The Hot Stove Has Caught On Fire

It certainly hasn’t taken long for teams to begin dishing out large contracts that they’ll probably regret in a couple of years with free agency well under way. However, the last 24 to 48 hours have supplied the greatest number of gifts, with a lot of examples of “huh”, “why”, “seriously”, and “come again” worthy reactions.

The Trades

The Doug Fister Trade

Detroit Tigers get: 2B Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol, and LHP Robbie Ray

Washington Nationals get: RHP Doug Fister

FisterIt has to be called the Doug Fister trade because no one really cares about any of the players that the Tigers got back, right? If this wasn’t a total salary dump, I don’t know what it was, as the “prize” return for the Tigers is Ray, who was a 10th round pick in 2010 and had a 6.56 ERA in 2012 in his first attempt at High-A Potomac before bouncing back and having a solid season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, really doesn’t seem like a tremendous prospect; though, we have been proven wrong by Dave Dombrowski before. After the Tampa Bay Rays received one of the top young prospects in baseball, Wil Myers, in return for two controllable seasons of James Shields, you would think that the Tigers could have received more for Fister, who had managed to post an impressive 32-20 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 440.2 innings with Detroit. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez within the Washington rotation, making the Nationals strong contenders for first-year manager Matt Williams in 2014.

Winner: Washington Nationals.

Smelling Fowler

Houston Astros get: CF Dexter Fowler

Colorado Rockies get: RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes

Fowler1Fowler seemed to be on the trading block for some time, but he was finally dealt on Tuesday. The Astros get two affordable seasons (two-years, $11.6 million) of Fowler while they wait for George Springer to prove himself ready, or…they just acquired a nicer trade chip than what they gave up. Jordan Lyles may still be just 23 years old, but he hasn’t put it together in 377 major league innings, posting a 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9, and it seems very unlikely that shifting to Coor’s Field is going to assist his progression to sudden success. Brandon Barnes has some ability, but it isn’t as an everyday player, as his atrocious 127:21 K:BB and .635 OPS over 445 plate appearances goes to show. Barnes could be a fourth outfielder for the Rockies, with Carlos Gonzalez sliding over to center and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson battling it out for the left field job, or Colorado could look to free agency to upgrade in center. This deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Rockies unless they saw something in Lyles and didn’t feel that Fowler would ever live up to his hot start from 2013, when he posted a 1.032 OPS and then fell off of the face of the earth. Even if Fowler doesn’t live up to those numbers, he is the most valuable piece in the deal.

Winner: Houston Astros.

The Unimpressive Three-Way

Cincinnati Reds get: LHP David Holmberg.

Tampa Bay Rays get: RHP Heath Bell and cash from Arizona, and C Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati.

Arizona Diamondbacks get: RHP Justin Choate and a PTBNL

The Rays are always viewed as a smart club and they were able to land another potential closer after losing Fernando Rodney to free agency, leaving the club with Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to battle it out for the gig. On top of that, they received an excellent framing catcher in Hanigan, who has proved to be quite valuable to Cincinnati over the last several years in game-calling, while inking the backstop to a three-year extension upon the completion of the deal. The bad part, though, is that both Bell and Hanigan weren’t very good last season, with Hanigan, in particular, looking like a nightmare offensively, posting a .198/.306/.261 line over 260 plate appearances, leading to the Reds leaning on Brayan Pena, who was signed to a two-year deal earlier this winter, and Devin Mesoraco, the young, power-hitting catcher who will finally get a full-time look in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks dumped some salary while dealing Bell for a young, breathing body. Choate pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2013 at the age of 22 and he isn’t much of a prospect. The Reds dumped Hanigan, who was arbitration-eligible, while getting a 22-year-old left-handed starter, who posted a 2.75 ERA in 26 Double-A starts in 2013 with a 116:50 K:BB in 157.1 innings. While Holmberg wasn’t as sexy as Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley within the Diamondbacks system, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm or a Sean Marshall-like relief pitcher for the Reds. The good news for Cincinnati is that Mesoraco gets his shot and Holmberg adds some near-ready pitching depth after the likely departure of Bronson Arroyo via free agency.

Winner: Everyone looks like a winner here, as the deal worked well for all three teams, but the Rays received the most help in assisting the team win in 2013.

Why Did Beane Make That (Michael) Choice?

Texas Rangers get: OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick

Oakland A’s get: OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom

ChoiceThis seemed like an odd deal for Oakland and GM Billy Beane, as Gentry is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Lindblom has been pretty terrible since being traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the 2012 Shane Victorino deal, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 54.2 innings since leaving Los Angeles (2.91 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 77.1 innings prior to the trade). Maybe a return to the west coast is what Lindblom needs to be a useful reliever, but by getting the elite defensive skills and increasing salary of the light-hitting (.280/.355/.366 in 763 plate appearances), 29-year-old Gentry, and giving up the potential that still exists in the bat of Michael Choice, who is 24 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017, Beane showed that he may be looking beyond three years from now and that he could be putting the A’s in win-now mode. Bostick is a nice second base prospect, having posted a .282/.354/.452 line over 555 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2013, but the Rangers have quite a few young, up-the-middle prospects (Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Luis Sardinas) and they don’t seem to have a need there, while the A’s have run Jemile Weeks out of town in a trade with Baltimore and Eric Sogard was very…meh…in 2013 at the major league level. Winning now is important, but it doesn’t seem like the A’s really acquired anyone who can really help them in 2014 to get over the hump.

Winner: Texas Rangers.

The Free Agent Splashes

The Yankees Spend Like Crazy…Again.

Who They Signed: C Brian McCann (five-years, $85 million); OF Jacoby Ellsbury (seven-years, $153 million);

McCannWhy It Matters: Notice that the Yankees have committed nearly $240 million after having been rumored to be on a mission to avoid the $189 million threshold of the payroll luxury tax, while not having signed their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, just yet. And, don’t forget, the team is rumored to be interested in signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who could be had at a lesser amount after the posting fee was limited to a maximum $20 million bid on Wednesday. McCann is a huge upgrade over the combined .213/.289/.298 triple slash that Yankees’ catchers posted in 2013, while Ellsbury provides great defense and speed as the Yankees try to move on from all of the injuries that suffocated their success this past season. Even if the Yankees are done with the big name signings, including Cano, they should be a better team in 2014.

Twinkies Filled Their Rotation

Who Minnesota Signed: RHP Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million); RHP Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million);

Why It Matters: The Twins starting pitchers posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 2013, worst in the majors, and the ERA was a whopping 0.45 points higher than the Toronto Blue Jays’ starters (4.81), who finished 29th. Hughes still has youth and potential, but he needs to start tapping into that potential after posting a horrific 5.19 ERA over 29 starts and 145.2 innings. Shockingly, Hughes’ numbers would have made him a solid number three starter for the Twins in 2013…they were that bad. Adding Nolasco was special, but he isn’t an ace. He will likely be the Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2014 by default and he should make the rotation slightly better; although, it couldn’t get much worse.

Kazmir Rejuvenates and Cashes In Athletically

Who Oakland Signed: LHP Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million)

Why It Matters: Signing Kazmir to a lucrative contract could lead to another movie about the Oakland A’s after the success of Moneyball. While Kazmir’s resurgence was quite surprising, an eight-figure deal, after making all of one total appearance in the majors in 2011 and 2012 due to severe shoulder woes, was even more surprising. Possessing a mid-90’s fastball and a left arm appears to be all that it took to find a big deal. Kazmir’s story is worthy of attention and praise, but it is a story that needs to be monitored to see if he can maintain the same success in Oakland over the next two seasons. His presence will allow the A’s and Beane to shop LHP Brett Anderson at the winter meetings next week, which could net the club some additional win-now resources.

The Tigers No Longer on the Prowl for a Closer

Who Detroit Signed: RHP Joe Nathan (two-year, $20 million)

Why It Matters: Detroit needed a lockdown closer after shuffling through Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Bruce Rondon at closer before Joaquin Benoit took over and did a nice job over the rest of the season. They got their man after signing Joe Nathan away from the Texas Rangers. Nathan closed 80 games out the last two seasons, while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and at 38 years of age, he doesn’t look to be slowing down after missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After dealing Prince Fielder to improve at second base with Ian Kinsler, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first, and plugging Drew Smyly into the rotation (after dealing Fister), the Tigers will have a completely new look in 2014. With their strong rotation, Nathan’s shutdown ability makes them quite dangerous.

Fish Hook Their Catcher and the Red Sox Snag Another

Who Miami Signed: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three-year, $21 million)

Who Boston Signed: C A.J. Pierzynski (one-year, $8.25 million)

Why It Matters: With a lot of focus heading towards catcher defense and framing, highlighted by the Rays commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan this winter, other clubs continue to look towards offensive-minded catchers, and the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox locked down their backstops this week. The Marlins seem to have very little hope for a quick turnaround and Saltalamacchia isn’t going to be the other piece to help Giancarlo Stanton and Miami to an NL East title, but it is a start…as long as they don’t trade him before the 2014 season starts. Pierzynski will be on his fifth organization and, despite being hated by some of his competition, he could be a tremendous asset to the character and chemistry that existed within the Boston World Series clubhouse. I guess he is better to have on your team than to play against him.

 

 

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Mesoraco: Finally Taking Off?

Since the All-Star game, Devin Mesoraco, the 25-year-old catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, has been electric. In eight games (six starts), this is what the product out of Punxsutawney has done:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
2nd Half 8 6 29 28 4 12 3 0 2 8 0 1 4 .429 .448 .750 1.198 21 .455
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Mesoraco2He has taken advantage of the injury to Ryan Hanigan by producing solid numbers as the everyday backstop; however, this hasn’t been the first time that Mesoraco has been given regular at-bats. Earlier this season, when Hanigan missed time due to an oblique strain, Mesoraco started 12 games. While he only hit .222/.294/.311 over 51 plate appearances, he only struck out 8 times and he was hitting more than Hanigan was at the start of the season (.079/.182/.079 in 44 plate appearances).

With Hanigan set to reach free agency after the 2013 season, it is likely time for Cincinnati to see what they have in Mesoraco.  After committing to him as the 15th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft and allowing him to develop, albeit slowly at times, to become the club’s minor league player of the year in 2010, the Reds have handled him pretty erratically since his promotion to Cincinnati. In 2011, Mesoraco played 120 games at Triple-A Louisville, while playing just 18 in Cincinnati late in the season. Mesoraco played in just 54 games in 2012, starting only 48 of those, while Hanigan and, eventually, Dioner Navarro, earned additional playing time, seemingly as discipline for Mesoraco bumping an umpire, which earned him a demotion to Triple-A on August 23.

Certainly, a six game hitting streak isn’t going to guarantee that Mesoraco is the next Mike Piazza. His .455 BABIP will likely fall back to a realistic level (around .300) and his overall line will fall back in line, as well; however, with the Reds committing so much money to Joey Votto and the need to eventually extend Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Jay Bruce, why shouldn’t they save some cash by letting Mesoraco, who isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2015, prove his worth? Hanigan, who is in the final year of a three-year, $4 million deal, will be 33 next season and could be a useful backup, considering the Reds don’t have any other prospects ready after including Yasmani Grandal in the deal for Latos.

Overall, the Reds are 31-21 (.596) in games started by Mesoraco and 25-18 (.581) in games started by Hanigan, but Hanigan does have more experience, because Dusty Baker actually plays him, with the pitching staff. In 2013, this is how the pitching staff has performed:

Mat Latos:

Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Ryan Hanigan 6 40.2 14 3.10 162 149 15 36 7 1 5 0 3 9 44 4.89 .242 .288 .403 .690 60
Devin Mesoraco 15 92.0 36 3.52 404 364 41 93 20 5 6 9 1 32 92 2.88 .255 .318 .387 .706 141
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Homer Bailey:

Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Ryan Hanigan 11 76.2 22 2.58 291 272 22 51 13 1 2 6 1 13 78 6.00 .188 .231 .265 .496 72
Devin Mesoraco 4 22.2 17 6.75 108 93 16 32 7 0 5 1 1 11 20 1.82 .344 .419 .581 1.000 54
Corky Miller 5 29.2 16 4.85 130 121 16 36 7 1 3 1 0 7 35 5.00 .298 .336 .446 .782 54
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Mike Leake (Mesoraco is his “personal catcher”):

Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Devin Mesoraco 20 128.2 38 2.66 529 482 42 123 18 3 14 6 2 30 78 2.60 .255 .303 .392 .695 189
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Bronson Arroyo:

Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Ryan Hanigan 14 90.2 33 3.28 370 344 34 85 21 1 12 0 2 17 51 3.00 .247 .285 .419 .704 144
Devin Mesoraco 6 42.0 14 3.00 167 160 15 39 6 1 5 2 0 6 24 4.00 .244 .271 .388 .659 62
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Overall, the Reds’ catchers have done an excellent job:

Pitching Stats
Age PA ERA
Devin Mesoraco 25 2014 3.17
Ryan Hanigan 32 1568 3.49
Corky Miller 37 293 3.88
League Average 3.77
Team Total 3875 3.35
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

However, it is the running game and Hanigan’s skills there that have really set him apart:

Age PB WP SBO SB CS CS% SB2 CS2 SB3 CS3 RBA RK SBlev
Devin Mesoraco 25 3 18 749 29 7 19% 26 6 3 1 71 7 1.10
Ryan Hanigan 32 2 17 512 10 11 52% 8 8 2 3 46 13 1.06
Corky Miller 37 1 2 90 6 1 14% 4 1 2 0 10 2 0.92
League Average 29% 1.29
Team Total 6 37 1351 45 19 30% 38 15 7 4 127 22 1.07
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Mesoraco1To get a little more offensively, however, is it worth the risk of having a defensively lacking catcher? I say yes, and with experience comes the defensive gains that Mesoraco will need to make to become an elite catcher in MLB. While the success that he has had over the last week has shown that he has the skills to produce, it is a small sample size, and he needs more consistent at-bats over the second half to showcase the type of player that he could be for the Cincinnati Reds.

 
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Why the Reds Should Bring Up Billy Hamilton…Now.

Hamilton2Yeah, I know it’s early. Yeah, I know the Reds are in first place in the NL Central. Yeah, I know that after getting beaten down by the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon that Cincinnati fans are concerned about their team. There are reasons to be concerned, but it starts with the club’s philosophies.

After the club traded for Shin-Soo Choo, people in Cincinnati knew that they had an upgrade to their leadoff spot. Choo is now a career .312/.397/.502 hitter when he bats first over his career, and his five hit-by-pitches and five walks have allowed Choo to post a .511 on-base percentage early in the 2013 season. His three home runs are tied with Todd Frazier for the team lead, as well, allowing Reds’ fans to say: “Drew Stubbs, who?”

Well, Drew Stubbs the fine defensive center fielder. Drew Stubbs,  who ranked as the 6th best defensive center fielder in baseball since arriving to the Queen City in 2009, posting a UZR/150 of 3.7, just behind Austin Jackson and in front of B.J. Upton in the rankings. Drew Stubbs, who was 14th in MLB from 2009 through 2012 with 110 stolen bases. Drew Stubbs, who scored 285 runs in 486 games for Cincinnati, despite a .312 on-base percentage, and a .244/.321/.372 line in 873 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter.Choo1

Drew Stubbs was everything wrong about Cincinnati Reds baseball, at least, that is what it seemed like. His free-swinging ways resulted in 588 strikeouts in 1,791 at-bats or 32.8 percent of his at-bats. However, he did provide two things that Choo still can’t, speed and defense.

Shin-Soo Choo has a tremendous arm, which he needs when compared to Stubbs defensively due to his -42.8 UZR/150 rating, meaning: Choo would be nearly 43 runs below average defensively than the league’s average outfielder. It isn’t like Choo’s lack of defensive skills were the reason that the Reds lost 10-0 on Wednesday, but with Ryan Ludwick out for the next several months after surgery to repair his labrum and Chris Heisey hitting just .161/.188/.323 in 34 plate appearances, should the Reds go to super-prospect Billy Hamilton now?

Calling up Billy Hamilton would do three things:

1) It would start Hamilton’s arbitration clock early, making him Super Two-eligible due to service time, which means that he would be expensive quicker than most Post-June callups, and potentially reach free agency sooner.

2) It would allow the Reds to put Shin-Soo Choo in left field where teams have hidden other awful defensive outfielders over the years, such as Adam Dunn in Cincinnati and Manny Ramirez in Boston. He may not be a liability in left, which would allow him to continue to be solid offensively while playing every day.

3) It would make the Reds have Hamilton, Choo, Votto, and Bruce as left-handed hitters in the every day lineup.

That third thing is probably more reasonable as to why the Reds wouldn’t want to call up Hamilton right now, though the arbitration figures could also factor in, as it seems unnecessary to rush Hamilton with such a small sample size out of Chris Heisey. It is, after all, just 34 plate appearances, but it is hard to ignore Hamilton’s .364/.417/.545 start in Triple-A, while stealing six bases in six games for the Louisville Bats.

Hamilton1Billy Hamilton isn’t ready to leadoff at the major league level. Billy Hamilton isn’t ready to become a game-changing talent from the very moment that he steps onto the field at Great American Ballpark. Billy Hamilton isn’t going to post a .962 OPS over the course of a major league or minor league season. However, Billy Hamilton could ignite the bottom of the Reds order by hitting seventh, bunting over Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier for Ryan Hanigan to get RBI opportunities with his fantastic contact skills (Hanigan has a career 137:163 K:BB in 1,347 plate appearances and a 10.2 percent strikeout rate).

Billy Hamilton provides speed that would benefit the Reds defensively. Michael Bourn, the Cleveland Indians’ new center fielder, has a UZR/150 of 11.1 since becoming a regular in 2007. B.J. Upton is second with a 4.1 UZR/150. Hamilton is still making the transition from shortstop to center field, but his speed alone makes him a Bourn-like defensive talent in center, and his 264 stolen bases since the start of the 2011 minor league season makes him worth bringing up now to impact the lineup.

While questions about team-control, arbitration, and the presence of another left-hander in the lineup are worth considering, the Reds have very little to lose and plenty to gain by calling up Billy Hamilton right now and putting him in center. As the club heads to Pittsburgh and PNC Park, a notorious pitcher’s park, will defense become more important than potential offensive production? While Devin Mesoraco rots on the bench due to Ryan Hanigan’s ability to handle the pitching staff, the Reds have already shown their philosophy. Now is the time for Billy Hamilton.

 

The Surprises of the First 10 Days

It is still early in the baseball season, but with about a week and a half gone since opening night, we’ve seen a near perfect game for Yu Darvish and plentiful RBI for Chris Davis. While Darvish was expected to take another step towards stardom this season, Davis’ production is still quite a surprise to some, though power has always been a part of his game.

10 Days in, what are the biggest surprises of the 2013 season?

GoodThe Good

Carl Crawford, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: .458/.519/.542, 2 2B, 2 SB

Crawford isn’t necessarily setting the world on fire, but the fact that he has played in all seven games for the Dodgers is shocking, considering his availability for opening day was in question since he didn’t make his Cactus League debut until March 23. While he has just two extra-base hits out of his 11 total hits, the fact that Crawford is running (though he’s just 2 for 4 on stolen base attempts), and productive in a loaded lineup are reasons enough to begin to wonder if he can return to his glory days of Tampa, rather than the disappointment that he had been in Boston. If Crawford stays productive around Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, the Dodgers will get out of the NL West basement rather quickly.

John Buck, C, New York Mets: .393/.387/.859, 4 HR, 14 RBI

After watching Ike Davis tear apart pitching in the second half, you may have expected him to be the leader of the New York Mets this season; however, it’s the guy who was supposed to just be keeping a roster spot warm for Travis d’Arnaud, the slugging catching prospect that the Mets acquired from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey deal, John Buck. Buck has been mashing to this point, ranking second in the majors in RBI (behind Chris Davis) and tied for second in home runs. With the Miami Marlins around, the Mets should feel comfortable about not finishing last in their division, but Buck has led the Mets patchwork pitching staff, dominated by Matt Harvey‘s emergence as an ace, to a solid start.

Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee Brewers: .458/.500/.750, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBI

It’s too bad that Segura exhausted his rookie eligibility last year, otherwise, he’d be leading the pack in the early stages of the season for the title of NL Rookie of the Year. Segura had 151 at-bats last season (166 plate appearances), but he looks like he learned a little after hitting just .258/.315/.325 in 2012. The 23-year-old shortstop has a very interesting tool-set, with solid gap power and speed, which will allow for solid run production in a lineup with a healthy Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and Ryan Braun…the only problem is that getting all four of those guys on the field at the same time may be harder than finding a needle in a haystack.

Courtesy: NY Daily News
Courtesy: NY Daily News

Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets: 2-0, 0.64 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, .093 BAA, 14 IP, 19:4 K:BB

I mentioned Harvey under Buck, but it is worth noting again…he has been nothing short of dominant. He’s allowed just 8 baserunners over two starts, and the strikeouts limit the scoring opportunities, as well. Harvey had a 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a 70:26 K:BB in 59.1 innings last season. Like Segura, just missing rookie eligibility in 2013, but a dynamic starting pitcher for a team desperate for pitching in the Mets.

Jeff Samardzija, SP, Chicago Cubs: 1-1, 2.63 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .125 BAA, 13.2 IP, 22:5 K:BB

The former Notre Dame wideout is leading the majors in strikeouts early in the season and appears to be heading towards super-stardom ..which is why I traded him for next to nothing in my dynasty league this offseason. He has a lousy team around him but the 28-year-old has some help on the way, and the Cubs have him under team control through 2015. While he may not win many games, his peripheral statistics could make him look a lot like Felix Hernandez in fantasy formats.

BadThe Bad

Ryan Hanigan, C, Cincinnati Reds: .043/.148/.043, 1 for 23, 2 RBI

The Cincinnati Reds are playing their 9th game of the season and Devin Mesoraco is making his second start of the season. As most people would like to do, you can blame Dusty Baker for his inability to find value in young talent, unless, of course, it is a pitcher whose career he can ruin. Mesoraco is a sinner for going 0 for 4 in his only start, drawing a walk in the Reds 7-6 extra-inning loss to the Washington Nationals. Apparently, he may only start in day games following a night game, which should be great for the 24-year-old’s development. Ryan Hanigan, meanwhile, will continue to get the at-bats, and the Reds have to hope that batting 8th in the order doesn’t allow clubs to assume that there are two easy outs every time through the lineup.

Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 0-4, 12.50 ERA, 2.17 WHIP, 18 IP, 19:11 K:BB in 4 starts

Halladay (0-2, 14.73 ERA, 2.45 WHIP) and Hamels (0-2, 10.97 ERA, 1.97 WHIP) have posted ugly numbers to this point. Halladay’s shoulder issues from last season and his drop in velocity, along with Hamels’ shoulder soreness early in his offseason throwing progr am could be to blame for their struggles. Certainly, the Phillies have to be concerned, especially after dealing Vance Worley and Trevor May to Minnesota for Ben Revere, eliminating their ready or near-ready young pitching to replace Shane Victorino, who left for Boston this winter via free agency. Both starting pitchers earn substantial amounts this season (Halladay makes $20 million and Hamels makes $19.5 million), so a turnaround would be necessary for Philadelphia fans to not want to ring the Liberty Bell with Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s skull.

Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants: .091/.130/.136, 2 for 22, 1 R, 1 2B

After Belt hit .293/.362/.423 in the second half of 2012 and .410/.432/.833 this spring, the Giants had to be hoping that they had developed a solid, middle-of-the-order addition to pair with Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. Things haven’t gone as planned for Belt to this point; however, he has been dealing with some neck issues. The defending champions will hope that he gets that under control, as well as the skills that he showcased over the last couple of months during spring training.

Upton HeywardJason Heyward and B.J. Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves: 5 for 53 (.094), 2 HR, 3 RBI, 7 R, 19:7 K:BB

Heyward (.083/.267/.208) and Upton (.103/.212/.207) have combined for some pretty useless numbers. The Braves are 7-1 going into Wednesday’s game despite the lack of production from two of their stars. Needless to say, Upton’s pricey contract came with big expectations. We’ll see if his big payday after leaving Tampa isn’t going to take the same trip that Carl Crawford endured in Boston.

Carlos Marmol, RP, Chicago Cubs: 12.27 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, .444 BAA, 1-1, 1 for 2 in save opportunities

Considering the short leash that the Cubs had on Marmol, you have to wonder if it was even worth giving him a chance to prove himself or build trade value when there was a 70-30 chance that he was going to implode. And…implode he did. Kyuji Fujikawa has already replaced Marmol as the Cubs’ closer, and his 8.10 ERA is solid since he is 2 for 2 in save opportunities. It’s a process, Cubs fans, and you should be used to that by now.

Brett Myers, SP, Cleveland Indians: 0-1, 12.19 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, 7 HR allowed, 10.1 IP, 4:2 K:BB

When the Indians signed Myers, they wanted him to be a solid innings eating starting pitcher, allowing them to slide him into the No.3 spot in the rotation behind Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. Myers was to provide solid depth due to Masterson and Jimenez lacking in their ability to throw strikes, resulting in high pitch counts and short outings. However, Myers was a risk since he had pitched out of the bullpen for the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox the last two seasons, and while he had transitioned from starter to relief and back to starter before in his career, guaranteeing Myers $7 million to do that again could leave Indians fans scalping themselves every fifth day. Myers has allowed SEVEN home runs in 10.1 innings, or about six every 9 innings. Some batting practice pitchers don’t average that stat. Myers is either hurt or should retire, but there isn’t any in between on those choices, and a neck injury from watching home runs could be to blame.

LincecumTim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants: 1-0, 4.91 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 11 IP, 11:11 K:BB

Well, after finding a groove as a relief pitcher in the playoffs last year, the Giants gave “The Freak” another chance in a starting role this season. He has only allowed a .175 average in his two starts, and if he wasn’t shutting down those that do hit the ball, he’d have an ERA right around Halladay’s. The free passes need to stop if Lincecum is going to re-establish himself as a valuable pitcher, and he needs to do that if he hopes to score a big contract as a free agent this winter.

 

Why Ryan Ludwick’s Injury Is Devastating for Cincinnati

 

Courtesy: CBS Sports
Courtesy: CBS Sports

Ryan Ludwick was a one-time All-Star, in 2008 for St. Louis, before his career started a downward trend in 2009, where Ludwick hit just .251/.321/.409 over the 2009 to 2011 seasons while being shipped out of St. Louis and playing for the Padres and Pirates. His career looked nearly finished before the start of 2012, when Reds GM Walt Jocketty gave him a one-year, $2 million deal to play left for Cincinnati, a job he had to earn over Chris Heisey.

Ludwick proved his worth, hitting .275/.346/.531 with 26 home runs and 80 RBI in 2012 in just 125 games and 472 plate appearances. His offensive outburst started when Joey Votto went on the disabled list on July 16, as he helped the Reds go 29-15 while Votto was out, posting a .346/.412/.654 line with 11 doubles, 12 home runs, and 36 RBI over 153 at-bats. Overall, Ludwick’s second half was much more impressive than the first:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
1st Half 62 53 228 205 21 49 13 0 12 34 0 20 52 .239 .311 .478 .789 98
2nd Half 63 56 244 217 32 67 15 1 14 46 0 22 45 .309 .379 .581 .959 126
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/3/2013.

Clearly, Ludwick wasn’t likely to maintain a .333 BABIP in the 2012 season, which he had in the second half of 2012, when you consider that his career BABIP is .304, but crazier things have happened…such as the rebound that he had in 2012 after a pretty miserable 2011 for Pittsburgh and San Diego (.237/.310/.363).

While losing a 34-year-old outfielder wouldn’t seem awful for most clubs in an era where players decline naturally without being able to used performance-enhancing drugs, Ludwick was a leader in 2012 and he brought stability to the middle of the order. His right-handed bat seems irreplaceable now, as he was the No.4 hitter between Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. His replacements just don’t measure up to his career track record, especially when compared to his recent success.

HeiseyChris Heisey seems like the most likely, full-time replacement  for Ludwick. He is a career .258/.314/.436 hitter in 913 career plate appearances. The issue with using Heisey full-time becomes the loss of his bat off of the bench. As a substitute or pinch-hitter in his career, Heisey has a .288/.344/.507 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 164 plate appearances. Beyond his value off of the bench, Heisey’s inability to make consistent contact, a career 23.9 percent strikeout rate, is a concern, just like his reverse platoon statistics, as Heisey is much better as a right-handed hitter against right-handed pitching, than he is against left-handed pitching:

I Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
vs RHP as RHB 269 658 596 164 25 5 25 72 12 39 155 .275 .331 .460 .791 274
vs LHP as RHB 122 255 234 50 10 2 8 30 1 14 63 .214 .272 .376 .648 88
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/3/2013.

Heisey is likely to share some at-bats with Xavier Paul, a 28-year-old, left-handed hitting outfielder. Paul can play all three outfield positions fairly well, which seems like a useless fact when the Reds are playing one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball in center field this season in Shin-Soo Choo. Paul was once an interesting prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers, displaying solid gap power and speed, but he has managed just 508 plate appearances over parts of four seasons in the majors, posting a .258/.305/.363 line. Paul’s inconsistent at-bats and consistent job as a No.5 outfielder could play a role in his inability to post solid numbers at the major league level, but considering that Heisey is better against right-handed pitching and Paul holds a .140/.197/.158 line in just 61 plate appearances against left-handed pitching.Paul

Derrick Robinson replaced Ludwick on the Reds’ 40-man roster, as his contract was purchased when Ludwick was placed on the disabled list. Robinson has never appeared in the majors before, posting a career .255/.321/.324 hitter in seven minor league seasons. At 25, the switch-hitting outfielder, who was a minor league free agent signing after spending his whole career with the Kansas City Royals’ organization, doesn’t seem to offer the Reds much more than position flexibility, as he, too, can handle all three outfield positions.

Luckily, the Reds just have to replace Ludwick’s spot in left field and not as the cleanup hitter. Brandon Phillips can move from the No.2 spot to the No.4 spot as another solid, right-handed hitting option in the order. Dusty Baker will likely slide Zack Cozart up to the No.2 spot, breaking up Choo, the leadoff hitter, and Votto, as left-handed hitters at the top of the order. Phillips is likely to produce very good numbers in the middle of the order, but the bottom half of the Reds lineup is now very suspect, as Ryan Hanigan or Devin Mesoraco will likely bat behind whoever fills the left field void, followed by the starting pitcher in the No.9 spot.

While Ryan Ludwick’s injury may seem like an issue that could be overlooked, it really isn’t for the Cincinnati Reds. Certainly, with a power-packed lineup of Shin-Soo Choo, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and Joey Votto, you’d think that they could overcome this injury pretty easily; however, Ludwick’s ability with the bat is not replaceable with the on-hand talent that the Reds have on the bench. Chris Heisey could do well in spurts, but the club has to find creative ways to keep the lineup strong from the top to bottom for the next several months, as Ludwick is out due to surgery on his labrum in his right shoulder.

Giants AT Reds, Game 5

Game 5 of the NLDS series between the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds will take place on Thursday afternoon at 1:07 (if the Oakland A’s beat the Detroit Tigers Wednesday night) or 2:07 (if the Detroit Tigers beat the Oakland A’s on Wednesday night). Kind of confusing for those who hold tickets, but this is what to expect…

Mat Latos is officially starting on Thursday for Cincinnati. Latos came in for Johnny Cueto in Game 1 due to Cueto’s oblique strain, which he suffered after tossing eight pitches. Latos tossed four innings on Saturday night, allowing one earned run (2.25 ERA), but he was not considered for the Game 4 start because: 1) Latos had never pitched on three-days rest, and 2) Latos has been battling the flu.

Matt Cain, the loser of Game 1, will take the ball for the Giants in Game 5. Cain allowed three earned runs over five innings (5.40 ERA) at AT&T Park on Saturday. The Giants were 22-10 in Cain’s 32 starts in 2012, and while Cain managed to go 16-5, he lost back-to-back decisions twice this season.

Dusty Baker will probably go back to Ryan Hanigan behind home plate and Scott Rolen at third, especially after Todd Frazier failed to impress the veteran-loving manager with his 0-for-3, one RBI performance on Wednesday.

Bruce Bochy would be wise to stick with Joaquin Arias at short and Hector Sanchez behind the plate, as their eight-run outburst in Game 4 was a far cry from the team’s performance in the first three games. Arias is 3-for-6 with two doubles and three runs, while Sanchez was 1-for-2 with two walks in Game 4, his first opportunity of the postseason.

After going 12-for-95 (.126) with four runs in the first three games, the Giants were 11-for-33 (.333) on Wednesday.

Cincinnati scored 14 runs in the first two games of the series, but have scored four runs in the last two games, while going 13-for-68 (.191) as a team.

With the potential 10:07 AM PT starting time, you have to consider how San Francisco will function. The Giants were just 32-32 in day games in 2012, while Cincinnati was 39-17.

Cincinnati fans are weary of the potential collapse after waiting nearly 17 years between postseason wins. Their dreams of watching the Reds clinch the series at home will come down to a single game, now.

San Francisco is riding high and has the momentum. Their big night could leave their fans wondering if they saved any offense for Thursday’s deciding game.

Game 5. Thursday afternoon from Great American Ballpark. The MLB postseason at its finest.

2013 Cincinnati Reds

Looking ahead to next season, though the Reds are currently in first place in the NL Central, the Reds have some interesting roster issues to address. Not only do they have arbitration eligible players who can increase payroll significantly, but they’ll have key players with extensions kicking in. Take a look at guaranteed contracts for 2013:

Joey Votto: $17 M

Brandon Phillips: $10 M

Jay Bruce: $7.5 M

Johnny Cueto: $7.4 M

Aroldis Chapman: $2 M

Bronson Arroyo: $11.5 M

Sean Marshall: $4.5 M

Ryan Madson: $2.5 M buyout OR $11 M

Nick Masset: $3.1 M

Ryan Hanigan: $2.05 M

Ryan Ludwick: $500K buyout OR $5 M

Jose Arredondo: $1.2 M

If the Reds buyout Ludwick and Madson, they have $69.25 M locked into 12 players, with only 10 of them returning. If they take on the contracts of both Ludwick and Madson, it goes up to $82.25 M for 12 players. However, it doesn’t end there. The following players are eligible for arbitration after the 2012 season:

Pre-arbitration – players who can have their contracts renewed at the league minimum:

Logan Ondrusek

Sam LeCure

Devin Mesoraco

Zack Cozart

Jordan Smith

Todd Frazier

Arbitration-eligible – players who can be non-tendered or signed through arbitration and receive a raise, with 2012 salaries listed in parenthesis:

Homer Bailey ($2.4 M)

Mat Latos ($550K)

Bill Bray ($1.42 M)

Wilson Valdez ($930K)

Paul Janish ($850K)

Drew Stubbs ($527,500)

Mike Leake ($507,500)

Chris Heisey ($495K)

Alfredo Simon ($487K)

The Reds would be wise to let Homer Bailey walk by being non-tendered, as he shouldn’t be getting a raise considering the inconsistencies that he has shown. He would earn between $3.5-4 M in arbitration. Valdez and Janish are veteran utility players who can be replaced with others who can play defense and not hit…just like them! Stubbs, Leake, and Heisey should all still be affordable in their first year of arbitration, but Latos could be an issue. He will get expensive quickly due to his early success, though it wasn’t with the Reds.

Free-Agents:

Scott Rolen

Miguel Cairo

Willie Harris

So, buyout Ludwick and Madson and keep Heisey in left and Chapman at closer and go from there.

Catchers: Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco

1B: Joey Votto

2B: Brandon Phillips

3B: Todd Frazier

SS: Zack Cozart

LF: Chris Heisey

CF: Drew Stubbs

RF: Jay Bruce

Starting Rotation:

Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, and OPEN

Bullpen:

Jose Arredondo, Bill Bray, Nick Masset, Sam LeCure, Alfredo Simon, Logan Ondrusek, Sean Marshall, and Aroldis Chapman

Bench:

OPEN

Clearly, the Reds would need to fill the bench with about three players: a utility infielder, a super-utility player (infield and outfield), and a good fourth outfielder. They will need to look to free agency to fill those roles. The following players will be free agents and would be worth a look for the Reds:

Jose Lopez – Lopez can play first and third comfortably and second if or when needed. He has done so for the Cleveland Indians in 2012. He is making $800K in 2012 and will be 29 in 2013

Scott Hairston – Hairston may end up on the expensive side of bench players, as his power and versatility will be very valuable on the open market. He currently has an .840 OPS with 10 HR and 31 RBI in just 157 at bats for the New York Mets. Hairston is making $1.1 M in 2012 and has played all three outfield spots this season and some second base in his career.

Grady Sizemore – Injuries MIGHT be gone when he hits free agency after the 2012 season. Sizemore hasn’t had a healthy season since 2008. He is making $5 M in 2012 but hasn’t played in a single game. An incentive-laden contract is a necessity for Sizemore to prove his worth and as a former gold glove caliber center fielder, he can handle all three outfield positions…if healthy.

Ryan Theriot – Theriot is making $1.25 M for the San Francisco Giants while playing primarily shortstop. He played left field late in a game and has played second, short, third, and outfield in recent years.

The open rotation spot should be left to Tony Cingrani, the young left-hander out of Rice, who has dominated the minors this season to the tune of a 7-2 record, 1.47 ERA, 86 IP, 109:21 K:BB, .196 BAA, 0.95 WHIP, including a 15 strikeout, eight shutout inning outing on Wednesday night. It’s worth seeing what you have there. Alfredo Simon or Sam LeCure could fill the number five spot if the Reds don’t sign another veteran arm like: Aaron Cook, Kevin Correia, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Marquis, Joel Piniero, or Chris Young, who could all be cheap options.

It’s never too early to wonder what your team will look like in the future. Maybe Billy Hamilton moves to center and Drew Stubbs or Chris Heisey becomes the team’s fourth outfielder? As the season goes on, trades could be made involving Cingrani or Hamilton to upgrade for 2012, as well. Regardless, the Reds look like an excellent team for this season and could get better by cutting some of the dead weight, namely their entire bench and Scott Rolen.