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.

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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.

Pretend GM: Signings and Trades That Should Be Made

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Towers: Where the Diamondbacks Are Going

Courtesy: HalosHeaven.com
Courtesy: HalosHeaven.com

Maybe this is an overreaction, but Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers appears to be crippling the future of the team by making some strange trades. Certainly, Towers has many years of experience, holding the San Diego Padres GM position from 1995 through the 2009 season before being fired in October, then taking over in the desert in late September of 2010. As with any operational move completed by a baseball franchise, some will work and some won’t, but the last three major moves by Towers appear to be crumbling the foundation of long-term success for the Diamondbacks.

Skaggs
Angels new LHP Tyler Skaggs

When the club acquired Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels last week, they added a powerful bat, but they also added a first baseman and designated hitter who will be playing the outfield, as current first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, was already present and had an MVP-caliber season in 2013. The Diamondbacks first had to acquire an additional arm to trade to the Angels, and they did so by dealing Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox for left-handed starter Hector Santiago. Towers then packaged Santiago with 22-year-old prospect Tyler Skaggs, who was rated the No.10 prospect in baseball by MLB.com prior to the 2013 season, in the deal for Trumbo, while acquiring a couple of fringy players, outfielder Brandon Jacobs and right-handed pitcher A.J. Schugel, as players who were named later in the deal. Eaton, who turned 25 in early December, was listed as the Diamondbacks’ starting centerfielder prior to the deal, and he has been supplanted by A.J. Pollock, who turned 26 in early December and appears to have a lot of Drew Stubbs to his game (solid defender, good power and speed, and a lot of swing and miss). Eaton was highly regarded by many saber-guys for his .450 career minor league on-base percentage and .951 OPS, and giving him up for Santiago, a back-end rotation starter (along with his five years of team-control), to acquire Trumbo was odd, but then Towers moved Skaggs. While Skaggs was pretty terrible in a very difficult league for pitchers in 2013 (4.59 ERA, 1.47 WHIP), he managed to strikeout 9.3 batters per nine as a 21-year-old in Triple-A. After watching Atlanta Braves right-hander Julio Teheran go from a 5.08 ERA and 1.44 WHIP as a 21-year-old in Triple-A in 2012 to 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP as a 22-year-old in the majors in 2013, could the Diamondbacks have just given up the arm that they appear to now covet in free agency, as they have been rumored to be interested in both Matt Garza and Masahiro Tanaka. Power may be in short supply around the league and you may never know how a prospect will turn out, but if Arizona had kept Skaggs and Eaton and signed Shin-Soo Choo, wouldn’t they be just as likely to contend?

Speaking of a powerful bat…

Upton
Braves OF Justin Upton

With power in such short supply, as Kevin Towers so boldly claimed after acquiring Trumbo, wouldn’t dealing Justin Upton and his team-friendly contract, along with third baseman Chris Johnson, to the Atlanta Braves for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, and minor leaguers Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury have been considered a bad idea when using that philosophy? There were a lot of underlying issues that led to the Diamondbacks apparent “need” to deal Upton last off-season, but, considering the type of prospect that they just gave up to get a player with a career .768 OPS, shouldn’t Towers have aimed higher in dealing Upton, who has a career .830 OPS? Certainly, Martin Prado is a fine player and his versatility is very useful, but his bat doesn’t play all that well as a full-time third baseman, where he will be playing in 2014, and heading into his age-30 season, it is fair to wonder if he should have been the centerpiece in an Upton deal, especially as Upton enters his age-26 season in 2014, making him younger than even Trumbo! If power is so valuable, why would Upton not be worth a legitimate prospect and a player, considering his contract and disregarding whatever “issues” were making him so useless to Arizona?

Furthermore, the trade that sent Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer, and Bryan Shaw to the Cleveland Indians for Lars Anderson (designated for assignment on 1/24/2013), Tony Sipp (designated for assignment on 11/20/2013), and Didi Gregorius is just as questionable as the package that is highlighted by Skaggs. Bauer was rated as the No.14 prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2013 season and the Diamondbacks seemed to sour on him due to his desire to train and prepare in a way that is strange to nearly all people who have had the pleasure of viewing him, with long-tossing from foul pole to foul pole and a crow hop seed from the pitchers mound to the catcher as his first warm-up pitch being a part of his hour long pitching preparation. Still, at just 23 on Opening Day of 2014, his long-term outlook is very good and drafting Bauer 3rd overall in the 2011 MLB Draft and dealing him nearly 18 months later for a slap-hitting, defensive-minded shortstop seems very odd, even with defensive metrics and shortstop values being taken into consideration. When looking at the value that the Indians received in Shaw and Albers, along with the fact that the Diamondbacks no longer roster two players that they received in the deal, this was a steal by the Cleveland Indians…and that is all before looking at how Gregorius may lose the everyday shortstop job to a prospect who was in house when the Bauer deal happened, Chris Owings, since Aaron Hill won’t be giving up the second base job.

Diamondbacks' GM Kevin Towers - answering serious questions?
Diamondbacks’ GM Kevin Towers – answering serious questions?

It is easy to question the style that a franchise is taking and it is even easier to say that you could make better deals than your favorite team’s general manager, but when you consider the recent track record of Kevin Towers in Arizona, most fantasy baseball managers agree – they could do a better job. Is Arizona now the New York Yankees of the west, trading all of their top minor league talent to fill their major league holes? Well, the Yankees never seemed to give away their top prospects without certain, immediate help. Can the Diamondbacks catch the Dodgers? Matching power with Los Angeles doesn’t seem to be an option, as a full season of Matt Kemp (if he isn’t traded), Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, and others will likely make the Dodgers that much more dangerous, and Arizona doesn’t have enough “grit” to overcome the L.A. payroll and talent – especially when they are trading the pieces that could get them over the top for veterans who have shown what they can do. Trumbo and Prado aren’t winning the Diamondbacks any championships, and, while they will make Arizona a bit more competitive, it is the front-line, affordable pitching that would have helped the Diamondbacks slither into contention.

Kevin Towers doesn’t seem to have a clear philosophy of where he is taking the Diamondbacks, and if the moves that he has made this season don’t work out, it is fair to wonder if he can make intelligent decisions going forward for any organization, experience be damned.

Early Favorite for Worst Rumored Deal of the Offseason

Courtesy: HalosHeaven.com
Courtesy: HalosHeaven.com

On Sunday, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that if the Boston Red Sox are unable to re-sign Mike Napoli, they could look to make a deal with the Los Angeles Angels for first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo, saying:

Trumbo, who would come at half Napoli’s price, cannot become a free agent until after the 2017 season, has tremendous righthanded power (34 homers, 100 RBIs this season), and is considered an above-average first baseman. Yes, he strikes out a ton (184 times in 2013). The Angels could use a third baseman (Will Middlebrooks?) and a pitcher (Felix Doubront?). The Pirates and Rays could also be fits.

God bless columnists, who have to fill up a page in a dynamic market in a dying industry, but this is reaching. In fact, the major issue is that so many teams are rumored to have interest in Trumbo in the first place.

Trumbo has some serious power, mashing 95 home runs and driving in 282 runs over the last three seasons, but those numbers have come with a .251/.300/.473 triple-slash and a 457:115 K:BB in 1,837 plate appearances. Trumbo certainly has some power, but it is a power that will get very expensive within the arbitration process (see Ryan Howard‘s rapid salary increases) while producing very little elsewhere.

Add on the fact that Trumbo is a weak defender at first, third, and the outfield, and you’re paying premium dollar for a player who should truly be hidden at the designated hitter spot, which won’t really work with some guy named David Ortiz in Boston, while it certainly won’t help the Pirates in the National League.

doubrontMore damning is why the Red Sox would give up Will Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront for Trumbo, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2014 and is already 27, coming off of his worst season (based on OPS and WAR) of his career. Middlebrooks isn’t even arbitration-eligible until 2016 and Doubront is 26, left-handed, breathing, and under team-control through 2018, while showing improved numbers in ERA and WHIP in 2013.

Certainly, dealing for a powerful bat is intelligent rather than going to the free agent market and giving nine-figures to a player like Shin-Soo Choo, but Trumbo isn’t really a “guy” when it comes to improving a roster. Considering that in 660 plate appearances, Will Middlebrooks has a .254/.294/.462 triple-slash with 32 home runs and 103 RBI, don’t the Red Sox already have Mark Trumbo?

Boston should try to get Napoli to re-sign, they should even try to get Jarrod Saltalamacchia to re-sign, but they need to be smarter than this type of trade to make sure that they don’t fall back to the 2012 Boston Red Sox instead of the 2013 champion-version.

Trumbo2Mark Trumbo is highly overrated due to his power production, but teams like the Red Sox could find players who are just as productive when looking over the last three season’s OPS leaders, where you’ll find Jason Kipnis, Seth Smith, Lucas Duda, and Jason Heyward, with  the same .773 OPS since 2011 that Trumbo sports, while players such as David Freese (.785), Adam Lind (.776), and Brandon Belt (.798), could be more affordable options in a trade or non-tender situation in 2014, while outproducing Trumbo in the OPS statistic over the last several seasons.

2014 MLB Free Agency: Hitting: What’s Out There For Your Team

Another season has finished and with only ten teams having successful, playoff-bound seasons, it is time for the other 20 teams to look forward to the 2014 season. After 162 games, you probably have a pretty good idea of what your team needs. Below, you’ll find a list of upcoming free agents. Who would you like your team to sign? Comment away!!!

CanoTop Tier Talents

Robinson Cano, 2B, 31: Although ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that Cano wants a ten-year, $305 million deal, it would seem nearly impossible for the middle infielder to get anything close to that, even when considering all of the television money coming in for clubs. How far are the Dodgers willing to go over the luxury tax threshold? Are the Angels willing to shell out more money to 30-plus year olds after watching Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols not live up to expectations? Everyone knows that the Yankees are trying to slim down their payroll…it just doesn’t seem likely. After watching Cano hit like a corner outfielder while playing second base over the last nine years, he is clearly the top talent available in the entire free agency market.

Shin-Soo Choo, OF, 31: Choo showed his worth by getting on base exactly 300 times in the 2013 season (162 hits,  112 walks, and 26 HBP) while reaching the 20 home run/20 stolen base level for the third time in his career, helping solidify a Cincinnati lineup that had been seeking a strong leadoff hitter for what seems like decades. He proved that he was at least capable of handling center field in Cincinnati, but his defensive metrics have been pretty miserable over his entire career wherever he plays, although, Choo can make up for it at times with his strong arm. Shin-Soo Choo will be highly coveted by outfield-needy clubs this offseason and those clubs will likely get several solid seasons out of the South Korean-born, on-base machine.

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, 30: Ellsbury had a fine season, leading MLB in stolen bases (52) while being a tremendous defensive center fielder. He will likely get paid huge dollars for his 2011 season (32 HR, 105 RBI, .928 OPS), even though his next best season was the 2013 season, when he hit nine home runs, drove in 53 runs, and posted a .781 OPS. More Michael Bourn than Matt Kemp, Ellsbury will be an asset due to his speed and defense as a strong outfield option, and while he doesn’t have the on-base skills that Choo possesses, he is a fine leadoff hitter.

Brian McCann, C, 30: McCann is going to be a rich, rich man. With the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Texas Rangers seeking help at catcher, he’ll have plenty of suitors. After reaching 20 home runs for the seventh time in eight full seasons despite playing in just 102 games, McCann has proven that his shoulder woes are behind him and that he can continue to be an offensive asset to a club going forward. Still pretty weak behind the dish (24-percent caught stealing this season and the same for his career), McCann’s bat will carry him and utilizing him in the American League at DH will do wonders for his career and whoever signs him.

McCannBest Available Catchers

McCann; John Buck, 33; Dioner Navarro, 30; A.J. Pierzynski, 37; Carlos Ruiz, 35; Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 29; Geovany Soto, 31;

There are some solid options available at catcher, here. McCann is obviously the top option with Saltalamacchia as the next best option. Navarro seems to have been around forever and the Cubs got a lot out of him this season while using him sparingly, posting an .856 OPS and 13 home runs over just 266 plate appearances, making him a somewhat attractive, cheaper option. The rest offer solid veteran depth, which has tremendous value with so many good young catchers in the league.

AbreuBest Available Corner Infielders

Jose Dariel Abreu, 27; Corey Hart, 32; Mike Napoli, 32; James Loney, 30; Kendrys Morales, 30; Justin Morneau, 33; Mike Morse, 32; Eric Chavez, 36; Mark Reynolds, 30; Michael Young, 37;

Abreu is the highly-coveted Cuban defector, full of power and mystique, who will likely get a Yasiel Puig-like contract, maybe better. Several solid veterans are available who can handle first base, many of them (Hart, Napoli, and Morneau, in particular) having some injury concerns. With the right type of deal, any of these players could provide tremendous value to a club seeking leadership, while having enough talent remaining to be productive as platoon options, starters, or multi-position use (1B/DH primarily).

Best Available Middle Infielders

Cano; Stephen Drew, 31; Rafael Furcal, 36; Omar Infante, 32; Kelly Johnson, 32; Jhonny Peralta, 32; Brian Roberts, 36; Brendan Ryan, 32;

Cano is the true treat here, but former All-Star talents exist, although several of them have been and will continue to be risky due to injury histories. Like many of the corner infielders that are available this winter, there are several players who could provide solid production, but it could come with a limited role as a platoon player while providing the old phantom value that comes with being a strong veteran with clubhouse presence.

Choo3Best Available Outfielders

Carlos Beltran, 37; Marlon Byrd, 36; Choo; Nelson Cruz, 33; Rajai Davis, 33; Ellsbury; Jeff Francoeur, 30; Curtis Granderson, 33; Corey Hart, 32; Raul Ibanez, 42; Mike Morse, 32; Juan Pierre, 36; Grady Sizemore, 31; Delmon Young, 28;

There could be tremendous value in the outfield this winter, as teams will be able to get aging veterans like Ibanez (if he comes back), Beltran, or Byrd, all having excellent 2013 seasons, at an affordable, short-term deal. At the same time, Cruz, Granderson, Hart, and Young could post numbers that would make them equals to the top players available (Choo and Ellsbury) if everything breaks right.

Billy Hamilton: The Answer…To All of the Questions

Hamilton1On Saturday, Dusty Baker was without his normal center fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, due to a recent thumb injury. His response:

Start the 25-year-old, speedster rookie…Derrick Robinson, of course.

Baker, long regarded as a player’s manager and lover of all things veteran, was just needing to “keep his bench bats fresh” as managers love to say. Unfortunately, starting Derrick Robinson on Saturday, an eventual loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, was not the answer, as keeping Robinson “fresh” hasn’t really been a priority – not when he has started all of four games for the Cincinnati Reds since August 1, getting all of 25 at-bats in 19 games.

ESPN’s Keith Law couldn’t have said it better, when he had this to say on Saturday night:

While Billy Hamilton hasn’t been playing regularly, just like Robinson, his ability to make a difference has shown up on the field plenty of times in just ten games and 16 plate appearances.

On Sunday, Baker made the right choice, starting Hamilton over the still ailing Choo against Pittsburgh…the Reds won 11-3 and Hamilton was 3 for 6 with two runs and two more stolen bases.

Hamilton has reached base eight times in two starts. He has stolen six bases, he has scored four times. The Reds have won both games.

Overall, Hamilton has been on base 12 times (including pinch-running) and he has stolen 12 bases and scored nine runs.

Not only should Hamilton have been starting over Derrick Robinson, it is worth questioning whether Choo should start in left field with Hamilton serving as the Reds’ everyday center fielder until he proves that he CAN’T keep doing what he has been doing since arriving in Cincinnati. Just for argument’s sake, Ryan Ludwick has scored seven runs in 32 games since returning from the disabled list (I understand that runs are a stat that require other hitters to assist in accumulating the statistic, but Hamilton’s ability to advance himself with his speed is a skill that can’t be matched in Major League Baseball at the moment).

Once the Reds clinch a playoff berth, you’ll likely see Baker resting all of his starters, which seems silly considering how “fresh” you’ll want his bat to be when games are so meaningful in the tight National League Central. If and when that happens, the smart decision would be to still put the best available player onto the field. Billy Hamilton was that player on Saturday and he very well could be that player over the rest of the 2013 season…if the club or manager were intelligent enough to make the right call.