Diamondbacks Fans: Give Thanks for Hazen

New Arizona VP and GM, Mike Hazen Courtesy: Fox Sports
New Arizona VP and GM, Mike Hazen
Courtesy: Fox Sports

Over the last several years, the Arizona Diamondbacks have had several people involved in running the organization into the ground. They’ve been through managers, having seen Kirk Gibson fired in 2014, Alan Trammell as interim, Chip Hale hired and fired, and, now, having first-year manager Torey Lovullo starting the 2017 season. The instability for this organization doesn’t just start and finish on the field, though. Since 2010, we’ve seen Josh Byrnes, Jerry DiPoto (interim), Kevin Towers, Dave Stewart, and newly-hired Mike Hazen, formerly with the Boston Red Sox, in the general manager role. After winning the 2011 NL West, the Diamondbacks have failed to finish over .500, though they have finished right at .500 twice during that span.

Still, all of the changes at the top have played a major role in the struggles of the organization. No one seemed to know which direction the club was actually heading. About three years ago, I wrote about Towers and his strange deals. When he dealt Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer (along with Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers), and Tyler Skaggs for Mark Trumbo, Didi Gregorius, Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, and a slew of fringy minor leaguers, the team never really cashed-in on anything, and most of those players are now long-gone from the organization or aren’t a large part of their future – a strange concept for a team that is still rebuilding

Last night, Hazen put his stamp on where this club is heading with a “blockbuster” (if you’d call it that), by dealing Jean Segura (the 22nd most valuable position player in baseball, based on WAR), Zac Curtis, and Mitch Haniger  to the Seattle Mariners for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte.

Segura is on to his 4th organization Courtesy: azsnakepit.com
Segura is on to his 4th organization
Courtesy: azsnakepit.com

Segura, 27 on Opening Day, will be replaced at shortstop by Marte, who was rushed to the majors by Seattle at the age of 21 in 2015 out of desperation to fill their shortstop hole with just 377 at bats above AA. He’ll play the 2017 season at the age of 23 and he won’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2018 season. Segura had much more pop in his bat than Marte ever will, but Marte puts the ball in play and has solid speed, which is basically what Segura was in 2014 and 2015 before he had his second breakout season – if that is a thing – in 2016.

Hazen saved some money at shortstop, while acquiring Walker, a potential ace, for his pitching staff. Walker, long labeled full of potential, could make this deal look silly for Seattle if he actually reaches or fulfills that potential; however, we’ve been waiting on that for a few years now, even though Walker will be just 24 on Opening Day. If he can overcome injuries and become more consistent, a familiar statement for young pitchers, this is an easy win for the Diamondbacks, and Mike Hazen has already proven himself worthy of the job. If it crashes and burns, who cares? The Diamondbacks went 69-93 while Segura was a star in 2016, so it was worth the gamble.

Can Walker reach his potential in Arizona? Courtesy: Seattle Times
Can Walker reach his potential in Arizona?
Courtesy: Seattle Times

Mike Hazen had a lot more money to work with in his time with the Boston Red Sox. He may need to be a little more creative in landing talent in the desert, but the 40-year-old has a lot of respect in the game and will continue to put the Diamondbacks in a position to be successful, as long as ownership gives him the time necessary to turn it all around.

Be thankful, Diamondback fans. Mike Hazen finally has a plan for your team.

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Random Baseball Thoughts: 11/23

It Has Been a LONG Time

To say that the last three months, since I last wrote on this blog, have been miserable would be the understatement of my lifetime. Personal issues aside, I can easily say that the 2016 World Series was the best that I’ve ever seen. As a former writer on an Indians blog, I adopted them as my team – and was forced to do so after the MLB.TV blacked out my local team. Watching the Tribe all season, off-and-on due to the above issues, was truly exciting. The Tyler Naquin inside-the-parker and celebration, the year-long smoothness of Francisco Lindor up-the-middle, and the dominance by Corey Kluber were impressive to cling to during my own struggles; however, the Indians making it to the World Series and getting that 3-1 lead was what I thought would bring me out of the funk of life.

They did it.
They did it.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way, but…WOW! Rajai Davis‘ home run, the ups and downs of the whole series, and the hope that came along with it…It didn’t get much better than that. Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs and the 108 years of futility that their fans had to endure for their majestic comeback. It is scary to think of how good they could be over the next several years as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez blossom in their dynamic lineup.

Now…onto some other things…

Potential Lockout

Of course, the owners want to take this time of great celebration and success for the entire league to leap into their demands. Sure, the International Draft and all of the international signings need to have some sort of reform. The punishments of signing money and draft picks haven’t seemed to do enough damage to the clubs that continue to shell out the millions needed to sign the top international teenagers. A draft would “even the playing field” and allow the worst teams to get the best players. Isn’t that similar to the amateur draft, though? Are the best players going in order in the draft, or are the teams using their bonus money and the demands of the bonus babies to still play a role in who they take? This is a problem, sure, but all player acquisition options seem to be that way in MLB. People didn’t like the way that the Houston Astros lost and stockpiled players. The Cubs did something similar and found the results that they did in 2016. Are the Cincinnati Reds next to go down the hundred-losses path to find eventual success, or will the owners cry foul on that, as well?

There are all kinds of other options that need to be adjusted, but equality and fairness in dollars, which comes along with a salary cap, will only go so far if stupid people are in charge. The Indians ranked 24th in MLB payroll on Opening Day last season, while the Cubs were 14th, just behind my hometown Reds, who went 68-94, just 35.5 games back of those Cubbies. The owners, the billionaires, want more money coming towards them, which makes the International Draft and a salary cap so endearing to them. The players, the millionaires, want more money in the only league that has fully guaranteed contracts – just imagine what would have happened to a Ryan Howard contract in the NFL!

greedOnce again, it could be the game and the fans who lose out while these rich people banter over their money. The game continues to grow globally, with another World Baseball Classic this spring, but all of the positivity that comes from that jubilance could be crushed. So, here’s my take: get over yourselves and take better care of the game, and don’t ruin this amazing high that fans are on after an incredible postseason with arrogance and greed!

Big Contracts for Small Names

Cecil cashed in - not bad for a setup man. Courtesy: todaysknuckleball.com
Cecil cashed in – not bad for a setup man.
Courtesy: todaysknuckleball.com

After watching Andrew Miller dominate down the stretch and in the playoffs, the St. Louis Cardinals dove into free agency with what could be a huge belly flop, signing Brett Cecil for four years and $30.5MM to get the ball to last season’s surprise closer, Seung-hwan Oh, who was dominant after replacing Trevor Rosenthal last season. Cecil is an interesting investment. After faltering as a starter for Toronto, he was moved to the bullpen full-time in 2012. In his four seasons of serving only out of the ‘pen, Cecil has managed a 2.90 ERA (2.73 FIP), 1.17 WHIP, and 11.5 K:9 over 205 IP and 243 appearances. If you compare Cecil’s four seasons to Miller’s first three as a reliever, they are pretty similar, as Miller posted a 2.57 ERA (2.37 FIP), 1.05 WHIP, and 13.3 K:9 over 133.1 IP and 163 appearances. Miller, of course, signed with the Yankees for four years and $36MM after the 2014 season, becoming more dominant since then (1.72 ERA (1.90 FIP), 0.76 WHIP, and 14.8 K:9 over 136 IP and 130 appearances). It appears that Cecil was able to successfully attach himself to Miller’s coattails, riding them to a huge payday.

That's a lot of money. Courtesy: insidesocial.com
That’s a lot of money.
Courtesy: insidesocial.com

Jumping to the outfield, the Astros added to their’s by signing Josh Reddick to a four-year, $52MM deal. It seemed like a strange addition when you consider that the Astros have George Springer in right, the position that Reddick has played for most of his career. Still, with Jake Marisnick in center and Nori Aoki in left, the outfield was an area of need this winter. After going from Wild Card winners in 2015 to 3rd in the AL West in 2016, the Astros needed to continue to push towards their winning window with their solid core of talent. Reddick, however, may not be worth $13MM per season, having seen his best season way back in 2012. It seems like a lot of money for someone who posted a 1.2 WAR in 2016, but it appears that Houston believes his thumb injury played a larger role in his lack of offensive prowess last season. This looks a lot like the deal that the Yankees gave to Jacoby Ellsbury, banking on his insane 2011 season after a couple of average seasons in 2012 and 2013. He hasn’t lived up to the contract, unless you’re paying $20MM per year for past performance, which Houston appears to be doing, as well, this offseason.

I’ll try to write more often. Get back on my bandwagon and I’ll tell you wonderful things about baseball and life. America needs me right now, so I’m back.

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.

 

CBA Hurting Players: All-Star Free Agents Unsurprisingly Remain

Cespedes is still a free agent...thanks to the CBA. Courtesy: Fox Sports
Cespedes is still a free agent…thanks to the CBA.
Courtesy: Fox Sports

The current MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement was put into place in 2011 and expires on December 1st of 2016. With the expiration, it is likely that players will find a way or work towards eliminating the current draft pick compensation. While the qualifying offer protects small-market teams and allows them to receive compensation for losing a player, it also comes with driving the price of free agents down. For that reason, players who receive qualifying offers need to truly be elite, or they pay the price in the open market.

From 2012 to 2014, all 34 players who received qualifying offers rejected them; however, after the 2015 season, a whopping 20 players received offers, with three players – Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus, and Brett Anderson – accepting the one-year, $15.8 million deals (the average annual value of the top 125 salaries in baseball), while a fourth, Marco Estrada, agreed to a two-year deal with Toronto. Unfortunately, there are several others who are still seeking roster asylum.

Gallardo is still homeless due to draft pick compensation. Courtesy: MLB
Gallardo is still homeless due to draft pick compensation.
Courtesy: MLB

The market for Ian Desmond, Yovani Gallardo, and Dexter Fowler has been slow to develop, while we saw recent late signings for Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton, who, finally, received long-term deals with the newly popular opt-out clauses worked into those deals. In addition to Desmond, Gallardo, and Fowler, here are other names still available:

Cliff Lee, Mark Buehrle, Tim Lincecum, Doug Fister, Kyle Lohse, Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Alex Rios, Greg Holland (Tommy John surgery), Marlon Byrd, David Freese, Pedro Alvarez, Mike Minor (coming off of shoulder surgery), Alfredo Simon, Matt Joyce, Ike Davis, Bronson Arroyo (Tommy John surgery), Juan Uribe, and superstar slugger Yoenis Cespedes.

Interestingly enough, the players above do not require draft pick compensation; however, many clubs now value the cost effective, team control mantra that comes with youth movements, while refraining from the over-inflated, under-performing, declining veteran deals, which causes the shelf period for players in free agency to continue to lengthen.

It certainly makes sense for clubs to give young players additional opportunities, especially if they have very little chance to succeed in a given year. Many teams will likely attempt to match the Houston Astros complete, disgraceful collapse and eventual successful rebuild, rather than giving $8 million to a 38-year-old infielder. The perfect example of this would be my hometown Cincinnati Reds plugging last year’s shortstop, Eugenio Suarez (who gives way at short after Zack Cozart‘s return from a knee injury), in at third base instead of signing David Freese or Juan Uribe to give mediocre production at a much greater cost.

Giancarlo Stanton is guaranteed $318.5 million by the end of the 2027 season - if he doesn't opt-out after 2020.
Giancarlo Stanton is guaranteed $318.5 million by the end of the 2027 season – if he doesn’t opt-out after 2020.

Free agency for the elite players continues to be lucrative. Free agency for large market clubs continues to be a bountiful way to reload a roster quickly. However, free agency for small-market clubs and lesser players continues to be a battle of patience, as offers are slow to develop until desperation sinks in.

All of this goes back to ways that clubs and owners are able to manipulate the market. Qualifying offers and compensation picks protect clubs, but there is still no true protection for the players – outside of that whole guaranteed contract thing. There is so much money in baseball. Though some people complain about how much players are paid, they certainly are due their fair share of the pot. That isn’t happening right now. If players continue to sit out deep into the offseason, it is fair to cry collusion among the owners. Billionaires battling millionaires. You have to love first world problems.

Is It Time for Expansion in MLB?

It has been 16 years since a new team was added to MLB.
It has been 16 years since a new team was added to MLB.

It was 1998 when the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks joined Major League Baseball. Five years prior to that, 1993, MLB welcomed the Florida (Miami) Marlins and the Colorado Rockies, 16 years after the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners were added. Now, over 16 years after adding the Rays and Diamondbacks, is it time for Major League Baseball to add the 31st and 32nd clubs, and how would that change the league?

Because of scheduling, there would have to be two teams added, allowing 16 games to be played each night. Currently, with six divisions – three in each league – there are opportunities for five teams to appear in the playoffs, with the three division champions being joined by the winner of a one-game Wild Card play-in. How would this change going forward? Would the top two teams in each eight-team division within a league be the playoff teams, or would MLB want to keep the five participants (with the two weakest records among the top five qualifiers playing each other) or expand the playoffs to eight teams – which seems like going overboard, though there are financial pluses for the league and teams in expanding the playoffs, but playing games in cold cities in November would be horrific.

Adding two teams from warm cities wouldn’t factor into a November playoff being any more or less terrible. The top 10 television markets without MLB teams are currently:

Is beautiful Portland, Oregon the next location for a MLB team?
Is beautiful Portland, Oregon the next location for a MLB team?

Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Florida

Portland, Oregon

Charlotte, North Carolina

Indianapolis, Indiana

Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

Nashville, Tennessee

Hartford-New Haven, Connecticut

Columbus, Ohio

Salt Lake City, Utah

Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina – Asheville, North Carolina

Further down the list – San Antonio, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Birmingham.

Some could argue the vicinity of teams like the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians to Columbus and Indianapolis would make those cities more likely to only have minor league teams, which they both currently do (Indianapolis Indians are the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Columbus Clippers are the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians), than the addition of another club. The Reds, in particular, thrive on fans coming from Dayton, Columbus, Lexington, and Louisville to watch Major League quality play, even though minor league clubs are present in each city. The population doesn’t support an additional Ohio team, especially when the Reds and Indians can’t fill their current stadiums on a nightly basis.

That’s why it is so interesting when Brooklyn gets brought up as an expansion city still today. We all know that the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1957, but could New York carry a third team if ownership doesn’t price out their fans the way that the New York Yankees and Mets have appeared to do within their new stadiums and the expensive, luxury “values” that they are providing now?

Could Charlotte represent the south in MLB?
Could Charlotte represent the south in MLB?

It is worrisome to have so many teams packed into one area, and the east coast is littered with teams, specifically the northeast. However, the addition of a team in Charlotte could be really intriguing for MLB. The south has always been ruled by the Atlanta Braves, and Braves Nation is huge due to the existence of TBS and the games being nationally televised for so many years. I grew up watching some pretty terrible, Dale Murphy-led Braves’ teams. Charlotte opens baseball in the south for the National League, as it could create a new rivalry with Atlanta, while focusing on the markets of Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Asheville, Greensville, and Spartanburg could allow for some lucrative corporate and television endorsement agreements for the club, while expanding baseball in a southeastern region that is heavily populated and not so heavily represented in MLB today.

Additionally, Las Vegas is mentioned often due to its booming population when baseball expansion is discussed. It isn’t even a top 40 TV market, and if it were to earn a team, would the team thrive with so much of the population busy working the casinos and other tourist attractions, while those tourists are busy stuffing themselves with free buffets, drinks, and Celine Dion shows? Can it really support a club when the main economy factor will always be tourists? We’ve seen attendance become an issue in Tampa and Miami in the past due to the tourist ways of Florida populations, so would MLB want another potential revenue draining club?

Portland, Oregon, much like Charlotte, would fit into the Pacific Northwest nicely, creating a natural rivalry with the Seattle Mariners in the American League. There would be some issues with the stadium, as a roof would be necessary, in addition to the fact that Portland has limitations on land due to a pretty strict environmental protection agreement in the area, preventing nature around the city from being destroyed to maintain the area for hikers, tourists, and other green philosophies. Portland is ranked 22nd among all TV markets in the United States, while potentially raking in money from surrounding universities and Nike, among others, in sponsorship and development of the franchise.

Idea One:

With Charlotte and Portland added to the league, this is what MLB would look like with two, eight-team divisions, where the top two teams in each division would be the four playoff teams for each league:

American League

AmericanEast                                                            West

Baltimore Orioles                                   Houston Astros

Boston Red Sox                                       Kansas City Royals

Cleveland Indians                                  Los Angeles Angels

Chicago White Sox                                Minnesota Twins

Detroit Tigers                                          Oakland Athletics

New York Yankees                                 Portland Franchise

Tampa Bay Rays                                    Seattle Mariners

Toronto Blue Jays                                  Texas Rangers

National League

NationalEast                                                           West

Atlanta Braves                                         Arizona Diamondbacks

Charlotte Franchise                               Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds                                      Colorado Rockies

Miami Marlins                                       Los Angeles Dodgers

New York Mets                                       Milwaukee Brewers

Philadelphia Phillies                            St. Louis Cardinals

Pittsburgh Pirates                                 San Diego Padres

Washington Nationals                       San Francisco Giants

Idea Two:

MLB could have four divisions in each league with four teams in each league, with division winners representing the four playoff teams for each league:

American League 

AmericanEast                                           South

Baltimore Orioles                 Houston Astros

Boston Red Sox                     Kansas City Royals

New York Yankees               Tampa Bay Rays

Toronto Blue Jays                Texas Rangers

North                                       West

Chicago White Sox             Los Angeles Angels

Cleveland Indians              Oakland Athletics

Detroit Tigers                      Portland Franchise

Minnesota Twins               Seattle Mariners

National League

NationalEast                                          North

New York Mets                     Chicago Cubs

Philadelphia Phillies         Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates               Milwaukee Brewers

Washington Nationals     St. Louis Cardinals

South                                      West

Atlanta Braves                     Arizona Diamondbacks

Charlotte Franchise           Los Angeles Dodgers

Colorado Rockies               San Diego Padres

Miami Marlins                   San Francisco Giants

Major League Baseball is as successful financially as it has ever been in 2014. With MLB Advanced Media revenue, local and national television contract revenue, and merchandise revenue continuing to fatten the pockets of existing owners, it is time for the league to open the door for another group of billionaires to take over new franchises. There is plenty of talent out there in MLB, so much so that teams are allowing players who can help them now, like Gregory Polanco of the Pirates and Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals, to rot in the minors to avoid salary issues in the future. If owners are so willing to obviously take on losses to save a player, how about players get taken away through an expansion draft. Now is the time. Expansion should be upon us, and whoever the next commissioner of baseball is going to be, it would be a huge splash to add two franchises as his first act as the league’s new fearless leader

 

 

 

Questions About Velocity

It has been a pretty busy month of baseball to this point. There are also plenty of pitchers who may have a leg up on the competition in the month of May. Several standouts in May have presented an interesting question.

"Diamondbacks

How about these dominant names:

Phillip Hughes: 3-0 (5 starts), 1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 33.1 IP, 24:0 K:BB

Tim Hudson: 1-1 (4 starts), 1.46 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 24.2 IP, 13:4 K:BB

Ryan Vogelsong: 3-1 (5 starts), 1.64 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 33 IP, 29:9 K:BB

Bronson Arroyo: 3-1 (5 starts), 1.73 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 36.1 IP, 24:5 K:BB

Wily Peralta: 1-3 (5 starts), 1.69 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 32 IP, 24:9 K:BB

Dallas Keuchel: 4-1 (5 starts), 1.79 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 40.1 IP, 31:4 K:BB

Mike Leake: 0-2 (5 starts), 1.77 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 35.2 IP, 26:8 K:BB

Pitching is a tricky part of the game. With so many injuries, it is fair to wonder what the wear and tear of long-term success has on a player’s future, and we may be seeing that now with Verlander, specifically. However, for all of the mediocrity that comes with the 85.8 mph average fastball that Bronson Arroyo is throwing this season, perhaps plus-plus velocity continues to be overrated. In fact, as it heats up in May, it is fair to look at pitchers like Hughes (92.1 mph), Hudson (89.0 mph), Vogelsong (90.2 mph), Peralta (95.3 mph), Keuchel (89.3 mph), and Leake (90.8 mph) and wonder if the fastball is really all that important.

Consider the top 20 fastball velocities in baseball since the start of the 2010 season. The numbers range from 95.7 to 93.2 and how many of them have had elbow issues in their careers – 11.

Andrew Cashner (5/2014), Stephen Strasburg (9/2010 and 10/2013), David Price (4/2008), Chris Sale (4/2014), Josh Johnson (7/2007, 10/2013, and 4/2014), Alfredo Simon (5/2009), Jordan Zimmermann (8/2009), Matt Garza (4/2008 and 7/2012), Matt Moore (7/2013 and 4/2014), Edinson Volquez (8/2009), and Luke Hochevar (3/2014), have each spent time on the disabled list due to elbow issues, with Strasburg, Johnson, Simon, Zimmermann, Moore, Volquez, and Hochevar undergoing Tommy John surgeries.

While there are names, like Peralta and Hughes, who are thriving still with 92 to 95 mph fastballs, could it just be another inning before the elbow snaps?

"Hall

Bronson Arroyo has tossed 2,339.1 innings in his career without a single stint on the disabled list. Greg Maddux tossed over 5,000 innings in his 23-year career with one disabled list stint, missing 10 games in 2002 due to a nerve issue, while changing speeds and utilizing movement to become a four-time Cy Young winner. Mark Buehrle is up to 2,956 innings and 195 wins without a stint on the disabled list without an electric fastball. Yordano Ventura and his 96 mph average fastball lasted all of 72.2 innings before injuring his elbow.

For all of the stuff and electricity that is added to the ballpark experience due to an incredible, triple-digit fastball, the torque and force on the elbow will continue to be a single pitch away from snapping the ulnar collateral ligament. There certainly are some impressive names on the list for top 20 velocities since 2010, but when half of them lose time due to injury, is it really worth it? Scouting speed seems ok with Billy Hamilton or Micah Johnson, but the vulnerability of pitchers due to the focus on fastball velocity is risky business these days in baseball.

Super Two Avoidance…Get to Know Oscar Taveras

Cardinals' Future Star Oscar Taveras
Cardinals’ Future Star Oscar Taveras

If you don’t know who Oscar Taveras is at this point, you should ask your internet service provider to explain how you’ve had Wi-Fi go through the boulder that you’ve been living under. Taveras has been a top prospect for three seasons ranking 23rd in 2012, 2nd in 2013, and 3rd in 2014 prior to each season (Baseball Prospectus), gaining all kinds of impressive comps along the way, including Vladimir Guerrero. The left-handed hitting outfielder was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in November of 2008 at the tender age of 16. Much like Gregory Polanco, who I wrote about on Wednesday, he appears stuck in the minors due to the financial constraints of the Super Two process, although…the Cardinals do have better talent blocking Taveras than what the Pirates have blocking Polanco, as Matt Adams and Allen Craig seem much more capable than Jose Tabata and Travis Snider.

Regardless of why Taveras is in the minors, he won’t be there for long. A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Derrick Goold quoted Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak saying that the 21-year-old Taveras could come up June 4 when the Cards begin a seven-game road trip in American League parks (Royals, Blue Jays, and Rays), where they’ll need a DH. Bringing up Taveras would allow the club to rotate Adams and Craig in the DH role, while plugging the youngster into the lineup. The only problem will be – what do they do after that series?

Matt Adams turns 26 in August and posted an .839 OPS in 2013. He’s still slashing at .316/.331/.483 this season, but the “Cardinal Way” isn’t showing up in his five walks in 181 plate appearances, including a 25-game and 98 plate appearance stretch from April 12 to May 9 when he didn’t take a single free pass. He still has plenty of offensive potential, but his defensive limitations (being strictly a first baseman due to his 6’3″, 260 pound frame) could lead to an eventual trade, especially with Allen Craig around.

Speaking of Craig, he, too, could see a change of position if Taveras comes up for good. Craig possessing the five-year, $31 million extension will be the player out of the two current Cardinals to stick. His above-average production over the last two-and-a-half years is great, but his injury issues continue to prevent him from being truly elite. The versatility that Craig has shown in the past would be limited, but plugging him in at first base if and when Taveras comes up for good could play a role in his health over the rest of his contract.

Sweet Swing...
Sweet Swing…

More interesting than moving Craig and/or Adams around would be a move or takeover of center field by Taveras. St. Louis center fielders have combined for a .247/.324/.380 triple slash (.704 OPS), with Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay lacking in overall production as the primary culprits. It is debatable as to whether Taveras is a long-term solution in center, but he could certainly handle the position this season, while boosting the St. Louis offense with his potential production along the way.

If he’s up, he needs to play. Taveras isn’t really a player that you keep on the bench and utilize in a 4th outfielder role. He has a nice list of accomplishments:

  • Two-time Futures Game selection
  • 2010 Appalachian League Post-Season All-Star
  • 2011 Baseball America Low-A All-Star
  • 2012 Texas League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star
  • 2012 Texas League Player of the Year
  • 2012 Baseball America Minor League All-Star
  • 2012 Topps Double-A All-Star
  • 2013 Dominican Winter League Rookie of the Year

All of that…and he’s 21. All of that…and he played in only 47 games in 2013 due to an ankle injury.

Beyond his accomplishments lie his tools, which haven’t even peaked yet. Here is what the scouts say about Taveras:

Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus: “Elite hit tool potential; natural feel for barreling the baseball; elite hands; elite bat speed; controlled chaos in the swing; batting title future; power will flow from the hit tool; raw power is near elite; game power likely to play above plus; arm is strong; good athlete with instincts for the game; average run; average (or better) glove; special offensive profile.”

Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com: “He is a gifted hitter and has proven that at every level of the Minor Leagues. He utilizes an aggressive approach and consistently barrels up balls, driving them to all fields. He generates impressive bat speed, producing above-average power that plays well in games.Taveras has a strong arm and average speed. He covers ground well in the outfield and the Cardinals have used him in center field in the Minor Leagues. He probably fits best in right field and will get a chance to prove he belongs in St. Louis before long.”

John Sickels, MinorLeagueBall.com: “He’s going to be a monster as long as health issues don’t get in the way. Left-handed-hitting Vlad Guerrero is the ceiling here.”

Taveras has been spectacular throughout his career:

Year Age AgeDif Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2009 17 -1.4 Cardinals FRk 65 272 237 35 61 13 8 1 42 9 28 36 .257 .338 .392 .731 93
2010 18 -2.7 2 Teams Rk 60 260 241 40 73 14 3 8 45 9 13 46 .303 .342 .485 .828 117
2010 18 -2.8 Johnson City Rk 53 229 211 39 68 13 3 8 43 8 12 41 .322 .362 .526 .889 111
2010 18 -1.7 Cardinals Rk 7 31 30 1 5 1 0 0 2 1 1 5 .167 .194 .200 .394 6
2011 19 -2.6 Quad Cities A 78 347 308 52 119 27 5 8 62 1 32 52 .386 .444 .584 1.028 180
2012 20 -4.1 Springfield AA 124 531 477 83 153 37 7 23 94 10 42 56 .321 .380 .572 .953 273
2013 21 -5.9 2 Teams AAA-Rk 47 188 174 25 54 13 0 5 32 5 10 22 .310 .348 .471 .819 82
2013 21 1.4 Cardinals Rk 1 2 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000 2
2013 21 -5.9 Memphis AAA 46 186 173 25 53 12 0 5 32 5 9 22 .306 .341 .462 .803 80
2014 22 -4.7 Memphis AAA 42 180 166 27 52 13 1 6 34 1 12 22 .313 .361 .512 .873 85
6 Seasons 416 1778 1603 262 512 117 24 51 309 35 137 234 .319 .375 .518 .893 830
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/22/2014.

The .893 OPS is just scratching the surface when you consider that nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances came when most American players were high school juniors or high school seniors.

Oscar Taveras has had some high expectations for quite some time, but he has lived up to them at each stop. The comparisons seem unreasonable, but he deserves the opportunity to prove them wrong at the major-league level. The time is coming in St. Louis where Taveras is on the field every day. For a team that has appeared in four World Series in the last ten years, this is just a slap in the face to the rest of the league. Prepare yourselves for greatness, but don’t expect miracles right away. Taveras will be a very special player.