2015 Season Previews: Houston Astros

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Houston Astros

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 77-85 (5th in AL West, 24th in MLB)

Manager: A.J. Hinch (1st season with Houston, 89-123 in two seasons overall)

Top Three Players: 2B Jose Altuve (3.2), LHP Dallas Keuchel (2.8), OF George Springer (2.5)

Bounce-back Player: OF/DH Evan Gattis

Gattis doesn’t really make sense in a bounce-back spot due to posting an .810 OPS in 2014. After all, he hit 22 home runs in just 108 and 401 plate appearances. However, people seemed to sour on the slugger due to his ineffectiveness behind the plate, as he allowed 53 stolen bases and threw out just 20 percent of would-be base stealers (league average was 28 percent). Gattis, though, was likely miscast in that role anyway, and his move to the American League presents the opportunity to DH, especially with the Astros having Jason Castro, Hank Conger, and Max Stassi as options at catcher. Gattis will likely play left field a majority of the time, keeping Chris Carter at the DH spot, but this will allow Gattis to play every day. Based on his power numbers, you’re looking at a left fielder with 30 or more home runs in a quickly improving Astros lineup. While he may not be “bouncing back”, Gattis will certainly be jumping forward with his most productive season, as he is in his prime (age-28 season) and will get plenty of at bats.

Singleton/Springer the new Bagwell/Biggio?  Courtesy: sportsonearth.com

Singleton/Springer the new Bagwell/Biggio?
Courtesy: sportsonearth.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 1B Jon Singleton

Some fantasy fans will be scared off from Singleton due to his .168 batting average and the fact that he struck out in 37 percent of his at bats in his 2014 season; however, you can take advantage of his faded future stardom by others jumping off of the bandwagon. There were several positives in his atrocious .168/.285/.335, mainly his 13.8 percent walk-rate and his .168 ISO, which would have matched Adrian Beltre and Hunter Pence for right about 55th in MLB (if he had enough plate appearances to qualify). Additionally, Singleton’s .238 BABIP showed quite a bit of bad luck, and some of those balls may fall (or fly out of the park) in 2015. Plus…Singleton had a 20.7 percent infield fly ball rate, which would have led MLB – if that is something that someone actually “leads”. He won’t turn 24 until the middle of September and he has a ton of power, patience at the plate, and a team willing to play him despite the strikeouts (see Carter, Chris) – if they don’t go away.

Offseason Overview: The Astros were able to get 3B Luis Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily from the Cubs for Dexter Fowler, while acquiring OF Evan Gattis from the Braves for a package of solid prospects (3B Rio Ruiz, RHP Michael Foltynewicz, and RHP Andrew Thurman). They signed OF Colby Rasmus and SS Jed Lowrie, and, suddenly, the team has another fresh look. The Gattis trade may go down as a steal for the Braves (Ruiz is very good and Foltynewicz has the arm to be an elite reliever if he doesn’t make it as a starter), but Matt Dominguez still has four seasons of team-control (including this season), and the club acquired Colin Moran from the Marlins last season, so the depth was there. The deals that they made provided a lot of depth, as Houston has three very good options at catcher, Dominguez and Valbuena can share third and be productive, while Rasmus appears to be a bench player if he is unable to beat out Jake Marisnick for the job in right, as Gattis should be in left and Springer will be in center. We will see if the philosophy that Jeff Luhnow has developed ends up working, but this winter definitely improved the roster.

The Verdict: PECOTA sees the Astros falling back into the AL West cellar, and with the rotation that they have, that seems likely, but they’re also predicted to win SEVEN more games than they did in 2014. While they’ll still have one of the lowest payrolls in MLB, the organization appears ready to make moves necessary to improve the team, even dealing away pieces of their future due to the tremendous amount of depth that has been created within the system. Slowly but surely, the Astros are getting there. We’re another season away from seeing RHP Mark Appel, SS Carlos Correa, RHP Vincent Velasquez, and OF Brett Phillips in major roles for the big league club, and once they are there, the rebuild will officially be on the verge of taking the leap to contention. Until then, it’s another season to hope for positive gains and see if the Astros make a run at some of the huge names who will be available next winter.

2015 Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Arizona Diamondbacks

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 74-88 (4th in NL West, 25th in MLB)

Manager: Chip Hale (1st season – no prior experience)

Top Three Players: 1B Paul Goldschmidt (5.1), OF A.J. Pollock (2.0), RHP Jeremy Hellickson (1.3)

Bounce-back Player: OF A.J. Pollock

Since the All-Star break of the 2013 season, Pollock has been a different player:

2013 second half –

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
2nd Half 55 37 192 170 25 50 5 3 2 14 6 19 27 .294 .368 .394 .763 67 .340
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/28/2015.

2014 – (including .273/.326/.386 in 95 plate appearances after returning from his broken hand)

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2014 26 ARI 75 287 265 41 80 19 6 7 24 14 19 46 .302 .353 .498 .851 134 132
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/28/2015.

As you can see, Pollock has made some changes to his game to make him an interesting offensive piece, possessing enough pop to be useful, enough speed to be an asset, and the defensive skills to challenge Juan Lagares and Billy Hamilton for the NL Gold Glove in center. Entering his age-27 season, Pollock is now in his prime and he is likely to see additional growth, especially with the offseason to regain strength in his right hand, which was fractured by a pitch and cost him 79 games in 2014. You could say that this won’t be a bounce-back, it will be more of a continuation of the breakout that was occurring. With healthy stars around him, Pollock will be a big piece in an improved offense for the Diamondbacks.

Can Lamb win the 3B job?  Courtesy: foxsports.com

Can Lamb win the 3B job?
Courtesy: foxsports.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 3B Jake Lamb

People are going to be jumping all over Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas due to his power potential, but he only played “some” third base in Cuba and has already shown some brick hands in drills this spring. Lamb has posted a .959 OPS over five minor league seasons, and, while he struck out 37 times in 133 plate appearance (27.8 percent) in his late-season call-up, Lamb showed some ability to drive the ball by ripping nine of his 29 hits for extra bases. He’s just 24, and, though Tomas has the big contract and high expectations, Lamb shouldn’t be written off. Tomas would be an excellent offensive option in left over the David Peralta/Ender Inciarte/Cody Ross option, and Lamb’s left-handed bat would fit nicely in the mix of Yasmany Tomas, Paul Goldschmidt, Mark Trumbo, and A.J. Pollock – all right-handed hitters in the top and middle of the order.

Offseason Overview:  The Diamondbacks were a very busy organization, changing managers after a whole shift in the front office that led to Tony LaRussa taking over Baseball Operations. While the Diamondbacks may not be as “gritty” as they were the last couple of seasons, that’s probably a good thing, as that wasn’t working for their end-of-year win totals. With a friendly home ballpark and enough offensive talent to make non-Clayton Kershaw-types to quiver in their spikes, the Diamondbacks head into rebuilding mode, having invested heavily in Yasmany Tomas and dealing Wade Miley to the Red Sox for a couple of very promising, major-league-ready arms in RHP Rubby De La Rosa and RHP Allen Webster. They dealt light-hitting Didi Gregorius (who lost his shortstop job to Chris Owings) to the Yankees to replace Derek Jeter, and pried away LHP Robbie Ray from Detroit (who was acquired from Washington last season for Doug Fister), while acquiring RHP Jeremy Hellickson from the Rays for a couple of Low-A prospects.

 

The Verdict: The Diamondbacks were busy and they needed to be. They finished at .500 in both 2012 and 2013, then headed in the wrong direction by losing 98 games in 2014. They suffered through many injuries to their offense and ineffectiveness from their pitching. They needed to scrap it and try again, and they did so while acquiring talent that is ready to help them on Opening Day. Hellickson knows how to pitch and a move to the NL will only increase his ability to get back to the pitcher that he was in 2011 and 2012 (yes, I know the FIP was ugly, so it may have been the averages getting back to reality). RDLR has tremendous stuff, and adding him to the trio of Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley, and Aaron Blair, the Diamondbacks future rotation looks quite potent – and that’s not even with Touki Toussaint in the mix yet. The offense will likely sputter at times due to the weakest links, but they have a dynamic player in Paul Goldschmidt who can keep things going on the worst of days. This team could easily see a 20 game turnaround in 2015, but that would only leave them with 84 wins, which wouldn’t get it done in the NL West this season. The Diamondbacks made some smart moves, but they had so far to go that it will take a couple of more seasons.

2015 Season Previews: Atlanta Braves

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Atlanta Braves

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 73-89 (4th in NL East, 26th in MLB)

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez (358-290 in four seasons with Atlanta, 634-569 overall in eight seasons)

Top Three Players: SS Andrelton Simmons (4.1), 1B Freddie Freeman (4.1), Alex Wood (2.3)

Bounce-back Player: LHP Mike Minor

Minor missed some time in the 2014 season due to left shoulder inflammation. The shoulder is a tricky injury to struggle with for pitchers, and Minor struggled, going 6-12 with a 4.77 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 25 starts and 145.1 innings. He was much more hittable in 2014, which likely has something to do with leaning on his fastball more than ever before. He threw the fastball 61.2 percent of the time (a career-high), while using his change just 8.3 percent of the time (the lowest of his career). Minor has a four pitch mix, using a curve and slider along with the fastball and changeup, so the shoulder issues may have led to some discomfort in mixing his pitches and keeping hitters off-balance. If he is healthy, he could be the same pitcher who posted a 2.90 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 47 starts (298.1 IP) from July 5, 2012 through the end of the 2013 season, and if that is the case, the Braves have one of the strongest rotations in the National League.

Can Peraza boost the Braves and your fantasy teams? Courtesy: foxsports.com

Can Peraza boost the Braves and your fantasy teams?
Courtesy: foxsports.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 2B Jose Peraza

Peraza is an interesting fantasy prospect thanks to his speed. He made it to AA last season at the age of 20 and promptly hit .335/.363/.422 over 44 games, while stealing 25 of the 60 that he stole during the entire 2014 season. Atlanta did sign Alberto Callaspo this winter, who could battle Chris Johnson for time at third or Jace Peterson for the Opening Day second base job, but Peraza is the man to watch for the keystone position in Atlanta. He is certainly worth grabbing in dynasty and NL-only leagues due to the potential that he offers with his legs, and he appears to have a similar skill-set to what Luis Castillo brought in his earlier seasons with the Marlins, which likely helped win several fantasy titles. He’s very unlikely to be on the roster when camp breaks, but if he continues to impress in the way that he has since his 2011 debut and the Braves are struggling to find production, this young man could spark the offense.

Offseason Overview: The Braves has a very busy offseason, dealing away more expensive, proven talent for younger, more affordable potential after a disastrous 2014, which saw the team finish 17 games back of Washington in the NL East. Sure, it was good for second place in the weak division, but Atlanta was hoping for more. After re-tooling (and decreasing payroll by approximately $12 million) by dealing Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to St. Louis for RHP Shelby Miller and RHP prospect Tyrell Jenkins,  shipping Justin Upton to the Padres (along with RHP Aaron Northcraft) for a package of prospects (LHP Max Fried, 3B Dustin Peterson, OF Mallex Smith, and 2B/3B Jace Peterson), and moving C/OF Evan Gattis to Houston (with RHP James Hoyt) for 3B Rio Ruiz, RHP Michael Foltynewicz, and RHP Andrew Thurman, the Braves have stockpiled their system with depth while decreasing payroll. The club did add OF Nick Markakis and OF Jonny Gomes to make up for the loss in offensive output, albeit not nearly as intimidating on paper. However, it wasn’t as if Upton and Heyward had been individually producing at Mike Trout levels, even if it will be hard to replace the 9.6 WAR that they combined to post in 2014 with their new additions. They lost Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, and Ervin Santana to free agency from the rotation, but they were able to replace them through the moves or with other candidates, such as the smart minor league contract invites LHP Wandy Rodriguez and LHP Eric Stults. The addition of RHP Jason Grilli to the bullpen in front of RHP Craig Kimbrel shores up the bullpen, especially if he pitches as well as he did for the Angels last season, and especially if he returns to the dominance that he showed in 2013 for the Pirates.

The Verdict: While this may look like a totally different team from the 2014 season, the Braves could be very solid. They will thrive with their pitching and defense, possessing elite-level defenders in Simmons, C Christian Bethancourt, Freeman, and, if he returns to form, B.J Upton (a.k.a. Melvin). The big issue will be their offensive production. By dealing Upton and Heyward, they rid themselves of two players who were set to become free agents after the 2015 season, but Markakis and Gomes really won’t cut it in replacing them. Atlanta must be assuming that there will be further gains for Freddie Freeman, while counting on resurgent seasons from Simmons, 3B Chris Johnson, and Upton. Atlanta may be familiar with having a solid young group of arms, and now with RHP Julio Teheran, RHP Shelby Miller, and LHP Alex Wood at the top of the rotation, there could be reminders of the Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery led youthful rotations that once turned into a dynasty. This is exactly how a team that knows what they’re doing spends an offseason. John Hart will look like a genius for the moves that he has made to rebuild the Braves in a couple of seasons, but it would take some pretty impressive breaks for the team to be a .500 team in 2015.

2015 Season Previews: Kansas City Royals

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Kansas City Royals

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 72-90 (4th in AL Central, 27th in MLB)

Manager: Ned Yost (373-402 in five seasons with the Royals, 830-904 overall in 11 seasons)

Top Three Players: OF Alex Gordon (4.4), C Salvador Perez (3.6), 3B Mike Moustakas (2.6)

Bounce-back Player: 3B Mike Moustakas

It is hard to say that a player will rebound, especially when they haven’t had a single season of league-average wRC+ in their entire MLB career, but Moustakas is certainly capable of better than he has shown in his career. After dropping to a career-worst .212/.271/.361 triple-slash and 76 wRC+ in 2014, there isn’t really much further down Moustakas can go offensively before he’ll be out of a job. He will get to respectable levels because he won’t have a .220 BABIP, which is heavily weighed down by defensive shifts. Add in the career-low strikeout rate (14.8 percent) and a career-high walk-rate (7.0 percent), and Moustakas, while regressing, is, at the same time, showing progress offensively. Who is Mike Moustakas? Is he the kid who hit 36 home runs in 2010 in the minors at the age of 22, or is he the guy with the .669 OPS over his 1,993 MLB plate appearances. He hasn’t ever really been in the middle, but there is still potential for that, even as he enters only his age-26 season (he seems like he should be older, right?).

"Royals

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Yordano Ventura

If you look at the numbers for the Royals pitching staff in 2014, you may wonder why Ventura is a player to watch. He tied for the team lead in wins (14) with James Shields, and was second to Danny Duffy in starter ERA (3.20). The petite right-hander logged 183 innings while averaging 97 mph on his dominating fastball. He will turn 24 in June, and he should improve his command to bring his walk-rate down a bit from the 3.39 that he had in 2014. With the stuff and a bit of control, the sky is the limit for this kid, even if he must continue to overcome the diminutive label. Look for more from the already impressive power-arm.

Offseason Overview: The Royals had an interesting offseason, losing their ace (James Shields), an outfielder (Nori Aoki), and their long-time DH (Billy Butler); however, they filled those holes by signing RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Kris Medlen, OF Alex Rios, and 1B/DH Kendrys Morales. The big question is: is that going to be enough? With Shields gone, the ace of the rotation (at least in label) will likely be RHP Jeremy Guthrie. Volquez isn’t going to replace the production that Shields had, at least (based on his track record) there isn’t enough consistency to warrant his elevation to being considered at top-tier pitcher, and Medlen, after two Tommy John surgeries, has been good, yet, he can’t be counted on. They will, instead, hope to get more production out of Ventura and LHP Danny Duffy to off-set the loss of Shields. A healthy Rios should be an upgrade over Aoki, even with the difference in on-base skills that Rios brings, and Morales was once capable of better production than the .702 OPS and 95 OPS+ that Butler provided from the DH slot in 2014, so they’ll hope for a return to that level with a full offseason to prepare.

The Verdict: PECOTA wasn’t kind to the Royals, just an offseason removed from appearing in the World Series. The AL Central seems quite competitive, especially with the White Sox buying in this winter. The Royals need to see improvements by Moustakas, OF Lorenzo Cain, and their young starting pitching. The additional unknown in year-to-year reliever success can go a long way in the Royals’ future, as well, as the dominance from RHP Greg Holland, RHP Wade Davis, and RHP Kelvin Herrera may not be the same in 2015. While PECOTA, once again, wasn’t very kind, the Royals seem more like, as they were last season, to exceed expectations. They have a lot of good, young talent still, and if things break right, even a little, they are capable of outperforming expectations, just as they did in 2014.

2015 Season Previews: Colorado Rockies

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Colorado Rockies

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 71-91 (5th in NL West, 28th in MLB)

Manager: Walt Weiss (140-184 in two seasons with Colorado)

Top Three Players: SS Troy Tulowitzki (5.8), 3B Nolan Arenado (3.9), LHP Jorge De La Rosa (2.5)

Bounce-back Player: OF Carlos Gonzalez

At 28 and in the midst of his prime, CarGo had another injury-plagued season, finishing 2014 with just 70 games played for the Rockies. While the injuries allowed the club to watch Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, and Charlie Blackmon excel in bigger roles, it was still painful for the Rockies and their fans to watch both of the high-priced stars (along with Tulowitzki) miss time once again, especially with Gonzalez and his final line – .238/.292/.431. If his leg injuries have sapped his speed, his game will have changed pretty significantly from his breakout 2010, the last season that he played in more than 140 games. He just needs to stay on the field to be productive, and with all of the other strong hitters around him in the lineup, an All-Star season is within reach as long as he suits up for 130 games – if he can do that. Considering the productivity that he could have if he is healthy, he’s a nice buy-low option and a bargain in drafts. Just make sure that you have a solid backup, as the Rockies do in Stubbs.

Blossoming superstar, 3B Nolan Arenado Courtesy: Denver Post

Blossoming superstar, 3B Nolan Arenado
Courtesy: Denver Post

Fantasy Player to Watch: 3B Nolan Arenado

Arenado was once a highly touted prospect, so it isn’t as if he is an unknown name; however, it’s the fact that he’ll be just 24 in April and he has nearly 1,000 major league plate appearances under his belt that make him interesting. Arenado has struck out just 130 times in his 981 plate appearances (13.3 percent), and his ability to make consistent contact is an asset in the spacious confines of Coors Field. As Arenado has matured, he has also increased his flyball and home run rates, going from 33.7 percent flyball and 7,1 percent home run/flyball in 2013 to 41.8 percent flyball and 11.4 percent home run/flyball rates in 2014. While he is unlikely to rip 35 home runs in 2015, he will certainly improve upon his 18 home runs from 2014, as he continues to turn some of his doubles into home runs, while improving on his already impressive .213 ISO from 2014.

Offseason Overview: Michael Cuddyer left for New York and the Mets organization early this offseason, but the Rockies have plenty of outfield depth to overcome that departure. With Drew Stubbs listed as the No.4 outfielder and Kyle Parker on his way up, the Rockies can withstand injuries at first base and outfield. Additionally, the club signed Nick Hundley to provide a more defensive-minded option at catcher, leaving slugger Wilin Rosario with no real opportunities. He could be a nice right-handed designated hitter, but he obviously can’t do that in Colorado. The pitching staff is still a bit pieced together, as the club waits for Eddie Butler and Jon Gray to take on larger roles in coming seasons. While they did sign Kyle Kendrick, his 4.92 K:9 over 1,138.2 career innings means that he can’t get the ball past hitters, and more contact will likely breed more inflated ERAs for Kendrick, who has a career 4.42 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.

The Verdict: The Rockies, once again, have a gifted group of hitters, who continue to take advantage of their spacious home ballpark; however, they don’t have the pitching to become a contender, especially in the super-competitive NL West. Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Jordan Lyles, Tyler Matzek, and Kendrick aren’t going to bring nightmares to opposing hitters in the way that Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Cashner, James Shields, Zack Greinke, and Madison Bumgarner do, but if they can manage games and hope that the offense takes control of the score, then they can at least be competitive each night. Colorado has a long way to go and a lot of hope in young arms, but if they don’t reach their potential, the organization will continue to be in a pitching-induced limbo for another decade. Watch this group put up impressive offensive numbers, while continuing to waiver in baseball purgatory as they aren’t the worst team in baseball, but they aren’t close to being the best, either.

2015 Season Previews: Minnesota Twins

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Minnesota Twins

Twins

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 70-92 (5th in AL Central, 29th in MLB)

Manager: Paul Molitor (1st season – no prior experience)

Top Three Players: 2B Brian Dozier (2.8), RHP Phil Hughes (2.6), 1B Joe Mauer (2.3)

Bounce-back Player: RHP Ricky Nolasco

When the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal last winter, he was expected to anchor a staff that was downright awful in 2013 (5.26 team ERA and the 29th ranked rotation ERA of 4.81). Nolasco never met those expectations, going just 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 27 starts and 159 innings, complaining of an elbow injury three months into his horrible performance. Needless to say, with Nolasco’s contract and the Twins “small-market” financial situation, he isn’t going to be traded or forced into the bullpen; however, he won’t need to be, as the 2015 season will likely see a huge improvement. A .351 BABIP (.312 career) is an easy first qualifier to that statement. Additionally, his FIP was 4.30 in 2015, which shows that it wasn’t quite as horrific as the ERA showed. While he won’t ever be an ace, he could settle in nicely within the middle of the rotation as an innings-eating veteran as the Twins slowly add Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios to the mix in the coming season or seasons.

Twins OF Oswaldo Arcia: Slugger Extraordinaire? Courtesy: twincities.com

Twins OF Oswaldo Arcia: Slugger Extraordinaire?
Courtesy: twincities.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: OF Oswaldo Arcia

Though he has parts of two seasons and 788 plate appearances under his belt, Arcia will be just 24 in May. He already has 33 doubles, 34 home runs, and 100 RBI on his resume, but it’s the 244 strikeouts and 31 percent strikeout rate that some may focus on. Sure, he strikes out way too much, but there are positives in his game. He obviously has big power, which is huge for the Twins when you consider that the face of the franchise and payroll paper weight, Joe Mauer, offers so little power production. Arcia, obviously a free-swinger, saw slight improvements in his walk rate in 2014, as well, improving from 6.1 percent in 2013 to 7.6 percent last season. His ISO would have ranked in the top 15 in MLB in 2014, as well, so Arcia appears on his way to being an offensive asset for a team that will see quite a few positive changes in production in the coming seasons, as the arrival of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton to the major league roster will help to make the Twins an offensive juggernaut, and Arcia will help in that charge.

Offseason Overview: The Twins added more veteran leadership to the team this winter, signing OF Torii Hunter to return in right field, while adding RHP Ervin Santana to shore up the top of the rotation, which was lacking in production outside of Phil Hughes’ breakout last season. While the club lost a couple of bullpen arms to free agency, they weren’t really getting much out of them (Anthony Swarzak and Matt Guerrier). While the Twins didn’t go crazy in spending this offseason, they added value without crippling their future, as they are paying Santana slightly more than what they are paying Nolasco per season, while only signing Hunter to a one-year deal.

The Verdict: The Twins only added two major pieces this winter to a team that finished last in the division. Hunter is a nice stopgap in right and will be gone soon to open up another spot for the Twins’ youngsters. The team has a tremendous farm and a very solid core of talent in Dozier, Hughes, Santana, Arcia, and Kennys Vargas to build around; however, it won’t be enough to get this team out of the cellar in 2015. They should be a little better than they were in 2014, even though their PECOTA record suggests an identical record, as they hope to get a better idea of what they have on their MLB roster, while getting looks at Sano, Buxton, Meyer, Berrios, and Trevor May over the course of the 2015 season. This will appear to be another lost season by the end of 162 games, but it will go a long way in the future of the franchise, and this will likely be a better team that what they’re projected to be.

2015 Season Previews: Philadelphia Phillies

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Philadelphia Phillies

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 69-93 (5th in NL East, 30th in MLB)

Manager: Ryne Sandberg (93-111 in two seasons with Philadelphia)

Top Three Players: 2B Chase Utley (2.8 WAR), Cole Hamels (2.7 WAR), and Cliff Lee (2.7 WAR)

Bounce-back Candidate: OF Domonic Brown

Brown was an All-Star in 2013, his age-25 season, after posting an .856 OPS to go along with 23 home runs and 67 RBI in the first half; however, it hasn’t been pretty since then, as Brown was quite unproductive in the second half of 2013 (.723 OPS, nine extra-base hits, and 16 RBI over 156 plate appearances) before falling flat on his face in 2014, when he posted a .235/.285/.349 triple-slash (.634 OPS, 77 OPS+). At 27, Brown still needs to prove that the potential (which led to his No.4 overall prospect ranking prior to the 2011 season) is still there for him to be type of player that was present during the first half of the 2013 season. Luckily for Brown, the Phillies possess very little in the way of competition and prospects to push him for his role in right field, as Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Danks, and Brian Bogusevic are the likely backups in the Philadelphia outfield. The talent is there, but, as usual with Brown, the question remains as to whether or not he is motivated enough to reach his potential.

Phillies RHP (and future closer?) Ken Giles

Phillies RHP (and future closer?) Ken Giles

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Ken Giles

With the Phillies in rebuilding mode, the club has been working most of the offseason to deal their closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon, who has a $13 million vesting option for 2016 if he finishes 48 games in 2015, isn’t very valuable to a club that is expected to be as bad as the Phillies are anticipated to be in 2015, and his contract will just hold the club back financially in 2016 if he was to reach his vesting option and stick around another season. If Philadelphia was able to move Papelbon, Giles would likely slide into the closer’s role. Giles, 24, posted a 1.18 ERA and 0.79 WHIP over 45.2 innings, striking out 12.6 per nine over his 44 appearances. He isn’t arbitration-eligible until after the 2017 season, and he could provide cheap saves for the Phillies and fantasy players alike.

Offseason Overview: The Phillies were sellers over the winter, with very little success in dealing off the overpriced parts that they wanted to rid themselves of. They were able to deal Marlon Byrd to the Cincinnati Reds for a decent pitching prospect, RHP Ben Lively, and Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two pitching prospects (RHP Zach Eflin and LHP Tom Windle), but, as of publishing, they weren’t able to move 1B Ryan Howard, LHP Cliff Lee, or LHP Cole Hamels. There are plenty of suitors still trying to come up with the right package to acquire Hamels, who has made it known that he doesn’t want to be in Philadelphia any longer, but Ruben Amaro, Jr. hasn’t budged on his asking price…yet. Beyond the two deals for minor leaguers, the Phillies haven’t done much. RHP Aaron Harang and RHP Chad Billingsley were decent one-year gambles that the club should attempt to pawn-off at the trade deadline for any breathing, controllable player, but they have a long way to go to be competitive again.

The Verdict: Citizens Bank Park will be very loud this season, featuring plenty of booing, screaming, paper bag covered faces, and creative signs regarding the franchise. The core of the team is still an aging group, and counting on Grady Sizemore in left field is an example of the continued ineptitude of the leadership. If the Phillies can get anything for any of their players and start with a blank slate, in similar fashion to the Houston Astros under Jeff Luhnow, it would be a worthwhile move for the future of the franchise. The weight of the $60 million owed to Ryan Howard (including his 2017 buyout), is a burden that Amaro placed on himself, and it should have cost him his job, but he’ll be the one trying to fix the mess that he created this season, as the team is heading towards 100 losses and the right to the No.1 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.

2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings

2015 Fantasy Baseball – Top 200

  1. Angels OF and No.1 overall player, Mike Trout

    Angels OF and No.1 overall player, Mike Trout

    Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

  2. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
  4. Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
  6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
  7. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
  8. Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
  9. Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
  10. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
  11. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals
  12. Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
  13. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
  14. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies
  15. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
  16. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners
  17. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
  18. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
  19. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
  20. Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore Orioles
  21. Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
  22. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
  23. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
  24. Hanley Ramirez, SS/OF, Boston Red Sox
  25. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
  26. Ian Desmond, SS, Washington Nationals
  27. Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians
  28. Chris Sale, LHP, Chicago White Sox
  29. Justin Upton, OF, San Diego Padres
  30. Max Scherzer, RHP, Washington Nationals
  31. Hunter Pence, OF, San Francisco Giants
  32. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, New York Yankees
  33. Corey Dickerson, OF, Colorado Rockies
  34. David Price, LHP, Detroit Tigers
  35. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
  36. Will Posey tire down the stretch due to playing 1B on off days behind the plate?

    Will Posey tire down the stretch due to playing 1B on off days behind the plate?

    Buster Posey, C/1B, San Francisco Giants

  37. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals
  38. Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
  39. Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
  40. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado Rockies
  41. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
  42. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
  43. Adam Wainwright, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
  44. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers
  45. Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
  46. Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers
  47. Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati Reds
  48. Zack Greinke, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
  49. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Detroit Tigers
  50. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
  51. Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers
  52. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Washington Nationals
  53. Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins
  54. Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
  55. Jon Lester, LHP, Chicago Cubs
  56. Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians
  57. Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
  58. Jason Heyward, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
  59. Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners
  60. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
  61. Jose Reyes, SS, Toronto Blue Jays
  62. Cole Hamels, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
  63. David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox
  64. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Atlanta Braves
  65. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
  66. Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Chicago White Sox
  67. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
  68. Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
  69. Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves
  70. Greg Holland, RHP, Kansas City Royals
  71. Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds
  72. Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins
  73. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers
  74. Chris Carter, 1B, Houston Astros
  75. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
  76. Nelson Cruz, DH, Seattle Mariners
  77. Matt Kemp, OF, San Diego Padres
  78. David Wright, 3B, New York Mets
  79. Carlos Carrasco, RHP, Cleveland Indians
  80. Sonny Gray, RHP, Oakland Athletics
  81. James Shields, RHP, San Diego Padres
  82. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
  83. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox
  84. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B/OF, Washington Nationals
  85. This is the year Santana *REALLY* breaks out - playing 1B full-time

    This is the year he *REALLY* breaks out – playing 1B full-time

    Carlos Santana, C/1B/3B, Cleveland Indians

  86. Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets
  87. Alex Wood, LHP, Atlanta Braves
  88. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
  89. Dee Gordon, 2B, Miami Marlins
  90. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals
  91. Gio Gonzalez, LHP, Washington Nationals
  92. Tyson Ross, RHP, San Diego Padres
  93. Daniel Murphy, 2B, New York Mets
  94. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees
  95. Cliff Lee, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
  96. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Boston Red Sox
  97. Wil Myers, OF, San Diego Padres
  98. Mookie Betts, 2B/OF, Boston Red Sox
  99. Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds
  100. Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets
  101. Rusney Castillo, OF, Boston Red Sox
  102. Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
  103. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
  104. Steven Souza, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
  105. Mat Latos, RHP, Miami Marlins
  106. Mark Meloncon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
  107. Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
  108. Doug Fister, RHP, Washington Nationals
  109. Lucas Duda, 1B, New York Mets
  110. Alex Gordon, OF, Kansas City Royals
  111. Alexei Ramirez, SS, Chicago White Sox
  112. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
  113. Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets
  114. Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
  115. Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs
  116. Yasmany Tomas, 3B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
  117. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, Seattle Mariners
  118. Matt Carpenter, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
  119. Hyun-jin Ryu, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
  120. What is Machado capable of healthy?

    What is Machado capable of healthy?

    Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

  121. Homer Bailey, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
  122. Kole Calhoun, OF, Los Angeles Angels
  123. David Robertson, RHP, Chicago White Sox
  124. Yan Gomes, C, Cleveland Indians
  125. Cody Allen, RHP, Cleveland Indians
  126. Koji Uehara, RHP, Boston Red Sox
  127. Jake Arrieta, RHP, Chicago Cubs
  128. Josh Harrison, 3B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
  129. Dellin Betances, RHP, New York Yankees
  130. Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
  131. Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland Indians
  132. Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers
  133. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
  134. Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
  135. Huston Street, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
  136. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
  137. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
  138. Drew Storen, RHP, Washington Nationals
  139. Lance Lynn, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
  140. Leonys Martin, OF, Texas Rangers
  141. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
  142. Glen Perkins, LHP, Minnesota Twins
  143. Neil Walker, 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates
  144. Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
  145. Drew Hutchison, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
  146. Howie Kendrick, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
  147. Steve Cishek, RHP, Miami Marlins
  148. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers
  149. Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies
  150. Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
  151. Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies
  152. Mark Trumbo, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
  153. Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
  154. Brett Gardner, OF, New York Yankees
  155. Drew Smyly, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
  156. J.D. Martinez, OF, Detroit Tigers
  157. Zach Britton, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
  158. Garrett Richards, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
  159. Mike Napoli, 1B, Boston Red Sox
  160. Anibal Sanchez, RHP, Detroit Tigers
  161. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
  162. Jered Weaver, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
  163. Bogaerts could be had cheap due to his post-hype drag. Buy him.

    Bogaerts could be had cheap due to his post-hype drag. Buy him.

    Xander Bogaerts, 3B/SS, Boston Red Sox

  164. Melky Cabrera, OF, Chicago White Sox
  165. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
  166. Alex Rios, OF, Kansas City Royals
  167. Erick Aybar, SS, Los Angeles Angels
  168. Phil Hughes, RHP, Minnesota Twins
  169. Chase Headley, 3B, New York Yankees
  170. Fernando Rodney, RHP, Seattle Mariners
  171. Andrew Cashner, RHP, San Diego Padres
  172. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Texas Rangers
  173. Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS, Oakland Athletics
  174. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs
  175. Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
  176. Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
  177. Denard Span, OF, Washington Nationals
  178. Joaquin Benoit, RHP, San Diego Padres
  179. Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
  180. Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals
  181. Ian Kennedy, RHP, San Diego Padres
  182. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
  183. Kenley Jansen, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
  184. Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles
  185. Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles
  186. Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
  187. Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs
  188. Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants
  189. Brett Lawrie, 2B/3B, Oakland Athletics
  190. Jose Quintana, LHP, Chicago White Sox
  191. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Kansas City Royals
  192. A full offseason and Kate Upton could lead to Verlander's return to grace.

    A full offseason and Kate Upton could lead to Verlander’s return to grace.

    Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers

  193. Michael Pineda, RHP, New York Yankees
  194. Evan Gattis, C/OF, Houston Astros
  195. Brian McCann, C, New York Yankees
  196. Wily Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
  197. Danny Santana, SS/OF, Minnesota Twins
  198. Scott Kazmir, LHP, Oakland Athletics
  199. Alcides Escobar, SS, Kansas City Royals
  200. Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins

Just Shut Up: Another Reaction to Alex Rodriguez

Whether it’s the handwritten apology that is being broken apart by forensic units and handwriting specialists, or the lengthy feature released by ESPN: The Magazine, the reintroduction of Alex Rodriguez to the world hasn’t changed the world’s perspective on the aging slugger. After spending the 2014 season suspended from the only job that he had had since the age of 18, the year that he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and had 59 over-matched plate appearances, we have come to find out that Rodriguez spent the year toiling in the various activities that someone with $500 million from playing a game can afford to do to “find oneself”.

Courtesy: New York Daily News

Courtesy: New York Daily News

Are we expected to hate Alex Rodriguez due to his lies and cheating? Are we expected to feel sorry for him because his father ran out on him and he never went to college? Are we expected to forgive his indiscretions and transgressions due to his willingness to come back to a game that is trying to push him as far away from it as possible? Are we expected to think that he is coming back for the “love of the game” or for the $61 million that he is guaranteed over the next three seasons?

It would be an understatement to say that Alex Rodriguez is a polarizing figure. Despite that fact that Barry Bonds utilized the same methods in the use of illegal materials and the same willingness to dodge the truth, it is Alex Rodriguez who has become the most hated man in baseball. Despite the fact that Bonds is the one who holds the record for career home runs, it is Rodriguez who isn’t supposed to break the record going forward. As the ESPN: The Magazine article discussed, it is Rodriguez who is the villain, despite Ryan Braun‘s presence in Major League Baseball, even with Braun’s willingness to drag everyone and their brother under the bus after being outed as a cheater, twice. The Hall of Fame cases for Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Mike Piazza are tainted, whether wrongfully or not, by the cloud of steroids that has followed them and an entire era of players; however, it is Jason Giambi, an admitted user, who gets to retire with honor this week and slide right into an organizational position with the Cleveland Indians, who is praised for his career, which he has admitted to altering.

Does Rodriguez deserve better?

Does Rodriguez deserve better?

So, what is it that causes this polarization on these players? If being super-competitive led declining players to seek elongation of a career, yet we mock Willie Mays for his time as a New York Met, what is it that our society really wants out of our professional sports icons?

Our culture has changed significantly during my 34 years as a member of this planet, but one thing that has been going on for quite some time is the fact that people are willing to take some wild steps to get to where they want to be in life. Today, we like to think that baseball is in need of a change due to the length of the games and the “entertain me now” philosophy that goes along with the Social Media age. Why not add a clock to ensure that a pitcher throws the ball while two-thirds of the stadium is busy tagging their friend in a picture and posting #nofilter on the beautiful sunset peeking through the right field corner of the stadium? It seems ridiculous to change the ideas of what is acceptable and appropriate in our lives and our entertainment, demanding more right now than we ever did in the past. More news, more excitement, more reasons why you should enjoy what you have in front of you than actually taking the time to enjoy it. The sensationalism of “things” and “experiences” has led to something as minute as an individual’s actions being more important than the game.

That ideology is why Alex Rodriguez and others have become the poster children for the fall of the game. Rodriguez wasn’t alone, but we always want to blame someone. Before ARod it was Bonds, before Bonds it was Canseco, and before Canseco it was Pete Rose. We don’t need to change baseball and we don’t need to change Alex Rodriguez. We need to remember that he was playing a game, that he made a mistake (albeit for several years) to try to maintain his lifestyle. In the same way that others make mistakes and create debt by using credit cards for things that they can’t afford, they are forced to dig themselves out.

In the same way, Alex Rodriguez needs to dig himself out. He doesn’t need to accept blame, he didn’t need to apologize, he just needed to change and be happy while playing the game cleanly. No one needs answers in this catastrophe of a public relations nightmare. There are far worse things going on behind the scenes of athletes’ lives than a man using his body as a pin cushion for steroids – just look at the NFL arrests since the Super Bowl. For all of the ridiculous spins that stories featuring Alex Rodriguez have taken over the last several days, here is one that you won’t see all over the internet: Alex Rodriguez was great, he was troubled, and he will overcome those troubles to be respected by the end of his career.

People have been cheating in all aspects of business. Sure, kids look up to him, but, as Charles Barkley once said:

Alex Rodriguez doesn’t need to answer questions for anyone except his two daughters, his family, and his closest friends. He isn’t threatening to end the world, attacking innocent lives, or testing ballistic missiles. He’s just a baseball player who screwed up. He deserves another chance to come out and do it right, and until he does it wrong again, we should all just sit back and watch, keeping our mouths shut the way that Alex Rodriguez should have the whole time.

Zito to Oakland: A Return to Moneyball?

Can Zito rediscover his stuff in Oakland?

Can Zito rediscover his stuff in Oakland?

Barry Zito signed a minor league deal to fight for a rotation spot with the Oakland Athletics on Monday, guaranteeing the soon-to-be 37-year-old left-hander a $1 million salary if he makes the A’s roster, and another $175,000 through performance incentives. It’s a far cry from the $20 million that Zito received from the San Francisco Giants in 2013, but he’s making more than he was when he took a year off in 2014.

Zito returns to Oakland a shell of his former self. When Zito was at his peak, the same year that Michael Lewis was following the club and penning Moneyball, he was just 24, making his first All-Star appearance, and winning his first (and only) Cy Young award – 2002. With Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder going a combined 57-21 with a 3.05 ERA over 99 starts and 675 innings, the A’s were on their way to being contenders, especially if you’re the “pitching wins championships” supporter. However, 103 wins later, the A’s weren’t able to get out of the ALDS, and Zito would have to wait to win a title with the team across the bay in 2010 and 2012.

Zito would never again come close to his 2002 production winning 16 games in 2006 for the Giants, while making two additional All-Star teams (2003 and 2006) and watching his ERA balloon with his wallet in a very disastrous time in San Francisco. Zito, who was paid a whopping $119 million over seven seasons by the Giants was unable to maintain a consistent spot in the rotation by the end of his time with the club, while posting a 4.62 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 208 appearances and compiling a 63-80 record.

Zito2Though Zito took a year off, it is fair to wonder what the A’s and Billy Beane saw in him, even if the result was a non-guaranteed, minor league contract. At 37, Zito will be seven years the senior to the late Cory Lidle, who was the oldest member of the 2002 Moneyball rotation-mates; however, should he even be considered as an option? The A’s have a large group of talented, young starters to choose from, including: Jesse Hahn, Drew Pomeranz, Kendall Graveman, Chris Bassitt, and Sean Nolin, and that is before considering A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, both of whom are returning from Tommy John surgeries, and Jesse Chavez, who was dynamite in the rotation prior to the deal that landed Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in Oakland last season. With Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir anchoring the staff, the A’s have a gluttony of arms that they can run out there for quarters on the dollar of Zito’s deal, while certainly knowing that each of those arms has the ability to get opposing batters out – something that Zito wasn’t doing consistently the last time that we saw him in Major League Baseball, as he was banished to the bullpen for a majority of the final two months of 2013 (nine appearances, four starts).

Zito could be an interesting piece out of the bullpen, an arm with enough life left on it to be a useful swing man when the rotation is in need, or the long man out of the ‘pen. He could rebuild some value by pitching in the spacious home park that Oakland possesses, but if Zito is in the rotation, Billy Beane has failed.

The A’s are simply not the same type of organization that they were during the Moneyball era. Beane has built a roster full of versatile athletes who can play multiple positions, while featuring a unique blend of power-arms and changeup artists that keep the opposition off balance from day-to-day. The A’s aren’t fishing for players who can just get on base, as they have solid contact hitters (Billy Butler), speedsters with defensive chops (Coco Crisp), and injury-plagued potential stars (Brett Lawrie) who will blend together to assault the opposition, rather than waiting back for the perfect pitch to strike on.

Sure, it hasn’t always made sense in Oakland. It seems quite odd that the club would deal Samardzija to the Chicago White Sox for a lesser middle infield talent (Marcus Semien) than what they had given up months before (top five prospect Addison Russell), but what used to be a system of “finding” talent to fit within the organizational structure has now become “developing” talent to fit within an ever-changing organizational need.

As Barry Zito rejoins the Oakland Athletics, they are a completely different team from when he left. The A’s are built to contend, they have depth at the major league level, and they have Beane orchestrating moves that has even left right fielder Josh Reddick in awe. Zito is in a good place to attempt a comeback because he at least has a contract, but if he sees the field, the A’s are doing something wrong or in deep, deep trouble. Barring a miracle, Moneyball is over, and so is Zito’s career…unless Beane knows something that we don’t, once again.

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