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.

 

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2015 Season Previews: Milwaukee Brewers

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! 

Milwaukee Brewers

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 80-82 (4th in NL Central, 20th in MLB)

Manager: Ron Roenicke (335-313 in four seasons with Milwaukee)

Top Three Players: OF Carlos Gomez (4.4), C Jonathan Lucroy (3.3), OF Ryan Braun 2.5

Bounce-back Player: SS Jean Segura

In the first half of the 2013 season Segura hit .325/.363/.487 with 11 doubles, eight triples, 11 home runs, and 27 stolen bases in 397 plate appearances. Since then, Segura has hit .244/.283/.322 with 23 doubles, eight triples, six home runs, and 37 stolen bases in 783 plate appearances. Who is Jean Segura? Well, in 2014, Segura dealt with personal tragedy, which could have been a leading culprit in his ineptitude. He was always a good contact hitter, but, suddenly, he was posting a .275 BABIP and his entire game fell off – even his defense wasn’t as good in 2014. While it’s fair to wonder what was going on in the second half of 2013, the chances are high that this 25-year-old gets things rolling again, becoming a very valuable shortstop for the Brewers and a favorite of fantasy nerds.

Courtesy: naciondeportiva.com
Courtesy: naciondeportiva.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Mike Fiers

I loathed Fiers because he almost cost me a title last season. When his fastball smacked Giancarlo Stanton and ended the big slugger’s season, that was the only time that I remember seeing Fiers name in the national sports headlines in 2014. It won’t be the same in 2015. Fiers, 29, posted a 2.13 ERA and 0.88 WHIP over 71.2 innings and 14 games (ten starts), while posting an impressive 9.5 K:9 and 4.47 K:BB. In 2013, Fiers had his forearm broken by a batted ball. Outside of that miserable season, which lasted all of 22.1 major league innings, Fiers is 15-15 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over his 199.2 innings in 2012 and 2014, striking out 9.5 batters per nine. He may be a late bloomer, he may not have an electric fastball (89.6 mph), but Mike Fiers can pitch. He has a rotation spot locked up, and he is an excellent, cheap target.

Offseason Overview: The Brewers let Mark Reynolds leave via free agency and brought in Adam Lind to man first base. Lind had his most productive season since his impressive 2009, posting an .860 OPS and 141 wRC+ over just 318 plate appearances, and, if healthy (which has been his problem due to back issues), he could be the solid, left-handed bat the Brewers have needed since Prince Fielder left. Milwaukee lost Zach Duke to the White Sox, but they added an impressive lefty of their own in his place, Neal Cotts. They traded their “ace”, Yovani Gallardo, to Texas for some solid young pieces, sliding Fiers and Jimmy Nelson into the rotation to replace the overrated Mexican right-hander, whose inability to miss bats increased while his salary inflated. While there wasn’t a true splash by the Brewers this winter, they have the core of this group together for another couple of seasons, replacing pieces as they go to remain competitive.

The Verdict: Milwaukee remains one of those teams that battle and are a nuisance to their counterparts, though they don’t seem to create headlines. They collect talent and find ways to keep it around. Lucroy is one of the top offensive catchers in baseball, Gomez has the best power/speed combo this side of Mike Trout, and Ryan Braun will be improved with the ability to use his thumb in 2015, something he wasn’t able to do for several months in 2014. There are several question marks when it comes to health, but the Brewers may be able to hold onto the lead in the NL Central if they have things go right. A return to form by Braun and Segura, some improvement by Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett, and typical production from Aramis Ramirez, Gomez, and Lucroy, and the offense is scary. A little luck with Jimmy Nelson on the back-end of the rotation and consistency from Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and Fiers, and they are contenders. They’ll be much better than 4th in the NL Central in 2015.

Brewing Something Sneaky-Good in Milwaukee

Braun1
Brewers’ RF Ryan Braun

When you look at a team that is coming off of a 74-88 season, you typically see several holes that need to be filled, and, potentially, a team that could be headed towards a rebuild. However, when you look deeper at the Milwaukee Brewers, you can see that they are a team that isn’t too far away from actually contending, and it could happen in 2014.

Sure, the farm system doesn’t appear to have anything of immediate value, featuring a big, fat zero prospects within the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 and just one (Jimmy Nelson, No. 83) in the MLB.com Top 100, but IF the 25-man roster can maintain health and production, there is a tremendous chance that they could look a lot like the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates – minus the youth.

This is a club that won 96 games in 2011, and while they did lose Prince Fielder to free agency, they still managed to finish with 83 wins in 2012. In 2013, a lot of things went wrong:

  • Ryan Braun was injured and suspended for his PED use
  • Rickie Weeks had another unproductive season
  • Yuniesky Betancourt received over 400 plate appearances – something that should never be forced upon the eyes of fans or the other 24 men of any Major League Baseball roster EVER AGAIN!

Fortunately for Milwaukee and their fans, there were several things that went right, which is why this team will improve in 2014…dramatically.

Gallardo
Brewers’ RHP Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo suffered from another drop in velocity in 2013, and he had a very difficult time adjusting to that, posting a 4.83 ERA and 1.43 WHIP over his 20 first half starts; however, the second half brought much better results, as Gallardo managed a 3.09 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 11 starts. There should still be some concern over his velocity issues and his drop in strikeout rates (7.17 in 2013 is, by far, the lowest of his career – 8.24 in his rookie 2007 season is the next lowest), but if Gallardo has learned to pitch with what he has, he could find the same success that he had in the latter part of the 2013 season going forward. Keep in mind, he is turning just 28 years old later this month.

"Brewers'

On the surface, going 11-15 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 32 starts and 183.1 innings isn’t all that impressive, but, at 24, Wily Peralta was actually much better than those numbers. From June 21 to September 22 (17 starts), Peralta posted a 3.05 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 103.1 innings, going 7-7 during that time. Peralta doesn’t strike out 10 batters per nine, posting just a 7.3 K/9 over this impressive 17-start span, but he does possess solid stuff (his fastball averaged 94.8 mph in 2013) and he keeps the ball in the park, even when pitching half of his games in Miller Park (19 home runs allowed in 2013). If Peralta can improve his 9.2 percent career walk-rate, he’s going to be capable of an All-Star season. He’ll turn just 25 in May of 2014, giving the Brewers a piece to continue to build around.

"Brewers'

Jean Segura was a piece received from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zack Greinke deal, and while Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena may not do much of anything for the Brewers after coming over in the deal with Segura, the Brewers clearly won the trade when Greinke signed with the Dodgers last winter, gaining several years of control of the Dominican shortstop. Segura, then, had a huge 2013 season, posting a 3.9 WAR (Baseball Reference) and earning a spot on the National League All-Star team. He became a fantasy baseball darling, amassing 20 doubles, 10 triples, 12 home runs, and 44 stolen bases. His second half was not good (.241/.268/.315), but if he can get somewhere between those numbers and his breakout first half (.325/.363/.487), he’ll continue to be an asset for the Brewers and fantasy geeks alike.

Jonathan Lucroy became a near-elite offensive catcher in an injury-shortened 2012 and he continued that trend in 2013, posting a .795 OPS to go along with his 18 home runs and 82 RBI. Those 82 RBI led all catchers in the majors and his nine stolen bases were a nice addition, as well. At 28, Lucroy is in his prime and could post more impressive numbers in 2014 with a healthy and present Ryan Braun protecting him in the Milwaukee lineup.

"Brewers'

Carlos Gomez posted an 8.4 WAR in 2013 (Baseball Reference) and went nuts, posting an .843 OPS along with his 27 doubles, 10 triples, 24 home runs, 73 RBI, and 40 stolen bases. He made his first All-Star game and won a Gold Glove for his tremendous defensive prowess, even earning a 10 percent share in the NL MVP voting by finishing 9th for the award. It is fair to wonder if this type of success can hold up from Gomez, considering his past and his continued plate discipline issues (146:37 K:BB in 590 plate appearances), but the potential was always there, and despite being around since 2007, he’ll be just 28 in 2014.

Khris Davis made his debut for Milwaukee on April 1st as a pinch-hitter. He then rotted on the bench collecting all of two starts and 18 plate appearances before being sent to the minors, where he would get regular playing time. Davis then returned to the majors to sit on the bench for part of July before taking over left field full-time on July 30. Over the next 36 games and 129 plate appearances, Davis posted a .287/.357/.617 triple-slash, blasting 10 home runs and driving in 26 runs. Over 162 games, that is a 32 home run player. I’m not saying that Khris Davis is going to do that, but he has posted an .898 OPS over his 1,705 minor league plate appearances prior to this big league outburst. The guy can hit, and while he’s already 26 years old (he was a college senior draftee out of Cal-State Fullerton, while missing most of 2012 due to a leg injury), he has pushed Braun to right field and cleared a path to become a producer.

Aramis Ramirez is still the third baseman, and while that may be an issue defensively, his bat is still useful. Another issue still remains that ARam will be limited by some sort of ailment that will keep him off of the field. At 36, it could be enhanced, but if he gives the Brewers 145 games, you’re going to see 25 home runs and 90-plus RBI with something close to his career .285/.345/.501 triple-slash.

First base has been an issue in Milwaukee since Fielder bolted for Detroit after the 2011 season, but there could be an interesting platoon. Juan Francisco posted his typically horrific strikeout totals and low average in 2013, but he did hit 13 home runs in 270 plate appearances for Milwaukee. He couldn’t hit a left-hander if the pitcher actually put it on a tee for him, but with the addition of Mark Reynolds (.852 career OPS vs. left-handers), the two could combine to post 40 home runs while striking out nearly 300 times – the power is an asset, though. If the Brewers choose to scrap Francisco, who turns just 27 in 2014, they did sign Lyle Overbay to a minor league deal, and he could also platoon with Reynolds.

"Brewers'

The list seems to go on and on, but it doesn’t stop here. Kyle Lohse is a solid innings-eater and effective weapon in the rotation, Marco Estrada is a fine back-end of the rotation option, Jim Henderson established himself as a shutdown reliever, Brandon Kintzler and Francisco Rodriguez will be very good setup men (if they don’t steal some saves),  Tom Gorzelanny is a solid left-handed option out of the bullpen, and Logan Schafer makes for a respectable fourth outfielder. Add in the depth at starting pitcher with Jimmy Nelson, Hiram Burgos, and Mike Fiers as possible rotation fillers (in the event of an injury), and you have a group that has enough depth to withstand the grind of a 162-game season.

With the addition of Matt Garza, the Brewers have built an above-average rotation that could stand toe-to-toe with most teams in baseball. If Garza, Lohse, and Gallardo stay healthy and the Brewers get steady production out of Peralta and Estrada, this could easily be an 85 to 90-win team. Offensively, if Davis and Segura produce, and Braun, Gomez, and Ramirez stay healthy, the offense is legitimately scary.

The national media will clamor over the St. Louis Cardinals, due to their long-term success, and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be the darlings after reaching the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, but there isn’t any reason to think that the Brewers can’t become contenders again in 2014. While the farm system leaves a lot to be desired, there is talent at the major league level, and it is enough to be taken seriously.

Pretend GM: Signings and Trades That Should Be Made

With the big signing of Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees on Wednesday, the market for free agency and trades could explode over the next several days. With that in mind, I was thinking about some deals that would make tremendous sense for several teams…although, they could just make sense to me. Regardless, here are some deals that I’d like to see made over the next few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

Cincinnati Reds Trade Brandon Phillips to the New York Yankees for Brett Gardner

PhillipsWhy This Trade Makes Sense: The Yankees clearly want to get back to the top, as their $155 million investment in Tanaka showed. With Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Scott Sizemore as the current options at second base, New York could use a more reliable name to replace Robinson Cano. While the Reds don’t have an immediate replacement ready for Phillips (outside of Henry Rodriguez or another position change for Billy Hamilton), they need to clear some payroll in order to lock up Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake, all of whom are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, as well as Homer Bailey, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Phillips, who is due $50 million over the next four years, could be a bargain based on the current market, while his ability to play defensively at an elite level will provide quite a bit of value, as well. Gardner is unlikely to provide the on-base skills that Shin-Soo Choo provided last season in Cincinnati, but he would provide elite-level defensive skills, speed, and solid on-base skills (career OBP of .352). Gardner, earning $5.6 million in 2014 prior to reaching free agency after the season, would be an upgrade over a 2014 version of Hamilton, while providing quite a bit of financial flexibility to shore up the rotation for the coming seasons in Cincinnati. Even if Cincinnati had to chip in $10 million in salary relief, it would be an interesting deal for both clubs.

Baltimore Orioles Sign A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $14 million deal

burnettWhy This Signing Makes Sense: In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles surprised the world by contending and finishing 2nd in the AL East with 93 wins. In 2013, there was a slight regression, as the team dipped to 85 wins after doing very little over the offseason. The Orioles have been very active in the minor league free agent market this winter, but they could use a splash, and Burnett would be a tremendous addition to the club’s rotation. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman make a good, young rotation, but Burnett would be the anchor for the staff, and his presence would allow the club to move Norris to a (more appropriate) bullpen role. Burnett is from Maryland and he has been rumored to be retiring if he doesn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh, but Baltimore is close to home and he can keep his wife happy, and the spare change for one year would be worth it for both sides. Burnett rebuilt his value with two tremendous seasons with the Pirates, and he is worth a one-year deal for Baltimore for another shot at the AL East for the tattooed right-hander. Sure, it seems like it is going to be Pittsburgh or bust, but the Orioles are contenders with a healthy Manny Machado and consistent production from Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters – the O’s need to do their due diligence here.

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Matt Garza to a five-year, $60 million deal (I know he was rumored to have signed with Milwaukee for four-years, $52 million pending a physical, but it isn’t official…yet)

GarzaWhy This Signing Makes Sense: The Jays need another solid option in their rotation to compliment R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow, so that their offense isn’t wasted on sloppy rotation options like Esmil Rogers, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Laffey, and Rickey Romero, who combined to make 27 starts last season. While Garza has some injury concerns, the Blue Jays have already given him a dynamic weapon – Dioner Navarro. With Navarro as his catcher, Garza has logged 338.1 innings and managed a 3.25 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, while Garza has posted a 4.07 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with anyone else behind the dish. While there is risk involved due to Garza spending 170 team games on the disabled list the last three seasons with right shoulder and elbow injuries, the Jays need a pitcher who is capable of pitching in the AL East (Garza has done it before), can toss 180 or more innings (Garza has done it four times), and would be a significant upgrade over Rogers, Todd Redmond, and J.A. Happ, while the club waits for Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Alberto Tirado, Daniel Norris, and Sean Nolin to reach the majors. Garza may not be a number one starter, but he is a strong number two or three option on a club that should compete with an absolutely loaded offensive group.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a five-year, $85 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Phillies first round pick, seventh overall, is protected, so while Jimenez would require draft-pick compensation, it would only be a second round pick going to Cleveland for Jimenez. After a tremendous second half in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 84 innings), Jimenez rebuilt his value, and, at the age of 30, would be a solid right-handed option for the Phillies to place between Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Jimenez has had some success during his career in the NL East:

I Split W L ERA GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Atlanta Braves 3 5 3.79 9 0 1 1 54.2 47 25 23 6 28 66 1.372 10.9 2.36
Miami Marlins 1 2 4.07 5 0 0 0 24.1 23 19 11 1 16 31 1.603 11.5 1.94
New York Mets 2 3 3.40 6 0 0 0 39.2 27 15 15 4 21 29 1.210 6.6 1.38
Washington Nationals 5 1 2.61 7 0 0 0 48.1 39 14 14 1 16 36 1.138 6.7 2.25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

For those who don’t want to do the math, Jimenez is 11-11 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 162:81 K:BB over 167 innings and 27 starts, and while that isn’t perfect, especially in a ballpark that is more favorable to hitters, Jimenez should, at least, be worth the money as an innings eater if he isn’t elite like he was in the second half of 2013. The Phillies may not be contenders, but they’ll always be spenders. They don’t have any arms ready in their system and Jimenez would be a huge upgrade over Roberto Hernandez and Ethan Martin, who appear to be options for the rotation currently.

Oakland Athletics Sign Nelson Cruz to a three-year, $27 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Cruz market appears nearly dead after there was draft-pick compensation added to a PED suspension, but Cruz is still just 33 and he is coming off of an All-Star season with solid production (27 home runs and 76 RBI in just 109 games). With very little interest and risk involved, it’s the perfect opportunity for Oakland to swoop in and make an interesting signing. While the club has some solid right-handed pop in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the remainder of the lineup is filled with left-handed hitters, including Josh Reddick, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss, as well as switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie. Another right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat would be a tremendous addition, as Reddick or Moss could sandwich between Cruz and Cespedes, providing quite a bit of value and production for a team that struggles to find offense in a cavernous home ballpark. However, Cruz has struggled in Oakland, posting a .192/.248/.352 triple-slash in 202 career plate appearances there. The late first round pick and discounted contract, though, could be enough to overlook his struggles, while providing a little more punch to the Oakland lineup.

Texas Rangers Sign Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $24 million deal

ArroyoWhy This Signing Makes Sense: Arroyo has been homer prone in the past and doesn’t have the stuff to avoid bats, but he has averaged 211 innings pitched over the last nine seasons and is someone whom the Rangers could count on with Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison coming back from injuries and Derek Holland on the shelf until mid-2014. Arroyo survived in a bandbox in Cincinnati over the last eight seasons, so he would be just as likely to post 200-plus innings and an ERA around 4.00 in Texas, especially with spacious ballparks like those in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim within the division. There isn’t draft-pick compensation tied to Arroyo, and with Masahiro Tanaka gone and no real hope of acquiring David Price in a trade, the Rangers just need five starting pitchers, and Arroyo is a nice, reliable addition for the middle or back-end of the Texas rotation.

Atlanta Braves Trade Alex Wood to the New York Yankees for Gary Sanchez

Why This Trade Makes Sense: C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Hiroki Kuroda make a great top three and Ivan Nova showed drastic improvements last season, but the Yankees are relying on David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, and Manny Banuelos at the back of the rotation in 2014. While Alex Wood has one of the more violent deliveries you’ll ever see, he has solid stuff and is ready to be productive immediately in a major league rotation. With Brandon Beachy healthy and David Hale and Gavin Floyd capable of filling the back of the Braves rotation, Wood could be expendable for Atlanta to seek a long-term option at catcher with the departure of Brian McCann to the Yankees via free agency. Evan Gattis has a lot of power and Christian Bethancourt has tremendous defensive skills, but neither seem like strong options as an everyday catcher for Atlanta. While Sanchez still needs some seasoning and he could use a change of scenery due to his makeup and maturity concerns, the Braves have several upcoming arms, as usual, and they have a long-term need at catcher. Sanchez could be the answer and the eventual elbow surgery that Wood will need is worth this type of deal for Atlanta, and the production that the Yankees get out of Wood could be useful, as well.

Stopping the Braves Before They Stop You

The Atlanta Braves hate fun. At least, that statement appears to be case, as the club has been a part of some of the most intense bench-clearing altercations of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. Those altercations began with a home run, a bat flip, standing too long in the batter’s box, or jawing with someone on the field. Here are exhibits A, B, and C:

Exhibit A – Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez from Wednesday night:

Exhibit B – Miami Marlins soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez from September 11:

and, finally, Exhibit C – Washington Nationals’ star Bryce Harper on August 6:

In all three cases, the Braves took exception with the antics of the opposition and to make them understand that their antics weren’t appreciated, someone took action. The club’s star catcher, Brian McCann, seems to have taken the Roger Goodell approach…you know, the commissioner of the NFL who has basically made it impossible for players to dance, celebrate, or enjoy any of their lives by turning the National Football League into the No Fun League. McCann didn’t even let Carlos Gomez cross home plate after his home run and colorful antagonizing on Wednesday night, while he was sure to stop Jose Fernandez prior to his leaving the dish to make sure he understood “how the game works.”

The Atlanta Braves are policing MLB but no one else seems to mind.

The ol’ book likely says that bat flipping and admiration of your hit is disrespectful to the opposition, but could the game use these types of colorful personalities?

Two of the game’s top young players are absolute bat flip professionals. I present to you Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Wil Myers and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig:

YasielPuigBatFlipSideWilMyersBatFlip

It wouldn’t be a terrible thing for baseball to have a face of the game that would have passion and enthusiasm for the game, one that would allow the youth of America and around the world to actually WANT to mock while actually playing baseball with friends instead of soccer and video games.

Considering a recent piece (and poll) by ESPN’s Jayson Stark, which detailed that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguezthe same guy who is suspended for 211 games for doping and was having his future livelihood threatened by MLB just over two months ago, is the current face of baseball, receiving 22-percent of the vote, followed by teammate Derek Jeter, who has played all of 17 games this season, who had 12-percent of the vote, the game needs to have SOMEONE OR SOME THING that can be considered marketable. While it is arguable as to whether cockiness and showmanship is that thing, those traits are certainly something that shouldn’t be so heavily governed…at least not by one team.

Which brings me back to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have had a remarkable run of success. While the Pittsburgh Pirates were finishing with losing records from 1993 through 2012, the Atlanta Braves had winning seasons in all but two years since 1990 (2006 and 2008). While the front office, the manager, and the players have changed, it appears that the club is still influenced by the knowledge which was passed down from the John Schuerholz-Bobby CoxChipper Jones Era.

Is living and modeling “by the book” good for the game, though?

For me, the Brian McCann plate block was more embarrassing than the jawing done by Carlos Gomez. Even if Gomez was acting foolishly, why is it the right of the catcher to stop him before he could touch home plate and tell him how wrong he was? To make it even worse, Gomez was tossed from the game and McCann, who actually started the melee by halting the home run trot (and was also responsible for the benches clearing against Miami), was not, just as he wasn’t in Miami!

While the NFL has taken firm control of the American 18 to barely breathing man in America, baseball has been passed by as America’s pastime, and, similarly, as the NFL has taken a firm stance on protecting its image and brand with large fines and suspensions, MLB has done very little to enforce the protection of its players on the field, instead, focusing on fighting off-the-field legal battles with former players over performance-enhancing drug use and trying to maintain the integrity of the game that seemed to disappear after the 1994 player’s strike.

At this point, the league needs to combat pitchers throwing baseballs 90-plus miles per hour at the knees of Bryce Harper because he hit the ball too far. They need to make sure that players aren’t being attacked in bench-clearing brawls because of their colorful personalities. MLB needs to realize that colorful personalities will be valuable assets in regaining a solid public image, developing strong marketing campaigns built around the dynamic gifts of Mike Trout, the flamboyant nature of Yasiel Puig, and the fire and passion that Harper brings to the field, and, while doing so, the league needs to begin to penalize those who are willing to stop the fun in their tracks, as McCann did to Gomez.

What McCann and the Atlanta Braves are doing with their educational situations is NOT what baseball needs.

Braun’s Statement and a Blogger’s Reaction

Braun1On Thursday night, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun broke his month-long silence after being suspended for the remainder of the season on July 22 for violating MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program when he released this statement:

Now that the initial MLB investigation is over, I want to apologize for my actions and provide a more specific account of what I did and why I deserved to be suspended. I have no one to blame but myself. I know that over the last year and a half I made some serious mistakes, both in the information I failed to share during my arbitration hearing and the comments I made to the press afterwards.

I have disappointed the people closest to me — the ones who fought for me because they truly believed me all along. I kept the truth from everyone. For a long time, I was in denial and convinced myself that I had not done anything wrong.

It is important that people understand that I did not share details of what happened with anyone until recently. My family, my teammates, the Brewers organization, my friends, agents and advisors had no knowledge of these facts, and no one should be blamed but me. Those who put their necks out for me have been embarrassed by my behavior. I don’t have the words to express how sorry I am for that.

Here is what happened. During the latter part of the 2011 season, I was dealing with a nagging injury and I turned to products for a short period of time that I shouldn’t have used. The products were a cream and a lozenge which I was told could help expedite my rehabilitation. It was a huge mistake for which I am deeply ashamed and I compounded the situation by not admitting my mistakes immediately.

I deeply regret many of the things I said at the press conference after the arbitrator’s decision in February 2012. At that time, I still didn’t want to believe that I had used a banned substance. I think a combination of feeling self righteous and having a lot of unjustified anger led me to react the way I did. I felt wronged and attacked, but looking back now, I was the one who was wrong. I am beyond embarrassed that I said what I thought I needed to say to defend my clouded vision of reality. I am just starting the process of trying to understand why I responded the way I did, which I continue to regret. There is no excuse for any of this.

For too long during this process, I convinced myself that I had not done anything wrong. After my interview with MLB in late June of this year, I came to the realization that it was time to come to grips with the truth. I was never presented with baseball’s evidence against me, but I didn’t need to be, because I knew what I had done. I realized the magnitude of my poor decisions and finally focused on dealing with the realities of-and the punishment for-my actions.

I requested a second meeting with (MLB) to acknowledge my violation of the drug policy and to engage in discussions about appropriate punishment for my actions. By coming forward when I did and waiving my right to appeal any sanctions that were going to be imposed, I knew I was making the correct decision and taking the first step in the right direction. It was important to me to begin my suspension immediately to minimize the burden on everyone I had so negatively affected — my teammates, the entire Brewers organization, the fans and all of MLB. There has been plenty of rumor and speculation about my situation, and I am aware that my admission may result in additional attacks and accusations from others.

I love the great game of baseball and I am very sorry for any damage done to the game. I have privately expressed my apologies to Commissioner Selig and Rob Manfred of MLB and to Michael Weiner and his staff at the Players’ Association. I’m very grateful for the support I’ve received from them. I sincerely apologize to everybody involved in the arbitration process, including the collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr. I feel terrible that I put my teammates in a position where they were asked some very difficult and uncomfortable questions. One of my primary goals is to make amends with them.

I understand it’s a blessing and a tremendous honor to play this game at the major league level. I also understand the intensity of the disappointment from teammates, fans, and other players. When it comes to both my actions and my words, I made some very serious mistakes and I can only ask for the forgiveness of everyone I let down. I will never make the same errors again and I intend to share the lessons I learned with others so they don’t repeat my mistakes. Moving forward, I want to be part of the solution and no longer part of the problem.

I support baseball’s Joint Drug Treatment and Prevention Program and the importance of cleaning up the game. What I did goes against everything I have always valued — achieving through hard work and dedication, and being honest both on and off the field. I also understand that I will now have to work very, very hard to begin to earn back people’s trust and support. I am dedicated to making amends and to earning back the trust of my teammates, the fans, the entire Brewers’ organization, my sponsors, advisors and from MLB. I am hopeful that I can earn back the trust from those who I have disappointed and those who are willing to give me the opportunity. I am deeply sorry for my actions, and I apologize to everyone who has been adversely affected by them.

Braun2Holy cow! Could he have said more to say the few words that he needed to say: “I made a mistake. I regret the decisions that I have made, the people who were affected by my actions, and I am deeply sorry for all of the lies that impacted the lives of fans, teammates, my family, friends, the organization, and the league.” Even taking the machismo way out and, as my friend Sid said, state: “I’m sorry. I lied. None of my handlers knew I lied. I did it again. Forgive me. Pete Rose Gambled. Dock Ellis pitched on acid. Ty Cobb was a racist. And Mickey Mantle was a drunk. All I wanted to do is play.”

Here’s the thing…missing a month of anything that you love can make you reflective, but has it changed Ryan Braun? Is he going to be more humble, more honest, and a harder worker, or is he the monster that attacked the integrity and livelihood of Dino Laurenzi, Jr., a lowly urine collector? Can Ryan Braun repair the damage that he has done to the Brewers organization, who have another $133 million (including the $20 million option in 2021) remaining in their investment?

The continuation of Braun’s unwillingness to accept his guilt until the realization of his pending suspension speaks volumes to the self-righteousness, which he refers to, within sports. In baseball, we see players assume that they are above the law while using steroids. In other sports, we see players conducting murders, drug deals, beating their wives and girlfriends, and raping women, which makes the problems that continue within baseball seem minuscule, but all of these things are still bad for the individuals sports, but, in particular, society.

Athletes are given money  and fame that they just can’t seem to handle. Look at what Johnny Manziel is going through from his monster freshman season in college football last year, capped by winning the Heisman Trophy – Manziel signing autographs and partying is now followed by ESPN and TMZ like the paparazzi follows Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian. The spotlight is overwhelming and the desire to fulfill expectations as a leader and elite member of society is more valuable than leading a normal, happy life. Why settle for being a solid major league regular when you can have a cream or a lozenge to get you an MVP award and a nine-figure extension?

Braun fell into the trap, where the long-term goal of banking was more important than doing the right thing. The money involved in sports is asinine. No human being is worth $20 million per season, especially to play a game, and while there are revenue streams and billionaires who are capable of paying their players these types of exorbitant contracts, does that make it right?

HernandezI feel like sports are full of people like Braun, who will do whatever they need to do to get to the top, at any cost (including their own body), to reach their full earning potential during their brief careers. This redundant rhetoric seems all too common in our current elitism society. This apology will satisfy some, but to me, it is just more B.S. from another scumbag who was willing to throw anyone under the bus but himself for his actions.

While I am not against voting in players from the steroid era into the Hall of Fame, I also feel like that era is over with, as it wasn’t being policed during Barry Bonds‘ hey-day. Braun, to me, cheated when he knew that testing was on-going, and, while I feel that MLB is to blame for the rampant use in the 1990’s and early-2000’s in an effort to draw more fans after the 1994 strike, the blame now lies on the players for making the choice to cheat.

Didi Gre-glorious?

Gregorius2Didi Gregorius. A 23-year-old shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Didi Gregorius. A career .267/.319/.375 hitter in over 2,080 plate appearances in the minor leagues. Didi Gregorius. Currently hitting .324/.385/.541 with 8 doubles, 2 triples, and 4 home runs.

Can he keep this pace up?

Gregorius’ highest OPS in an overall minor league season was in 2011, when he posted a .753 OPS between High-A and Double-A within the Cincinnati Reds system. Those numbers were a tad inflated due to his time in Bakersfield, a club within the California League, where he posted a .791 OPS over 203 plate appearances. He was always pushed by the Cincinnati organization, as you can see below, only spending one season with the same club, which was his first season in the Gulf Coast League, and even moving from the Pioneer League to High-A for 22 games at the age of 19.

Year Age Tm Lg Aff G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2008 18 Reds GULF CIN 31 109 97 6 15 0 0 0 9 2 10 10 .155 .241 .155 .395 15
2009 19 2 Teams 2 Lgs CIN 72 299 275 36 82 14 1 1 18 8 13 36 .298 .341 .367 .708 101
2009 19 Billings PION CIN 50 225 204 28 64 10 1 1 16 8 12 27 .314 .363 .387 .750 79
2009 19 Sarasota FLOR CIN 22 74 71 8 18 4 0 0 2 0 1 9 .254 .274 .310 .584 22
2010 20 3 Teams 3 Lgs CIN 163 717 653 84 167 21 13 6 50 20 45 81 .256 .311 .355 .666 232
2010 20 Dayton MIDW CIN 120 548 501 65 137 16 11 5 41 16 33 62 .273 .327 .379 .706 190
2010 20 Lynchburg CARL CIN 7 29 25 4 6 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 .240 .321 .240 .561 6
2010 20 Canberra AUBL 36 140 127 15 24 5 2 1 9 4 10 13 .189 .248 .283 .532 36
2011 21 2 Teams 2 Lgs CIN 84 363 336 48 97 18 4 7 44 11 19 50 .289 .324 .429 .753 144
2011 21 Bakersfield CALL CIN 46 203 188 30 57 12 1 5 28 8 10 25 .303 .333 .457 .791 86
2011 21 Carolina SOUL CIN 38 160 148 18 40 6 3 2 16 3 9 25 .270 .312 .392 .704 58
2012 22 2 Teams 2 Lgs CIN 129 561 501 70 133 21 11 7 54 3 41 80 .265 .324 .393 .717 197
2012 22 Pensacola SOUL CIN 81 359 316 45 88 11 8 1 31 3 29 49 .278 .344 .373 .717 118
2012 22 Louisville IL CIN 48 202 185 25 45 10 3 6 23 0 12 31 .243 .288 .427 .715 79
2013 23 Reno PCL ARI 7 33 31 7 12 2 0 2 2 1 2 1 .387 .424 .645 1.069 20
6 Seasons 486 2082 1893 251 506 76 29 23 177 45 130 258 .267 .319 .375 .694 709
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2013.

Gregorius3Moving quickly may have lead to some skewed statistics, as Gregorius always seemed to be adjusting to new levels of the minor leagues, but what do you call his 2013 outburst?

Gregorius has a .926 OPS, as I write this, and, after 124 plate appearances with Arizona, we should wonder now why he CAN’T keep this up. The young shortstop has several statistics playing in his favor:

  1. A .364 BABIP: While 45 stolen bases over six seasons leaves a lot to be desired in the speed category, Gregorius clearly has solid gap power and an ability to put the ball where fielders aren’t. The friendly-confines of Chase Field should be taken into consideration for his ability to continue to drive the ball, as well.
  2. A 9.5 percent HR/FB rate: Considering the top five HR/FB rate in MLB are Pedro Alvarez (29.4), Bryce Harper (29.3), Chris Davis (28.8), Justin Upton (28.0), and Adam Dunn (26.1), Gregorius and his 9.5 percent HR/FB are right in line with “league average”, so he could very well continue to put together numbers like he has to this point.
  3. A 31.3 O-Swing percentage: Gregorius is a smart hitter, working counts (3.94 pitches per at-bat) and swinging at strikes (O-Swing is percentage of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone).
  4. A 22.0 line drive percentage: Gregorius would rank right around 67th (with Andrelton Simmons and Gerardo Parra) with his current line drive rate. While that isn’t the upper echelon of hard hitters, it is right around the 20 percent league average (according to FanGraphs)

Gregorius is still highly underrated in fantasy leagues, ranking 21st among shortstops in ESPN’s Player Rater. He is no Troy Tulowitzki but he does have a similar career line as Jean Segura (without the speed), whose .969 OPS through 210 plate appearances was legit enough for ESPN to rank him as the No.1 shortstop.

Gregorius1The time may be now to buy into Gregorius. While he has a small sample size showing what he has, there may not be much more time to get him cheap, and the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks sure seemed to find a lot of value in him this offseason when the three team deal with Cincinnati involving Trevor Bauer and Shin-Soo Choo was consummated.