Don’t Sleep on These 12 Sleepers for 2017

In fantasy baseball, it is impossible to have all of your teams loaded with the top-tier talent necessary to win every season. Even keeper leagues have players at the top every year who struggle with injuries. You need depth, you need to find a diamond in the rough, and you need to take gambles in order to win. For that reason, you need to know some players who may fly under the radar. This is a list of 12 players who may be available a little later than you think in your baseball drafts who could ruin the lives of your fiercest competitors.

pollock
Pollock should return to All-Star status after missing most of 2016. Courtesy: CBS Sports

A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Pollock had all of 46 plate appearances in 2016 due to injuries. It isn’t so much that he is a legitimate sleeper as much as how low he may rank on several draft boards due to his extended absence. Remember, this is a guy who hit .315/.367/.498 with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, and 39 steals in 2015. He was the Yang to Paul Goldschmidt‘s Ying, worthy of an early selection last season. Don’t let him fall too far and reap the benefits if he falls into your lap.

Carlos Gomez, OF, Texas Rangers

Gomez struggled so mightily last season that the Houston Astros released him on August 18th. Two days later, Gomez signed with the Texas Rangers and promptly put up the type of line that Houston was looking for during his time there, erupting to a .284/.362/.543 line with eight home runs and 24 RBI in just 33 games – he had five home runs and 29 RBI in 85 games for Houston. He signed for one-year and $11.5 million to prove himself capable of All-Star production in his age-31 season. He is playing in the right place for another offensive outburst.

buxton
Buxton still has the tools that made you fall in love. Don’t run away now. Courtesy: ESPN

Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

Buxton has really disappointed a lot of fans and prospect fanatics with a pretty abysmal start to his career. He has struck out 162 times (with just 29 walks) in 469 plate appearances, which has led to a putrid .220/.274/.398 triple-slash in his brief career. While others will look at those numbers and run, you shouldn’t let the prospect fatigue and struggles lead you astray. Look at Buxton’s September from 2016:

Months
G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
29 29 113 101 24 29 6 2 9 22 1 10 38 .287 .357 .653 1.011 66 .370
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2017.

While the strikeouts are still worrisome, this supposed clone of a young Eric Davis showed power and the abilities that made people drool. He was given the job for the month of September and ran with it, which is downright scary with his speed tool and the BABIP right where most speedsters have theirs. Look for a breakout in 2017.

tomas
Tomas can’t take a walk, but you don’t need to with power. A healthy lineup around him could lead to more power. Courtesy: Peter Gammons

Yasmany Tomas, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Tomas was just a part of my story about overpaid Cuban free agents, so why would I have him on a sleeper list, you ask? Because Tomas has some tools that you can’t find everywhere, namely his power. He tore things up in the second half of 2016, posting a .913 OPS, which is impressive for a guy who walked in just 5.5% of his plate appearances. It meant that the 18 bombs in the second half – and 31 overall – could be overlooked due to how ridiculously horrific the Diamondbacks have handled him. With Jake Lamb locked in at third, it appears that Tomas is officially a slugging outfielder, and his numbers could continue to climb with the return of the previously mentioned Pollock to the Arizona lineup.

Hernan Perez, 2B/3B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Over his first 351 career plate appearances (2012-2015), Perez was pretty useless, posting a .235/.251/.307 line with 15 doubles, three triples, one homer, and six stolen bases. Then, at age 25, Perez got an opportunity in Milwaukee, and, boy, did he make the most of it. In the second half of the 2016 season, this previously unknown, organizational depth player went on to post a .281/.313/.449 triple-slash with nine home runs, 14 doubles, two triples, and 24, count ’em…24, stolen bases. He’d total 13 bombs and 34 steals on the season, playing third, second, and outfield. While no one knows whether he will put up similar numbers, Perez has some value, even if it is only in deep mixed leagues. That position flexibility is Zobrist-like, while the production isn’t too far off, either. He would be a nice addition in late rounds for depth purposes, though the addition of Travis Shaw at third could lead to Perez being a one-year wonder.

cotton
Did you know who he was before September? Be honest…Keep an eye on him, but don’t go crazy. Courtesy:sacbee.com

Jharel Cotton, RHP, Oakland Athletics

Cotton was a 20th round pick by the Dodgers in 2012, acquired by the A’s in the Rich Hill and Josh Reddick deal last season. He had long had solid numbers in the minors, striking out 10 per 9 IP over the course of 490+ minor league innings. Upon reaching the majors for the first time in September, Cotton posted video game numbers over five starts with a 2.15 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 23:4 K:BB, and 6 H/9. It is anyone’s guess as to whether the 5’11” right-hander will continue to miss bats at that rate, but you don’t want to be the one who watches someone else benefit from the gamble. He’s penciled in as Oakland’s No. 4 starter, so continue to monitor him this spring.

James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners

If only this guy could stay healthy…which is exactly why he is a sleeper. After making only 20 starts in 2016, Paxton is the type of guy that Brett Anderson would like to be and every other pitcher avoids becoming; however, his final 11 starts were pretty impressive, injury-free, and worthy of fantasy acknowledgment. He posted a 71:9 K:BB over 67.2 innings, a 3.19 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, and a .235 BAA. Seattle made a lot of deals this winter to become contenders, and Paxton could be a “guy” who improves enough or continues to pitch like he did last season, to help make that happen.

Daniel Norris, LHP, Detroit Tigers

Norris had an interesting year, spending a lot of time rebuilding stamina after beating cancer between the 2015 and 2016 season. Upon sticking in the Tigers rotation (from August 9th onward), the young left-hander posted a 3.04 ERA and 55 punchouts in 56.1 innings. While the 1.37 WHIP and 19 walks in the same 56.1 innings is worrisome, Norris has shown the ability to make it work. He will turn just 24 in April and he has to beat Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey to earn the No. 5 spot, but, if he wins it, he has the stuff and the teachers (Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann) to learn on the job.

Robbie Ray, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Run in terror if you’d like, but don’t forget to look at the 11.3 K:9 that Ray posted in 2016. That led to a whopping 218 strikeouts in 174.1 innings. Sure, the 4.90 ERA is gross. Sure, the 1.47 WHIP is disgusting. There is something here. You don’t miss that many bats without having great stuff. This will be Ray’s age-25 season and he will take another step forward because he won’t be posting a .355 BABIP in 2017 and he won’t be losing 15 games again if he throws it by so many opposing hitters in 2017. Keep in mind, Ray’s FIP was 3.76 in 2016. Jose Peraza, 2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds

peraza
There could be a lot of this happening in Cincinnati. Courtesy: Getty Images

Jose Peraza, 2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds

Everyone is going to be on the Peraza bandwagon, with valid reasons. When the Reds traded Brandon Phillips (and millions of dollars that “small-market” teams don’t have) to the Atlanta Braves, it made fantasy baseball fans celebrate. Peraza posted a .324/.352/.411 triple-slash and 21 stolen bases in just 72 games and 256 plate appearances. With Peraza and Billy Hamilton around, the Reds could look a lot like the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980’s, when Vince Coleman and Willie McGee ran wild on the league. They just have to get on base for that to happen, and Peraza has been more of a hit-tool and speed talent than an on-base machine.

Joe Panik, 2B, San Francisco Giants

After getting hit in the head on June 18, Panik battled some concussion symptoms, having played through them by passing concussion protocol through MLB. After the beaning, Panik hit just .215/.305/.346. Prior to that, he was hitting .263/.326/.411. Obviously, there could be something in the Justin Morneau area here that could scare you away from wanting Panik on your fantasy team, but he showed a couple of statistics that would warrant a rebound. Overall, including the times that he was apparently dazed, Panik walked more than he struck out in 2016, while posting career highs in homers (10) and RBI (67). In addition to that, Panik had a woeful .245 BABIP. While the league average is typically around .300, Panik’s was incredibly low. There are always outliers and it appears that Panik was one of them in 2016. Expect a rebound in 2017.

Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have a lot of interesting young pitchers. Finnegan was, prior to Anthony DeSclafani‘s return from injury, the only Reds’ pitcher worth owning in fantasy leagues. Like any young pitcher, there were growing pains…lots of them; however, it wasn’t all Finnegan’s fault. The Reds had Finnegan paired with Ramon Cabrera in 12 of his 31 starts and Cabrera was ranked 113th out of 114 catchers in pitch framing. Whether that is something you consider or not, you should know that he should have Devin Mesoraco back there again, barring another injury, in 2017. In addition to the potentially damning battery mate in 2016, Finnegan was able to change something in his approach down the stretch, throwing a changeup more often and posting some ridiculous numbers over his final seven starts: 1.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 47:16 K:BB, 37.1 IP, .199 BAA. Sure, the Reds will be one of the worst teams in MLB in 2017…unless they have players like Finnegan continue to grow while on the job. Consider adding him in late rounds and be willing to bail on him if he goes through battles of inconsistency in the middle of the year.

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Second Half Scorchers

Nearly a month removed from the All-Star Game, there are several players who have seen drastic changes to their approaches and results over the last 30 days. While some players are in contention for a division title or wild card spot, others are helping their team to avoid the worst record in baseball. Take a look at these impressive results, as you get into the forgotten part of the baseball season – thanks in no small part to ESPN jamming NFL games that don’t even count down our throats.

Votto will continue to carry a putrid supporting cast...again.
Votto will continue to carry a putrid supporting cast…again.

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

Last 30 days: .442/.550/.663, 221 wRC+, 1.7 WAR, 20.7% walk rate

Votto limped through the first two months of the season, hitting an ugly .213/.330/.404 through the end of May; however, there were signs that this would turn around, including his 13.2% walk rate and incredibly low .252 BABIP (.357 career). He has certainly had better luck since the beginning of June, hitting .366/.500/.574 with a 21.4% walk rate and a .430 BABIP. As the Reds continue to sit at the bottom of the wins column in the NL Central, Votto is doing his part to keep them somewhat entertaining in the midst of their horrifically run rebuild.

Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins

Last 30 days: .313/.349/.696, .393 ISO, 1.5 WAR, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 20 R

Dozier has been a useful second baseman for a number of years, though, due to the Twins struggles, he may not be as well-known as he should be. After all, he has averaged 23 home runs, 35 doubles, 71 RBI, and 16 steals between 2013 and 2015. This season, however, Dozier seems certain to eclipse those averages and eclipse career-bests in several categories, including batting average, which currently sits at .264, which is probably why he isn’t as beloved by stat and fantasy nerds as he should be. Over the last month, Dozier has been on fire, and after another first half of solid production but a queasy .246/.335/.450 line, he has jumped all the way up to the total above (see last 30 days) and his robust 1.045 OPS. The Twins have a lot of talented middle infielders and Dozier is signed through 2018 for just $15MM, so it will be interesting to see what his potentially awesome second half – if he continues like this – could land them in an extremely weak free agent market this winter.

Jose Ramirez has been more valuable than Votto, Bryce Harper, and Addison Russell (based on WAR) in 2016 Courtesy: Cleveland.com
Jose Ramirez has been more valuable than Votto, Bryce Harper, and Addison Russell (based on WAR) in 2016
Courtesy: Cleveland.com

Jose Ramirez, INF/OF, Cleveland Indians

Last 30 days: .365/.415/.573, 19 R, 12 RBI, 7 SB,  4 HR

Ramirez has been a blessing to the Tribe, taking control of third base after watching veteran-signee Juan Uribe struggle, up to his release, at the hot corner, while he was taking the pain away from the seemingly year-long injury to Michael Brantley prior to taking on third base full-time. Ramirez, just 24 in September, has been an intriguing prospect for a number of years to anyone who closely follows the Indians, as his speed, versatility, and contact skills looked like a reason that he would end up playing elsewhere with Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor around up the middle. Ramirez, though, has proven that he can be productive and valuable anywhere on the diamond. While he may fill a super-utility role and be viewed as a Ben Zobrist-y kind of talent, he may create a future for others to be very Jose Ramirez-y, instead.

Danny Duffy, LHP, Kansas City Royals

Last 30 days: 5-0, 6 games (6 starts), 42.2 IP, 44:8 K:BB, .195 BAA, 2.32 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 1.3 WAR

Duffy has been Cy Young-contender good since the start of the 2nd half. Since moving into a full-time starter role on May 27th, Duffy is 9-1 with a 3.00 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 109:18 K:BB over 99 IP and 15 starts. The Royals have dealt with some regression, inconsistencies, and ineffectiveness from their rotation throughout the year, and the defending world champions will have a rough time earning a wild card spot (they’re 6.5 games out as I write this), but Duffy, who is under team-control through next season, could be earning a lucrative extension with his recent efforts.

Verlander can be happy for many reasons this season Courtesy: CBS Sports
Verlander can be happy for many reasons this season
Courtesy: CBS Sports

Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers

Last 30 days: 4-0, 6 games (6 starts), 43 IP, 50:10 K:BB, .174 BAA, 1.67 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 1.5 WAR

When Justin Verlander led the league in earned runs allowed in 2014, many thought that he had lost it and wouldn’t ever be the same. It happens with pitchers, and we haven’t seen many power pitchers this side of Roger Clemens have long-term success. After battling through some injuries in 2015 and regaining some semblance of himself in the ERA column, the 2016-version of Verlander looks an awful lot like the annual Cy Young-contender that we were all used to seeing, as he is back to striking out more than a batter per inning this season. Maybe it is his engagement to Kate Upton, maybe it is an adaptation to pitching with what he has, but the Tigers, who are back in the hunt in the AL Central (they’re 1-11 against Cleveland but have 7 games remaining against them), are surely happy to have their ace back.

Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Last 30 days: 3-0, 5 games (5 starts), 32 IP, 27:6 K:BB, .231 BAA, 1.13 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 1.0 WAR

Odorizzi was one of the many Rays’ starters who were mentioned to be on the move at the trade deadline, however, only Matt Moore headed out of town and Tampa Bay has Odorizzi under control through 2019. If he continues his impressive run, Odorizzi could bring quite an impressive package of talent this winter, but the Rays could continue to build their offense around a rotation centered around Odorizzi, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Blake Snell, and the soon-to-return Alex Cobb. Just 6-5 in 24 starts, the 26-year-old right-hander is frustrating to own in fantasy, but his nice run over the last month may have flown under the radar due to the Rays last place standing in the AL East.

Reds Facing Reality

The Cincinnati Reds are not good. They are currently 36-59, 21.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs, proud (?) owners of the third-worst record in MLB, and the occupants of last place in the NL Central. Anyone with a functioning brain saw this coming, even after their 5-1 start to the season, as the club traded away several pending free agents last season for prospects. The biggest questions should have been who was next and when. There have been rumors all over the place for several months about OF Jay Bruce, ranging from Toronto to Cleveland, but many will be shocked about the latest rumor:

Could DeSclafani be on the move? Courtesy: baseballessential.com
Could DeSclafani be on the move?
Courtesy: baseballessential.com

Reds’ RHP Anthony DeSclafani is an unlikely candidate to be dealt in the opinions of many Reds fans. He is a part of the rebuild, right? He is the only legitimate arm in the rotation, right? He is under team-control through 2020, so why would the Reds deal him?

Well, based on the results to this point, the Reds aren’t going to be contending in 2020, either. Dealing a pitcher, and a somewhat successful one at that, right now, will allow the club to acquire additional pieces that could help the club’s stagnant offense. While you want young, affordable, controllable talent, teams can also use that talent to acquire additional talent, and DeSclafani’s success makes him quite useful for those acquisitions.

Cincinnati ranks 20th in MLB in runs scored and 28th in OPS. Their pitching is horrific. They rank last in MLB in team ERA (5.32), WHIP (1.52), walks (401, 50 more than the next closest team) and HR allowed (161, a whopping 33 more than the next club). What’s odd is that the problem is across the board for the bullpen and rotation. They both rank last in ERA and WHIP (tied with Oakland).

Stephenson has pitched well in two starts for Cincinnati Courtesy: cincinnati.com
Stephenson has pitched well in two starts for Cincinnati
Courtesy: cincinnati.com

With young starters like John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, and DeSclafani in the rotation, this type of catastrophic suck-capade is not unexpected. Luckily, the Reds have several other young starters who are nearing the majors to replace DeSclafani, or any other starter, including RHP Robert Stephenson, LHP Amir Garrett, RHP Tyler Mahle, RHP Nick Travieso, and RHP Rookie Davis all at or above Double-A.

However, Cincinnati is lacking tremendously in offensive talent. Their No.1 prospect, OF Jesse Winker, has battled injuries while struggling to a fairly empty .297/.387/.380 line as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. The major league club has watched Billy Hamilton fail to adjust and utilize his speed, as the speedster has lost playing time to Tyler Holt at times this season. OF Phillip Ervin and C Tyler Stephenson are far away, and the club hasn’t had C Devin Mesoraco for nearly two full seasons due to shoulder and hip injuries that have required surgeries.

As a homer for the Reds, it is easy to look at DeSclafani and want to build around him. He appears to be a solid, innings-eating workhorse. However, those aren’t No.1 starters. He is the equivalent of Mike Leake, a fine starter, but Cincinnati can’t count on him for anything more than middle-of-the-road numbers. If you can get legitimate prospects for that type of arm, you do it.

There is very little known about the type of return that could come from this type of deal, but the Cincinnati Reds would be foolish to not start with 3B prospect Joey Gallo, whose massive power and strikeout totals will bring immediate comparisons to Adam Dunn in the Queen City, but whose skill-set is something that the lineup is tremendously absent of after dealing Todd Frazier over the winter. Other names that must be mentioned are Jurickson Profar, OF Lewis Brinson, RHP Luis Ortiz, and LHP Yohander Mendez.

The Cincinnati Reds are not going to be competitive for several seasons. There is absolutely no one on the current roster who should be deemed untouchable – even OF Adam Duvall and 1B Joey Votto. If a team comes calling, management must listen. There are far too many years between where the Reds are right now and their “window” for a championship to have fallen in love with this club.

As much as fans hate to see talent leave, this is a business. Trade everyone!

 

 

The Worst Reds Trade of My Generation

This was a bad trade, but my generation has its own Courtesy: Baseballhall.org
This was a bad trade, but my generation has its own
Courtesy: Baseballhall.org

When the Cincinnati Reds traded Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, Dick Simpson, and Jack Baldschun in December of 1965 because he was “old”, they were likely surprised when he went on to win the Triple Crown in the American League the next season for the Baltimore Orioles. It is a deal that still makes Cincinnati fans nauseous. However, for those who weren’t around then, we have our own version of that deal. It is a deal that rips out the heart of my generation of Reds fans, or, at least, it very well should.

The deal that has made me sick for the last several years was trading away Edwin Encarnacion AND Zach Stewart (who didn’t amount to anything but was a top ten prospect of the club’s at the time of the trade) along with Josh Roenicke (eh…he had a couple of solid seasons as a reliever) for one player – Scott Rolen.

At the time that the trade was made, the Reds were 45-57, 10 games out in the NL Central. They had Rolen under contract through 2012, and, after the 2009 season, Rolen restructured his contract, agreeing to a deferred signing bonus, to give the Reds some financial flexibility for spending. Still, what did they get in the deal?

Great glove. Great attitude. Great teammate. Courtesy: zimbio
Great glove. Great attitude. Great teammate.
Courtesy: zimbio

People who loved the trade will point to the 2010 season. The Reds won the NL Central and lost in the NLDS. Rolen was an All Star, he finished 14th in NL MVP voting, and he won his 8th and final Gold Glove award at third base. His leadership and personality were things that were mentioned often during his time with Cincinnati, and he was beloved by owner Bob Castellini and GM Walt Jocketty, who were both a part of the Cardinals during Rolen’s time in St. Louis.

However, for people who weren’t big fans of the deal – like me, I saw a player getting acquired on the downside of his career, adding payroll to a team that “couldn’t afford to sign” so many other talented players over the years. Then, my fears came true when Rolen played in a total of 157 games the next two seasons, posting a .244/.301/.397 line over 599 plate appearances. For all of the immeasurable positive things that he brought to the clubhouse, he wasn’t bringing it to the field. The Reds regressed immensely in 2011, going 79-83, before seeing Todd Frazier take over in 2012 and put up impressive numbers in his rookie season. Rolen’s career was over.

The ball takes flight off of his wing...a lot. Courtesy: Twitter
The ball takes flight off of his wing…a lot.
Courtesy: Twitter

Which brings me to the biggest problem with this trade – Edwin Encarnacion. Since the trade, this is all that Encarnacion has done:

  • 3,772 plate appearances
  • .868 OPS
  • 210 home runs
  • 600 RBI
  • wRC+: 134
  • Two-time All Star
  • Top 15 in AL MVP voting three times

Encarnacion turned 33 this past January. At the time of the trade, he was 26 years old, having come off of a productive season (2008 – 25 home runs and 68 RBI); however, he was struggling mightily in 2009 and had become a liability with the glove at third. Still, at just 26, it didn’t seem like a wise deal, and there was always the opportunity to move him to another position, such as the outfield.

When you add in the types of contracts that Encarnacion has had over the last several years, it stings more. He will have earned all of $48,175,000, including this season, since 2010. Since 2010, the Reds paid guys like Rolen $23,625,000 and Ryan Ludwick $17,000,000. Hindsight is 20/20 but when you acquire and trust aging players during a time that steroids aren’t able to be used due to stricter testing, these are the results.

I absolutely hated dealing Edwin Encarnacion in the deal for Scott Rolen, and I relive that deal each and every day like today – when Encarnacion knocks two homers and drives in five runs while Scott Rolen is retired…not playing baseball…and not helping the Reds become a better team.

Sure, we don’t know if Encarnacion would have blossomed on the Reds, but, if you’re a Reds fan, how nice would he look between Votto and Bruce today?

Hoover in a Vacuum

Chapman: A Reds' legend who can't be replaced.
Chapman: A Reds’ legend who can’t be replaced.

The Cincinnati Reds troubled themselves with the task of replacing a legend in 2016. With Aroldis Chapman heading towards free agency after this season and the team in rebuilding mode, the front office “cashed-in” by trading the dominant left-hander to the New York Yankees. Due to a pending domestic violence charge, some could argue that they received pennies on the dollar for the talented closer, but dealing Chapman was bound to leave a hole in the club in 2016, regardless of the immediate and future return on the players that the Reds received.

Chapman’s dominance is well documented. Along with Boston’s Craig Kimbrel, who was also acquired in an offseason deal, the closer role has been altered from a player capable of getting two-inning saves, like Mariano Rivera, into a player who has triple-digit, short-burst, maximum effort electricity, who strikes out the side on a nearly nightly basis. When Chapman was called upon in Cincinnati, his career 15.4 K:9 made the stadium light up with delight, while the cameras on everyone’s smartphones would turn to the radar reader to post his pitch-by-pitch brilliance to social media. Then, nine pitches later, after three hitters looked foolish, that one belonged to the Reds.

Hoover has an impossible task Courtesy: Rant Sports
Hoover has an impossible task
Courtesy: Rant Sports

For that reason, J.J. Hoover never had a chance.

Hoover was given the task of replacing a legend. On the heels of the NFL Draft, we saw the Denver Broncos replace the legendary Peyton Manning with Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, which was necessary after the heir apparent, Brock Osweiler, bolted for the Texans and loads of cash – which seems like a brilliant move after watching Matt Flynn and Nick Foles get rich off of a handful of starts, only to flame out as busts, but I digress. Perhaps it is too soon to call Chapman a legend, but his results are certainly worthy of that label. After all, he will certainly earn a spot in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame if the “great” Chris Sabo was able to ride a couple of decent seasons and his rec-specs into the club’s lore.

Hoover won the quasi-competition for the closer’s role for the Reds in spring training, beating out the recently demoted Jumbo Diaz, to earn the role of replacing Chapman. Hoover was very good in 2015 in a setup role, at least on the surface, with a 2.94 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 67 appearances and 64.1 innings; however, he posted a 4.41 FIP and the lowest K:9 of his career (7.3). This came after a disastrous 2014, when Hoover lost 10 games over 54 appearances, posting a 4.88 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 62.2 innings. Of course, he did strike out a career-high 10.8:9 that season, though his FIP was still 4.97. Still, taking out his 2014 season as the outlier, Hoover had been a very good relief pitcher for Cincinnati, including a 2.73 ERA over 164 appearances and 161 innings.

MemeUnfortunately, the 2016 season has been hellacious for Hoover. He has faced 48 batters, allowing 16 hits, walking six of them, and giving up a whopping five homers over 10 appearances and 8.2 innings. His 15.58 ERA and 2.53 WHIP have helped pace the Cincinnati bullpen in ineptitude. The Reds’ bullpen ranks dead last in ERA by nearly a half a run (6.29) and they have given up 19 home runs in 83 innings. Even the Braves could hit home runs off of the Reds bullpen! In those 83 innings, the Reds’ bullpen has given up more home runs than eight teams entire pitching staffs.

The responsibility of replacing Aroldis Chapman fell on J.J. Hoover, but the Reds and their fans should have known that there wasn’t really a chance of that happening. There are very few times that greatness is immediately replaced by something similar or superior, even with recent replacements like Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre or Andrew Luck for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. The Reds had a similar task. The Reds also had the task of fielding a competitive team, compiling a group of 25 men who could lead them to a World Series. Instead, they took the business side of baseball and focused on bobbleheads, going into rebuild mode and saving money over putting a quality product on the field. That is not J.J. Hoover’s fault. The bullpen was in shambles all offseason and ownership chose to plug in parts instead of addressing the team’s true needs.

J.J. Hoover is struggling in a role that he wasn’t guaranteed to ever have success in. He has never been a closer, despite filling that role when Chapman needed a day off to earn five career saves going into the 2016 season. There have been plenty of excellent relievers who have moved to the closer’s role and failed in the past. Hoover has simply been miscast in a role that he isn’t fit to hold. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, there isn’t anyone better for that position. Hoover doesn’t need time in Triple-A, he doesn’t need to be cut, and he doesn’t need to be traded by Cincinnati. Hoover simply needs to be put back into the role that he had success in.

Hoover doesn’t “suck”, Hoover, in a vacuum, is an excellent middle reliever and setup man, but he isn’t a closer.

 

Cincinnati and Jocketty Continue to Pass the Blame While Failing Their Rebuild

"Yes, I'll take whatever you're offering. I'm on my way out anyway." Courtesy: Redleg Nation
“Yes, I’ll take whatever you’re offering. I’m on my way out anyway.”
Courtesy: Redleg Nation

I spent time in December defending Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, and it is time to do it again. During the Reds recent caravan, the club’s manager, Bryan Price, dropped this zinger:

“It looks like Brandon is with us. Brandon, for me, is a second baseman of tremendous value and talent, it’s hard to just assign someone else that job. If Brandon’s with us, I expect him to be playing second base.”

Oh? It does appear that the player who the club offered an extension to, giving him 10-and-five rights, is still “stuck” with the club – or is it that the club is “stuck” with him? This, apparently, came after both Walt Jocketty and Price had praised the club’s new, future second baseman, Jose Peraza, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the three-team deal that sent fan favorite Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox.

Phillips didn't turn his back on the Reds - it's the other way around Courtesy:datdudebp.com
Phillips didn’t turn his back on the Reds – it’s the other way around
Courtesy:datdudebp.com

Oh? So, the team that has spent the whole offseason trading away their talent for lesser talent is now going to try to make the upcoming 90-plus loss season the fault of a 35-year-old who refused to move away. At one time, that was called loyalty. It was waiting out the horrendous contract that Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin was given to finish his career in Cincinnati, but, now…Phillips is the problem. He’s blocking the super prospect now.

The problem with this thinking, however, is that the Reds acquired a “ready” talent without knowing that they were going to be able to deal the veteran. This is the equivalent of the club dealing for young talent and acquiring the top first base prospect in baseball. Without the designated hitter, the kid would be riding the pine in favor of Joey Votto. So, why are the Reds pinning this stall in the rebuild on a player?

This fiasco is the fault of Walt Jocketty and Walt Jocketty only. Major League Baseball is not the NFL – you don’t need multiple, elite play-makers at a single position. You need to have a steady flow of talent within your minor league system, and you deal a player like Yasmani Grandal when you have a Devin Mesoraco ahead of him for the long-term. That made sense four years ago when the club was dealing young talent for proven talent and acquiring Mat Latos from the Padres. Now, Jocketty has a very unimpressive farm system that has a dearth of offensive producers, even after dealing Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and Frazier since last July. Jesse Winker is the great hope for the future, and he profiles as a corner outfielder who is going to hit about 15 home runs, and if you think Peraza is the answer…you have that scum Phillips blocking him at second.

The problem continues to be the Baseball Operations side of things in Cincinnati. The organization continues to try to pass the blame elsewhere, but it starts and finishes there. For a positive change in Cincinnati, it is Jocketty who needs to go. Quit with the small-market nonsense. Get someone in there with a plan that can work.

 

Brandon Phillips: Staying Put…For Now

Well, Cincinnati did trade Todd Frazier, but they can’t seem to get anything done involving Aroldis Chapman and, now, Brandon Phillips.

So, at least for the time being, Cincinnati is “stuck” with their second baseman. While it doesn’t necessarily help the Reds to keep him, this isn’t time to tweet out stupidity, like:

That comes from the NATIONAL site of SBNation. Then, you have the everyday Joe dropping gems like:

and

or

Oh…the agony!

It is just as easy for people to say positive things, like:

Now, there may be someone worth going to see at Great American Ballpark.

It seems like people will only remember Brandon Phillips in Cincinnati for his tirade on C. Trent Rosecrans. I wasn’t a fan of that outburst, myself, but Phillips is more than the guy who made a mistake, and he shouldn’t be considered the guy who had a bad moment when you consider how much he does for the Cincinnati community. And, for that, you, or those of you, who want to rip him apart for not picking up his life and leaving, should reconsider.

Don't be an ass. Phillips has rights.
Don’t be an ass. Phillips has rights.

If Phillips didn’t want to be in Cincinnati, he didn’t need to sign a deal that kept him in Cincinnati through 2017. However, he wanted to be here and Cincinnati wanted him for the duration of the deal, otherwise, it is the Cincinnati ownership that you should be blaming. If they weren’t planning on building a contender, then they are the ones who should be considered selfish and don’t care about building a winner for the fans. It actually has very little to do with Brandon Phillips and his choices. If the Reds were fielding a great product from year-to-year, a player using a clause in his contract, as Phillips did with his no-trade option through his 10 and 5 rights, wouldn’t become such a monetary disaster for the franchise.

This is only compounded by the hellacious length and commitment owed to Joey Votto, who can veto any trade by Opening Day of 2018 with his own 10 and 5 rights.

Brandon Phillips turns 35 in June. He has been with the Reds since April 7, 2006, just before he turned 25. He has grown up and matured in Cincinnati. His game matured in Cincinnati. He had his success in Cincinnati. If he wants to end his career in Cincinnati, let him. He chose to be in Cincinnati just as much as the Reds wanted him here. If he was one of those players trying to leave for more money, he would be hated for that.

For once, a player commits to his love of his city over the money. We hate on him for it. If it was for the money over the city, we would have hated on him for that. Brandon Phillips isn’t selfish. Brandon Phillips is human. He has made his home in Cincinnati and he has the right to stay – thanks to the Players Association and not just his brain.