Don’t Sleep on These 12 Sleepers for 2017

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

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

A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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

Carlos Gomez, OF, Texas Rangers

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

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

Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

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

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

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

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

Yasmany Tomas, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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

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

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

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

Jharel Cotton, RHP, Oakland Athletics

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

James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners

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

Daniel Norris, LHP, Detroit Tigers

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

Robbie Ray, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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

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

Jose Peraza, 2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds

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

Joe Panik, 2B, San Francisco Giants

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

Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Cincinnati Reds

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

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Venditte Switches Up Everything

 

The Oakland Athletics are calling up switch-pitcher Pat Venditte from Triple-A. The soon-to-be 30-year-old has spent eight seasons in the minors since being drafted by the New York Yankees in the 45th round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of Creighton University. He has logged 417.2 innings over 259 appearances (nine starts), compiling a 2.37 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.

Venditte landed in Oakland on a minor league contract on November 19th. Perhaps it was just another Billy Beane trick, but Venditte’s ability to pitch from both sides effectively, at least in his extensive minor league career, would appear to be a valuable asset for any club.

The oddity of a switch pitcher led to MLB developing a rule specifically for Venditte:

(f) (8.01(f)) Ambidextrous Pitchers A pitcher must indicate visually to the umpire-in-chief, the batter and any runners the hand with which he intends to pitch, which may be done by wearing his glove on the other hand while touching the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher is not permitted to pitch with the other hand until the batter is retired, the batter becomes a runner, the inning ends, the batter is substituted for by a pinch-hitter or the pitcher incurs an injury. In the event a pitcher switches pitching hands during an at-bat because he has suffered an injury, the pitcher may not, for the remainder of the game, pitch with the hand from which he has switched. The pitcher shall not be given the opportunity to throw any preparatory pitches after switching pitching hands. Any change of pitching hands must be indicated clearly to the umpire-in-chief (MLB, 36).

In fact, only Tony Mullane, in 1882, has been a full-time ambidextrous pitcher in MLB. One pitcher, Greg Harris in 1995, faced two batters with his left hand, walking one of them, but he recorded the other 1,466.2 innings of his career from the right side.

To get a better idea of Venditte’s story, you can view the ESPN E:60 special on him (below), but he will be intriguing to keep an eye on this weekend as Oakland begins a three-game series in Boston against the Red Sox. In between the NBA Finals, the Belmont, and having a really nice Saturday at the Home Depot, watch history take place in MLB.

 

2015 Season Previews: Oakland Athletics

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!

Oakland Athletics

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 83-79 (3rd in AL West, 10th in MLB)

Manager: Bob Melvin (325-260 in four seasons with Oakland, 818-768 in 11 seasons overall)

Top Three Players: SS Ben Zobrist (4.3), 3B Brett Lawrie (3.7), C Stephen Vogt (2.8)

Bounce-back Player: OF Josh Reddick

After having a breakout 2012, when he hit 32 home runs in his age-25 season, Reddick has battled injuries the last two seasons. In 2013, it was his right wrist and in 2014 it was his right knee, and he’s already dealt with an oblique injury this spring. It would be easy to turn and run from him considering his laundry list of injuries, but Reddick is quite capable of the type of numbers that he had in 2012. He may have lost Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes since this time last year, but the A’s have an interesting compilation of versatile talent. Reddick won’t boost any fantasy leagues with his batting average, but the power is huge and with offense down, Reddick is a nice, overlooked power source.

Hahn will be a solid contributor in Oakland Courtesy: sfgate.com
Hahn will be a solid contributor in Oakland
Courtesy: sfgate.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Jesse Hahn

A sixth round pick in 2010 by the Rays out of the collegiate baseball hotbed that is the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech), Hahn moved quickly before reaching the majors with the Padres last season, tossing all of 163.1 innings in the minors prior to logging 73.1 in San Diego. Hahn was acquired from the Friars for Derek Norris, one of the flurry of moves by busy beaver Billy Beane. Though he had Tommy John surgery in August of 2010, he has remained free and clear of injuries since then, while demonstrating the ability to miss bats with his 8.6 K:9 last season in the majors. Hahn will start the second game of the season for the A’s, and he, like many before him, will post very impressive numbers in the pitcher-friendly confines of Oakland Coliseum.

Offseason Overview: Busy, busy Billy Beane spent another offseason making moves to remake his ballclub, raising eyebrows by dealing an MVP candidate before erasing all of the question marks and leaving his players and fans excited for another season of contention. Gone from last season’s roster are Jon Lester and Jason Hammel (via free agency), and Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, and Brandon Moss (via trade). Those spots have been filled by Hahn, Lawrie, Zobrist, Marcus Semien, and Kendall Graveman, all acquired through trades, and Billy Butler, signed through free agency. There isn’t a rebuild mode in Beane’s vocabulary, as he found unique ways to acquire useful talent to reload his roster.

The Verdict: Beane will look like a genius when this retooling works out. There isn’t an “if” in that statement because this team is deep and very talented. While the system isn’t loaded with top-notch minor league talent, but you can never count out a random acquisition of prospects when you have the leadership that you do in Oakland. A solid, young rotation, anchored by RHP Sonny Gray, will continue to keep the opposition from scoring, just like their home park. The offense doesn’t have a Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera to haunt the dreams of pitchers, but it seems like the entire lineup is capable of above average production at their respective positions. Oakland is a playoff-caliber team, capable of several wins better than their PECOTA-projected 83. Look for another contender by the bay again in 2015.

Zito to Oakland: A Return to Moneyball?

Can Zito rediscover his stuff in Oakland?
Can Zito rediscover his stuff in Oakland?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Designated Runners: Why They Make Sense

Washington's only baseball card, and the only one with PR as a position
Washington’s only baseball card, and the only one with Pinch Run as a position

Billy Hamilton had his first official at-bats on Tuesday night in the Chicago Cubs’ victory over the Cincinnati Reds. He went 0-for-2, lining out and grounding out to short in his two plate appearances. So ends the saga of the relationship between the Reds’ speedy, future centerfielder and former Oakland Athletics pinch-runner Herb Washington.

Designated Runner

Herb Washington played for Oakland in 1974 and 1975. He appeared in 105 games over his two seasons with Oakland and never, I repeat NEVER received an at-bat OR played the field in a Major League game. Washington was nothing more than a pinch-runner. He stole 31 bases, he was caught stealing 17 times, and he scored 33 runs. In five postseason games, Washington was caught stealing twice and didn’t steal a single base or score a run. So much for running being the only part of his game. Washington was done with baseball at the age of 23, playing his last game on May 4, 1975.

Washington didn’t have any baseball experience before winning a World Series as a member of the 1974 A’s club. He was a world class sprinter, having won seven Big Ten track titles and breaking the 50 and 60-yard dash records several times, according to the ever useful Wikipedia. His last major highlight was really a low point, getting picked off in Game Two of the 1974 World Series by Mike Marshall of the Los Angeles Dodgers:

While Washington’s career didn’t really go far, what would happen if teams decided to use a roster spot on a speedy reserve for a playoff push, the month of September, or an entire season?

The 25-man Roster

Hamilton4From Opening Day through August 31, Major League Baseball clubs can only have 25 men on their roster, unless they’re playing a double-header when the club is allowed to have a 26th man. With a five-man starting rotation and eight position players, clubs tend to fill the remaining roster spots with a second catcher, versatile position players who can handle multiple infield and/or outfield positions, as well as six to eight pitchers in the bullpen. During these seven long months, it would seem nearly impossible for a team in 2013 to carry a player that would be a designated runner. Given the state of the modern-day bullpen, the need for left-handed specialists (LOOGY), long relievers, setup men, and a closer make roster management a very challenging science.

However, once the postseason rolls around and teams are desperate for runs, it seems more likely that a runner could be kept on a playoff roster. A lot of that has to do with the fact that three or four-man rotations are used without the short series that are played, allowing the teams to have a little more roster flexibility.

Billy Hamilton will be a lock on the playoff roster for the Cincinnati Reds (if they make the playoffs, which appears likely). His speed is absolutely game-changing.

The 40-man Roster

From September 1 through the end of the season, clubs are able to carry up to 40 players on their active roster. The players who are called up must be on the club’s 40-man roster, which occasionally requires tinkering to accommodate. During this time, teams are able to rest veterans and get extended looks at young players, while managers have extremely deep bullpens and benches. The ability to pinch-hit, pinch-run, or have a left-handed pitcher come in to face a single left-handed batter, are all increased during these times. Reds manager Dusty Baker has twice benefited from pinch-running with Hamilton, as the Reds were able to win two games just last week when Hamilton stole second base immediately after entering the game and scoring on a single by third baseman Todd Frazier in both cases.

What If…

Usain Bolt was signed by a Major League club…today.

The team wouldn’t be able to use him on the playoff roster since he was added to the roster after September 1, but how much could he help a team? He would need to be successful at a greater rate than Herb Washington was, but the Reds have won two games in September because of Billy Hamilton’s speed, but when every game counts, especially with five teams within three games of the second Wild Card in the American League, why not take a risk?

I have made the argument before about the need for relievers to be capable of pitching additional innings, like Mike Marshall did during his career, and with wins being important all season long, would it be worth a team carrying a speedy-only talent over an entire 162-game schedule? If the win is worth something in September, isn’t that same win worth equal amounts in April, May, or June?

Considering how dominant pitching has become, a designated runner seems like a useful, late-inning tool for managers. When extremely young starting pitchers like Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez dominate the opposition in the manner that they did in 2013, it seems logical to counter that dominance with speed. By utilizing players like Billy Hamilton, Jonathan Villar, or minor-leaguer Micah Johnson (who stole 84 bases over three levels this season) to steal bases and victories throughout the season, it could allow for fewer desperate situations in September as teams fight for single spots in the playoffs.

BoltWhy not Usain Bolt? He may be all that is needed for one win, and that one win could be all that is needed to play for a World Series title.


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In Case You Haven’t Noticed…

It’s late in the baseball season and there are a lot of things that could be distracting you, such as following up on Johnny Manziel’s battle with the NCAA, completing your 21 fantasy football drafts, and wondering who will be Ace or Gary when you attend a Halloween party as the Incredibly Gay Duo. While all of those things are important, I present to you the world of baseball that you may have missed due to your fascination of Miley twerking.

  • SorianoYankees’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano leads MLB with 42 RBI and is tied with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the lead in home runs (13) since the All-Star break. The Yankees are 21-16 since Soriano returned to New York and the Yanks are 2.5 games behind Tampa for the second Wild Card spot with 23 games remaining, including seven games against Boston (a four-game series begins today in New York) and three against the Rays.
  • New Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd is leading the majors in total bases since the All-Star break with 101 (he is tied with teammate Andrew McCutchen and San Diego outfielder Will Venable), and he is tied with Minnesota Twins shortstop Brian Dozier for extra-base hits since the break with 26. Byrd will look to continue his torrid pace in helping lead the Pirates to the NL Central title after the Buccos have already guaranteed their fans with the club’s first winning season since 1992.
  • Washington Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth looked like a total waste of a seven-year, $126 million deal after his horrendous first season, 2011, in the nation’s capital, but he has hit .311/.392/.487 over the last two seasons while battling various injuries. If Werth continues his production next season and the Nats get a full, healthy season out of Bryce Harper and their very good pitching staff, the letdown from 2013 will be all forgiven in 2014 with an improved season. Werth, by the way, is 8th in MLB in OPS (.920).
  • Toronto outfielder Rajai Davis doesn’t receive a lot of praise or playing time, but he has 40 stolen bases in just 93 games. With his .313 OBP, Davis has made an appearance on the bases just 93 times in 301 plate appearances. When you take away the two triples and four home runs (since he hasn’t stolen home and he can’t steal a base after a home run), it means that Davis has successfully stolen a base in 46 percent of his appearances on base. With his speed, who needed to wait for Billy Hamilton for an impact base runner?
  • Davis2There are only six players with 30 or more home runs (Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Pedro Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, and Adam Dunn) after 22 players reached the tier in 2012 and 24 players reached in 2011. With 17 players within six homers or reaching 30, and several within that group unlikely to do so (I’m looking at you J.J. Hardy and the injured Domonic Brown), the top-tier of sluggers appears to be a very rare breed with pitching being so dominant.

Speaking of pitching…

  • Max Scherzer is sitting at 19-2, but the names of other starting pitchers ranked near the top in wins is quite surprising: Jorge De La Rosa (16), Francisco Liriano (15), Chris Tillman (15), and Bartolo Colon (14) rank in the top eight in the strange statistic. While some writers will look at the win as valuable in determining who should win the Cy Young, it clearly has little use in determining who has been the best pitcher.
  • It’s somewhat disappointing to see numbers fall with the drop in velocity, but that is exactly what has happened to former Cy Young favorites like Justin Verlander (12-10, 3.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and C.C. Sabathia (13-11, 4.86 ERA, 1.35 WHIP). With the fall from grace, though, has come exciting young arms like Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Matt Harvey (R.I.P.). Unfortunately for the aging arms, it doesn’t appear to be getting better, as Sabathia has a 6.88 ERA in the second half, while Verlander has a more respectable 3.77 ERA since the break.
  • FernandezSpeaking of those young arms and specifically Jose Fernandez, the young, Cuban-born right-hander has been filthy in the second half. His 0.83 WHIP is tops among all starting pitchers and the 70:13 K:BB in 54 innings is downright nasty. With the Marlins possibly looking to deal their only source of offense, Giancarlo Stanton, this winter, Fernandez will likely continue to post ridiculous numbers without wins going forward, although he has won five games since the break.
  • For all of those still sitting back and waiting for Chris Sale‘s arm to explode, it hasn’t happened. The White Sox ace has been even better in 2013 than he was last season, posting a 2.97 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while improving his strikeout rate AND his walk rate on a per nine inning basis. After being locked up for five-years, $32.5 million (with team options totalling $26 million over 2018 and 2019), the Pale Hose look very wise in their string-bean investment.
  • R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball didn’t carry over to the AL East. The veteran right-hander has a 4.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP after posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP from 2010 through 2012 with the New York Mets. The small parks, the strong teams, and the patient hitters are all a factor in the decline, but when you don’t really know which way the ball is going when using a trick pitch, that kind of makes things difficult, too.
  • DarvishYu Darvish is having an absolutely stupid season. He leads MLB with his 12.0 K/9 and he has struck out 240 of the 722 batters that he has faced (33.2 percent). While some Cy Young voters will look at Scherzer’s 19 wins and look stupid years from now, it is the unhittable Darvish, who has allowed 124 hits in 179.2 innings and a .192 BAA, who deserves the award.