of what to expect from Hamilton (.719 OPS), along with the collapse of CF Leonys Martin, has left the Rangers offense limping.
While Hamels is a tremendous addition, the Rangers need to get production out of the aforementioned players, as well as overpaid, glove-only SS Elvis Andrus, in order to become real competitors. If there was a roster spot for Gallo to step into, without him having to learn a new position, it would be ideal for the offense, who, despite their struggles, rank 8th in MLB in runs scored and 11th in MLB in OPS.
Perhaps the move for Hamels will light a fire under the team, but, even with Hamels as their ace in 2016, the Rangers have several question marks, namely aging players and health, to address prior to being labeled as favorites. On paper, however, giving up some talented-yet-flawed prospects in Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams, was certainly worth the club’s major acquisition.
— Royals (@Royals) July 26, 2015
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been keeping an eye on Johnny Cueto and the Cincinnati Reds deadline for quite some time, but you can’t blame a Cincinnati native and long-time Reds fan for being a homer. The deal that finally happened on Sunday, which resulted in the Cincinnati ace landing in Kansas City to anchor the Royals’ rotation in their push towards the playoffs, was something that was anticipated for months. Unfortunately, my prediction from this offseason, which had him landing in Boston, flopped about as much as the Red Sox have this season. Still, Cincinnati is left with a lot of question marks, especially since management isn’t done making moves. If you’re like me, you understand that this deal needed to happen so that the Reds could regroup and be competitive in a couple of years. If you’re pissed off because the Reds just traded their ace and have no one readily available to take on that role – you may want to take a step back from the ledge.
The Reds are headed towards a new era, and likely one with several years of trying to figure things out, resulting in 90 or more losses per season; however, Sunday’s deal was a tremendous start in showing that they are capable of righting the ship quickly. Here is some reaction from the experts:
“…Coming to the Reds, there is no reason he shouldn’t be given another chance to lengthen out into a starting role. Finnegan has the arsenal of a starting pitcher and while he is short, he has some present strength. If Finnegan moves back into a starting role, he needs to work on regaining the feel for his changeup. As a reliever, he’s largely junked the pitch but it was above-average at times when he was pitching as a starter in college. This year Finnegan has largely focused on using his 92-95 mph fastball and his slider which flashes above-average.” – J.J. Cooper, Baseball America
“…Finnegan’s changeup is obviously going to be the separator there, as far as any hope of starting goes. It’s a genuinely strong pitch, able to generate whiffs and ground balls against right-handers in its limited exposure to date. He has an excellent sinker/slider combination, although neither have yet passed the MLB test in more than a single trip through the order. If he can wield that change as a weapon against righties in larger samples, he’s a starter, and probably a good one.” – Baseball Prospectus
“…He now sits 88-93 mph, but he’ll touch 95 occasionally. More importantly he’s added a cutter that has quickly become a pitch that compensates for his still fringy curveball. His changeup isn’t as good as it was pre-injury but it’s an average offering as well.” – J.J. Cooper, Baseball America
“…Though Lamb still can hit 96 mph on occasion, he has lost a couple of ticks off his fastball and usually works from 89-93. His changeup isn’t the weapon it once was, so he has come up with a low-80s cutter to keep right-handers at bay. He also has a soft curveball that wasn’t much of a factor before he got hurt.After battling his control and command in his first two Triple-A stints, Lamb has thrown more strikes and was doing a better job of keeping the ball down in the zone in 2015. He won’t be the frontline starter he once projected to be, but he could help the Reds in the near future.” – Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com
“…He works with a 90-92 mph fastball, and he still possesses a plus change that has excellent deception from arm speed with some downward movement to it as well. The curve will never be much more than a 45 offering—and he’ll likely need to add some velocity to it. The key is the development of his cutter, which many scouts attribute his 2015 step forward to. If it can continue to be another weapon for him, he stands a good chance to be a competent back-end starter.” – Baseball Prospectus
“…With a better finish to his delivery, he developed the ability to locate more consistently down in the zone, allowing his 92-95 mph fastball (which touches 97 mph at its best) to play better down in the zone. It has late life when he elevates it as well. Reed flashes an above-average slider that he can now throw for strikes as well as using as a chase pitch. And his once fringy changeup has improved to become an average offering.” – J.J. Cooper, Baseball America
“…Reed works with a 90-94 mph fastball that peaks at 96 and has some sinking and cutting action. He has greatly improved his changeup this season, and at times it’s his second-best offering. Reed always had the athleticism to repeat his delivery but struggled to do so before 2015. Now he’s more aggressive and filling the strike zone with ease, showing the potential to become a mid-rotation starter with three solid-or-better pitches.” – Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com
“…The improved control gives him a chance to start, but of the three arms acquired, this is the one who is the most likely to end up in the bullpen.” – Baseball Prospectus
In Cueto, Kansas City is getting a dynamic starter who has managed to go 60-31 with a 2.51 ERA (3.33 FIP), 1.05 WHIP, and 7.7 K:9 since the start of the 2011 season, covering 808 innings over 121 starts (6.7 IP/start). He’ll likely take Yordano Ventura‘s rotation spot, as he was just shipped to Triple-A prior to the injury to Jason Vargas, and he’ll be exactly what the team needs, an ace, while the Royals’ defense will only make him look better than he did in Cincinnati.
Being left-handed and breathing is an excellent way to score an opportunity in baseball. The fact that the Reds were able to get three left-handed pitchers who can touch the mid-90’s with their fastballs for three months of Cueto is a coup. This deal was very even, and even though Cincinnati will need to wait and see what happens with these young arms, the Reds did just as well to get the pieces that they needed as what the Royals did in getting the ace that they needed.
Cincinnati fans need to understand that this is just the beginning of several changes. If Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips, and Marlon Byrd are still with the team on August 1st, Walt Jocketty is doing it wrong. This team hasn’t won a World Series since 1990, and those players aren’t going to bring another to Cincinnati. Scrap it and start over. While it is painful to go through a process, just remember that things could be worse, even if we may not be able to say it much longer – Thanks, Cubs!
After battling through a left knee injury for most of the month, the New York Mets finally placed OF Michael Cuddyer on the disabled list. Cuddyer, 36, who was signed to a two-year, $21 million deal, cost the club a compensatory pick after leaving Colorado via free agency. He was another cost-effective, veteran addition to an aging group of offensive producers; however, his .250/.303/.380 line in 314 plate appearances is a far cry from the Coors’ inflated .307/.362/.525 line that he posted in parts of three seasons with the Rockies.
In Cuddyer’s place during his absence, and likely working on a long-term role, will be 2014 first round pick OF Michael Conforto. The 22-year-old potential slugger has posted very good numbers in the minor leagues, covering two levels – .297/.372/.482 with 24 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs, and a 61:40 K:BB in 403 plate appearances. Prior the to 2015 season, the former No.10 overall pick was ranked as the No.80 prospect by Baseball America, No.82 by MLB.com, and No.83 on my own list. By the mid-season point, however, Conforto had jumped to No.16 on my list, and No.14 at Baseball America.
Conforto joins a lineup that has struggled to find consistent production this season. Lucas Duda (110 OPS+, 116 wRC+) and Curtis Granderson (113 OPS+, 119 wRC+) are the only qualifying players who have been better than league average in the everyday lineup. The injuries to C Travis d’Arnaud and 3B David Wright have crippled the offense, and the Mets are starving for production to support their incredibly gifted, young pitching staff.
The Mets are the only team above .500 with a negative run differential (-15), while scoring the 2nd fewest runs in baseball (only the White Sox have scored fewer). The team’s collective .654 OPS is the worst in MLB, while they are 2nd worst in total bases and 4th worst in extra-base hits. Still, the Mets are just three games back of Washington for first in the NL East and three games back of a Wild Card spot.
Relying so heavily on pitching has worked to this point, as the Mets have the No.4 team ERA in baseball (3.25), 3rd in team WHIP (1.18), and the starters have logged the most innings in MLB. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Jon Niese, and Bartolo Colon have carried the Mets to a competitive level, but they certainly need more offensive production to be taken seriously. There likely isn’t a team in baseball that would feel comfortable going into a series against their strong rotation, but adding Conforto and another bat before the trade deadline would work wonders for the club’s World Series chances.
Michael Conforto, alone, should help the lineup. Conforto with d’Arnaud returning from injury, as early as this weekend, makes the Mets a better team, and a team more likely to reach the type of success that they had in April (15-8) than the struggles that they’ve had since (34-39). It is unlikely that New York will deal LHP Steven Matz or any of the young pitchers who are currently in the rotation to improve the lineup further, but the left-handed power and patience that Conforto should be able to provide will be a tremendous start to get the bats going.
Can he save the season? It’s certainly a start; however, as it goes with many young players, there could be some major ups and downs along the way. Conforto has a bright future, but the Mets need some bats to pair up with their arms if they are going to make a run anytime soon.
Cueto, a free agent after the season, will be owed less than $5 million over the rest of the season. He will not net the team that receives him a draft pick if he leaves in free agency, so does that mean the Reds won’t receive a generous package for him?
For comparisons sake, there have been a few free agency bound starters who were traded over the last several years:
Jon Lester was dealt by the Boston Red Sox to the Oakland Athletics, along with Jonny Gomes, last season for Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance (Round B) pick. Cespedes, an All-Star last season, was under team-control for 2015 ($10.5 million), but he was dealt to Detroit over the winter for RHP Rick Porcello, who was under control for 2015 before signing a four-year extension. Lester, 30 at the time of the trade, was a year older than Cueto, yet, he had six seasons with 190 or more innings pitched in his career, while Cueto only has two. Lester would leave Oakland for a six-year, $155 million deal with the Chicago Cubs after the 2014 season.
Zack Greinke was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels in 2012 for Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, and Ariel Pena. Segura headlined the deal, ranking No.55 overall (by both MLB.com and Baseball America) prior to the 2012 season. He earned an All-Star appearance in 2013 and was a fixture at shortstop for the Brewers by August after the deal. Greinke was 29 at the time of the deal, the same age as Cueto, and had reached 200 innings in three seasons during his career at the time of the deal. Greinke signed a six-year, $147 million deal with the crosstown Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2012 season.
CC Sabathia was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 for Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson, and a player to be named, who became Michael Brantley. LaPorta was the supposed prize of the package, as he ranked the No.23 prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2008 season. Sabathia would go on to sign his eight-year, $182 million deal with the New York Yankees after having shown himself as a dynamic workhorse with seven seasons with at least 180 innings pitched and a Cy Young award by the age of 27, when he was traded. The Indians have benefited most from Brantley, who was an All-Star for the first time in 2014, but LaPorta hasn’t been in the majors since 2012 and is now out of organized baseball after compiling a .238/.301/.393 line over 1,068 career plate appearances in MLB.
It is anyone’s guess as to what Cueto is actually worth; however, these deals provide a sort of blueprint for what the Reds could be seeking. Below are the names of some teams who are rumored to be interested in trading for the Reds’ ace, and some prospects who may interest Cincinnati.
Kansas City Royals
Raul Mondesi – ranked 27th by Baseball Prospectus, he has moved quickly through the minors and has more glove and speed than offensive production to this point; however, he has projectability in his ability to hit the ball. He would be a tremendous get for the Reds, though, they may have him spend some time in the minors to let his game even out a bit.
Miguel Almonte – Almonte doesn’t have eye-popping numbers like some prospects have in the minors, but he would be a solid addition to the Reds rotation by mid-2016. He has three solid offerings, including a change that he can use as a punch-out pitch. He was ranked as the No.56 prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2015 season.
Scott Blewett – A 6’6″, 19-year-old right-hander, Blewett possesses electric stuff. He is only in the short season South Atlantic League, so he is a project, but he has the kind of fastball that would make him a nice additional piece in a possible deal including either of the two players above.
Jorge Bonifacio – This 22-year-old outfielder hasn’t lived up to his potential to this point, but he has a dynamic arm for right field and plenty of power potential. He was rated as the No.90 prospect in baseball prior to the 2014 season, but saw his stock fall a bit due to some struggles in Double-A. Now repeating the level, Bonifacio has 18 doubles and 15 homers. Again, he isn’t a centerpiece in a Cueto deal, but he would be a solid piece.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Chris Anderson – The big (6’3″, 235 pounds) right-hander has the makings of an innings-eating, mid-rotation starter. He was a first round pick in 2013 out of Jacksonville University, and he would be someone who could help the Reds by the middle of the 2016 season, having already made 17 starts at Double-A. He has three potential above average pitches in his fastball, slider, and change.
Jose De Leon – The 22-year-old right-hander has catapulted himself into prospect watcher’s eyes by striking out 251 batters in just 171 innings since the start of the 2015 season. Ranked as the No.7 prospect in the Dodger system by Baseball Prospectus prior to the season, he will give Julio Urias a run for the money in a race to Los Angeles, and may have performed his way out of becoming a piece in a trade.
Toronto Blue Jays
Daniel Norris – The 22-year-old left-hander jumped four level, all the way to Toronto, by dominating at every stop last season. His reward was five starts to begin April with the Blue Jays before being sent down to work on his craft. He hasn’t dominated in Triple-A this season, but he has the stuff to be an asset in Cincinnati. He would be a tremendous addition, though his No.17 prospect ranking by MLB.com prior to the season could make him a long-shot.
Jairo Labourt – The 21-year-old lefty looked solid in the Futures Game. He has a fastball that can reach the mid-90’s and can miss bats (9.8 K:9 last season), but he needs to work on his command (5.2 BB:9 this season). He would make for an interesting project.
Anthony Alford – After giving up football, Alford has taken off this season. In 20 games since being promoted to High-A Dunedin, he has a .349/.406/.523 triple-slash with 10 extra-base hits and six stolen bases. As a center fielder with tremendous athleticism, he could take over the gig if Billy Hamilton continues to lack the on-base skills necessary to utilize his speed in the near future.
I published my Top 100 prospect list for the 2015 season in late October. Since then, we’ve seen numerous players jump to the majors to be contributors at the big league level. As you likely heard a million times during All-Star Week, there are a lot of very good young players in MLB right now. Fortunately, there are still many to come, and here are the top 50 prospects remaining in the minors:
NOTE: Since this is a mid-season list, I am not going to go in-depth with reporting at this time. If you’d like to see more, follow the link to the statistics from Baseball Reference and view how each prospect is performing, or feel free to comment for specific questions on players and I’ll provide a response.
1. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals
3. Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
4. J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
5. Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
7. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
8. Nomar Mazara, OF, Texas Rangers
9. Trea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals
10. Aaron Nola, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
11. Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox
12. Yoan Moncada, 2B, Boston Red Sox
13. Brendan Rodgers, SS, Colorado Rockies
14. Bradley Zimmer, OF, Cleveland Indians
15. Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
16. Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets
17. Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
18. Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins
19. Orlando Arcia, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
20. Nick Williams, OF, Texas Rangers
21. Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
22. Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
23. Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
24. Gleyber Torres, SS, Chicago Cubs
25. Raul Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals
26. Luis Severino, RHP, New York Yankees (could be a reliever long-term)
27. Raimel Tapia, OF, Colorado Rockies
28. Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
29. Billy McKinney, OF, Chicago Cubs
30. Dansby Swanson, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks (remains unsigned prior to Friday’s deadline)
31. Jon Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies
32. Jeff Hoffman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
33. Sean Newcomb, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
34. Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
35. Joe Ross, RHP, Washington Nationals
36. Brett Phillips, OF, Houston Astros
37. Franklin Barreto, SS, Oakland Athletics
38. David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies
39. Blake Snell, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds
41. Aaron Blair, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
42. Ryan McMahon, 3B, Colorado Rockies
43. Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox
44. Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros
45. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP, Washington Nationals
46. Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox
47. Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
48. Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas Rangers
49. Ozhaino Albies, SS, Atlanta Braves
50. A.J. Reed, 1B, Houston Astros
I was seven in 1988, the year that the All-Star Game was last played in Cincinnati. I don’t remember any of the area’s festivities, but I remember that Terry Steinbach hit a home run that cost the National League the game, which was devastating as a Reds’ fan. Today, at the age of 34, I was able to go to Great American Ballpark to enjoy All-Star Sunday, thanks to a Father’s Day gift from my wife and daughter.
It was a great day for baseball, especially since we were under cover when the pop-up showers finally arrived. The initial experience upon walking in wasn’t too bad. The gates opened at 1:00, on time, and the early-arriving fans moved through ticketing and security quickly. We immediately headed towards left field, hoping to watch batting practice and, perhaps, land a ball from a prospect. Batting practice for the opposing team is open to the public for Reds’ games, and early-arriving fans can partake in tracking down balls hit into the stands without any problems. Unfortunately, the ushers weren’t allowing that today. They refused anyone without a ticket for that area to enter the section. After being turned away and heading to our regular seats, we watched batting practice with an empty left field seating area; in fact, the whole stadium remained nearly barren until about an hour into the Futures Game. As a fan who attends many games throughout the season, changing operating procedures without any announcement seemed pretty Bush League. Luckily, we were able to move on from that.
The festivities were interesting prior the to Futures Game starting; however, just before the game started, the Budweiser Clydesdales were brought out for a lap around the warning track and field, stomping up the dirt and requiring a quick dragging, leading to a slight delay. The introductions were great, as the youngsters were called out and the few in attendance occasionally acknowledged that a game was about to start. Tony Perez (World) and Ken Griffey, Sr. (U.S.A.) received the loudest cheers from fans for their years of service and the never-ending love of the “Big Red Machine”.
Lucas Giolito started the game and looked very impressive. He was the biggest name that I wanted to see at the event. He didn’t disappoint with his fastball that sat 95-98 and a pretty sick looking breaking ball. Giolito is going to make the Nationals even better whenever he reaches the majors, adding to that already impressive rotation.
The Reds fans in attendance got a great look at the kind of talent that is going to be a burden for them in the future. Division-rival Pittsburgh has Josh Bell on the rise through the minors, and he showed off his power with a shot to right:
The World roster struggled to plate their baserunners throughout the day, scattering 10 hits and scoring just an unearned run. They had several impressive players, but the range of guys like Orlando Arcia (Milwaukee shortstop) and Raul Mondesi, Jr. (Kansas City shortstop) was incredible, including Arcia’s sick play up the middle:
However, it was the powerful sticks of the U.S.A. roster that overwhelmed the World on Sunday, as game MVP, Middletown, Ohio-native, and Chicago Cubs’ catcher Kyle Schwarber, led the club to a 10-1 victory:
Overall, the players who impressed me the most were Giolito, Astros’ RHP Mark Appel (sat 95-97 with fastball), Blue Jays’ LHP Jairo Labourt (chubby babyface with mid-90’s heat), and Reds’ LHP Amir Garrett (who had an easy delivery and hit the mid-90’s).
If you’re interested in guys who will continue to gain helium in the prospect world in the coming months, I would be all over Rangers’ OF Nomar Mazara, Rockies’ OF Raimel Tapia, Nationals’ SS Trea Turner, and Phillies’ SS J.P. Crawford, as well as all of the others mentioned above.
After the Futures Game, we got to hear two songs from Billy Currington, a country singer, who didn’t really impress due to the strange acoustics that the stadium provided. That mini-concert allowed the fence and bases to be installed for the Celebrity Softball Game, which was entertaining for a little while, but, after the American League team dropped 12 runs in an inning, made an early-exit to the garage and a drive home quite welcoming.
Great American Ballpark looks great and is always a great place to watch the game. The club spent a lot of time and money on recent upgrades, including the new right field HD Jumbotron, to make this event special. With rain in the forecast, the fact that they forgot a retractable roof is kind of sad.
I’m sure that the Reds will make this event special. The thing that I’ll take away from this, however, is that they pretty much blew the whole concept of this being a fan event when they chose to restrict access for batting practice when it was advertised on MLB.com as a public event. Fortunately, the talent was able to save the day…but with the Reds looking at a potential fire-sale over the next month, they can’t say that for their day-to-day operations going forward. Cincinnati came together for a big event that covered the whole town with baseball excitement. Here’s to hoping for growth for the game and not just for the owner’s pocket!
As we reach the All-Star break, the season has surpassed its halfway point, and we have a pretty good idea of how the league and teams stand. With so many teams contending, 26 of 30 teams are within eight games of a playoff spot, it should be an exciting finish to the 2015 season. However, individual talents continue to shine, with many surprising players atop statistical leaderboards. So, who are the halfway heroes of 2015?
American League MVP: Angels’ OF Mike Trout
He doesn’t have the .350 batting average or 1.034 OPS of Miguel Cabrera, but Trout is doing his thing once again in 2015, showcasing his ability to hit for power and produce for the Angels. Trout has combined with Albert Pujols to provide the Angels with 50 home runs and 106 RBI in the first half. While Trout isn’t running like he used to (just nine stolen bases), he continues to redefine what teams can expect out of their young talent. Trout, who doesn’t turn 24 until August 7, has already accumulated more WAR than long-time veterans like Victor Martinez, Ryan Zimmerman, Aramis Ramirez, and Alex Gordon. The sky continues to be the limit for this superstar.
National League MVP: Nationals’ OF Bryce Harper
Trout and Harper. Harper and Trout. They’ve always been linked as gifted, young talent, but this is the year that they’re both healthy and producing side-by-side. At 22, Harper has mutated into a powerful, muscular, athletic freak, who leads MLB with his .471 on-base percentage, .709 slugging percentage, 1.181 OPS, and 5.7 WAR. The Nationals will continue to be led by their young superstar, while hoping to get and keep Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg, and Ryan Zimmerman healthy and in their lineup. Even without them consistently around, Washington and Harper sit atop the NL East.
American League Cy Young: White Sox’ LHP Chris Sale
He doesn’t have the wins or ERA of Astros’ LHP Dallas Keuchel, but Sale has been the most dominant starter in the AL. Just a strong gust of wind from being blown halfway into Lake Michigan, the skinny southpaw has racked up an 11.78 K:9, 2.80 ERA (2.31 FIP), 0.94 WHIP, and .205 BAA. Chicago is in last place in the AL Central, but they are just five games out in the Wild Card and have enough pieces to figure things out, riding the left arm of their ace every fifth day.
National League Cy Young: Dodgers’ RHP Zack Greinke
With an ability to opt-out of his contract at the end of the season, Greinke chose an opportune time to become an unhittable wizard for the Dodgers. His 1.39 ERA is over a half-run better than the 2nd place A.J. Burnett (1.99 ERA), and he has 35.2 consecutive scoreless innings. His 0.84 WHIP, second to Washington RHP Max Scherzer (0.80), and .191 BAA, detail his dominance further. Can he catch Orel Hershiser‘s record for consecutive scoreless innings? We will see after the break!
American League Rookie of the Year: Astros’ RHP Lance McCullers
He’s going to have a difficult time winning the award with his teammate, SS Carlos Correa, lurking in the end-of-year selection process. However, to this point, McCullers has been the most impressive AL rookie. His 2.16 ERA (2.72 FIP), 9.41 K:9, 1.10 WHIP, and .203 BAA are what have made the 21-year-old right-hander such a dynamic addition to the first place Astros’ rotation. Along with Keuchel, McCullers will try to fend off opposing batters down the stretch, firing his electric fastball and knockout punch slider along the way.
National League Rookie of the Year: Cubs’ 3B Kris Bryant
Bryant earned an All-Star bid after hitting .272/.380/.473 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI, as he takes his spot as Savior for the Cubs franchise. Along with first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Bryant will form a dynamic duo of mashing talent in the heart of the Chicago order, and, while the 96 strikeouts may say otherwise, he has proven that he isn’t overmatched by MLB pitching. Look for more of the same, as this 23-year-old continues to make adjustments and show his skills for the Wild Card-leading Cubbies.
American League Manager of the Year: Astros’ A.J. Hinch
This wasn’t the year that Sports Illustrated said that Houston was going to compete, but Hinch has led this group of young, talented players to the top of the American League West after winning just 70 games last season. The players play the game, so Hinch may not deserve all of the credit, but he seems to be pulling the right strings to this point in his brief managerial career. Can they continue at this pace? With Correa, McCullers, Jose Altuve, and Keuchel, they have a core of talent that many other teams are envious of, and they’ll eventually get George Springer back to make them that much more electric.
National League Manager of the Year: Mets’ Terry Collins
When you’ve been outscored by your opponents (297-305), even though your starting staff has a 3.45 ERA (7th in MLB), and your team is still above .500, you know that you’ve done a solid job. Terry Collins was given absolutely NOTHING for his everyday lineup this season, and with David Wright missing all but eight games of the season, you’d think that they’d struggle to stay afloat. However, the Mets are just three games back of Washington in the NL East. New York has an incredibly gifted group of young pitchers, as Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz (who will miss a month with a muscle tear after dominating in his first two starts), and Jacob deGrom share their rotation with fountain of youth eating Bartolo Colon, to give the club a chance to win each night. Collins gets what he can with the cards that he has been dealt, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
With All-Star weekend quickly approaching, there will be many exciting events around Cincinnati – minus a doughnut-licking pop star. One event that should peak the interest of baseball fans will be the auction that will be taking place on Tuesday, July 14, at 10:00 AM EST at the Duke Energy Center. Baseball history will be available for anyone with a fat enough wallet, but it is worth taking time to go view the items if you’re going to the event, as well. Not only will this auction be held in Cincinnati, it will also be available online at Invaluable.com. This is an online auction site with a variety of collectibles and memorabilia up for auction daily!
The sale will feature more than 450 lots of rare baseball memorabilia, including a select grouping of items from the Johnny Bench Collection, which will headline the auction. More information regarding the auction can be found HERE. Items being offered as part of the sale include:
Estimated Price: $175,000 – $200,000
Significant Roy Campanella 1953 National League Most Valuable Player award. A star player in both the Negro and Mexican Leagues, Campanella transitioned into the Brooklyn Dodgers Minor League system in 1946 and would ultimately join Jackie Robinson in the Major Leagues in 1948. A fixture in every All-Star Game played from 1949 to 1956, Campy was the National League’s Most Valuable Player (3) times in that same span of seasons. In 1953 he set then records for home runs (41) and RBIs by a catcher (142) hitting .312 in the Dodgers effort for a second consecutive National League Pennant. Important original award measuring 16″ across has octagonal Sterling Silver placard affixed at front. A gold colored bust of K.M. Landis sits below the second base position of a baseball diamond which also holds “Roy Campanella” engraved nameplate below “Most Valuable Player National League” titling, “Brooklyn Dodgers” team name, and a crossed bats/baseball applique which notes year, “1953.” Front is marked, “Sterling Dieges & Clust” and their tacked on metal tag remains on back below an eyelet for hanging. Very clean overall with a few minor scattered imperfections. One of the most high profile pieces of its’ type to have entered the marketplace. Includes letter of provenance from the Campanella Family: EX/MT
Estimated Price: $100,000 – $150,000
We were honored to conduct the Ted Williams Collection live auction event on behalf of the Williams family in 2012 at Fenway Park in Boston. Within that sale was included Ted’s other 1960 All-Star Game bat which also exhibited fine overall use indicative of regular season use after the All-Star Game similar to the offered specimen. The offered bat was only recently discovered within Ted Williams’s former personal residence in Florida along with an incredible handwritten note by William’s own hand. The note is written in pencil by Ted Williams on the back of a local safe company note paper and reads, “1960 Last Bat used single NY Kansas City”. Williams went 0-1 in a pinch hit appearance in the first 1960 All-Star Game played in Kansas City. In the second game played in New York, Ted collected a single in a pinch hit appearance which was also his final base hit in his All-Star Game career (14 total in his career).
Estimated Price: $75,000 – $100,000
1953 Mickey Mantle All-Star Game professional model bat (Direct Team Employee Provenance, PSA/DNA “GU 9”). Significant bat as issued to Mickey Mantle for use in his second All-Star Game appearance is one of the earliest dated examples, which can be definitively dated, to have surfaced. Louisville Slugger 125 model bat has Mantle facsimile signature burned into the barrel along with “All Star Game Cincinnati 1953” in block letter. Model “K55″ is factory stamped in the knob and the bat measures 35” long and weighs 33.2oz. An expected level of mild but well defined use is evident throughout with ball and stitch marks visible on the hitting surface along with some rack streaks. The offered bat was obtained directly from Mickey Mantle by the former equipment manager of the Washington Senators continuing with the Minnesota Twins. The young man had worked to earn Mantle’s trust by assisting the player while in town for visiting games. In return, the young man asked Mantle for his bat after he was done with it at the 1953 All-Star Game. Mantle obliged and the bat has remained in his personal collection until its current offering. Hitting for both average and power through all of his (18) seasons in baseball Mickey Mantle is firmly established as one of the games’ greatest sluggers. Named Most Valuable Player of the American League (3) times, he won the Triple Crown in 1956, and played on (7) Championship teams. In total Mantle enjoyed (20) All-Star Game appearances, a feat topped only by Aaron, Musial, and Mays. Statistics aside, there is a lore which surrounds his name that few others can conjure up. Mantle simply had intangibles which cannot be charted in box scores or accounted for in comparison to the standard measure of pure athletic ability. Includes full LOA from PSA/DNA (graded “GU 9”),LOA from Hunt Auctions, and letter of provenance with related photo (see catalogue image) from the equipment manager: EX
And…because it’s in Cincinnati, let us not forget:
Estimated Price: $50,000 – $75,000
Pete Rose “Babe Ruth Crown” for “Outstanding Batting Achievement.” Highly visual award piece done in the fashion of the “Sultan of Swat Award” which was an honor bestowed each year, starting in 1956, to the player with the highest slugging percentage. The roster of recipients read like a who’s who of great hitters to include Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, and even Joe DiMaggio whom was honored in 1956 for his 1939 season statistics. This later period piece, awarded by the same organization, offers similar display value with some subtle differences in text/design. Done in brass with affixed placard at front that reads, in both applied block letter and engraved text, “Babe Ruth Crown Presented to Pete Rose, For Outstanding Batting Achievement, Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association.” The (6) points are each done to resemble a baseball diamond with colored jewel fitted at center. Ringing the body are applied crossed bat/ball decor pieces alternating with engraved career related statistics/notations. In fine overall condition with hint of light tarnish/wear mentioned for accuracy. Includes signed letter of provenance from Pete Rose: EX/MT
(all information and photos courtesy of Invaluable and Hunt Auctions)
As we celebrate Independence Day in the United States, we feel that pounding in our chests from the explosions high above, while many of us listen or watch our favorite baseball teams and eat apple pie. It is the epitome of America in a single day, but many of us are reminded that our teams just aren’t doing enough to win. Some of our favorite teams will be seeking help to improve their chances of winning, while others will begin dumping talent to build a winner next year. With less than four weeks remaining until the non-waiver trade deadline, where does your team stand? Does the additional Wild Card opportunity continue to lead to many clubs standing pat? Who needs what and who could be on the market?
The standings tell an interesting story. In the American League, there isn’t a single team more than six games out of the Wild Card hunt. The Oakland Athletics feature a 38-46 record after some huge deals this winter haven’t truly materialized as Billy Beane hoped; however, the A’s are 13-7 over their last 20 games, so they may not be as willing to deal a Ben Zobrist or Scott Kazmir (both free agents after the 2015 season) to continue the club’s unending rebuild and collection of controllable talent. With other woulda-coulda-shoulda-been contenders just ahead of Oakland in Seattle, Boston, and Chicago, the American League could see plenty of clubs reloading rather than rebuilding when the deadline approaches.
In the senior circuit, the National League has its share of contending teams, but they also have four clubs sitting 11 or more games under .500 (Miami, Colorado, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia). Another team that is on the border of Wild Card contention could be Cincinnati, who sits six games out in the Wild Card; however, with the St. Louis Cardinals leading the Reds by 15 games, the team may need to begin looking into dealing Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and/or Jay Bruce to get back on the same page as their NL Central foes. Even if the Reds aren’t sellers, names like Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Dan Haren, and Mat Latos will likely head elsewhere from the four bottom-feeding clubs.
So, where could these names end up? Who are the contenders likely to make deals or stand pat?
St. Louis Cardinals
It isn’t an even year, so the Giants won’t be taking the World Series championship. That leaves the Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball, locked-in and ready to seek another title, utilizing the “Cardinal Way”, aka computer hacking, to make it happen. Though they continue to win games, St. Louis is without Matt Adams and Adam Wainwright for the entire season. With Jaime Garcia continuing to struggle to stay healthy, St. Louis could be in the market for another bat or arm. Stephen Piscotty could get a look if Mark Reynolds isn’t the option at first, but the Cards would be wise to shore-up the rotation a bit – just in case another injury strikes. They’re again loaded and talented, and they could take advantage of their strong farm to improve their chances once again.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are just three games out in the AL East and 1.5 games out in the Wild Card. With their lineup featuring so many capable sluggers, they just need some pitching to get over the hump. Toronto continues to develop strong pitching prospects, so they could offer some of that talent to acquire an arm for a big push down the stretch. The Blue Jays’ 4.59 starter ERA ranks 26th in MLB, and you have to wonder if Hamels, Kazmir, or Cueto could help the pitching staff enough to allow Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion to do their thing with the bats.
New York Mets
The Mets’ pitching staff is too good for the club to run out a lineup of Triple-A and MLB bench quality players on a nightly basis. While the club isn’t going to deal their entire farm system and start from scratch, the Mets would be wise to deal some of their young pitching depth to acquire some semblance of an offensive weapon. The Troy Tulowitzki rumors were a big thing earlier this season, but that wouldn’t be enough to help this lineup on its own, especially when he’d be replacing one of the Mets major producers, Wilmer Flores (11 2B, 10 HR, leads team with 34 RBI), at short.
Chicago White Sox
Chicago would probably burn again if the White Sox trade Chris Sale. At just five games out in the Wild Card, the team isn’t going to fold after spending big on Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, and David Robertson in free agency this past winter, and they still have Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu to produce in the lineup, along with a deep, strong rotation with Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Rodon, Jose Quintana, and John Danks joining Sale in the group. If the White Sox do anything, they could afford to get a second baseman, as the team has received a .193/.239/.232 from the keystone position this season, easily the worst in baseball.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are somehow managing to compete in the AL East this season, even after dealing with many injuries to their rotation to start the season. When Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi are on the shelf at the same time, you, likely, wouldn’t expect the Rays to still be just three games out in the division and 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. While Tampa Bay could make a few upgrades, they aren’t really in a position to deal from their minor league system due to continued financial limitations, while they are likely to get production from a healthy Moore, Smyly, and Odorizzi in the second half, who will join Cy Young consideration worthy Chris Archer to squander the opposition and win plenty of games.
The Diamondbacks already made some noise by dealing (giving away) a player whom they drafted last year, and signed for $2.7 million, Touki Toussaint, along with Bronson Arroyo‘s remaining contract, for 26-year-old utilityman Philip Gosselin. Even without Kevin Towers running things, no one knows what Arizona is thinking. Dave Stewart is now running things for Tony LaRussa out west, so Lord only knows what is going to happen here. However, this club has a superstar in Paul Goldschmidt, an underrated star in A.J. Pollock, and some very nice young pitching in Rubby De La Rosa, Chase Anderson, Robbie Ray, and Archie Bradley. They would be wise to see what this group would do and to not GIVE AWAY good young talent like the club has been doing for the last several years (see Trevor Bauer, Justin Upton, and Tyler Skaggs).
Whatever the club can manage to pry away to get rid of Ryan Howard and/or Chase Utley would be wise. This team is 27-55 entering play Saturday, well on their way to the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. It has to be a miracle that Ruben Amaro, Jr. is still employed. He may be a great guy, but he has ruined this franchise for years to come. If the club can deal Hamels and get great prospects WHILE dumping Hamels salary and allowing the team to start fresh next winter, it would be wise to do so. Dealing Jonathan Papelbon to a contender would also be a great move, as a highly-paid closer on a team that doesn’t win games is an absolute waste of time and money.
I mentioned before that the Reds could stand pat, but they need to deal Cueto and get value out of him, as I wrote recently. Jay Bruce’s production could make him hard to deal, but the club has Marlon Byrd under contract next year (vesting or team option at $8 million) with Jesse Winker showing he isn’t over-matched in Double-A to fill in the spaces around Billy Hamilton. Perhaps there is a match with the White Sox with Brandon Phillips, though his contract is as steep as his age. The Reds are more likely to play on the moon than get a team to take on Joey Votto‘s contract, so they’ll need some cheap, controllable pieces to collect and pray for production from. With a payroll that continues to be labeled “small-market”, the Reds are in serious danger of being awful in the next couple of seasons without acquiring near-ready talent.
After Wednesday afternoon’s eight-inning gem against the Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds’ right-hander Johnny Cueto is the proud owner of a dazzling 2.54 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP over 15 starts and 104.2 innings. Since the start of the 2014 season, he has a 2.43 ERA and 0.95 WHIP over 348.1 innings, winning 25 games and making the Reds and their fans wonder if they invested in the wrong arm when the club signed Homer Bailey to a six-year, $105 million deal in February 2014, especially with Bailey on the shelf after Tommy John surgery.
Now, the question becomes – where does he end up?
For fans who want him to stick around, it remains very unlikely for the club to re-sign their ace. After watching Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw cash-in, Cueto will be the second best option in free agency (3rd if Zack Greinke opts-out) to Tigers’ left-hander David Price this winter. He should easily eclipse $25 million annually, as teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels will be looking to fill holes and become more unreasonably deep (on paper) than their counterparts. If (or when) Cueto leaves through free agency, the Reds would receive a compensatory draft pick, which is no sure thing to develop into a star.
Therefore, trading Cueto for prospects continues to be the club’s best option. The club would receive quality, close-to-ready prospects in return. While those players are no sure thing to develop, either, it would provide the club with talent that could be plugged in immediately, or sooner than later, to begin the organization’s rebuilding process. While it seems painful to trade away a talent and watch him lead another team to success, it is even harder to see him walk out the door and leave fans and the club with nothing but a view of his backside. Imagine being a Cleveland Cavalier fan when LeBron James left for Miami and knowing that he wasn’t coming back – as it isn’t likely that Cueto would ever opt-out and sign for less to return to Cincinnati. The agony!
The Cueto Quandary has hurt Reds fans deeply because he is a homegrown talent. Signed in 2004 as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic, Cueto only spent 358.1 innings in the minors before making his debut, at the age of 22, in 2008. He gradually became more successful before injuries derailed his ability to rank right alongside the best pitchers in baseball. In 2011, he made the jump to ace-caliber production, only to have his season start and end with shoulder issues. He was healthy in 2012; however, he developed the same injury that he had to finish the 2011 season in 2013, which limited him to just 11 starts. Finally pitching a full season again in 2014, Cueto reached career-best numbers in innings (243.2), strikeouts (242), and hits per nine (6.2, which led MLB), while receiving his first All-Star game appearance and finishing 2nd in NL Cy Young voting. Since the start of the 2011 season, this is what Cueto has done:
58-30 (117 starts), 2.53 ERA (3.36 FIP, 153 ERA+), 1.05 WHIP, 782 IP, 667:199 K:BB, 7.1 H:9
Losing this kind of homegrown talent only reminds Cincinnati of how hard it has been for the club to develop their own arms. Outside of Mario Soto, the Reds haven’t found much success when it comes to signing international free agents and developing them – unless you count Aroldis Chapman here. You have to go back nearly 50 years to get to Gary Nolan (drafted in the 1st round in 1966) and Jim Maloney (amateur free agent signee in 1959), to find pitchers who were signed and developed by the Reds and found as much success as Cueto has in his eight seasons with the Reds.
Perhaps that pain is why it is so hard for Bob Castellini and Walt Jocketty to pull the trigger on a deal. After the club shipped off right-handers Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos this winter, it shouldn’t have been long before Cueto was dealt, as well. With the Reds toiling in mediocrity, 36-41 (six games out in both the NL Central and Wild Card), is now the right time? For a team whose longest winning streak (four games) occurred in the first four games of the season, there may not be a better time. Cueto is pitching well, he is healthy, and he continues to pitch himself out of the Cincinnati budget.
There may be another Cueto down the line in Cincinnati, but the Reds went from June 16, 1988 until April 3, 2008, all of 7,231 days, before Soto become Cueto, so expect another lengthy wait for the next real ace in Cincinnati. For a team that seems to be unable to develop their own pitching talent, the Cueto Quandary is a difficult dose of reality. Say your goodbyes and hope for a great return. “Johnny Beisbol” will be pitching for another team at some point this month.