Cole Hamels to Texas: Can the Rangers Contend in 2016…or NOW

Courtesy: sportsworldreport.com
Rangers new LHP Hamels could be the ace the club needed to contend this year…or is it for next year? Courtesy: sportsworldreport.com

A year after losing 95 games, the Rangers have been solid in 2015. At 48-52, they sit just four games out of the second Wild Card in the American League. Needless to say, if they weren’t 14-26 against the AL West, they’d probably be in a better spot, but, even after dealing with major injuries and several changes within the organization, Jeff Banister has led the club to respectability.

Rangers GM Jon Daniels has done a solid job of acquiring talent without crippling the franchise with a Joey Votto-like contract, landing Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, and Josh Hamilton in deals; however, he saved his best work in the deal that he made yesterday for LHP Cole Hamels.

The Rangers were able to acquire Hamels without giving up their top two prospects, 3B Joey Gallo and OF Nomar Mazara, while dumping the $28 million that LHP Matt Harrison was owed over the next two seasons (including his option buyout for 2018). Hamels, who is guaranteed $76.5 million between 2016 and 2019, will anchor a staff that will include the returning from Tommy John surgery RHP Yu Darvish, another several months removed from the same surgery LHP Martin Perez, and a healthy LHP Derek Holland.

Clearly, the pitching staff is loaded, if healthy, but Hamels could be enough to get the Rangers into the playoffs this season. The Rangers are getting some solid pitching – you just have to dig deeper to see it:

  • Courtesy: nolanwritin.com
    Texas RHP Gallardo has had an excellent season – just don’t ask his FIP Courtesy: nolanwritin.com

    If you take away the two starts that RHP Colby Lewis was obliterated in (9 ER on 5/27 vs. CLE, 10 ER on 7/5 vs. LAA), he would have a 3.29 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 125.2 IP – NOT the inflated 4.42 ERA and 1.19 WHIP that he has in 132.1 IP. After leading the AL in losses in 2014 (14), Lewis is 11-4 in his 21 starts – not bad for a $4 million investment.

  • Gallardo, who was acquired for INF Luis Sardinas, RHP Corey Knebel, and distant RHP prospect Marcos Diplan, has revived his career in the unlikeliest of places. His 3.19 ERA, the best of his MLB career, is surprising, especially since he has posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career (6.2) and is walking 3.4 batters per nine this season. His 24.8% hard hit ball rate ranks 14th in MLB, but the 6.8% HR/FB is much lower than his career rate (10.9%) and would seem unsustainable as he heads towards free agency after the season. While he is providing a lot of value for the time being, he, much like free-agent-to-be Lewis, may not be a factor next season.

Adding Hamels to those performances could be enough to get the Rangers over the hump; however, it isn’t certain that those performances will continue to be enough, as youngsters Perez and RHP Nick Martinez have struggled of late.

Courtesy: hardballtalk.com
Rangers 3B Beltre has fallen on hard times, but can he rebound to avoid the worst OPS of his career? Courtesy: hardballtalk.com

As always, the Rangers have strong offensive parts. 1B Mitch Moreland is having a career-best season, Fielder has regained his stroke after missing most of the 2014 season after having neck surgery, and OF Delino DeShields, Jr. has provided solid speed and on-base skills, but the decline of 3B Adrian Beltre (career-worst .677 OPS) and the unpredictable nature of what to expect from Hamilton (.719 OPS), along with the collapse of CF Leonys Martin, has left the Rangers offense limping.

While Hamels is a tremendous addition, the Rangers need to get production out of the aforementioned players, as well as overpaid, glove-only SS Elvis Andrus, in order to become real competitors. If there was a roster spot for Gallo to step into, without him having to learn a new position, it would be ideal for the offense, who, despite their struggles, rank 8th in MLB in runs scored and 11th in MLB in OPS.

Perhaps the move for Hamels will light a fire under the team, but, even with Hamels as their ace in 2016, the Rangers have several question marks, namely aging players and health, to address prior to being labeled as favorites. On paper, however, giving up some talented-yet-flawed prospects in Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams, was certainly worth the club’s major acquisition.

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2015 Season Previews: Texas Rangers

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! 

Texas Rangers

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 82-80 (4th in AL West, 15th in MLB)

Manager: Jeff Banister (1st season with Texas, no prior experience)

Top Three Players: 3B Adrian Beltre (5.2), RHP Yu Darvish (4.5, out for season after Tommy John surgery), SS Elvis Andrus (2.9)

Bounce-back Player: 1B Prince Fielder

After having surgery to fuse his neck back together last May, Fielder returns to Texas in hopes of completing his first full season in the Arlington launchpad. After playing in 42 games in 2014 and posting a .247/.360/.360, Fielder is a huge bounce-back candidate, as he enters his age-31 season and looks to get back to the .300/.400/.500 lines that we are so used to seeing from him. Some may balk at his ability to make a full return, while questioning the drop in production in Detroit and continuing to label the bulky first baseman as a horrible-bodied decliner, but you shouldn’t be that guy. Fielder missed all of 13 team games from 2006 through 2013, and his ability to stay healthy and productive shouldn’t hinge on his surgery and recovery. He is hitting the ball well thus far in spring, albeit without much power, but, once the season starts, look for Fielder to be an offensive force again in 2015.

Odor is a potential star in the making Courtesy: minorleagueball.com
Odor is a potential star in the making
Courtesy: minorleagueball.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 2B Rougned Odor

In the race to take second base in Texas, Odor has been significantly assisted by the shoulder woes of former can’t-miss middle infield prospect Jurickson Profar…so says people who don’t think that Odor is special, but that isn’t the case. Odor has been very productive throughout his career, posting a .280/.336/.425 minor league line over 1,436 plate appearances. He doesn’t walk a lot, but he isn’t a free-swinging hacker, striking out just 71 times in his 417 plate appearances in 2014. Oh, and did I mention that he was just 20 years old in 2014 during his debut? The injury to Profar forced the Rangers hands, but Odor responded with 30 extra-base hits in his rookie season. With a ceiling of 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases, Odor could be overlooked due to the gluttony of options at the keystone position, but he is certainly capable of filling that position over an entire season if you feel like you are getting “stuck” with the talented, young player.

Offseason Overview: The Rangers lost Alex Rios and Neal Cotts, but they added LHP Ross Detwiler to fill a possible swing-role in the rotation/bullpen, while gaining a full season of Prince Fielder. The addition of RHP Yovani Gallardo will help the suddenly crippled top of the rotation, as health will continue to be an issue in 2015 with the club already losing their ace, Darvish, for the entire season, while hoping for productive seasons out of Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre as they continue into their thirties. Beyond those moves and losses, the Rangers had a pretty uneventful offseason, as they lean on already present bodies and seem to be hoping that their once elite farm system can continue to replenish the system with affordable talent.

The Verdict: After losing Darvish, you could assume that the Rangers would drop to approximately 77 wins this season, so they are more likely to finish towards the bottom of the AL West than anywhere near the top. With Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, and Darvish on the shelf at the start of the season, the already tricky pitching situation (due to the offensive play of the home ballpark) will look more uninspiring with Nick Martinez, Colby Lewis, and Detwiler likely to be expected to fill major roles in the rotation. Choo will be moving back to right field with Ryan Rua expected to take over in left to provide some right-handed pop, while Leonys Martin will continue to improve and become a star-level producer in center. Mitch Moreland has gone from a potential outcast to the lead role at the DH spot, while Elvis Andrus continues to be a financial burden (but that has been the case since they signed him to the horrific deal). It isn’t all bad in Texas, but they’ll be looking to outscore their opponents on a nightly basis, which may not be possible with who is responsible for teeing up the ball when their pitchers are on the mound.

Brewing Something Sneaky-Good in Milwaukee

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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.

How the Cincinnati Reds Ruined Their Window

Over the last nine games of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were 2-7, including their National League Wild Card loss in Pittsburgh, which would be their fifth loss against the Pirates in the nine game span. Needless to say, after a disappointing collapse in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the collapse at the end of the 2013 season wasn’t pleasing to the fans, or the front office. Dusty Baker was canned shortly thereafter, replaced by pitching coach Bryan Price, who, in his first year as manager, has been dealt with the task of rebuilding a roster with a lot of question marks into a perennial power, all the while continuing to look up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built a system of winning from within.

Now, the Reds must replace their lead-off hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, who only managed a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs scored while reaching base 305 times by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch, after watching Choo run to the Texas Rangers in free agency for seven-years, $130 million.

BruceCertainly, it wasn’t within the budget to re-up with Choo at $18.7 million per year, not with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips combining to make $33 million in 2014, $38 million in 2015, and $45.5 million in 2016, that is, of course, if one of them isn’t traded. The Reds have long had a payroll between $80 and $100 million under current owner Bob Castellini, but is it time to start questioning what the long-term goal of the franchise is, after sputtering around the free agent market while trying to replace their best lead-off hitter since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were flapping and flopping around Riverfront Stadium. Whether television contracts and Major League Baseball Advanced Media revenue will allow the “small-market” Reds to increase their payroll further is a valid question, but with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake under team-control through 2015, and Homer Bailey headed towards free agency after the 2014 season, how else can the team remain contenders, especially with St. Louis constantly reloading and the Chicago Cubs reaching their contention window, just as the Reds is becoming questionable?

This offseason was difficult, clearly. The Reds couldn’t be in on Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any other big-name free agent, but with very little money to spend, GM Walt Jocketty could have been more active in the trade market, or at least the minor league free agent route. Dick Williams, the VP of Baseball Operations, told me during the Reds’ caravan that the club lost out on Grady Sizemore due to his relationship with one of Boston’s trainers, who had been with Cleveland during his time there. While Sizemore wasn’t a lock to produce, or stay healthy, he fit the bill as a low-cost centerfield option. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, though, at least he hadn’t shown those skills since his last somewhat healthy season, 2009. Which left the club with little choice but to give their in-house candidate, Billy Hamilton, the job.

The issue with Hamilton, though, is that, though he has otherworldly speed, is he capable of thriving long-term in center, a position that he has been playing since the start of the 2012 season. His experience in Triple-A left a lot to be desired, as he posted a .256/.308/.343 triple-slash, stealing 75 bases and scoring 75 runs in 123 games for Louisville. We all know about his brief September audition, when Dusty Baker allowed him to receive all of 22 plate appearances, while Baker pinch-ran him often to allow the speedy Mississippian to accumulate 13 stolen bases in 14 tries.

In addition to plugging Hamilton into center, here is the laundry list of exciting moves that the Reds have made this winter:

October: Signed LHP Trevor Reckling and RHP Timothy Adleman to minor league contracts; signed OF Jason Bourgeois to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training;

November: Signed LHP Manny Parra, 2B Skip Schumaker, and C Brayan Pena to major league contracts; Signed OF Mike Wilson, LHP Nick Schmidt, and RHP Ross Ismail to minor league contracts; Signed C Max Ramirez, LHP Lee Hyde, and 3B Rey Navarro to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

December: Signed 3B Ruben Gotay and RHP Trevor Bell to minor league contracts; Invited non-roster RHP Jose Diaz and 2B Kristopher Negron to Spring Training; Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang, C Corky Miller, and SS Argenis Diaz to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training; Acquired LHP David Holmberg from Arizona for Ryan Hanigan;

January: Sign RHP Bob Keppel, RHP Sean Black, OF Thomas Neal, LHP Jeff Francis, 2B John Tolisano, and 2B Hernan Iribarren to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

So, the club lost Shin-Soo Choo, Xavier Paul, and Derrick Robinson from last season’s 90-72 squad, so why should fans feel like this offseason is a failure?

Well, Choo’s production won’t be replaced by Hamilton, speed or no speed. Even if Hamilton increases his on-base percentage to .340 over 600 plate appearances, he doesn’t have the patient approach that Choo had, and, while he can move himself from base to base with his wheels, he just won’t be on as often. If Choo’s production is a clear downgrade, where are they upgrading?

Mesoraco1Is Devin Mesoraco set for a breakout season, replacing the putrid production that Ryan Hanigan provided in 2013? Is Todd Frazier going to post an .829 OPS, as he did in 2012, or something similar to his .721 OPS from 2013? Is Zack Cozart even worth starting anymore, given his career .680 OPS over 1,256 plate appearances? Ryan Ludwick had a nice 2012 and his 2013 was ruined due to his Opening Day shoulder injury, but was he ever worth a two-year, $15 million extension, especially when you consider it was back-loaded with an option for 2015, making him guaranteed $13 million, including his 2015 buyout? Brandon Phillips, 103 RBI or not, saw his OPS fall to .705 in 2013. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like locks for success, but Bruce continues to be one of the streakiest players in all of baseball, while Votto’s patience seems to have overtaken his ability to actually produce at his 2010 MVP level ever again.

As far as the rotation, it remains pretty deep, but once you get past the top five, there are question marks. While that wouldn’t be a huge deal for most clubs, you have to remember that Johnny Cueto only had one full season and he immediately got hurt in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Bailey, Latos, and Leake are very good options, and Tony Cingrani was impressive, even with just one good pitch, but having Wang, Francis, and nothing else as fallback options is rough, which may lead to the club rushing top prospect Robert Stephenson if there was an injury in 2014, not to mention how the rotation is going to function if Bailey leaves via free agency or Cueto’s 2015 option isn’t picked up. Who will be starting games and why don’t the Reds have options waiting like the Cardinals?

The bullpen is still built to dominate, as Aroldis Chapman is as shutdown as it gets. A full season of Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, a former closer in his own right, serving as a setup man, and J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, and Alfredo Simon rounding out the group helps the Reds bullpen look tremendous for another season…but a bullpen doesn’t have a lot of value if they aren’t protecting more leads than deficits.

The Reds haven’t been active enough. The Reds haven’t drafted enough high-ceiling talent. The Reds haven’t had enough success on the international market.

Braun1The Reds are a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers, locking up talent for just a little while, and then watching that talent and the contention window fly way in the breeze. You see, the Brewers were a competitive team until Prince Fielder left. They traded a lot of good, young talent to acquire Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia to help them contend. They bought in to that window and went for it. It is hard for a small-market to commit a lot of money to talent like Greinke and Sabathia, only to watch them leave for big-markets once they hit free agency, but the revenue that comes with a playoff run or a World Series title would alleviate a lot of those dollars. The Brewers, then, went into quite a funk the last several seasons, and they have yet to recover, but the worst part is that their farm system is terrible. If Ryan Braun doesn’t rebound, the club still has Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but the rest of the organization is quite barren.

The Reds are a lot like the Brewers because they haven’t had many successful recent drafts. While a lot of the key names on the major league roster are homegrown, there isn’t a whole lot of depth currently in the minor league system. The Reds did trade a couple of solid young players (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger) to acquire Mat Latos and Choo (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs), but outside of Stephenson and Hamilton, much of the high-level talent was in Low-A or the Rookie levels last season, specifically Phillip Ervin, Jesse Winker, and Nick Travieso.

So, what will happen when 2015 rolls around without an Oscar Taveras waiting to take over left field for Ludwick? Who fills the rotation without a Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon ready to step in for A.J. Burnett? Who will push Todd Frazier at third base without a Kris Bryant or Javier Baez?

While the Reds and Brewers have weaker farm systems and question marks at several spots, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates have done it right. They have managed to stay active and have taken risks with draft picks to make sure that they are getting the talent necessary to maintain solid depth within their organization. Sure, the Pirates and Cubs have had higher picks due to their lack of success over the years, but the Cardinals have a lot of talent and they haven’t had a season below .500 since 2007, while making the playoffs in 11 of the last 18 seasons, including four World Series and two titles.

PujolsThe conservative nature of the current regime in Cincinnati may not look awful as the Reds compete in 2014, but when Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have their high-level minor league talent stepping in within the next two to three seasons, Reds fans will forget about the nightmares that Albert Pujols used to bring, and will instead be kept awake by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, and others who will make their names in the depths of the thriving systems in the rest of the National League Central. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will continue to cry small-market when they have, instead, chosen to be smarter at the right times.

There are still names on the free agent market that can help the Reds contend, but none of them will make them as good as they were last season, in 2012, or in 2010, when Cincinnati has reached the playoffs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to scrap what has been built. Instead, run out there with what you have and hope for the best, which, apparently, was Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini’s plan all offseason.

Why Trading Max Scherzer Makes Sense

Scherzer1
Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer

After his start on June 6, 2012, Max Scherzer was 5-4 with a 5.88 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and was allowing an OPS of .861 to opposing batters over the first 64.1 innings of the 2012 season, while posting an 80:24 K:BB (3.33) . Since that point, Scherzer has gone 32-6 with a 2.80 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, while allowing a triple-slash of  .207/.267/.339 (.606 OPS) over 337.2 innings, posting a 391:92 K:BB (4.25). He won the 2013 American League Cy Young award with some incredible numbers, but heading into 2014, Scherzer will be in the last year of team-control for the Detroit Tigers, arbitration-eligible for the final time after earning $6.725 million in 2013, and he is estimated to earn roughly $14 million.

Certainly, Scherzer will be in line for a huge raise, especially with all of the insane numbers that he has posted while taking the reigns as the Tigers’ best pitcher from Justin Verlander. However, after posting the numbers that he has, would it be best to deal Scherzer right now, when he is viewed as one of the elite pitchers in all of baseball? There are several reasons why such a deal would make sense for Detroit.

Can Scherzer Maintain Success?

Scherzer has posted his incredible numbers over the last year and a half, but what was he doing before that? The first three-plus seasons of his career, Scherzer logged 617 innings and had a 3.92 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP, and while he posted an 8.7 K/9, his inconsistency was baffling for someone with such tremendous stuff. To be fair, it doesn’t always happen right away. Justin Verlander, in all of his greatness, had a 4.11 ERA and 1.33 WHIP over his first 600 innings, posting a 7.2 K/9 before being selected for the All-Star game every year since 2009 and winning a Cy Young and an MVP award; however, Verlander’s breakout came in his age-26 season, not the middle of his age-27 and all of his age-28 season. Now, at 29, will he continue his success?

In 2013, according to Pitch F/X, Scherzer introduced a curveball, which he threw about 6.5 percent of the time, while increasing the use of his changeup to 20.1 percent (up from the 17.5 percent that he threw it in 2012, though he did use it more earlier in his career). Once the league picks up on how he uses those pitches, will they make adjustments?

Additionally, Scherzer has dealt with seven cases of shoulder fatigue or stiffness dating back to his days pitching at Missouri, with fatigue setting in as recently as October of 2012. Even winning a Cy Young in 2013, Scherzer only reached 214.1 innings, his first season eclipsing the 200 inning threshold in five full seasons, so were there concerns from the Diamondbacks and Tigers as to how his workload would impact his previous shoulder issues? After all, the horses and ace-like pitchers in the league, like Verlander, typically reach between 220 and 250 innings in a season, as Adam Wainwright (241.2) and Clayton Kershaw (236)  proved in 2013.

After huge progress over the last 18 months, has Scherzer proven anything or does he need to maintain his 2013 success an additional season prior to worthily achieving the ace label?

The big issue appears to be the raise that Scherzer could earn through arbitration and he only has one year remaining of team control. Should the Tigers cash him in or trade another starting pitching option and ride out Scherzer for one more year?

The Tigers’ Other Trade Options

Fister
Detroit Tigers right-hander Doug Fister

Detroit has a luxury right now, possessing five outstanding starting pitchers in Scherzer, Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello. Verlander’s huge contract and “down year”, if you can call it that, don’t really make him as expendable as Scherzer. Sanchez proved his worth in the first year of his free agent deal, and he appears to be someone that the club will build around as their No.2 starter – behind Verlander. This would leave the Tigers to deal from Fister or Porcello to clear salary to afford Scherzer and acquire prospects.

Fister will be due around $7 million in his second year of arbitration after earning $4 million in 2013. He has been a tremendous addition to the Tigers staff since being acquired in 2011 from the Seattle Mariners, going 32-20 with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 440.2 innings over 70 appearances (68 starts). He turns 30 years old in February but after seeing what James Shields was worth with two years of team-control last season, when he was entering his age-31 season, why wouldn’t the Tigers look to deal him? While Fister doesn’t have the strikeout numbers that Shields’ produced, he would make for a fine No.2 starter on another club.

"Detroit

And what about Porcello? It hasn’t always been pretty for the young right-hander, who has five full seasons under his belt and will still be just 25 on Opening Day. His career 4.51 ERA and 1.39 WHIP appear hideous, but there are a few bright spots. The 2013 season was a huge leap forward for Porcello, as he posted a career best WHIP (1.28), strikeouts per nine (7.2), and strikeout to walk ratio (3.38), while getting a career-best groundball rate (55.3 percent) as he dramatically increased the use of his curveball, used his changeup at the highest rate of his career, and went away from his slider in 2013. Not to mention, his 4.32 ERA came along with a 3.19 xFIP, so what would he do without Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta on the left side of his defense? Due to the major league contract that he received after being drafted in 2007, he was rushed to Detroit, logging just 125 minor league innings before his major league debut in 2009, but that early debut also makes him expensive through arbitration. Porcello, like Fister, has two years of team control remaining, but after earning $5.1 million in 2013, he could earn around $8 million in 2014, without the success that Fister has shown in his service time. Porcello had ace potential when he was selected out of a New Jersey high school over six years ago, but he hasn’t truly tapped that level and may never reach that level, but the slight increase in his stats in 2013 show that there is still potential in his arm.

Why Scherzer (and Others) Are Expendable

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One name has seems to make the Tigers capable of dealing a starting pitcher this weekend: Drew Smyly.

Smyly dominated in 2013 out of the bullpen, posting a 2.37 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 76 innings with an 81:17 K:BB (4.76). Smyly has been very good since reaching the majors, and while he was fantastic in relief, he hasn’t been much worse as a starter:

I Split W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
as Starter 4 3 3.79 18 18 0 0 0 0 95.0 89 45 40 12 26 88 1.211 8.3 3.38
as Reliever 6 0 2.69 68 0 9 0 0 2 80.1 66 24 24 4 24 87 1.120 9.7 3.63
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/16/2013.

Smyly lost his starting job in 2012 when the team acquired Anibal Sanchez from the Marlins while he was on the disabled list for a right intercostal strain, which came shortly after he was on the disabled list due to a blister on his middle finger of his left (pitching) hand.

Smyly has allowed a .235/.291/.385 triple-slash (.676 OPS) since arriving in Detroit, he has a 1.17 WHIP (ranking in the top 30 in MLB since the start of the 2012 season), his 24.3 percent strikeout rate is 10th among all pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched since the start of the 2012 season, and his 3.50 K:BB rate is also within the top 30 since the start of the 2012 season.

There will be some risk in relying heavily on Smyly in a starting role if the club was to trade Scherzer, Fister, or Porcello to make room for him. He threw his changeup, a pitch nearly every starter needs, in just 3.2 percent of his pitches (according to Pitch F/X) in 2013, while throwing a cutter at a much higher rate out of the bullpen. Although, according to FanGraphs, his changeup may have been misunderstood as his curve or slider, as well:

Courtesy: FanGraphs.com
Courtesy: FanGraphs.com

You can see in the blurred photo above that FanGraphs and Pitch F/X seemed to have a difference on the pitches that Smyly was using in 2013, but he does have more than two pitches, regardless of whether he was using a fastball, two-seamer, cutter, and one or more different breaking balls. He was pretty effective for most of the 2012 season as a starter, as well, posting similar numbers (3.79 ERA and 1.21 WHIP) to what Scherzer did in 2012 for Detroit (3.74 ERA and 1.27 WHIP).

So, Why Trade Scherzer?

Smyly may not replace the dominance that Scherzer showed in 2013, but the Tigers will likely have more effective seasons out of the remaining three starters if they were to deal their Cy Young winner this winter. After all, if Justin Verlander returns to form in 2014, we could see much more of the September Verlander (2.27 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10.89 K/9) than what we saw over most of the 2013 season.

By dealing Scherzer, the Tigers could acquire several young pieces to build around. They do have Nick Castellanos ready to take over in the outfield in 2014, but their farm system is likely in the bottom half of Major League Baseball, with only Jonathan Crawford, a 2013 1st round pick, as impact prospects within their current system, as the remainder of the group looks more likely to fill utility roles or back-end starters or relief pitchers.

Dealing Scherzer for young talent would allow the Tigers to stockpile their system with more impact prospects. With Torii Hunter, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez all getting up there in age, the Tigers need to prepare themselves with much better athletes, arms, and bats as those aging veterans begin to regress.

While dealing Fister or Porcello would likely provide some value, as well, the Tigers can be players in the American League Central in 2014 with a Verlander, Sanchez, Fister, Porcello, and Smyly rotation due to their strong offensive talent. By slashing the payroll that comes along with a huge arbitration raise for Max Scherzer, the Tigers could add a better defensive shortstop, like Stephen Drew, to assist their poor infield defense, while possibly leaving them with enough wiggle room to re-sign Omar Infante at second base. (NOTE: Jose Iglesias…how did I forget that? Maybe Drew at second and Iglesias at short could form one of the top up the middle defenses in baseball with Austin Jackson in center, if they don’t re-sign Infante, but they don’t need a shortstop with Peralta leaving to free agency with Iglesias around)

ScherzerWith the free agent market likely to see absurd amounts of money thrown around due to the new television contract revenue, the Detroit Tigers need to determine if paying Max Scherzer $20 million or more per season on a nine-figure contract is more valuable than the near-ready prospects that they can receive for him now, or, worse yet, the lone compensatory pick that they would receive if he received that mega-contract from another team after the 2014 season.

The Tigers need to trade Scherzer while his value is at its peak – after winning a Cy Young. The deal that the Toronto Blue Jays provided to the New York Mets – Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, and a couple of other spare parts – would be a tremendous starting point for Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski.

When Fantasy Baseball Goes Wrong

FernandezRemember when you gambled on Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez in your starting rotation earlier this spring? Well, congratulations to you and your number one seed in the fantasy baseball playoffs, and I hope you enjoyed your first round exit against the lowest seeded team in the playoffs.

It seems like every year that the top teams are taken out by the lower seeds, just like catching the yearly No.12 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament taking out the No.5 seed. Even teams that were riding another near-Triple Crown season out of Miguel Cabrera are now probably thinking about who they are going to be keeping this winter after the Detroit Tigers’ slugger has battled an abdominal strain while missing 11 games since late July, costing his owners victories and a title.

Whether you play in a one-year league, a dynasty league, a points league, or a standard roto-league, you’ve probably been the recipient of the late season luck or the suffering owner of another 2011-Boston Red Sox-esque collapse for your fake team.

It truly isn’t an avoidable situation.

How were you supposed to know that Brewers shortstop Jean Segura was going to crash so hard that owning Ronny Cedeno may have been a better option? Seriously…the last 28 days:

Segura:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip sOPS+
2013 Totals 145 619 584 74 173 20 10 12 49 44 12 25 83 .296 .331 .426 .757 249 .328 111
Last 28 days 22 94 88 7 21 2 1 0 5 7 5 5 11 .239 .280 .284 .564 25 .273 59
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2013.

Cedeno:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip sOPS+
2013 Totals 84 269 247 24 64 8 3 3 21 4 4 13 68 .259 .300 .352 .653 87 .345 83
Last 28 days 22 82 75 10 26 2 1 2 9 1 3 6 15 .347 .395 .480 .875 36 .414 144
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2013.

It doesn’t stop there, however.

Allen Craig‘s injuries have limited him to a .738 OPS in the second half when he has been on the field, while Brandon Belt (.922) and Brandon Moss (.989) have not only outproduced Craig, but they’ve bettered Chris Davis (.871), Prince Fielder (.840), and Joey Votto (.908) since the All-Star break.

PhillipsKhris Davis, the 25-year-old rookie outfielder for the Brewers who took the spot of Ryan Braun after his suspension, is just as likely to be carrying a team running towards a championship as Pirates’ superstar, and possible NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen. Will Venable has outproduced Jose Bautista, Kole Calhoun and Junior Lake have provided more punch than Jacoby Ellsbury and Alex Rios, and Billy Hamilton may be stealing a title right now while Brandon Phillips takes a face to the sphincter and a slump to the playoffs (a .421 OPS over the last two weeks).

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Fantasy baseball is a long season, just like the real thing. One can never truly prepare for the out-of-nowhere injuries, but if you thought that Harvey, Fernandez, or any other innings-limit candidate pitchers were going to help you, Bill Engvall has a sign for you on his redneck comedy tour.

What can you do to overcome these situations next season?

Assume that the solid young arm won’t help you in September and sell him off early?

Puig2Any small sample size that seems unreasonable probably is, so don’t assume that Yasiel Puig is a better player than Mike Trout.

Rely on veterans who have been through 162-game seasons before, who may be less likely to break down after August.

Have enough depth to cope with injuries and slumps – don’t deal it for spare parts near the trade deadline to get you over the proverbial “hump”.

Know that no matter what you do…it’s probably wrong. Luck plays a huge role in the No.8 seed knocking off the No.1 seed, and even if it isn’t every season that the upset occurs, it is just as likely to happen than not. If your league doesn’t give point values to the No.1 seed as a “home-field advantage” concept, they start off with the same likelihood of winning in the first round as the team that just snuck in.

Fair or not, you’re probably screwed. Just move on to fantasy football and figure out that Dolphins’ running back Lamar Miller and Bengals’ running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will probably be defeating your Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady-stacked lineup next weekend. You’re living a fantasy. Deal with it.

My 2013 MLB All-Star Team

Because so many people are clamoring over what I think, I figured it was time to make my All-Star ballot public, while filling up the rosters so that each team is represented. Feel free to ridicule and taunt my choices if you wish, but you’ll have to defend yourself.

 NLNational League – 35 players

Starting Lineup:

1. Carlos Gomez, CF, MIL: Continuing his awesome breakout.

2. Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN: Huge production behind Votto in Cincy lineup.

3. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN: His numbers would look much better if he was pitched to.

4. David Wright, 3B, NYM: Hometown hero and best 3B in the NL.

5. Carlos Gonzalez, LF, COL: Hitting everywhere this year, even away from Coor’s.

6. Carlos Beltran, RF, STL: Defying age with a healthy, productive season.

7. Michael Cuddyer, DH, COL: Helping to make the Rockies a contender in 2013.

8. Buster Posey, C, SF: Tough choice over Molina, but his bat is still bigger.

9. Jean Segura, SS, MIL: Huge breakout by one of the key pieces in the Greinke deal with the Angels.

Starting Pitcher: Matt Harvey, RHP, NYM: Probably the biggest story in the biggest city in all of baseball, he gets the start at Citi Field.

Pitchers:

Jeff Locke, LHP, PIT

Jason Grilli, RHP, PIT

Jordan Zimmerman, RHP, WAS

Clayton Kershaw, LHP, LAD

Patrick Corbin, LHP, ARZ

Cliff Lee, LHP, PHI

Adam Wainwright, RHP, STL

Shelby Miller, RHP, STL

Aroldis Chapman, LHP, CIN

Craig Kimbrel, RHP, ATL

Edward Mujica, RHP, STL

Rafael Soriano, RHP, WAS

Travis Wood, LHP, CHI-C

Jeff Samardzija, RHP, CHI-C

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, PHI

Bench:

Yadier Molina, C, STL

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARZ

Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL

Marco Scutaro, 2B, SF

Everth Cabrera, SS, SD

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, MIA

Yasiel Puig, OF, LAD

Domonic Brown, OF, PHI

Matt Carpenter, 2B, STL

Andrew McCutchen, CF, PIT

Biggest Snubs: Sergio Romo, RHP, SF; Kevin Gregg, RHP, CHI-C; Lance Lynn, RHP, STL; Allen Craig, 1B, STL; Mat Latos, RHP, CIN; Madison Bumgarner, LHP, SF; Rex Brothers, LHP, COL; A.J. Burnett, RHP, PIT; Nate Schierholtz, OF, CHI-C; Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CIN; Ryan Braun, LF, MIL; Bryce Harper, OF, WAS; Ian Desmond, SS, WAS; Chris Johnson, 1B/3B, ATL; Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT; Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, LAD; Wilin Rosario, C, COL; Evan Gattis, C/OF, ATL;

ALAmerican League – 35 players

Starting Lineup:

1. Mike Trout, LF, LAA: Having a “down” year when compared to his 2012 rookie season, which was one of the greatest in baseball history.

2. Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY: Tough choice but his bat is still huge and he gets the start in NYC.

3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, DET: His numbers are even better than his 2012 Triple Crown winning season.

4. Chris Davis, 1B, BAL: An absolute monster season from the toss-in in the Koji Uehara deal with Texas.

5. Jose Bautista, RF, TOR: Production is slightly down, but Joey Bats is still a huge fan favorite.

6. David Ortiz, DH, BOS: Still producing as a member of AARP.

7. Adam Jones, CF, BAL: Continuing where he left off in 2012 and becoming one of the top players in baseball.

8. Joe Mauer, C, MIN: The power won’t ever be there again from his 2009 MVP season (28 HR), but he can find the gaps and be productive in ways that no other AL catcher can match.

9. Jhonny Peralta, SS, DET: Quietly having an incredible season as one of the worst defensive SS in baseball – loving his production, though.

Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish, RHP, TEX: He just struck you out and you didn’t even know he threw three pitches. Having a dominant season.

Pitchers:

Jesse Crain, RHP, CHI-W

Felix Hernandez, RHP, SEA

Justin Masterson, RHP, CLE

Max Scherzer, RHP, DET

Mariano Rivera, RHP, NYY

Joe Nathan, RHP, TEX

Clay Buchholz, RHP, BOS

Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, SEA

Ervin Santana, RHP, KC

Greg Holland, RHP, KC

Bartolo Colon, RHP, OAK

Matt Moore, LHP, TB

Bud Norris, RHP, HOU

Glen Perkins, LHP, MIN

Jim Johnson, RHP, BAL

Bench:

Jason Castro, C, HOU

Adam Lind, 1B, TOR

Prince Fielder, 1B, DET

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS

Jason Kipnis, 2B, CLE

Evan Longoria, 3B, TB

Manny Machado, 3B, BAL

Jed Lowrie, SS, OAK

Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX

Coco Crisp, OF, OAK

Biggest Snubs: Josh Donaldson, 3B, OAK; J.J. Hardy, SS, BAL; Adrian Beltre, 3B, TEX; Kyle Seager, 3B, SEA; Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA; Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B/DH, TOR; Carlos Santana, C, CLE; Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, NYY; Chris Sale, LHP, CHI-W; Addison Reed, RHP, CHI-W; Grant Balfour, RHP, OAK; Casey Janssen, RHP, TOR;