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

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.

2017 Free Agency: Optional Options

As a Cincinnati Reds homer, I’m looking ahead to next season…actually, I’m looking forward to 2020, when the team will have time to truly rebuild their roster. Unfortunately, for a non-contending, rebuilder within a “small-market”, Cincinnati will not be a big player in free agency. Like many other clubs that are looking to build from within or on-the-cheap, free agency isn’t very kind, leaving the remnants of the market to pick through like a racoon at a garbage can. Oh, those beady eyes in your headlights in January will just be Walt Jocketty or Billy Beane looking for a backup infielder.

This winter, as with any other, baseball fans will see plenty of players on the move, including Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion, Aroldis Chapman, and Ian Desmond, who appear to be the few “big names” on the market. In addition to those select few, there are plenty of players with options, but are they going to get picked up? Let’s take a look at those optional options for 2017, shall we…

Opting Out

Dexter Fowler, OF, Chicago Cubs: $9MM mutual option, $5MM buyout

Fowler is having a stellar season, even having spent some time on the DL. He is earning $13MM this season on a one-year deal and has responded after facing a weak market this past winter with a career-best .877 OPS. The 2016 All-Star isn’t really needed as a leadoff hitter in Chicago with Jason Heyward getting paid mega-millions to be that type of player, but Fowler should be able to cash in. The Cubs will likely accept their portion of the option very quickly.

Phillies' 1B Howard has been on a sad decline for half a decade
Phillies’ 1B Howard has been on a sad decline for half a decade

Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies: $23MM club option, $10MM buyout

Howard has had one of the worst contracts in baseball since the start of the 2012 season. Coincidentally, that is when his five-year, $125MM extension kicked in. Finally, the Phillies will be able to walk away from him and his horrific deal, and they’ll be more than happy to drop $10MM in order to do that. We’ll see if they release him and roll with Tommy Joseph, which they basically have done since the beginning of June.

Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: $17MM club/vesting option, $1MM buyout

Holliday has collapsed in his age-36 season. His .237/.310/.449 line is the worst of his career. His 18 home runs have saved his line a bit, but he is still well short of his career .303/.382/.515 line. He certainly won’t rank in the top 10 in the NL MVP voting, which is all that it would take for his option in 2017 to vest. The Cardinals aren’t churning out prospects like they were a few years ago, so it will be interesting to see which direction they go to stay within the Cardinal Way.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, New York Mets: can opt-out of remaining two-years, $47.5MM

Cespedes could cash in significantly in a weak market this winter. With so few power bats available, the 30-year-old corner outfielder, if healthy, would likely increase his AAV to $25-$28MM per season. He will beat his career-high for OPS this year. He just needs to stay on the field to keep the Mets in contention.

The Yankees will get out from under the weight of Sabathia's deal
The Yankees will get out from under the weight of Sabathia’s deal

CC Sabathia, LHP New York Yankees: $25MM vesting option (if he doesn’t end the season on the DL with a shoulder injury, spend 45 days or more on the DL with a shoulder injury, or make six or more relief appearances because of a shoulder injury), $5MM buyout

If you asked in mid-June, Sabathia may have been worth a $20MM gamble for New York. On June 16th, he had a 2.20 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over his first 11 starts; however, he has a 6.85 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over his last eight starts. With Mark Teixeira retiring after the 2016 season, the Yankees will have quite a bit of money to spend – unless they are serious about their rebuild and continue to add young talent to the roster. The Yankees may need to check-in on Sabathia’s shoulder, given his recent woes, and make sure everything is clean; although, the MLBPA may find a way to keep his option guaranteed with such a move.

Also: Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland A’s; Clay Buchholz, RHP, Boston Red Sox; Jon Niese, LHP, New York Mets;


Opting In

Jay Bruce, OF, New York Mets: $13MM club option, $1MM buyout

Bruce, who was recently acquired by the Mets from Cincinnati for a pair of prospects, will provide a lot of value to New York, especially if Cespedes remains on the shelf with his quad injury, but even more so if Cespedes opts out and signs elsewhere this winter. Bruce is a fine outfielder who is capable of strong production, as evidenced by his rebound 2016 season, but his lengthy slumps and declining defense don’t make him worth a huge deal. The $13MM option is still a fine value for the Mets, who may end up in quite a limbo with their other outfielder about a week after the World Series.

Santana will be useful for Cleveland, even if they re-sign Napoli
Santana will be useful for Cleveland, even if they re-sign Napoli

Carlos Santana, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians: $12MM club option, $1.2MM buyout

Santana is an interesting player due to his ugly batting averages, average power, and incredible on-base skills. Everyone is waiting for him to finally put it all together, which would lead to a very Adam Dunn-like 30 HR, 100 R, 100 BB season for Cleveland; however, he just can’t beat the shift and his deflated BABIP keep him from meeting some of those numbers. With Mike Napoli also reaching free agency, the Indians will likely opt-in on Santana, as they couldn’t afford to lose them both. They may not be able to re-sign Napoli after his huge season, but they could offer him a qualifying offer and keep him around for one more season. Since Napoli’s decision will come after the option decision on Santana, expect the former catcher to stick for one more year with the Tribe.

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Texas Rangers: $5.25MM, $25K buyout

Duh. The Rangers just gave up a nice prospect package for the best catcher this side of Buster Posey, so you can expect them to take on this very affordable option. Lucroy is public enemy No.1 in Cleveland right now, but he had the right in his contract and used it to his advantage. Playing in Arlington for half of his games, his numbers could inflate and help him inflate his earnings when he reaches free agency after the 2017 season.

Jason Hammel, RHP, Chicago Cubs: $10MM club option, $2MM buyout

Hammel has been excellent in 2016, posting a 3.07 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 21 starts. In his career, Hammel has a 3.33 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 399.2 innings while wearing a Cubs’ uniform and a 4.77 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in any other uniform. He needs to be in Chicago and Chicago needs him in their rotation, as the incredible talent within their system that continues rising to the majors aren’t talented on the mound. Hammel is a bargain with his production in a Cubs’ uniform.

Also: Matt Moore, LHP, San Francisco Giants; Cameron Maybin, OF, Detroit Tigers; Alcides Escobar, SS, Kansas City Royals; Yunel Escobar, 3B, Los Angeles Angels;

There are several additional players with options that you can find at MLB Trade Rumors.  It looks like the 2016-2017 offseason will be very trade-heavy as teams try to structure their rosters with talent without unloading gobs of cash on talent that may not be quite as talented as your typical market. In addition to that, the 2017-2018 market could have an even slower market with Matt Harvey, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jose Fernandez heading towards free agency after the 2018 season.


Were Pirates Unfair To Gerrit Cole?

The more things change the more they seem the same. In 1987 the Cleveland Indians mistreated the face of their franchise causing the player to walk out of camp. Now, 29 years later the Pittsburgh Pirates have followed the Tribe’s lead and mishandled a simple pre-arbitration contract with Gerrit Cole.

Gerrit Cole.png

After leading all of Major League baseball in RBI in 1986 the Cleveland Indians Senior Vice President Dan O’Brien made the decision to ignore Carter’s request of a modest raise ($437,000) and renewed his contract at a salary of $250,000 (up from $190,000 in 1986). The renewal led Carter to walk out of camp stating that “he’d been pushed too far.”

Unfortunately for Carter the Super 2 system was not in place (part of the 1990 Basic Agreement) and he was still 29 days shy of three years of service time. “Next year I’ll have three years in and I’ll set the rules.” Carter said. “What goes around comes around, I’ve dealt with them fairly but they haven’t done the same with me and my agent.”

The move was a public relations nightmare for the Indians and the negotiations eliminated any chance the Indians had of developing a long term relationship with one of their brightest young stars. It worked out well in the end for the Indians as prior to the 1990 season Carter was dealt to the San Diego Padres in a trade that paid dividends as they acquired Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga, and Thomas Howard in the deal.

On Saturday afternoon n Bradenton Florida Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Rob Biertempfel reported that Gerrit Cole grudgingly signed a deal renewing him at the same $541,000 ($531,000 base + $10,000 bonus for All-Star game) that he made in 2015. (Even Joe Carter received a $60,000 raise in his salary that left him unhappy.)

Last season Cole delivered 208 high quality innings posting a 19-8 mark with a 2.60 ERA. Although not arbitration eligible he, like Carter before him, is just short of a big boost in salary ending the 2015 campaign just 29 days short of Super 2 status (2 years, 140 days).

According to Cole the Pirates initial offer was actually $538,000 which is less than his total compensation in 2015 and they refused to go above the $541,000 mark. “They even threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum if I did not agree.” Cole said.

According to Biertempfel, General Manager Neal Huntington did not respond to a request for comment about the situation but club officials said that the $538,000 represented the maximum raise a player can be awarded in the pre-arbitration salary negotiations.

Cole’s agent Scott Boras asked “What kind of message is that send to players?” Adding that if Cole played for the Mets he’d get well over $650,000. If he played for the Marlins he’d get more than the Pirates will pay.”

It does seem rather peculiar that a team with a commodity as dynamic and important as Gerrit Cole is would want to take every opportunity to keep him happy and reward him for his performance.

On the other hand, Cole is a Scott Boras client and the odds of a Chris Archer/Corey Kluber type long term extension are slim and none. The most likely outcome for the Pirates is that Cole is healthy and productive with them for the next two years and then he’s dealt for a package or players that lay the foundation for the future.

It could be said that the Indians ruined the chance at signing Carter to a long term extension when they renewed him as they did while the only side effect for the Pirates will be having a disgruntled player on their hands.

It should be noted, that however unhappy Carter may have been with the salary negotiations that led to him walking out of camp he was productive in 1987 batting .264/.304/.480 with 32 homers. Over the next three seasons with the Tribe he hit .259/.303/.474 with 94 homers.

Cole may be an unhappy Pirate but this most likely will not translate to a decline in performance on the mound. It will however lead to a very interesting exchange of arbitration numbers following the season.

Do the Pirates believe that the $8MM signing bonus paid to Cole after drafting him as the overall #1 pick in 2011 is the most reward he’s going to see? As if that $8MM is part of this pre-arbitration package?

In the end, the odds of extending Cole to a contract extension were slim and none prior to this fiasco but they could have handled the process with a lot more class than they did.

Image Credit: (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)




Free Agent Fits: Where Remaining Free Agents Should End Up

With so many big names finding homes, teams with holes are trying to find the appropriate signing to fill them. There are still plenty of names who make sense for so many teams, but let’s take a look at some great potential landing spots for some of the remaining unsigned players.

Weeks could be a nice, cheap addition for the Tribe Courtesy: USA Today
Weeks could be a nice, cheap addition for the Tribe
Courtesy: USA Today

Rickie Weeks, 2B/OF

Good Fit: Cleveland Indians

Weeks was released last June by the Seattle Mariners after hitting just .167/.263/.250 over 84 plate appearances with the club. He failed to latch-on elsewhere after his release, which shows a lot about his career demise. While Weeks never became the same type of hitter that he was expected to become as the #2 overall pick out of college, he was an All-Star and had several productive seasons. Even after fading over the last several seasons, Weeks has a 162-game average of 28 doubles, 21 home runs, and 17 stolen bases. Now, at 33, Weeks could use his versatility to become a tremendous low-risk gamble for a club like the Indians, who will need to replace the versatility that they lost with Mike Aviles departure. Cleveland has stashed several versatile players over the last few years (Nick Swisher, David Murphy, Carlos Santana), utilizing their roster space in a very effective way. With Jose Ramirez filling the super-utility role, Weeks would be capable of manning the Ryan Raburn role from the last couple of seasons for Terry Francona and Company. Nothing more than a minor league deal, here, but certainly one worth trying out.

Fowler would be an upgrade...if the Brewers want to field a good team
Fowler would be an upgrade…if the Brewers want to field a good team

Dexter Fowler, OF

Good fit: Milwaukee Brewers

Fowler was a tremendous addition for the Chicago Cubs last season, showcasing his ability to get on base (84 walks) and score runs (102) with unique blend of skills. While he isn’t going to be mistaken for Mike Trout with the bat or Kevin Kiermaier with the glove, he can drive the ball, evidenced by 54 extra-base hits, and run (20 stolen bases). He turned down a qualifying offer, which is leading to some lack of interest in the open market, as teams continue to be weary of giving up a draft pick as compensation. With that being said, the Brewers have a protected pick and a possible need for a center fielder. With Domingo Santana currently listed as the club’s starter, it would make sense for Milwaukee to sign Fowler to a deal and look to deal him if they are as miserable as they were last season near the deadline. While Santana is just 23, if the Brewers were to attempt to improve their roster, they would get someone who hasn’t looked overmatched at the position, as the young outfielder has struck out 77 times in 177 at bats (43%  of his at bats). Fowler would become a nice leadoff option, setting the tone for Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy; however, the Brewers would need a lot more help than Fowler to become legitimate contenders.

Matt Joyce, OF

Good Fit: Tampa Bay Rays

Joyce had some solid seasons in Tampa and would be a great bench option for the club, as long as he didn’t need to get everyday at bats. Joyce has no chance against left-handed pitchers, having posted a career .180/.252/.302 triple-slash in 382 career plate appearances; however, his .253/.348/.447 line against right-handed pitching would make his a very nice use of a roster spot for the Rays. Having come off the worst season of his career (.564 OPS), the possibility of getting him for a next-to-nothing gamble price is right up the Rays’ alley, as well. With Desmond Jennings‘ inability to stay healthy and a possible opening at DH, this could be a reasonable reunion.

Brown has punch and could come cheap for the rebuilding Reds
Brown has punch and could come cheap for the rebuilding Reds

Domonic Brown, OF

Good Fit: Cincinnati Reds

With the recent trade of Todd Frazier and the continued rumors surrounding Aroldis Chapman and Brandon Phillips, the Reds are in sell-mode. Due to all of the deals, they have a gluttony of inexperienced outfielders, including Adam Duvall (acquired from San Francisco in the Mike Leake deal), Scott Schebler (acquired in the three-way deal with Los Angeles and Chicago for Frazier), and Rule 5 draftee Jake Cave (selected from the Yankees). While Jesse Winker, one of the club’s top prospects, readies himself in Louisville this season, it wouldn’t be a terrible choice to give the left field job to former Phillies’ top prospect Brown, who, in 2013, was an All-Star, and now, at the tender age of 28, is jobless and in need of a revival. If you look back at the archives for this site, you’ll see quite a bit of love for this young man, and, as a Reds’ homer, he’d be a welcomed addition to this writer’s hometown team. Brown was granted free agency back in October and still hasn’t found a home. I’d be willing to open-up my extra bedroom if the Reds would give him a long look in 2016, struggles from 2015 and all.

Casey Janssen

Good Fit: New York Yankees

The Yankees have been shopping Andrew Miller this offseason and they have a great replacement in the closer role in Dellin Betances; however, the rest of their bullpen is an interesting blend of young nobodies, as the only remaining bullpen arm outside of Betances, if the club was to deal Miller, with viable innings from 2015 would be 25-year-old Chasen Shreve. Enter Janssen, who is two years removed from closing for the Toronto Blue Jays. He had a less than stellar season in Washington last season, but he has only walked 2.2 per nine over his career and, at 34, should have enough left to add much-needed depth to the Yankees’ bullpen. He was bought out by the Nationals after earning $3.5 million in 2015, so he could be a nice, cheap option in a down reliever market.

"The Freak" has lost his freakiness, but could be a nice gamble by LA
“The Freak” has lost his freakiness, but could be a nice gamble by LA

Tim Lincecum, RHP

Good Fit: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers were willing to give Brett Anderson $10 million for one-year last winter and Brandon Beachy a few million dollars to rehab with the club, so gambling on Lincecum, despite “The Freak” having a few down seasons, is something that the free-spending Dodgers may be willing to do. This is especially true due to the unknown future of Brandon McCarthy‘s elbow and Hyun Jin Ryu’s shoulder. In addition, the lefty-heavy state of the Dodgers rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Ryu, Alex Wood, and Anderson) could use the right arm of Lincecum, even as a back-end option. At 32, the two-time Cy Young winner’s career isn’t ever going to rebound, but Chavez Ravine could do enough for him to make his numbers look respectable again, and the offense has enough firepower to help him out if he can’t do it himself anymore.

Cespedes with Trout and Pujols would be a very pricey murderers row.
Cespedes with Trout and Pujols would be a very pricey murderers row.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF

Good Fit: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Cespedes is going to cost a lot of money and the Angels could use a couple of arms to stay competitive more than another bat. Still, the Angels could use an upgrade in left over Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava, and adding Cespedes to Albert Pujols and Mike Trout has to look pretty sexy on paper for Arte Moreno, who could use something positive after the Josh Hamilton fiasco. It will cost a pretty penny to sign the Cuban outfielder, but it would certainly be a solid addition to an already powerful lineup.


Why the Cleveland Indians Need to Make a Deal

When the Cleveland Indians dealt Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves in August, with cash, they were able to dump quite a bit of salary in the process. Swisher is set to make $15 million and Bourn is set to make $14 million, and the Braves are desperately seeking a deal of Swisher in their rebuilding process, which seems to be taking on horrible contracts and dealing their existing talent for prospects, as they did with Shelby Miller in their recent deal with Arizona. Regardless of the deal, the Indians are now in a very interesting spot. Their current roster, after arbitration projections from MLBTradeRumors, will earn roughly $64.9 million in 2016. After acquiring Collin Cowgill from the Angels, the Indians CAN’T be finished, right?

Cleveland's pitching staff is deep and loaded. Can they survive a deal? Courtesy: Fox Sports
Cleveland’s pitching staff is deep and loaded. Can they survive a deal?
Courtesy: Fox Sports

After finishing 14 games back of the World Series championship-winning Kansas City Royals, the Indians should look to improve on their 669 runs, which ranked 18th in MLB. It would be easy to say that the Tribe should deal from their strength – their pitching, and it is certainly easy to agree with that saying, as the team has 2014 AL Cy Young winner RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Danny Salazar, and RHP Trevor Bauer, while mixing in LHP T.J. House, RHP Josh Tomlin, and RHP Cody Anderson.

Of that group, Carrasco and Salazar seem to be longed for most by other clubs.

Carrasco, 29, is guaranteed $19,662,500 over the next three seasons, while the two club options for 2019 and 2020 ($9 million and $9.5 million) are well below market value. When you consider that RHP Jeff Samardzija just received a five-year, $90 million deal from the San Francisco Giants after posting a 4.96 ERA and leading the majors in hits and earned runs allowed, the five years and $38 million owed to Carrasco, who had a career-high 10.2 K:9 and a 2.84 FIP in 2015, seems like a very wise investment.

Salazar, 26, isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2016 season, and he is under team control, thanks to the arbitration process, through the 2020 season. The young right-hander won 14 games and struck out 195 batters over 185 innings and 30 starts in 2015.

While Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi has stated that the momentum for a deal with the Chicago Cubs is pretty dead, it shouldn’t be.

The Cubs could really use some additional rotation depth in their pursuit of a title. With RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP John Lackey, and LHP Jon Lester at the top of the rotation, Carrasco or Salazar would slide right in as upgrades over RHP Adam Warren, RHP Jason Hammel, LHP Travis Wood, RHP Trevor Cahill, or RHP Kyle Hendricks. Not only that, but the Cubs, who recently signed OF Jason Heyward, could deal OF Jorge Soler, opening up a spot for INF Javier Baez, who could move to the outfield due to the recently signed 2B/OF Ben Zobrist, while postseason masher Kyle Schwarber takes over in the other corner.

Courtesy: Rant Sports
Soler would be a HUGE upgrade for the Indians Courtesy: Rant Sports

The deal makes perfect sense for the Indians, who ranked 22nd in home runs in 2015 and have Cowgill and Lonnie Chisenhall listed as their current starting corner outfielders. Soler, who is under team control through 2021, could be a massive haul for the club offensively. While the soon-to-be 24-year-old has struggled to stay healthy, he certainly has the potential to be an asset for Cleveland.

Soler shouldn’t be enough to acquire either Carrasco or Salazar, but the Cubs have a gluttony of talented young players. Could the Indians get Chicago to add in SS Gleyber Torres, OF Billy McKinney, OF Albert Almora, or OF Ian Happ with Soler? If so, this becomes as necessary for the Indians as laughing at the Browns has become for rest of us.

The Indians can survive this type of deal. They would still have Salazar or Carrasco, whoever isn’t traded, to pair with Kluber at the top of the rotation, while the club could see gains from Bauer and healthy seasons from House or Tomlin to smooth over the rest of the rotation. This is a deal that Cleveland can’t pass up, especially with the trade market that has been set by Arizona’s deal for Miller and the Houston Astros’ acquisition of RHP Ken Giles from Philadelphia.

Kipnis and Kluber Creating Commotion in Cleveland


The Cleveland Indians may be 22-26 and in last place in the American League Central going into Saturday night’s game in Seattle, but the club has 114 games remaining to make up their 7.5 game deficit to reach the top of the division, which is something that many, including myself, thought was possible going into the season. The club was nine games under .500 on May 18th prior to starting a six game winning streak, and things finally look to be heading in the right direction after the Tribe went 7-14 in April. The Indians can thank reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and second baseman Jason Kipnis for their sudden return to relevancy.

In his first seven starts of the 2015 season, the Indians went 0-7 in Kluber’s starts, while Kluber, himself, was 0-5 with a 5.04 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP over 44.2 innings. It was easy for people to think that Kluber had a career year, as he appeared to be tumbling towards the irrelevancy that some may have thought he came from leading into his incredible 2014 season; however, Kluber was still showing positive signs throughout his struggles, including his 9.27 K:9 and 3.15 FIP. Things took off for Kluber on May 13, and, over his last four starts, he has been as dominant as he has ever been in his career:

Rk Date Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
May Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
8 May 13 STL W,2-0 8.0 1 0 0 0 18 0 113 98
9 May 18 CHW L,1-2 9.0 5 1 1 1 12 0 108 84
10 May 23 CIN W,2-1 8.0 9 1 1 0 7 0 102 67
11 May 28 SEA W,5-3 7.0 7 3 3 1 13 2 112 63
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/30/2015.

Those totals leave Kluber with a 1.41 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, a 1.17 FIP, and an incredible 50:2 K:BB over his last 32 innings. Kluber’s 18 strikeout game on May 13 is the highest game score of season to this point by a whopping seven points. Kluber appears to be on track to get the all-important win-loss column back in order, for the weakest of baseball minds, but it appears that things are breaking the way that they should have been all season for the dominant right-hander.

While Kluber has been dominating on the mound, Kipnis has taken over the lead-off role for the Indians’ offense and become an offensive force. Since moving there on April 26, Kipnis is hitting .400/.494/.669 over 156 plate appearances, ripping 14 doubles, three triples, and five home runs, while driving in 20 runs and posting an 18:18 K:BB. His .434 BABIP over that time screams regression, but his production screams a return to his healthy, capable levels that he showcased in 2013, prior to his injury-riddled 2014 catastrophe. Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma detailed the trends that have allowed Kipnis to return to All-Star level production in a recent piece, stating how his health, mechanical adjustments, hitting lead-off, facing fewer lefties, and seeing more fastballs, have all played a roll in his recent outburst.

Indians' 2B Jason Kipnis Courtesy:
Indians’ 2B Jason Kipnis

While Kluber and Kipnis have done their part to get the Indians back on track, the club still needs to overcome some weaknesses and struggles. The Tribe have gone just 10-17 against AL Central foes, including 1-5 against the Detroit Tigers. Additionally, Cleveland could use more consistent production out of everyday players Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Moss, Jose Ramirez, and Carlos Santana, who have gone a combined 66-for-323 (.204) in May. While Santana continues to get on base (19 walks and a .356 OBP), the team must find ways to get production out of more players than Kipnis to rise up from the division cellar.

The Indians certainly have the talent to be relevant, and, with time on their side, they’ll continue to ride Kipnis and Kluber to compete and be contenders in 2015.

Season Previews: Cleveland Indians

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! 

Cleveland Indians


2015 Projected Record: 81-81 (2nd in the AL Central, 16th in MLB)

Manager: Terry Francona (177-147 in two seasons with Cleveland, 1,206-1,062 in 14 seasons overall)

Top Three Players: RHP Corey Kluber (4.2), C Yan Gomes (3.8), OF Michael Brantley (3.1)

Bounce-back Player: 2B Jason Kipnis

After having a breakout campaign in 2013, Kipnis crashed back to earth in 2014. Much of that can be attributed to an attrition in BABIP, which fell from .345 in 2013 to .288 in 2014, as well as his production against left-handed pitching, which fell from .308/.370/.480 in 2013 to .208/.256/.244 in 2014; though, he dealt with tendon damage to a finger in his left hand (which he had surgery on over the offseason), which can also take some blame. Kipnis, however, has a career .246/.313/.343 triple-slash in 688 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, so it is fair to wonder if his 2013 production was an outlier. Still, a healthy Kipnis was one of the top second basemen in MLB, and at just 28 in April, the Indians should have several more productive, 2013-like seasons left out of one of their stars.

Hold on Lindor fans! Ramirez is GOOD!  Courtesy:
Hold on Lindor fans! Ramirez is GOOD!

Fantasy Player to Watch: SS Jose Ramirez

While Indians fans will beg and moan for super-prospect SS Francisco Lindor to get called up to Cleveland quickly, they may be surprised, with patience, at the type of production that the Tribe can get from this 5’9″ speedster. He was an upgrade over Asdrubal Cabrera at short over the second half of the season, and, perhaps, the second half explosion of the club’s pitching staff could be tied to his elevation to full-timer at the position. Still, the Indians and their fans shouldn’t be so quick to write Ramirez off as a space-holder for Lindor, as the 22-year-old (yes, he’s quite young) has a little pop and plenty of speed, providing defensive value and enough offensive production to be capable of an everyday role, for this year and down the road. His .262/.300/.346 line in 2014 may not look all that special, but he has shown a knack for making quality contact and a patient approach that wasn’t evident in his 266 plate appearances last season. Ramirez is a sneaky-good pick in fantasy leagues, as his speed and skills will play up in a very talented Indians lineup.

Offseason Overview: The Tribe added RHP Gavin Floyd on a one-year, $4 million deal. He promptly injured his elbow, needing season-ending surgery to repair a stress fracture in his elbow. The Indians also took a chance on RHP Shaun Marcum, who signed a minor league contract with a spring training invite, which seemed to be the route the Indians took to add depth to the roster, as they continued with minor league deals with LHP Scott Downs, OF Jerry Sands, C Adam Moore, RHP Anthony Swarzak, and LHP Bruce Chen. The biggest move of the offseason was the acquisition of 1B/OF Brandon Moss, who was acquired from the Oakland Athletics for minor league second baseman Joe Wendle. Moss brings a powerful, left-handed bat to a lineup that was quite productive in 2014, ranking 11th in MLB in runs scored (669). With 1B/DH/veteran leadership provider Jason Giambi, who missed most of the season due to being old, retiring, the core of the Indians’ 85-win team is still around, while the 25th spot on the roster seems much more capable of producing “actual value” to the club.

The Verdict: PECOTA was way, way off on the Indians projection, in my opinion. This is an 88-90-win team, at the minimum, and should be considered the favorite to take the American League Central, even with the Tigers still playing baseball and the White Sox vastly improved. You can doubt whether RHP Corey Kluber can possibly repeat his Cy Young 2014 season, but you’d also have to expect regression from Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, T.J. House, and Danny Santana, who combined to go 17-13 with a 3.09 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 282:76 K:BB over 285.1 second half innings. The bullpen is very good, as LHP Nick Hagadone seems to have finally found himself, while RHP Cody Allen looked as dominant as Craig Kimbrel last season as the closer, but, as always with bullpens, you never know what to expect from year-to-year. With Zach McAllister, Marcum, and Josh Tomlin possibly landing outside of the rotation, a move to the bullpen adds further depth for the Tribe. The offense is solid and the Indians will likely get continued production from OF Michael Brantley, though it is unlikely to be at the MVP-levels that he showed last season, while 1B Carlos Santana finally has a position and his bat will continue to take off. They have an excellent catcher in Yan Gomes, whose arm and bat have insane power in them. If 3B Lonnie Chisenhall is as good as he was last season, and the Indians get healthy seasons out of Moss, OF Michael Bourn, and Kipnis, Cleveland is as good as any team in baseball.